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Noble Eightfold Path - Questions and Answers with Study Leaders 1985

by Sangharakshita


Day 1Tape 1, Side 1Sangharakshita: Have you had one study group, or have you divided into two?
Tejananda: We had one study group.
S: So there is one person putting the questions? Ah.
Tejananda: We had 14 questions come up, and a possible few supplementaries as well. The
first one is from me.
S: These are all from the first lecture in the series?
Tejananda: These are all from the first lecture, yes. Near the beginning of the tape, you say
that wherever Buddhism has gone, historically, references to the Noble Eightfold Path are
found. I wonder to what extent the Eightfold Path is of practical importance in a) the Tibetan
schools of Buddhism, b) Zen and Shin. Do these schools actually use the basic 'Hinayana'
teachings at all? If not, what do they use?
S: Could we have that bit by bit?
Tejananda: Yes. 'Near the beginning of the tape, you say that wherever Buddhism has gone,
historically, references to the Noble Eightfold Path are found.'
S: Yes, you notice I say 'references to the Noble Eightfold Path are found', and that is to be
taken quite literally, one may say. I don't say: 'Wherever Buddhism went, the formula of the
Noble Eightfold Path represented the basic structure of the spiritual life.' No: I say 'references
to the Noble Eightfold Path are found.' So if one takes that statement quite literally, as it is
meant to be taken, the implications are perhaps obvious. Anyway, let's go on and explore
them, perhaps.
Tejananda: 'I wonder to what extent the Eightfold Path is of practical importance in a) the
Tibetan schools of Buddhism.'
S: Yes, there is quite a difference between there being references to the Noble Eightfold Path
and the Noble Eightfold Path being of practical importance. You mention Tibetan Buddhism:
to the best of my knowledge, the Noble Eightfold Path as such is of very little importance
indeed, in the sense that very few Tibetan Buddhists, if any, will consciously make that the
basis of their whole spiritual life or think very much in those terms; even though learned
Tibetan monks will certainly be familiar with that formulation and will have perhaps
explained it and expounded it. But, to the best of my recollection, when I was in Kalimpong
and in contact with what one may describe as ordinary Tibetan Buddhists, they had in fact
never heard of the Noble Eightfold Path!
Tejananda: Then also the same with regard to the Zen and Shin schools.
S: I think the same applies to the Zen school; also to the Shin school, but for rather different
reasons. The Shin school spoke in terms of there being two paths, the path of jiriki or self
effort or self power, and the path of tariki or other power. So they regarded all other forms of
Buddhism as pertaining to the path of self power, and they naturally regarded all such
formulations and practices as the six or ten Paramitas and the Noble Eightfold Path as
pertaining to the path of self power and therefore not to their path, the path of other power. So
one doesn't find the Noble Eightfold Path playing any role of practical importance in the
Shinshu, but for rather different doctrinal reasons. Having said that, one must also go on to
make the point that probably the main reason why the Noble Eightfold Path was not of any
great importance in Tibetan or Chinese or Japanese Buddhism was that that particular
formula, as a formula, was superseded by the formula of the six or the ten Paramitas. The
Noble Eightfold Path came to be regarded, perhaps, as pertaining to the Hinayana, whereas
the six or the ten Paramitas, of course, pertained to the Mahayana, they represented the
Bodhisattva Path. On the other hand, of course, one must not be misled by appearances. In
many cases, Tibetan or Chinese or Japanese Buddhists may well have observed the greater
part of the Eightfold Path in effect. For instance, one anga of the Eightfold Path is Perfect
Speech; well, they might well have practised Perfect Speech. There is Perfect Samadhi; they
might well have practised Perfect Samadhi. But they did not think primarily in terms of that
particular formulation or structure.
Tejananda: I think you have effectively answered the last part, which is: 'If not, what do they
S: Well, the answer is, broadly speaking, the six or the ten Paramitas. That, for them, is the
basic formulation of the Path in practical terms. But, as I think I have tried to make clear in
the Survey, there is quite a lot of overlap, quite a lot of common ground, as between the
formulation of sila, samadhi, prajna, and the Eightfold Path; and therefore as between the
