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The Principles of the Noble Eightfold Path and as Principles for Bioethics

NOTE: Below is an essay which was submitted to Mr. John Vincent Ignacio by one of his students. It was shown to the Nursing Journal and we have decided to publish the essay. We encourage our fellow student-nurses to submit narratives or anecdotes depicting your experiences, learnings, and insights in our profession. Send us an e-mail through ustnursingjournal0910@gmail.com and we might publish your work!

The Principles of the Noble Eightfold Path and as Principles for Bioethics
Emma Ruby J. Aguilar

Living, not just walking—the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism is a way for nurses to be closer to Bioethics. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development as it frees the individual from attachments to the material world, eventually leading to the end of suffering. The Noble Path points to Nirvana, a permanent state of supreme enlightenment and serenity. This state puts to an end the cycle of reincarnation of an individual, as believed in Buddhism. The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps; instead, they are highly-interdependent principles.

Buddha believed that he had found the cause of suffering in the world and a way of escaping it as well. He set forth a strategy for eliminating unnecessary fear. Moreover, he specified a way of living that does not only allow the individual to be calm, but also allows the person to be of service to others. He then established Buddhism.

A philosophical response to what might be called the problem of suffering, Buddhism opens the door for us to understand the meaning of suffering itself. Suffering, then, does not only denote pain and misery, but it also implies sorrow, disappointment, frustration, discontent, disaffection, pessimism, and the absence of the fulfillment that often grows as years pass.

In relation to Nursing, Buddhism, with its goal to free man of suffering, finds its use in the profession itself. Being a caring profession, a nurse helps alleviate the suffering the patients feel. According to Virginia Henderson, a renowned nursing theorist, Nursing is a profession that deals with caring for the sick or well individuals in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will or knowledge. The care focuses on the holistic development of the patient. In carrying out these activities, nurses use a guiding light known as the bioethical principles.

The principles of Bioethics are intertwined with the Noble Eightfold Path. Bioethical principles such as human dignity, stewardship, totality and well-formed conscience are universal and they serve as guidelines that the individual needs to follow to meet his and other people’s needs in the right way. The basis of these principles is that man is made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Christ, and granted an ultimate destiny to fulfill. Thus, humans are to be respected at all times. Doing the right thing is also included in these principles. Nurses must then act in a morally and ethically correct manner in performing their interventions so that patients can achieve the optimal use of their abilities.

In relation to Bioethics, the Noble Eightfold Path serves as a guideline of ethical behavior. It is also a guiding principle in the Buddhist tradition that enlightens people in the path that they are taking as people are continuously faced with suffering. Therefore, suffering is, in part, the result of transience and uncertainty in the world. Indeed, all human problems are rooted in the fact of change that results to uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. These enslave an individual to seek temporary earthly desires and passions—eventually hindering his/her enlightenment.

An individual who is ruled by worldly desires cannot possibly live a contented life in an ever-changing and uncertain world. Even when life goes as it is hoped for, there is no certainty that it will continue that way. Consequently, it causes fear and anxiety that can overwhelm temporary satisfaction. Knowing this kind of teaching, nurses can also incorporate the Eight Rights, which are the components of the path, into their ethical guidelines for a better nursing practice: 

• Right faith, which means having adequate knowledge about things that make life imperfect, can encourage nurses to begin with an intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and that it hopefully ends with the complete understanding of the true nature of life.

• Right effort encourages nurses to have an informed mind and a feeling heart. This lets them practice letting of all their desires, passion and lust and thus, bearing no resentment, envy or reason to harm a patient.

• Right speech can guide us, nurses, in refraining from lies, deception, harmful gossip, idle chatter or speculation about patients. This can help nurses maintain clear, truthful, uplifting and therapeutic communication towards their patients.

• Right action is always expected to be exercised by nurses in the line of duty, and it can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. This means refraining from improper desires and cravings, including those that are sexual, and refusing the dehumanization of life through abortion and the like.

• Right livelihood guides nurses in earning the fruits of their labor through righteous ways. Wealth should be gained legally and peacefully—nurses must not engage in any job that violates the rights and destroys the integrity of an individual.

• Right effort, which means struggling against immoral and corrupt conditions, enables nurses to consciously direct their life’s energies to the transformative path of healing action that fosters the wholeness of the patient.

• Right mindfulness entails nurses to see the patient as a precious individual who must be properly taken care of. This implies that nurses also have a duty to attain enlightenment and to understand the nature and effects of selfish craving. If nurses are right-minded, they will have no sense of attachment towards the body, feelings, perceptions, activities, and thoughts, and naturally control all covetous longings and desires. A pure mind and a clear memory are necessary for every nurse’s action, bringing all human activities under conscious control and thought.

• Finally, right concentration, which is the ultimate contemplation of mind, integrates the aforementioned principles in dealing with all aspects of life. This eventually enables nurses to establish not just the matters of the mind, but also of the whole being of the patient, thus ending suffering.
As it can be seen, not only the bioethical principles can guide nurses in performing the interventions to patients. The eightfold path also deals with the initial mental outlook of the patient, as well as his or her appropriate behavior, and his or her higher mental and spiritual faculties.

Therefore, the bioethical principles and the noble eightfold path are always accessible to us, nurses, for these are mental components which can be established in the mind simply through our determination and effort. Taking these measures as our foundation in Nursing practice, can truly help us render care to our patients in the right way, eventually assisting them towards the path that can end their suffering.

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