The Noble Eightfold Path: Right View

The Noble Eightfold Path: Right View


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Our happiness and the happiness of those around us depend on our degree of Right View. Touching reality deeply — knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves — is the way to liberate ourselves from the suffering that is caused by wrong perceptions. Right View is not an ideology, a system, or even a path. It is the insight we have into the reality of life, a living insight that fills us with understanding, peace, and love.” – Thich Nhat Hanh


The Buddha described the path to follow to obtain enlightenment, which he called the noble eightfold path. “The stages of the Noble Path are: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.” – Buddha. The first mentioned was “Right View” and is usually presented first but in fact any of the eight components could come first. They are highly interconnected and the practice of the other seven components of the path will help lead to “Right View.”


“Right View” is what the Buddha considered to be the correct way to look at existence. It is seeing things as they are. “Right View” is the wisdom to look at existence from the perspective of the Four Noble Truths. It involves understanding that suffering (or I prefer unsatisfactoriness) is a universal characteristic of human existence. If we live, we will suffer. “Right View” involves seeing that that there are causes to suffering. These causes are our thoughts, ideas, labels, and perceptions which are incorrect and delusional. “Right View” involves understanding that there is a way to transcend suffering. This is the removal of these delusions and thereby seeing things just as they are. And “Right View” involves knowing that the eightfold path is the way to move beyond suffering.


“Right View” involves both conceptual and experiential understanding; an intellectual appreciation for the Four Noble Truths and experiencing their truth. One of the keys is the discernment of those things and actions that lead to wholesome results and those that lead to unwholesome outcomes. There are no absolutes here. What is wholesome is very pragmatically determined. If the thought or action leads to greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being for ourselves and others it is wholesome. Conversely, if it interferes with happiness, wisdom, and well-being it is unwholesome. The action itself is not what matters, but its effects. The Buddha would occasionally get angry. But that action was very targeted. He expressed anger when it was needed to promote wisdom and understanding.


To be able to discern wholesome actions experience is necessary. It is difficult to know the effects of a thought or action without having tested it out and experienced the result. There are some forms of actions which are likely to be unwholesome. The Buddha identified some of these including destroying life, taking what is not given, wrong conduct in regard to sense pleasures, false, harsh, slanderous, or idle speech, covetousness, and ill will. But most thoughts and actions are not quite so easy to identify their wholesomeness without experience. That is why the experiential aspect of “Right View” is so important. We must see our actions in action and learn what works and what doesn’t and then put our knowledge to work creating wholesome outcomes.


“Right View” also include seeing how all things are interconnected and how our actions can have far ranging effects. If we lose our temper with a subordinate at work that can cause ripples that affect ourselves and our subordinate affecting how we interact with others including our families, how effectively we work, how safely we drive home after work, etc. These actions themselves have effects that continue the ripple into the future. “Right View” also involves seeing the roots of our actions, what were the events that led to the lost temper, how did our upbringing contribute to our having a temper, how did how we were treated at work affect our behavior, etc. The Buddha termed this Dependent Co-arising. So, the “Right View” is to understand how everything is interconnected, how past actions shaped the present and how our present actions shape the future.


Probably, most importantly, “Right View” is to see things as they really are. Seeing our experience as it truly is without ideas, memories, labels, judgments, expectations, beliefs or any thoughts whatsoever, just as it is right now. “Right View” is a clear present moment awareness unclouded by our minds. As we walk down the street the tree in front of us is a one of a kind living thing with great beauty and mystery. It is not like every other thing we call a tree, it is not an eyesore in the neighborhood, an indicator of our neighbor’s lax care for his yard, a reminder of trees we climbed as a child, a hazardous source of falling limbs, or even a tree. It’s unique, to be viewed as it is. That is the “Right View”


Needless to say, actually accomplishing “Right View” is daunting. This is not an easy path. But, with more and more practice we become better and better at having “Right View” more and more often. What we then can experience is how “Right View” can be such a source of happiness and wisdom and how it leads us to deeper understandings. So, “Right View” itself has roots and consequences and is part of Dependent Co-arising. It is an action that produces effects, wholesome effects, that reinforce and expand “Right View.” In this way, “Right View” begets “Right View” leading us down the path toward eventual true awakening.


So, practice “Right View” and move forward on the Eightfold Path.


“And what, monks, is Right View? It is, monks, the knowledge of suffering, the knowledge of the origin of suffering, the knowledge of the cessation of suffering, and the knowledge of the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering. This is called Right View.” – Digha Nikaya

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

7 thoughts on “The Noble Eightfold Path: Right View

  1. Mr de Castro thank you for this thoughtful article andthe insight it provides.
    Buddhist – it is said – fear causes, whilst othersfear effects/consequences. I also like the notion of the “experiential aspect of ‘Right View'”. Ultimately one need to find your own truth through the teachings of the Buddha and your experience with it. Obviously the Noble Eightfold Path is an interactive one. And somewhere one have to start. Right View seems emotionally and logically the right place.
    I have been practicing Mahayana Buddhism for more than 15 years in South Africa and a bit inthe UK. It seems the Theravada emphasis is on the Four Noble Truths when dealibv with Right View, whereas the Mahayana incline towards cause and effect? Perhaps both as well as dependent origination are part of Right View?
    Well, my “job” it seems is to integrate Right View into my live in a skillful (upaya) manner to the extent that it makes sense, i suppose?

  2. What I loved about this guidance is how practical and pragmatic it is. The balance of how thoughts and actions manifest your reality and that you should test and check-in if what is being created is wholesome for you and others.
    The elegant simplicity of that is beautiful.
    With Gratitude

  3. Wonderful explanation. I’ve seen right view explained many ways and your explanation helped me greatly. Thank you. I will search to see if you wrote about the rest of the path.

  4. I found this article very interesting ihave not seen or read such a deepexplanation into this.i feel humbled at his views and alacrity into how he perceived right view.inspireing.

  5. Most beautifully explained. Especially about Dependent co arising is intertwined with everything, past, present and future – Karma if you will. May all beings be safe, healthy, happy and free. Namaste

  6. John, Our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is revising our website. We would like very much to include or link to some of the materials you include on your Contemplative Studies site and would like to discuss this possibility with you. Please contact me at the email provided. Thank you.

  7. Dear John M. de Castro, Ph.D, I don’t usually write replies, but I would like to thank you for writing this. For some reason, your example of walking down the street and seeing a tree and appreciating its uniqueness hit me in an all too touching way as I write this at 05:29 AM. I know that it’s a simple example, but it shocked me in a sublime way, that yes indeed, I do walk along city streets outside my window and just hate those trees for getting in my way, or being badly taken care of, or simply objects. It seems as though I let my mind get so stressed and constrained that the reminder that the trees I hurry past are literally living things worthy of some respect and consideration came as a bolt from the blue. It seems so easy to take simple reality for granted and to get lost in my own problems and thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *