Right Understanding

In last month’s article I introduced the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is the way to live a life that can lead to enlightenment. The first of the Eightfold Path is Right Understanding, also referred to as Right View. Before proceeding, I want to try to explain what “Right” means in connection with the Eightfold Path. Perhaps the best way for me to do this is to quote from the booklet American Buddhism by Rev. Gyomay Kubose, founder of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago. He writes, “Right in the Eightfold Path is an absolute sense of right instead of a relative sense of moral right. It is a right which is the only right, beyond right and wrong -- just as the flower is red and the leaves are green and fire is hot and water is wet. They just are. Fire is hot and it is right. Water is wet and it is so and it is right. In the final analysis, this reality must be understood, and it is on this reality that the “right” of the Eightfold Path is grounded.”

Perhaps the reason Right Understanding is the first of the Eightfold Path is that without this the others prove to be an exercise in futility. Most of our suffering is caused by our misunderstanding of things as they truly are. We constantly view events through the filter of our ego and our misperceptions. A Buddhist story illustrates this point. A monk is walking through the forest at night. Suddenly, ahead of him, he sees a large snake in the path. Frightened, he leaves the path and runs through the brambles and brush until he reaches his destination. He arrives bruised and torn from this ordeal. A fellow monk asks what has happened and he relates his sighting of the snake. This perplexes the second monk as he is unaware of any snakes in the area. The next morning the two monks travel back along the path and when they reach the point where the first monk had become frightened they find a large curving rope laying there. The night before, in the darkness, with his already heightened sense of possible danger, the first monk had mistaken this rope for a snake. How often do misperceptions of physical objects or the intentions or actions of others cause us suffering?

Buddhism also teaches that nothing is permanent. Therefore, Right Understanding is an ongoing process. That which is true today may not be true tomorrow. In our dealings with other people we must constantly be aware of this fact. Until we understand the reasons for someone’s actions we cannot be sure our perceptions are right. Most importantly we must understand ourselves. Until we understand why we act the way we do we will find great difficulty is understanding the actions of others. Buddhism teaches that we must constantly seek our true selves, stripping away the shell formed by our ego, if we ever hope to attain enlightenment.

The Eightfold Path is a useful guideline for people of all faiths. I hope my presentation during the next few months will be helpful. For more information on Buddhism you can e-mail BudTempChi@aol.com.