Archive for the The Noble Eightfold Path Category
Right View (samyag drishti) is often the first of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they really are, or recognizing the true nature. Before anything, Right View is a full understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Sariputra said that Right View was the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots.
One of the most fundamental issues having to do with Right View is our perception. The Buddha told Subhuti, “Where there is perception, there is deception.” The teaching here is that our perceptions affect everything we experience, and we must be careful in trusting our perception. Our human nature, conditioned brains, and closed hearts cause our perceptions to consistently deceive us. Our perception is dependent upon everything going on within us, and as we change, so does our perception. The Buddha taught that our perceptions are nearly all erroneous.
Right View vs. Wrong View
When we speak of Right View, it is often compared to having a Wrong View. Right View is seeing things as they are, recognizing our suffering is of our own making, and not trying to control the external world. We must look at our own mind. In this sense “wrong view” is doing the opposite; it is blaming others for our suffering, trying to control things, and not seeing things as they are.
However, many Buddhist teachers agree that most every view is truly a wrong view. Having Right View, we let go of our perceptions and attachment to them. Any view is still a view, and not recognizing the true nature of things, and thus wrong. However, this is a more advanced concept.
The truth of Right View is that we must focus the mind on the mind. Rather than focusing our mind externally on things we come across, we must focus our minds on our minds. Looking at ourselves, we see the First Noble Truth, that there is suffering. We also recognize the Second Noble Truth, the cause of our suffering. The root of our suffering is our own minds. Our fear, delusion, craving, and attachment create almost all of our suffering.
Recognizing this with Right View, the door opens to focusing our minds on our minds, concentrating on ourselves. As Ghandi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” We cannot change the external, but we can change our minds, our delusions, and our unwholesome behaviors.
Right Effort (samyak pradhana) is also referred to as Right Diligence by some. Focusing on where we spend our energy and with how much effort we exert ourselves, Right Effort is the practice of utilizing our energy mindfully.
There are four practices of Right Effort, and these practices are known as the Fourfold Right Diligence. Before discussing these practices, we must understand the principle of our “store consciousness.” Our store consciousness holds all of our emotional seeds, from serenity to anger, love to hate, and joy to sorrow. Some seeds are wholesome and some are unwholesome. Wholesome seeds are seeds that come from a loving, compassionate heart, and encourage ourselves and others to find liberation. Unwholesome seeds are the opposite, leading to the suffering of us and those around us.
The first of the Fourfold Right Diligence practices is preventing unwholesome seeds from arising. This is done through the practice of Right Mindfulness. As we go about our day, we do not engage in activities or thoughts that will water our unwholesome seeds. With Right Mindfulness, we see what these activities and thoughts are, and we us our energy to steer clear of them.
The second practice is recognizing where unwholesome seeds have already risen, and working to return them back to our store consciousness. Being mindful of where these seeds have arisen, we acknowledge them and let them fall back down. As is discussed in Right Mindfulness, we use our mindfulness to recognize, accept, and let go of unwholesome seeds without pushing them away. For those in Twelve-Step programs, this may be similar to your Tenth Step Inventory.
The third of the Fourfold Right Diligence practices is to water the wholesome seeds in our store consciousness. This can be done through anything that is encouraging toward liberation. Meditation, mindfulness, helping others, eating healthy, and smiling are all actions that work with this practice. Our wholesome seeds are always with us; we must put the effort forth to bring them out.
The fourth and final practice is nourishing our wholesome seeds, encouraging them to stay in our mind consciousness and to grow ever stronger. This practice is recognizing our wholesome seeds that have risen using Right Mindfulness, and encouraging them to continue growing. For example, if you feel present and joyous after meditating, you should continue to meditate, s you can be confident it will help those seeds grow even stronger.
Right Effort is not just using our energy wisely,it is also using our energy to its fullest potential. When we practice these four principles or any other practice, we must use our full effort. Inversely, we must no think we are practicing Right Diligence fully if we are just putting a lot of effort forth; we must look at where the effort is being directed.
Finally, to practice Right Diligence, joy and ease must be present. Practice should not be forced, and really shouldn’t be strenuous. Our practice should be comfortable and pleasant. If there seems to be a lot of resistance, much of our effort is wasted. the energy is wasted twofold. First, we waste energy creating the resistance within, then we waste even more overcoming the resistance. Practicing Right Effort, we don’t resist, and allow our energy to be spent more wisely.
Right Speech, or samyag vac, is well-covered in the Fourth Mindfulness Training. Telling the truth, cultivating love and joy, and deep listening are all integral parts of Right Speech.
The first point of Right Speech is telling the truth. Obviously, this encompasses not lying, but also goes deeper. In addition, we must not exaggerate, embellish, or lie by omission. Right Speech is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The exception to this is when our speech may harm another. We don’t lie when asked a question such as, “Did you cheat on your exam?” However, we may be asked a simple question like, “Does this make me look fat?” Using Right Mindfulness, you will be able to distinguish what is Right Speech in these situations.
Another aspect of Right Speech is being consistent, or not having what is sometimes called a “forked tongue.” It is not Right Speech to say two different things to two different people. Being inconsistent causes discord rather than harmony.
