An Introduction to Right View on the Eight Fold Path
By: Adam Katzen
On Monday I opened Facebook (first mistake) and my feed was filled with opinions and angry rhetoric on whether or not an NFL football player should take a knee during the National Anthem. The story dominated the news for days.
First, this is not a political post. I offer no opinion on the subject. But it did get me thinking, from a Buddhist perspective – particularly as it relates to the eight-fold path, and right view – who is right?
As I understand it there are two predominant views. One is that taking a knee is a form of peaceful protest and free speech, both foundational in our democracy. The other is that it’s an affront to everything this country stands for and a slight to those who fought and sacrificed for our freedom.
So who is right?
I don’t know. Won’t claim to know. But I would say (and you should take everything I say with a grain of salt) that from a Buddhist perspective, neither are.
See, most of us walk through life thinking that we’re viewing reality. We’re not. That’s because our view is based on our cultural and historical experiences.
From that perspective, our view is always clouded by our interpretations, forms, assessments and stories. That’s not right view, it’s our view. Let me explain.
Have you ever had someone do something that made you angry? Good news, you’re a human being. Now generally, when that happens, we create a story around the feeling.
For instance, maybe it’s that “I know how people should act, and that person ain’t acting right.” “They caused me harm.” “They violated my code of conduct.” But that’s just a story, it’s not right view.
And when you live in these stories you give a lot of power to other people to make you feel a particular way. You get stuck in emotions and events. You suffer.
Even if you can get past the story to the actual experience, you often become a slave to your assessment about the feeling. Depending on your perspective, that could be:
a) This anger is good. I will learn from it. It will help me grow
b) This anger is bad, I don’t like it. I want it to go away
Both are just two sides to the same useless coin. Neither are right view.
Right view is just to be with the experience. To realize that there is a phenomenon taking place inside you, a feeling that you’re calling anger. That’s it. But few people can actually do that. Why?
Because our entire lives we’re taught to analyze, figure out, make sense of… We’re so caught up in understanding everything that we fail to truly experience anything.
As Shunryu Suzuki Roshi explained, right view is not understanding or gathering information, it is experiencing with an empty, clear mind.
Perhaps Eric Berne put it more simply when he said, “As soon as a child is concerned with which is a Jay and which is a Sparrow he can no longer see the birds, or hear them sing.”
So let’s get back to the NFL example, who’s right? Let me ask it another way.
Imagine you walk outside at night and stare up at the stars. Now imagine an astronomer standing on one side of you and astrologer standing on the other, both staring up at the stars with you.
You’re all staring at the same sky, do you think you see the same thing? Of course not. So who is practicing right view?
From a Buddhist perspective, no one. Here’s why.
What we’re seeing is an experience that we’ve filtered based on our understanding. Right view would be to simply stare at the stars and be with the experience. As soon as we start seeing Venus, the Milky Way, Aquarius… we’re no longer practicing right view.
In the same way, no one in the ‘take a knee’ debate is practicing right view. Even worse, everyone thinks their view is right. That’s because often times the reality we live in is based on a bunch of opinions and interpretations masquerading as truth. It’s all an illusion.
The meaning we attach to a song, what we think other people are saying through their actions, what we assess the ramifications will be, even the idea of nationalism… all of it exists only in our minds.
We don’t have any control over what others see or how they interpret. What we are in control of is our own view, and practicing right view.
When we stop trying to build a case in support of our wrong view – and get others to adopt our views – life gets a little easier.
If we can drop the meaning we attach to everything and quit getting caught in our judgements and assessments, life gets a bit more peaceful.
When we stop focusing on changing everything around us and work on changing our own minds, life gets pretty serene.
You don’t have to take my word for it, try it. Perform an experiment, see what happens.
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Adam Katzen is just as unenlightened as the rest of us. He writes a little bit, has meditated for a while and studied Buddhism from time to time. Adam leads our Introduction to Meditation and Buddhism class Mondays at 7pm. Word on the street is he also helps grow businesses, build organizational cultures and coaches executives on mindful leadership. To get in touch you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.