2022-05-27 Binding and Unbinding (5 of 5) Unwholesome and Wholesome Views
6:47AM May 29, 2022
Good morning. We come to the last day of this five part series on aspects of our mental activity that can be both wholesome and unwholesome, helpful and unhelpful. Because they look similar to each other, it is possible to be confused by what part is wholesome – when it is wholesome and when it is not wholesome, when it is useful or not useful.
Today's topic is, in Pali, the word "diṭṭhi." "Diṭṭhi" is usually translated into English as "views." Views – the stories, opinions, philosophies that we have – can be a source of binding, bondage, being caught. Views can also be a source of freedom – setting us free, wisdom and helpful guidance in our lives.
In Buddhist English, there is a tendency of treating the English word "views" to refer to unhelpful opinions, stories, philosophies, or metaphysical ideas, about what is happening here in this world of ours. Because there is a strong tendency of pointing out that views are unhealthy, sometimes people have the idea they are not supposed to have any understandings, stories, interpretations, wisdom or understanding, that guides them in their life, that supports them, and is appropriate to have.
But there are these two different possibilities. The word "diṭṭhi", as it is used in the Pali suttas, is overwhelmingly used to refer to something like speculative views, to fixed views. These two things "speculative" and "fixed" are significant. "Speculative" means opinions and views about things that we can not know directly. They are interpretations or stories about something.
"Fixed" views is when we are caught and attached to the view. Being opinionated about our view, meaning holding on, "This as a truth. This is how it is." Fixed views can even be views, understandings that are healthy, or appropriate, in and of themselves, but the way that we hold them, there is suffering involved. There is attachment, clinging to the views, "I'm right and everyone else is wrong."
This attachment, to our philosophies, our opinions, can be operating, whether or not our opinions are accurate. This is an important thing to consider for those of you who have accurate opinions, accurate ideas of what is going on, accurate stories of what happened. The way you hold those can be a source of suffering for yourself and others, when there is an insistence and dogmatic attachment to it.
A lot of Buddhist practice is about overcoming speculative views, dogmatic views. Views that are speculating about the nature of reality, nature of human beings, nature of our life, nature of liberation. Discovering how to have the views, the understandings, that come out of seeing something directly, having direct experience for oneself.
When we first get introduced to Buddhism, maybe we take the teachings, the ideas, even the philosophies, a little bit on faith. Enough faith that we are willing to do the practice, but it is provisional faith, a provisional view, and we understand, "This is provisional." Reasoned it out, "It seems like this is pretty good, but let's now find out." The idea is that we are moving in the direction of insight, where our understanding comes from direct experience for ourselves.
What we do not know yet from personal experience is taken provisionally, as something that we can discover for ourselves. You can use a bit of reflection to think about philosophies, views, religious ideas, metaphysical ideas, that might be attractive and seem right to you. You might realize, "I can never prove it for myself." This is maybe outside the reach of direct experience and direct sensory experience. If you want to hold on to that, then you know that you can not discover this for yourself, whether it is true. It becomes a article of faith.
What we are looking for in Buddhism are those understandings and views that we believe can be verified for ourselves. We can discover for ourselves. Something as simple as the idea – if you cling, you will suffer – if that clinging is released, the suffering is released as well. That is something that belongs to the area of direct experience. It might not be easy to experience. It is something that with time, we can start seeing how that works. "Yeah, in fact, I was clinging, and then I suffered. Before I clung, there was no suffering."
A big thing that Buddhism teaches is that all our experiences are inconstant. This is a central tenet held up high, as very important. It is meant to be an insight that we can verify for ourselves. The view of life, that we get through practice, is a view that is built on this deeper and deeper appreciation of how things are changing all the time – impermanent, inconstant. With time, we see how this insight has a liberating quality. Freeing us up from the the idea of constancy, permanence, the idea of fixity, makes us much more malleable, fluid and adaptable to all the changes that go on all the time in life.
There is a view in Buddhism that there is no self. There is that view that people sometimes advocate. It is not actually what the Buddha taught. With some reflection, maybe you can appreciate that you can not really discover that there is no self. How would you know that? What the Buddha focused on is what you can know for yourself. What you can know is that particular things in your experience, do not qualify as a definition of who I am. "This is myself."
The movement is to see what in our experience, that I took as myself, is not really how I fundamentally am. Actually to hold on to that is a kind of suffering, a kind of wind drag that slows me down. To not identify with that is actually more freedom and more ease in my life. It is always something particular. As practice gets deeper and deeper, all the particulars in our life, are seen as not-self. But it is not an idea that there is no self. It is also not the idea that there is a self.
The philosophy, idea, of what is, and is not a self, that is considered a speculative view that we do not get involved in. What we get involved in is what we can see directly and know for ourselves.
The understandings, the views, that come from insight, from direct experience, those we rely on in practice. They can give a sense of purpose, a direction to our lives. They can guide our lives in a certain way. When we see clearly that there is a possibility to suffer less – we see it is possible to let go of clinging. It is possible to see below the fixed views that we have, the interpretations we have, and see things more directly for ourselves.
This can be a powerful inspiration and motivation to continue on this path of freedom in our direct experience. Not to get hung up in speculative philosophies, which we can never ascertain for ourselves directly. If there are philosophies that we can ascertain for ourselves directly some way, then if we are motivated, we can go and practice to see how we can discover that for ourselves. The Buddha said once that, in describing his teaching he said, "I just point out the way. it's up to you to walk the path." Appreciating what we can discover through our direct experience shows us what that path is, that we walk.
We can get wrapped up, caught up, in opinions, stories, views and philosophies about how things are. Or we can have understandings, philosophies, stories, that point to freedom beyond stories. That point us to how to be free here – in the direct experience – opening up to what is really here in a deeper way. Discovering the stories that are possible, in direct experience – really seeing clearly what is here. One of those stories, is the stories of freedom. The stories of moving from suffering to the freedom from suffering. The story of happiness and living a clear life, clarity and release. That is a story that is worth living. Maybe we can share that story with each other. Stories of what we discover in being free.
Thank you. I hope those of you in the United States have a wonderful three day weekend. I will be back here Monday, as usual, even though it is a holiday. Some of you might be away. I wish you well.
In the meantime, you might, over this weekend, look a bit at the role that the views, stories, opinions have for you personally. See if you can discern the difference between views, stories, interpretations that you are caught in, and those that you are not caught in – those that are helpful to see more deeply into our direct experience with ourselves and other people, versus those stories that obscure a real insight into what is happening here and now. Thank you.