What is Right View in Buddhism? (Understanding the Four Noble Truths)
Buddhism teaches there is a particular worldview, or perspective on life, that leads to the end of suffering. Other views keep us in the cycle of suffering by preventing us from seeing things as they truly are. When a Buddhist refers to right view, they’re referring to a particular wise perspective that allows us to move through life with greater skill, perpetuating less harm. By doing so, we reap the rewards of greater clarity, peace, joy and ease.
In an ancient Buddhist text, the Digha Nikaya, we find right view explained as “the knowledge of suffering, the knowledge of the origin of suffering, the knowledge of the cessation of suffering, and the knowledge of the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering.” This, of course, is a summary of the four noble truths. In a sense, to hold right view is to maintain belief in the four noble truths.
But right view is about more than just agreeing with what the Buddha said. It’s a way of seeing the world, and thereby a way of living in it. For if we believed in the four noble truths, not just as an idea, but with the entirety of our being, we would live much differently. We would be more mindful of our actions, speech and thoughts, for we would know, experientially, that each has the power to change our world.
Buddhists refer to the deep, experiential insight of right view as wisdom. Practicing mindfulness and awareness meditation helps reveal this wisdom. Right view then, although it is presented as the first practice of the eightfold path, is supported by every other practice along the path, including right mindfulness and right concentration.
How To Practice Right View
To practice right view is to discern which actions (including speech and thoughts) move us in the direction of freedom from our pain, and which keep us in this cyclic, suffering existence. When practicing, we do our best to abandon our mistaken or misled beliefs about how things work and instead, we try to see the world as it authentically is.
For an example of right view in Buddhism, it can sometimes help to take a closer look at what a wrong view is. We all know what it’s like to waste our time chasing lasting happiness where we’ll never find it, namely, in the non-permanent things that exist outside of ourselves. If money was the cause of happiness, for example, no wealthy person could be miserable. We also mistakenly seek happiness in material objects, relationships and fame. We attach all our hopes to external things, and when they inevitably fail to keep us satisfied, we suffer. This is a case of wrong view.
When immersed in right view, when the raise we got inevitably fails to keep us happy, we know it’s not because we don’t have enough. It’s because an impermanent thing such as money could never be the cause of our happiness. Likewise, lack of money cannot be the cause of our suffering. The cause of our suffering is our mistaken view. We’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places.
To practice right view is to take responsibility for our own wellbeing. We can do so by taking refuge in the three jewels, or by committing to the eightfold path. With right view, how to practice right intention, right speech, right action and the rest becomes clear. Having embraced the laws of karma, we are motivated to practice right livelihood, purposefully minimizing harm. We sustain this motivation with right effort and each day move more deeply into relationship with right view through the practice of right mindfulness and right concentration.
The wisdom of right view helps us to flow more harmoniously with whatever arises in our lives. We can kindly acknowledge when stress is present, remember where it really comes from, that it does have an end, and that we have a practice that helps us let it go.