Category Archives: Majjhima Nikaya

“The Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone” A Dhamma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh


“The Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone”

A Dhamma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh

April 5, 1998, Plum Village, France

Dear friends,

“Knowing how to live alone” here does not mean to live in solitude, separated from other people, on a mountain in a cave. “Living alone” here means living to have sovereignty of yourself, to have freedom, not to be dragged away by the past, not to be in fear of the future, not being pulled around by the circumstances of the present. We are always master of ourselves, we can grasp the situation as it is, and we are sovereign of the situation and of ourselves. There are many places in the sutras where the Buddha says that “being alone” does not mean to be separated from other people. We can be sitting in a cave, but we are not necessarily alone, because we have lost ourselves in our thinking, so we are not alone. In the Majjhima Nikáya there are at least four sutras that talk about the subject of knowing how to live alone, and in the Madhyama Agama there are also sutras that talk about the subject of living alone. Therefore, we know that the subject of living alone is a very important subject in the teachings of the Buddha. We have to know how to do this, how to live in freedom, not being imprisoned by the future and not being carried away by things in the present.

The Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone teaches us how to live each moment of our daily life very deeply. When we can live our daily life deeply, we begin to have concentration and wisdom; we can see the true nature of life, and we arrive at a great freedom, and freedom is the essence of happiness. If we are suffering, it is because we are not free, and therefore to practice is to recover our freedom. When we have freedom, we will become solid. Freedom and solidity are the two characteristics of nirvana, so we need a program of freedom and solidity. If somebody is suffering, we know that person is not free; because they are not free, they are suffering, they are being imprisoned by the past, or they are being oppressed by the present, or they are being carried away by the future, and that is why they are suffering. The practice is to re-establish our freedom, and then we will no longer suffer, and our happiness will increase. The oldest writings on the better way to live alone, on how to live deeply in the present moment, are found in this sutra.

For example, someone hears the doctor say, “You have cancer, you may live for six months more.” That person feels completely overwhelmed. The fear, the idea that I’m going to die in six months takes away all our peace and joy. Before the doctor told us that we had cancer, we had the capacity to enjoy ourselves with our friends. However, once the doctor told us that, we lose all our capacity to sit and enjoy our tea, or enjoy our meal, or watch the moon, because we are so afraid of the moment when we will die. It takes away all our freedom. If you know that death is something that comes to everybody, you will not suffer so much. The doctor says we have six months left to live, but the doctor also will die. Maybe the doctor knows we have six months, but the doctor does not know how many months he himself has left to live. Maybe the doctor will die before us. Maybe driving home after the examination he will have an accident, and therefore the knowledge of the doctor isn’t so great. He tells us we only have six months left. We may be lucky to live six months, because the doctor may die before us. So if we look deeply we see things, which if we don’t look deeply we wouldn’t see. Looking deeply we can get back our freedom from fear, and with that freedom, with our non-fear, we may live happily those six months.

All of us are equal as far as life and death are concerned: we are all going to die. So it is very equal, it will happen to everybody. Everyone has to die, but before we die, can we live properly? I am determined to live properly until I die. That is a very awakened thing to say. If we are going to die, then we have to live the best we can, and if we can live six months in the best way we can then the quality of that six months will be as if we were living for six years, or sixty years. If our life is filled with being caught in the fetters of suffering, then our life doesn’t have the same kind of meaning as if we live in freedom. So knowing that we have to die, I am determined to live my life properly, deeply. All of us have to die, but if we are able to live with peace, joy, and freedom before we die, then we live as if we are dead already, even before we die.

First of all, the Buddha teaches us that we must struggle to get back our freedom, to be able to live the moments of our daily life deeply. In these moments of our daily life we can have peace, we can have joy, and we can heal the suffering we have in our bodies and in our minds.

Living deeply at each moment of our life helps us to be in touch with the wonderful things of life, helps us to nourish our body and our mind with these wonderful elements, and at the same time helps us to embrace and transform the suffering that we have. So to live deeply in the present moment of every day of our life is to live a life of wonder, nourishment, and healing. Living like that we can revive our freedom, and live deeply: we give rise to the truth, we have awakened understanding, and our fears, our anxieties, our sufferings, and our sadness, will evaporate, and we will become a source of joy and life to ourselves and to those around us.

According to Buddhism, that is the method of dwelling happily in the present moment. Looking carefully, we will see that this writing on knowing the better way to live alone is the oldest human writing about how to live the present moment, so it is a very important sutra. We should study it carefully, and then apply it in our lives and in the practice. We know that all the teachings related to the teachings on living in the present moment should be studied in the same way.

There was a monk whose name was Thera. His friends probably gave him the name Thera, which means “the elder.” That monk liked to live on his own. He always went off on the alms round on his own. He liked to do walking meditation on his own. He like to eat on his own, he liked to wash his clothes on his own. He really liked to do everything on his own. He seemed to like to avoid his friends in the practice as much as possible. All the monks had heard the Buddha praising the better way to live alone, but the way the Buddha used the meaning of “living alone,” he meant not to be imprisoned by the past, not to be pulled away by the future, and not to be carried away by what was happening in the present. The Buddha did not mean that living alone means to distance yourself and separate yourself from your friends in the practice. Nevertheless, this monk liked to do things on his own, eating on his own, going to the town on his own, and avoiding other people. The other monks knew that he liked to do things alone, but they felt that there was something not quite right about this way of life. They felt that he wasn’t really practicing according to the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings. So the other monks went to the Buddha and they said, “Lord Buddha, one of our fellow practitioners called Thera, the elder, likes to do everything on his own: walking meditation, eating meditation, working on his own, and we don’t know if living like that that is really truly living alone.” And Buddha said, “Where is that monk? Ask him to come here and have a cup of tea with us.” So the monks went and invited Thera to join them, and the Buddha said, “I hear you like to live alone. How do you live on your own? Please tell me.” And Thera said, “Lord Buddha, I sit in meditation alone, I eat on my own, I wash my clothes on my own, I go into the village for alms on my own.” And the Buddha said, “Oh, that is true, then you really do live alone. But maybe the way you live alone is not the best way to live alone, there is a better way to live alone.” And then the Buddha recited a gatha: “If you live without being imprisoned by the past, not being pulled away by the future, not being carried away by the forms and images of the present moment, living each moment of your life deeply, that is the true way of living alone.” When Thera heard this he knew that he had been living alone just as an outer form, and there was a deeper way to live alone.

