Buddha described the end to suffering in the Four Noble Truths: by letting go of our desires we can end the suffering. The Eightfold Path is a more detailed description of the rules to follow to accomplish this. It is the cure for the suffering. Even though it is called a Path they are not to be followed one after another but together as a practical guide for living your life in accordance with the Zen philosophy.
1. Right View
Understand the self and the world; be aware of your own actions and the reasons behind them. Know the Four Noble Truths and see the world as it really is. It is the realization that everything (even the self) changes and that clinging to the idea of a permanent self is an illusion and gives rise to unhappiness.
2. Right Intention
Be sure about what controls your actions. Are they for the good of all or just yourself ? Resist to acting upon feelings of desire, prejudgment or aggression.
3. Right Speech
Remember that words are never ‘just words’. Words can make or break lives. You must be careful with the things you say. Don’t tell deliberate lies or speak deceitfully. Avoid using harsh words that offend or hurt others. Speak friendly and only if you have something positive to contribute.
4. Right Action
This one is simple: Don’t do wrong ! It is to keep from harming or even killing people (or animals). Do not steal or (sexually) misuse others.
5. Right Livelihood
Live an honest life by doing a job that will help mankind instead of being harmful or just for the purpose of getting rich.
These jobs should be avoided:
– dealing in weapons,
– trade in living beings for meat production, slavery or prostitution
– dealing in alcohol or drugs
– any occupation that violates the principles of right speech and right action
6. Right Effort
Effort is the driving force for the other aspects of the Eightfold path of Zen. Without the right effort nothing can be accomplished. It means to refrain from helping or starting things that can cause harm. And to actively help where good can be done.
7. Right Mindfulness
Is the ability to have a look at yourself from a distance. Observe your body, feelings and mind without attraction or diversion. Keep an open mind in the present, quiet and alert. Focus on present events. Do not judge or interpret.
8. Right Concentration
The way to reach complete concentration in Zen is through Zazen (meditation). But this is only the exercise to learn how to achieve one-pointedness of mind. It is something that the Zennist must try to maintain in everything he or she does or says.
Remember these are guidelines. They are not carved out in stone and to be followed by the letter on punishment of hell. The nice thing about Zen-Buddhism is it’s faith in the human mind. We know what is right and what is wrong. We just have to learn to see clearly. And the best (and only?) way to learn to see more clearly is through meditation or Zazen as it is called by Zen buddhist.