12.21.2012

The Enlightening Mat: The Fourth Noble Truth

noble path

What I love about the Four Noble Truths is that they provide an answer for how to end suffering -- a practical method for working with the challenges in your life. The Fourth Noble Truth taught by the Buddha is that you can end suffering by following the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths are both simple in their eloquence yet extremely slippery to grasp. In fact, I'm guessing it's better if you don't hold tight to them but let them flutter to and fro like a butterfly. The First acknowledges that life involves suffering, the Second is the realization that suffering arises from craving, the Third is the understanding that freedom from suffering exists, and the Fourth explains exactly how to liberate yourself from suffering.

The first time I heard that there was plan for ending suffering, I said, "Sign me up!!" Then I looked deeper into the Fourth Noble Truth and saw what the Eightfold Path required and felt like giving up. If you honestly take inventory of your life and habits, and then look at the eight different kinds of ideal behavior you need to cultivate, it might feel a bit overwhelming. Moreover, you are not meant to check them off one by one like a task that has been completed, rather these aspirations are ways of being that you are meant to continually grow within.

The Noble Eightfold Path

  1. Right Understanding
  2. Right Thought
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration
The word "right" before each of these behaviors really annoyed me. What is "right" and do I know what it looks like? Interestingly, "right" is only one way to translate the word sammā. Other variations are completion, togetherness, wholesome, wise, skillful. Just by changing the words to "wise understanding" or "wise action" helps loosen up these concepts for me. It emphasizes for me that there isn't an endpoint, but rather these skills are always growing inside you.

I'm not going to detail all eight aspects of the path; however, if you want to grasp a basic understanding without a bunch of heady words click on this link.

Instead, I want to say that over the last ten years of exploring Buddhism, meditation, and yoga, unconsciously I have been working with these intentions without making them personal goals. Just by committing to a meditation practice and going to Bikram yoga consistently I am working with Right Thought, Right Action, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. I suppose in many ways I am also practicing Right Speech because both during meditation and yoga, instead of reacting through talking, I'm choosing silence, awareness, listening, and waiting to see if the words I want to speak are wise and are in alignment with my highest intentions.

Adopting the Noble Eightfold Path into your life doesn't have to be a slug-fest between the habits of your mind and the desires of your heart. Rather by choosing activities that are in accord with these behaviors such as developing a yoga practice, you will naturally cultivate these ideals within you.

The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures

1 comment:

  1. this is very beautiful...
    and does seem overwhelming... esp to our modern western culture, there is an urge to be able to move through them like a list...
    but you have the right of it, you cultivate on the inside and it seeps through into other areas.. being still and present are definitely key here - i love when you take on huge topics and make it accessible... the way you did the 'open heart' - it has never left me...

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