The Eightfold Noble Path – Right Views. A sermon by Rev. David M Bryce
Buddhism provides a pathway to end suffering and to “achieve” Nirvana. The first of these is “Right Views”. Some thoughts on how to think.
Today’s sermon is about Right Views or Right Thought in the Buddhist tradition. But I will also share my views of Right Thought based partly on the inspiration of the Buddhist meaning.
Buddhism is deeply rooted in Hinduism, much as Christianity is rooted in Judaism, so Buddhism shares much of the world view of Hinduism. For example, in Hinduism the material world, the perceptual world, is a world of illusion with only the spiritual world a world of reality. Furthermore, the perception of multiplicity, of separation into different individuals, is ultimately false. All perceived separations are really just reflections of or aspects of the oneness of all that is.
Buddhism took over much of that viewpoint. So Buddhism also sees the material world as the result of false perceptions, and the idea of our individuality is largely rejected.
All of that is a gross simplification. Both Hinduism and Buddhism have many schools of philosophy within them. But it is a simplification that works for today’s sermon.
Buddhism begins with the Four Noble Truths taught by Buddha.
The Four Noble Truths:
- Life means suffering.
- The origin of suffering is attachment
- The cessation of suffering is attainable
- The means to the cessation of suffering is the eight fold noble path.
What did Buddha mean by “Life means suffering”?
In THE FOUNDATION OF THE KINGDOM OF RIGHTEOUSNESS Buddha says: ‘Now this…is the noble truth concerning suffering. ‘Birth is attended with pain, decay is painful, disease is painful, death is painful.Unionwith the unpleasant is painful, painful is separation from the pleasant; and any craving that is unsatisfied, that too is painful. In brief, the five aggregates which spring from attachment (the conditions of individuality and their cause) are painful.
A modern Buddhist put that in contemporary wording: “To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.”
Buddha says that the origin of suffering is attachment.
‘Verily, it is that thirst (or craving), causing the renewal of existence, accompanied by sensual delight, seeking satisfaction now here, now there–that is to say, the craving for the gratification of the passions, or the craving for (a future) life, or the craving for success (in this present life).
And Buddha said that the cessation of suffering is attainable and The Eightfold Noble Path is the means to that cessation of suffering. The eightfold noble path consists of:
Right Concentration or Contemplation
My focus today is on the first of the steps in the eightfold noble path, that is, on Right Views. In Buddhism Right View is not simply an intellectual approach. It has a meaning that perhaps is approached by a word common in the nineteen sixties, the word “grock”. According to The Urban Dictionary: To grock is to “understand, appreciate actively and profoundly, fully comprehend; also, to think about, listen to, play, or contemplate something or someone with full love and understanding, even ecstacy.” It then adds the line. “Often done stoned”.
I am sure that means “stoned” in the spiritual sense.
Mystics of many religious faiths tell us that there are spiritual moments which are much like being stoned.
The idea of right views is that we must first perceive the world properly in order to thank and act properly.
While not directly related to right views, in the Book of the Great Decease or Death, Buddha describes the sevenfold perception due to earnest thought as “the perception of impermanency, of non-individuality, of corruption, of the danger of sin, of sanctification, of purity of heart, of Nirvâna”.
So, in Buddhism right view recognizes that life is suffering and is impermanent. It is attachments (in the sense of “grasping”) that bring suffering; if we could just let go of attachments we would be fine. But most of us feel attached to this impermanent time of suffering: we feel attached to and desire to remain attached to relationships, to things and to life itself.
Within Buddhism Right Views not only free people from suffering, but also free us from the desire or willingness to cause suffering for others. The word “others” includes any living being.
Buddhism begins with that sense that the material world is really illusion. That idea exists in western religion as well, but not as strongly. It certainly permeates the Gnostic tradition and those religious paths that flow from or share the Gnostic viewpoint. So Christian Science and Religious Science and much of what is called New Age religion hold that basic belief.
In extreme cases, that can lead to the sense that the material world is terribly corrupt or even inherently evil and that the soul is trapped in material body of evil. The goal then is escape from that corruption,
Mainstream Judaism and Christianity tend to have a very different view. For them, the material world is part of the creation of God, and so it is touched by or infused with the sacred. It is not to be worshipped itself, but it is to be seen in the same manner as God saw it when in Genesis “God saw everything that he had made and, indeed, it was good”.
Both modern western earth centered religions and our modern environmental movement share with humanism and that biblical viewpoint a vision of the material world as having goodness in it.
As a person imbued with western culture, including the religious traditions of the middle east and the humanism of the modern west, I personally see the material world in positive ways. After all, the material world has resulted in me. That is not an egotistical statement because it has resulted in you and all other human life—and, indeed, all other life–as well. The world and the body are part of the sacred because (in my thinking) there is no stark separation between the sacred and the profane.
I also see that forces like evolution are not heedful of anything, least of all of my personal existence. I am not, therefore, making a god or an idol of these. But I am recognizing my connection to them.
Right views vary according to religious tradition. And we Unitarian Universalists have a multitude of different ideas about what right view or right thinking really is, so I am sharing only my personal “right views”.
What then is Right Thought or Right View for me?
Each of us is deeply connected to all of universe—the very atoms of our bodies were forged in stars billions of years ago. And it may be that different atoms in our bodies were created in different stars that existed in widely separated parts of the universe. We are all star stuff; we are all part of the universe, part of the Cosmos.
We are individuals, but we are part of the oneness of all that is. Our individualism is a gift in that because we are individuals and have our own brains, our own minds, we can know and think and ponder. But when we allow our individualism to become all that we are, we miss that deep connection to one another, to life and to the Cosmos that gives our lives greater meaning.
Since I am connected to all of life and to all of the Cosmos, I believe that I am called upon to see that connection, to feel that connection, to live that connection. Without intending for this to be about selfishness, it is only when living that connection that I fully live.
None of us likes deep pain; we flee from it. And yet pain has its value. There are people who feel no physical pain, but that is not a blessing. The long term effects are damaging to their bodies and dangerous to their lives.
Some people lack the ability to empathize with the pain of others. But I believe that if I hurt you I hurt myself even if I don’t feel it in the moment. That is true of both physical and emotional pain.
And the corollary to that is that if I ease your pain I ease my own.
There are limits to how much pain I can act to ease. Early on in my counseling career I was told, “You cannot take on the pain and suffering of the world”; and that is true. I could not absorb it; I would be overwhelmed.
However, to the extent that I can recognize your pain and empathize with it, to that extent my heart opens and my compassion—my feeling with—grows. And when I feel compassion towards the beings of this planet I think of that as a form of prayer. And I hope that prayer I healing for both me and the creatures with whom I feel.
I do know that growing compassion changes my perceptions, my thoughts, my feelings and my behaviors. And I believe both I and the world are better off for those changes.
And so from a materialist view of the Cosmos I seem to arrive at much the same place as Buddhism: top view all beings with compassion; to see myself as them and them as me; to see all of us as aspects of the oneness of all things.
For me connection is the goal; connection to life, to the Cosmos, to humanity and to myself—not ego, but the self.
To experience that fully is compassion.