An unexpected book arrived in the mail the other day. A gift from my friend’s at Wisdom Publications. Zen Master Raven: The Teachings of a Wise Old Bird. by Zen Master human form, Robert Aitken. Here the koans are told by and to animals of the forest: raven, porcupine, owl, woodpecker, badger, black bear, and […]
In a recent post I mentioned “mistaken views” as a source of all dissatisfaction, anguish, and suffering. In this post, I’ll expand on Right View — one of the Noble Eightfold Path. “Right” is, perhaps, a misleading translation because it implies “correct” or “should.” Skillful could be substituted and might carry less of that connotation. Skillful View suggests something beneficial; unskillful view suggests something non-beneficial.
The shift from “right” to “skillful” moves the moral consideration to an ethical foundation: Do this or don’t do that not because you should or shouldn’t but because you appreciate the wisdom demarcating the two.
The Buddha explores “Right View” in the Sammaditthi Sutta (from the Middle Length Discourses). Bikkhu Bodhi (the co-translator) differentiates wholesome from non-wholesome actions. These correspond to skillful and unskillful (and for me skill is more neutral than wholesome). Wholesome is still pragmatic. A wholesome action leads to good outcomes for self and others and unwholesome actions do not. It’s empirical. You can feel it; you can test it yourself. It’s not abstract.
Right view entails avoiding the unwholesome and embracing the wholesome. What is unwholesome? “Killing living beings … taking what is not given .. misconduct in sensual pleasures … false speech … harsh speech .. gossip … ill will … wrong view.” The roots of unwholesome acts are greed (or lust), hatred (or aversion), and ignorance (or confusion). The roots of wholesome acts are generosity, love, and wisdom. This passage explicates the “silas” or ethical principles at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings.
When a noble disciple has thus understood the unwholesome and the root of the unwholesome, the wholesome and the root of the wholesome he entirely abandons the underlying tendency to lust, he abolishes the underlying tendency to aversion, he extirpates the underlying tendency to the view and conceit ‘I am’ and by abandoning ignorance and arousing true knowledge he here and now makes and end of suffering.
Yet, as the sutta continues we learn that Right View entails not just ethical action; it also involves an acute ability to perceive your experience and to understand the chain of cause and effect between different component processes of mind. The process starts with “birth.” Not just birth in the womb but the coming into being in any moment.
“The birth of being in the various orders of being, their coming to birth, precipitation [in a womb], generation, manifestation of the aggregates, obtaining the bases for contact–this is called birth”
Birth co-arises with “being” — “There are these three kinds of being: sense-sphere being, fine-material being, and immaterial being.”
Being co-arises with “clinging” — “There are these four kinds of clinging: clinging to sensual pleasures, clinging to views, clinging to rules and observances, and clinging to a doctrine of self.”
Clinging co-arises with “craving” — “These are the six classes of craving: craving for forms, craving for sounds, craving for odors, craving for flavors, craving for tangibles, craving for mind-0bojects.”
Craving co-arises with “feeling” — “there are these six classes of feeling: feeling born of eye-contact, feeling born of ear-contact, feeling born of nose-contact, feeling born of tongue-contact, feeling born of body contact, feeling born of mind contact.”
Feeling co-arises with “contact” — “There are these six classes of contact: eye-contact, ear-0contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact mind-contact.”
Contact co-arises with “the sixfold base” — There are these six bases: the eye-base, the ear-based, the nose-base, the tongue-based, the body-base, then mind-base.”
The sixfold bases co-arises with “mentality-materiality” — “Feeling, perception, volition, contact, and attention — these are clued mentality. The four great elements and the material form derived from the four great elements –these are called materiality.”
Mentality-materiality co-arises with “consciousness” — “There are these six classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciounsness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, mind-consciousness.”
Consciousness co-arises with “formations” –“There are these three kinds of formations: the bodily formation, the verbal formation, the mental formation.”
Formations co-arise with “ignorance”– “Not knowing about suffering, not knowing about the origin of suffering, not knowing about the cessation of suffering, not known about the way leading to the cessation of suffering — this is called ignorance.”
Ignorance co-arises with “taints” — “There are these three taints: the taint of sensual desire, the taint of being, and the taint of ignorance.”
Got that? This complicated chain of becoming can be understood as a road map to the interconnectedness of phenomena. Things don’t happen in isolation; lessons can be derived from these connections. These twelve contain much of the Buddha’s teachings–The Four Noble Truths, the five aggregates, et cetera.
Much of what happens here is biopsychology — the mechanisms of perception as our sense organs make contact with the world around to generate perceptions. However these perceptions can be co-opted by a sense of self that wants to hold onto them (clinging) or push them away (aversion). We may not recognize how this process works and that everything experienced is transitory. This gives rise to ignorance or confusion.
When we are clinging and craving we are not mindful. Mindfulness by taking keen interest in what is occurring is neither for nor against that occurrence. It doesn’t seek to make our sense of okay-ness in that moment contingent upon what is happening. Mindfulness can interrupt this chain of becoming and is a key component in the process of liberation from karma (the downstream effects of actions).
Mindfulness helps us to relinquish agendas that keep us stuck in this cycle of becoming, where confused desire gives rise to more confused desire; where peace is elusive because we are pushed around by forces that seem to be out of our control. Yet, we can step into the process at any step and seek to extinguish the co-arising factor.
For example, a key exchange occurs when feeling co-arises with craving. Feeling is biological information. Is this sensory-perception that I’ve just formed pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral? If it is pleasant it might be good for my survival to approach. If it is unpleasant, best to avoid. If it is neutral, ignore, because I’ve got better things to do. Yet we don’t just go with the biological information, we add our agendas to it. Pleasant gives way to “I want …” and “I need …” Now our okay-ness is on the line. Unpleasant gives way to “I don’t want” and “this is awful.”
If we can relinquish the “I” stuff, we can move through the world fluidly without giving rise to suffering. Mindfulness is the key to this relinquishment.