How to Cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path starting with Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta

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How to Cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path starting with Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta

Anicca, dukkha, anatta describe the true nature of this world with 31 realms. Thus one needs to comprehend these “three characteristics of nature” in order to “see” the path to Nibbāna before starting to follow it.

1. Before one starts on a journey one needs to decide why one should take the journey, exactly where one is going to, and the correct path towards that destination. Thus it is worthwhile to examine why the Buddha said our goal should be to move away from this world towards Nibbāna, why he said that, why one should believe that to be true, and what the correct path towards that goal is. The Buddha himself recommended that approach:

One starts on the Noble Eightfold Path with Sammā Diṭṭhi, which means the needed “vision” on why, what to expect at the end , and an idea about the path to achieve it.

Out of the twelve akusala cittā, five are permanently removed when one attains the Sotāpanna stage: the four greedy cittā that arise with wrong view (“diṭṭhi sahagatha”), and the delusion citta based on vicikicchā. All five of these cittā arise because one does not know the true nature of the world; all kamma that lead one to rebirth in the apāyā are done with these five cittā. Thus when they are removed by partially completing Sammā Diṭṭhi at the Sotāpanna stage, one is permanently prevented from accumulating kamma that destines one to a rebirth in the lowest four realms (apāyā).

Furthermore, any such apāyagāmī kamma seeds previously accumulated are prevented from proving a potent enough nimitta at the moment of death; thus birth in the apāyā is automatically prevented.

Looking at it from another angle, out of the 10 samyojanas (those that binds one to saṁsāra), three are removed at the Sotāpanna stage: sathkaya diṭṭhi (the idea that all actions one does with the six sense bases to achieve amisa sukha are beneficial), vicikicchā (distorted mindset), and silabbata paramasa (the idea that Nibbāna can be attained just by following precepts, without purifying one’s mind). All three are due to not having Sammā Diṭṭhi, or not knowing the true nature of the world: anicca, dukkha, anatta.

In the Sabbasava Sutta, there are seven recommended methods for removing defilements for anyone starting on the Path. The first item on the list describes how one can get rid of a bulk of defilements just with correct vision of “this world”, i.e., “dassanena pahathabba”; this is what was discussed above.

Once one understands the true nature of “this world” and understands how to remove the rest of the defilements, then the other six steps are taken, of which “bhavanaya pahathabba” (i.e., removal by meditation) comes last. Today, most people start meditating without clearly understanding what to meditate about.

2. Thus, first one needs to understand why we need to escape from “this world.”

The three characteristics of “this world” (see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta”) tell us that we can NEVER achieve AND maintain whatever we desire (characteristic of anicca), thus we mostly end up with suffering (dukkha), and thus one is not in control and becomes helpless (anatta). The Buddha merely DISCOVERED this true nature of the world. Many people take Buddha Dhamma to be pessimistic, but Buddha was just a messenger.

Moreover, the Buddha gave us an optimistic message too. For those who are willing to examine the true nature of the world, there is a better version of happiness that comes from moving away from “this world”, i.e., by voluntarily giving up craving for things in this world. This is the nirāmisa sukha of Nibbāna (see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Nirāmisa Sukha?), which increases as one starts on the Path and becomes complete and PERMANENT at the Arahant stage. Even if one does not get to the first stage of Nibbāna, the Sotāpanna stage, one could experience this nirāmisa sukha, and may help shorten the path to Nibbāna in the upcoming lives.

3. Therefore it is CRITICAL to understand anicca, dukkha, anatta, before we proceed further here. If you have not done so, please spend some time critically examining and contemplating on these concepts described under many posts on this website, in particular, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta,” “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma” and the links following that on “Sansāric Time Scale,” and “Evidence for Rebirth,” and “Why is Correct Interpretation of Anicca. Dukkha, Anatta so Important?.” It may be even helpful for many to scan through many other posts before reading those posts.

That is a lot of reading. But “this world” of 31 realms is very complex. Please keep re-reading all posts until you understand the message. Most of these concepts have been hidden for thousand years, and have been badly distorted, especially anicca and anatta. Think about the fact that all biological matter is constituted from just four bases of DNA, and all computer codes are based on two units, 0 and 1. Thus, one could see how complex the “whole existence” with 31 realms is when there are 28 types of rūpa, 89 types of cittā and 52 types of cetasikas are involved!

4. The main conclusion from anicca, dukkha, anatta is “asarattena anatta,” i.e., “anatta in the sense of it is fruitless to crave for anything in this world.” Thus the Buddha said, “anissitoca viharathi, na ca kinci loke upadiyathi,” i.e., “There is nothing in this world that is fruitful, there is nothing to be craved.”

People “behave badly” in order to “get what they perceive to be valuable.” All immoral acts are done to “get what we want.” We crave for something and greed arise, and then when we don’t get what we wish for, we get angry and hate arises. We first think bad thoughts (mano saṅkhāra), then follow through with bad words (vacī saṅkhāra), and bodily action (kaya saṅkhāra). We do all this because we do not have an understanding of the true nature of the world, i.e., anicca, dukkha, anatta, and related facts: knowledge of the rebirth in a wider world of 31 realms with suffering. Thus we do all other bad acts with established wrong views (niyata micchā diṭṭhi); see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala).”

