Realisation of the Four Noble Truths is completed
by actualisation of the Noble Eightfold Path.
In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, an ascetic approached the Buddha to ask a question. As summarised here, ‘How do we know if spiritual practitioners held in high esteem have realised the truth or not?’ The Buddha skilfully replied that as long as the Noble Eightfold Path is practised in a teaching (and its discipline), that would constitute a path to enlightenment.
The Buddha also proclaimed that he did not discern any other teaching that could lead anyone to enlightenment. As such, the presence or absence of the Eightfold Path in a supposed path to liberation would determine whether it is a truly valid one. Since the early days of Buddhism, this has been the universal yardstick to define what is or is not the Buddhadharma (the Buddha’s Dharma or teachings).
Sometimes, there is argument among fellow Buddhists on whether certain teachings in some scriptures were really taught by the Buddha. Perhaps the basis of argument is skewed, because, as the Buddha put it, what makes a teaching equivalent to the Buddhadharma is the presence of the Eightfold Path. That is to say, on one hand, if a so-called ‘Buddhist’ path adheres fully to the unchanging principles of the Eightfold Path without contradicting it in any manner, it would be a proper path.
On the other hand, if a so-called ‘Buddhist’ path proposes the forgoing of even just one or more aspects of the Eightfold Path, it would not meet the Buddha’s criteria of being a complete path to enlightenment. In other words, it would not be a true Buddhist path.
It can be surprising how many who regard themselves as Buddhists are uncertain of the various aspects of the Eightfold Path. How truly Buddhist one is could be measured by how much one understands and practises this path, as elucidated in detail by the Buddha.
Even if a Buddhist does not memorise all the eight aspects (Right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration), one should more or less strive to be aligned to them. The challenge is to continually practise aligning to the path till the alignment is perfect. Of course, the Buddha does not expect every Buddhist to perfect walking this path instantly. If instant perfection is possible, there would be no need for practice. However, the good news is that practice does make perfect. This too was taught by the Buddha!
While ‘the Dharma’ lasts forever,
‘your Dharma’ only lasts as long as you practise it.