The Four Noble Truths are the essence of Buddhism and offer a plan to remedy all the suffering that man suffers. These truths state that life is filled with different kinds of suffering; suffering always has a cause and an end; you reach Nirvana when you manage to end suffering. The Noble Eightfold Path shows the steps you must take to achieve Nirvana in your life. The Four Noble Truths describe disease in the human experience, and the Noble Eightfold Path is the recipe for healing. Understanding the truths and traveling along the path will lead to peace and happiness in life.
Part 1 of 3: The Noble Eightfold Path
Step 1. Meditate regularly
Meditation is the key to changing the way your mind works and will enable you to walk the path towards Nirvana. It should be a part of your daily life. While you can learn to meditate on your own, a teacher can help and guide you in applying the right techniques. You can meditate on your own, but it makes sense to meditate with others and under the guidance of a teacher.
You cannot walk the path without meditating. Meditation will help you better understand yourself and the world
Step 2. Form the right image
The Buddhist teachings (i.e. the Four Noble Truths) are the lens through which you view the world. If you are unable to accept the teachings, you will not be able to follow the other steps on the path. A right view and the right understanding are the foundation of the path. See the world as it really is and not as you wish it were. You try to understand reality as objectively as possible. For this you have to investigate, study and learn about reality.
- The Four Noble Truths form the basis of correct understanding. You have to believe that those truths describe things as they really are.
- Nothing is perfect or permanent. Think critically about situations instead of coloring them in with your own personal feelings, desires, and concerns.
Step 3. Have the right intentions
Commit to developing an attitude that aligns with your belief system. Act as if all life is equal and deserves to be treated with compassion and love. This applies to yourself as well as to others. Reject thoughts that are selfish, violent, and hateful. Love and nonviolence should be the rule.
Show respect for all living beings (plants, animals and humans) regardless of their status. For example, you should treat a rich person and a poor person with the same respect. People of any life background, age group, race, ethnic origin or economic status should all be treated equally
Step 4. Speak the correct words
The third step is speaking correctly. If you practice right speech, you will not lie, speak evil, do not gossip, and speak aggressively. Instead, speak kind and truthful words. Your words should confirm and uplift others. It's also important to know when to shut up and hold back.
Speaking correctly is something you practice every day
Step 5. Act the right way
Your actions flow from what is in your heart and in your mind. Treat yourself and other people well. Don't destroy life and don't steal. Live a peaceful life and help other people to live a peaceful life too. Be honest when dealing with other people. For example, you shouldn't cheat or lie to get ahead, or to get something you want.
Your presence and activities should be positive and improve the lives of other people and society
Step 6. Choose a good profession
Choose a profession that aligns with your beliefs. Do not do work that harms other people, kills animals, or involves cheating. Selling weapons or drugs, or working in a slaughterhouse are not acceptable professions. Whatever type of work you choose, you must perform it with integrity.
For example, if you're a salesperson, you shouldn't use cheats or lies to get people to buy your product
Step 7. Exercise the right way
If you really give your best in everything you do, it will lead to success. Get rid of negative thoughts and focus on positive thinking. Be enthusiastic about whatever you do (eg school, career, friendships, hobbies, etc.). You need to consistently practice having positive thoughts, because this doesn't always come naturally. This will prepare your mind for practicing mindfulness. The four principles of the right effort are:
- Prevent the emergence of evil and unhealthy states (sensory desire, ill will, worry, doubt, restlessness).
- Remove the evil and unhealthy states that have already arisen by fighting them with good thoughts, turning your attention to something else, or confronting the thought and examining the source of the thought.
- Produce a good and healthy state of consciousness.
- Maintain and perfect this good and healthy state of consciousness.
Step 8. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness makes it possible to see reality as it really is. The four foundations of mindfulness are: contemplation of body, feelings, moods and phenomena. When you are mindful, you live in the moment and you are open to the entire experience. You focus on your present situation, not the future or the past. Pay attention to your body, your feelings, your thoughts, your ideas and everything around you.
- Living in the present frees you from desires about your future and past.
- Mindfulness also means paying attention to other people's feelings, emotions, and bodies.
