Ken Ward's Thoughts on Buddhism

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Right View (Step 1 of the Path)

This step is about suffering and how it is caused and removed. It is also about karma and other teachings.

On this page:

  1. Other Names
  2. What is Right View
  3. Unprofitable Questions
  4. Right View Means Understanding the Path
  5. Karma
  6. Five Skandhas
  7. Three Characteristics
  8. Five Fetters
  9. Association with other steps
  10. Wrong Views

Right View in a Nutshell

In Right View (sammā-ditthi) Buddhists understand how suffering comes about and how to reduce and eliminate it. That is, they understand suffering, the origin of suffering and the cessation of suffering, and how to remove it. This is the Noble Eightfold Path. This is also the Four Noble Truths.

Right View is also understanding karma, and knowing which acts lead to bad karma and knowing which acts lead to good karma.

Other Names and Meaning

Right View is sometimes called Right Perspective, Right Outlook or Right Understanding.

Right View is a plan of the path, and emphasises the qualities and actions required for success.

What is Right View

In general, when we say we have a view about something we mean  our actions, beliefs, feelings, and thoughts in relation to it. Right View is having wise beliefs, feeling and thoughts. That is, those which reduce suffering, and avoid increasing suffering.

Right View also includes avoiding certain questions − questions that are distracting, unanswerable, and such questions that even if answered, do not reduce suffering. Gotama would not answer such questions because they did not lead to a reduction in suffering. Asking, answering and debating those questions is not 'profitable'   does not reduce suffering. Largely, these are philosophical questions that the wise have spent thousands of years debating, without obtaining a definitive solution.

Unprofitable Questions

There are many views and questions, that may excite the mind, but do not lead us to resolving suffering. These are Wrong View For instance:

In life, there is a limited time to practice reducing and eliminating suffering. And we should avoid distractions, which, whether we understand them or not, will not reduce suffering. We should concentration on those matters that will reduce suffering. Gotama illustrated this with the example of a man hit with a poison arrow. He refused to let them pull it out until he knew who had shot him, why they had shot him, and exactly what the poison was. By the time they could answer these questions, he would have died. In the same way, were we to spend lifetimes seeking an answer to some popular questions, even should we find such an answer, it would not assist us in seeking enlightenment.

In the past, rival groups would violently quarrel over questions, with rival monks and nuns fighting each other, biting, kicking, eye-gouging and the like. The well known story of the blind men and the elephant relates to this situation, where we fail to acknowledge various aspects of the truth.

Gotama said he answers and teaches in due season, what is the truth, what helps the seeker on the path, what accords with the teaching, and what is balanced. Answers that do not accord with these principles (of Right Speech), he did not answer, or he put the question aside (if it wasn't the time to answer). The last type of question is like a school pupil asking for a proof of Stirling's Approximation, when the right time to answer is when he or she is well into advanced mathematical studies.

Not philosophy

Buddhism isn't about faith. Gotama was not a Saviour, or even a philosopher. He was a guide.  The truth of the teaching is not in blind belief. It is in its working for us, reducing suffering and leading to enlightenment. And only we can learn this through practice, including meditation. Gotama gave the directions. We have to decide whether to make the journey or not.

For instance, the Four Noble Truths are not something just to memorise. They are principles to practice and test so the practitioner sees and knows their truth and effectiveness in reducing suffering.

However, by the time these unprofitable questions were answered (and the answers would not produce a release from suffering), there would be no time left to practice reducing suffering. So, attachment to such views is Wrong View. Right View is the ability to determine what is worth considering (what will lead to the extinction of suffering) and what won't. It is the prioritization of the task so we do the work effectively. Wrong views of this kind are time-wasters.

Right View Means Understanding the Path

Right View is understanding the Path. Clearly, we can't do this to begin with and we do it in a step by step manner.

In fact, when we learn any new subject, we start by memorising the facts without really understanding them. As we learn more about the path, we understand how the steps intertwine so our knowledge grows. Through practice, our understanding deepens and deepens, and we understand Right View more and more.

