During the morning meditation sessions with the Sangha of the Pandemic, we have been reflecting on the Four Noble Truths introduced by the Buddha 2600 years ago:
1) There is suffering
2) There are causes and conditions that lead to suffering.
3) There is a cessation of suffering.
4) There is a path or a practice that leads to the cessation of suffering.
This week after four weeks of reflecting on and inquiring into these Truths we began inquiring into the fourth; the practice of The Noble Eightfold Path.
The first step on the path, or the first practice, is the understanding of and experience of Right View. Although considered the first step, it is essentially the only step. The remaining seven might be considered the natural result of the cause and condition of Right View.
In a culture that is waking up to the immeasurable diversity that exists in our biosphere, cultures, and our ways of thinking, and a culture that has, as one of its primary foundations, the Puritanical approach to goodness and evil, rightness and wrongness, and has conditioned our perceptions into rigid polarities, there is often a resistance to the word “Right”; especially when it is proclaimed by an authority. When I hear “Right View” I have an internal reaction of contraction, resistance and aversion. “Who’s to say what is the Right View anyway?” “On such a diverse planet, how can any one view be the Right View?’
In Buddhism, Right View is not a qualifier of actions, feeling or thoughts. It is not a point of view. It is not a way to separate the chaff from the wheat. Right View in this practice is the essential view of seeing things as they are, especially in terms of suffering and the Four Noble Truths. Paradoxically there is no right or wrong from this view. There is no judgment or categorizing. There is no better or worse. There is just seeing things as they are.
When I look into the world and reflect upon my own experience, I see that there is suffering; suffering including and beyond the material experience of pain, suffering of the whole being. This is a simple fact and thus from this perspective, a Right View.
When I inquire into what has led to suffering in the psyche and the mind I see that it has causes and conditions. In the same way that body pain is not a phantom and has a direct cause, suffering of the heart and mind has conditions and causes that lead to it. Through further inquiry, I discover that this is a simple fact and thus a Right View.
When I inquire even further I notice that there are times when the experience of suffering has diminished and may even be absent and through deeper inquiry I discover that this is a simple fact and thus a Right View.
This naturally seems to lead to the question, “How does that happen?” “How can I make suffering go away?” How can I keep it from coming back?” This is where I have gotten stuck throughout this life. It is where I have latched onto dogmas and doctrines and then trashed them because they often seemed to cause just as much suffering, either for me or for those around me or other beings. While blindly engaged in the newest, wokest way, I have jumped into the quicksand of righteousness and clung to a grass blade of promised liberation while remaining ignorant of the quicksand of suffering that I was drowning in. “That blade is the true path!” “If I cling to that it will free me.!” “I’ll get to heaven, or Nirvana, or bliss, or wealth, or adoration, or a beautiful body, or a life partner.” Thrash thrash, thrash, gurgle… I had stepped away from seeing what was present and just working with that. I had stepped away from the Right View. In the case of the quicksand, that view might be: “Oh I am in deep doo-doo here and all I have is this blade of grass to get me out. I am drowning and I will die.” Or: “Oh I am stuck in some deep shit here. This blade of grass is worthless, what other options are there?”
Right View, as a step on the Noble Eightfold Path is just seeing what is without preconceived ideas about what is. This primary practice of the path has been more accessible for me when I have been able to set aside the promises of tomorrow and the fears from past experiences; when I allow my thoughts and feelings to settle down into the body in calm abiding. When I stop thrashing around in the quicksand of concepts, cravings, clinging, promises, and fears, I inevitably stop sinking in the shit of my own making. I begin to become aware: “Wow, there is suffering here.”
When I was on the Grateful Road, there were several times when my life’s conditioning and my intellectual conceptualizations about white men in pick-up trucks and MAGA hats, and black men at night in urban centers, threw me into a quicksand of fears that seemed involuntary yet overwhelming. Sometimes my impulse was to put the Element in gear and drive away, leaving campsite and all behind, or put my backpack on my belly and my hands on my key ring to prepare to defend myself. And boy was I suffering! And now, especially after recent national events, I know that there was a chance that I had also caused suffering for those men who may have just wanted to say hi or needed help, and their own conditioning was probably reaffirmed by my actions.
Over time and with practice, I have begun to develop a capacity for Right View. Over time and with practice, the light of this view has exposed more and more of the causes and conditioning of my own suffering. Over time and with practice, my experience and view of the world has softened and opened up resulting in more, real, and simple, human connections with folks that I had shunned or run away from in the past. Over time and with practice, I have felt more human and hopefully been more humane with the whole, beautifully diverse population of all beings who may be suffering just like me.
If any of this strikes a chord or sparks some interest, the sangha would enjoy your presence in the morning practice.