What is the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism?

Buddhists strive to follow the Noble Eightfold Path in the categories of Wisdom, Conduct (Ethical), and Concentration. The Noble Eightfold Path represents the practical way to live out the Four Noble Truths, which teach that life is suffering caused by desiring impermanent things. All things, it teaches, even people, are impermanent.

The eight parts of the Path are not to be followed in any specific order, but pursued simultaneously. Buddhists believe that when all desire is removed, a person can reach Nirvana; pursuing the aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path is meant to help practitioners rid themselves of desire. The eight components are: right view, right intent, right speech, right behavior, right livelihood, right effort, right awareness, and right meditation.

Right View—this is believing in the Four Noble Truths that life is suffering, suffering results from our seeking temporary things, all things are temporary, and following the Noble Eightfold Path will lead to a lack of desire. Right view also includes the belief in rebirth (reincarnation and karma). Biblically, we are taught that submission to one particular truth, that of Jesus, is needed for salvation (John 8:32–36; 14:6; Acts 4:12). But pursuit of specific knowledge is not an active part of salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9; 1 Corinthians 3:19).

Right Intent—teaches a person to submit thoughts and attitudes to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. In Christianity, the Bible teaches us to strive to emulate the actions and standards of Jesus (2 Corinthians 13:5; Romans 13:14; John 15:14). The Bible also teaches us that our natural, fleshly desires are not Christ-like (Jeremiah 17:9). Buddhism offers no tools for a person to wield to change those desires, while Christianity offers the indwelling of God Himself (Romans 8:9; John 14:16–17; Galatians 5:16).

These two, right view and right intent, are the Wisdom aspects.

Right speech, right behavior, and right livelihood are the Ethical aspects.

Right Speech—striving for honesty, politeness, and purposefulness are one side of this coin, while avoiding negative speech such as lying, gossip, or verbal abuse are the other side. Certain spiritual or metaphysical subjects are also to be avoided. Right speech includes spoken as well as written words. The Bible tells us to control our words (Proverbs 10:19; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6), our tongues (James 3:3–12), and to stay away from unnecessary arguing (1 Timothy 6:4). It also tells Christians to talk about spiritual things, and specifically to share the Good News (Matthew 28:18–20).

Right Behavior—this calls for measuring our actions against the standard of whether they would bring harm to others. If so, don't do it. The Bible addresses behavioral ethics, summed up in Matthew 7:12. It also combines actions with attitude, judging each equally (Matthew 5:21–22, 27–28). The standard is God's holy nature rather than the benefit, neutrality, or harm of another.

Right Livelihood—focuses on occupation. Does it harm others, require you to lie or cheat? Due to the Buddhist understanding of animal life and violence, this path would eliminate any job that has to do with the preparation or selling of meat or weapons. The Bible tells us that we should do all things for God's glory (Colossians 3:17), which would include the way we do business. The Bible also tells us that we should be good stewards of nature (Genesis 1:28; Leviticus 25:2–5). But the Bible also says that animals are for our benefit and does not prohibit the eating of meat (Genesis 1:28; 9:3; Mark 7:19). We also have the opportunity for self-defense (Luke 22:36).

Now we come to the Concentration aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path: right effort, right awareness, and right meditation.

Right Effort—this underlies the efforts of pursuing the other aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path with persistence and caution. Avoiding pessimism, negativity, and such emotions as anger are part of right effort. Biblically, we know that human nature is flawed and there is only so much a person can do to live an upstanding life. However, God desires to change our hearts and help us become more like Him (2 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 6:11). Buddhism offers no suggested means for such change.

Right Awareness—this aspect focuses on the mental and philosophical parts of responding to experiences and environment. Buddhism teaches a focus on the present rather than the past or the future. Christianity does teach us to have a guarded heart and to be mindful of our thoughts and how others impact our relationship with God (1 Corinthians 15:22; 6:12).

Right Meditation—focusing on emptying the mind of everything is at the core of Buddhist meditation with its ultimate expression called Samadhi. Samadhi is achieved when a person reaches non-perception and non-feeling. Though the Bible teaches meditation (Psalm 1:2; 119:15) it does not ask adherents to empty their minds, but rather to fill them with the truth of God's Word.

There are both similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity. The similarities are striking, yet the differences are such that there can be no agreement between the two. Buddhism seems to require someone to push themselves to reach the highest goals, while Christianity shows that a person's natural heart is not to be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10–12; 7:18–24) and relies on God to bring about the goodness in people through a relationship with Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 7:25; Galatians 3:13).

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