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
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