2. The Three Refuges
3. The Four Noble Truths
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When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that is the beginning of insight.
- Thich Naht Hanh
Right Understanding – Right View – Right Orientation. Understanding the Dharma, being able to see it clearly, orienting oneself according to it.
And so we enter the intellectual part of the Eightfold path: the very first instruction to living as a Buddhist. And it basically says Know What You’re Doing. Do you remember following recipes or instructions especially written for children? How the first instruction was always “read the instructions through before beginning?”
Well, I always skipped that step. I still do, in a lot of cases. I just know that I shouldn’t; that diving straight in without a clue what I’m doing is not a particularly skillful way of going about anything. It’s just that I’m not always the wisest of kids on the block. I like to learn through experience, but getting my metaphorical hands dirty and figuring out how it works first hand.
This is useful to some extent; because there’s no point knowing something unless you apply it to your life, but there’s a great potential for harm in applying something to my life in ignorance.
Look at it this way: I wouldn’t put medical drugs in my body until I’d drilled the doctor and maybe even the internet about what’s in the drugs (no, really, I wouldn’t). And I don’t put anything in my mouth without reading the ingredients – or at least the menu description. Why should I change my lifestyle according to the Dharma if I didn’t understand the Dharma?
This is different from finding refuge in the Dharma – that is an article of faith. Right View is about knowing the Dharma, so that faith isn’t blind faith, but one that comes from knowledge and experience. The Dharma, remember, isn’t just the teachings of the Buddha, but our lived experience and observations of the world and ourselves.
So in order to follow the Eightfold Path, in order to realise the Fourth Noble Truth, it is necessary to know, to understand, and to really grok the Four Noble Truths themselves. To realise that every one has great suffering, caused by clinging, and that the way to freedom from this clinging takes work.
But it’s not just the thing that happens first. Remember, that no part of the Eightfold Path comes before or after the others; they happen at the same time. Knowledge and understanding is a process, from reading and reflection and debate, that continues to happen our entire lives. So even as I follow the rest of the Eightfold Path, I continually come to this one; to understanding what it is I am doing.
Right Understanding Links
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