RtO: Magga: The Noble Eight-Fold Path

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Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “The Noble Eight-Fold Path”

Like any baseball fan, I know that numbers don’t tell the whole story. So I don’t like to get too hung up on stats. I still prefer batting average and on base percentage over WHIP and WAR. But there are some numbers from Siddhartha’s teaching that are useful to remember as one plays the game of life. You may recall we spoke of dukkha earlier in these essays. Dukkha is the central dilemma of the Four Noble Truths; Life is suffering. But Siddhartha didn’t just present this existential emptiness and say that was the end. He said there is an Eight-fold Path to follow out of Dukkha, named Magga.

Siddartha’s teaching of Magga was actually a constructive system of thought and behavior to follow complete submission to the emptiness of man’s fate. A good foundation for a baseball player. There is no one thing you can do to ensure success in baseball, except do your best through all travails. Siddhartha showed us what doing your best entails, that is, he showed us how to overcome suffering, through the Eight-fold Noble Path.

Before we identify each trait individually, it’s important to note that Siddhartha broke them down into three groupings, the first two, related to wisdom, the next three, related to ethical conduct, and the last three, related to mental development. These general headings guide the individual to recognize that there are three main ways to improve what we do in the world. Each of the eightfold path steps are titled as ‘Right.’

Right View tells us that we need to see and understand the situation we are in truthfully, honestly. It requires that we acknowledge the existential emptiness of all human activity, and that all beings suffer from the impermanence of life. When this cognitive awareness is coupled with Right Intention, we can speak of a person who has control over their volitional action. These two together allow for wisdom.

But just so that we know how to manifest wisdom, the next three describe ethical conduct. Right Speech means to speak the truth and to be kind and gentle with one’s words. Right Action is the center piece of all Siddhartha’s thought, meaning no harm to others or self, compassion in all things. Compassion and wisdom are the two great virtues to Siddhartha. Lastly in ethical conduct is Right Livelihood, no war-making, no weapons production, no involvement with killing (this is why Buddhists are vegetarians).

The last grouping is mental development, meaning keen attention to control over the flow of one’s mind. Right Effort tells us that only a good will can produce a good effect. Right Mindfulness is akin to Burroughs’ Do Easy Method, pay attention to the details until you find the easy way. And finally only Right Concentration can bring us to Right Effort and Right Mindfulness. We need to be mentally strong in the face of the challenges of dukkha.

I know that there are no ball players out there who could detail their adherence to Siddhartha’s eight-fold noble path, but in their ways, they each adhere closely. A wise ball player is somebody like Jayson Werth who sees things in their perspective, who can sense when a moment is big and still keep himself composed. Ryan Zimmerman is a player with praiseworthy ethical conduct, a leader by example, always speaking positive words about his teammates and competitors, able to be counted on in a big moment, and raising money for MS. And I’ve already singled out Adam LaRoche for his mental development.

We could probably go down the entire roster and highlight each player for any one of these attributes: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, Desmond, Span, etc. These men are all in their middle-20’s! They’re still becoming disciplined professionals who know it’s best to proceed humbly, intently, and persistently. Seasons are long. Winds blow. Tables turn. It is the definition of nobility to always be prepared to do your best, and then to do it.

That’s why I was no fan of MLB during the steroid years. But, Gio’s father aside, I don’t suspect any Nationals of such clearly unethical behavior, because that would void my support for the team. I believe they are clean and thereby worthy of my support. Even when they are playing at .500, they look to me to be on the path out of dukkha. And I’m supportive of that.

But steroids, and many other distractions, are exactly the kind of desire/suffering that players need to avoid. They must cultivate in themselves, and adhere to, steady moral principles that lead them to their enlightenment. They have to be aware of the many ways a person can stray from the path. It’s the purpose of these essays to examine how a secular, atheistic game can be a spiritual and moral guide to living. It doesn’t surprise me that Siddhartha’s Magga is so easily overlaid onto baseball. All those statistics, but none so illuminating as 8.


Y.S Fing loves baseball the way that his parents wish he loved Catholicism.