The last talk on the Mangala Sutta was on the blessing of the Four Noble Truths, which was touched on briefly. Today I shall speak on the fourth noble truth in greater depth. To recap,
- The 1st Noble Truth is about suffering.
- The 2nd Noble Truth is about the cause of suffering.
- The 3rd Noble Truth is about the cessation of suffering.
- The 4th Noble Truth is about the path leading to the cessation of suffering, i.e. the Noble Eightfold Path.
Actually, Buddhism is not merely about suffering. It tells us the way to the end of suffering. When suffering ends, there is happiness. So Buddhism is about happiness.
The Noble Eightfold Path
There are 8 factors that can lead one to the end of suffering and therefore to happiness:
- Right Understanding
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
Today I shall talk about the first factor, Right Understanding.
Right understanding is a form of wisdom. This is the first factor, the forerunner of all the other factors which, when practised accordingly, leads us to greater wisdom. To walk the path correctly, we need to have the proper perspective, to have right views, on certain basic things. If we have wrong understanding, it leads us on the wrong path.
The Buddha said, “I see no single factor so responsible for the arising of unwholesome states of mind as wrong view.”
For example, if a person believes that anger is justified in certain situations and that expressing his anger will solve problems, then when such situations arise he will react with anger, which is by itself an unwholesome state of mind. Furthermore, it can bring along with it a whole lot of unwholesome consequences.
The Buddha said, “There is no single factor so helpful for the arising of wholesome states of mind as right view”
For example, metta is a very effective way to influence people positively. A person holding this view will use metta often, as opposed to anger. This will bring about a lot of wholesome states of mind.
The Buddha said, “There is no single factor so responsible for the suffering of human beings as wrong view.”
There is this story of a house in which lived a family that worshipped a deity in the front of the house. The family moved away and the house was taken over by a Malay family. Being regular Muslims, they did not believe in the deity; so they simply dismantled the shrine and threw it away. After that, there was often illness in the family. Two of them later died—one of an incurable illness and the other a road accident. Finally, they moved away. If they the right view that there are such unseen beings who do resent having their shrines dismantled and thrown away, they probably would not have done what they did. Even if they did not wish to keep the shrine, they would have at least relocated it in a more suitably respectful manner. As it was, their wrong view brought them a lot of suffering.
The Buddha said, “There is no single factor so potent in promoting the good of human beings as right view.”
In essence, right view is a correct understanding of the Dhamma. For example, if one has a correct understanding of kamma, one would know what one should and should not do, and mould one’s actions in ways that would conduce to one’s welfare and happiness.
There are 2 kinds of right view namely, mundane and supramundane.
Supramundane right view refers to “out-worldly” understandings, as opposed to mundane or worldly ones. It is the right view that leads to the end of samsara and to liberation from this world. For now, I will not touch on it. I will talk on only mundane right view and come back to the supramundane one after we have finished with all the other factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.
Mundane Right View
Right view or right understanding involves a correct grasp of the Law of Kamma. There are many formulations of this:
- For example, the Buddha says that alms and offerings are not useless. There are many people who do not see the benefit of giving to the needy. So, it’s to be expected that they are not generous. As for those who have the view that it is good to give, they cherish opportunities to do so, and therefore stand to gain in return.
- The Buddha also spoke about kamma-vipaka—moral action has moral results. While we can rationalise that good and bad actions bring about their fruits and consequences accordingly, we can’t always prove it in every situation due to certain conditions. Nonetheless, we can have some confidence in it because our Lord Buddha said so. Besides, it is good to believe in it. Only then are we more willing to control our actions, and not otherwise. For example, one who does not have this view will condone stealing so long as one does not get caughtSome people believe that right and wrong is subjective and depends on the view of the individual. We may accept this in regards to certain worldly matters, but when it comes to whether a deed is moral or immoral, this view cannot stand. Buddhism teaches that if the root of a certain action is unwholesome, than it has to be wrong. In this respect, there is no way that wrong can be right. Whether or not the Buddha said it, whether or not he appeared in this world, in terms of morality, wrong is wrong, and right is right.
- There is such a thing as rebirth. Life does not end upon death. It goes on, and brings along our kamma—good and bad. If there is no rebirth, I think it wouldn’t be such a bad idea: we wouldn’t have to suffer from one life to another then. However, there is, so long as one is not an arahant. So, we should make sure that we do as much good and as little bad as we can.
- The Buddha also reminds us that every one of us has a father and a mother, and so we have a duty to serve them accordingly.
- “Spontaneously born beings” do exist. They include heavenly beings, ghosts, etc. It seems there are some people who can see, hear or sense some of these unseen beings. Many of us however cannot be utterly sure that they exist, but that does not mean that they don’t. Here’s another thing that most of us have to accept based on provisional faith.
- In this world there are spiritual practitioners of high attainments, who are able to explain the truth about the world based on their own realisation.