Saturday, April 6, 2024

In one of our recent Dhamma Group meetings, it was pointed out that the Pāli word, “sammā” begins each of the tags for the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.


As a reminder for those of you who need one, the Noble Eightfold Path is the discipline which, when followed religiously, leads to the cessation of dukkhā. Dukkhā being that state of being in which we find ourselves when our desire for Reality to be a particular way, our belief that Reality is a particular way and/or our insistence that Reality must be a particular way, isn’t congruent with Reality as we are experiencing it. Dukkhā is most often translated as “suffering,” but that is really too restrictive. See previous blogs from past years for a fuller account of the concepts dukkhā subsumes.

Sammā is most frequently translated with the English adjective, “Right” – Right Perspective, Right Resolve, etc. Some other English words which have been used to translate sammā include, “Proper,” “Correct,” “Skillful,” “Wise,” “Ennobling,” . . . .

If we think of each of the eight factors of the Path as a practice with an end result of reducing/eliminating dukkhā, then “Right Effort” becomes an abbreviated way of saying, “the Effort which is efficacious in the reduction/elimination of dukkhā.” Or, if we choose to focus on the two primary causes of dukkhā, avijjā (ignorance and delusion) and taṇhā (the desire that Reality be “my way;” the attachment to the notion that my desires can be met, should be met, must be met; the drive for self-gratification), then Right Effort becomes “the Effort which is efficacious in the development of wisdom, the eradication of delusional thinking, and the effort which results in the effective management of attachments and desires.” Lots of words. The point here is that sammā is used in a specific context, the context of the Four Noble Truths. What’s to be taken away is that sammā is pointing us towards practices which lead to nirodha: the cessation of dukkhā.

Another point that was alluded to is that words are goopy. Words can have a multitude of meanings and shades of meanings. Words only partially represent “reality;” they actually point to our concepts about reality. And many, many Buddhist texts and teachers have noted that there is “reality” which is subjective and is created through language and our experiences with the world, and the concepts we construct linguistically out of those individual experiences.

But . . . as the wise and compassionate Thích Nhất Hạnh (read some of his books: you’ll get a whole new perspective on how to live life), and so many others, have noted, there is an objective Reality out there and it is possible to directly experience that Reality by bypassing our subjective conceptual concepts. Some teachers, particularly in the Zen traditions, but also in the Vajrayāna, Theravāda, and any number of Mahāyāna lineages, go so far as to say this is the goal of practice; that establishing oneself (one’s not-self?) in non-conceptual Reality, one can then perceive Reality directly, as it is, not filtered through our ignorance, delusions and desires. And according to the teachings of some traditions, in so doing, one realizes one’s “true Being,” e.g., Buddha nature. And with the realization of that, comes the dissolution of ignorance, the eradication of delusion and the extinction of desire. This, they say, is Nirvāṇa.

So the Discipline, the Training, The Middle Way, The Noble Eight Path is a practice. It’s the practice of living right.

On another note . . . 

On Sunday, April 28, 2024 we’ll be hosting A Half-Day of Meditation at the Pure Land Center: Pure Land Hall, Suite D, 8364 Hickman Road, Clive, IA 50325. We’ll begin at 8:45 a.m. and wrap things up about 12:00 noon. This event will be particularly useful for those who have never attended a meditation retreat; for those who are not so experienced with meditation, and for those who want to renew their practice. Please come at 8:45 if you would like instruction in sitting practice or walking meditation. 

Everyone who practices a silent, sitting meditation technique, regardless of tradition or orientation is welcome. As always, participation is free, and there will be a potluck lunch.

Please register by email at by the end of the day on Thursday, April 25th.