THE EIGHTFOLD PATH AS A SPIRAL PATH


        First, notice the 8 stages of the path as I put them in my "Chant."

KNOWING, LOVING, HERE WE GO NOW.          (The 1st line can also say:
                                                                                       Prajna, Prajna Great Karuna --
SPEAKING, ACTING, RIGHT VOCATION                          which means
                                                                                                Wisdom, Wisdom,
STEADY, MINDFUL, CONCENTRATION                     Great Compassion.)
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1 & 2: Prajna-Karuna -- the "Knowing-Loving" (or "Insight-Resolve") Phase

            This phase has to do with an insight moment that issues into a resolve.
                        In older times, thinkers would have spoken of intellect and will.

        The "knowing" is deepening as we go round and round the spiral path. First it will only be a realization that there is something wrong with my state.

        Little by little, the knowing will deepen into a practical wisdom and the willing will deepen into a type of compassion.

        At its highest development, we may speak of PRAJNA-KARUNA -- the Great Wisdom that is identical with the Great Compassion.

        We could start by saying "knowing, willing -- here we go now" or "knowing, choosing-- here we go now."
            And only later say "knowing, loving-- here we go now."
                    Still later, "Prajna, Prajna Great Karuna"

3, 4, 5: Sila -- the Conduct Phase

        In like measure, in the early turns of the path, the conduct phase will look to outward speech and outward action of a suffering-producing kind.

        Right Speech will focus on avoiding lying, exaggeration, forked tongue and abusive language.

        Right Action will focus on a set of fairly literal and very basic moral teachings.
For example: 1) Donít kill. 2) Donít steal. 3) Donít engage in sexual misconduct.
                        4) Donít use false speech. 5) Donít use intoxicants.

At higher levels, the emphasis will shift from "what NOT to do" to "what to do."

Next the emphasis will shift again
from "what to do in this or that situation" (action specific) to
            "how to cultivate good habits of attitude and action" --
                        habits that we help to reduce unnecessary suffering and
                                            to promote constructive possibilities for our common life.

Finally, the emphasis will extend beyond the gross forms of suffering to the more subtle forms of suffering. In my formulation I phrase it in this way:

        Awareness                             Cultivation                                     Awareness
of Gross Forms of Vice             of the Virtue                         of more subtle forms of Vice

Aware of the suffering               I am committed to cultivate                     & to reduce
caused by _________,                            _____________                                    _______ in its many forms.

Destruction of Life          COMPASSION & REVERENCE FOR LIFE                   "killing"

Stealing, Social
Injustice & Exploitation                   KINDNESS & GENEROSITY                         "taking what is not given"

Sexual Misconduct       Sexual RESPONSIBILITY & True INTIMACY                "the sexual manipulation
                                                                                                                                                of others"

Unmindful Speech
and Inability to Listen Loving         SPEECH & Deep LISTENING                        "the failure of
                                                                                                                                                  communications"

Unmindful Consumption       Mindful EATING, DRINKING & CONSUMING              "destructive
                                                                                                                                                            addiction"
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6,7,8: the Samadhi or Meditation Phase

The Steady, Mindful, Concentration also deepens with each turning on the spiral path.
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        So, thinking of the Eightfold Path as a spiral path, imagine early turns on the path to be fairly literal -- showing up in fairly obvious behavior.
        Nancy Ross Wilson provides a good voicing of the path at this level -- I make some slight revisions. (See her Three Way of Asian Wisdom, pp. 91-92 for the original.)

1.  You must see clearly what is wrong. -- this is a knowledge aspect -- practical knowing
 
2.  You must decide to be cured. -- this is an aspect related to the will, to willing, deciding to take action.
 
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3.   You must speak so as to aim to be cured.
4.   You must act so as to aim to be cured.
5.   Your livelihood must not conflict with your therapy.
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6.   Your therapy must go forward at the "staying speed," the critical velocity that can be sustained.
                                                                                     
7.  You must practice mindful living (with awareness of "dis-ease vs. ease" sickness to health)
                                                                                                                                moment by moment.
8.   You must learn how to contemplate with the deep mind.
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            In the beginning, you are caught at the wind-blown surface of the lake. Your sense of who you are is constructed by stories and emotions that are culturally offered and societally affirmed. You ARE your personal and cultural stories. You do not recognize that you (and others) are generating the stories and generating the likes and dislikes that follow them.

            Go to the mid-level of the clear waters of the lake. Turn and look at the "little you" reacting and telling stories and generating emotions and not even aware enough to know it.

        Notice that another part of you has arisen.  This other part of you notices without judgment and allows you to SEE the stories, not BE the stories. This other part of you listens without judgment to the tones and overtone of your own speech and allows you to experience without judgment "the emotional attraction-repulsion" you are manufacturing.  It allows you to SEE the emotionality without having to BE the emotionality. Knowing that stories are only stories and emotions are only weather reports you create the space to choose the story you will tell and to choose equanimity over undisciplined clinging and condemning.

            Finally, when you go to the very bottom of the lake, you begin to be aware that all is water and the water here is interconnected with the waters of the Great Ocean. Perhaps a moment comes when the knower and the knowing and the known are "not one, not two."

As Shams of Tabriz, the teacher of Rumi said:

            I You He She We                 In the garden of mystical lovers
            I You He She We                 These are not true distinctions.

            However, we do come back from the ecstasy of experienced oneness. With grace, we bring a sense of that oneness to the observing self -- in the mid-level of the lake. And we bring more of the mindfulness of the observing self to the little self on the surface of the lake, helping the littleness fall away and the larger and more spacious way of living to come to the fore.
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            Perhaps on the eightfold path, we begin with a Theravada understanding and living of the spiral path. We deepen into a Mahayana understanding and living of the path and we may even move to a Vajrayana understanding and living of the path. All following of this path reduces suffering and promotes possibility for our common life.

                                                                                                                                John G. Sullivan © April 2002

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