The sutra where this story is told is called the Theranama Sutra, it is in the Samyutta Nikáya, and there is also an equivalent sutra in the Samyukta Agama, it is Number 71 in the Samyukta Agama. The essence of the sutra is a poem. The Buddha wrote poems, but the poems of the Buddha were more designed to show us how to practice. The gatha which talks about the art of living alone is called the Bhaddekaratta-gatha, Bhaddekaratta means “the best way to live alone.” Many people have mistranslated this title: One master translated it as “practicing for one night.” There’s also another master who translated this title as “being present.” The correct translation is to say “The better way to practice living alone.” This poem says:

Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is
in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells
in stability and freedom.

All of the essence of the Buddha’s teachings lies in these words. We know that stability and freedom are the two characteristics of nirvana, and that is the aim of our practice.

The aim of our practice is that every moment of ourdaily life we can produce stability and freedom: walking, lying down, sitting, standing, we produce freedom and stability. Nirvana is something we can touch right in the present moment, not only with our mind, but also with our body. When our feet are walking in a leisurely way, solid and free, then our feet are touching nirvana. As soon as we have stability and freedom, nirvana is there. The level of freedom and stability tells us whether we have been able to touch nirvana deeply.

Do not pursue the past. There are people who are tired of the present and think that the past was more beautiful, and that life was more beautiful before. They always think the past was more beautiful. Therefore, they cannot see the happiness of the present.

Many of us are caught in this way of thinking. The past is no longer there, and we compare it with the present, and we say that the past was more beautiful than the present; but even when we had those moments in the past we didn’t really value them at the time, because in the past we were not able to live in the present moment. We were always running after the future, and now if we were taken back to the past, we would do the same. At that time life was more beautiful, the sun was brighter, the moon was brighter–those are words from a French song. There are people who pursue the past, not because they think the past was beautiful, but because the past has made them suffer, the past was a trauma, a heavy wound for them. We have suffered, we have been wounded, we have died in the past, and those heavy wounds are calling us back to the past, crying, “Come back here, come back to the past. I am the subject, you cannot escape me.” That is what the past says to us. We are like sheep running back to the past, to enclose us, to imprison us, to make us suffer. The past is also a very great prison. We hear the words of the past, and we run back to the past, we refuse to live our life in the present moment, we are always going back to the past. So the Buddha says, “Don’t pursue the past.”

These are the words of our teacher: “Don’t pursue the past.” We should write a poem, how can we write a poem so we are able to do this? Sometimes we are sitting with our friend. Our friend is sitting there, but we feel abandoned by our friend, because our friend is drowning in the past. Our friend is sitting next to us, but our friend is not with us, our friend is imprisoned by the past. Our friend is there, but our friend is not really there. We know that we are sitting there, and we feel that our friend is not sitting there with us. So we find a way to free our friend from the past, and we say to our friend: “A penny for your thoughts. What are you thinking about? Tell me. I’ll give you ten centimes if you tell me.” That person may wake up, jump up and smile and be free from the prison of the past.

If we are a monk or a nun, we should know how to do this. We should know the method of being able to release our friend in the practice who is imprisoned and drowning in the past. We have to use our love, our mindfulness, and our friendship, to help that person out of the prison of the past. If we are a monk or a nun, we should know how to use our brothers and sisters in the practice to help us get out of our prison of the past. Therefore, living in a Sangha has these kinds of benefits.

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Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi on The Kalama Sutta


A Look at the Kalama Sutta 

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The discourse has been described as “the Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry,” and though the discourse certainly does counter the decrees of dogmatism and blind faith with a vigorous call for free investigation, it is problematic whether the sutta can support all the positions that have been ascribed to it.  On the basis of a single passage, quoted out of context, the Buddha has been made out to be a pragmatic empiricist who dismisses all doctrine and faith, and whose Dhamma is simply a freethinker’s kit to truth which invites each one to accept and reject whatever he likes. 

But does the Kalama Sutta really justify such views? Or do we meet in these claims just another set of variations on that egregious old tendency to interpret the Dhamma according to whatever notions are congenial to oneself – or to those to whom one is preaching? Let us take as careful a look at the Kalama Sutta as the limited space allotted to this essay will allow, remembering that in order to understand the Buddha’s utterances correctly it is essential to take account of his own intentions in making them.

The passage that has been cited so often runs as follows: “Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing, nor upon tradition, nor upon rumor, nor upon scripture, nor upon surmise, nor upon axiom, nor upon specious reasoning, nor upon bias towards a notion pondered over, nor upon another’s seeming ability, nor upon the consideration ‘The monk is our teacher.’ When you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad, blamable, censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them. When you yourselves know: ‘These things are good, blameless, praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.”

Now this passage, like everything else spoken by the Buddha, has been stated in a specific context – with a particular audience and situation in view – and thus must be understood in relation to that context. The Kalamas, citizens of the town ofKesaputta, had been visited by religious teachers of divergent views, each of whom would propound his own doctrines and tear down the doctrines of his predecessors. This left the Kalamas perplexed, and thus when “the recluse Gotama,” reputed to be an Awakened One, arrived in their township, they approached him in the hope that he might be able to dispel their confusion. From the subsequent development of the sutta, it is clear that the issues that perplexed them were the reality of rebirth and kammic retribution for good and evil deeds.

The Buddha begins by assuring the Kalamas that under such circumstances it is proper for them to doubt, an assurance which encourages free inquiry. He next speaks the passage quoted above, advising the Kalamas to abandon those things they know for themselves to be bad and to undertake those things they know for themselves to be good. This advice can be dangerous if given to those whose ethical sense is undeveloped, and we can thus assume that the Buddha regarded the Kalamas as people of refined moral sensitivity. In any case he did not leave them wholly to their own resources, but by questioning them led them to see that greed, hate and delusion, being conducive to harm and suffering for oneself and others, are to be abandoned, and their opposites, being beneficial to all, are to be developed.

