Buddhism, Journalism, and Journalistic Ethics

The Eightfold Path for Journalists

by Jayaram V

Buddhism teaches you to be compassionate towards all people and living beings, irrespective of their status, knowledge, wealth, power and prestige, because everyone suffers. It is its greatest gift to humanity. Through compassion to them you not only heal them but also heal yourself. This is the best lesson any journalist or a reporter can take from Buddhism. Jayaram V


The essay is about how those in the business of news and media coverage can practice the Eightfold Path and stay true to themselves rather than compromising their values.

Buddhism is a religion of the humanity. It aims to end human suffering by finding practical solutions to its real and verifiable causes. In doing so it sets aside all speculative theories that cannot be rationally explained or personally experienced. In this approach, its main emphasis is upon reforming and purifying the mind, which is vulnerable to instability, craving and attachments. However, Buddhism is not a mere dogma enforced by scriptural authority. Its beliefs and practices are rooted in the reality of life. It also views impermanence of our existence as an unending source of suffering and insecurity, and proposes its ending through the dissolution of the individuality by self-transformation

The Buddha focused primarily upon knowing and ascertaining the causes of suffering. Through insightful observation and inner awakening he arrived at the conclusion that suffering could be resolved only by overcoming desires and living righteously by following the Eightfold Path. The components of right living, such as right thinking, right actions, right views, right knowledge, thus constitute the essence of his teachings, which he incorporated into the Eightfold Path.

The Buddha's Eightfold Path is a simple and straightforward approach, without myth and ritual complexity that are usually associated with many religious practices and beliefs. To practice it, you do not have to believe in God or in an eternal Self. You can focus upon the mundane aspects of your life in a very practical manner to understand how your mind and body create in you different feelings, sensations, emotions, desires, likes, dislikes, and attachments, and how they bind you to worldly things and keep you in a state of flux. In today's world of declining morals, desire-ridden vested agendas of human greed and perversion of morality and humanity, Buddha's Eightfold Path serves as a practical guide to virtuous living, noble thinking, righteous actions, and unwavering peace.

Nowhere are the teachings of the Buddha relevant today than in the field of journalism. The world is plagued by misinformation, deception, falsehood, and selective coverage of news and events to influence people's minds and their choices. Information is used to push products as well as agendas through clever strategies which sacrifice truth on the altar of personal profit and selfish motives. Unfortunately, journalism has become a tool in the hands of a few powerful elements who want to control the world and its resources by controlling the information and communication channels.

Journalism is a modern phenomenon. It started with good intentions to record events and keep people well informed. However, somewhere along the path, journalistic ethics took the backseat, leaving people vulnerable to opinion, bias, exploitation, and misinformation. Today, those who work in this field cannot achieve success or survive for long unless they appeal to your raw emotions and hold your attention. In the process many times truth and personal integrity become sacrificed.

If you are a journalist and looking for direction, or if you are looking for balance between your professional interests and spiritual wellbeing, the Eightfold Path of Buddhism is right for you since it offers the best solutions to keep your sanity and stay in control of your thoughts and emotions. It well suited to many other professions also because it is effective in case of both religious and secular people. If you believe in doing good and being good, you will naturally take to it. The Eightfold Path can save today's professionals from the mental and moral degradation to which they are vulnerable. Even if you are not a Buddhist, you can still practice it because it is about life and conduct rather than religion or blind faith.

What is Eightfold Path?

The Eightfold Path consists of the righteous practice of eight moral disciplines, namely Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. They are meant to understand and realize the Four Noble Truths of Suffering, overcome attraction and aversion to pain and pleasure and find salvation through the cessation of its causes 1. The Buddha himself suggested that in practicing them one should avoid the step by step approach and should be practiced concurrently as one holistic and interdependent system in which progress in one area would compliment and facilitate progress in others.

The eight components of the Path are further divided into three groups, the moral segment, the mental segment and the wisdom segment. The moral segment (sila khanda) consists of Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood. Like the Yamas and Niyamas of classical Yoga, they inculcate moral discipline and self-restraint. The peace segment (samadhi khanda) consisting of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration, is meant to develop pure awareness or higher consciousness so that you can experience peace and mental stability (samadhi). Lastly, the Wisdom Segment (panna or prajna khanda), consists of Right View and Right Intention. They are meant to improve discernment and wisdom.

The Eightfold Path for Journalists

The following discussion is about how the Eightfold Path can be applied to the field of journalism and how journalists, writers, editors, and news reporters can practice it or apply its principles in the performance of their duties.

Right View

Right View means having the right perceptions about yourself, the world, others, your present, and future so that you can make right choices and avoid the consequences of wrong actions. Without Right Views, one cannot avoid sinful actions, dispel ignorance and delusion, or reach right conclusions. In today's journalistic profession, right views are very important to separate facts from fiction, truth from propaganda, and objectivity from self-interest. Right View also helps you aim for right ends, and perform your actions with right attitude and right intentions.

Right Intentions

Right Intentions arise from Right Views. Right Intention means the intention to remain detached, to do good, and be harmless. All the three are vital to practice journalism with honor and integrity, and remain uncorrupted by evil thoughts and temptations. In reporting news, in writing about events, or interpreting them to an audience, a journalist or a writer has to remain impartial, detached, uninvolved, free and fair. His or her objective should be to do good to the world, and alert people to any danger or harm they may face from such events. Right intentions arise when your mind is free from impurities such as desires, envy, anger, falsehood and violence. With right intentions you can pursue right ends and avoid the negative consequences from wrong actions. If you have right intentions, you will not misuse the opportunities you get in your life or profession for selfish ends, ignoring the consequences.

