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Saturday, September 04, 2004

The Fourth Noble Truth: Marga; The Path

It has been said that the Buddha's spirituality lies mainly in the effort to move away from ignorance and to wisdom through two principle dimensions: the cultivation of serentity and the cultivation of wisdom. Ignorance is the mistaken notion that we are separate selves made of body and mind. It is the ignoring of our true nature, which is evident if we stop and look. (Hence the need for serenity -- we need to stop first in order to look) Wisdom is insight into the four characteristics of no-self (anatta), impermanence (anitya), ill-being (duhkha) and the direct realization of liberation -- the timeless dimension of reality -- referred to as nirvana (not the band). Depending on beginningless ignorance arises name-and-form, which leads to pleasure and pain, craving and aversion. The Eightfold Path of the Buddha reverses this chain of causes, beginning with the liberating perspective of Right View.

It may seem almost counter-intuitive that the Path should begin with Wisdom, but The Fourth Noble Truth is a highly pragmatic and creative response to our existential situation. Once we have truly examined our situation and diagnosed our duhkha and its causes, we already have some wisdom reagarding our situation, and so, once we see, the path becomes clear. However, in order for any medicine to be effective, one must actually take it. Again, it does absolutely no good to believe in the effectiveness of the path, nor in its worthiness, if you do not tread it yourself. The Four Noble Truths are not dogma, nor even doctrines in the usual sense. They are practices, and nowhere is this more obvious than here with the Fourth Noble Truth. When we hear the word, "practice," we are liable to imagine the musician, practicing her scales and rehearsing for her recital. But when we speak of Dharma Practice, we are not rehearsing! Dharma Practice is a vocation, like medicine or law. We are practicing Dharma as a lawyer practices law: as our vocation we are "putting forth our voice" (the original meaning of "vocation") into the world. To commit to practice is to truly declare our values and volition regarding how we realte to life itself. This is what is meant when we say our practice is our life.

Although I will be addressing the traditional eightfold division of the Path, it is important to remember that the Buddha did not map out the spiritual path in any fixed formula. His teaching is an inspiration, not a detailed manual. In one scheme alone, he lists 37 elements conducive to awakening, including: four establishments of mindfulness, the four right exertions, the four bases of psychic powers, five faculties, five powers, seven factors of awakening and the eightfold path. Each of these overlap and represent a variety of ways of schematicizing the elements that make up the path itself. This is one reason the Zen tradition refers to this as the "pathless path." It is not set before us, but we create it as we walk it.

So, the first limb of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right View (also known as Right Understanding) requires that we have at least "relative right view" in order to even start the journey. This is the understanding that there are people who have been able to transform thier suffering, as well as the awareness and ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots. But, as it is said of all Yoga, that the practice is to return us to our "true home," we come to the understanding of "absolute right view" -- that there is nothing to attain and that all views are "wrong" views. From the paradoxical "viewpoint" of ultimate reality, Right View is the absence of all views!

So, to begin, Right View is the first limb because we need to see how things are. We need to be free from a concretized view of reality that merely bolsters our opinions and beliefs and really see how things are. Right View means to have a deep understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Right View means seeing how we suffer, how our life is out of kilter, and seeing that we can really do something about it! Sometimes Right View is referred to as the "Mother of all Buddhas" as it is this which gives birth to the liberated "view" free of all narrow and conscricted conceptual views. In my next posting, I will comment on the second limb, Right Thinking (also known as Right Intention) and offer some practices to cultivate Right Thinking. For now, I invite any and all comments regarding Right View from your "perspective."
pobsa frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 6:17 PM

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