The Buddha next explains that a “noble disciple, devoid of covetousness and ill will, undeluded” dwells pervading the world with boundless loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. Thus purified of hate and malice, he enjoys here and now four “solaces”: If there is an afterlife and kammic result, then he will undergo a pleasant rebirth, while if there is none he still lives happily here and now; if evil results befall an evil-doer, then no evil will befall him, and if evil results do not befall an evil-doer, then he is purified anyway. With this the Kalamas express their appreciation of the Buddha’s discourse and go for refuge to the Triple Gem.

Now does the Kalama Sutta suggest, as is often held, that a follower of the Buddhist path can dispense with all faith and doctrine, that he should make his own personal experience the criterion for judging the Buddha’s utterances and for rejecting what cannot be squared with it? It is true the Buddha does not ask the Kalamas to accept anything he says out of confidence in himself, but let us note one important point: the Kalamas, at the start of the discourse, were not the Buddha’s disciples. They approached him merely as a counselor who might help dispel their doubts, but they did not come to him as the Tathagata, the Truth-finder, who might show them the way to spiritual progress and to final liberation.

Thus, because the Kalamas had not yet come to accept the Buddha in terms of his unique mission, as the discloser of the liberating truth, it would not have been in place for him to expound to them the Dhamma unique to his own Dispensation: such teachings as the Four Noble Truths, the three characteristics, and the methods of contemplation based upon them. These teachings are specifically intended for those who have accepted the Buddha as their guide to deliverance, and in the suttas he expounds them only to those who “have gained faith in the Tathagata” and who possess the perspective necessary to grasp them and apply them. The Kalamas, however, at the start of the discourse are not yet fertile soil for him to sow the seeds of his liberating message. Still confused by the conflicting claims to which they have been exposed, they are not yet clear even about the groundwork of morality.

Nevertheless, after advising the Kalamas not to rely upon established tradition, abstract reasoning, and charismatic gurus, the Buddha proposes to them a teaching that is immediately verifiable and capable of laying a firm foundation for a life of moral discipline and mental purification . He shows that whether or not there be another life after death, a life of moral restraint and of love and compassion for all beings brings its own intrinsic rewards here and now, a happiness and sense of inward security far superior to the fragile pleasures that can be won by violating moral principles and indulging the mind’s desires. For those who are not concerned to look further, who are not prepared to adopt any convictions about a future life and worlds beyond the present one, such a teaching will ensure their present welfare and their safe passage to a pleasant rebirth – provided they do not fall into the wrong view of denying an afterlife and kammic causation.

However, for those whose vision is capable of widening to encompass the broader horizons of our existence. this teaching given to the Kalamas points beyond its immediate implications to the very core of the Dhamma. For the three states brought forth for examination by the Buddha – greed, hate and delusion – are not merely grounds of wrong conduct or moral stains upon the mind. Within his teaching’s own framework they are the root defilements — the primary causes of all bondage and suffering – and the entire practice of the Dhamma can be viewed as the task of eradicating these evil roots by developing to perfection their antidotes — dispassion, kindness and wisdom.

Thus the discourse to the Kalamas offers an acid test for gaining confidence in the Dhamma as a viable doctrine of deliverance. We begin with an immediately verifiable teaching whose validity can be attested by anyone with the moral integrity to follow it through to its conclusions, namely, that the defilements cause harm and suffering both personal and social, that their removal brings peace and happiness, and that the practices taught by the Buddha are effective means for achieving their removal. By putting this teaching to a personal test, with only a provisional trust in the Buddha as one’s collateral, one eventually arrives at a firmer, experientially grounded confidence in the liberating and purifying power of the Dhamma. This increased confidence in the teaching brings along a deepened faith in the Buddha as teacher, and thus disposes one to accept on trust those principles he enunciates that are relevant to the quest for awakening, even when they lie beyond one’s own capacity for verification. This, in fact, marks the acquisition of right view, in its preliminary role as the forerunner of the entire Noble Eightfold Path.

Partly in reaction to dogmatic religion, partly in subservience to the reigning paradigm of objective scientific knowledge, it has become fashionable to hold, by appeal to the Kalama Sutta, that the Buddha’s teaching dispenses with faith and formulated doctrine and asks us to accept only what we can personally verify. This interpretation of the sutta, however, forgets that the advice the Buddha gave the Kalamas was contingent upon the understanding that they were not yet prepared to place faith in him and his doctrine; it also forgets that the sutta omits, for that very reason, all mention of right view and of the entire perspective that opens up when right view is acquired. It offers instead the most reasonable counsel on wholesome living possible when the issue of ultimate beliefs has been

put into brackets.

What can be justly maintained is that those aspects of the Buddha’s teaching that come within the purview of our ordinary experience can be personally confirmed within experience, and that this confirmation provides a sound basis for placing faith in those aspects of the teaching that necessarily transcend ordinary experience. Faith in the Buddha’s teaching is never regarded as an end in itself nor as a sufficient guarantee of liberation, but only as the starting point for an evolving process of inner transformation that comes to fulfillment in personal insight. But in order for this insight to exercise a truly liberative function, it must unfold in the context of an accurate grasp of the essential truths concerning our situation in the world and the domain where deliverance is to be sought. These truths have been imparted to us by the Buddha out of his own profound comprehension of the human condition. To accept them in trust after careful consideration is to set foot on a journey which transforms faith into wisdom, confidence into certainty, and culminates in liberation from suffering.

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link to The Kalama Sutta translated from the Pali byThanissaro Bhikkhu

link to The Kalama Sutta Translated from the Pali by Ven. Soma Thera 

Majjhima Nikaya 60 Apannaka Sutta – The Incontrovertible Teaching


Downloadedable MSWordsDoc of the Entire Majjhima Nikaya 

60. Apannaka Sutta – The Incontrovertible Teaching

1. THUS HAVE I HEARD. On one occasion the Blessed One was wandering in the Kosalan country with a large Sangha of bhikkhus, and eventually he arrived at a Kosalan brahmin village named Sala.

2. The brahmin householders of Sala heard: “The recluse Gotama, the son of the Sakyans who went forth from a Sakyan clan, has been wandering in the Kosalan country [401] with a large Sangha of bhikkhus and has come to Sala. Now a good report of Master Gotama has been spread to this effect: ‘That Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed. He declares this world with its gods, itsMaras, and its Brahmas, this generation with its recluses and brahmins, its princes and its people, which he has himself realised with direct knowledge. He teaches the Dhamma good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, with the right meaning and phrasing, and he reveals a holy life that is utterly perfect and pure.’ Now it is good to see such arahants.”

