The Noble Eightfold Path is a series of tools, given by the historical Buddha for us to cease the suffering we endure as part of our existence. Like any great teacher, Gautama first laid out the problem in the Four Noble Truths, by explaining about suffering and then he gives us the tools to get out of the quagmire we are born into. Here comes into play the Eightfold Path, the closest thing to the 10 commandments of Judaism and Christianity. Please note that it's not a "You shall not" but a "You should" approach.
As you can see to the left, the eightfold path has 8 steps clearly defined and they are subdivided in three categories: Wisdom, Ethical conduct and Concentration.
you can click on the picture to have an explanation of each terms.
The Wisdom sub-group is the basic, the first 2 steps to undertake in order to get on the path. It is sometimes called discernment as through it, we can understand the other steps better.
Right View is important for all beginners as it implies many things. Among them, the understanding of concepts like the law of Karma, suffering and impermanence. It is, simply put, seeing the world through Buddhist spectacles. Understanding the right view will lead the followers to follow the correct path and find the other stepping stones.
Right intention is the willingness to always improve, to abandon our wrong patterns. Through Right view, the practitioner can better understand what he needs to change and through right intention, he can have the will to do it
This category is basically a how-to-behave but it goes deeper than just do and do not. It is also a guide on what to say and what to be. This is for the purpose of staying pure of body and mind in order to lead a correct concentration, the next step.
Right Speech goes in different categories but to make an easy resume, it is to use one's power of speech in a way conductive of someone on the path to Buddhahood.
Here are some pointers:
Abandon falsehoods. Speak the truth.
Abandon divisive speech. Saying things that will divide people is counter productive as we are all one and division is an illusion. Therefore, there is no Us and Them. Use your speech to reconcile, bring back together what should be together to start with. Create harmony.
Abandon abusive speech. Be polite, soothing and amicable in your dealings with other. Do not speak in anger and try not to hurt with words.
Abandon idle chatter .Silence is golden, speech is silver as the saying goes. Be wise and use your speech when it brings benefit to others. Speaking uselessly disperses mindfulness and is an activity you want to avoid.
Right action is easier to understand for us, Westernized societies.
The practitioner should act in a way as to not hurt himself or others. It includes, not taking lives, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconducts.
This one really ought to be more respected in our society as it would change everything in Corporate America. It means to avoid taking part in an occupation or a trade that brings harm, directly or indirectly to other living beings. Here goes the Wall Street shark, the butcher and even the grocerer.
The five types of businesses that are harmful for others are: (ref.)
Concentration is an umbrella category that brings us to the higher consciousness needed to achieve nirvana. It is achieved through every day experience.
Right effort is what the practitionner does in order to bring forth his desire to improve his and other's lot in life. She will thus make the correct choice in her deeds, thoughts and choice of words. It goes hand in hand with most other precepts talked about here. It is to be noticed that it is through right effort that one can change his wrong view and attain the right view necessary to attain Buddhahood. Simply speaking, if all else is wrong, we can get on the correct path with right effort.
Right Mindfulness is what we think of when we think about Zen. It is being aware at all time of what affect our mind and body, being aware of what we are doing instead of doing things, and saying things without being conscient of doing it. Eating while watching TV? you are not aware of one and the other numbs your senses.
Strive to always fully do what you are set to do. Put your whole mind and body, all our senses in it. Be alert and if things come along, you'll be ready to face them. A numb mind cannot be enlightened.
Right concentration is the practice of meditation. Meditation is useful in developing wisdom and insight. During meditation, the practitionner will be examining his right view and correct it if necessary. This is part of the process of cutting the defilements and self-awakening.
Meditation traditionally uses mindfulness of breathing, concentration on a visual object, or through the repetition of certain phrases or mantra. These supports are tools that allow the mind to break free of worldly attachment and it becomes able to be self-aware.
For more on meditation, please visit Meditation Techniques Guides- It offers in-depth knowledge of Meditation and a large collection of meditation techniques that can help you to reduce stress, achieve mental peace and tranquility, and a total self-transformation.