How linear is the path?

Branching out of the discussion from 3 turning 12 line means what?:

In the above thread I became a little intrigued by the ‘interwoven-ness’ of the development of understanding of the Four Noble Truths (and the aspects of the path more generally), prompting Mat to quite rightly emphasise the the distinct nature of each truth and that they are realised sequentially, although with admirable balance he added:

In my wanders today I came across this:

Now what think ye, my lord gods Thirty-and Three, of the completeness wherewith the Exalted One, who knows, who sees, the Arahant, Buddha Supreme, hath revealed the Seven Requisites of Intellectual Concentration for practice of right Rapture, for the perfecting of Rapture? Which are the Seven? Right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness. That concentration of thought, Sirs, which is prepared by these seven factors, is called the Noble Right Rapture together with its bases, together with its requisites. Right intention suffices to maintain right views, right speech suffices to maintain right intention, right action suffices to maintain right speech, right livelihood suffices to maintain right action, right effort suffices to maintain right livelihood, right mindfulness suffices to maintain right effort, right rapture suffices to maintain right mindfulness, right knowledge suffices to maintain right rapture, right freedom suffices to maintain right knowledge. (DN18)

Now, much as I love the Rhys Davidses, I’d certainly appreciate another translation to compare with. Nevertheless, I think it’s sufficiently clear that this particular passage does suggest quite a sequential procedure.

Of course, thinking in terms of the gradual training, I’ve always happily recognised a clear direction of travel, or sequential progression. At the same time, I guess I’ve tended to conceive of the gradual training as (in a way) a bit different from deepening in proficiency with the path factors. With regards to the eightfold path I’ve hitherto leaned towards a highly (but not entirely) non-linear (or excellently messy) understanding of things. This has essentially been entirely based on how it has felt, and I’ve never seriously looked at the specific point from a textual angle. The above now makes me wonder if it’s time to reconsider. Is the presentation in DN18 the norm of how the text suggest developing the eightfold path?


No doubt it is serial, sequential. This is what we find in MN117 as well.

In AN10.121 we find this beautiful analogy.

Bhikkhus, the first appearance, the first signs of the rising sun is dawn.
In the same manner the first appearances and the first signs of all meritorious things is right view.
To one with right view, there are right thoughts.
To one with right thoughts, there is right speech.
To one with right speech, there is right action.
To one with right actions, there is right livelihood.
To one with right livelihood, there is right endeavour.
To one with right endeavour, there is right mindfulness.
To one with right mindfulness, there is right concentration.
To one with right concentration, there is right knowledge.
To one with right knowledge, there is right release.

Bhikkhu Bodhi has written a beautiful book one this very topic:

From which I quote:

"[The path] can be more aptly described as components rather than as steps, comparable to the intertwining strands of a single cable that requires the contributions of all the strands for maximum strength.
With a certain degree of progress all eight factors can be present simultaneously, each supporting the others.
However, until that point is reached, some sequence in the unfolding of the path is inevitable.
Since the final goal to which the path leads, liberation from suffering, depends ultimately on uprooting ignorance, the climax of the path must be the training directly opposed to ignorance. This is the training in wisdom, designed to awaken the faculty of penetrative understanding which sees things "as they really are.“
Wisdom unfolds by degrees, but even the faintest flashes of insight presuppose as their basis a mind that has been concentrated, cleared of disturbance and distraction.
Concentration is achieved through the training in the higher consciousness, the second division of the path, which brings the calm and collectedness needed to develop wisdom.
But in order for the mind to be unified in concentration, a check must be placed on the unwholesome dispositions which ordinarily dominate its workings, since these dispositions disperse the beam of attention and scatter it among a multitude of concerns.
The unwholesome dispositions continue to rule as long as they are permitted to gain expression through the channels of body and speech as bodily and verbal deeds.
Therefore, at the very outset of training, it is necessary to restrain the faculties of action, to prevent them from becoming tools of the defilements. This task is accomplished by the first division of the path, the training in moral discipline.
Thus the path evolves through its three stages, with moral discipline as the foundation for concentration, concentration the foundation for wisdom, and wisdom the direct instrument for reaching liberation.”


