Why is Right View important? What does it matter what I believe about the world and how it works? About myself? About the path? Why do my thoughts, beliefs, and concepts matter?
When contemplating these questions, I am always reminded of the verse from the Dhammapada as translated by Byrom:
“We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.”
The Buddha was very clear in his teachings: thought precedes and determines action. Whether it is conscious thought (“I’m going to do something for someone else.”) or subconscious core beliefs (“I am not a good person unless I am successful at work.”) our view shapes our reality. Right or wholesome views lead to happiness, while wrong or unwholesome views lead to suffering.
One of the basic elements of Right View is an understanding of karma or kamma (in Pali). I have encountered many strange views about karma, such as: karma is the same thing as fate or destiny, karma is a punishment, karma is determined by some type of god or goddess, etc. Karma, in its must fundamental element, isn’t very mystical or magical. Recognizing karma is simply recognizing the power of cause and effect. Everything is an effect or result of something else, and everything is a cause or condition for something else. This includes our thoughts, perhaps most especially, since these then condition what we say and do. So, what you choose to think, say, and do matter.
Someone who doesn’t recognize karma may think that they can think, say, and do whatever they want and get away with it. They may think that they can cultivate anger, hatred, or jealousy and still be peaceful, happy, and content. This would be like planting potatoes in your garden and expecting roses. It flies in the face of common sense. Likewise, if we cultivate the seeds of suffering, like hatred and greed, we will not experience happiness. For happiness we need the seeds of kindness, patience, generosity, and wisdom. So this wrong view becomes the basis for much suffering.
If the only element of Right View you implement into your practice is the basic understanding that your choices matter for yourself and for others, then this will carry you far on the path of awakening. If you recognize that your thoughts, words, and deeds shape your world and impact others then you are compelled to examine all aspects of how you live. If everything you do matters, and you don’t get away with anything, then it is important to be mindful and intentional with all of your activities.
So how could you start implementing change in your life? You can start small, with manageable choices. Perhaps all you do is spend a couple of moments every morning giving some loving-kindness to yourself. Just saying, “I am a good person at heart and I deserve happiness.” Or you could simply smile at a stranger. Maybe you take a few minutes each morning to kindly remind your children how much you love them and how they are good people at heart. I know I am getting into other factors of the path, but an understanding of karma, of cause and effect, helps us recognize that these things are important. If we believe our thoughts, words, and actions don’t matter, then our engagement with the path will not be very beneficial or effective.
With a loving and open heart, remind yourself that your choices matter. What will you choose today?
Associate Spiritual Director RMI
Learn more about Ben: www.lookfeelrelax.com
Dear Noble Sangha,
In May we move into examining each element of the eightfold-path. In this post you will find words of the Buddha regarding Right View, the first element of the eightfold-path and the first component of the category of panna (sanskrit: prajna) or wisdom.
What is Right View?:
“And what is right view? Knowledge with regard to stress, knowledge with regard to the origination of stress, knowledge with regard to the cessation of stress, knowledge with regard to the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: This is called right view.”
-The Great Frames of Reference Sutta, the Digha Nikaya
What does one who has Right View understand?:
[Kaccayana:] “Lord, ‘Right view, right view,’ it is said. To what extent is there right view?”
[The Buddha:] “By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘non-existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one.
“By & large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings (sustenances), & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on ‘my self.’ He has no uncertainty or doubt that, when there is arising, only stress is arising; and that when there is passing away, only stress is passing away. In this, one’s knowledge is independent of others. It is to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.”
– To Kaccayana Gotta (On Right View), Samyutta Nikaya
What is the result of Right View?
“When a person has right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right knowledge, & right release, whatever bodily deeds he undertakes in line with that view, whatever verbal deeds… whatever mental deeds he undertakes in line with that view, whatever intentions, whatever vows, whatever determinations, whatever fabrications, all lead to what is agreeable, pleasing, charming, profitable, & easeful. Why is that? Because the view is auspicious.”
– The Seed Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya
How does Right View relate to the other factors of the Eightfold Path?
“One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view.”
– The Great Forty Sutta, Mahjjima Nikaya
Ends are so conclusive. You know when something ends – a job, a relationship, or a contract. Ends are very definitive. Someone dies only once, at a very specific time, hopefully when they are very old.
Beginnings, however, are not so definitive. They are far more wholesome and far more messy. Relationships begin out of a plethora of different factors; the first day on a job feels like a flurry. They are a result of a conglomeration of different factors, all coming together at the right time and the right place.
Sadly, we tend to focus on the end more than the beginnings. We cling to the way things have been and crave for a world where nothing ends – relationships, jobs, lives – where nothing changes. However, the Universe doesn’t listen to us: it just goes on and does it own thing.
The Buddha taught that one of the three truths of reality is anicca, or change. Everything changes. On a very small scale, the stoplight will eventually turn green, we will eventually get to our destination, we may even switch jobs. On a far larger scale, we may move between states or countries, we may get in an accident, our parents will die.
When we cling to the idea that an end will never come, we will experience dukkha – unpleasantness, even suffering. Sometimes that dukkha is frustration, sometimes it is jealousy, sometimes it is sorrow and grief. This is the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth: our craving and desires cause us to experience dukkha. We want the “end” to never come.
Or sometimes, we want the “end” to come as quick as possible. Our craving comes in two forms: wanting things to change and wantings things not to change. Sometimes we want our boss to just go away, our job to end, the stoplight to turn green, the person on the highway never to cut us off again, never experience jealousy. Other times, we don’t want our parents to die.
At a very basic level, the solution to our dukkha, our suffering, our grief, rage, frustration, jealousy, hate, desire, sadness, melancholy, depression, anxiety, is to let go. Stop craving and our dukkha will cease (that’s the Buddha’s 3rd Noble Truth).
But HOW? We find ourselves in so many situations daily where we suffer. They are infinite: sometimes it’s from other people, from places, even from ourselves. The various sources of why we experience dukkha however is negligible; there is a very simple solution for every source.
Become aware that we don’t know what life has in store for us next. Become mindful of our actions now as they will affect our future. Concentrate and remind yourself that this “end” – of a job, a relationship, a family member dying – is simply one step in the long journey of life. It is a new beginning on a new journey, one of the many factors that create new beginnings.
The Buddha taught that the way to cease our craving is through the Noble Eightfold Path:
At it’s very core, the Eightfold Path is about becoming aware of reality, accepting that change (anicca) is inevitable, and being kind to ourselves and other sentient beings in the process.
We are hosting a Noble Eightfold Path Study Group from May 29th to July 24th at 6:00 to 7:00pm. It is a in-depth 9 week study of the Eightfold Path and how we can transform our thinking and actions to work with ends, beginnings, and everything in between. Each week studies a different component of the path with some incorporation of most of the Buddha’s teachings.
If you are interested, please contact Morgan Smith at email@example.com to RSVP to the class by May 22nd.