Are You Ready for the Year?
The Eightfold Path
by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To use the new year to think about how we can live out the year ahead correctly.
Preparation and materials
- You will need an image of the dharma wheel and the means to display it during the assembly. An example is available at: https://tinyurl.com/lupzymq
- You will also need the means to display the Buddhist proverb: ‘When the student is ready, the master appears.’
- Show the Buddhist proverb.
At the start of this new year, we are going to consider a Buddhist proverb: ‘When the student is ready, the master appears.’
We are going to think about learning, and about teachers and students. We are also going to think about how a new year can affect us, as it brings fresh, new beginnings, full of challenges and triumphs. We are going to think about this within the context of Buddhism, and consider how the Eightfold Path might be a good way to live out the new year.
- Many things in life work as cycles. There are life cycles themselves – we are born, we live our lives, we die - and there are also school year cycles, sporting calendar cycles, seasons and so on. It can seem that many aspects of life are like wheels that turn and move on. A wheel is a good symbol for a new year, for it is something that takes us on a journey to new and exciting places, discovering and learning things that we might never have thought we needed to know.
- Returning to the Buddhist proverb that we heard at the start of the assembly, the wheel is also a very important symbol for Buddhists. The Buddhist faith uses an eight-spoke wheel, called a dharma wheel, as a way to explain the Buddha’s teaching of the Eightfold Path.
- The Eightfold Path can also be thought of as a stairway, taking someone through different stages of learning until, Buddhists believe, they get to the ultimate goal of enlightenment. If we think about a mathematical problem that we didn’t get, and then remember what it felt like to understand it finally, that is something akin to the Buddhist idea of enlightenment.
- So, how do we extend our learning and get to that moment where the penny drops? It is all about our behaviour and how we see things.
- The first step is Right View, or right understanding. It is about trying to see things the way that they really are, accepting that nothing lasts forever, knowing that things will always come to an end in one way or another. If we are in Year 11, we might be about to start revising for exams. School might feel like hard work and not always too exciting, but the hard work will come to an end at some point.
- The second step is Right Intention, or right attitude. This means trying to think kind thoughts about people rather than finding fault with them, and also thinking in positive ways about ourselves. It can be easier to find fault with teachers or schoolmates, but trying to find the best in them is important. This method is known as the way of wisdom, learning about how to grow in knowledge and wisdom.
- The next part is about how we behave, which leads on to Right Speech: it is important to tell the truth and not get involved in lies or gossip. It is also important to treat people with respect and to think about the words that come out of our mouths.
- Then, we go on to our behaviour and Right Action. Let’s try to do things that we know are correct, following our moral code and doing what is right. Sometimes, it can seem easier to take a certain action, like talking or being silly in lessons, when we know we shouldn’t, but right action would be concentrating and trying our best in the situations in which we find ourselves.
- The fifth step is about Right Livelihood. We may still be at school and not yet earning our own living in a career, but we can live well, not hurting anyone or anything.
- Next, we move on to three areas that are particularly important in school. These are areas that train the mind to think. We have Right Effort, where we try to think about what we say or do before acting upon it. We might want to lash out and say nasty things to either our peers or our teachers, but it is important to try not to do that.
- Then, we have Right Concentration. This is exactly how we should all be trying to be during the school day because it will help each of us to get more out of our lessons. Someone once said that we get back what we give; the same goes for school. If we position ourselves on the edge and don’t participate, we are going to get the same back. However, if we are enthusiastic, interested and involved, we will find that lessons go quicker, work becomes a little easier and life is generally better for us!
- Finally, we have Right Mindfulness or right awareness, which is a good state for everyone to be in during lessons.
Time for reflection
Read through the list of titles on the wheel once again, pausing between each to allow time for thought.
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Concentration
- Right Mindfulness
Lastly, return to the Buddhist proverb from the start of the assembly: ‘When the student is ready, the master appears.’
May we all as students and teachers grow in understanding and attitude towards others.
May we all as students and teachers think about our speech and how our actions affect one another.
May we all as students and teachers work together for right effort and awareness of others and ourselves in this new year.