At first, Right View may be a summary or map, which we take to some degree on faith. After completing the Path, Right View is fully known and understood.

Right View includes understanding the following:

  1. The Four Noble Truths
  2. Karma
  3. Which Questions are Inappropriate (See above)
  4. Three Characteristics
  5. The Five Fetters
  6. The Intertwining of Other Path Steps
  7. Wrong Views

Karma

In Buddhism karma is cause and effect, or action and reaction. In Right View, the Buddhist knows that their thoughts, speech and actions have consequences depending on whether they reduce suffering or increase it. Buddhists believe that good acts (of body, speech or mind) always lead to good results, and bad ones lead to bad results. 'Good' means reduces suffering, and 'bad' means increases suffering. See karma.

Ken Ward's Thoughts on Buddhism

Main Page: Thoughts on Buddhism

Five Clinging Aggregates (Skandhas)

Human beings (and living things) are a 'heap' of the Five Aggregates. These are:

  1. Form,
  2. Feeling,
  3. Perception,
  4. Mental Formations and
  5. Consciousness

See Five Aggregates web page

Three Characteristics (tilakkhaa)

The Three Characteristics of Suffering are also called the Three Marks of Existence.

The Three Characteristics of Suffering are:

  1. Transience (not permanence)
  2. Subject to Suffering (so unsatisfactory), and
  3. Non-Self

The Five Skandhas for example, are, transient, subject to suffering and non-self. That is, they are suffering. For instance, we suffer because our bodies do not last, can be injured and are subject to sickness. Eventually they cease to be. All of the skandhas are transitory, so we cannot rely on them. Should we rely on them today, sometime in the future, perhaps in seconds for feelings, they will no longer be there.

Five Fetters (samyojana)

These are the first five of the ten Fetters. They are mind qualities that are long-term barriers to the path (Unlike the Five Hindrances, which are more temporary).

1 Self-illusion
2 Doubt or Cynicism
3 Attachment to mere Rule and Ritual
4 Sensual lust
5 Ill-will

For the self-illusion see Non-Self.

The second fetter, is sometimes translated 'Scepticism', but Gotama encouraged a sceptical, questioning attitude, and Buddhists should prove to themselves the teachings. Cynicism is a belief that there is no good, things won't work and having a sneering attitude to others. It is a barrier to practice.

Attachment to mere Rule and Ritual, means memorising and going through the motions, without true understanding and commitment. Of course, in the beginning we do this in order to learn, but as we grow, we need to understand rather than blindly follow procedures.

Sensual lust means craving worldly things unwisely. It's the 'shop until you drop' craving and covetousness that leads to suffering.

And ill-will is hostility towards others, and includes envy, resentment as well as anger and hatred.

Associations with other steps

When we recognise that wrong views are unwise (lead to suffering) and right views are wise, one is practising Right View. All the other steps in the path are used to fully develop Right View. For beginning students, Right View is often said to be the Four Noble Truths. As they learn and develop the Path, they further develop their understanding of Right View.

Wrong Views

King Ajatasattu visited Gotama, seeking peace of mind, and recounted his experiences with various teachers, and their views. The account deals with many important points, but the table below gives a quick acount of some wrong views.

Question: "Is it possible to point out the fruit of the
contemplative life, visible in the here and now?"
samaṇa view (diṭṭhi)
Pūraṇa
Kassapa
Amoralism: denies any reward or punishment for either good or bad deeds. Murder, theft, lying are morally equal to kindness, honesty and truth-telling. There is no point to life.
Makkhali
Gosāla
Fatalism: we are powerless and suffering is pre-destined. We have an allocated time to be born and reborn, and after that the good and the bad are freed. There is nothing we can do to to change our destiny.
Ajita
Kesakambalī
Materialism: with death, all is annihilated. Whether a person does good or evil, it is all the same. There is nothing after death.
Pakudha
Kaccāyana
Eternalism: The earth-substance, the liquid-substance, the fire-substance, the wind-substance, pleasure, pain, and the soul are independent, uncreated and permanent.
From DN 2, The Fruits of the Holy Life