Eightfold Path and the six Paramitas. One can't have completely different paths, obviously.
So, even though, in many Buddhist countries, the Noble Eightfold Path as a formula does not
occupy a very prominent position, one must not think that the content of that path is
necessarily always lacking.
Tejananda: Bhante, with regard to the Shin school, do they acknowledge in some sense the
basic teachings, or do they just regard those as completely not just their way, and simply
concentrate on other power?
S: I think they would say that the path of relying on self power is not their path, and that all
specific deliberate practices belong to that path of self power. They would say that they
follow the path of relying on the other power, the power of Amitabha's Vow, and that they
repeat the Nembutsu, the Salutation to Buddha Amitabha, out of gratitude for the fact that by
fulfilling his vow Amitabha has already accomplished their birth in the Pure Land. They
might go on to say though I am not definitely aware of this that, as an expression of their
gratitude to Amitabha, they not only recite the Nembutsu but observe the six or ten Paramitas,
the Eightfold Path and so on. I don't know that they do actually say this, but it would not be
surprising if they did; in which case they would, in a [3] sense, be following the Eightfold
Path, though not by way of relying on their own power but as an expression of their gratitude
to Amitabha.
Tejananda: The second question is from Ratnaprabha and concerns sub vocalization.
Ratnaprabha: This starts off from something you say in the lecture. In the lecture, you say:
'For some people, Perfect Vision arises as a result of deep and prolonged thought', and then, a
few sentences later: 'Some people actually think their way through to Reality, to the Path of
Vision.' I believe you also talked, on the Chairmen's Convention, about the involvement of
the thinking faculty in Insight. You talked of the sub vocalization that occurs even during
visualization. So my questions on this are: What is thinking in this context? Does it involve
words? Is it thus a sort of internal hearing and speaking process?
S: You mean the thinking that can give rise to Insight?
Ratnaprabha: Yes.
S: Yes, it can imply words. It is not that one as it were hears words as though spoken by
another person, but you are thinking in words, quite consciously, deliberately, and one can
even say directedly, because one is very much interested in pursuing that particular subject.
One might be reflecting on impermanence, or reflecting on death, or reflecting on the mutual
interpenetration of all phenomena; but your thinking, your reflecting, can be so intense, so
concentrated, and have so much energy behind it, that it does bring you to Insight; it does
develop into Insight.
Ratnaprabha: I think, if I understood correctly, on the Chairmen's event you even said that
some kind of thinking process was necessary for the attainment of Insight, and this is how
people got on to asking you about visualization and whether there was any thought present in
visualization. So the kind of thinking I was asking about is this perhaps very, very subtle sub
vocalization: is this something that is connected, on a subtle and mental level, with the
hearing and speaking process particularly? And does this mean there is something unusual
about the hearing and speaking process, when you internalize it, that gives it more power than
just the imaging process?
S: I don't quite remember the connection on the Chairmen's event. In some ways, I don't quite
see what the question is, or whether there is a question, if you see what I mean.
Kuladeva: How is sub vocalization different from thinking, in the sense that you were just
talking about, in terms of developing Insight? Is it different?
S: It isn't different at all, no. Sub vocalization means thinking to oneself, not thinking aloud;
not expressing your thoughts in actual speech. And there are degrees of that. I think perhaps
what I was getting at on the Chairmen's event was that, when you visualize, you may tend to
think, to so speak, that you are not thinking; but actually you are thinking, but the thinking is
very subtle. So perhaps I used then the term sub vocalization to indicate that very subtle
mental activity that went on, almost against your will as it were; because when you are
visualizing you are very often trying just to visualize. But I think usually you can't help there
being a very, very subtle thought, almost in spite of yourself; a [4] very subtle thinking
process. So that is different though perhaps only different in degree from that very definite,
purposeful, directed, intense thinking ...

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