A very important part of this practice is to understand Right Speech arises from Right Thinking. Our speech is the presentation of our thoughts, as our thoughts are essentially speech to ourselves. Practicing Right Speech, we remember the bodhichitta from Right Thought, and keep our words from harming. We should avoid speaking cruelly, using possibly offensive language, and encouraging any negativity. The practice of Right Speech teaches us to use our bodhichitta to create harmony and compassion with our words.
The final piece of Right Speech is deep listening. Listening is a critical part of this practice for several reasons. First, if we cannot be mindful enough to listen deeply, we will speak selfishly. If we are not able to truly touch another’s feelings, we will not be able to speak appropriately. Second, when we listen deeply, we allow compassion to take control over judgement and resentment. IT is inevitable that if you are listening deeply, you will identify with feelings, feel connected, and have a more compassionate heart and mind, again allowing yourself to speak with more compassion. Finally, by deeply listening, we are often allowing another to practice Right Speech. Deep listening encourages dep though and speech. By listening with compassion, we bring out Right Speech in the other.
I have been reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh recently. If you are not familiar with him, he is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who teaches at Plum Village, has authored many books, and a strong peace advocate. Considered by many as the most influential figure in Zen Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh has been paramount in bringing Buddhism to the West.
Thich Nhat Hanh insists that it is through living in the present moment that we find happiness. Relating core Zen Buddhist principles to modern life is one of the many things he has to offer. During his speeches, he often rings a small bell to remind the listeners to return to the present moment.
When Thich Nhat Hanh is with is students, he often asks them the simple question, “What are you doing?” He asks this when it is most obvious what the student is doing, with the intention of bringing them back to what they are doing, and nothing more. The idea behind this is for us to stay present. Regardless of what we are doing, we have the opportunity to live fully in the moment and enjoy what we are doing. The Buddha often said, “Drishta dharma sukha viharin,” which is most commonly translated as, “Dwell happily in things as they are.” Although this may be easier in certain situations than others, we nonetheless have the choice to make the most of our experience.
Another concept that Thich Nhat Hanh often uses is to smile. He stresses the importance of smiling at the world upon awakening, and smiling at intervals throughout the day. Upon practicing this, I have found extreme value in it. When I smile, it encourages a lighthearted, compassionate feeling, and I am almost immediately struck with at least a slight decrease in anxiety.
My sponsor often tells me that my phone is one of the greatest tools I progress for spiritual growth. I can use it to reach out to other members of Alcoholics Anonymous, get in contact with sponsees, read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and one more key thing that I have just discovered. With my phone, I set a reminder every day with two things. The first reminder I set for myself it to smile. Twice a day, my phone pops up with a reminder that simply says, “Smile!” Upon seeing this reminder, I follow instructions and smile! I also set a reminder with the question, “What are you doing?” This reminds me to live in the present moment and stay focused on enjoying exactly what I am doing.
These two reminders cover very basic Buddhist principles for me. They are also very helpful in terms of Buddhism and recovery. In Twelve-Step meetings, we are often reminded, “One Day at a Time.” For me, I have to take things one moment at a time. The reminders I set help me practice Right Mindfulness in everyday life. Although I do regularly meditate as a part of my Tenth Step and Buddhism, I know that I must practice mindfulness and self-awareness in everyday life.
Just as meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous are refueling stations for life outside the rooms, meditation is good practice for life outside of our meditation routine. The 12th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” Although the rooms help us learn from our fellows, hear stories, and learn about ourselves, we must take what we learn outside the rooms if we are to thrive. Similarly, in Buddhism, meditation has much value, and it is through meditation that we calm the mind, realize the nature of our true being, and learn to let go of our attachment to thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. However, we also must take these principles outside our meditation.
I use my phone to remind me to practice the most basic of Buddhist principles, as I am often so wrapped up in my thoughts, that I forget to smile or be present. When my phone goes off, Buddhism slaps me in the face. I am brought back to the present moment, to enjoying my moment, and to not get caught in the future nor the past.
Recently, I have not been following through with my commitment to my sobriety. Yes, I have abstained from the use of any and every mind altering substance, but I lost some fire for the program. I had a legal matter come up that requires me to go to jail for a few weeks, and then have a hearing to decide if I will have to spend more time behind bars. I shut down emotionally and spiritually, and my connection to my Higher Power and the program quickly dwindled.
All that being said, I am back! I have gotten back to taking a daily inventory, to my prayer and meditation, to contacting my fellows around me, and to suiting up and showing up. I am preparing myself to head out-of-state to turn myself in within the next couple weeks. What really helped get me back on track more than anything has been doing my inventory every night.
I was finding that my resentments were largely directed toward me. More appropriately, they were directed toward my behaviors. I was putting off what needed to be done, and trying to skate by undetected. The reality, however, is that I can never truly escape my own radar. Although I was acting as if everything was good, I was not progressing in any healthy way. Rather than face my challenges, I turned away and ignored them.
Upon seeing where my resentments were, I knew I had to promptly admit I was wrong, which meant taking action. We all have ups and downs of different calibers whether we are sober or not. What I know now is that I do not have to wait until I am miserable to make a change. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “The bottom is wherever you choose to stop digging.” I notice that the only way for me to stop digging is to start climbing.
Starting climbing is often a seemingly impossible task. When I am down, not active, and not in communication, the last thing I want to do is reach out, go to a meeting, or take an inventory. However, it is the most helpful thing to do.
Basically, the point I would like to get across is that taking an honest look at myself through my daily inventory and 10th step is what is pulling me out of the rut I am in. I have experienced it before, and as I am experiencing it now, I am absolutely in awe of how Step Ten is working in my life to help me grow closer to my Higher Power.
“For it is only by accepting and solving our problem that we can begin to get right with ourselves and with the world about us, and with Him who presides over us all. Understanding is the key to right principles and attitudes, and right action is the key to good living.”
I have felt at times in my life that my Higher Power was not there when I reached for it. I also find that I often pray for things for situations to turn out how I want them to. The Twelve N’ Twelve Quote of the Day today was “In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps we think of our day’s work and the chances it may afford us to be useful and helpful, or of some special problem that it may bring. Possibly today will see a continuation of a serious and as yet unresolved problem left over from yesterday. Our immediate temptation will be to ask for specific solutions to specific problems, and for the ability to help other people as we have already thought they should be helped. In that case, we are asking God to do it ourway. Therefore, we ought to consider each request carefully to see what its real merit is. Even so, when making specific requests, it will be well to add to each one of them this qualification: “…if it be Thy will.” We ask simply that throughout the day God place in us the best understanding of His will that we can have for that day, and that we be given the grace by which we may carry it out.”
This reminded me that I must pray for God‘s will, not mine. When I am praying for something to turn out the way I want it to, I am setting myself up for failure. As the popular quote from “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict” (or “Acceptance was the Answer” in the 4th Edition) says, acceptance is the answer to my relationship with God.
When I am asking for things that are within my will, my prayer is futile. If I am praying for my will to be done, I find that my Higher Power is absent when I most need it. Hard times come, anger comes, friends relapse, things don’t go my way. When I am not praying for God’s will to be done, I am far less accepting when these things happen. When I pray for God’s will, not mine, I find that I am able to accept these situations with an amazing level of serenity.
In Buddhism, the first step of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right View. I find this applicable to this topic in that when I am in Right View, I see that God’s will is always being carried out, and THE ONLY THING STOPPING IT IS ME. When I am seeing more clearly, working to eliminate my warped perceptions (which is indeed all of them), I see that it truly is my will that interferes.
One piece of advice I have found especially helpful is to practice my Right View specifically when I am praying and meditating. When I am asking for God’s help, I check to see if my perceptions are interfering. I do not pray for many things other than happiness for others, compassion, and patience.
As an alcoholic or addict, we are often challenged by our running minds and endless thoughts. In Twelve-Step programs, we are encouraged to take action against these harmful thoughts. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a four-step path of action to take against our thinking. He addresses both vitarka (initial thought) and vichara (developing thought).
1. “Are You Sure?”
The first of the four practices related to Right Thinking focuses on its connection to Right View. Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the idea that all perceptions are wrong essentially. When we have a perception, a thought follows shortly after. A useful tool, we ask ourselves, “Are You Sure?” regarding our perception and thought. We must remember that a view is just a point of view, implying it is just from one point. When we change our point, the view changes. By asking ourselves if we are sure about our perceptions, we often are able to stop the thoughts at their conception, while the mind is still at vitarka.
2. “What Am I Doing?”
The second practice Thich Nhat Hanh offers is to ask yourself, “What Am I Doing?” This practice is related to Right Concentration. By asking ourselves what we are doing, we are brought back to the present moment. Oftentimes, we find that our body is doing something while our mind is doing something else. When we are being mindful, we are brought back to exactly what we are doing, and are able to enjoy the present moment, without thinking.
3. “Hello, Habit Energy”
Each of us has habit energy, energy that pushes us toward repeated behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. It is common for us to be hard on ourselves for these habit energies. We realize we are on autopilot throughout the day, focused on our work, family life, education, etc. We must stop and smell the roses. Getting caught in our habit energy prevents us from having any original, pure thoughts. We are stuck in a thinking cycle. Rather than scolding ourselves for this, we must look at the habit energy, and let it go. Being too hard on yourself is a habit energy! Let it go!
The final practice offered is that of the Bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is the “buddhaseed” within us. When we are living in our own buddha-nature, our thoughts become less invasive. We must cultivate this Bodhichitta within us when our thinking strays, and live with compassion and love. It is amazing how living with compassion and taking action clears our thinking!
“We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God.”
-Alcoholics Anonymous p. 46
“…Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.”
-Alcoholics Anonymous p. 417 (or 449 in the Third Edition)
“In deep self-acceptance grows a compassionate understanding. As one Zen master said when I asked if he ever gets angry, ‘Of course I get angry, but then a few minutes later I say to myself, ‘What’s the use of this,’ and I let it go.'”
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”