Read the new & improved version of this post: The Eightfold Path: Right Understanding
Right Understanding is the first practice of the Eightfold Path, and is also often called Right View or Right Perspective. This practice is about seeing yourself and the world as it really is. Sounds simple, right?
Most of us like to think we have a pretty good grip on reality, but we don’t realise we are living inside an illusion. We may understand on an intellectual level that nothing is really solid, the planet isn’t really stationary, and that we are hurtling through space at ridiculous speed and are made from a vortex of energy flashing in and out of existence so fast we can barely comprehend it.
We may, in a reasonable mood, concede that we’re not as in control as we like to believe. I can flip a switch and a light comes on, turn the tap and water gushes out. But these actions are the end of a long, long chain of events, and a break in that chain at any point means the light doesn’t come on and I go thirsty.
Our biggest illusions centre around our own selves. We tend to think: I’m the same person I was when I got up this morning – I can remember cleaning my teeth so that must’ve been me, right? But the self who cleaned its teeth is long gone; burnt up in the furnace of impermanence and entropy.
You are not even the same person breathing out as the person who breathed in.
Right Understanding is all about coming to terms with reality as it is, not as you want it to be or imagine it is. This means getting to grips with the Three Marks of Existence and the Four Noble Truths. Doing this will enable you to see through the illusion and see the world, and yourself, as they really are.
The Three Marks of Existence are:
Reality is impermanence: everything that is born, will die. Nothing stays the same, everything changes. Because of this, nothing inherently exists. In other words, there is no self in anything because nothing can exist without everything else also existing. Everything is interdependent. This leads to suffering because we don’t like the fact that everything dies, especially us. We don’t like the ephemeral nature of our own being and so are constantly trying to shore ourselves up, make ourselves more solid, real and long-lasting. This attempt to defy reality always fails and so we suffer.
Which brings us to the Four Noble Truths and the need to practice the Eightfold Path in order to be free from suffering.
At the start of your practice you won’t see reality clearly because you haven’t yet seen through the illusion. But by following the other practices in the Eightfold Path you can burn through all your delusions, misunderstandings and confusions, until the illusion is thin enough for you to see through.
Next time: Right Thought
Read the new version of this series here: Eightfold Path Series