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Fundamentals of Buddhism

Last week we completed our survey of the Four
Noble Truths and in so doing the last topic that we dealt
with was the Noble Eightfold Path to the end of
suffering. We used the analogy of mountain climbing
when we talked about treading the Eightfold Path to the
end of suffering. We have said that just as when one
climbs a mountain the first step depends on the last, the
last depends on the first because we have to have our
eyes firmly fixed on the summit of the mountain and yet
we also have to be careful not to stumble while taking
the first few steps up to the mountain path. So here in
climbing a mountain, each portion of the path depends
on the other portions. In this sense, regarding the Noble
Eightfold Path, all the steps of the path are interrelated,
are dependent on one another. We cannot do away with
any one step. Nonetheless, for practical purposes the
eight steps of the path have been divided into three ways
of practice, or three divisions of training. These three
divisions are good conduct or morality (Shila), mental
development or meditation (Samadhi) and finally wis-
dom or insight (Prajna). Although conceptually and
structurally, the first step depends upon the last and the
last depends upon the first; although they are dependent
on one another, still in practical terms when one climbs
a mountain one has to climb the lowest slope first. One
may be attracted to the summit, but in order to get there
one has to cover the lower slope first. It is for this very
practical reason that we find the eight steps of the Eight-
fold Path grouped into these three ways of practice.