Recently Mountain Cloud was treated to a deep, clear, patient, wise talk from senior MC student Bill Bruce, who walked us through the first four steps of the eight-fold path.
He began the presentation with Thich Nhat Hanh’s take on the first “fold” of the path, Right View. “Thay” takes Right View to be: awakening to the original nondual nature of reality, where there’s no separate self, all dualities are gone and reality shines forth as single, whole, empty and infinite. This is the reality that is revealed when the separate sense of self vanishes.
This is a beautiful and bold way to understand Right View. It’s a Zen view, a Mahayana view, an “original face” view. Wonderful all around.
And at the same time, it’s OK to acknowledge another perspective, if we’re interested, which would be the perspective of early Theravada Buddhism, which tends to be more dualistic in its presentation of the path, reserving nondual perspectives for the final stages of the path.
This little message is just a nod to “conventional reality,” which is dualistic, and is what many of us know when we come to practice. Here, Right View can be seen in basically a more pedestrian way.
In some of the early sutras, Right View is presented as understanding the mechanism of suffering. Right view understands suffering and its causes. That really means understanding the first three of the “four noble truths.”
The first three truths lay out the critical thing: suffering, how it’s caused, and how it can be ended.
First: there is suffering. Suffering happens. Second: the cause of suffering is craving. Third: craving can cease.
It’s quite easy to hear this and not think much of it. We might briefly think: So yeah, okay, maybe so, and move on with our day. But wait. What it’s saying is critical.
Normally, we’re trying to fix our suffering, when we suffer. We recognize that we’re suffering and we want to stop suffering. But right there, already, is the error. Don’t try to stop suffering. No. Instead, try to find the craving.
That’s the critical difference. Don’t see suffering as the problem. It’s merely an effect caused by something else. Look for the cause instead – namely, craving.
First of all, we have to see that there is craving. That is, as long as there’s craving there’s going to be suffering. So let’s go upstream to where the suffering is generated. Let’s not treat symptoms, let’s find the cause.
So what is craving? Basically, experientially, it’s contracting onto a wish and getting insistent about it. A highly insistent contracting around something we want. And we can include in that things we don’t want also, because not wanting something is wanting something to be absent. Or wanting something to be different.
So, if we want to suffer less, we need to find where we are getting insistent and contracted around how we would like things to be. So don’t look at the suffering and say: I want that to stop. Look for craving instead.
And don’t then try to have craving end either. It’s easy to crave the ending of craving. But that’s just more craving.
Instead, look for the craving, try to find it, and just leave it at that for now. Just see the craving, and let it be. If we can just learn to do that, that’s a great big lesson.