3. Then the brahmin householders of Sala went to the Blessed One. Some paid homage to the Blessed One and sat down at one side; some exchanged greetings with him, and when this courteous and amiable talk was finished, sat down at one side; some extended their hands in reverential salutation towards the Blessed One and sat down at one side; some pronounced their name and clan in the Blessed One’s presence and sat down at one side; some kept silent and sat down at one side.

4. When they were seated, the Blessed One asked them: “Householders, is there any teacher agreeable to you in whom you have acquired faith supported by reasons?”[1]

“No, venerable sir, there is no teacher agreeable to us in whom we have acquired faith supported by reasons.”

“Since, householders, you have not found an agreeable teacher, you may undertake and practise this incontrovertible teaching;[2] for when the incontrovertible teaching is accepted and undertaken, it will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time. And what is the incontrovertible teaching ?[3]

(I. THE DOCTRINE OF NIHILISM)

5. (A) “Householders, there are some recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed; no fruit or result of good and bad actions; no this world, no other world; no mother, no father; no beings who are reborn spontaneously; no good and virtuous recluses and brahmins in the world who have themselves realised by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.’[4] [402]

6. (B) “Now there are some recluses and brahmins whose doctrine is directly opposed to that of those recluses and brahmins, and they say thus: ‘There is what is given and what is offered and what is sacrificed; there is fruit and result of good and bad actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are beings who are reborn spontaneously; there are good and virtuous recluses and brahmins in the world who have themselves realised by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.’ What do you think, householders? Don’t these recluses and brahmins hold doctrines directly opposed to each other?” – “Yes, venerable sir.”

7. (A.i) “Now, householders, of those recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: ‘There is nothing given … no good and virtuous recluses and brahmins in the world who have themselves realised by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world,’ it is to be expected that they will avoid these three wholesome states, namely, good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, and good mental conduct, and that they will undertake and practise these three unwholesome states, namely, bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, and mental misconduct. Why is that? Because those good recluses and brahmins do not see in unwholesome states the danger, degradation, and defilement, nor do they see in wholesome states the blessing of renunciation, the aspect of cleansing.

8. (A.ii) “Since there actually is another world, one who holds the view ‘there is no other world’ has wrong view. Since there actually is another world, one who intends ‘there is no other world’ has wrong intention. Since there actually is another world, one who makes the statement ‘there is no other world’ has wrong speech. Since there actually is another world, one who says ‘there is no other world’ is opposed to those arahants who know the other world. Since there actually is another world, one who convinces another ‘there is no other world’ convinces him to accept an untrue Dhamma; and because he convinces another to accept an untrue Dhamma, he praises himself and disparages others. Thus any pure virtue that he formerly had is abandoned and corrupt conduct is substituted.[5] And this wrong view, wrong intention, wrong speech, opposition to noble ones, convincing another to accept an untrue Dhamma, and self-praise and disparagement of others – these several evil unwholesome states thus come into being with wrong view as their condition. [403]

9. (A.iii) “About this a wise man considers thus: ‘If there is no other world, then on the dissolution of the body this good person will have made himself safe enough.[6] But if there is another world, then on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. Now whether or not the word of those good recluses and brahmins is true, let me assume that there is no other world: still this good person is here and now censured by the wise as an immoral person, one of wrong view who holds the doctrine of nihilism.[7] But on the other hand, if there is another world, then this good person has made an unlucky throw on both counts: since he is censured by the wise here and now, and since on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. He has wrongly accepted and undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in such a way that it extends only to one side and excludes the wholesome alternative.’[8]

10. (B.i) “Now, householders, of those recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: ‘There is what is given … there are good and virtuous recluses.and brahmins in the world who

have themselves realised by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world,’ it is to be expected that they will avoid these three unwholesome states, namely, bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, and mental misconduct, and that they will undertake and practise these three wholesome states, namely, good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, and good mental conduct. Why is that? Because those good recluses and brahmins see in unwholesome states the danger, degradation, and defilement, and they see in wholesome states the blessing of renunciation, the aspect of cleansing.

11. (B.ii) “Since there actually is another world, one who holds the view ‘there is another world’ has right view. Since there actually is another world, one who intends ‘there is another world’ has right intention. Since there actually is another world, one who makes the statement ‘there is another world’ has right speech. Since there actually is another world, one who says ‘there is another world’ is not opposed to those arahants who know the other world. Since there actually is another world, one who convinces another ‘there is another world’ [404] convinces him to accept true Dhamma; and because he convinces another to accept true Dhamma, he does not praise himself and disparage others. Thus any corrupt conduct that he formerly had is abandoned and pure virtue is substituted. And this right view, right intention, right speech, non-opposition to noble ones, convincing another to accept true Dhamma, and avoidance of selfpraise and disparagement of others – these several wholesome states thus come into being with right view as their condition.

12. (B.iii) “About this a wise man considers thus: ‘If there is another world, then on the dissolution of the body, after death, this good person will reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. Now whether or not the word of those good recluses and brahmins is true, let me assume that there is no other world: still this good person is here and now praised by the wise as a virtuous person, one with right view who holds the doctrine of affirmation.[9] And on the other hand, if there is another world, then this good person has made a lucky throw on both counts: since he is praised by the wise here and now, and since on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. He has rightly accepted and undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in such a way that it extends to both sides and excludes the unwholesome alternative.’[10]

(II. THE DOCTRINE OF NON-DOING)

13. (A) “Householders, there are some recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this:[11] ‘When one acts or makes others act, when one mutilates or makes others mutilate, when one tortures or makes others inflict torture, when one inflicts sorrow or makes others inflict sorrow, when one oppresses or makes others inflict oppression, when one intimidates or makes others inflict intimidation, when one kills living beings, takes what is not given, breaks into houses, plunders wealth, commits burglary, ambushes highways, seduces another’s wife, utters falsehood – no evil is done by the doer. If, with a razorrimmed wheel, one were to make the living beings on this earth into one mass of flesh, into one heap of flesh, because of this there would be no evil and no outcome of evil. If one were to go along the south bank of the Ganges killing and slaughtering, mutilating and making others mutilate, torturing and making others inflict torture, because of this there would be no evil and no outcome of evil. If one were to go along the north bank of the Ganges giving gifts and making others give gifts, making offerings and making others make offerings, because of this there would be no merit and no outcome of merit. By giving, by taming oneself, by restraint, by speaking truth, there is no merit and no outcome of merit.’

