The Fourth Noble Truth: Insight 2 The Eightfold Path Step 1 Skillful Understanding

Dancing with Life (DWL) Chapter 20 Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness:  Step One (pp. 25-55)

Please note that the steps in the Eightfold Path are sometimes prefaced by “Right” which can be interpreted as “correct.”  I prefer to use Bhante G’s designation of “Skillful” meaning that the understanding and practice of each step will lead to happiness and peace.

Step One:  Skillful Understanding

The reason that Skillful Understanding is the first step is that we benefit from knowing why we are following the path.  There are two parts: Cause and Effect and The Four Noble Truths.

Joseph Goldstein in Mindfulness:  A practical guide to awakening notes: “…why does the Buddha list the wisdom factors as the first two steps on the path?  An interesting and unique aspect of the Buddha’s teaching is that its starting point is not dogma or belief, but understanding.  Even if this understanding is still conceptual, if we continue our practice, it leads us onward, culminating in direct intuitive realization of the four noble truths.  In this way, the wisdom factors are both the beginning and the end of this noble path.”

Rene Daumal, in his book Mount Analogue, describes the crucial balance between living fully in the moment and, at the same time, keeping the vision of our final destination:

“Keep your eye fixed on the way to the top, but don’t forget to look right in front of you.  The last step depends on the first.  Don’t think you you’ve arrived just because you see the summit.  Watch your footing, be sure of the next step, but don’t let that distract you from the highest goal. The first step depends on the last.””  (Goldstein p. 320)

Understanding Cause and Effect

The first part of skillful understanding teaches us that every action has a cause and an effect.  This concept is sometimes referred to as karma.  The word, karma, means action but is best served in untranslated form.  Some definitions of karma include:

“The seeds of consequence that will bloom in the future when conditions are suitable”

“Unwholesome karma is every word, thought and deed intentionally committed by someone not free from greed, hatred and ignorance”

“Acting in skillful ways leads to happy results and acting in unskillful ways leads to unhappy results”

All of this means that everything is connected.  Whether or not there are past and future lives, karma affects us in this life and is a strong reason to live skillfully.

The Four Noble Truths

The Truths can be summarized in four words:  dissatisfaction, cause, cessation, path

The First Truth:  Dissatisfaction (or similar words such as anxiety, anger, etc.)  can come from many sources.  There of the main causes are life cycle, change and failure to realize that we have no control.

Life Cycle consists of birth, sickness, old age, death.  All cause suffering.

Change is a part of life.  We suffer when we fail to accept the three characteristics of all experience: impermanence, inherently unsatisfying, and selfless nature.

Our mind wants us to believe that we are in control.  We suffer when we fail to realize that we are never in control.  This relates to selflessness: no self, no control’

The Second Truth:  Cause

The cause of dissatisfaction (suffering) is when we want life to be other than it is and/or when we are attached to an outcome.  The opposite state is “Caring without demanding, loving without imposing conditions, moving toward your goals without attachment.”

The Third Truth:  The End of Dissatisfaction

The cure is cessation of all attachment.  We then live in a state of pure awareness and not knowing.  We deeply know that “all that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.”

The Fourth Truth – The Eightfold Path is the practice that will lead to the cessation of suffering.


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.  Also review the recaps on Skillful Understanding in the Eightfold Path.  What did you learn from this step?


  • Meditate as usual in your daily practice being mindful of what arises and falls away and how all have the same characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness.

Next: The Fourth Noble Truth: Insight 2 The Eightfold Path Step 2 Skillful Intention Previous: The Fourth Noble Truth: Insight 1 There is a practice leading to the cessation of suffering