Right Speech

In Pali, Right Speech is called sama (saumya) vacha. The Buddha said that the right way to practice Right Speech is to avoid false speech, slanderous speech, harsh speech, and idle speech. For a journalist it means speaking truth, avoiding bias and maintaining honesty and integrity in presenting information or interpreting any event. It means you will not use your communication or presentation skills to exploit human sentiment, stay in power, or gain recognition at the cost of others. Words can hurt, harm and degrade others. They can destroy people's lives, peace, and reputation. You can use them to vent your anger and frustration upon people and society, or you can use them to protect people and show them the right way. It is therefore important to remember the importance of right speech and the careful choice or words in pursuing your profession.

Right Action

Simply speaking, right action means refraining from such physical actions which hurt and harm others or increase their suffering. In Buddhism they are called unwholesome acts. They are essentially sinful acts with which every culture and community is familiar. The Buddha defined right action as not taking anyone's life, not taking what is not given to one or what does not belong to one, and abstaining from sexual misconduct (which also means not using sexually explicit material, bawdy jokes, raunchy talk, or images of seminude bodies to gain public attention). In the field of journalism right action means you will not write about anyone or photogrpah anyone by invading their privacy or stealing their personal information. It also means not using the suffering of another for personal profit, gain or reputation, and abstaining from using bad news, accidents, murders, rapes, thefts, natural calamities to gain public attention. When you have to present such news as part of your obligatory duty, your intention must be pure and free from bias, falsehood and vested interest.

Right Livelihood

In life it is important how you earn your livelihood. Your karma and destiny depend upon it. Right Livelihood calls for high thinking and simple living. It means you lawfully earn your livelihood through righteous means, abiding by the laws, without trickery and deception, without using violence or coercion, and without hurting or harming others. For a journalist it means not using investigative and creative skills for selfish ends to earn reputation, destroy someone's career, blackmail someone, or gain favors. According to the Buddha any profession that involves the violation of right speech and right action cannot be considered Right Livelihood. Therefore, for Right Livelihood, Right Action and Right Speech are very important.

Right Effort

The purpose of Right Effort is to train the mind to facilitate Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Right Effort becomes possible after you progress on the path sufficiently by practicing Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood. Right effort involves the removal of the impurities of your mind, which interfere with your thinking and perceptions. With Right Effort you can overcome the unworthy aspects of your mind, such as desires, greed, ambition, aggression, violence, envy, worry, laziness, etc., and cultivate positive virtues such as compassion, generosity, patience, detachment, etc., whereby you sharpen your mind to focus, think clearly and remain right minded. For a journalist, right effort involves the effort to be generous and compassionate, focus upon virtues and strive to achieve good ends.

Right Mindfulness

Right Mindfulness means the ability to see things as they are not as you want to project them or present them with a preconceived set of thoughts, opinions, biases, or beliefs. Right Mindfulness in Journalism leads to factual reporting and honest and truthful representation of facts. It helps you see things clearly without mental filters and write from your experience based upon your clear perceptions. As your perceptions improves with Right Effort, you will see the world with truthful and insightful awareness and correlate the events to their true causes rather than what you want the world to believe. You will have Right Mindfulness when you are detached from the events you observe and report about them without becoming involved, taking sides, passing judgments, and fabricating or embellishing information.

Right Concentration

Right Concentration means the ability to remain focused upon a particular object or topic for sustained period of time. It has a lot of importance in the journalistic profession. When you fully focus upon a particular topic or news, you will develop insight and a thorough understanding of the object. Right Concentration also means you will evenly concentrate upon all aspects associated with the subject rather than with a few that interest you, without being influenced by them, disturbed by them or distracted by them. If you have progressed enough on the path, you will be able to concentrate upon both the pleasant and the unpleasant aspects of life, without being touched by them. Right Concentration is an invaluable tool for any journalist to rise above the mediocre and stay free from surface impressions and frivolous thoughts.

The Eightfold Path is meant to end the suffering through righteous means by removing the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that are inherent to the functioning of the mind and body. Its practice leads to the freedom of the mind not only from the internal limitations that keep you in check but also from the general fear, anxiety, and insecurity you experience in response to the uncertainties of life. The Eightfold Path does not end the suffering as such, but changes your perspective, reaction, attitude, and response to it. It allows you to cultivate a pure, reflective mind and think freely about your life, profession, priorities, beliefs, attachments, status, place, and role in the world. The Eightfold Path also empties your monkey like wandering mind so that you can unlearn the worldly ways to which you become habituated, respond to suffering with dignity, and remain composed in both sorrow and happiness.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Introduction to Hinduism
Know the richness, diversity, history and traditions of Hinduism, the oldest living religion of the world

Brahman
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Selected Upanishads
Translation of 14 Upanishads. Length: 32 pages

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
Translation of one of the largest Upanishads Length: 206 pages.

The Chandogya Upanishad
Translation of the Chandogya Upanishad. Length:218 Pages

The Bhagavadgita Complete Translation
With Word to word translation and commentary. Comprehensive and unique.
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Notes

1. To know the Four Noble Truths please check this essay.

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