Step 9. Focus your mind
Proper concentration is the ability to focus your mind on a single object and not be distracted by outside influences. As you practice the other parts of the path, your mind learns to focus. Your mind will be focused and not filled with stress and anxiety. You will have a good relationship with yourself and the world. The right concentration allows you to see something clearly, as it really is.
Concentration is similar to mindfulness, but when you concentrate, you are not as aware of all the different sensations and feelings. For example, if you focus on an exam, you are only focused on the exam. If you practiced mindfulness during that exam, you would notice how you feel taking the exam, how the other people around you behave, or how you sit
Part 2 of 3: Achieving Nirvana in your daily life
Step 1. Practice Loving Kindness (Metta Bhavana)
Metta means (unromantic) love and kindness. It is a feeling that comes from your heart, and it must be cultivated and practiced. It is usually practiced in five stages. If you are a beginner, try to stay for five minutes at each stage.
- Phase 1- Feel Metta for yourself. Focus on feelings of peace, tranquility, strength and confidence. You can repeat the phrase “May I be well and happy” to yourself.
- Phase 2- Think about a boyfriend or girlfriend and all the things you like about them. Repeat the phrase “Let him/her be well; let him/she be happy."
- Stage 3- Think about someone you are neutral about. You don't love that person, but you don't hate him or her either. Think about that person's humanity and extend your Metta feelings to that person.
- Stage 4- Think about someone you don't like at all. Instead of thinking about why you don't like that person and having hateful thoughts about them, send your Metta feelings to them.
- Phase 5- In this last phase you think about everyone, including yourself. Send Metta to all people, to your city, your neighborhood, your country and the whole world.
Step 2. Practice mindful breathing
Through this form of meditation you can learn to concentrate and focus your thoughts. With this form of meditation you learn to practice mindfulness, you learn to relax and get rid of fear. Find a comfortable sitting position. Your spine should be straight and relaxed. Your shoulders should be relaxed and pulled back and down slightly. Rest your hands on a pillow or put them in your lap. Once you've found the right pose, start going through the different stages. Each phase should last at least 5 minutes.
- Phase 1- Count in your mind (inhale, 1, exhale, inhale 2, exhale, etc.) after each inhale, until you get to 10. Then start again. Focus on the feeling of inhaling and exhaling. Thoughts will come to you. Just keep bringing your thoughts back to your breath.
- Phase 2- Continue to breathe in cycles of 10, but this time count before you inhale (so: 1, inhale, exhale, 2, inhale, exhale, 3, etc.). Concentrate on the sensations you have when you inhale.
- Stage 3- Breathe in and out without counting. Try to see your breathing as a continuous process, rather than just inhaling and exhaling.
- Phase 4 - Your focus should now be on feeling your breath as it enters and exits your body. You may feel your breath passing through your nostrils or your lips.
Step 3. Confirm and elevate others
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to achieve inner peace and then share that experience with those around you. Achieving Nirvana is not only for your benefit, but also that of the world around you. It is important to always be a source of encouragement and support to others. It's as easy and simple as giving someone a hug when they're feeling down. If someone is important to you or does something nice for you, let that person know how you feel. Let people know that you are grateful and that you appreciate them. If someone is having a bad day, make sure to listen.
Step 4. Treat people with compassion
Your happiness is directly related to the happiness of others. Showing compassion promotes happiness for everyone. You can practice compassion in many ways:
- Turn off your phone or put it away when you spend time with friends and family.
- Make eye contact when someone is talking to you and listen without interrupting.
- Do volunteer work.
- Keep the door open for others.
- Be empathetic towards people. For example, if someone is upset, acknowledge their problem and try to understand why that person is upset. Ask what you can do to help. Listen and pay attention to their feelings.
Step 5. Be mindful
When you practice mindfulness, you pay close attention to how you think and how you feel in the present moment. Mindfulness is not only a meditation technique, but also meant to be applied in your daily life. For example, you can be mindful while eating, in the shower or when you get dressed in the morning. Start by choosing an activity and then focus on the feelings in your body and your breathing as you go.
- If you want to practice mindfulness while eating, focus on the taste, texture, and smell of the food you eat.
