Right View

While all eight elements in the Eightfold Path work together and support each other’s development, it’s necessary to start with a sense of direction. Right view takes on the role of compass as we strive to eliminate suffering and achieve enlightenment through our study of – and experience with – the Four Noble Truths.

Undertaking and absorbing the Right View is similar to planning a trip:

First, you conceptualize the trip: researching the travel options, the locations and points of interest.

Then you realize the trip, experiencing first hand (and hopefully, in the moment) all those elements of the trip you prepared for.

Phase One – Right Understanding

Right view is first established conceptually and involves accepting the concept of karma – cause and effect – and how actions impact results:

  • Thinking, speaking and physically behaving in an ethical and moral way is beneficial not only to oneself, but also to those around us;
  • Thinking, speaking and physically behaving unethically and immorally is a detriment to all.

All three actions are grounded in volition – a mental event that is actualized through thought, words and physical conduct.

Defining Behavior

Understanding volition requires a deep dive into understanding unwholesome and wholesome, and the Buddha (among his many lists of truths, paths, hindrances, precepts, vows) parsed unwholesomeness into ten categories (spread across the three actions):

Bodily Action
  • Destroying life
  • Taking what is not given
  • Wrong conduct in sense-based pleasures
Verbal Action
  • False speech
  • Slanderous speech
  • Harsh speech
  • Idle chatter
Mental Action
  • Covetousness
  • Ill Will
  • Wrong view
What’s interesting is that, because the Four Noble Truths begin with identifying and defining suffering and the cause (i.e. the negative) and then offer the solution of yes, there is an end to suffering and this is how you do it (the positive), the Buddha continues with this negative/positive model by first articulating the unwholesome elements, then offering their wholesome antidotes.

Going down to a deeper level

Each of the three groups of unwholesome actions are rooted in their underlying motives: greed, aversion and delusion, know as The Three Poisons. In a road with two forks, each poison can be positioned as the negative fork in the road, then contrasted with its positive alternative:

  • You can take the fork of greediness, or you can take the fork of non-greediness as manifested in renunciation, detachment and generosity;
  • You can take the path of aversion (dislike, hate) or you can opt for non-aversion as represented by loving-kindness, sympathy and gentleness;
  • You can live in delusion (harbor false perceptions) or you can choose non-delusion, expressed as wisdom.

You reap what you sow

Karma operates on the principle that unwholesome actions ripen into suffering, and wholesome actions ripen into happiness.

So, when you are about to take an action (physical, vocal, mental) what approach are you prepared to practice?

Phase Two – Realization

The first experience through the Eightfold Path is one of conceptualizing how each element of the Eight Fold Path can apply to daily life. In particular, understanding the huge impact of karma when setting the tone of personal conduct.

Now wiser through the experience and having internalized the learnings, the Eight Fold Path now becomes the Noble Eight Fold Path, no longer viewed as an object of study, but as a personal, realized, ongoing in-the-moment life that is free of suffering and leads to liberation …..

….. which was the aim of Buddha when he created all his lists covering truths, hindrances, perfections and so on.

Kinda like a scientist in arranging elements into categories, expect in this case he was researching his own mind.


Next Up: Right Intention

Note: The content of this post is based in part on “The Noble Eightfold Path”, Chapter II, by Bhikku Bodhi