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Buddhism and numbers: three, five, and eight. Briefly going over the Noble Eightfold Way today.


photo by Phramaha Narinthep Thongchai courtesy of

“Three” refers to “the triple gem”: the Buddha (a man, a historical person); his teachings (the documents preserving his oral advice); and the monastic community (the monks and nuns who worked to advance Buddhism)– or indeed the entire Buddhist community as a whole.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are also the three “inner roots” (the lama or guru, the yidam or “Buddhahood”/”awakening”, and the Kandrini or “sacred female spirit”), three “secret roots” (the channels through which spiritual energy flows, the breath, and “point” or “dot”), and three “ultimate roots” (too complex to mention here).

There are more “threes” in Buddhism, but we’ve already gotten too complicated for a short post.

“Five” refers to the “Five Precepts” mentioned yesterday:

  1. I will not kill.
  2. I will not steal.
  3. I will not lie.
  4. I will not have inappropriate sex.
  5. I will not take intoxicating substances.

“Eight” refers to the Noble Eightfold Path, what Wikipedia describes as “an early summary of the path of Buddhist practices leading to liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of rebirth.”  The Eightfold Way consists of the following:

  1. Right understanding; in Wikipedia, this means an understanding that: “our actions have consequences, that death is not the end, that our actions and beliefs also have consequences after death”… this is karma.
  2. Right intention; this is, per Wikipedia: “the practitioner resolves to leave home, renounce the worldly life and dedicate himself to an ascetic pursuit.”… this is abandoning your old way of life.
  3. Right speech; (Wikipedia quotes from the Pali canon here): ” Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter”… this is talking right.
  4. Right conduct; (again, quoting from the Pali canon): “Abstaining from killing, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from sexual misconduct”… this is doing right.
  5. Right livelihood; (Wikipedia quoting from a book by Vetter, 1988): “living from begging, but not accepting everything and not possessing more than is strictly necessary”… this is living by begging, not so responsible if everyone were to do it.
  6. Right effort; (paraphrased from Wikipedia) this refers to efforts of the will to avoid sensual desire (not just sex, but desiring any sensation) and aversion, including hatred, anger, and resentment… this is hard.
  7. Right mindfulness; (quoting from Wikipedia again, referring to the vipassana (insight meditation) movement): “never be absent minded, [be] conscious of what one is doing”… this begins meditation.  (Note that meditation has two aims, according to Wikipedia: insight and calming.)
  8. Right concentration; this appears to be concentrating without having a single object in mind.  Here Wikipedia begins by referring to Bikkhu Bodhi (an American Theravada monk), and  his idea is: ” right concentration meditative factor in Buddhism is a state of awareness without any object or subject, and ultimately unto nothingness and emptiness.”  This is another step in meditation.

The Noble Eightfold Way can have many different interpretations, as many as there are people who encounter it.  It could be interpreted differently depending on what period of life you are in when you find it; later you could interpret it differently.  We’ll leave it at that today.


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