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The Noble Eightfold Path
By Thanissaro Bhikku

However, to attain the highest level Arahantship, the eight noble factors must converge together with two more: right knowledge and right release. Right knowledge is nowhere defined per se in the Canon, but would seem to indicate the following relationship between it and right view:

Right view is realization of the four noble truths and the duties appro­priate to each, while right knowledge is the realization that the duties have been brought to fulfillment. The conjunction of right knowledge and right release reflects, on a higher level, the conjunction of discern­ment and concentration on the noble level of the eightfold path. Passage of the Pali canon indicates that release here can be considered as analogous to concentration, albeit totally unshakable. Right knowledge would include awareness of the unshakability of the release, while the release would remain unshaken even in the face of that knowledge.



At this point, even the path can be abandoned, for one has reached the goal. Abandoning, here, does not mean that one reverts to wrongs views, wrong action, etc.; rather, one no longer needs to use right view, etc., as a means to a further attainment. The Awakened one continues practicing meditation and exercising right view as pleasant dwellings for the mind, conducive to mindfulness and alertness, and leads a moral life both for its inherent pleasure and for the sake of the example it offers to those still on the path. The noble eightfold path, like the seven factors of Awakening, is explicitly explained both as a causal loop and as a holographic formula. We have already described the causal loop above, in showing how the development of the mundane and noble path factors follows the pattern of the five faculties.

Passage 106 of the Pali canon presents a holographic pattern, in which the development of each factor needs three main supporting factors: right view, which acts as the leader so as to know what the right and wrong versions of the factors are; right effort, which makes the effort to abandon the wrong version and devel­op the right; and right mindfulness, which keeps the task of right effort in mind. Thus three factors that we have identified as essential to the development of skillfulness discernment, mindfulness, and effort is involved at each step along the path. As a result of that involvement, they grow stronger to the point where they can help turn mundane right concentration-the fourth factor essential to the devel­opment of skillfulness-into noble right concentration. In this sense, they play a role analogous to that of heedfulness in the five faculties and appropriate attention in the seven factors of Awakening. In fact, they seem to be a complete working out of the elements implicit in those two qualities.


A quick review of the seven sets will show that all of them develop both in a linear and in a holographic way. Even the "holographic" sets-the frames of reference, right exertions, and bases of power­contain implicit versions of causal loops, in that all three must follow the three stages of frames-of-reference meditation. Even the linear causal-loop sets-the five faculties and strengths, the seven factors of Awakening, and the noble eightfold path-contain implicit holograph­ic formulae, in that the dynamic of their development is inherent in specific qualities or clusters of qualities: heedfulness in the case of the faculties and strengths, appropriate attention in the case of the factors of Awakening, and the cluster of right view, right mindful ness, and right effort in the case of the noble eightfold path. This combination of linear and holographic patterns grows more complex as we remember that each of the first two stages of frames-of-reference meditation can form linear causal loops within themselves, while two of the factors in the three-part cluster that develops the eightfold path-right mindful­ness and right effort-are equivalent to the holographic sets of the frames of reference and the right exertions.

This formal convergence of two causal patterns in the development of the path reflects not only the dual principle of this that conditionality, but also a very practical point in the task of developing the skills of the mind. The holographic pattern reflects the fact that all the skillful qualities needed for the path are already there in the mind and contin­ually interact along the path. All that is needed is for them to be ferreted out and nourished, their coordination fine-tuned, and they can deliver the mind to the goal. The causal loop pattern reflects the fact that the process must take place over time, as specific qualities are stressed at specific junctures and strengthened by being put to use, and as different skillful qualities need to alternate in helping one another, step by step, along the way. An analogy can be made with learning how to walk: A child who can't yet walk already has all the muscles needed to walk, but she must locate them and exercise them in a coor­dinated way, so that the right and left leg can help and receive help from each other, in order to move from the first tentative step to the point where walking seems natural and can be done with grace.

Monks, ignorance is the leader in the attainment of unskillful qualities, followed by lack of conscience & lack of concern. In a unknowledgeable person, immersed in ignorance, wrong view arises. In one of wrong view, wrong resolve arises. In one of wrong resolve, wrong speech .... In one of wrong speech, wrong action .... In one of wrong action, wrong livelihood .... In one of wrong livelihood, wrong effort .... In one of wrong effort, wrong mindfulness .... In one of wrong mindfulness, wrong concentration arises. Contd>

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