14. (B) “Now there are some recluses and brahmins [405] whose doctrine is directly opposed to that of those recluses and brahmins, and they say thus: ‘When one acts or makes others act, when one mutilates or makes others mutilate … utters falsehood – evil is done by the doer. If, with a razor-rimmed wheel, one were to make the living beings on this earth into one mass of flesh, into one heap of flesh, because of this there would be evil and the outcome of evil. If one were to go along the south bank of the Ganges killing and slaughtering, mutilating and making others mutilate, torturing and making others inflict torture, because of this there would be evil and the outcome of evil. If one were to go along the north bank of the Ganges giving gifts and making others give gifts, making offerings and making others make offerings, because of this there would be merit and the outcome of merit. By giving, by taming oneself, by restraint, by speaking truth, there is merit and the outcome of merit.’ What do you think, householders? Don’t these recluses and brahmins hold doctrines directly opposed to each other?” – “Yes, venerable sir.”

15. (A.i) “Now, householders, of those recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: ‘When one acts or makes others act … there is no merit and no outcome of merit,’ it is to be expected that they will avoid these three wholesome states, namely, good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct and good mental conduct, and that they will undertake and practise these three unwholesome states, namely, bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, and mental misconduct. Why is that? Because those good recluses and brahmins do not see in unwholesome states the danger, degradation, and defilement, nor do they see in wholesome states the blessing of renunciation, the aspect of cleansing.

16. (A.ii) “Since there actually is doing, one who holds the view ‘there is no doing’ has wrong view. Since there actually is doing, one who intends ‘there is no doing’ has wrong intention. Since there actually is doing, one who makes the statement ‘there is no doing’ has wrong speech. Since there actually is doing, one who says ‘there is no doing’ is opposed to those arahants who hold the doctrine that there is doing. Since there actually is doing, one who convinces another ‘there is no doing’ convinces him to accept an untrue Dhamma; and because he convinces another to accept an untrue Dhamma, he praises himself and disparages others. Thus any pure virtue that he formerly had is abandoned and corrupt conduct is substituted. [406] And this wrong view, wrong intention, wrong speech, opposition to noble ones, convincing another to accept an untrue Dhamma, and self-praise and disparagement of others – these several evil unwholesome states thus come into being with wrong view as their condition.

17. (A.iii) “About this a wise man considers thus: ‘If there is no doing, then on the dissolution of the body this good person will have made himself safe enough. But if there is doing, then on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. Now whether er not the word of those good recluses and brahmins is true, let me assume that there is no doing: still this good person is here and now censured by the wise as an immoral person, one of wrong view who holds the doctrine of non-doing. But on the other hand, if there is doing, then this good person has made an unlucky throw on both counts: since he is censured by the wise here and now, and since on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. He has wrongly accepted and undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in such a way that it extends only to one side and excludes the wholesome alternative.’

18. (B.i) “Now, householders, of those recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: ‘When one acts or makes others act … there is merit and outcome of merit,’ it is to be expected that they will avoid these three unwholesome states, namely, bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, and mental misconduct, and that they will undertake and practise these three wholesome states, namely, good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, and good mental conduct. Why is that? Because those good recluses and brahmins see in unwholesome states the danger, degradation, and defilement, and they see in wholesome states the blessing of renunciation, the aspect of cleansing.

19. (B.ii) “Since there actually is doing, one who holds the view ‘there is doing’ has right view. Since there actually is doing, one who intends ‘there is doing’ has right intention. Since there actually is doing, one who makes the statement ‘there is doing’ has right speech. Since there actually is doing, one who says ‘there is doing’ is not opposed to those arahants who hold the doctrine that there is doing. Since there actually is doing, one who convinces another ‘there is doing’ convinces him to accept true Dhamma; [407] and because he convinces another to accept true Dhamma, he does not praise himself and disparage others. Thus any corrupt conduct that he formerly had is abandoned and pure virtue is substituted. And this right view, right intention, right speech, non-opposition to noble ones, convincing another to accept true Dhamma, and avoidance of self-praise and disparagement of others – these several wholesome states thus come into being with right view as their condition.

20. (B.iii) “About this a wise man considers thus: ‘If there is doing, then on the dissolution of the body, after death, this good person will reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. Now whether or not the word of those good recluses and brahmins is true, let me assume that there is no doing: still this good person is here and now praised by the wise as a virtuous person, one with right view who holds the doctrine of doing. And on the other hand, if there is doing, then this good person has made a lucky throw on both counts: since he is praised by the wise here and now, and since on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. He has rightly accepted and undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in such a way that it extends to both sides and excludes the unwholesome alternative.’

(III. THE DOCTRINE OF NON-CAUSALITY)

21. (A) “Householders, there are some recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this:[12] ‘There is no cause or condition for the defilement of beings; beings are defiled without cause or condition. There is no cause or condition for the purification of beings; beings are purified without cause or condition. There is no power, no energy, no manly strength, no manly endurance. All beings, all living things, all creatures, all souls are without mastery, power, and energy; moulded by destiny, circumstance, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six classes.’[13]

22. (B) “Now there are some recluses and brahmins whose doctrine is directly opposed to that of those recluses and brahmins, and they say thus: ‘There is a cause and condition for the defilement of beings; beings are defiled owing to a cause and condition. There is a cause and condition for the purification of beings; beings are purified owing to a cause and condition. There is power, energy, manly strength, manly endurance. It is not the case that all beings, all living things, all creatures, all souls are without mastery, power, and energy, or that moulded by destiny, circumstance, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six classes.’ What do you think, householders? [408] Don’t these recluses and brahmins hold doctrines directly opposed to each other?” – “Yes, venerable sir.”

23. (A.i) “Now, householders, of those recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: ‘There is no cause or condition for the defilement of beings … they experience pleasure and pain in the six classes,’ it is to be expected that they will avoid these three wholesome states, namely, good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, and good mental conduct, and that they will undertake and practise these three unwholesome states, namely, bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, and mental misconduct. Why is that? Because those good recluses and brahmins do not see in unwholesome states the danger, degradation, and defilement, nor do they see in wholesome states the blessing of renunciation, the aspect of cleansing.

