By Ty H. Phillips
What is Buddhism?
There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people and personalities who follow the path. For some, it is a faith, to others a religion. To others still, it is a philosophy—a moral science. Some place great importance on ritual and some on great devotion to the Buddha. The truth is, all of these things can be removed. The Buddha himself was adverse to personality cults; he wanted no worshipers and no religion in his name. He spoke often and openly about his irrelevance. What was important was the teaching or the path.
Buddhism is, essentially, The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path.
Everything else springs from these two foundational teachings. Once we understand and accept the four truths, we begin the path. The Buddha himself is a guide or a pointing finger to the stars. What is crucial, above all things, is our own walk. Everything else, absolutely everything else, is an aside.
The Buddha explained the path in eight steps—eight key points that need to be understood in order to practice and arrive at the same understanding that he obtained. The first of these steps is right view. I think this may have been first for a reason. Without right view, everything else becomes blurred, every other step misguided, misunderstood and misapplied.
The view of the path is critical. It is the process through which we understand and practice each step. It is the process of seeing things as they truly are, not as we wish them to be.
Think of it as the practice of merit. Many in the tradition act simply with the intention of accruing merit—we give to get. This practice of working for the purpose of gaining merit is fundamentally flawed, because we do not have right view. With correct view, we understand that our actions should be guided not by the hopes of gaining something for ourselves but simply for the sake of compassion. We act for the benefit of all beings, mindfully within each moment. The possibility of our actions positive influence on our lives, again, should be an aside.
We understand through right view that as we benefit others, it will have a positive influence on us but we don’t do it for this reason. “We will develop love, we will practice it, we will make it both a way and a basis, take our stand upon it, store it up, and thoroughly set it going.” This is why we act. Right view allows us to see this for what it is: not as a practice to obtain merit but in a way to help, simply for its own sake.
Many have taught that right view is developed by the practice of the entire path. To some extent, this is very true. The more we practice, the more clear our vision becomes but as I stressed, the path is guided by the view.
We can think of this in terms of physical culture. A person can join a gym and begin a health program. We can skip from machine to machine, working ourselves head to toe each day, with no clear guide as to what we are doing, No correct focus. We will see benefits. We will feel invigorated. Eventually though, we will reach a place of diminishing returns. We search out wisdom, guidance, correct planning and focus and go back and restructure through a clear view of how the body works. It will be the view—our wisdom of the practice—that begins to change our body in a correct and more beneficial way.
The same thing applies to the view of the Buddhist path. Without correct view we risk the road to hell paved with good intentions scenario. Our actions and intent are well meaning but in the long run, we may cause more harm than good. We act with reactionary emotions instead of understanding. The “idiot compassion” that Chogyam Trungpa spoke of.
If we want to read and we have bad eyes, we get glasses or contacts, we don’t stare at the blurry page and guess, hoping that we are right. We fix the view then we move forward. We develop wisdom on the path and strengthen view with corrected practice.
“Overcoming the impurities of the world is possible for one who sees but it is not for one who does not see.”
Editor: Dana Gornall
Did you like this article? You might also like: