The Path of Nirvana

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Path of Nirvana. It is important for us to know something about the discipline that leads people to Nirvana, both for lay people and also the monks and nuns.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Path of Nirvana is often divided in eight categories, like the eight spokes of the wheel of the Buddha’s teaching. The Noble Eightfold Path. It includes the concept of right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

I think that the logic of the Path becomes a little bit more clear if we take these eight categories and reduce them or group them together into three. This is often done in traditional Buddhist teaching. Sila, or moral conduct. Samadhi, mental concentration. And Panna, or wisdom.

What a Buddhist has to do to achieve Nirvana? What do I have to do if I want to seek that great ideal?

First, Moral Conduct

Well, first of all, you should abide basic rules of moral conduct. Why? Because if you perform actions that are going to be dangerous and destructive for other people or for yourself, you may end coming back like one of those worms or mosquitoes that we talked about when we were discussing the Upanishads. It is not that easy, if you are a mosquito, to try to achieve Nirvana. It would be a good idea to start by engaging in the proper modes of conduct that would make it possible for you to come back in a way that would be conducive to Nirvana. What are those?

No killing, no stealing, no lying, no abuse of sex and not drinking intoxicants. The five basic moral precepts of the traditional Buddhist practice. This applies to lay people as well to monks.

Monks observe other precepts and a number of other regulations that have to do specifically with the monastic life. These include the restriction that they cannot eat after twelve of noon. All monks beg their food in the morning and have a sufficient meal before noon.

They are not supposed to sleep on soft beds. They can’t handle gold or silver. So, if a monastery has financial dealings, they have to have a lay person who would take care of their accounts and engage in the purchases that keep the monastic life in motion.

Mental Concentration

Another thing that Buddhist practitioners do is to engage in mental concentration. The term here is Samadhi, to concentrate the mind. Maybe you think that meditation is the most fundamental thing that Buddhists do, and that’s certainly true in many parts of the Buddhist tradition. You might even begin yourselves to imagine what meditation might be like. It is not impossible to do it even in ordinary situations in life.

What you try to do is to situate yourself very stably, sit in a chair. You can even do it standing if you can be stable. Keep your back straight. The Dalai Lama insists on this when he teaches meditation. It is important to do it because it allows you to breath freely, allows you diaphragm to be free. And then you might want to fold your hands in front of you. And then just breath. Concentrate your attention as much as you can on that place where your breathing centers, and allow your body and your mind to become calm.

One of my old Yoga teachers used to say that in an experience of Samadhi like this, you allow your thoughts in your head to simply drain out of your mind. That’s what it is, allowing the mind to become calm and allowing the thoughts to clarify themselves by allowing all that busy activity in your head simply to stop.

You can imagine that this discipline of mental concentration is a way of doing for the mind, what the discipline of moral conduct does for the body. It is a way to stop all of those distractions and all of that negative tendencies that tie you to the experience of death and rebirth.

This form of meditation, of mental concentration, is one of the most basic forms of Buddhist discipline. It is found in the early scriptures of the Buddhist community, and of course continues on in practice among Buddhists today.


Finally, the third and most important thing that you would want to do, is to cultivate wisdom. Here the word is Panna. It actually comes from the Sanskrit root Prajñā. It is to know the nature of the world and to know where it is going, so you can become detached from it and begin the process that leads to Nirvana.

These three things: Sila, Samadhi, and Panna; will lead you to the experience of Nirvana.

This article is part of the series about The Buddha's Teachings.

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