THE EIGHTFOLD PATH consists in right view (sho-ken), right thought (sho-shi), right speech (sho-go), right action (sho-gyo), right livelihood (sho-myo), right effort (sho-shojin), right mindfulness (sho-nen), and right concentration (sho-jo). Many precepts and teachings containing numbers--such as the Eightfold Path--appear in Buddhist scriptures. This is because people could not record the teachings in writing at the time that Shakyamuni Buddha was preaching the Dharma but were obliged to memorize what they heard. Therefore Shakyamuni Buddha used numbers in preaching various doctrines so that people might easily remember them. However, it is not necessary for us to be too literal about such numbers.
Those who find it difficult to remember the doctrine of the Eightfold Path because of its eight divisions may find it easier to understand it by dividing it into four parts. The first is its fundamental purpose, to establish correct faith in a religion based on the wisdom of the Buddha. The second is to have a right attitude in our daily lives; the third, to have right daily conduct; and the fourth, to follow the right way of practicing the Buddha's teachings.
"Right view" means to abandon a self-centered way of looking at things and to have a right view of the Buddha. In other words, it is to take refuge in the Buddha.
"Right thought" means not to incline toward a self-centered attitude toward things but to think of things rightly, from a higher standpoint. This teaches us to abandon the "three evils of the mind," covetousness, resentment, and evil-mindedness, and to think of things rightly, with as generous a mind as the Buddha. More precisely, these three evils are the greedy mind (covetousness) that thinks only of one's own gain; the angry mind (resentment) that does not like it when things do not turn out as one wishes; and the evil mind (evil-mindedness) that wants to have its own way in everything.
"Right speech" teaches us to use right words in our daily lives and to avoid the "four evils of the mouth": lying (false language), a double tongue, ill speaking (slander), and improper language (careless language).
"Right action" means daily conduct in accordance with the precepts of the Buddha. For this purpose it is important to refrain from the "three evils of the body" that hinder right actions: needless killing, stealing, and committing adultery or other sexual misconduct.
"Right livelihood" means to gain food, clothing, shelter, and the other necessities of life in a right way. This teaches us not to earn our livelihood through work that makes trouble for others or through a vocation useless to society but to live on a justifiable income that we can obtain through right work, a vocation useful to others.
"Right effort" means to engage constantly in right conduct without being idle or deviating from the right way, avoiding such wrongs as the three evils of the mind, the four evils of the mouth, and the three evils of the body mentioned above.
"Right mindfulness" means to practice with a right mind as the Buddha did. It cannot be truly said that we have the same mind as the Buddha unless we have a right mind not only toward ourselves but also toward others, and still further, toward all things. If we hope that only we ourselves may be right, we will become stubborn and self-satisfied people who are alienated from the world. We cannot say we have the same mind as the Buddha unless we address ourselves to all things in the universe with a fair and right mind.
"Right concentration" means always to determine to believe in the teachings of the Buddha and not to be agitated by any change of circumstances. This teaches us to practice consistently the right teaching of the Buddha.
Taken altogether, the doctrine of the Eightfold Path is the teaching that shows us the right way to live our daily lives.