The fruit of the Fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path. The Path can be grouped into three categories: Shila (Morality), Dhyana (Meditation) and Prajna (Wisdom). For reference, the eight limbs of the path are listed at the bottom of this page in their Sanskrit and Pali renderings.
The Sutta of the Pali Canon called The Great Forty1 contains a crystalline expression of the Eightfold Path as told by the Buddha to his disciples. In this discourse, Prajna and Shila take center stage while Meditation is given less focus in that particular Sutta.
Prajna, or Wisdom, is achieved through two limbs of the Eightfold Path: Perfect View and Perfect Resolve. Perfect View is, of course, the cornerstone of the entire Path. To have Perfect View is to understand the Four Noble Truths and the inter-relatedness of all things which precludes the existence of self (Anatman). This is also understood as emptiness (Shunyata). In the Original Wisdom Schools, the non-existence of self related just to the person, while in Mahayana schools, the non-existence of self-nature extends to all things. This is a useful contrast: to Non-Mahayanists, the repudiation of self-nature is personal; to Mahayanists, emptiness is a cosmic phenomenon. Perfect Resolve is the mental effort of putting Perfect View into practice. Good will toward all beings is Perfect Resolve. Insight and peacefulness take root when thoughts are redirected from the self, from anger, from attachment, to non-self, emptiness, and change.
Morality in any religion comes with the threat of punishment. In Buddhism, the punishment is continuing to be reborn in the cycle of Samsara. How, then, does the Bodhisattva summon the courage to re-enter the wheel of life? The answer is complex, but the perfection of Shila is an important part of the answer (the others can be further explored elsewhere). Shila, also translated as conduct, is the dharma put into action. Shila, in the context of the Noble Eightfold Path, consists of Perfect Speech, Perfect Action, and Perfect Livelihood. Shila is the application of Wisdom and Meditation to the outside world through one’s agency. Through one’s words, one’s vocation, and one’s actions, the Four Noble Truths are brought into fruition.
Meditation, the final third of the Noble Eightfold Path, consists of Perfect Mindfulness, Perfect Concentration, and Perfect Effort. Through effort, a practice can develop. Through mindfulness, the nature of reality is seen clearly. Through concentration, focus can blossom.
The Noble Eightfold Path can be visualized this way2:
|Wisdom||Perfect View (samyak-dṛṣṭi / sammā-diṭṭhi)||Seeing the Four Noble Truths|
|Perfect Resolve (samyak-saṃkalpa / sammā-saṅkappa)||
|Morality||Perfect Speech (samyak-vāc / sammā-vācā)||
|Perfect Action (samyak-karmānta / sammā-kammanta)||
|Perfect Livelihood (samyak-ājīva / sammā-ājīva)||Not based on wrong speech and action|
|Meditation||Perfect Effort (samyak-vyāyāma / sammā-vāyāma)||
|Perfect Mindfulness (samyak-smṛti / sammā-sati)||
|Perfect Concentration (samyak-samādhi / sammā-samādhi)||Practice of the four jhanas/dyanas|
Pali: Ariya aṭṭhaṅgika magga
1Majjhima Nikaya, 117.
2Gethin, 1998, 81.