Uposatha Day Teaching

Noble Eightfold Path: Right Resolve

For new readers: Each quarter moon, on Uposatha Day, I am posting a short Buddhist teaching. The present posting is the third in the series on the Noble Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s master checklist for practice, the practice of perfecting character. We have been using the metaphor of the potter to describe the elements of this practice.

Last week we considered the first element of the Eightfold Path, Right View. Right View is what we need to know about the mind and the world in order skillfully to craft our character, just as a potter needs to know certain things in order to skillfully craft a bowl. This week we consider the second element of the Eightfold Path, Right Resolve, also sometimes called Right Intention or Right Thought.. Right View and Right Resolve together form the Wisdom Group or Training in Wisdom within the Eightfold Path. The remaining six elements form the Training in Conduct and Training in Cultivation of Mind.

A potter in crafting a bowl not only needs to know about clay and glaze and potter’s wheel, he also needs to have an idea of what he hopes to produce. This is Right Resolve. For the potter Right Resolve might be to make a bowls of exquisite elegance and beauty and at the same time of practical functionality. For the Buddhist Right Resolve is to craft a character of highest Virtue, one that embodies Renunciation, Good Will and Harmlessness. Right Resolve is in the Wisdom Group because it requires wise reflection to fully understand. Renunciation, Goodwill and Harmlessness are not, for most people, an obvious set of qualities to put here. For instance, you might think that the Perfected Character is wealthy, attractive, popular, fun-loving, sporty, and ever young, .. and, oh, enlightened. Or you’ve come to Buddhist practice because of inner pain; your resolve is to fix yourself. No doubt the reader has resolved to be this way or that way at various times—New Year’s Day is the traditional American occasion for this—and almost certainly it has not lead to satisfactory results. The Buddha advises us to resolve ourselves to live lives , and establish the virtues, of Renunciation, Good Will and Harmlessness as a step in his path. With a mind open to his every suggestion, we can see how that works out in our lives.

Right Resolve in short means this:

Make everything you do a Gift.

Can you do this? This means you set out on the Buddha’s eightfold path as a Gift. It means you work and relax as a Gift. It means you watch the news as a Gift, you eat as a Gift. It means you choose your livelihood as a Gift. It means you meditate and develop Right View as a gift. This sounds saintly. Buddhism aims at nothing less, … but it also recognizes that few will quite get there, which is OK too. Nevertheless this is our constant resolve.

Renunciation takes the “Me First” out of Gift giving. Any true Gift involves renunciation, otherwise it is not quite a Gift; otherwise I give it because I expect to get something in return. The full virtue of Renunciation is not easy to see: Our common sense tells us that happiness comes from grasping after things, but in fact it comes from letting go. This is one of the reasons we have monastics in Buddhism, professional renunciates, to remind us over and over that this is the case, to gently steer us in that direction. It is also completely cool, that that that which enables pure giving to others is also the greatest source of personal happiness. In other words giving is a Gift to yourself, and receiving a Gift is a Gift to another. You can’t get cooler than that. Once you fully recognize this, Right Resolve is not such a difficult thing to develop.

Goodwill and Harmlessness, or loving-kindness and compassion, drive the act of Gift giving. With the “Me First” out of the equation the wish for the benefit of all and the recognition of the enormous suffering of the world extends without limit, even to those we once thought we did not like or were deserving of their pain. It is for all of them that we undertake to take the Noble Eightfold Path to the production of a character of exquisite elegance and beauty and at the same time of practical functionality.

On this Uposatha Day, I suggest that you consider, first, What is it that brought me to Buddhist practice, that is, to walk the Noble Eightfold Path? and second, How is my practice a Gift to the World? Can the two answers be reconciled?

9 Responses to “Uposatha Day Teaching”

  1. don Says:

    Whew. That was fast. Just wondering how one reaches a point of becoming a gift to the world?

    Seems like the right view would take years of real world study then?

    I guess I wonder why one would become a gift without some actual proof of real inner change.
    Well not only inner change but I would think it really needs a whole new way of thinking.

    Can one do that with only searching for a right view?

    It seems we reach this point really quickly and I am not sure how one looses their self so absolutely….or did I misunderstand?

  2. Sherry Says:

    Pick up any newspaper and it is so hard to even contemplate my presence on this earth to be a gift. Seems we are just sucking the earth’s resources dry and all other non-human inhabitants are at our greedy mercy. I know this sounds heavy duty, but I am in an official “down” mood lately. When I read this posting, tears came to my eyes.

  3. bhikkhucintita Says:

    Don, (reply to Sherry below)

    Right view does take neverending study, studying what others say, but mostly introspective study, both in meditation with a quiet mind and in the midst of everyday activities. You need to study the world, the body, the mind, the impermanence of everything, the way the mind makes things up, the little cracks where suffering arises, the effects of your actions both on the world out there and on your own character, the way the world grabs us and we get stuck. There is a lot to learn.

