Right View (Sammaditthi)

Right View (Sammaditthi)

When it is said we should have right view in life what is meant is that we should consider everything thoroughly and see things as they really are. We should neither overstate them nor understate them. Often we overstate—this is wrong view.

For example, suppose I am a devotee of some ordinary god, a bhumattha deva (a god living on the earth) or an akasattha deva (a god living in the sky), when I worship him, I praise him to the skies. I call him omnipotent and omniscient—though this is not true. I may even make declarations that this is true in the name of Dhamma. This has two disadvantages—firstly it becomes difficult for me to come out of the spider’s web of wrong view that I myself have created, and secondly the poor god whom I praise, and who is worshipped by many as omnipotent, develops illusion and delusion. A human being born in this world normally cannot see or comprehend another being born in a higher world. These gods and goddesses have their limitations, and when they are worshipped and praised by human beings in such an exaggerated way, these poor gods and goddesses begin to think of themselves as omnipotent and so they also develop wrong view. Thus it is clear that if a man develops wrong view and is far away from right view, he not only harms himself but also harms others.

We see in the suttas that Baka Brahma had developed wrong view due to being worshipped by men and gods in the manner mentioned above. As he was definitely mighty and long-lived he began to consider himself unborn and immortal—the creator and preserver of the world. Only by coming in contact with the Buddha was he able to shed his wrong view and thereby realize what the reality of his situation was.

Such wrong views are found in other aspects of life as well. If we praise someone highly this person often begins to consider himself special and develops a superiority complex; someone who is not praised in this way begins to consider himself low and may develop an inferiority complex. In order to clarify this, the Buddha said, “A man is not a sudra or a brahmin on account of his birth but on account of his actions.”

In the Vasala sutta the Buddha defines who an outcaste (vasala) is. He said an outcaste is one who is jealous, angry, hostile, hypocritical, tyrannical, cruel, or murderous is an outcaste. One who is a thief, a robber, an embezzler, a highwayman, a debt defaulter, bears false witness, is adulterous, does not respect one’s elders, does not take care of elderly parents, is deceitful, conceals sinful actions, tells a lie to get something that belongs to others, indulges in self aggrandizement, is a glutton, sleeps too much, is lazy, is a miser and a fool, does not feel shame nor fear while doing evil actions, speaks ill of good persons and true Dhamma, and pretends to know Dhamma while neither understanding Dhamma nor living a Dhammic life. Such a person is low, an outcaste, even though one is born of a brahmini’s womb or of any other womb. One is not a brahmin or a non-brahmin by birth, but by virtue of one’s actions.

Describing the qualities of a brahman the Buddha said that one who destroys the stream of craving, discards sense desires by striving, transcends all conditioned things, practises Samatha and Vipassana continuously, who is fearless, unattached, pure, who meditates and practises equanimity, does not kill and harm anybody, is peaceful, has control over the sense organs, is detached from unwholesome physical, vocal and mental actions, is truthful, is patient, is fond of a secluded life, is frugal, renounces worldly life, is free from anger, is patient, forgiving, wise and judicious, who knows what the path is and what it is not, knows both truth and untruth, who practises loving kindness for all beings animate and inanimate, abides practising compassion and sympathetic joy, is free from craving and aversion, pride and ill feeling, anger and ignorance, who is moderate in speech, speaks softly, speaks the truth, is free from doubt and fear, free from sorrow and fetters, has no taints (asavas) is a person who deserves to be called a Brahman in the true sense of the term whether born of a brahmani’s womb or non brahmani’s womb. This view is called right view.

Of course, there is a difference between one human being and another. This is unavoidable. Some are superior, some are not. Not even politicians can make all people equal although they shout slogans of equality. What then should the yard stick be to determine the way to regard a man or woman as high or low, superior or inferior? The Buddha says that one who is virtuous, practises concentration and has attained wisdom is superior and someone who doesn’t is definitely inferior. Anyone walking on the path of Dhamma can become virtuous, can practise and develop concentration and can attain wisdom. This is what is meant by equality in Dhamma; its doors are open for everyone. One is not regarded as high or low simply because one is born into a so-called high or low caste. To always regard one as high and the other low in this way is not Dhamma—it is wrong view. Right view is to regard one as high or low according to his or her ethical character.

