The Four Tasks and the Eightfold Path as Perspective
The foundation of this process started when several Dharma friends formed a group and did an inquiry into the connection between the Four Ennobling Truths, Dharma, and Meditation. During inquiry we used alternate interpretations from the Pali and Sanskrit based canons. Although that inquiry isn’t over, we did find a process we found helpful and need to share.
The Four Truths all have an accompanying task. The crucial point is the task leads to the process or the doing, so it was important that each task reflected how I was in experiencing these moments, if it was to be a direct application.
The First Truth, “Life is Suffering.” (Or a variant, uneasy, uncomfortable, unpleasant, causing pain or sadness, distress, grief, and misery.) I see it as out of balance, as if wobbling around.
The task: “Comprehend suffering.” Here are the other interpretations of the Pali word, Sampajanna, interpreted as comprehension: clear knowing, fully alert, attention, consideration, introspection, constant understanding of impermanence. (And I must mention Sukka, also something that can enable us to be out of balance, Sukka is translated as happiness, pleasure, ease, joy, and bliss. So, we also need to “comprehend Sukka” if we are dedicated to being in balance.)
Although all six of us had trained in the tasks or read about them, no one could identify with what it meant to “comprehend.” We intellectually understood, we had all experienced suffering, but still, what was this comprehension that was applicable? How to enact comprehension? To comprehend suffering speaks of something much deeper than a simple intellectual description.
Then this dropped in as a self-reflection: Am I Suffering? To give ourselves the gift of asking, how am I in these moments? Most of the time I find myself struggling with resistance and a reactive state, when what I could chose to do is simply ask “Am I suffering?” and engage in the comprehension of body/mind/emotive status in these moments. So, to ask about my present state, and then experience it, is comprehension. Body/mind/feelings/emotions acting in understanding simultaneously.
Updated Task: Am I suffering?
The Second Truth, we suffer because we resist or cling to what exists. An underlying unease as an old friend used to say. I react, clinging upon or rejecting experiences, things, people, moods, and emotions.
Task: Let go of the Arising. (Sanskrit: Pratītyasamutpāda. Classic Buddhism refers back to dependent origination, but we were seeking immediacy and application. And dependent origination turns to philosophy. So, we started seeking as deeply as possible.
After lengthy inquiry we could not define “letting go.” But another interpretation is to “Confirm the Origination.” Weaving this with the first task became: How am I enabling my own suffering?
Well, that struck a chord. Two solid questions that were critical but also connected the opportunity to comprehend how the state impacted experience. Offering an opportunity to comprehend the suffering.
Updated Task: How am I enabling my own suffering?
The Third Truth: There is a process. One that can be engaged to reduce current suffering.
Task: Experience the Ceasing, in classic studies that is the cultivation of the Eightfold Path.
But Nirodha a word to describe the “Third Ennobling Truth” is also translated as having “Knowledge of the cessation.”
Cultivate is leaning towards a future state to be enhanced in some way and we were seeking something more immediate. The next step evolved quicky, using the Eightfold path as perspectives in the moment. Using them I can see and feel how I’m experiencing each dynamic.
Am I suffering?
How can I be enabling my suffering?
Applied to these perspectives.
View: How am I seeing in these moments? Am I here in presence or viewing from the stream of thought? Am I seeing from conclusion or attitude? Opinion?
Intent: What is my current intention and what else constitutes a “reason” for my thoughts and actions?
Speech/Hearing: How am I speaking right now? In anger? Out of sadness? Fear? What is enabling this feeling called suffering? If I have inner dialogues, and most of us seem to, what kind of voice is speaking at “me?” Am I hearing through a filter? Am I present and attending?
Actions/Inactions: How might my current action/inaction be harming me? Lots of time being uncomfortable is about what I haven’t done as well as my actions.
Purpose, referred to as Livelihood. Livelihood had the flavor of occupation, and it was pointed out there are 21 interpretations of the Pali word, interpreted as livelihood. One of them was presence. Presence led us to Purpose. When I’m here, is what I’m doing in these moments enabling suffering?
Effort/Non-Effort: How may this effort be enabling my suffering? Is my effort too much or little or am I going through the motions in these moments?
Streaming Thoughts: referred to as Mindfulness. Streaming thoughts paints a picture of motion and a flow; the action instead being in attention “of something.” Am I stuck in a loop as thoughts keep flowing along, attention drawn into reoccurring thoughts? Am I out of balance and swimming in thought? Feeling trapped and enabling past emotions to resurface?
