The Noble Eightfold Path in the Light of Gnosis
Some of the most important teachings of the Buddha are the ones about the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Some time ago I wrote an article regarding the Four Noble Truths from the Gnostic perspective, which aimed to elaborate upon an exquisite teaching of the Buddha regarding the nature of suffering, how the suffering has to be overcome if one is to reach true awakening, and how those four truths are tightly related to the Path of Initiations. Those Truths are:
– there is suffering; – desire is the cause of suffering; – suffering can be eliminated; – there is a path that leads out of suffering.
In that short four statements or truths is contained a wealth of wisdom, but also a hope that the suffering that humanity goes through on a daily basis can be transcended, which means that by applying a certain set of practices we could reach a true inner peace; a type of peace that is not circumstantial but rather it is permanent and fully integrated within us.
The Noble Eightfold Path enters here as a mean through which one could attain a higher form of living and deepen the connection with their own Being.
However, as everything else in the spiritual teachings that have depth, this Noble Eightfold Path could be seen from exoteric and esoteric point of view. The former would serve as a precept or a guideline for common folks who want to gain merits in life through an upright living, while the latter point of view would serve more for those who have a deeper interest in the study of the human potential and are ready to delve deep enough in order to move along the Path of Initiations. Albeit distinct, those two paths (the Noble Eightfold Path and the Path of Initiations) can be looked upon as one and the same from the point of view of the principles of awakening.
The eight parts of the Noble Eightfold Path (also known as the Eightfold Path of the Noble Ones) are the following:
- Correct View
- Correct Intention
- Correct Speech
- Correct Conduct
- Correct Livelihood
- Correct Effort
- Correct Mindfulness
- Correct Concentration
This implies that one should have a proper understanding of the spiritual teachings that one is studying. In Buddhism, that mostly refers to the topic such as karma and dharma, the Wheel of Samsara, the Four Noble Truths, etc. Each time when we begin a spiritual journey, we have to start with trying to grasp the subject. The deeper our interest is in the spiritual unfoldment, the more we delve into the study of such topics. It always begins with intellectual understanding, but with persistence and the application of correct methods we can arrive to a much more profound comprehension. Knowing about, for instance, karma by reading about it, and knowing about it from our own direct experience, are two very different things. To reach that deeper form of comprehension it is necessary to follow the steps of the Path because the depth of insight and comprehension arrives to us only when our consciousness is sufficiently developed, and later on it deepens even further once we start incarnating the part of our inner Being. However, there is a first step to everything; and likewise we begin our inner study by striving to understand the spiritual teachings at hand, setting the intellectual grasp of the subject as a foundation upon which we must inevitably built, using the consciousness to comprehend the subject more profoundly.
Also referred to as correct resolve, this second aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path is about having the right motivation behind our actions. The inner work is only sustainable when our motivation for it is coming from the right place, which is from the inmost parts of our true Self, and not from the subconscious elements such as curiosity, envy or greed. The longing for inner freedom, happiness and peace is often time a motivation for many people who embark upon the Path, and this indicates that the Being is behind our intention. However, as the inner work proceeds, we should reflect on our intention to make sure that we are always in line with the wishes of our Being, in order to prevent getting pushed away from the Path by the egos and the external forces that oppose our awakening.
With word, we can create things, and we can also destroy them. In today’s world the word is used, in large extent, indiscriminately. We say things prompted by emotions and drives, only to regret them later; but once said, things cannot be unsaid. We also often blurt out our chattering and low thoughts, just for the sake of saying something. How much better would it be to have a connection with our soul, with our Being, so that the source of what we say always comes from that spiritual part of us. This is something that can be achieved; it is a permanent state that we can gain as we transform our lower nature from moment to moment. Lying, continuous criticism, gossiping, inharmonious words, senseless words, words that hurt etc., all of that form part of the speech that is not correct. To work upon our speech is essential if we are to pass the tests of the Path.
