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Right View

The first practice of the Noble Eightfold Path
is Right View (samyag drishti). Right View is, first
of all, a deep understanding of the Four Noble
Truths — our suffering, the making of our
suffering, the fact that our suffering can be
transformed, and the path of transformation. The
Buddha said that Right View is to have faith and
confidence that there are people who have been
able to transform their suffering. Venerable
Shariputra added that Right View is knowing
which of the four kinds of nutriments that we have
ingested have brought about what has come to be
Shariputra described Right View as the ability
to distinguish wholesome roots (kushala mula)
from unwholesome roots (akushala mula). In each
of us, there are wholesome and unwholesome roots
— or seeds — in the depths of our consciousness.
If you are a loyal person, it is because the seed of
loyalty is in you. But don't think that the seed of
betrayal isn't also in you. If you live in an
environment where your seed of loyalty is
watered, you will be a loyal person. But if your
seed of betrayal is watered, you may betray even
those you love. You'll feel guilty about it, but if the
seed of betrayal in you becomes strong, you may
do it.

The practice of mindfulness helps us identify
all the seeds in our store consciousness and water
the ones that are the most wholesome. When one
person comes up to us, the very sight of him
makes us uncomfortable. But when someone else
walks by, we like her right away. Something in
each of them touches a seed in us. If we love our
mother deeply, but feel tense every time we think
of our father, it is natural that when we see a
young lady who looks like our mother, we will
appreciate her, and when we see a man who evokes
the memory of our father, we will feel
uncomfortable. In this way, we can "see" the seeds
that are in us — seeds of love for our mother and
seeds of hurt vis-à-vis our father. When we become
aware of the seeds in our storehouse, we will not
be surprised by our own behavior or the behavior
of others.

The seed of Buddhahood, the capacity to wake
up and understand things as they are, is also
present in each of us. When we join our palms and
bow to another person, we acknowledge the seed
of Buddhahood in him or her. When we bow to a
child this way, we help him or her grow up
beautifully and with self-confidence. If you plant
corn, corn will grow. If you plant wheat, wheat
will grow. If you act in a wholesome way, you will
be happy. If you act in an unwholesome way, you
water the seeds of craving, anger, and violence in
yourself. Right View is to recognize which seeds
are wholesome and to encourage those seeds to be
watered. This is called "selective touching." We
need to discuss and share with each other to
deepen our understanding of this practice and the
practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings,
especially the fifth, about the "foods" we ingest.

At the base of our views are our perceptions
(samjña). In Chinese, the upper part of the
character for perception is "mark," "sign," or
"appearance," and the lower part is "mind" or
"spirit." Perceptions always have a "mark," and in
many cases that mark is illusory. The Buddha
advised us not to be fooled by what we perceive.
He told Subhuti, "Where there is perception, there
is deception." The Buddha also taught on many
occasions that most of our perceptions are
erroneous, and that most of our suffering comes
from wrong perceptions.5 We have to ask
ourselves again and again, "Am I sure?" Until we
see clearly, our wrong perceptions will prevent us
from having Right View.

To perceive always means to perceive
something. We believe that the object of our
perception is outside of the subject, but that is not
correct. When we perceive the moon, the moon is
us. When we smile to our friend, our friend is also
us, because she is the object of our perception.
When we perceive a mountain, the mountain is
the object of our perception. When we perceive the
moon, the moon is the object of our perception.
When we say, "I can see my consciousness in the
flower," it means we can see the cloud, the
sunshine, the earth, and the minerals in it. But how
can we see our consciousness in a flower? The
flower is our consciousness. It is the object of our
perception. It is our perception. To perceive
means to perceive something. Perception means
the coming into existence of the perceiver and the
perceived. The flower that we are looking at is part
of our consciousness. The idea that our
consciousness is outside of the flower has to be
removed. It is impossible to have a subject without
an object. It is impossible to remove one and retain
the other.

The source of our perception, our way of
seeing, lies in our store consciousness. If ten
people look at a cloud, there will be ten different
perceptions of it. Whether it is perceived as a dog,
a hammer, or a coat depends on our mind — our
sadness, our memories, our anger. Our perceptions
carry with them all the errors of subjectivity. Then
we praise, blame, condemn, or complain depending
on our perceptions. But our perceptions are made
of our afflictions — craving, anger, ignorance,
wrong views, and prejudice. Whether we are
happy or we suffer depends largely on our
perceptions. It is important to look deeply at our
perceptions and know their source.

We have an idea of happiness. We believe that
only certain conditions will make us happy. But it
is often our very idea of happiness that prevents
us from being happy. We have to look deeply into
our perceptions in order to become free of them.
Then, what has been a perception becomes an
insight, a realization of the path. This is neither
perception nor non-perception. It is a clear vision,
seeing things as they are.

