The Eightfold Path Summary II: The Morality Element

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 91-148)

This is the second talks summarizing the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path is divided into three elements:

  1. Wisdom
  2. Morality
  3. Concentration

This talk addresses the Morality Element.

The Morality Element

The Morality Element consists of three steps:

  • Skillful Speech:  how we can speak mindfully.
  • Skillful Action:  how we can conduct ourselves.
  • Skillful Livelihood:  making sure our means of sustenance does not interfere with our spiritual development.

Skillful Speech

Skillful Speech gives us a mindful guide to speaking mindfully so that we don’t cause unnecessary suffering in others and ourselves.

There are four abstentions and their opposites:

  • Abstain from false speech – speak the truth
  • Abstain from slanderous speech – speak upliftingly
  • Abstain from harsh speech – speak gently
  • Abstain from frivolous speech – speak moderately or remain silent

Skillful Action

Skillful Action gives us a mindful guide on how to conduct ourselves so as not to cause harm to others and ourselves.

As with Skillful Speech the actions to avoid are stated as abstentions:

  • Abstain from killing
  • Abstain from stealing
  • Abstain from speaking falsely (from Skillful Speech)
  • Abstain from sexual misconduct
  • Abstain from misusing intoxicants such as alcohol because this can lead to unskillful behavior.

This code of ethics causes a shift from “what we personally want” to “what will most benefit ourselves and others.”

“The observance of the Five Precepts is a voluntary act which each individual must take up on his or her own initiative. The Buddha did not formulate the precepts as commandments, nor did he threaten anyone with punishment for violating them. However, this much has to be said: The Buddha perfectly understood the workings of the universe, and he proclaimed the inviolable moral law of cause and effect: good deeds beget pleasant fruits, evil deeds beget painful fruits. The Five Precepts are the guidelines the Buddha has bequeathed us to steer us away from evil conduct and towards the lines of conduct that will prove most beneficial for ourselves and others. When we mold our actions by the Five Precepts, we are acting in accordance with the Dhamma, avoiding future misery and building up protection and happiness for ourselves and others both here and in the hereafter. Thus the closer we live to the Five Precepts, the greater will be the blessing power of our lives.”  –Robert Bogota, A Simple Guide to Life.

Skillful Livelihood

Skillful Livelihood focuses on how we make our living so as not to negatively impact our spiritual development.

There are three questions to ponder when looking deeply at our occupation to determine if it negatively affects our spiritual development:

  • Is my job an inherently unskillful occupation? Does it cause harm by definition? Does it involve manufacturing, selling, or using weapons? Does it entail harming living beings? Does it support the formation of addictions such as gambling or drinking?
  • Does my job or daily occupation cause me to break any of the five core precepts? 
  • Are there aspects of my job which disturb my sense of peace?  (E.g. guilt, remorse, uncertainly, fear, or doubt).

In summary, all three steps, Skillful Speech, Skillful Action, Skillful Livelihood, guide our moral behavior.  If we adopt a set of core values that embrace these and other parts of the eightfold path, we cannot go astray.

An example of a set of core values is:

  • Knowing the truth
  • Finding freedom
  • Not causing harm to yourself or others
  • Being of service to others
  • Meeting the world with compassion and kindness
  • Having the qualities of gratitude, patience, persistence, generosity, and humor
  • Continuing to learn and grow psychologically and spiritually

(From Phillip Moffitt, Dancing with Life)



  • Continue your practice of meditation using either concentration, insight or both.

Next: The Eightfold Path Summary IIIa: The Concentration Element: Skillful Effort
The Eightfold Path Summary I: The Wisdom Element