Nirvana is the Buddhist concept of the perfect state of being, free from excessive pain, pleasure, or the turmoil of the reincarnation cycle. Nirvana requires enlightenment- that is, the perfect understanding and reverence of the beauty and nature of life in the universe. The Noble Eightfold Path is, according to the Buddha, the only way to reach enlightenment of the world and the state of nirvana. Sort of like the Ten Commandments in the Eastern hemisphere.
The doctrines of nirvana are:
1. Right Understanding- or, the understanding of oneself as they really are. The Buddha wanted his followers to know that understanding of what is right and true in the world was important, not a false expectation or prophecy as to what the universe could yield for you.
2. Right Thoughts - The Buddha classified right thoughts into two categories:
The thoughts of renunciation (opposing harmful pleasures that only result in sensual gratification, and not true happiness)
Thoughts of harmlessness as opposed to cruelty. Buddhism is a religion of non-violence.
3. Right Speech
Refraining from lying, slander, falsehood, or frivolous statements of any kind. Obviously our former presidents weren't Buddhists.
4. Right Action
The Buddha believed that right thoughts- one of the earlier doctrines- led to performing the right actions. He defined right action as being anything that develops a character of self-control and mindfulness as to the state of the living.
5. Right Effort
The right effort is a fourfold state of being. Practicing right effort includes:
Effort to discard evil that has already arisen.
Effort to prevent the uprising of evil that is to come.
Effort to develop the good that has already arisen.
Effort to promote the good that is just beginning to bud in the world.
6. Right Livelihood
The Buddha wanted to eliminate any possibilities of violence or destruction to the wonders of life. There are trades which could indirectly affect another being, including:
Trade in deadly weapons.
Trade in animals for slaughter.
Trade in slavery.
Trade in intoxicants.
Trade in poisons.
7. Right Mindfulness: The constant awareness of not only your mental, physical, and emotional state, but the state of being in others. Developing an interest in all centers and principles of life, and being aware of their presence within every action and thought.
8. Right Meditation
The most important step, and the most ridiculed practice in America. Note to the western hemisphere: Meditation is NOT just about crossing your legs and saying OM! Meditation is the practice of devoting your pure and unwavering attention to an idea, concept, or object. The constant practice of meditation is the final step to Wisdom or Enlightenment.
The thing I like about the Eightfold Path is the relevance it has to all walks of life, that is, anyone can take these principles and somehow integrate them into their lives without kissing the Dalai Lama or buying the next AA ticket to a Tibetan monastery. Buddhism is not about a group of religious elitists shunning others that aren't part of their order. There will never be a Buddhism Evangelical Network, with smarmy monks clad in insurance-salesman suits promising you Nirvana with two easy payments of $39.99. Buddhism is simply a study on the ways to gain full and perfect understanding of the world.