The refinement of thought brings about the refinement of speech, and along the way the feeling is refined as well; all of this is to affect our conduct in the everyday life and aligning us with the upright living. If we can control our thought, emotion and word, we will have no problem with controlling our conduct, but until we arrive at that point of a higher control over ourselves, we can strive to act correctly and in line with the spiritual part of us. This not only means avoiding actions that involve causing spiritual and/or material harm to others and ourselves, but also engaging in actions that uplift, actions that help, actions that are harmonious, etc. The source of knowledge of how to act correctly is found in the same place as the knowledge of every other element of the Noble Eightfold Path – in the consciousness. When we are tapped to it, when we live from it and are centered in it, we can feel and know which actions are best to be avoided and which ones are to be embraced.
In ancient times, when the teachings of the Noble Eightfold Path emerged, it was well known which type of livelihood is one to avoid in order to live in line with spiritual principles. Simply speaking, every job that caused harm to others and oneself was to be avoided, such as slave trade, opium and alcohol trade, dealing with harmful or suspicious goods etc. In today’s world the boundaries of correct livelihood are pushed back because the contemporary economy with its advertisement has tendency to present very nicely that for which we could surely say is a livelihood that is out of balance with the principles of the inner work. Sadly, it seems it is very easy today for people to extinguish the voice of their conscience for a job that pays well but brings direct and/or indirect harm to ourselves and others.
As livelihood is such a big aspect of our life, it is very important to reflect if it is ethical and the right one for us, and if it allows us to progress on the Path.
In Buddhism, the correct effort relates to tackling or managing the various states of mind. In particular, this type of effort aims to let go of the negative states that have arisen in the mind, it aims to prevent the negative states that have not yet arisen, and maintains the positive states that are in the mind. The negative or unwholesome states are in Buddhism referred to as the five hindrances: sensual thoughts, doubt about the path, restlessness, drowsiness, and ill will. However, these are just some of the many states that can surge in the mind.
In the Gnostic teachings exists a detailed elaboration of how to apply the Correct Effort correctly, because it deals in great detail with the psychological inner work. For example, we know that in order to tackle correctly our thoughts and emotions (most of which have their origin in the subconscious mind) it is necessary to be centered in the consciousness, to be in the state of self-remembrance, and to self-observe the egos that are continuously coming and going. In this way we are in the position to stay detached from our subconscious mind and to dissolve the illusory inner states, and thus liberating the particles of our consciousness that are trapped inside those states. Through such form of detachment and dissolution, our consciousness is increased and its virtues (such as inner peace, happiness, bliss, clarity etc.) become a regular part of our life.
We become more mindful of ourselves and the world around us as we work on increasing the consciousness. This type of mindfulness is not just a thought, but an actual expansion of awareness produced by the increased consciousness. In order to have that, we need to do the inner work correctly. We begin with the amount of consciousness that we have, and through the application of the techniques of Gnosis we expand the consciousness and thus augment our mindfulness. In the beginning, the technique of mindfulness is the continuous practice of self-remembrance and self-observation, in order to keep the light of the consciousness kindled. This then allows us to be aware of both the inner and the outer world in everyday situations.
In both the Eastern and Western esoteric traditions, the value of concentration is highly emphasised, because it is a doorway to deep states of meditation or Samadhi. Going deep into meditation allows us to experience our consciousness in a way that is very difficult or even impossible to achieve while we are in the waking state. Such deeper experience of our consciousness acts upon us in a profound way, leaving a permanent mark on our soul which is a higher, a new type of remembrance of our inner Being. Through deep meditation we can understand more deeply about the nature of our consciousness and its relation to various parts of the Being. On the Path of Initiations, meditation is an incredible tool that gives us strength, knowledge, and liberation.
The Noble Eightfold Path expands upon the Four Noble Truths (mentioned in the beginning of this article) in the sense that it speaks about the way to reach the end of the suffering that is mentioned in the fourth noble truth. Even though the description of the Noble Eightfold Path does not contain many of the information that is necessary for awakening, it is suitable as an outline of a guide that contains valuable precepts for striving to live an upright life. Nonetheless, in it are also contained a beautiful teaching that complement the knowledge of the Path; a kind of a spiritual gem that underlines the importance of living a spiritual life in our attempt to awaken, as opposed to approaching the inner work as a hobby. It is this particular virtue that is contained in every genuine spiritual tradition of the world, and that conveys an eternal message upon the soul, living a mark on it that, one day, may lead us to the goal that is spoken by all the above-mentioned traditions – the goal of self-realization.