Buddha’s Right View Leads to Simpler Decisions

Buddhism and decision making

Decisions in the age of unlimited information are tricky, right? I’m a fortunate person. I’ve got a lot of freedom to make many decisions in my life. But with that sense of freedom, I’m constantly looking up what it’s like to live in different places and honestly, it’s not so good for me to do that – it takes me away from the present and sends me headlong on “grass-is-greener daydreams”. Along with where to live, I’m always wondering what I should be doing with my time. Sometimes it’s easy, be in the moment with my family. Sometimes it’s not so easy when I’m performing my day job and I know it is not something I’m passionate about. I wrote a long piece on finding and following passion…easier said than done! Here my “Hero’s Journey Article”.

While I was reading “In the Buddha’s Words” I came across a passage that soothed some of the constant questions I have. In this section, Buddha is discussing “Wrong View” and “Right View”. He says those who hold onto Wrong View create more unwholesome qualities to proliferate within a person than any other failing. He goes on to illustrates the message with the following analogy:

Just as, when a seed of neem, bitter cucumber, or bitter gourd is planted in moist soil, it transforms any nutriment it obtains from the soil and the water into a fruit with a bitter, harsh, and disagreeable taste, even so is it for a person of wrong view.

In the Buddha’s Words, Edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, pg. 214

When I read that short section, a truth was made more salient: The truth that I think many of us know but may lose sight of from time to time is that if we have our view of the universe, inner mind, intentions, and desires aligned with Right View, then no matter our environment we will still grow in wholesomeness. Things seem to work out well or at least better when we are able to move along with Right View.

Similarly, if we persist in wrong view, we will grow in unwholesome ways no matter where we may be and no matter the situation.

What is “right view” and “wrong view”?

Great! So how do I develop Right View? Right View is one of the eight elements of the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the foundation of Buddhist practice. It’s the first step in the path and is considered to be the most important element – as illustrated by Buddha’s strong language warning those who disregard it!

Right View is a wisdom that involves understanding things as they are, as explained in the teachings of the Four Noble Truths.

  • The truth of suffering (dukkha): This means that all conditioned phenomena (things that arise and cease) are unsatisfactory, impermanent, and not-self. This includes our body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. We experience suffering when we cling to or resist these changing phenomena.
  • The truth of the origin of suffering (samudaya): This means that the cause of suffering is craving (tanha), which is a thirst or attachment to sensual (through the senses) pleasures, existence, or non-existence. Craving is based on ignorance (avijja) of the true nature of reality, which leads to delusion and attachment.
  • The truth of the cessation of suffering (nirodha): This means that the end of suffering is possible by eliminating craving and ignorance. This is achieved by realizing nibbana (nirvana), which is the unconditioned state of peace and freedom from all defilements and suffering.
  • The truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering (magga): This means that the way to attain nibbana is by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of (1) right view, (2) right intention, (3) right speech, (4) right action, (5) right livelihood, (6) right effort, (7) right mindfulness, and (8) right concentration. These are ethical, mental, and meditative practices that cultivate wisdom and compassion.

That’s a hell of a mouth full but in essence, if I can understand Right View and live in a manner consistent with Right View, then I stand a much better chance to live in a wholesome manner.

Wrong view is the opposite of all that! Wrong View is clinging without a belief that the ignorant state of clinging can ever be overcome. Or worse yet, a person who doesn’t even want to stop clinging.

For me, I know I need to continue to work on Right View being a core in my life. Once that piece is in place, then no matter where I may live, I will be growing in wholesomeness and contributing to increasing well-being.

An example of Right View in action

I’m constantly thinking “the grass is always greener” somewhere else. This clinging onto a thought in my imagination causes me to expend inordinate amounts of time and energy thinking about where to live. If I can simply let go of this thought and no longer grasp and cling to the idea of a location somehow bringing great peace and happiness, then I’d be on the path of actually living a more peaceful and happy life.

I have lived many places and I’m also “wise” enough to know that a troubled mind tends to follow you wherever you may call home. This is not to totally disregard our environment as having no effect on our wellbeing, but before we can reap the benefits of an environment that suits us well, we need to have the Right View in place. That incessant craving must be understood and released from my mind.

I’ve experienced episodes where meditation can help alleviate some of these feelings by allowing me to examine what these craven reactions truly are – merely thoughts. Thoughts are only powerful as long as you let them. Once you realize that you are not owned by your thoughts then they are much easier to witness and let them float on their way. For example, if something makes you angry and you are angry two hours later, it’s no longer the incident making you angry, it’s your mind replaying the incident that keeps you angry. It’s completely in your power to let the angry thought go just like any other thought you might have.

Perhaps if I meditate and allow the feelings I have of desiring other locations or the idea that I’d be happy elsewhere and explore the sensations these thoughts bring up, then I could get closer to realizing these are simply thoughts that I can observe and let them move on without moving me!