Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shifting from attachment to experience, to awareness of experience


"Therein bhikkhus, right view comes first. And how does right view come first? In one of right view, right intention comes into being; in one of right intention, right speech comes into being; in one of right speech, right action comes into being; in one of right livelihood, right effort comes into being; in one of right effort, right mindfulness comes into being; in one of right mindfulness, right concentration comes into being; in one of right concentration, right knowledge comes into being; in one of right knowledge, right deliverance comes into being. Thus bhikkhus, the path of disciple in higher training possesses eight factors, the arahant possesses ten factors."
Buddha, Mahacattarisaka Sutta, 117, Majjhima Nikaya

The eightfold path begins with right view or right understanding. At first it might seem like right view is an unlikely place to start. If one considers right view to be the ultimate outcome of practicing the other seven factors it might even sound like putting the cart before the horse. Especially if we consider right view to be the direct realization of the empty, insubstantial nature of all things, including the self.
While that might be true, the fact is we have to begin somewhere. So why not begin with right view, which is essentially the best motivation for embarking upon the eightfold path. It is so important to have a true sense of why one would practice at all from the very beginning.
First and foremost, in the Four Noble Truths the Buddha taught that we suffer mentally, physically, and emotionally from over-identification with mind states of craving and aversion. Once we have this information we can then inquire about the source of that suffering and how it proliferates in the form of thoughts, emotions, beliefs, doubts, fantasies, wishes, fears, suppositions, and assumptions. This knowledge cultivates right view and inspires us to continue in our practice. The other seven factors of the eightfold path allow us to actually shift our view from attachment to experience, to awareness of experience. This is critical to achieve right view. We must seat ourselves firmly in awareness of the flow of internal and external phenomena in order to directly know our true nature.
Through repeated practice on the cushion and in daily life we soon realize that the root of suffering is a misperceived conception of a separate, permanent, self. Whereas we once thought of ourselves as the one who thinks, believes, hates, wants, fears, and hurts, gradually we realize that all of that internal activity is just part of the flow of phenomena and not a part of our true nature, which is awareness itself. This is right view. When we have right understanding, our fears, doubts, worries, anguish, depressions and anxieties start to melt away in the clarity and stillness of awareness.  And as the Buddha states, ultimately direct perception of right view leads to right knowledge and right deliverance, the qualities present in the realized mind of an arahant.

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