5. Now let us see what happens when one starts learning the true nature of the world including anicca, dukkha, anatta, and ALSO the consequences of immoral actions: Then one thinks, “Is it worthwhile to steal from someone to get what I want, which in the end will do me more harm than good (because those will not provide any permanent happiness, AND one has to pay the price of an immoral action if not in this life but in upcoming lives?).”

Same for any other immoral act: to hurt someone by, uttering false, slandering, harsh, or frivolous speech; stealing, killing, or engaging in sexual misconduct (hurting other parties involved). AND all those start with covetousness, ill-will, and all those are done because of established false views that fruitful things can be had in this world by hurting others without any bad consequences for oneself.

6. Thus when one is about to think of doing such a bad deed or having bad thoughts, this “clear vision” or sammā diṭṭhi will help get rid of such thoughts and instead think, “this person is in the same boat, struggling to survive in a world setup for failure.” Thus instead of bad thoughts one will have thoughts of fellowship and compassion for other beings.

Also one will be working to learn more Dhamma and will be constantly thinking about Dhamma concepts like anicca, dukkha, anatta; the joy from deeper understanding will provide incentive to dig deeper on concepts that are not clear. Thus Sammā Diṭṭhi leads to the next step in the Noble Eightfold Path: Sammā Saṅkappa.

7. With such a mindset one will avoid the four forms of bad speech (lying, slandering, vicious talk, vain talk), because one realizes that such acts will only lead to loss of peace of mind as well as hurting others. Thus one will start living with Sammā Vaca; also see, “Right Speech – How to Avoid Accumulating Kamma.”

8. Similarly, one will clearly see that there is no point in engaging in immoral bodily acts (killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct) in order to get some temporary satisfaction, which in the end will come back to haunt oneself with magnified bad consequences. This will AUTOMATICALLY guide one to act in a moral fashion, i.e., one will have Sammā Kammanta.

9. In standard texts, it says one will not undertake the five lifestyles that are to be avoided:

(a) Dealing and killing animals for meat trade.
(b) Dealing in poisons.
(c) Dealing in weapons and arms.
(d) Dealing in slave trade and prostitution.
(e) Dealing in intoxicants or liquors and drugs.

Sammā ajiva is more than that. Thus one’s lifestyle will automatically change to not only moral living, but also to avoid any kind of act which will be harmful to oneself and/or others. One will take care of one’s responsibilities towards one’s family and the society, because otherwise one will get in deeper debt, and will not have the mindset to contemplate; see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation.”

Following the Path is much more than just abandoning everything and becoming a bhikkhu or just following some guidelines or precepts. It needs to be done with wisdom gained through learning Dhamma. This is Sammā Ajiva.

10. As one feels the benefits of such a lifestyle, one will start feeling the nirāmisa sukha (see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Nirāmisa Sukha?).” Then one will be motivated to stay on that Path, and also to learn more about the Buddha Dhamma and to contemplate more on the Three Characteristics (one is said to have a complete understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta only when one reaches the Arahanthood or full NIbbana). This renewed effort is Sammā Vayama.

11. The above six factors will make one’s mind purified and one will start “seeing” better. One will start working with “yoniso manasikara” (clear vision). It is more than clear thinking; even a master thief plans his work with clear thinking (on the wrong side).

Here what it means is one always looks at any issue with anicca, dukkha, anatta in the mind: that it is not possible to maintain things to our satisfaction in the long run; that the more we attach either via greed or hate, the more we will suffer; that it is unwise to do immoral things for temporary happiness to become helpless at the end. This is Sammā Sati.

12. When one starts meditating (and this does not have to be last; one can start slowly from the beginning), one will be easily able to get to Sammā Samādhi, focused attention (ekaggatā). The more one proceeds on the Path (i.e., the more the mind becomes purified), easier samādhi starts to grow in oneself.; one starts feeling a “lightness” even when not doing formal meditation.

If one works on developing jhānā, one will be able to get to Ariya jhānā. Whether one will be using meditation on the Three Characteristics, Satipaṭṭhāna, or any other other type of meditation, that will eventually lead to the four levels of Nibbāna.

13. It is important to realize that “Sammā” in all these eight steps means “saŋ” (adding things to perpetuate the suffering/rebirth process) + “ma” (remove or get rid of). Thus Sammā Diṭṭhi is the vision (anicca, dukkha, anatta) that helps removing “saŋ”; Sammā Saṅkappa are the thoughts that help remove ‘saŋ”; Sammā Vācā is the kind of speech that helps remove ‘saŋ,” etc.

Thus, one adheres to the eight steps through the UNDERSTANDING of anicca, dukkha, anatta, and not merely for the sake of following some guidelines or precepts. One understands the futility of continuing this rebirth process.

Next, “Akusala Citta – How a Sotāpanna Avoids Apāyagāmi Citta”, …………