(Beginning last week and over the next several weeks these writing will be dedicated to exploring the Noble Eightfold Path. It may be helpful to look over the previous post as an introduction and ground for subsequent postings. I would enjoy hearing from you about your experience, insights or anything else that shows up when you read these. – William)
As Right View develops in our experience, other aspects of the Eightfold Noble Path unfold. After seeing that there is suffering in the world, in our personal lives and in the lives of sentient beings, that there is the experience of knowing the causes and conditions of suffering, that there is a potential for experience without suffering, and that there is a path, or practice, or way of being, that brings about the cessation of that suffering. This is the fundamental ground of Right View that also leads to the true experience of reality:
- Universal Goodness is the essential nature of all sentient beings
- The core intent of all beings is to act out of that goodness.
These two Right Views of the way the world really is, precipitates the development of a personal Right Intention as well as a true perception of how all sentient beings, in all of their actions, thoughts and expressions have at their core, basic goodness and an intent to create, sustain, and offer goodness to the world.
How I show up in the world, how I think, and how I feel, arise out of intentional and unintentional causes and conditions, and the ignorance or awareness of the effects of those causes and conditions. When I have the good sense to slow down the cataract of thought streams in the midst of my own suffering and ask “What is happening right now?” “What is the cause of this contraction, anger, fear, frustration?”, when I settle into the experience of my body and breath and kind of sit back and watch the movie unreeling, I am able to get a glimpse of some of the links to the suffering and the path that leads to its cessation. It doesn’t usually take very long, minutes maybe, and then I see or experience a memory, or a habit of thinking, or a chronic aversion, that has manifested in a clenched jaw, a bouncing foot, or an urge to say or do something to relieve the pressure.
Then I try to look at my own intention and causes and conditions behind the suffering. I inquire into the pictures and memories that float to the surface and see the link. Usually an experience comes to the fore that was similar to an earlier experience that caused me to feel like my basic goodness, or when my intention to be good, was being challenged, or that the innate human desire and belief that all beings are good and have good intentions had been been threatened. If I am sufficiently present in the moment, I can open my senses to the people or animals or insects around me! (See: https://gratefulroadwarrior.org/failure/) I can look at the scene playing out in front of me and see that this is not that earlier situation but merely an echo of it. My mind and body are reacting to signals that seem the same as an earlier experience and they work to defend me against the threats to my essential nature. In the simple realization of that, I often experience a settling of the turbulence and am able to look deeper into the situation as it is. In that looking I have a chance to begin to see, not only the causes and conditions of my own suffering but the causes and conditions of the situation, and the suffering of others. I may also see how their expression, or their action, may be igniting my suffering. In that moment I become free to respond, rather than react; to see that cycle of suffering working and then to bring forward the practices of loving kindness and compassion for myself and the all the beings present.
Here is a story from buddhist lore of the buddha and the raging elephant that elucidates this more clearly:
Buddha had a cousin, Devadatta, who was extremely jealous of him. Devadatta felt that he himself was as good as Buddha and was jealous that people ignored him and did not honour him the way they honoured the Buddha.He was always thinking of ways to harm the Buddha. One day he devised a plot to kill Buddha. He knew that day that Buddha was going to pass through a particular town. Before the Buddha came into the town, he brought the elephant to the town, hiding it beside a wall. He then fed the elephant a lot of liquor to make it drunk. His plan was to make use of the drunken elephant and trample Buddha to death. When he saw from a distance that the Buddha was coming, he immediately used sticks to beat the elephant brutally. The drunken elephant was in great pain and was totally enraged. Seeing this, Devadatta immediately released the elephant in the direction of the Buddha. Overwhelmed with anger and pain, the elephant was now mad and started at full speed towards the Buddha. It raised its ears, tail and trunk, making a lot of noise. It was as if thunder was striking. All the disciples who were with Buddha were horrified at this terrible sight and scrambled to flee from harm’s way. Only Ananda, Buddha’s attendant, stood firmly beside the Buddha. At that time, Buddha himself remained totally at ease and composed. He took a look at the elephant and felt great love and compassion for the poor beast. He stood where he was and radiated his loving-kindness towards the elephant. Buddha’s love and compassion was so strong and powerful that the elephant could feel it. Just a few steps before it was about to charge into the Buddha, it stopped in its path and calmed down. It then trotted towards Buddha and respectfully bowed its head. Buddha stroked the elephant’s trunk and comforted it with soft & kind words. The elephant was totally tamed.
When I am in a situation where I am particularly activated and where withdrawal for reflection and inquiry is not possible because of the activity or place, or where it might appear like i am being anti-social or aloof, I try settle into my breath and, like a mother easing a crying child or a person soothing an anxious pet, I simply breathe and follow my breath until I come to some ease or I can extricate myself. Once in a place and time where I can reflect, I look deeply into the experience and ask: “Where was the suffering and what were its causes and conditions in and beyond the immediate moment? “ From that inquiry and the resulting arisings, I am able to practice cultivating loving kindness to meet the raging elephant of my karma and the karma of all sentient beings.
This practice has the effect of activating the Right Intention to bring about the cessation of all suffering of all beings, the wish for all beings to know their own goodness, and the realization of the inherent intent in all beings to act, speak and think, out of this Universal Goodness.
If any of this strikes a chord or sparks some interest, the sangha would enjoy your presence in the morning practice.