Buddha’s Noble Eight-Fold Path – Part 5
“The development of Wisdom”.
Though right concentration claims the last place among
the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path,
concentration itself does not mark the path’s culmination.
The attainment of concentration makes the mind still and steady,
unifies its concomitants, opens vast vistas of bliss, serenity, and power.
But by itself it does not suffice to reach the highest accomplishment,
release from the bonds of suffering.
To reach the end of suffering demands that
the Eightfold Path be turned into an instrument of discovery,
that it be used to generate the insights
unveiling the ultimate truth of things.
This requires the combined contributions of all eight factors,
a new mobilization of right view and right intention.
~ ~ ~
Up to the present point these first two path factors
have performed only a preliminary function.
Now they have to be taken up again and raised to a higher level.
Right view is to become a direct seeing into the real nature of phenomena,
previously grasped only conceptually; right intention,
to become a true renunciation of defilements
born out of deep understanding.
~ ~ ~
Before we turn to the development of wisdom, it will be helpful to inquire
why concentration is not adequate to the attainment of liberation.
Concentration does not suffice to bring liberation
because it fails to touch the defilements at their fundamental level.
The Buddha teaches that the defilements are stratified into three layers:
the stage of latent tendency, the stage of manifestation,
and the stage of transgression.
The most deeply grounded is the level of latent tendency (anusaya),
where a defilement merely lies dormant without displaying any activity.
The second level is the stage of manifestation (pariyutthana),
where a defilement, through the impact of some stimulus,
surges up in the form of unwholesome thoughts, emotions, and volitions.
Then, at the third level,
the defilement passes beyond a purely mental manifestation
to motivate some unwholesome action of body or speech.
Hence this level is called the stage of transgression (vitikkama).
The three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path provide the check against
this threefold layering of the defilements.
the training in moral discipline, restrains unwholesome bodily and verbal activity
prevents defilements from reaching the stage of transgression.
The training in concentration provides the safeguard against
the stage of manifestation.
It removes already manifest defilements
and protects the mind from their continued influx.
But even though concentration may be pursued to the depths of full absorption,
it cannot touch the basic source of affliction —
the latent tendencies lying dormant in the mental continuum.
Against these concentrations is powerless, since to root them out
calls for more than mental calm.
What it calls for, beyond the composure and serenity of the unified mind,
is wisdom (pañña), a penetrating vision of phenomena
in their fundamental mode of being.
Wisdom alone can cut off the latent tendencies at their root
because the most fundamental member of the set,
the one which nurtures the others and holds them in place,
is ignorance (avijja), and wisdom is the remedy for ignorance.
Though verbally a negative, “unknowing,”
ignorance is not a factual negative,
a mere privation of right knowledge.
It is, rather,
an insidious and volatile mental factor incessantly at work
inserting itself into every compartment of our inner life.
It distorts cognition, dominates volition,
and determines the entire tone of our existence.
As the Buddha says:
“The element of ignorance is indeed a powerful element”.
At the cognitive level, which is its most basic sphere of operation,
ignorance infiltrates our perceptions, thoughts, and views,
so that we come to misconstrue our experience,
overlaying it with multiple strata of delusions.
The most important of these delusions are three:
the delusions of seeing permanence in the impermanent,
of seeing satisfaction in the unsatisfactory, and of
seeing a self in the selfless.
we take ourselves and our world to be
solid, stable, enduring entities, despite the ubiquitous reminders
that everything is subject to change and destruction.
We assume we have an innate right to pleasure,
and direct our efforts to increasing and intensifying our enjoyment
with an anticipatory fervor undaunted by repeated encounters with
pain, disappointment, and frustration.
And we perceive ourselves as self-contained egos,
clinging to the various ideas and images we form of ourselves
as the irrefragable truth of our identity.
Whereas ignorance obscures the true nature of things,
wisdom removes the veils of distortion,
enabling us to see phenomena in their fundamental mode of being
with the vivacity of direct perception.