- When washing dishes, pay attention to the temperature of the water, how your hands feel while washing dishes, and how the water feels while rinsing a cup or plate.
- Instead of listening to music or the television while getting dressed in the morning, do it in silence. Pay attention to how you feel. Were you tired or well rested when you woke up? How does your body feel while dressing or showering?
Part 3 of 3: The Four Noble Truths
Step 1. Identify the suffering
Buddha describes suffering in a different way than people usually think about it. Suffering is inevitable and part of life. Dukkha is the truth that everything, all of life, consists of suffering. The word suffering is usually used to describe things like illness, aging, accidents, or physical and emotional pain. Yet Buddha considers desires (especially unfulfilled desires) and needs also suffering. These two things are considered the roots of suffering, because man is seldom satisfied or satisfied. Once a desire is fulfilled, a new desire is immediately created. This is a vicious circle.
Dukkha means 'that which is hard to bear'. Suffering is a wide spectrum and includes both large and small things
Step 2. Determine the cause of the suffering
Desire and ignorance are the root of suffering. Your unfulfilled wishes are the worst kind of suffering. For example, if you are sick, you suffer. While you are sick, you long to be healthy. Your unfulfilled desire to be healthy is a greater form of suffering than just being sick. Whenever you desire something that you cannot have - an opportunity, a person, or an achievement - you are subject to suffering.
- The only guarantees in life are aging, disease and death.
- Your desires will never really be satisfied. Once you achieve something, or get what you want, you will start longing for something else. Those constant desires keep you from achieving true happiness.
Step 3. End the suffering in your life
Each of the four truths is a stepping stone. If all is suffering and suffering comes from your desires, then not having any more desires is the only way to end the suffering. You have to believe that you don't have to suffer and that you have the ability to stop the suffering in your life. To end the suffering in your life, you must change your perception and learn to control your desires.
Controlling your wants and desires will enable you to live in freedom and contentment
Step 4. Reach the end of suffering in your life
The end of suffering can be achieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path. Your path to Nirvana can be summed up in three ideas. First, you need to have the right intentions and mindset. Second, you need to apply the right intentions in your daily life. Finally, you must understand the true reality and have the right beliefs about all things.
- The eightfold path can be divided into three categories: wisdom (right view, right intention), ethical behavior (right speech, right action, and right livelihood), and mental cultivation (right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration).
- This path provides guidelines for everyday life.
- Achieving Nirvana will probably not be easy. It may take a while. Even if it seems impossible, keep trying and don't give up.
- You can practice Buddhism on your own, but you could also benefit from going to a temple and having a teacher. Do not rush to decide on a group or teacher. Always trust your own intuition and take your time. There are great teachers but also some very unpleasant ones. Look on the internet at temple/group/teacher and see what comes up with the words controversy and cult. Do your homework.
- The eightfold path is not a linear path. It's a journey you take every day.
- Your path to enlightenment will be different from others, just as each snowflake has a unique shape and whirls through the sky in a unique way. Do the exercises that you enjoy doing/feeling natural to you/that make you feel good.
- Try out different ways of meditating; they are just different tools and methods that you can use on your spiritual path. You can then use a varied amount of tools at different times.
- Nirvana is achieved when the misconceptions about the way the self (and everything else) exists are finally removed. There are many methods to accomplish this. None is right or wrong, better or worse. Sometimes Nirvana arises spontaneously and sometimes it takes a lot of time and effort.
- Ultimately, it is the intention that both the seeker and the sought-after Nirvana must be released.
- No one else knows your path (see the snowflake analogy above) but occasionally a teacher may tell you that you should go to another group. Most teachers/traditions/sects have a very strong attachment to their prescribed route to enlightenment, but at the same time, attachment to one's own opinion/judgment is one of the main obstacles on the road to enlightenment. You should not lose sight of the irony of this during your trip.
- Self-practice is essential in achieving Nirvana. The role of a teacher is to help you grow and become spiritually autonomous. Their role is not to create dependency and regression to an infantile state, but this is very common.
- Find out what you like and do more of it.
- Go on, persevere and think about the benefits (even the slightest) that this path offers you and remember them. This way you will always stay motivated.
- Embrace doubt if it comes your way.