This path is the ultimate platform for integrating mind, body, and spiritual nature. Its goal is consciousness development and exploration.
The Tree of Knowledge
The Eightfold Path appears in Buddhism. Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, coined this term in his first significant talk on enlightenment. We also find this same pattern is also in several other Eastern traditions. We can also identify one or more of these eight components in indigenous cultures around the world.
There are several versions of the concept involving the development of consciousness. We’ll discuss some dominant themes here. If you find one or more that resonates, that is a clue to starting your journey.
The eightfold path is one way to describe a comprehensive approach to spiritual exploration. Joseph Campbell called this pattern the Hero’s Journey. We use this same age-old strategy in our blended learning process.
The Hero’s Journey is a way of grouping these eight components into three developmental steps. These are awakening, transforming, and inspiring. It contains the elements of the different eightfold paths from Buddhism and Hinduism. You’ll find the tree of knowledge expresses itself in various approaches.
“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” ― Frank A. Clark
“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” ― Barack Obama
The Eightfold Path in Buddhism
In brief, the eight elements of the path are:
1) Grasp the “Correct view.” This “correct view” is an accurate understanding of the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths receive the most attention in later teaching within Buddhism.
Some hold these four elements are the essence of Buddha’s teachings. But some ambiguity in their practical application. The same with the rest of the warnings. These include; the truth of suffering and the cause of suffering, the path to and the end of suffering. This element focuses on the negative side of the human condition.
2) Avoiding thoughts of attachment. Attachment is what leads to suffering. And we expand from the emotions to our response. “Correct intention” and includes thoughts of hatred and harmful intent.
3) Refrain from saying things that would create discord. “Correct speech” includes lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, and senseless speech.
4) Don’t commit violent or harmful acts. “Correct action” includes murder, stealing, and rape.
5) Avoid working or contributing to ventures which harm others or the environment. “Correct livelihood.” And it prohibits certain activities that include selling slaves, weapons, and selling animals for slaughter, making intoxicants or poisons.
6) Abandon negative thoughts and encourage positive ones. Refraining from negative self-talk is called “Correct effort.”
7) Awareness of thoughts, body, feelings, and immediate environment. “Correct mindfulness” is the main focus of self-awareness and self-observation.
8) “Correct concentration” translates to single-mindedness. Singlemindedness is acting upon a specific goal, resolve, determination, and dedication.
Summation of The Buddhist Path
This list of “Correctness” focuses on moral conduct similar to what we find in the Old Testament ten commandments. However, it is absent the need for a higher power. This framework describes everything in the negative. Like the ten commandments, it gives specific things you must refrain, abandon, and avoid.
It’s a list of things that are prohibited. The last three are positive admonitions and the cultivation of positive thoughts, mindfulness, and concentration. Some people think Buddhism is a religion. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to follow these precepts. Each of these ideas contains some element of karma. That is, each component is a way of improving your karma.
The Eightfold Pattern in Indian Yoga
The eightfold path pattern also appears in Indian Yoga. Almost everyone is familiar with the term Yoga. Most people associate yoga with the physical postures of Yoga known as Asana. So, the popularity of Yoga postures is both positive and negative. In the West, Yoga postures are simply another form of exercise. There certainly are health and wellness benefits to the practice of these Asanas.
However, some people believe the popular culture misuses Yoga Asana, devoid of its original context. Instead of a building block of enlightenment, it’s just another exercise form. As a result, marketing the physical postures as a separate practice detracts from their real purpose. We certainly see their point. Thinking of Yoga as only physical postures undoubtedly not an accurate representation of the system. On the positive side, Yoga Asana’s practice can open the doorway to the goal of consciousness development.
All eight branches of Indian Yoga are part of a holistic approach where all the pieces work together. Yoga means union. They provide a platform for expanding awareness and investigating higher states of consciousness. Using all eight limbs develops mind, body, and consciousness together. They are the key to your health and wellness. Thus, we agree with the philosophy of using all components. And support the development of your path.
Elements of the Eightfold Path
The eight limbs of Yoga are not sequential steps but eight limbs of the same tree. For that reason, you cannot affect one aspect of the path without affecting the other. You should use all eight and not just one limb. The tree of knowledge needs to grow in harmony. All the branches need room to grow. It’s best if you schedule a time for the practice of all eight elements. Other cultures involved in consciousness development also arrived at the same holistic approach.
The eightfold path is a splendid example of how a religious tradition can be beneficial. In this case, tradition preserves the integrity of the teaching for generations. We hope that this holistic approach continues. Here are the eight limbs of this well-rounded spiritual path.
