By Dru Peers
Right Thought (sammà samkappa) is the second step on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path.
Thoughts can be more generally understood here as “words or pictures formed in the mind.” They are often accompanied by or give rise to feelings, which in turn may lead to actions. You could say that thoughts are the roots of the tree of our self-understanding, and therefore important. The first two verses of the first chapter of the Dhammapada, back this up:
“All we are is the result of what we have thought, it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.”
But what is this pure thought? What exactly is Right Thought?
Last summer I had the privilege of staying for a week on the Scottish island of Iona. St. Columcille founded a monastery there in the 6th century, a place originally known as Isla nan Druideach, Isle of the Druids. He is suspected of being a bit of a Druid himself (his dad certainly was). Visitors to this island are often struck by the sense of peace they experience on arrival. In the Celtic world it is known as a thin place…”where only tissue paper separates the material from the spiritual” (George Macleod, founder of the Iona Community).
During my visit, I set out one day to find a hilltop named after the Druids, Cnoc Druideann, and true to form managed to get lost on the return journey. I came to a tall triangular fissure in a sheet of rock near the middle of the island and took shelter in it from the wind. It was still in there and immediately felt like a power place. I became wary however, and opened my spiritual eye wider to check for danger.
Immediately a huge red hairy giant stood before me with a large club in his hand. He was not amused that I had found this place, was gruff and unfriendly, yet I remained polite. He beat the ground, making it tremor. Then he rushed at me like a charging elephant, and roared in my ears like a bear. But I stood my ground. Finally he quietened down.
“Am I okay?” I asked him.
“You’re good” he replied.
“Who am I?” I continued.
“You are Columcille tulku” he said.
The giant then promptly changed form into a bearded figure with a long red robe, and introduced himself as the Red Wizard of Iona. I won’t repeat his name here out of respect for his privacy. A very pleasant conversation ensued, in which the wizard admitted to putting me to the test, and I having passed it, concluded that we should henceforth be allies. He offered the hand of friendship and said he would be waiting for me to return to the island one day.
The Romans described the Druid as being in training for 20 years and there is something that happens to a person after 20 years or so of consistent meditation. I believe both have to do with learning to see with the spiritual eye, which sees past form.
Right Thought comes in when it interprets what is seen according to the Truth of no-form, and not according to the ego-thought system. It brings what is seen to the light of Truth. It doesn’t attempt to take Truth to illusion, make it fit in with wishful-thinking, however apparently good or spiritual.
Truth is the experience of knowing all thought as simply just that: thoughts, not to be feared. Right thought therefore uncovers our inherent fearlessness. In this sense it can be called pure thought, untainted by thoughts, enabling the sorcerer to stand his ground in front of all “words or pictures formed in the mind.” This thought is already established in its own potent purity. It rests in the direct experience of what it knows itself to be, a sublime knowledge experienced in non-dualistic thinking, a non-thinking originating from beyond form.
Perhaps our self-understanding needs to be inverted by the direct experience of Right Thought, with its truthful re-interpretation of human experience. “Seahenge” is a 4000 year old Bronze Age timber circle discovered in 1998 on the quiet and often forgotten Holme beach in Norfolk, UK. It’s a huge tree stump that was buried upside down with its roots upper most. Surrounding it are 55 timber posts, which had been cut from smaller oaks in the surrounding area.
Is this a meaningless, arbitrary coincidence? Or could it be said that our European ancestors were already aware of the radical power of what Buddha later was to call Right Thought, and how such can turn conventional human self-understanding completely upside down.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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