Right view is usually the first factor listed in the 8-fold path. Although the steps are not sequential in the sense that we work through one until we’ve got it and then advance to the next one, there is a certain logic to the order in which the elements are presented. Without having at least a preliminary sense of right view, we’re unlikely to undertake the Buddha’s training at all.
What is right view?
Right view of the ownership of action. (Bhikkhu Bodhi)
In its essence this means understanding that we are responsible for our actions and words, and that our actions and words have consequences. In the deepest sense, our actions (our decisions and choices) are the only things we can own, the only things that last, the only things that are truly significant for ourselves or anyone else. Even if we have houses and cars and possessions of the most precious and expensive kind, when we are dead and gone, it will be the effects of our actions and words on others that will produce the most significant results of our time on earth. If we truly understand this fact, we will take great care with our intentions, our actions and our words.
In his book, The Paradox of Becoming, Thanissaro Bhikkhu says, in an aside,
“…based on what we normally call our point of view, and what the Buddha might have called our point of clinging.”
This is an astute point: in our view of the world, we see what we’re looking for. Thanissaro Bhikkhu goes on to give the example of three people looking at the same mountain. A painter sees beauty and color, a skier sees a challenging slope, and a miner sees the possibility of wealth. Same mountain, three different views. It is helpful to know what points of view we take as our baseline. As we move through the world, we look for certain things and look past or away from others. What channel are we tuned into?
Keeping in mind that our choices and decisions are the moving parts of our moral life, right views will lead to wholesome outcomes. Wrong views will lead to harm, for ourselves and others. Here are some examples of wrong views:
1. It doesn’t matter what I do.
2. Death and serious illness are for other people, not me.
3. Annoying people, or people I disagree with, don’t count.
4. “I can’t help it!” (referring to a behavior we know to be unhelpful or unwholesome).
Any one of these views will produce negative outcomes here and now and also in the future. The view the Buddha recommends is:
I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, bound by my actions, live supported by my actions. Whatever actions I do, for good or ill, to them will I be heir. – from AN 5.57
The factors of the eight-fold path are:
1. Right View (Sammā diṭṭhi )
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration