T he second practice of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism is samyak smkalpa, or Right Thinking. Right Thinking is dependent upon Right View, as Right View is dependent upon Right Thinking. Many of us feel ourselves thinking about the past or future, and becoming lost in our thoughts. Often the thoughts we get most lost in are of regret, anxiety, or fear. In these cases, our thinking is rarely of any positive use to us. It is in these times especially that we must practice Right Thought to keep ourselves from causing more suffering. Additionally, thoughts lead to speech and action, so we must stop our thoughts before we end up harming those around us.
In Buddhism it is said that there are two types of thinking: vitarka and vichara. Vitarka, or “initial thought,” is the first thought we have. An example of an initial thought may be, “I have a lot of work to do today.” Then, the vichara comes in. Vichara means “developing thought,” and refers to the plethora of thoughts that may arise from the initial one. Developing thoughts about your busy work day may include, “I’ll never get it all done,” “My boss is going to be upset with me if I don’t finish,” or “What should I put off for today?” While practicing Right Thinking, we gradually learn to stop the developing thoughts. Eventually, in advanced practices, we drop the initial thoughts as well.
There are many ways to practice Right Thinking in sitting or walking meditation, as well as in your daily life. In samatha meditation, we focus our thoughts on our breathing in order to calm ourselves. WE may have thoughts, such as “I am hungry.” Practicing Right View, Right Thinking, and Right Mindfulness, we recognize this thought, say to ourselves, “I recognize that I am thinking of my hunger,” and let it drift pass. We return to our focus on the breath.
In daily life, there are several practices that help with Right Thought. The first is to ask ourselves, “Are you sure?” When irritated, angry, anxious, or having a thought, we may ask ourselves this question to remind ourselves that our perceptions and thoughts are often askew from reality. Another question masters often ask their students is “What are you doing?” While performing seemingly mundane tasks, we sometimes let our thoughts drift to the past or future. By asking ourselves this questions, we are brought back to the present moment with our thinking. Finally, we must recognize our “habit energies” in relation to our thoughts. We develop patterns of thinking and behaving, and must acknowledge these in order to move our thoughts toward the present moment, and how to increase our productiveness and compassion.