It is said that Siddhartha Gautama was born into royalty in 560 BCE in what is now present day Nepal. His father Suddhodana, was a king who ruled the Sakya clan. Living as a prince, Siddhartha was sheltered from the unpleasant realities of the outside world. As a teenager he wed a young girl named Yasodhara and they went on to have a son. It was on one occasion when Siddhartha left the insulated environment of his palace home that he came face to face with the terrible suffering that was happening in the world. Never bearing witness to this harsh side of life was so poignant to him that he immediately gave up his royal life, wife and newborn son and left in the middle of the night to become a wandering ascetic. Thus Siddhartha started his journey in search for a way to alleviate all sentient beings from any form of suffering and dissatisfaction.
Six intense years provided him with many practices that he diligently and at times vigorously engaged in. Studying with several brahmin (wise men) he learned to push his limits to drastic measures only to arrive at the same result he was aiming to relieve – dissatisfaction. These physical austerities did not provide any remedies, until he realized that there was a sweet balance in between the extremes, and came upon the “middle way.” The lore goes that he came to this realization after hearing a music teacher explain to a student how to tune a stringed instrument, “Not too tight, not too lose, find the middle.”
So then, Siddharta devoted himself to sitting meditation under a boddhi tree determined to liberate himself. Eventually he reached this aim, meditating throughout one night until dawn, he was able to attain complete purification of his mind, eradicating all imperfections, and achieved enlightenment at thirty-five years of age. This awakening signaled his becoming the Buddha – the “Awakened One,” and he preached his Dharma (Law of the Universe) throughout his long life until he died at eighty years of age.
Included in the Buddha’s many teachings are the Four Noble Truths, they are:
Suffering (or Dissatisfaction). Cause. End. Path.
Life is suffering (stress/dissatisfaction), the cause of suffering is attachment (grasping/clinging/craving/aversion, denial), there exists an end to suffering, and the end to suffering is the Eight-Fold Path.
Often the axioms in the Buddha’s Eight-Fold Path are written as “Right” or “Virtuous” and one more version is “Skilled.” This reflects that for one to develop awareness it takes diligent study, self-examination and continuous practice…
Samma-Ditthi – Skilled View or Understanding
A mature understanding is enhanced with keen perception that aids in seeing the bigger picture of a given circumstance. This is part of a realistic and objective outlook that will shed more light on the nature of a subject. It is here where cognitive adeptness is to be developed as well as suitably directed. In Western culture we can consider Newton’s Third Law that states, “Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction.”
Samma-Sankappa – Skilled Intention or Thinking
Unobstructed thought results in a clear connection between feelings and intellect. Maintaining healthy reasoning and emotional balance allows one to attend matters with an attitude that benefits – rather than damages. It is here where one can focus on thinking positively by way of compassion, loving kindness (or loving friendliness) and letting go (or generosity).
Samma-Vaca – Skilled Speech
How one speaks is a direct reflection of their character therefore it is crucial to be considerate of one’s utterances. There is a lot of creative energy in speaking and it is encouraged to be watchful of the delivery and sincerity of a message. Authentic communication includes conversing and accurately listening since having a conversation takes more than one person, so “Quick to listen and slow to speak,” is an adage that suits this aspect. Express thyself with truthfulness and avoid belittling, gossip, mindless chatter, slander and verbal abuse.
Samma-Kammanta – Skilled Action
Observe the impact of behavior through a “wider lens” to foresee the root of an action, the effort within the action and the resulting effect. This entails ethically living in active harmony with one’s self, all sentient beings and encompasses a multifaceted balance between giving and taking.
Included are the five precepts of:
no killing, no stealing, no sensual misconduct, no lying & no intoxication.
Samma-Ajiva – Skilled Livelihood
Choose a quality occupation for it will occupy the many hours, days, months and years of a lifetime. This means a vocation that is suitable both morally and ethically, that does not exploit one’s self, misuse society or any situation. Find a profession to admire and love and it will be nourishing not draining.
Samma-Vayama – Skilled Effort
Develop virtues, restrain passions and weed out detrimental mental patterns. This means fostering a vitality that in turn increases the will and equally affects the growth of the spirit. It is said that the way to good energy is through an earnest, thorough and even pace, one that is not acted out in haste but well controlled. The saying goes, “Slow and steady wins the race.” This includes: preventing negativity, overcoming negativity, creating positivity and maintaining positivity.
Samma-Sati – Skilled Mindfulness
Use the mind, in meditation, to watch the mind as it shifts through thoughts and feelings. Observe these fluctuations for they really reveal the truth – that mental patterns are only temporary energies within us. This beckons one to refine their consciousness by using what can be called “bare attention” – which is also applied to perception, comprehension, rumination, language, activity, work, one’s body, vibrations and sensations. It is well known that ignorance is problematic and education is the remedy, especially when it comes to the self, so we must maintain an ongoing examination of our inner world.
Samma-Samadhi – Skilled Concentration
This is an unwavering determination of focusing all the faculties so sharply that one actually becomes “absorbed” in the task at hand. Cultivated properly, this intense concentration is thoroughly, not aggressively, practiced. The aim here is to get rid of greed, hostility and delusion (the three poisons) and to ultimately liberate the individual into wholesomeness.