This week I corresponded with one of my dearest friends who has been studying overseas at a Buddhist University in Myanmar. As we've come to do over the years, we regularly inquire about each other's practice, which allows ourselves the opportunity to reflect, to be honest with how we're really doing. It's a kind way to help each other hold ourselves accountable.
His most recent response:
"My practice, it is benefitting from my being here. It seems every time I have visited this country, certainly none more so than the first visit, right view has been strengthened, which everything else seems to follow."
Right View, also translated as Right Understanding, is one of the 8 factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.
One day, years ago, walking toward the cardboard bailer on the loading dock of Whole Foods East Liberty, my co-worker/assistant team leader asked "why is the Buddha always so calm?" I paused for a moment, then answered "because he understood."
We begin to understand by having the first hand experience, by bearing witness to the mechanics of how we allow ourselves to add mental suffering to our experiences. At first, because we haven't yet cultivated the presence of mind necessary to prevent problems from arising, the process requires a lot of retrospection, tracing our steps back to see how we arrived at where we're at. Through repetitive analysis, we come to understand the mechanics of suffering.
When I allow the mind to do this, that happens.
When I allow the mind to do that, this happens.
Those who understand how a game is played, play it best.
Eventually, once we're well practiced, we'll be able to catch ourselves quicker, sometimes just a moment after, or the moment right before, the mind leads us in the direction of unnecessary problems.
As Right View is strengthened through the practice of all other 7 factors of the Noble Eightfold Path (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Intention, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration), so too each factor is strengthened by Right View. For instance, when we witness (through mindfulness) how certain words lead to suffering, we're witnessing the mechanics of how unnecessary suffering comes to be. Now that we've been afforded the view/see clearly/understand, we choose our words more wisely.
It's through this understanding that we continue put forth the effort to cultivate the wholesome intentions that give rise to right speech and action, which are discerned through concentration and mindfulness, with the entire practice supported by a healthy livelihood, one that helps us maintain our practice on and off the clock. These 8 spokes coalesce to form a perfectly balanced wheel (Dharma/Dhamma Wheel), that once set in motion, will carry us along, unencumbered, traveling lighter and lighter (en-lightened so to speak), freeing ourselves of the burdens of unnecessary suffering.