What does “Right” mean in the Eightfold Path? – Buddhism as the foundation of ethics

"Right" mean in the Eightfold Path

Noble Eightfold Path corresponds to the fourth “path” of the Four Noble Truths (the Four Sacred Truths), the “cessation of suffering “( commonly called nibbana (Sanskrit: nirvana).

Noble Eightfold Path, as you can see from the fact that it is followed by Right View, Right Thought, and so on, “Right” is the key word.

But what is “Right” in the first place? And why does being “Right” eliminate suffering and contribute to Moksha?

I have not come across any Buddhist books that give a proper answer to this “first argument”.

In this issue, I would like to consider what is ” Right” in Noble Eightfold Path.


Discomfort when the “Right” of Noble Eightfold Path is explained as “Truth”

First, let us look back at the Four Sacred Truths.

  1. Suffering : The truth that life is suffering
  2. The Cause of Suffering : The truth is that suffering is caused by attachment.
  3. The End of Suffering : The truth of the total exhaustion of suffering
  4. The Path :  Noble Eightfold Path

The point is that these four Noble Truths are also constituted by dependent origination.

That is, note that the following structure is used

  1. Suffering : Effect
  2. The Cause of Suffering : Cause
  3. The End of Suffering : Effect
  4. The Path : Cause

Then, of course, we can see that Noble Eightfold Path is the cause (=method) for the cessation of suffering (=nirvana).

And as a methodology, you say, “There are eight right ways to do it.

Then, “being right” is the necessary means to reach the destination of Nirvana.

So when we ask a Buddhist, “Then what is rightness?” the answer is something like, ” Rightness means being the truth.

If you do, don’t you feel like you are peeling off a matryoshka?


There is a right path to truth. And the right path is truth…and on and on.

I think this is the point where we hear exemplary answers but are left somewhat bewildered.

In the following, I would like to examine “rightness” in Noble Eightfold Path from a point beyond conventional Buddhist studies.

Check the “right” of Noble Eightfold Path from Buddhist studies

Re-check the contents of Noble Eightfold Path first

In order to understand the ” right” of Noble Eightfold Path, let us first look at the content of Noble Eightfold Path itself.

If you are saying, “I already know that” here, you may skip this part.

Right View

The correct view. Observing things in terms of dependent co-arising and the Four Noble Truths. To see things as they are.

Right Thought

To be free from the three poisons of the mind (greed, hatred, and ignorance) and the six worldly desires.

Right Speech

Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter

Right Action

Abstaining from killing, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from sexual misconduct.

Right Livelihood

To live a harmonious life of action, speech, and thought. Do the job right.

Right Effort

Devotion to Buddhism

Right Mindfulness

Remember the Buddha’s teachings neatly, and remember the Buddha.

Right Samadhi

Right concentration, mental unification

This is a recheck on a much simplified version, but these are the Noble Eightfold Path as you all know it.

In fact, note that not only the Four Noble Truths, but also the Noble Eightfold Path is composed of dependent origination.

Because we can see rightly (right view) → we can think rightly (right thought) → therefore we can speak rightly (right speech) and act rightly (right action). …and so on.

In this light, we can consider Noble Eightfold Path’s right view to be the basis for the remaining seven items.

From another angle, the seven items can also be interpreted as specific developments of the right view.

There are not many Buddhist books that point this out, so this is off the subject of this paper, but I just thought I would mention it.

Noble Eightfold Path’s “right” includes relative goodness and absolute goodness

Now, let us finally consider what is “right” in Noble Eightfold Path.

If we recheck each of the Noble Eightfold Path, we see that they all require ” rightness” in the first step, in the relationship between the self and others.

It is easy to understand items related to the precepts (the five precepts), such as right speech and right action.

For example, the precept of “do not kill” always assumes others.

The following schematic is used.

Self – Other

On the other hand, some of the remaining six items are seemingly not intended for others.

However, while it certainly does not socially objectify others, it could be said that it “objectifies the self”.

When we reflect on our inner self, there is a dichotomy between “subject and object” as follows.

The self that is the subject of reflection – The self that is the object of reflection

In that sense, the “self, the object of reflection,” can also be considered the “other” in a broader sense.

subject and object

Or, if instead of “self – other” we use “subject – object,” it would apply to the entire Noble Eightfold Path.

In a nutshell, it means that we are required to be ” right” in the relationship between the subject and the object.

Rightness” in the relationship between subject and object would generally correspond to the field of “ethics”.

Not to kill, not to lie, and so on, are things that are normally required by society even before Noble Eightfold Path. In some cases, this may be in violation of criminal law.

The question then arises, is Noble Eightfold Path, and by extension Buddhism, the same thing as “ethics”?


What is the purpose of Noble Eightfold Path in the first place?

It is related to the Four Noble Truths, which include the Noble Eightfold Path, and so, in a word, it should have been the “total elimination of suffering.

Then, as an effect of the extinction of suffering, one attains “Moksha” (liberation).

The ultimate goal of Noble Eightfold Path (The Four Noble Truths) is to attain the state of “Nirvana” as the effect of Moksha and “to become a Buddha oneself.

In short, the goal of Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, and Buddhism itself is, in a word, “to become a Buddha. This is the absolute good in Buddhism.

The above statement that “rightness emerges in the relationship between subject and object (=ethics)” is, so to speak, a relative good. It is an “ethical” relative good in which one chooses good over evil.

Rightness is summed up in the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion

I feel that a big clue to “what is the existence of Buddha” is hidden here, that choosing good over evil relatively leads to the absolute good of “becoming Buddha.

The fact that the relative good is connected to the absolute good means that the Buddha’s inner reality is the “absolute good”.

Take, for example, Right Speech’s ‘Abstaining from lying’.

What is wrong with lying is that it will be exposed in the larger temporal flow, including the next life, and this leads to a situation of ‘disturbing harmony’.

…So, conversely, in the larger flow of time, ‘speaking the truth’ is conducive to harmony.

And if the relative good of ‘conducive to harmony’ is connected to the absolute good, this means that the content of the Buddha is ‘harmony’.

“Harmony”, to return to Buddhist terminology, can be described as a state of “compassion realised”.

Another example.

For example, right view: observing things in accordance with the principles of the dependent origination.

Again, the connection of the relative good to the absolute good would mean that ‘the content of the Buddha is the very thing that sees through the chain of cause and effect (dependent origination)’.

And ‘seeing through’ can be translated into Buddhist terms as ‘wisdom being acquired’.

Thus, if we check each of the Noble Eightfold Path in turn, we find the following two points.

  1. <Self-Other> relationship leads to “Compassion.
  2. <Self (as subject) – Self ( as objectified)> relationship leads to “Wisdom.

To summarise this logic simply, ‘Wisdom and Compassion’ are the relative good (ethical good) and at the same time the absolute good (the Buddha’s innermost reality).

In conclusion, ‘rightness’ in Noble Eightfold Path (or in Buddhism) is the ethical practice of the ‘relative goodness of wisdom and compassion’ of each of us, as founded on the ‘absolute goodness of wisdom and compassion’ of the Buddha.


Here, ethics (relative good) is to be founded on the Buddha Dharma (absolute good).

Sometimes it is written in various books that ‘religion and ethics are different’, but I think the correct answer is that ‘ethics is founded on religion’.

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