In the book “Uncommon Wisdom” - which provide an introduction to the Dhamma teachings of Ajaan Paññāvaḍḍho, a former master from the Thai Forest Tradition - there is a chapter that discusses somehow the point of this discussion topic. From this I quote (sorry if it is too long):

The Path proceeds from a lower state of purity to a higher one. It culminates at very specific path moments, when all the path factors coalesce at a certain level of perfection. Until those path moments arise, the work of a practitioner is only preparation for the Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path is, in effect, the path to Nibbāna. This means that it culminates in perfection at a very deep level within the mind.
It’s not simply a journey from one stage to the next; its fruition requires a practice of meditation that has gone very deep, to the point where all these factors coalesce with equal strength and purpose.
Only when the time and conditions are right does the path moment take place. That being said, the Noble Eightfold Path is not simple textbook Buddhism. That is something which has been misunderstood.
Rather, the Path is set up as a mode of transcendence. When we have done the work to set the Path up correctly, it acts like a channel for transcendent states of mind to arise—Sotāpanna, Sakadāgāmī, Anāgāmī and Arahant.
Because of that, all the path factors arise simultaneously. It is a difficult feat to accomplish because we must get all of those factors just right at the same moment. Having done the work, when the right conditions arise, they will all come together and bring forth the path moment.
In order to accomplish this, we must gradually develop all of the conditions which are necessary for that moment to take place. It involves not only formal meditation practice but all of our activities throughout the day. Effort and wisdom must be present at all times in order to turn every situation into Dhamma.
To begin with, we should first develop the path factors individually.
That’s necessary. When those factors are well developed, then our practice will be strong. When it is strong enough, the factors can join together to act as a bridge crossing to the other side—for example, from the path moment of Sotāpanna to its fruition.
Although it is necessary to develop the factors of the Path individually, we mustn’t think that those factors themselves are the Path. The Path only arises when all eight factors have been perfected. Emphasizing that all the factors are “Right” in effect means they are perfect. Once they are in perfect harmony, the path moment takes place.
So in order to fully realize the Path, we must train ourselves in all of the path factors until they are strong enough to go beyond. But the Path is a lot more than just a way of training, for it is through the Path that the goal is directly experienced.
Actually, the goal is not something we reach by striving to go higher and higher. It’s not like that. In truth, the goal is there all the time.
What we must do is get rid of the things hiding it from view; not gain something, but relinquish everything.
So we must get rid of all our wanting, all our attachments, all our wrong views and all our delusion.
Developing the path factors eventually gets rid of all attachment to anything connected with the world. When we do that until we let go of everything, the goal—Nibbāna—is there. Then nothing is left for us to do.
Therefore, Buddhism is not a path of gaining so much as a pathof relinquishing.


Much thanks @Gabriel_L for these brilliant contributions - I really enjoyed reading them, and they do, indeed, speak so well to the point at hand.

Dwelling a little on the lovely excerpt from AN10.121 you gave, I managed to draw out a happy compromise between a very clear cut, fixed chain of progression that still feels slightly awkward to me (and I think its really nicely handled by both commentators you’ve pointed to) and the … interesting… spirally web type model I have in my head (that sometimes might look quite neat and orderly and at others more like a Jackson Pollock).

‘Zooming out’ a little from the given sun analogy to bring into view a bigger picture of planetary orbits, what we see is the sun going round and round (don’t worry, I did get the Copernicus memo, it’s just not the key point here :laughing:) - it does have a fixed course of progression, but also continually revisits the same kind of spot it occupied in previous days.

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“One makes an effort to abandon wrong speech and to enter upon right speech: this is one’s right effort. Mindfully one abandons wrong speech, mindfully one enters upon and abides in right speech: this is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three states run and circle around right speech, that is, right view, right effort, and right mindfulness. MN117

Your spirals are evident while Right speech reaches culmination!

With metta



Honestly, you wouldn’t believe I was looking at that exact passage as I got the notification of your message!!! :smile:


Hah! The path can connect up in unexpected unexplained methods as well. For example when my mental Unification ( samadhi) is good my morality (sila) improves as it suppresses craving and aversion.

With metta

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