Right View

Rev. Kinrei Bassis

If we don’t see the harmful consequences of all our wrong views, then we can’t leave them, the practice is difficult. …… If we have right view wherever we go, we are content.” ~ Ajahn Chah

Right view is the first step of the Eightfold Path. When we take the Dharma to heart, the whole Buddhist path flows out of our application of right view. Without right view, we are seeking our happiness by looking in the wrong direction and this will lead to confusion, sorrow, and suffering. When we take the Dharma to heart, we can stop blaming our suffering on difficult conditions and begin to recognize that our suffering is due to our misguided ways of trying to find happiness.

The Four Noble Truths are the core of the Buddha’s teachings. That suffering exists is the 1st Noble Truth. All suffering is due to attachment, due to desire, and this is the 2nd Noble Truth. Nirvana exists, we can find freedom from suffering, we can find complete liberation; this is the 3rd Noble Truth. The way to realize nirvana, to find liberation from suffering, is to follow the Eightfold path: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right wisdom.

Right view is the very ground of the whole Buddhist path. With right view, we can begin to have the proper spiritual relationship to whatever is unfolding in our lives. For instance, wrong view has trying to finding happiness by pursuing goals that will not lead to happiness and will lead to suffering and sorrow. For instance, I have met many people who have spent most of their lives pursuing a goal which, when attained, proved not to be what they really wanted. The movie star, Patrick Swayze, said, “The way to screw up somebody’s life is to give them what they want.” Wrong view in Buddhism is thinking that getting what we want is how we can find real happiness. Right view points to the 2nd Noble Truth, that suffering flows out of all our ceaseless wanting. The more we are able to let things go, the more we are willing to let go of our demands and requirements, then we will have more contentment, more peace and this will point our life to the goal of Buddhist training, the unshakeable peace and happiness of the 3rd Noble Truth.

When we are suffering, wrong view has us blaming others, blaming ourselves, refusing to accept the karmic conditions that are flowing through our life right now. Applying right view to suffering means we need to be mindful of all our deluded thoughts and substitute right view. For instance, when we are suffering, it is not any external condition that is creating our suffering, rather, we are suffering due to inability to accept these karmic conditions.

An essential part of right view is seeing the world through the law of karma. When we pay deep attention to our lives we can see how right and good actions lead to a positive result and wrong and bad actions lead to an increase in suffering for ourselves and others. Whenever we cause suffering for someone else, it will eventually cause us to suffer. An essential part of right view is to take responsibility for our thoughts, words and action. What this means is that in this present moment we do have a choice as to how the future unfolds: whether our thoughts and actions will lead to a future in which we will feel more joy and peace, or a future with more anxiety, despair and fear. To see our mistakes with compassionate acceptance is to not to pretend that it did not happen or it is not so bad, but to see exactly what we did. Instead of trying to escape responsibility for our mistakes, with right view, we accept that to free ourselves we need to do what we can to heal the wounds from both our mistakes and others’ mistakes. We need to see and understand our potential for doing harm so that we may open our hearts and grieve and have compassion for both our mistakes and the mistakes of others.

Recently someone asked me “How could I possibly know if I am seeing things with right view?” Much of the time it is very easy to know if you are seeing life with right view. Whenever my defilements arise, this means I am seeing with deluded eyes. The defilements in Buddhism are called the Three Fires; we are suffering due to our desires, we are suffering due to our anger and ill will, and we are suffering due to our ignorance and delusion. All of Buddhist training can be seen as the process of converting our defilements of desire, ill will, and delusion into the enlightened states of compassion, love, and wisdom. If I get filled with desire, it means I am not seeing impermanence and I am thinking I can grasp the object of my desire rather than seeing it as ephemeral and dreamlike. Anger means that I am either not getting what I want or getting what I do not want. If we live demanding what we want, we live in our heads and opinions about life and reality rather than opening our minds to experiencing a deeper sense of reality.

If I apply right view, this means I try to see whatever is unfolding with an attitude of acceptance. Spiritual acceptance is the willingness to let go of my desires and be at peace with whatever conditions I encounter. Delusion and ignorance underlies all aspects of wrong view and this delusion means that we are trying to grasp what cannot be grasped rather than trusting that whatever is flowing through our life right now is the life of Buddha.

What stands against having right view in most of us is the fundamental doubt that it is not possible for us to let go of our desires. We cannot imagine that we can actually transform our karma and find real inner peace and deep acceptance for all our thoughts and feelings. We deludedly identify with our problems and our failures. We have a deep-seated disbelief that the simple practices of the Dharma can actually convert our very deep-rooted problems. The real problem is not our difficult feelings such as anxiety, desire, or fear. The real problem is the doubt that it is enough to follow the Dharma and that we can keep letting go of all these difficult thoughts and feelings. Right view is to trust that it is enough to try to be still and try to accept whatever difficult conditions we are experiencing. We need to convert the doubt that makes us question whether we can eventually transform all our difficult feelings and desires. This fundamental doubt makes us not willing to see all aspects of ourselves with compassion. Right view means we work at counteracting these habitual negative karmic patterns with the wholesome faith that we are a Buddha, there is nothing within us that is fundamentally unclean. Wrong view has us doubting our Buddhist training and looking outside ourselves for a solution to our suffering. Right view has us grasping our will to accept whatever conditions are troubling us and trusting that everything in our life is part of our path to Buddhahood

When we view our life and the world with greed, hatred and delusion, we are ignoring the essential part of ourselves that has an intuitive sense of a deep fundamental connection with all beings. Each time we think and act in a manner which ignores this deep intuitive truth, we help build a selfish and self-centered being which will inevitably experience considerable suffering. Right view means we need to follow the eightfold path and take responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions. The world is full of people who are confused about life. With right view, we can work on accepting our suffering. This allows us to see through the confusion which colors much of life and begin to see how we created all these patterns of suffering.

Wrong view has us make the wrong reaction to suffering. We blame ourselves and/or blame others. This, in turn, creates anger and depression. We can pretend that everything is alright and we are not suffering —but simply ignoring suffering is not a solution. Suffering is a lesson that keeps returning until we learn how we are creating our suffering.

Right view is seeing the world with the eyes of the Buddhist Precepts and recognizing that the Precepts are like the guiderails lining the side of the road. As long as we follow the Precepts we will be heading to the heart of Buddha. One aspect of the Precepts is not to criticize but see everything with a kind and compassionate heart. Right view means that we need to have compassionate acceptance of our present karmic conditions which includes all our own greed, hate and delusion and all the world’s greed, hate and delusion.

If we want to attain our heart’s deepest longing and find true liberation, we need to follow the Buddha’s teachings. Right view directs us to find that which is deeper than this karmic body and mind. It points us to finding the place where we can lay down our burden of ceaseless desires and fears and awaken to the boundless liberation of the Buddhas.

“The way to Buddhahood is easy. They who do not perpetrate evil, they who do not grasp at life and death but work for the good of all living things with utter compassion, giving respect to those older, and loving understanding to those younger than themselves, they who do not reject, search for, think on, or worry about anything have the name of Buddha: you must look for nothing more.” ~ Shoji by Great Master Dogen