This belongs to a series on the eightfold course. You can read the other posts here.
What is ideal view, and why does the Buddha place it initially in the eightfold path?
Initially glimpse, it appears obvious that sound spiritual practice needs to be rooted in sound understanding of life. However how do we obtain this kind of wisdom?
On one level, the Buddha is asking us to be more “philosophical” about the viewpoints we hold, to end up being mindful of what we believe, and then to inquire more deeply into why we believe what we believe. Just then can we understand if our thoughts hold true, false, or confused.
Greek and Indian philosophers challenged us to do this work two thousand years ago, but it seems that couple of individuals today take the problem to send their most cherished assumptions to strenuous questioning. Why, for example, do we believe love is excellent and war is bad? Why are we so certain that all humans are equivalent? Why do we think that we do or do not have souls? What are our ethical principles actually based on?
Our thoughts about these things impact our day-to-day choices and relationships deeply, and we would make better decisions in all elements of our lives if we were clearer about the structures of our own thinking. But this kind of clearness is difficult to come to without friends, instructors, and in some cases enemies– it can take a political crisis, for example, to make us articulate our real thoughts about what society must be or what true management is.
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The phrase “right view” is a translation of the Pali samma ditthi. Here, “best view” does not imply that there is only one right way to take a look at things. Samma is an abundant word that translates to something like “finished, improved, fulfilled”– similar to summa in Latin, as in the word “consummated.” Ditthi incorporates one’s “view” or “vision”– the viewpoint we handle something, in addition to the method we perceive. As “point of view,” ditthi resembles the English word theory, which comes from a Greek word, theaw, meaning “behold.” The word theater has the same root. Thus, our “theory of life” is our ditthi, the perspective from which we make sense of things, the “view” that guides our day-to-day choices and judgments.
All of us have ditthis, despite the fact that most of us are not fully mindful of the views we hold till some circumstance triggers us to express them. Frequently our views are unexamined viewpoints or assumptions that we have actually acquired from other individuals or from our culture. After we end up being conscious of these views we can select to hold them as real, customize, or decline them. If the views we cling to are confused or misdirected, they will definitely undermine us in all elements of our practice. For example, if we believe highly in the presence of eternal private souls, how deeply will we be able to understand impermanence and see it in all aspects of our experience? Or if we hold convictions about our own racial or ethnic superiority so impassioned as to justify war to enhance the interests of our group, how receptive will we genuinely be to mentors about lovingkindness or compassion to all sentient beings?
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The Buddha mentions often times that we need to assess what we think, because thoughts lead to actions. For instance, in a sutta called “The Seed” in the Anguttara Nikaya ( 10.104 ), he advises us that wrong views cause incorrect decisions, and wrong choices result in incorrect speech and action, and so on, up until we reach “wrong release.” By “wrong release” the Buddha is referring to the ends presented by other faiths or approaches: a secure place in heaven, dissolution into an eternal world-soul (or Atman, according to the Vedanta approach of Hinduism), and the termination of suffering by suicide would all be examples of “incorrect release,” which are all built upon previous views. The opposite holds true of what the Buddha sees as ideal views. Our concepts about life are like seeds and are fed by practice. If they are right, all the other aspects of our practice will nurture them into wisdom: “Just as when a sugarcane seed, a rice grain, or a grape seed is placed in moist soil, whatever nutriment it draws from the soil and the water, all conduces to its sweetness, tastiness, and unalloyed delectability.”
One of the most enticing elements of Buddhism for a contemporary person is that the Buddha never ever asks us to have blind faith. Mindfulness needs disciplined psychological effort and detailed empirical inquiry; we are constantly being asked to comprehend. In the terrific sutta on samma ditthi (Majjhima Nikaya 9), the Buddha includes under “ideal view” a condensed overview of the chain of cause and effect that leads to suffering; at each point in the chain he emphasizes that the student has to “understand” or “recognize.” It is inadequate to be informed. We need to see for ourselves– through meditation and through experience, which includes the act of thinking– how exactly one thing leads to another. For example, in comprehending karma, or the laws of actions and their repercussions, we have to understand not just what karma is but likewise what the wholesome and unwholesome types are, as well as their roots. This is long, effort; it can take years to get clarity about some things, if not life times.
As we have a hard time to understand, do we need to put whatever in our life on hold in worry that if we act without clearness we have a 50-50 chance of committing wrong actions? Here it is useful to have a structure of affordable teachings from a teacher we rely on– not from blind faith, but from self-confidence in a teacher who has actually formerly offered us reason to trust them. It resembles following the advice of a doctor who has prospered in healing us before. While we are following the doctor’s directions, we do not require to switch off our crucial intelligence– we continue to check and investigate for ourselves. In this case, the Buddha’s doctrines work something like standards. We knowingly hold and practice them, and as we practice, we continually check them and comprehend them more deeply. The fantastic worth of this is that in our thinking, and in the words and actions that derive from it, we are constantly aware of where we are originating from, of our starting principles. The author Terry Pratchett puts it eloquently in the book I Shall Use Midnight:
It is important that we understand where we come from, because if you do not understand where you originate from, then you don’t understand where you are, and if you do not know where you are, you don’t understand where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.
In contrast, the propensity of many people is to live adrift in an ocean of unconsciously held viewpoints and presumptions. In this respect, we reach samma ditthi when we end up being totally familiar with what our thinking– and therefore our speech, choices, and actions– rests upon and grows from. This would lead to samma ditthi being equated as something like “finished understanding.” But there is another aspect to the term ditthi, which is its significance as “vision.”
In the terse and difficult Kaccayanagotta Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 12.15), the Buddha explains samma ditthi not as a guiding theory, however as the improvement of understanding that arises from living the dharma. Speaking to Kaccayana, a disciple famed for his understanding of spiritual texts who later became one of the most astute teachers of the dharma, the Buddha says:
By and large, Kaccayana, this world is in chains to attachments, clingings [sustenances], and biases. However one such as this does not get involved with or hold on to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he dealt with on “my self.” He has no unpredictability or doubt that, when there is arising, just suffering is developing; and that when there is diing, only suffering is passing away. In this, one’s understanding is independent of others. It is to this degree, Kaccayana, that there is best view.
Simply put, the advanced professional understands attachment in such a way that ideas and sensations never ever arise that might trigger accessory. The knowledge is no longer theoretical, but perceptual. Our practice transforms us into beings who no longer see things in such a method regarding become connected and trigger suffering. In this sense, Samma ditthi is more than “best view”; it is “improved vision.”