Thus far we have looked at the first three Noble Truths. The Fourth Noble Truth is the Middle Path, a path leading to the cessation of Dukkha — and thus the path to enlightenment. You might have heard is called the Middle Way. The path is called the Middle Way because it is a center between two extremes.
The first extreme is to seek to extinguish suffering through the pursuit of pleasures and the indulgence of desire. Before Buddha became enlightened he was Prince Siddhārtha Gautama he lived a life of luxury with all his desires fulfilled and yet he was not free from suffering. The second extreme is to seek to extinguish suffering through acesticism. Buddha tried this path too, nearly killing himself by denying any pleasure, including eating. He realized that no matter how much he denied himself he still suffered.
So, neither path is effective because they both acknowledge the existence of an inherent self, the first by wallowing in the desires of the perceived self and the second by denying said pleasures and causing harm to the physical self hoping to move beyond or tame the desires. Both of these fail because the most effective way to extinguish suffering is to destroy the concept of the self. If one has annihilated the concept of a self, one cannot thirst for, or desire anything. To cease suffering, then, one must destroy the concept of an abiding, true self. The Eightfold Path, or Middle Way, is a guideline for overcoming the concept of a self. Once Siddhārtha Gautama realized discovered this he achieved Enlightenment and was free from suffering.
For others to achieve Nirvana, or the end of suffering, they must follow the Noble Eightfold Path as set forth by Buddha over 2,500 years ago. The eight steps of the path form the fourth truth of the Four Noble Truths, which are among the most fundamental of Buddhist teachings.
The Eightfold Path is often depicted as a Dharma wheel, closely resembling a wagon wheel. The eight steps that make the path or wheel result in a practical guide to ethics, mental development, and modifying the way your work, live and even breathe. By achieving these eight steps, a Buddhist follower will eliminate all suffering and reach the desired state of Nirvana. The follower does not have to complete the steps sequentially, but rather, he may obtain them simultaneously.
To live according to the Eightfold Path, one must engage in the following practices.
- Right Understanding
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
The next article talks about the Sections of the Eightfold Path from there we will go into each step in detail.
If you missed any of the other Noble Truths click on the one you want to review.