There is another type of wrong view. It is indisputable that all objects of the sensuous world are impermanent. Whatever we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, smell with our noses, taste with our tongues, touch with our bodies and think with our minds—all these are changing every moment and are not eternal. Even knowing all this if we have a wrong view that Brahma pervades every atom, and because Brahma is eternal, permanent and unchanging then all atoms must therefore be eternal, permanent and unchanging, then we are inclined to live in a world of illusion and see untruth as truth.

For example, if our ornaments are made of impure gold, mixed with copper and brass we won’t be satisfied with them, so what we do is gild them and make them appear to be pure gold. Even though this is an illusion, we regard it as reality and feel happy. If we don’t do this we will always feel unhappy knowing that our ornaments look impure, being made mostly of copper and brass. In the same way, even though we know that everything we experience with our sense organs is impermanent—constantly changing into what is unsatisfactory and unpleasant —we take them to be permanent and unchanging and feel happy. Man knows that he is mortal, knows that he is subject to old age, disease and death. But who wants to die? So he considers himself immortal and tries to keep himself happy. Thus he gilds everything and makes it glitter, and then taken in by this he considers himself to be part of an immortal and eternal God. He regards his soul within to be immortal and deathless and thinks that even if this body dissolves, the soul is immortal and cannot be burnt by fire or be rotted by water, nor can it be damaged by weapons. Man’s desire to be immortal has been nurtured by a false view, but this does not change reality— as truth is truth.

There is a very large bird called an ostrich. In the deserts of Africa when there are great sand storms the ostrich seeks protection, so it buries its head in the sand and pretends not to feel the presence of these storms. Like this ostrich, we cannot ignore the realities of life. We call the changing nature of mind and body ‘eternal Brahma’ and regard it as true. To do so is to deceive ourselves.

Right view consists in seeing things as they are. We should not assume things. We should not gild them. So long as a meditator does not transcend the field of the senses by practising meditation, and reach a state where all sense activities come to a stop, one is still in the changing field of the senses, still in the impermanent world. The pleasure that a meditator feels when his mind becomes very concentrated after vitakka (initial application) and vicara (sustained application) recede, is, as a matter of fact, born out of the senses. It is not the pleasure that is experienced after transcending the field of the senses. To regard such impermanent pleasure as permanent calling it paramananda (highest pleasure), brahmananda, atmananda or sacchidananda is to live in a fool’s paradise.

There is no doubt that there is such a permanent and eternal state which is unborn and immortal. It is not merely a figment of one’s imagination, but it is a state beyond the field of the senses. To attain that state one has to complete the journey from the grossest state of the field of the senses to the subtlest state. Only then can one realize it. One has to take the help of truth in order to complete the journey. We cannot reach the goal of truth by walking with the crutches of that which is untrue. No matter what subtle experiences we have within the world of the senses while practising meditation, we have to continue our journey by viewing them correctly. When we view them as changing and impermanent we move forward step by step with proper understanding. However, our progress will stop if we take the help of that which is not true. If we begin to regard any of these pleasures born out of the senses as eternal, permanent and unchanging we are far away from the truth— our connection with truth ends. This is a wrong view in which the whole world is entangled. Our eyes are blurred, we have developed cataracts. Similarly, we regard something as truth because it is written in our scriptures or our ancestors have been regarding it as so. Even though these beliefs do not let us see the truth clearly, we accept them as the truth because we have developed cataracts of wrong view.

How can one become a brahmin without doing the work of a brahmin? How can a spirit or a deity or a yakka of the lower world become omnipotent and all powerful? How can the ever changing form of nature be eternal and permanent? Knowing all this we are still attached to such wrong views. Why? Because they are old beliefs, liked by our ancestors, and whether we like them or not they are still wrong views. To eradicate such views is to develop right view.

With metta for all,
Satya Narayan Goenka.



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