Friday, August 8, 2014

Step 1: Right View

Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly Noble Eightfold Path, Part II
Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist monks in India, August 2012 (Laura Murphy)

Nepal (Peter Barritt/
How does one begin along the Buddhist "path"? The path has eight steps. They are really connected factors or interdependent limbs (angas). And they are all cultivated together, supporting one another, jettisoning one toward full enlightenment (bodhi) and complete liberation (nirvana).

But if they are taken as literal steps, as systematic instructions on what to concentrate on first, then right view is paramount.

Right view, according to Bhikkhu Bodhi, is like setting out for the opposite end of the country. We wouldn't just start driving, but if we did we could hardly be surprised that we got nowhere fast. Instead, we set out a goal, signposts along the way, and make systematic progress to get there. For instance, get on the Interstate-10 Freeway and that will take a driver from coast to coast with plenty of side routes along the way. How does one get to Rome? Any road will do. How does one get to nirvana?
Afghan Buddha (Michel Porro/Getty)
The Buddha said interesting thing about that when asked. Imagine a well walled city, he answered, with bricks laid so tightly that even an acrobatic cat could not squeeze through, and a vigilant guard at the gate aware of all who entered and exited with no entrance other than that guarded gate.

The guard makes no note of who is inside or who is outside but is perfectly aware of everyone passing through the gate. In just the same way, the Buddha pays no attention to who has entered nirvana or remained outside, and yet he knows one thing with certainty: If the person is in, it is because they came in through this gate, this way, this path.

Generally speaking, that is the ennobling (enlightenment-making) Noble Eight Fold and more specifically the penetration of the Dependent Origination of things (how they come into being and pass away, arise and fall, originate and disintegrate).

Right View
"'Right view, right view' it is said. What is right view? (
Correct understanding, a proper outlook, the optimal overview are key to setting off in the right spiritual direction with hopes of getting there anytime soon.

When we practice the path that leads to purity of heart/mind, we must first undertake to gain the right (samma) view (ditthi, vision, outlook, perspective, or paradigm). It is Step 1. It is first gaining confidence in the law of karma. "Law" here does not mean a rule laid down by someone or something, a "Karma God." It is impersonal and regular, a "rule" in the sense of a pattern or reliable feature of the universe we inhabit. Who makes the Math Rules. I want to talk to that person. No one does. Well, can we at least talk to the Grammar Gods? No. And why not? There ain't any. (Oh sorry, Lord, aren't any!)

People who discern or describe regular rules, natural laws, axioms and truths, are not the arbiters, not the deciders, not the creators, not even the controllers. The "gods" (godlings and Gods, devas and brahmas) are in the same boat as us mere earthlings, subject to karma. We are more fortunate than they in ONE way: It is easier to attain enlightenment from here, where suffering is visible and pleasure is possible.
Only the arhats have gone beyond karma, transcended it, beaten Mara. But so long as they persist in the world, dependently originated, cycling through samsara, karma affects even them, and Mara tries to make inroads (as if adepts, the "elect," could ever be tricked again); the difference being that the effects of karma will end for arhats at the end of this lifespan. For they have escaped from the illusion to reality and thereby evaded all further suffering of any and all kinds. That is what nirvana is, the "complete end of ALL suffering," not just most of it. What is suffering (this first Noble Truth)? Understanding what constitutes suffering is part of right view.

In terms of karma (actions undertaken, deeds with the capacity to create results anytime in the future, karma consequences, welcome, neutral, and unwelcome), we are creating our own malleable fates, our destinies, our futures in the present moment. For it is not only what was done in the past but, more importantly, what we are doing right now -- our actions and responses right now -- that determines the way karmic results (called vipaka and phala, mental resultants and tangible fruits). Be here now; it's good advice.

What must Sakka's celestial Hall of Truth look like in the world of the Thirty-Three? Might it resemble the best place to make deals on Earth? (BBC)
Very generally, when we do good deeds -- that is, intentions free of greed (craving), aversion (hatred and fear), and/or delusion (wrong view and ignorance) -- with a pure mind/heart (that is, one free of craving, aversion, and delusion), we will doubtlessly have good results.

And when we do bad deeds -- that is, actions beset by greed, hatred, wrong views -- with an impure heart/mind, we will experience unwelcome, unpleasant, unwished for results because of our polluted minds/hearts.

Crime pays...or does it?
But DOUBTS do arise! "I don't believe stealing is 'bad,' just look at the thieves enjoying all that money!" we argue. But our argument is rooted in wrong view, shrouded in ignorance, and based on our misunderstandings and assumptions.

In this case, indeed, thieves are happy, and thieves have money, and some thieves can even enjoy that money. But they are not happy because they have money nor -- and this is the shocking part -- do they have money because they stole it. Yes, they do! No, they don't. They have it because of good karma in the past, and were that karma not there to support having money, they would quickly lose it. Thieves are ruining themselves.
With such good karma of the distant past they could produce and hold onto riches without crime, and they could enjoy it. How does the thief suffer now and in the future? The thief exhausts good karma of the past (that makes it possible to hold onto ill gotten gains), accrues bad karma (from stealing, harming others, and a feeding greed), leaves good karma of the present left undone, and generates compounding bad karma by guilt, worrying, misgivings, being ever alert to getting caught, found out, or punished by others...
Of these, feeding greed is the worst, the most self-destructive. They hurt others and hurt themselves, and when they finally meet with the fruits of this thievery karma, they grieve terribly. Those consequences may not come for a very long time, and so we all doubt that they will ever come. But the Buddha says with certainty in the Numerical Discourses (AN X.206),

"I declare, meditators, that actions willed [intended], performed [carried out], and accumulated [stored up] will not become extinct as long as their results have not been experienced -- be it in this life, in the next life, or in subsequent future lives."

Even for an arhat, a non-teaching buddha, or a supremely enlightened teaching buddha, karma keeps producing results and fruits. But one is not distressed by conditions, whereas ordinary-uninstructed worldlings are. And at the end of the lifespan, ordinary beings go on to meet with the results of their actions, whereas the others do not. They are freed, and we are not freed. So not every action will get a result, but what is certain, what the Buddha is declaring, is that that karma (deeds with the potential to result in consequences anytime in the future) will not become defunct until its results are experienced in one way or another, in one world or another.

This playing out of karma is imponderable and one would become unhinged if one persisted in contemplating the staggering implications of actions and their results. The general rule still applies and is enough to comprehend and have confidence in, overcoming all doubts with time. CONTINUED

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