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
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