The first step on the Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment for Buddhists is Right View. The path is intended to describe the 8 fundamental principles of being that can help us to identify, transform, and cease our suffering. It all begins with the right view. The right view depends on recognizing that suffering exists, identifying what causes it, transforming suffering into growth, and eventually reaching enlightenment. The Buddhists believe that it is our view that stops us from reaching enlightenment. For my part I will adopt this to say that the right view stops us from realizing happiness. The Buddhists would say that the opposite of suffering isn’t happiness but rather non-existence since suffering is an immutable part of existence – thus only non-existence can be a part of suffering. Nevertheless, whether your goal be Buddhist enlightenment and Nirvana or simply the pursuit of happiness, it is our views, and more importantly our perceptions that hold us back.
We must first realize that much that we perceive as suffering is not suffering at all, but rather than our perceptions of things cause us to suffer. Remember, things happen through no control of our own, and that these things are neither good nor bad, they simply are. They are objective happenings that occur naturally in the universe. Our view, our perception is what causes things to become good or bad. Learn to focus your view and you will be able to cease suffering.
Buddhist scholar Shariputra wrote that Right View was the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots. If we consider ourselves to be a seed, we are at that moment more or less undefined in our existence. At that point we have much growth ahead of us and we simultaneously possess the opportunity to grow wholesome or unwholesome roots as it were. Which roots we grow will depend on the way we nourish ourselves as a seed, and the right view is precisely what will determine the way we nourish ourselves.
This recalls a Native American proverb which I have shared on my social media accounts before but perhaps not on my actual blog page. The proverb goes as such: a Cherokee elder was speaking with his grandson and said: “my son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” Thinking for a moment, the grandson asked: “which one wins?” The old man simply replied “the one you feed.”
I find the similarities between the wolf metaphor of Cherokee culture and the seed of Buddhism to be beautifully similar and accurate. That two cultures so far apart should have such similar notions of right and wrong, good and evil, and more importantly the way we can shift our own destiny with right view, is incredible. Right view ensures that we feed the good wolf with positive nutrition like joy, peace, and love, or water the wholesome seeds with humility, empathy, and compassion. The resemblance that these two ideas share reminds me of how close we are as human beings. No matter where we are, when we live, or who we are, we share the same ideals of what good and evil are. We recognize that the power to shape our world begins with our decision to shape ourselves for the better, by watering the right seeds or by feeding the right wolf.
My hope for today’s brief post is that you will take the time to be mindful of your views, to ensure that you are looking at the world with optimism, kindness, hope, and compassion. My hope is that you will water the wholesome roots within yourself and feed the good wolf so that over time the unwholesome roots will wither and die and the evil wolf will starve and fade away.