Book Recommendation: For a description of the Noble Eightfold Path and other core Buddhist teachings see The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Right View is one aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, which is the way to well-being. Other aspects are Right Thinking, Right Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Diligence, Right Concentration, and Right Livelihood. The following is offered to stimulate your consideration of Right View as it may apply in your life.
When we look out at the world we see some portion of the essence of what we see, but we don’t see the full essence. Looking at an apple, we see the color and may pronounce it a red apple, even though a good portion of it is green and yellow and brown. Our minds tend to label and classify things, and so simplify the reality. There is so much we don’t know about this apple. Our senses can give us some information and our scientific instruments can tell us more, like what chemicals are on it and in it. But we will never know its history. Where did it come from? How did the apple tree come to be planted? What insects have crawled upon it? What caused that bruise? We can’t know all the answers and likely don’t care, but the point is that we can easily breeze through life seeing surface realities and missing deeper essence.
We can watch a movie and be deeply affected by it while knowing that the whole thing is just light reflected from a flat screen. We know the actors were paid to perform the script that was just words on paper. Our intellect knows the film is all illusion, but we are able to immerse ourselves in the illusory reality constructed for that purpose. Our ability to be swept away in such a way is a benefit of being human. The danger in that benefit, however, is that we can go through life responding to surface reality and missing the essence of things.
When we respond to life based on our conceptions of the way things are, we risk missing the way things really are. When we assume that the way we perceive things is the whole truth, we miss some of the truth. When we are afraid to experience life in its complexity, we risk missing opportunities for understanding, joy and love.
To see clearly, we must shed our fear of seeing things that might disturb us. We must give up prejudice. We must drop conceptual filters like pessimism.
Practice viewing the world around you with senses more widely open. Slow down and really look and see what is before you. Observe some object, say a piece of fruit or a piece of pottery, with all your senses. Look at it, feel it, smell it, taste it, hear what it might tell you. Look beyond the surface. Look for signs of its history. Notice the mental activity it stimulates in you. Does it bring up memories? Do you feel attracted to it, repelled by it? If you have thoughts, such as, “I don’t like this thing,” see if you can let go of that and look at it without the aversion thoughts.
When we are caught up in our own drama, we can easily miss out on the beauty in life. Practice looking and seeing beauty in your surroundings. Practice seeing beauty in things that may be flawed.
When you have finished this exercise with objects, try it with people.
© 2002 Tom Barrett