Way to the End of Suffering
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The Buddha's teachings center around two basic principles. One is the Four Noble Truths, in which the Buddha diagnoses the problem of suffering and indicates the treatment necessary to remedy this problem. The other is the Noble Eightfold Path, the practical discipline he prescribes to uproot and eliminate the deep underlying causes of suffering.
This book offers a concise and thorough explanation of the Eightfold Path. Bhikkhu Bodhi examines each factor of the path to determine what it implies in the way of practical training. In the concluding chapter, he shows how all factors of the path function in unison to bring about the realization of the goal of liberation.
From the preface by the author:
"The essence of the Buddha's teaching can be summed up in two principles: the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The first covers the side of doctrine, and the primary response its elicits is understanding; the second covers the side of discipline, in the broadest sense of that word, and the primary response it calls for is practice."
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There are many books on Buddhism, and most of them deal with the Noble Eightfold Path. There is an extraordinary benefit in learning about the path from someone who is walking on it. A dry, removed, and academic treatment of the path may deliver the same information, but it doesn't do so in a way the inspires confidence and devotion.
Bikkhu Bodhi's style is clear and concise. He writes as one who knows the path because his life is centered on it. He balances scriptural references with personal insights, and relates his wisdom to the context of modern life.
The Noble Eightfold Path is organized by path factors, and each of the eight steps receives individual treatment. It's a short book, only about 120 pages long, but it's an excellent reference for meditators. Along with an analytical treatment of the path, Bikkhu Bodhi also delves into the Buddha's advice for challenges that come up during meditation.
Bikkhu Bodhi explains how the path factors support one another, and how they fit into their larger groups: morality, concentration, and wisdom. In effect, the entire practice of meditation is examined in this book, but it does not purport to be a manual to teach meditation. It is most useful as a reference for established meditators or as a more in-depth look at the theory supporting meditation for those who would like to take up a practice. Bikkhu Bodhi himself intones that a book is no replacement for an experienced teacher when it comes to learning meditation.
Bikkhu Bodhi makes no concessions, and opens up the full range and depth of the Buddha's path for all. Although the ultimate goals of the path might seem distant and strange to some, the rewards of walking the path should be vivid and immediate. To benefit from this teaching, there is no need to believe more than one has experienced. Bikkhu Bodhi's epilogue captures the tone and purpose of the book beautifully:
"The higher reaches of the path may seem remote from us in our present position, the demands of practice may appear difficult to fulfill. But even if the heights of realization are now distant, all that we need to reach them lies just beneath our feet. The eight factors of the path are always accessible to us; they are mental components which can be established in the mind simply through determination and effort...
"Liberation is the inevitable fruit of the path and is bound to blossom forth when there is steady and persistent practice. The only requirements for reaching the final goals are two: to start and to continue. If these requirements are met there is no doubt the goal will be attained. This is the Dhamma, the undeviating law."