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"Right" view (from the eightfold path)
December 27th, 2014

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

"Right" view (from the eightfold path)

   "Right view" is traditionally the first spoke mentioned of the eightfold path. It might sometimes be seen as the initial insight that one has, which pushes one to cultivate the holy life, to embody wholesome tendencies.
   However, when the eight spokes of the path are presented as three groups (virtue, cultivation, wisdom), "right view" then appears among the 'conclusions' of the path of cultivation, the attainment of wisdom which will give rise to "right intention" and wise engagement in the world for the benefit of all sentient beings.
   "Right view" might be both a cause and a fruit, pointing to an iterative process of cultivation (

   The more I think of it, the less I relate to the traditional translation of samma ditthi  (Pāḷi; sammā diṭṭhi ) as "right view" though.

   I think it is quite important to note that sammā  could just as easily mean "correct", "best", "perfect", "harmonious" or "complete" in relation to 'views'.

   In essence, there's nothing wrong with the translations as "right" or "correct" as long as  you can refrain from thinking « what's not the same as what's "right" / "correct" has to  be "wrong". »
   Most people still being lost in duality, they're practically incapable of refraining from doing so!
   But you might imagine what this means as follows: reality offers multiple facets, allows for multiple perspectives. One perspective (e.g. about the colour of an object) being right doesn't mean another perspective (e.g. about the shape) is wrong. Multiple perspectives can be simultaneously 'right'.
   « What's not the same as some "right" view » might simply be another, complementary "right" view! So "right" or "correct" don't point to a single view one might arrive at and cling to.

   If you focus on the translation as "best", you might want to remember that a local optimum isn't necessarily the global optimum. This should highlight that sammā diṭṭhi  is not merely "your 'own' best".
   So how is the global optimum found if there are several local optima? One might naïvely imagine that one 'just' needs to compare the local optima and find the extreme among them, but that's again a duality-based view: several or even an infinite number of optima might be 'equivalent' (a continuous "pareto  frontier", a curve made of these optima, might be defined in some contexts!). So "best" doesn't point to a single view one might arrive at and cling to.

   If you focus on the translation as "perfect", you might want to remember that perfection is not of this world ;-)
   Perfection isn't of the conventional world, because concepts are limited by construction: their function is closely tied to the discernments, borders and limits they set! Perfection is not of this ultimate world either! Impermanence virtually ensures that any "perfection" (perfect 'fit' between view and reality) would only be momentary and cannot legitimately be clung to.
   Impermanence would suggest that a "perfect view" would probably be based on seeing how causality unfolds, rather than any static snapshot of the unfolding; but even the unfolding law/mechanism is conditioned and context-dependent, i.e. it's about how causality presently  unfolds, not about some grand theory! The Buddha expressed causality as « from the arising of this comes the arising of that » ( idappaccayatā,  "specific conditionality"), the "convergence of conditional factors" as Ajahn Payutto would say. So "perfect" doesn't point to a single view one might arrive at and cling to.

   In my opinion, one of the more interesting translations is "harmonious", that I'll discuss alongside the translation as "complete".
   If you accept, as per above, that the correctness of one perspective does not  imply that all other perspectives are / will be incorrect, then you might aim to see the "complete" picture, i.e. all the constructive perspectives together (possibly a momentary collection of momentary perspectives, but still the "complete" collection in that moment).
   We might be tempted to call this an "objective" view made of all the "subjective" views, but that would needlessly be dualistic. Once a particular subject (an awakened being) sees the "objective view", is it not a "subjective view" too? "Subjective" vs. "objective" doesn't truly help here.
   You may consider that sammā diṭṭhi  is the point of view one adopts in order to overcome views of self and independent existence. If you see the complete collection of wholesome perspectives, this neither points to a specific perspective, nor does it reject perspectives altogether; this neither supports an eternal, permanent truth nor does it deny that some perspectives are more helpful than others.
   The translation as "harmonious" allows to honour your perspective, beyond nihilism and self-centric delusions of grandeur,   without falling into "I'm right therefore you're wrong": "I'm harmonious" doesn't easily continue as "therefore you're wrong" but would rather lead to "how can we work together?"
   To harmonise multiple perspectives might certainly require a constructive intention, an altruistic beneficial attitude, an appropriate effort, and unconditional wisdom! The other spokes of the eightfold paths should therefore not be easily forgotten, and 'effort' or 'activity' might certainly point to a dynamic,  causal unfolding again, rather than a static  view. So "complete" or "harmonious" don't point to a single view one might arrive at and cling to.

   So, instead of
• right view,
• right intention,
• right speech,
• right action,
• right livelihood,
• right effort,
• right mindfulness, and
• right concentration,
   what about
• harmonious view (dynamic, causal, inclusive, nuanced view)?
• harmonious intention (intention to benefit all)?
• harmonious speech (respectful speech)?
• harmonious action (altruistic action)?
• harmonious livelihood (ethical livelihood)?
• harmonious effort (collective effort, sympathetic support)?
• harmonious mindfulness (mindfulness of the context, of the world)?
• harmonious concentration (restraint from disruptions / distractions)?

   Suddenly the teaching on anatta  (no independent existence)  seems very compatible with the whole eightfold path, does it not? A lot more than an interpretation of sammā  as "right" with its subsequent, context-less certainties about how to awaken!
   Suddenly, as dharma gates are boundless and sentient beings are numberless, a "harmonious view" associated with 'unconditioned' nibbāna might certainly be tied to 'immeasurables' (love, compassion, empathy, equanimity). A "perfect view" might certainly be tied to 6 or 10 "perfected qualities" (or 'perfections').
   Suddenly, the practice rings a lot more about embodying the Dharma in the messy world of inter-dependent phenomena (a world which cannot be reduced to a simple, unique, easily-communicable perspective), rather than merely clinging to the "right" words, does it not?

   « To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind: this is the teaching of the Buddhas. »
— Dhammapada

#Buddhism   #Dharma  
Image: The "four harmonious friends", derived from the Jātaka tales of the Buddha’s former lives, as represented in Bhutan. The four animals live together in harmony (although they have different contributions and different perspectives), helping each other to enjoy the fruits of the tree.