1) Discipline (Yamas)
2) Self Observation and self-training (Niyamas)
3) Postures (Asana)
4) Breathing exercises (Pranayama)
5) Withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara)
6) Concentration (Dharana)
7) Meditation (Dhyana)
8) Perfected Concentration. It is the most direct way to reach the transcendent state of consciousness, Samādhi. Seated meditation is the most common way to this 4th state. However, the 4th state can go beyond meditation. You can combine this with other waking states to achieve higher states.
Defining the Terms
- Yama = codes of discipline and self-regulation
- Niyama = observances, practices, self-training
- Asana = meditation posture (from the root, which means “to sit”)
- Pranayama = expansion of breath and prana, regulation, control
- Pratyahara = withdrawal of the Indriyas (the senses), bringing inward.
- Dharana = concentration, the use of the analytical mind
- Dhyana = meditation processes
- Samādhi = the transcendent state of consciousness
- Ashtau = eight
- Angani = rungs, limbs, accessories, components, steps, parts, members, constituents
The Eightfold Path in other Traditions
As we mentioned above, we find one or more of the eight elements in other traditions. So, you can create your path by borrowing from different traditions. This eclectic approach isn’t new.
Contemporary researchers like George Ivanovich Gurdjieff are an example. He combined Asian and European methods to create his schools of consciousness development. You can find similarities in processes and goals across cultures. Here are just a few examples of the spiritual technologies similarities across different cultures. They use the tree of knowledge about consciousness to combine systems and processes.
1. Energy Collection and Healing
There are several ways of generating and moving energy through the body. For example, Kundalini is a seated form of energy generation. It cultivates energy up the spine. On the other hand, Tai Chi is a moving form of energy generation. It can produce the same kind of upward-flowing energy. So, this shows how different processes cultivate the same flowing energy.
Every culture may describe it slightly differently, but it’s the same energy. Similarly, Qigong is the Chinese form of this energy brought into active motion. There are a variety of ways to use this energy for healing. For example, Reiki is a Japanese healing system. Pejut is an Indonesian system with a similar focus but a more “hands-on” process.
2. Shamanic Journey
Many cultures also use meditative processes, more commonly known as the Shamanic Journey. Shamanic forms have gone through a re-branding to make them more palatable for the West. Today the Shamanic Journey is better known as “guided meditation.”
You can practice this form as silent meditation or an active dance form. One can attain Samādhi through techniques such as Japa Meditation. Thanks to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, this process is now popular worldwide. He coined his version of this process, Transcendental Meditation (TM). No matter what you call them, these branches are part of the same tree.
3. Analytical Approaches
If you like a more analytical approach, Dharana or concentration is an excellent starting place for you. Investigating and then learning to apply logical reasoning helps you spot logical fallacies. The Enneagram Personality Profile is another analytical tool to understand personality and instinct. We can find each of these technologies in both Eastern and Western traditions.
4. Codes of Self-Discipline
Yama refers to codes of discipline and self-regulation. The Dalai Lama has a list of 18 rules for living. The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz is an even more simplified list of guidelines for living. Some religions have hundreders and even thousands of rules that govern almost every aspect of waking life.
Some philosophies combine moral living and self-discipline. “Do what is right, respect, and honor everyone and all life.” Self-discipline can help you become more attentive and focused. It can also be a way of learning an unfamiliar language. It takes many forms. We find this concept in many traditions.
5. Breathing Techniques
Pranayama has to do with the breath. There are obvious connections between breath and consciousness. Hyperventilating is a practice you’ll find in many traditions. You can alter consciousness and perception through breathing.
Observing and controlling the breath is often a part of many spiritual practices. You’ll find it a part of the preparatory phase of seated meditation, like Japa. Likewise, breathing exercises are part of many energy collection processes from East to West.
Pratyahara relates closely to Yama. Pratyahara translates to the withdrawal of senses, but it’s much more than an escape from the five senses. In this case, it involves learning to observe and control our thoughts and emotions. Thus, turning the attention away from the external but not ignoring it. Self-Observation is one skill set that anyone can cultivate.
Observing internal thought processes also correlates with Niyama, self-training. Most people aren’t aware of this level of thought and emotion. Techniques with mantras and chanting also help suspend the active mind’s internal chatter.
And, guess what? Self-observation is similar to the process of the transcendent state of Samādhi. Consequently, one sees how each of the eight limbs of this path weaves a pattern creating our spiritual journey. It shows us how the mind is a paradox. It uses itself to move beyond itself.
The eightfold path is all about applying the processes. As a result, it is a calling. It is the spiritual quest on the pathway of integration. Yoga means union. You begin this inner journey by taking the first step by taking action. The platform of spiritual exploration contains several tools you can use to start this journey. What’s important is that you begin.
If you are already studying or using some form of consciousness exploration, be sure to test your path. Make sure you are going in the right direction. Don’t get sidetracked by religion. People from all philosophical and religious backgrounds can use the eightfold path. This holistic philosophy will enhance your practice.
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(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia