The following is a summary of the teaching of 'Right View' (Sammadhitti) in the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and SE Asia generally.
Central top the Buddhist teaching is the 'Eightfold Path', which is the summary presentation of factors which lead the Buddhist practitioner from suffering ('dukkha') to freedom from all suffering ('nibbana').
The Eightfold Path comprises
- right view, right resolve, (Wisdom factors or panna);
- right speech, right action, right livelihood (Ethical factors or sila)
- right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration (Mental Development or samadhi).
Right view is given at the beginning of the path. Obviously one cannot embark on a journey without an idea of where one is going. Right View means 'to see and understand things as they really are' and to correctly grasp the aim and basis of the Buddhist teaching. Right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It includes insight into the unsatisfactory nature of worldly objects and ideas, and the understanding of the law of kamma (that intentional actions always have results) and conditioned existence.
It is is not necessarily an intellectual matter, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Since our view of the world forms the basis for all our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions. As said in the Dhammapada: 'Our life is the creation of our mind. He that acts with a pure mind will experience happiness, as sure as the wheel of the cart follows the ox which draws it.'
The scriptural definition is as follows:
"What is right view? Knowledge with regard to suffering, knowledge with regard to the origination of suffering, knowledge with regard to the cessation of suffering, knowledge with regard to the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering: This is called right view." (DN 22)
Of course, many modern people will find the idea that there might be a "right view" rather moralistic. We do, after all, welcome a diversity of views in the modern world; it may be felt that the idea of a "view'" might be somewhat dogmatic. But the Buddhist teaching is pragmatic rather than moralistic: it is based on understanding principles, not mechanical obedience to a set of laws.
Essentially the cause of suffering in the Buddhist understanding are the 'three poisons', namely, greed, hatred and delusion. These build up from a very simple base of like, dislike, or indifference. These reactions are going on in our mind all the time, without our being aware; through mindfulness, we become aware of these factors and are able to free ourselves from them. Becoming free from these factors, we no longer engage in unwholesome actions. Unwholesome actions are killing living beings; taking what is not given; misconduct in sensual pleasures; false malicious, or harsh speech; gossip; covetousness, ill-will, and wrong views.
There is a great deal more that can be said about this topic, as in many ways, Buddhism is a way of understanding, rather than of belief; and understanding requires a right view from the outset. However the last point to make here is that attaining a correct view in itself requires a disciplined mind; because without the insight that arises from concentrated meditation (dhyana) our mind is still likely to be lead around by instincts, passions, desires and prejudices. So it is not just a matter of having a right opinion; it is also a matter of understanding one's own 'mental dynamics' perceptively enough to see through the tricks that the mind plays on itself. Hence the requirement for mental development through Bhavana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
Links: The Sammadhitti Sutta
Right View: Samma Ditthi
at the Vipassana Meditation Fellowship Website
Next post will be about 'Right View' in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism.