In order to escape from a life of suffering and find everlasting happiness, we have to study and practice the teachings on the path to enlightenment. This can be achieved by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path (also known as the Middle Way).
The Noble Eightfold Path was a part of Buddha's first sermon, where he presented that the path was a 'middle way' between the extremes of asceticism and hedonistic sense pleasures. It consists of a set of eight interconnected factors or conditions, that when developed together, lead to the cessation of dukkha (suffering). The path teaches that the way of the enlightened ones stopped their craving, clinging and karmic accumulations, and thus ended their endless cycles of rebirth and suffering.
The path is grouped into three basic divisions: Pranja, Sila, and Samadhi.
Pranja translates to wisdom. Wisdom is different from knowledge. Knowledge is an accumulation of historical and experimental facts, which is mainly obtained through studying. Wisdom is somewhat intrinsic which is mainly obtained through cultivation and mental development/meditation. If your mind is pure and calm, your wisdom will emerge. In practical terms, wisdom comes at the end of one's practice of the path.
Prajna is regarded as enlightenment, which is the ultimate goal of Buddhism, and the key element in Buddhism. This consists of the first two pieces of the Noble Eightfold Path: right view and right intention. Right view is the belief that there is an afterlife and not everything ends with death, that Buddha taught and followed a successful path to nirvana. Right intention means giving up the home and adopting the life of a religious mendicant in order to follow the path.
Sila (Moral Virtues)
It is very important to note that morality is the foundation for the progress on the path, as it is the foundation of all qualities. In Buddhism, the morality is based on the principle of equality and the principle of reciprocity. Equality means that all living things are equal in their essential attitudes (animals not excluded) e.g. happiness, security. Reciprocity means "do unto others what you want others to do unto you". Nowadays, there is a dangerous tendency to neglect the importance of morality and to go just to the more exciting part of the paths, i.e. meditation and philosophy.
This consists of the first three pieces of the Noble Eightfold Path: right speech, right action, and right livelihood. Right speech means no lying, no rude speech, no telling one person what another says about him, speaking that which leads to salvation. Right action means no killing or injuring, no taking what is not given; no sexual acts in monastic pursuit. Lastly, right livelihood as abstaining from wrong livelihood, explained as not becoming a source or means of suffering to sentient beings by cheating them, or harming or killing them in any way.
In studying and practicing Buddhism, there are many goals and objectives. Besides the goal of happiness and good fortune, there is also the goal of freedom. If one wants to achieve the goal of freedom, the only way is through wisdom. In order to attain wisdom, one must purify the mind, develop the mind through meditation. Thus, mental development is necessary for wisdom. On the other hand, mental development can also safeguard our practice of good conduct/morality as it can strengthen and control our mind.
Mind is the key to changing the nature of our experience. As mind is important in all spheres of activities, mental development has an extremely important role in the practice of the Noble Eightfold Paths.
This consists of the first three pieces of the Noble Eightfold Path: right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Right effort means guard against sensual thoughts; this concept, states Harvey, aims at preventing unwholesome states that disrupt meditation. Right mindfulness means never being absent minded, and conscious of what one is doing. Right concentration means correct meditation and concentration, as explained as the four jhanas.
All of these pieces play on each other and are needed to obtain enlightenment. Morality gives rise to concentration. Concentration gives rise to wisdom. If we want to be wise, we must be calm and concentrated in our mind. If we want to be calm and concentrated, we must take precepts with good conduct. As an analogy to a tree, morality is the root, concentration is the trunk and branches, while wisdom is the fruit.