24. (A.ii) “Since there actually is causality,’ one who holds the view ‘there is no causality’ has wrong view. Since there actually is causality, one who intends ‘there is no causality’ has wrong intention. Since there actually is causality, one who makes the statement ‘there is no causality’ has wrong speech. Since there actually is causality, one who says ‘there is no causality’ is opposed to those arahants who hold the doctrine of causality. Since there actually is causality, one who convinces another ‘there is no causality’ convinces him to accept an untrue Dhamma; and because he convinces another to accept an untrue Dhamma, he praises himself and disparages others. Thus any pure virtue that he formerly had is abandoned and corrupt conduct is substituted. And this wrong view, wrong intention, wrong speech, opposition to noble ones, convincing another to accept an untrue Dhamma, and self-praise and disparagement of others – these several evil unwholesome states thus come into being with wrong view as their condition.

25. (A.iii) “About this a wise man considers thus: ‘If there is no causality, then on the dissolution of the body this good person will have made himself safe enough. But if there is causality, then on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. Now whether or not the word of those good recluses and brahmins is true, let me assume that there is no causality: still this good person is here and now censured by the wise as an immoral person, one of wrong view who holds the doctrine of non-causality. But on the other hand, if there is causality, then this good person has made an unlucky throw on both counts: [409] since he is censured by the wise here and now, and since on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. He has wrongly accepted and undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in such a way that it extends only to one side and excludes the wholesome alternative.’

26. (B.i) “Now, householders, of those recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: ‘There is a cause and condition for the defilement of beings … they experience pleasure and pain in the six classes,’ it is to be expected that they will avoid these three unwholesome states, namely, bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, and mental misconduct, and that they will undertake and practise these three wholesome states, namely, good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, and good mental conduct. Why is that? Because those good recluses and brahmins see in unwholesome states the danger, degradation, and defilement, and they see in wholesome states the blessing of renunciation, the aspect of cleansing.

27. (B.ii) “Since there actually is causality, one who holds the view ‘there is causality’ has right view. Since there actually is causality, one who intends ‘there is causality’ has right intention. Since there actually is causality, one who makes the statement ‘there is causality’ has right speech. Since there actually is causality, one who says ‘there is causality’ is not opposed to those arahants who hold the doctrine of causality. Since there actually is causality, one who convinces another ‘there is causality’ convinces him to accept true Dhamma; and because he convinces another to accept true Dhamma, he does not praise himself and disparage others. Thus any corrupt conduct that he formerly had is abandoned and pure virtue is substituted. And this right view, right intention, right speech, non-opposition to noble ones, convincing another to accept true Dhamma, and avoidance of self-praise and disparagement of others – these several wholesome states thus come into being with right view as their condition.

28. (B.iii) “About this a wise man considers thus: ‘If there is causality, then on the dissolution of the body, after death, this good person will reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. Now whether or not the word of those good recluses and brahmins is true, let me assume that there is no causality: still this good person is here and now praised by the wise as a virtuous person, one with right view who holds the doctrine of causality. And on the other hand, if there is [410] causality, then this good person has made a lucky throw on both counts: since he is praised by the wise here and now, and since on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. He has rightly accepted and undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in such a way that it extends to both sides and excludes the unwholesome alternative.’

(IV. THERE ARE NO IMMATERIAL REALMS)

29. “Householders, there are some recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: ‘There are definitely no immaterial realms.’[14]

30. “Now there are some recluses and brahmins whose doctrine is directly opposed to that of those recluses and brahmins, and they say thus: ‘There definitely are immaterial realms.’ What do you think, householders? Don’t these recluses and brahmins hold doctrines directly opposed to each other?” – “Yes, venerable sir.”

31. “About this a wise man considers thus: ‘These good recluses and brahmins hold the doctrine and view “there are definitely no immaterial realms,” but that has not been seen by me. And these other good recluses and brahmins hold the doctrine and view “there definitely are immaterial realms,” but that has not been known by me. If, without knowing and seeing, I were to take one side and declare: “Only this is true, anything else is wrong,” that would not be fitting for me. Now as to the recluses and brahmins who hold the doctrine and view “there definitely are no immaterial realms,” if their word is true then it is certainly still possible that I might reappear [after death] among the gods of the fine-material realms who consist of mind.[15] But as to the recluses and brahmins who hold the doctrine and view “there definitely are immaterial realms,” if their word is true then it is certainly possible that I might reappear [after death] among the gods of the immaterial realms who consist of perception. The taking up of rods and weapons, quarrels, brawls, disputes, recrimination, malice, and false speech are seen to occur based on material form, but this does not exist at all in the immaterial realms.’ After reflecting thus, he practises the way to dispassion towards material forms, to the fading away and cessation of material forms.[16]

(V. THERE IS NO CESSATION OF BEING)

32. “Householders, there are some recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: ‘There is definitely no cessation of being.’[17]

33. “Now there are some recluses and brahmins whose doctrine is directly opposed to that of those recluses and brahmins, and they say thus: ‘There definitely [411] is a cessation of being.’ What do you think, householders? Don’t these recluses and brahmins hold doctrines directly opposed to each other?” – “Yes, venerable sir.”

