Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Buddha defines "Right View"

Translation and notes based on Maurice O'Walshe, translator, from The Connected Discourses (Samyutta Nikaya, SN 12:15), Wisdom Quarterly

SAVATTHI, Ancient India - [Ven. Kaccayana asked the Buddha:] "'Right view [Note 1], right view,' it is said, venerable sir. In what way is there right view?"

"Kaccayana, the world in general inclines to two extremes in view -- existence [2] and non-existence [3].

"But for one with highest wisdom [from the perspective of ultimate truth] who sees the arising of the world as it really is [4], 'non-existence of the world' does not occur.

"Likewise, for one who sees with highest wisdom the passing away of the world as it really is, 'existence of the world' does not occur.

"Kaccayana, the world, in general, grasps after systems and is imprisoned by dogmas [5]. But one [6] does not go along with that system-grasping, that mental obstinacy and dogmatic bias, does not grasp at it, does not affirm: 'This is my self.' [7]

"One knows without doubt or hesitation that whatever arises is merely dukkha [8], that what passes away is merely dukkha, and such knowledge is one's own, not depending on anyone else.

"This, Kaccayana, is what constitutes right view.

"'Everything exists [9],' this is one extreme [view]; 'nothing exists,' this is the other extreme. Avoiding both extremes the Tathagata [10] teaches a doctrine of the middle: Conditioned by ignorance are the formations... [as § 13]... So there comes about the arising of this entire mass of suffering.

"But from the complete fading away and cessation of ignorance, there comes the cessation of the formations, from the cessation of the formations comes the cessation of consciousness... So there comes about the complete cessation of this entire mass of suffering." Source


1. Samma Ditthi: "Right Seeing," the first step of the Noble Eightfold Path, is also rendered "Right Understanding," but the connotations of this are too intellectual. The rendering "Right Views" (plural) is to be rejected, since it is not a matter of holding "views" (opinions), but of "seeing things as they really are."
2. Atthita: "is-ness," the theory of "Eternalism" (sassatavada), the view that the self/soul/ego survives death.
3. Natthita: "is-not-ness," the theory of "Annihilationism" (ucchedavaada), the view that the self/soul/ego is annihilated at death. All forms of materialism come under this term. See discussion in Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of DN 1 in The All-Embracing Net of Views (cf. Note 51, pp. 30-33.)
4. Yathabhutam: cf n. 57.
5. What we might today call "ideologies" or "isms."
6. I take this to mean the person who sees "with the highest wisdom" mentioned above. Mrs. CAF Rhys Davids seems to have gone slightly astray here [in her translation of this text].
7. Cf. n. 32. Feer's edition of SN reads here "this is not myself"
(atta na me ti), which would also make sense but is contradicted, not only in SA, but also when the story is repeated at III, 90.
8. The usual translation "suffering," always a makeshift, is inappropriate here. Dukkha in Buddhist usage refers to the inherent unsatisfactoriness and general insecurity of all conditioned existence.
9. Sabbam atthi. From the Sanskrit form of this expression, sarvam asti (though used in a slightly different sense) the Sarvastivadin school got its name. They held that dharmas existed in "three times," past, present, and future. It was mainly to this early school that the label Hinayana ("Lesser Career or Vehicle") was applied and later illegitimately transferred to the Theravada (see n. 77).
10. Lit. probably either "Thus come" tatha-agata or "Thus gone (beyond)" (tatha-gata): the Buddha's usual way of referring to himself. For other meanings see The All-Embracing Net of Views (n. 51), pp. 50-53, pp. 331-344.