Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nourishing Understanding (Right View)

Nourishing Understanding (or Right View) is, more than anything, about having a strong understanding of the Four Noble Truths.  The Buddha said that knowing that there are those who have found a way out of their suffering is one of the core pieces of Right View.

TNH also talks about recognizing the seeds within us and knowing which ones to water.  We need to be aware of how we respond to others, to see and understand our patterns of attraction and judgment in relationships.  If you see someone who reminds you of your beloved mother, you react with love.  If you see someone who reminds you of the father you have painful memories of, you react with hesitation, fear, and perhaps even hostility.  To recognize the seeds of recognition inside of us gives us the correct vision to discern which seeds to water and which to work through, to investigate the cause of our suffering, and to find the path towards healing.  This too is Nourishing Understanding.

In talking about the power of our perceptions, the Buddha says that most of our perceptions are false and that most of our suffering comes from this false perceptions.  TNH says, "We must ask ourselves again and again, 'Am I sure?' Until we see clearly, our wrong perceptions will prevent us from having Right View".

The things we perceive are the objects of our view.  They exist in our mind as a combination of what we take in through our eyes and how we judge, label, or assign symbolic meaning to these things.  In this way, we create our world.  Ten people look at the same mountain and see ten different mountains, all due to perception.

Perception is a powerful tool to have.  We must learn to harness this power to shift ourselves out of paradigms of suffering.  This is especially true of emotional states.  Our perception of happiness is often based on a list of conditions which will make us happy.  This very list is what stands in the way of our happiness.  When we free ourselves from our assumptions and conditions, seeing our lives through Nourishing Understanding, we discover we are already free to be happy in the now.

Nourishing Understanding is not a philosophy or a path.  It is a tool for looking at our lives and seeing things clearly, with as little of our own assumptions to cloud our vision.  It is not a tool that can be taught directly, but one that can be modeled and nurtured in others.  We can guide our children and loved ones towards their own sense of Nourishing Understanding, watering the seeds that are already there, but it is a skill that each must learn on their own.  Joyfully, the seeds of Nourishing Understanding are in all of us, so it is only a matter of watering the right seeds. 
"Relatively speaking, there are right views and wrong views.  But if we look more deeply, we see that all views are wrong views. No view can ever be the truth.  It is just from one point; that is why it's called a point of view.  If we go to another point, we will see things differently and realize that our first view was not entirely right.  Buddhism is not a collection of views.  It is a practice to help us eliminate wrong views.  The quality of our views can always be improved.  From the viewpoint of ultimate reality, Right View is the absence of all views."  
This is a beautiful example of how this book is speaking to me.  These ideas are a spiritual reflection of same lessons I learned internalized through my time studying anthropology.  Anthropology taught me that there simply was no such thing as "truth".  Differing cultural perspectives change the nature of an event or a person from one viewpoint to another.  Even more challenging is that, as a member of one cultural group, you can never truly understand what things look like from another point of view.  We can learn and listen, but without growing up in that community, we can only estimate what their perceptions may be.  This is also beautiful, for it means that no one person can hold ownership over the truth of anything.  We are always missing something, which frees us to say, "This situation looks this way from where I am sitting, but I would never assume to define it for others.".  This idea in anthropology stems beyond traditional ethnic definitions of culture and reflects the differences in how people perceive things based on other social location categories like gender, sexuality, race, age, class, cis/trans status, body size/shape, and a million other little ways that our identities shape our understanding and experience of the world.  It is beautiful to see that this too is part of Nourishing Understanding or Right View.
*This post is a piece of a larger discussion that begins with the post: Lessons from the Heart of the Buddha's Teachings.*