Our happiness and the happiness of those
around us depend on our degree of Right View .
Touching reality deeply — knowing what is going
on inside and outside of ourselves — is the way to
liberate ourselves from the suffering that is caused
by wrong perceptions. Right View is not an
ideology, a system, or even a path. It is the insight
we have into the reality of life, a living insight that
fills us with understanding, peace, and love.
Sometimes we see our children doing things that
we know will cause them to suffer in the future,
but when we try to tell them, they won't listen. All
we can do is to stimulate the seeds of Right View
in them, and then later, in a difficult moment, they
may benefit from our guidance. We cannot explain
an orange to someone who has never tasted one.
No matter how well we describe it, we cannot give
someone else the direct experience. He has to taste
it for himself. As soon as we say a single word, he
is already caught. Right View cannot be described.
We can only point in the correct direction. Right
View cannot even be transmitted by a teacher. A
teacher can help us identify the seed of Right View
that is already in our garden, and help us have the
confidence to practice, to entrust that seed to the
soil of our daily life. But we are the gardener. We
have to learn how to water the wholesome seeds
that are in us so they will bloom into the flowers
of Right View. The instrument for watering
wholesome seeds is mindful living — mindful
breathing, mindful walking, living each moment of
our day in mindfulness.

At a peace rally in Philadelphia in 1966, a
reporter asked me, "Are you from North or South
Vietnam?" If I had said I was from the north, he
would have thought I was pro-communist, and if I
had said I was from the south, he would have
thought I was pro-American. So I told him, "I am
from the Center." I wanted to help him let go of his
notions and encounter the reality that was right in
front of him. This is the language of Zen. A Zen
monk saw a beautiful goose fly by and he wanted
to share this joy with his elder brother who was
walking beside him. But at that moment, the other
monk had bent down to remove a pebble from his
sandal. By the time he looked up, the goose had
already flown by. He asked, "What did you want
me to see?" but the younger monk could only
remain silent. Master Tai Xu said, "As long as the
tree is behind you, you can see only its shadow. If
you want to touch the reality, you have to turn
around." "Image teaching" uses words and ideas.
"Substance teaching" communicates by the way
you live.

If you come to Plum Village for one day, you
have an idea about Plum Village, but that idea isn't
really Plum Village. You might say, "I've been to
Plum Village," but in fact you've really only been
to your idea of Plum Village. Your idea might be
slightly better than that of someone who has never
been there, but it's still only an idea. It is not the
true Plum Village. Your concept or perception of
reality is not reality. When you are caught in your
perceptions and ideas, you lose reality.
To practice is to go beyond ideas, so you can
arrive at the suchness of things. "No idea
conception. As long as there is an idea, there is no
reality, no truth. "No idea" means no wrong idea,
no wrong conception. It does not mean no
mindfulness. Because of mindfulness, when
something is right, we know it's right, and when
something is wrong, we know it's wrong.
We are practicing sitting meditation, and we see
a bowl of tomato soup in our mind's eye, so we
think that is wrong practice, because we are
supposed to be mindful of our breathing. But if we
practice mindfulness, we will say, "I am breathing
in and I am thinking about tomato soup." That is
Right Mindfulness already. Rightness or
wrongness is not objective. It is subjective.
Relatively speaking, there are right views and
there are wrong views. But if we look more deeply,
we see that all views are wrong views. No view
can ever be the truth. It is just from one point; that
is why it is called a "point of view." If we go to
another point, we will see things differently and
realize that our first view was not entirely right.
Buddhism is not a collection of views. It is a
practice to help us eliminate wrong views. The
quality of our views can always be improved.
From the viewpoint of ultimate reality, Right View
is the absence of all views.

When we begin the practice, our view is a vague
idea about the teachings. But conceptual
knowledge is never enough. The seeds of Right
View, the seed of Buddhahood, are in us, but they
are obscured by so many layers of ignorance,
sorrow, and disappointment. We have to put our
views into practice. In the process of learning,
reflecting, and practicing, our view becomes
increasingly wise, based on our real experience.
When we practice Right Mindfulness, we see the
seed of Buddhahood in everyone, including
ourselves. This is Right View. Sometimes it is
described as the Mother of All Buddhas (prajña
paramita), the energy of love and understanding
that has the power to free us. When we practice
mindful living, our Right View will blossom, and all
the other elements of the path in us will flower,
also.

The eight practices of the Noble Eightfold Path
nourish each other. As our view becomes more
"right," the other elements of the Eightfold Path in
us also deepen. Right Speech is based on Right
View, and it also nourishes Right View. Right
Mindfulness and Right Concentration strengthen
and deepen Right View. Right Action has to be
based on Right View. Right Livelihood clarifies
Right View. Right View is both a cause and an
effect of all the other elements of the path.

From "Heart of the Buddha's Teachings"
by Thich Nhat Hanh
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