In this second post on the Noble Eightfold Path, we’ll take a look at Right View. This is the first part under the wisdom group, and is essential to assimilation of the path itself, although not necessarily more or less important than the others. At the simplest form, Right View is the way of viewing the world. It is embracing wisdom, and a way to liberate ourselves from things like wrong perception.
This wrong perception usually takes shape as self-centeredness. Narcissism is an extreme case of wrong view. Right view promotes compassion, which in turn helps break the cycle of selfishness. It’s a cycle of using right view to gain right view. Right view can also be called right perspective. It’s our shift in perspective, or how we view the world and our relation to it that can either cause suffering or end it.
To a great extent, our world view is responsible for much of who we believe we are as individuals. We identify with what we look like, sound like, or what we do with our time, and make that into who we are.
We usually don’t stop to see the gross similarities in all of humanity, but seek to look for differences by comparing and contrasting with others. This causes separation and forms a perspective, that while beneficial for certain things, more often than not forms a barrier to right view.
Pluralism and Duality
We often see things as black or white. It’s us versus them. We speak one language, they speak another. We dress a certain way, they dress differently. We believe in our religion, they believe in theirs. We like Prometheus, they hate it. These differences are usually just superficial, and are often given far more weight than they really have.
Right view seeks to negate these differences and the judgments and biases that come with them. Associating with the differences weighs you down, and often leads to negativity. You might view yourself as superior to others based, to a greater or lesser degree, on these preconceptions. These views can turn to fear, anger, hate, and suffering. Right view can eliminate the biases and judgments, and allow you to see the differences as merely superficial, on a varying scale depending on your progress on the path.
Accentuate the Positive
Without getting all hokey, it really does help to look at the positive while doing your best to lessen the degree of negative thinking. Positive thinking and right view can go hand in hand. This doesn’t mean that we should go around with rose colored glasses, but it does mean that we should seek to stop associating and following negative thought patterns. Seeing things as all happy is not the goal here, but stopping the downward spiral of negativity, and replacing negative biases with positive ones is the goal. In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), this is called reframing. You take negative viewpoints, or associations, and reframe the language to be more positive.
For example, instead of telling yourself that you suck at math, tell yourself that you can understand math given the right tools and time. You’d be surprised how much this can affect your outlook. In time, you’ll begin to see less of the negative in yourself, and gain a more positive outlook. This will not only change your view of yourself, but also your view of the world. In effect, this will change your world view to align with right view.
Seeing Ourselves In Others
Seeing yourself as an isolated being does wonders for your ego, but is ultimately self-destructive. No man is an island. Instead, we are all symbiotic and inter-connected in ways we can only begin to understand. When we see ourselves as we are, with all of our faults, we become less judgmental toward others, and more compassionate. This can bring down the walls that we build, and make us less likely to compare ourselves to others. Things like envy, jealousy, prejudice, arrogance, and selfishness transmute into understanding, wisdom, empathy, and compassion. This in turn elevates our moods and allows us to feel more connected and less isolated. We begin to forgive others, and ultimately, forgive ourselves.
We Are Impermanent
Our cells are born from a split, live for a while, and die. This happens every day of our lives. In time, we are completely new beings, as none of our cells live forever. Some live much longer than others, but ultimately, they are replaced with fresh new cells. You could say that we live and die daily. Our bodies are constantly morphing and changing.
Seeing ourselves and the world around us as always changing and always in flux is a fundamental concept of the 4 Noble Truths. Nothing is ever truly the same from day to day, so fighting to keep it the same goes against fundamental principles of nature. It also causes unneeded suffering. We are meant to flow with nature, and need to change our view to accept that. Trying in vane to control the world as to stop suffering and death by our own means is futile, and often brings more suffering than we intend to reduce through our actions. Instead, we can grasp that the world and everything in it is impermanent, and ever-changing, and go with that. We can certainly steer our own boats through the choices we make, but it’s much easier to go with the current than constantly against it.
Practicing right view is more of a shift in perspective than anything else. Luckily, the other parts of the Noble Eightfold Path help with attaining right view. They all work together and help each other. By grasping and putting into practice the path, one gets a comprehensive whole. Mindfulness exercises certainly help you attain right view, in that from the present moment, you will see a different perspective than your are used to seeing. Mindfulness can give you the tools to gain the right view, while right view can help you calm your mind during the practice of mindfulness.