34. “About this a wise man considers thus: ‘These good recluses and brahmins hold the doctrine and view “there is definitely no cessation of being,” but that has not been seen by me. And these other good recluses and brahmins hold the doctrine and view “there definitely is a cessation of being,” but that has not been known by me. If, without knowing and seeing, I were to take one side and declare: “Only this is true, anything else is wrong,” that would not be fitting for me. Now as to the recluses and brahmins who hold the doctrine and view “there definitely is no cessation of being,” if their word is true then it is certainly still possible that I might reappear [after death] among the gods of the immaterial realms who consist of perception. But as to the recluses and brahmins who hold the doctrine and view “there definitely is a cessation of being,” if their word is true then it is possible that I might here and now attain final Nibbana. The view of those good recluses and brahmins who hold the doctrine and view “there definitely is no cessation of being” is close to lust, close to bondage, close to delighting, close to holding, close to clinging; but the view of those good recluses and brahmins who hold the doctrine and view “there definitely is cessation of being” is close to non-lust, close to non-bondage, close to nondelighting, close to non-holding, close to non-clinging. After reflecting thus, he practises the way to dispassion towards being, to the fading away and cessation of being.[18]

(FOUR KINDS OF PERSONS)

35. “Householders, there are four kinds of persons to be found existing in the world. What four? Here a certain kind of person torments himself and pursues the practice of torturing himself. Here a certain kind of person torments others and pursues the practice of torturing others. Here a certain kind of person torments himself and pursues the practice of torturing himself, and he also torments others and pursues the practice of torturing others. Here a certain kind of person does not torment himself or pursue the practice of torturing himself, and he does not torment others or pursue the practice of torturing others.[412] Since he torments neither himself nor others, he is here and now hungerless, extinguished, and cooled, and he abides experiencing bliss, having himself become holy.

36. “What kind of person, householders, torments himself and pursues the practice of torturing himself? Here a certain person goes naked, rejecting conventions … (as Sutta 51, §8) … Thus in such a variety of ways he dwells pursuing the practice of tormenting and mortifying the body. This is called the kind of person who torments himself and pursues the practice of torturing himself.

37. “What kind of person, householders, torments others and pursues the practice of torturing others? Here a certain person is a butcher of sheep … (as Sutta 51, §9) … or one who follows any other such bloody occupation. This is called the kind of person who torments others and pursues the practice of torturing others.

38. “What kind of a person, householders, torments himself and pursues the practice of torturing himself and also torments others and pursues the practice of torturing others? Here some person is a head-anointed noble king or a well-to-do brahmin … (as Sutta 51, §10) … And then his slaves, messengers, and servants make preparations, weeping with tearful faces, being spurred on by threats of punishment and by fear. This is called the kind of person who torments himself and pursues the practice of torturing himself and who torments others and pursues the practice of torturing others.

39. “What kind of person, householders, does not torment himself or pursue the practice of torturing himself and does not torment others or pursue the practice of torturing others – the one who, since he torments neither himself nor others, is here and now hungerless, extinguished, and cooled, and abides experiencing bliss, having himself become holy?

40-55. “Here, householders, a Tathagata appears in the world … (as Sutta 51, §§12-27) [413] … He understands: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.’

56. “This, householders, is called the kind of person who does not torment himself or pursue the practice of torturing himself and who does not torment others or pursue the practice of torturing others – the one who, since he torments neither himself nor others, is here and how hungerless, extinguished, and cooled, and abides experiencing bliss, having himself become holy.”

57. When this was said, the brahmin householders of Sala said to the Blessed One: “Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent, Master Gotama! Master Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways, as though he were turning upright what had been overthrown, revealing what was hidden, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the darkness for those with eyesight to see forms. We go to Master Gotama for refuge and to the Dhamma and to the Sangha of bhikkhus. From today let Master Gotama accept us as lay followers who have gone to him for refuge for life.”


60. Apannaka Sutta – The Incontrovertible Teaching

[1] MA: The Buddha began by asking this question because thevillageofSalawas situated at the entrance to a forest, and many recluses and brahmins of diverse creeds would stay there overnight, expounding their own views and tearing down the views of their opponents. This left the villagers perplexed, unable to commit themselves to a particular teaching.

[2] Apannakadhamma. MA explains this as a teaching that is uncontradictable, free from ambiguity, definitely acceptable (aviraddho advejjhagamt ekarrisagahiko). The term also occurs at AN 3:16/i.113 and AN 4:71 /ii.76.

[3] The three views discussed in §§5, 13 and 21 are called wrong views with fixed evil result (niyata miccha ditthi). To adhere to them with firm conviction closes off the prospect of a heavenly rebirth and the attainment of liberation. For a fuller discussion see Bodhi, Discourse on the Fruits of Recluseship, pp. 79-83.

The examination of these views unfolds according to the following pattern: The Buddha discloses the wrong view A and its antithesis B. Taking up A for examination first, in A.i he shows the pernicious effect of this view on bodily, verbal, and mental conduct. In A.ii he proceeds from the judgement that the view is actually wrong and elicits additional negative consequences of its adoption.

Then in A.iii he shows how a wise person comes to the conclusion that whether or not the view is true, it serves his best interest to reject it.

Next, position B is considered. In B.i the Buddha describes the wholesome influence of this view on conduct. In B.ii he elicits additional positive consequences of adopting such a view. And in B.iii he shows how a wise person comes to the conclusion that, irrespective of its actual veracity, it serves his best interest to conduct his affairs as though the view is true.

[4] See n.425 for clarification of several expressions used in the formulation of this view.

[5] The Pali terms are susilya and dusTlya. Since “corrupt virtue” sounds self-contradictory, “conduct” has been used in my rendering of the latter expression. INm had used “unvirtuousness.”

[6] He has made himself safe (sotthi) in the sense that he will not be subject to suffering in a future existence. However, he is still liable to the types of suffering to be encountered in this existence, which the Buddha is about to mention.

[7] Natthikavada, lit. “the doctrine of non-existence,” is so called because it denies the existence of an afterlife and of kammic retribution.

[8] His undertaking of the incontrovertible teaching “extends only to one side” in the sense that he makes himself safe with regard to the next life only on the presupposition that there is no afterlife, while if there is an afterlife he loses on both counts.

[9] Atthikavada: the affirmation of the existence of an afterlife and of kammic retribution.

[10] His undertaking “extends to both sides” since he reaps the benefits of his view affirming the afterlife whether or not an afterlife actually exists.

[11] This doctrine of non-doing (akiriyavada), in the Samannaphala Sutta (DN 2.17/i.52-53), is attributed to Purana Kassapa. Although on first encounter the view seems to rest on materialist premises, as the previous nihilistic view does, there is canonical evidence that Purana Kassapa subscribed to a fatalistic doctrine. Thus his moral antinomianism probably follows from the view that all action is predestined in ways that abrogate the ascription of moral responsibility to its agent. See Basham, History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas, p. 84.

