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Right View (sammā diṭṭhi) is the first aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path and is also the culmination of the path. It can also be viewed as the summary of the Buddhist worldview. There are excellent books and articles describing Right View – generally taken as consisting of mundane right view (cause and effect) and supramundane right view (the Four Noble Truths). You can read different ways of presenting it discussed here, in an excellent essay by the Venerable Ṭhānissaro. Let’s discuss first, though, what does “right” mean? It’s not what we may first understand when we hear the words “right” or “good” in usual speech.

To understand it, let’s examine what the word “good” means. In many popular traditions and consequently, in the societies where these traditions have been dominant, acts can be classified into good, bad (with some allowances for gray areas and debates) based on whether an authority (a deity or temporal or even secular entity) approves of it or not. In other words, a deed is good if if can be found in a pre-defined list of good deeds and bad if in similar list of bad deeds.

In the Buddha Dhamma, on the other hand, the discussion is centered around dukkha (translated as unsatisfactoriness or suffering). An act is good (kusala) if leads to good results (removal of dukkha) and bad (akusala) if it leads to more dukkha. This definition allows the possibility of exploring for oneself whether an act is good or bad. It’s no surprise that in terms of practical acts, one would come up with lists that have a lot of commonality with most religious traditions. It’s in this sense that some other aspects of the path (right speech and right action, for example) are also translated as wise speech and wise action, or even better beneficial speech and beneficial action.

This is not to say that there aren’t clear statements of morality in the Dhamma-Vinaya, just that these training rules are derived from this view of good and bad rather than the rules being a philosophical starting point.

Sammā diṭṭhi or Beneficial View too is beneficial in just this way. To the question of what’s a beneficial view to hold for one who is keen on being free of dukkha, the answer that the Buddha provided is this one. It would be reasonable to call it a belief system that one on the path would take on. All the background above is to point out that many questions that are often asked about Sammā diṭṭhi are tangential to the teachings. These focus on whether the view is true or not, in some objective, externally verifiable sense, what constitutes sufficient evidence of these beliefs etc. That is not the sense in which it is Right. You can choose to translate it also as the Prescribed View.

This does not mean they are going to be found lacking in veracity. The Buddha says they are truths, but not truths that are in any way verifiable by one who has not yet crossed over. It is in this way that it is the culmination of the path. Once you truly understand the Four Noble Truths fully, you are already liberated. At that point, there is no need to adopt this view as a matter of taking the Teacher’s word that this is beneficial view.

A couple of other points to note: The first is that there is a self-referential aspect here. Right View lays out a few ideas. These ideas, as discussed earlier, are Right to hold in the sense of being beneficial in the contexts of kamma and dukkha, which are in turn, contained in Right View.

The second is that views, all views, are chosen. All our thoughts are formed against the background of our view, the colored glasses we wear through which we are forced to filter every experience we become aware of. What this teaching shows is that the view itself is something we have a choice over (and we can choose one that is beneficial). So let’s be aware of our view and that the same phenomenon appears differently to me relative to another person because of our view vs. theirs. This should help us be more understanding of another’s reaction.

One thought on “What’s right about right view?

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