Buddha's Teachings: The Eightfold Path - 1. Right View (Samma ditthi)

by Kristin Vikjord Paternotte

Buddha discoursed upon the Middle Way throughout his entire life. The Middle Way is the wisdom of living by the Noble Eightfold Path, which he, through his own studies and experience, found to be the plausible path to a good and wholesome life. And not only that; the Middle Way is also the path to happiness (by his own definition, of course). The very first step to embrace, and perhaps most importantly, to experience his eightfold path, is 'Right view', or 'pali Samma Ditthi'. 

So what is this golden little nugget then, right view? What does it mean? And, I’m putting it out there (because I know we all wanna know this): how do we achieve it? How do we achieve Right View, if that is the first step to happiness? 

In essence, Buddha's teachings on the Middle Way are all about avoiding being ping-ponged between extreme views and dualities of experience, as allured by 'dukkha' and 'sukkah', terms that are often translated into 'aversion' and 'desire'. We’ve all been there. Caught in the thoughts of, “If only I could have this or that, THEN everything will be fine!” Or the opposite, “If only I could avoid this or that, THEN everything will be awesome!”. Yeah. Nope. That way of thinking, according to Buddha, will only offer you one thing - and that is keeping you in your misery. The misery of either, either. The misery of believing that anything outside yourself will fix how you feel about yourself. 

So step one, Right View, is to realise that our state of well-being and our sense of happiness is the result of our inter-being. What does that mean exactly? 

For example, nowadays, loneliness, or the feeling of being lonely (even when in relationships), is a big cause of poor mental health and deep individual suffering.  Buddha would argue that your experience of loneliness is simply a misunderstanding, an erroneous perception that you are alone. No, he ́d say - your experienced loneliness is an effect of your own withdrawal, or lack of engagement with your surroundings, mostly with people. Investing in community and engaging your energy with others creates this magic spark of inter-beingness. This doesn’t mean your happiness depends on others. Your happiness depends on how you engage with this world. 

Let’s take it a step deeper. 

Samma Ditthi, right view or right understanding, encompasses the complete view of reality as such. It suggests that we perceive because we discern that we are separate from everything else. However, at the same time, we must realise that we are not. Separate that is. Both are inherently correct. Right view supports us in realising how everything we experience is an effect of a co-creation between us and our surroundings, the inter-beingness. And also, that duality, this attitude of either either, or a black and white perspective, are to be steered away from. 

In certain schools of contemporary psychology, this particular step of Buddha's ́Eightfold Path is understood to be how you, with all your relational and emotional (and even cognitive) heritage of modelled and co-created experience, understand yourself in this world, and therefore will also determine how you interact with your surroundings. The good thing is that the more awareness we gain (either through wisdom practices or through self-development and therapy), the better we are equipped to unravel our unskilful ways, and the closer we get to Right View. 

Buddha postulated the following 4 aspects to resolve this issue of being stuck in erroneous views and stimulate right understanding: 

Firstly, we must throw away the notion of self. For example, throughout each day you think a thought thousands of times. And because we are wired to thrive with predictability, we look for patterns and identify with them. For example; I think this thought again and again, it must be the truth, meaning this is my pattern of thinking, my truth, and this fabric is me. I am the creator of this thought, thus I am this thought. Buddha would take this whole thing apart by saying there’s no “I” in the first place. That you and your suffering are not more than anyone else's suffering. You are more similar to others than you’d think. By normalising the mechanics of your thinking, it can help to remove some of that felt separateness. 

Secondly, Buddha postulated to throw away the notion of a human being: well, this is hardcore. For most of us, it ́s a life work to realise we’re simply human, in the sense of not being so hard on ourselves, to really embody our humanness, not fearing stress, unease, and suffering - but embodying it with gentleness. What Buddha implies is that by acknowledging every part of us that is not human, by realizing that we are made up by much more than our “humanness”, including qualities you see in other beings - we realise our commonalities, which bring us closer to inter-beingness. 

Thirdly, throw away the notion of living beings: Buddha suggested not only to understand our existence beyond our “humanness”, but also beyond our “livingness”, to fully live from Right View. This is about acknowledging the commonalities we have with anything non-living, with the consequence of appreciating our surroundings more. For example, the realisation that we are constructed and dependent on many non-living entities, and thus also have an inter-beingness with these elements. Realising how we exist as an expression of the seasons, the light, the strength of the wind, temperature, and so on. 

And lastly, for us to grasp fully right understanding, we'd have to throw away the notion of lifespan: that is the realisation that we are beyond the framework of becoming someone and disappearing. That the phenomena of creation and non-existence are just that, phenomena, which consequently will lead to felt separation from others and from our surroundings. When overcoming the notion of lifespan, you realise that we too are part of this impermanence, and as such - complete understanding of inter-beingness is accomplished. 

So Buddha suggests that if these four notions are the foundation of our fear, unease, and stress, we will experience the freedom from suffering when we realise that all the above are misinterpretations of reality. When we acknowledge the four notions as erroneous views, then ignorance and suffering will no longer keep us stuck or captive. It is only when we can experience and live from the notion of inter-beingness (even if only momentarily) that a feeling of wholeness and happiness is fully integrated and embodied. 

Right view and the four notions are to be achieved in each and every one of us as individuals. That means we have to experience it to fully embody it. So now you know how to achieve right view. And in regards to the follow up on how to achieve happiness Buddha said, your happiness depends on your degree of right view.”

So there you are - throw away notions of self, human being, living being, and lifespan, and you’ll be closer to experiencing inter-beingness and thus happiness. Easy peasy. As I phrased in my book, Inner Spark: “We are all made of stardust, and share the same spiritual journey” as a gentle daily reminder of how we and everything around us are inherently the same. And remembering this will eventually bring us freedom of suffering. 

My book will be out in English on September 17th, 2020. 

May you be well, and gentle with yourself on your journey 

With much love, 

Kristin Vikjord Paternotte 

About Kristin Vikjord Paternotte

‘Wherever you go, there you are’ – Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kristin is the co-director of Delight Yoga. When her yoga journey began, it was like a piece of the puzzle was found. Yoga inspires Kristin in her everyday life, bringing her much joy and perspective.