[12] This is the doctrine of non-causality (ahetukavada) maintained by the Ajivaka leader Makkhali Gosala, and called in the Samannaphala Sutta the doctrine of purification by samsara (saiiasarasuddhi, DN 2.21/i.54). The philosophy of Makkhali Gosala has been examined in detail by Basham, History and Doctrines of the Aftvikas, Chapters 12 and 13. A translation of the Digha commentary on this doctrine will be found in Bodhi, Discourse on the Fruits of Recluseship, pp. 70-77.

[13] Niyati, destiny or fate, is the primary explanatory principle in Makkhali s philosophy, “circumstance and nature” (sangatibhava) seem to be its modes of operation in external events and in the constitution of the individual, respectively. The six classes (abhijati) are six gradations of human beings according to their level of spiritual development, the highest being reserved for the three mentors of the Ajivakas mentioned at MN 36.5. On the six classes, see Bodhi, Discourse on the Fruits of Recluseship, pp. 73-75. Also, AN 6:57/iii.383-84.

[14] This is a denial of the four immaterial planes of existence, the objective counterparts of the four immaterial meditative attainments.

[15] These are the gods of the planes corresponding to the four jhanas. They possess bodies of subtle matter, unlike the gods of the immaterial planes who consist entirely of mind without any admixture of matter.

[16] MA: Even though the wise man discussed here has doubts about the existence of the immaterial planes, he attains the fourth jhana, and on the basis of that he attempts to attain the immaterial absorptions. If he fails he is certain of rebirth in the fine-material planes, but if he succeeds he will be reborn in the immaterial planes. Thus for him this wager is an “incontrovertible teaching.”

[17] MA: Cessation of being (bhavanirodha) here is Nibbana.

[18] MA: Even though this person has doubts about the existence of Nibbana, he attains the eight meditative attainments, and then, using one of those attainments as a basis, he develops insight, thinking: “If there is cessation, then I will reach arahantship and attain Nibbana.” If he fails he is certain of rebirth in the immaterial planes, but if he succeeds he reaches arahantship and attains Nibbana.

Right View


Guan Shi Yin Pusa

Right View

The Buddha taught that Right View is an essential part of the Buddhist path. In fact, Right View is part of the Eightfold Path, which is the basis of all Buddhist practice.

What Is the Eightfold Path?

After the historical Buddha realized enlightenment, he pondered for a time how he could teach others to realize enlightenment for themselves. A short time later he gave his first sermon as a Buddha, and in this sermon he laid out the foundation of all of his teachings — the Four Noble Truths. In this first sermon, the Buddha explained the nature of suffering, the cause of suffering, and the means to be liberated from suffering. This means is theEightfold Path.

  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

It is important to understand that the Eightfold Path is not a series of progressive steps to be mastered one after another. Each of the steps is to be developed and practiced together with the other steps, because they all support each other. Strictly speaking, there is no “first” or “last” step.

The eight steps of the path also support the three essential factors of Buddhist training — ethical conduct (sila), mental discipline (samadhi),and wisdom (prajna).

What Is Right View?

When the steps of the Eightfold Path are presented in a list, usually Right View is the first step (even though there is no “first” step). Right View supports wisdom. Wisdom in this sense is the understanding of things as they are, as explained in the teachings of the Four Noble Truths.

This understanding is not mere intellectual understanding. It is instead a thorough penetration of the Four Noble Truths. Theravada scholar Wapola Rahula called this penetration “seeing a thing in its true nature, without name and label.” (What the Buddha Taught, page 49)

Vietnamese Zen Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,

“Our happiness and the happiness of those around us depend on our degree of Right View. Touching reality deeply — knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves — is the way to liberate ourselves from the suffering that is caused by wrong perceptions. Right View is not an ideology, a system, or even a path. It is the insight we have into the reality of life, a living insight that fills us with understanding, peace, and love.” (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, page 51)

In Mahayana Buddhism, prajna is associated with the intimate realization of shunyata — the teaching that all phenomena are empty of intrinsic being.

Cultivating Right View

Right View develops from practice of the Eightfold Path. For example, the practice of samadhi through Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration prepares the mind for penetrating insight. Meditation is associated with “Right Concentration.”

Ethical conduct through Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood also support Right View through cultivation of compassion. Compassion and wisdom are said to be the two wings of Buddhism. Compassion helps us break through our narrow, self-centered views, which enables wisdom. Wisdom helps us realize nothing is really separate, which enables compassion.

By the same token, the wisdom parts of the path — Right View and Right Thought — support the other parts of the path. Ignorance is one of the root poisons that brings with it greed and ill-will.

The Role of Doctrine in Buddhism

The Buddha taught his followers not to accept his or any other teachings on blind faith. Instead, by examining teachings in the light of our own experience, we judge for ourselves what teachings we accept as true.

However, this doesn’t mean the doctrines of Buddhism are optional for Buddhists. Many converts to Buddhism in the West seem to think that all they need is meditation and mindfulness, and that the many doctrines of the Four This and Six That and Twelve Something Else can be ignored. This frivolous attitude is not exactly Right Effort.

Walpola Rahula said of the Eightfold Path, “Practically the whole teaching of the Buddha, to which he devoted himself during 45 years, deals in some way or other with this path.” The Buddha explained the Eightfold Path in many different ways, to reach people in different stages of spiritual development.

While Right View is not about doctrinal orthodoxy, that doesn’t mean it has no connection to doctrine at all. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Right View is, most of all, a deep understanding of the Four Noble Truths.” Acquaintance with the Four Noble Truths is a big help, to say the least.

As I explained earlier, the Eightfold Path is part of the Four Noble Truths; in fact, it is the Fourth Noble Truth. Right View is penetrating insight into the nature of reality as described in the Four Noble Truths. So, while Right View is something much more profound that merely understanding doctrine, doctrine is still important and should not be brushed aside.

Although these teachings do not have to be “believed in” on faith, they should be understood provisionally. The teachings provide essential guidance, keeping us on the path to genuine wisdom. Without them, mindfulness and meditation can become just self-improvement projects.

A grounding in the teachings presented through the Four Noble Truths includes not just the Truths themselves, but also teachings on how everything is interconnected (Dependent Origination) and on the nature of individual existence (the Five Skandhas). As Walpola Rahula said, the Buddha spent 45 years explaining these teachings. They are what make Buddhism a distinctive spiritual path.

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Dependent Origination on Pure Land , Pure Mind WordPress

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Discourse on Right View