In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the eightfold path, known as Ashtanga yoga. This yoga, made up of more than just asanas/poses, is meant to direct you to a path of enlightenment, for physical, mental, and spiritual health. It’s a philosophy that is meant to allow one to experience was is described as a final ‘god-realization.’
There is a similar philosophy the a neighboring practice of Buddhism. Buddhism and Hinduism (and by extension, yoga) are sister philosophies, rooting themselves in ancient India. But while they share many things, they are also different in important ways. It’s true: Buddhism share many ideas and with Vedic philosophy, namely karma and rebirth. But they also reject authority of the Vedas, and deviate from key Vedic principles.
In one variation, Buddhist philosophy is seen in the Noble Eightfold Path. Different than Patanjali’s eightfold path, this path is meant to lead on to many the same thing: ultimately, the vanquishing of suffering.
As you’ll notice, these principles begin with the “right” or samma. In this context, samma relates to togetherness and coherence. It’s a form of correctness and complete, ultimately relating to the ideal or perfect act. These are also separated by a threefold division: between wisdom, ethical conduct, and concentration.
1. Right Understanding (Samma ditthi)
The right understanding specifically deals with how we see things in the world. While the mind tends to only see things as right or wrong, right understanding compels us to detach ourselves from such views. It a transcendence of perspective, seeing things as they exist.
2. Right Thought/Intention (Samma sankappa)
Right thought or intention is when the practitioner aspires to remove the qualities (habits, both in thought and action) they know to be wrong and immoral. It’s a step that encourages you to ask yourself what you must resolve. It’s a freedom from ill will. It’s the right to resolve, and when practiced, it leads the mind to correctly discern between right and wrong intentions.
3. Right Speech (Samma vaca)
False speech, in the form of lies, idle chatter, divisiveness, and abuse, pulls things apart. In this, the third step of right speech deals with the way the practitioner makes the best of their words. When coming across these thoughts, the practitioner reflects, and if it is not true, beneficial nor timely, one is not to say it.
4. Right Action (Samma kammanta)
Right action deals with exactly what it sounds like: living life with the right conduct. This deals with conducting yourself as morally upright in your activities, avoiding corruption and harm, whether that deals with yourself or others. In a simple way, we may think of this simply as doing the right thing.
5. Right Livelihood (Samma ajiva)
Right livelihood deals with how provide for yourself, specifically with your trade or occupation. In a similar respect to right speech, this requires one to avoid such things that result in harm or pain in other living beings. It’s about living an honest discipline, not a dishonest livelihood.
6. Right Effort (Samma vayama)
Right effort is translated as practicing the right endeavor or diligence. Effort is the energy we spend on performing action, much of which are described above. You can apply these with real effort, or you can apply them with little effort. In this, right effort means putting in persisting effort – you must uphold and exert your intent for the sake of preventing the wrong to arise (or rearise).
7. Right Mindfulness (Samma sati)
Mindfulness is something often discussed and focused on in yoga. This is awareness, memory and attention. In right mindfulness, this practice pushes one to keep the mind alert and aware the the phenomena that affect the body and mind. It’s about being deliberate and attentive, making sure the mind is protected from greed and distress.
8. Right Concentration (Samma samadhi)
In the last step, we find a lesson on concentration, which is also considered meditation in this context. Meditation is one of the most powerful tools to balancing and leading the mind, and it can be difficult with the breadth and depth of the thoughts that come to us throughout life. Right meditation is the reaching of full concentration – a state of full meditative absorption.
Learn More about the Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path is much more complex, and contains much deeper philosophies than the ones touched here. If you’re interested in learning about the Noble Eightfold Path, considering starting with this text: The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering by Bhikkhu Bodhi.