Attention: referred to as concentration. All of us, despite various disciplines, had been trained that attention is prime and concentration refers to areas of focus within the general attention. This hinges on the phrase, “The quality of your life will hinge on the focus of your attention.” Or concentrated attention when narrowed. That seems so truthful no matter what perspective one uses to see it.
In practice we noticed two perspectives in attention, one is in streaming thoughts, where I can play and explore, plan, hope, dream and where beliefs dwell.
The other is when attention is focused on direct sensing, no words, no language, direct contact.
It takes both, in balance to create the process of a Human, Being. Gautama called that the middle path, right?
We find this is just the beginning, we see so many variations and ways to apply this process. I sincerely hope this introduction gives some grounding for your experience in life.
It’s so vital to realize this process belongs to you if you chose to engage. There’s no way or path or dogma, just you in these moments inquiring into your state in whatever language will be relevant and appropriate within these moments. After several months of practice, I’m seeing there’s a clearer way to reduce my suffering in these moments.
Are you suffering?
How may I be enabling your suffering? Compassion again rises as I engage with my experience of your suffering.
When we started asking this, we began to see the further implications for study. We can use either system of query or both. This appears more as a doorway to practice right now, but time will tell, it sings from deep ground.
A few thoughts: This process, as inquiry, has no boundaries, although it grew from Gautama’s work it works for anyone who is seeking to see how they process life. It’s being explored by people of several faiths and disciplines, and it appears useful.
The problem? If any? Is simply whether you will do this process, or perhaps save it for later. Like all the other processes stuck away, from various teachings, sitting in folders and bookcases.
When you embrace this make it yours, in your voice, your understanding, a process that evolves, and grows like you, and the entire universe. This is new to me. But as I apply, I can see how the perspectives as application can become another part of how I experience life.
This sings to me and has become a primary dharma practice of sharing. If your attention is drawn and you seek more information or have questions as the process continues or would like assistance in building a group inquiry I am offering to assist. (Just to let you know, I don’t have any answers, only momentary resolutions until the next question!) This is a flowing living document and subject to change, as it should. Spelling errors and grammatical mistakes are mine.
You can email me at Changingspiritbw@gmail.com
Visit the web peoplesdharma.com for updates.
Bryan Wagner 1/23/2003
As this journey unfolds, we will be offering some updates on what’s been helpful and those things that enable resistance.
Willingness: This of course is a prime component of any path, process, or indeed any motion, physically or intellectually. To enter any conscious process requires a willingness to engage in the process long enough to ascertain whether it is appropriate, relative to one’s journey, and relatable to circumstances. There is an effort needed to change conditioning, it relies on being willing long enough for the opportunity to rise or noticing the formula’s incompatible.
How many “formulas” have we been given in the past, only to tuck them away after the initial enthusiasm fades? I have notebooks full. But, As Cheri Huber wrote, “Willingness is the Key.” (A book I found essential to my understanding of the work of the journey.)
What I often experience is this, instead of attending to the stream of thought, emotions, feelings, and moods, to comprehend why they may enable suffering, I ignore the suffering, and using conditioned separate personality, attempt to “think my way out” of uncomfortable experiences. Often examining what conditioned separate self should, could, or rather be doing.
But when I consciously notice I’m suffering, and attention is paid to being present with body and breath, I’m accessing the moods, feelings, and emotions, the very dynamics needed for comprehension. At this juncture, as we continue to process this work, it’s viable when addressed from presence, not from streaming thoughts. All streaming thoughts are conditioned thoughts from the past and may only lead to conditioned conclusions.
In paying attention to the entire process of “Bryan,” there’s noticing of how “I” am as a complete complex system, including the stream of thought, body emotions, feelings, and moods. I immediately have a sense of a complete view, a comprehension. And if some of that process is enabling suffering, I ask how, using the eightfold perspectives as a structure to see it, comprehend it, and experience it fading.
What remains key to this process is remembering to ask if there is suffering, and then apply the formula. In fact, what we realized, remembering’s intrinsically tied to having the willingness to do the work in the first place after the initial intellectual rush of excitement has faded.
I have noticed that intellectual willingness is often nothing more than conditioned separate self’s concept of another “becoming.” That constant attachment to being better than I am now. But we cannot hold a present thought, a path thought, or predevelop a future thought. So, the intellectual attachment fades, and we fall back into a conditioned state.
Willingness, Remembering, and Application, are crucial keys to engaging this work.