    But don’t wait for inner change. Do the Change you Want to Become (to scramble a quote from Gandhi). It is the only way your character develops.

    To make a gift is not that hard. There is so much that needs doing in the world. Help one person, help several. Smile at someone (but not to endear yourself), especially someone who is treating you rudely because they probably need some cheering up. Volunteer. I think just meditating helps others, because you come out dealing with them more skillfully, and you set an example. Gifts are easy to give. As you develop in practice, yes, you give up the self quite decidedly (except that it still needs to get fed). When that happens then giving becomes very fluid; it begins to feel like receiving. But giving is the best way to learn to let go of the self.

    When I write, Make Everything you Do a Gift, I am setting the bar pretty high. But it is an helpful idea to keep in mind because it makes you aware of when you are doing something just for yourself, when just for others and when something in between.

    Sherry (Hi!),

    There is a lot of despair out there. Things look bleak. I am thinking of not reading the news so much. We need saints, lots of them.

    However if you don’t get caught up in the despair, the bleakness of things actually makes it easier to do something. I heard a story the other day about two people who went to the seaside right after a storm and there were zillions of fish flopping around all along the beach that had gotten washed up. One of the people immediately began picking up fish and throwing the back into the water, one after another. The other looked at all the fish up the beach and down the beach and said, Give it up! You can’t possibly make a difference. The first person said, I’m making a difference for the fish I throw back. That is all each of us can do, and maybe hope a lot more people are doing something to make things better.

  4. don Says:

    Dear Venerable Cintita,

    Thank you for taking the time to explain more and for your patience. I am sorry for being so thick headed and not understanding this. I really do want to understand.

    I do not mean any disrespect to you and my questions may seem silly but this is my confusion.

    I do understand that to have esteem one must do estimable things but there are other parts I do not understand.

    I am thinking one must have a self in order to give that self away by giving gifts. I am thinking that just by doing what you want to become :the idea may get garbled and in the end lead one astray. It is so hard to actually get on the path loosing it one may never get back to it again.

    I read a story once and I only remember bits of it, hopefully I wont butcher it too much.

    Two disiples take separate trips on a boat to see a Guru. The first disciple while on the boat hears some people discussing his master. They are saying he is a phoney and a fraud.
    The disciple when hearing this pulls out his sword and defends the master’s honour.

    When he arrives to see his master he tells him that some people were saying bad things about him so protected his honour. The master scolds him and tells him he should forgive those people and not strike out.

    The second disciple on a different boat hears some people discussing his master. They are saying he is a phoney and a fraud.
    The second disciple prays for them and forgives them because they do not understand.

    When he arrives to see his master he tells him that some people were saying bad things about him and he prayed for them and forgave them.
    The master scolds this disciple and says you should have protected my honour by defending me.

    Another teacher sitting near by asks the Guru why did you give them different advice for the same situation?

    The master replies because the first one needs to learn to let go of anger. The second one needs to let go of fear.

    I guess the point is both were doing what they thought was the right thing but without some sort of checks and balance system it wont be long before they find themselves lost and confused.

    There will always come a day that I am forced to face myself and I wonder if a foundation might be helpful in that situation.

    I am not arguing against being a gift or being helpful or helping to eliminate suffering. I am worried about the pink cloud effect and what happens when the foundation faces an earthquake.

    The only famous Monk I know is the Dalai Lama. I am sure he is kind and loving and he really tries to be more loving and good.
    I have seen some people ask him some pretty dumb questions like ” how do I handle loses in the stock market” and he good naturedly answers always smiling and always sweet.
    I am also willing to bet that when he talks to his Monks in personal meetings he is very serious and can be gruff and demanding. That does not mean he is not being loving and good but I would think there are times when one must be tough and demanding when it is called for.

    So I guess I wonder how one finds a balance in this step.

  5. bhikkhucintita Says:

    Don,

    Buddhism is a very sophisticated set of teachings. It takes a lot of intensive work, study but primarily working with one’s own mind, on the cushion and throughout the day, to fully grasp them. As a result it is also very easy to misunderstand these teachings in all their subtlety, as you rightly observe, or to grasp them intellectually but not have the level of introspection to correctly apply them to what is actually going on with you.

    So, what keeps Buddhism grounded; why doesn’t it just spin out into wild speculation? Last week I posted an essay at this sight, Science and Vinaya, that touches on this. Basically, Buddhism, like Science, has maintained throughout its history a class of “professionals” that do this full-time and within that recognize teachers who protect the Dharma and make sure others have someone to bounce there questions off.

    The other thing is, again as you suggested, there are checks and balances. So in the story you related about the guru interpreting what looks like the same incident differently for the two disciples. The guru knows that an action has two parts, an intention and a physical act. Normally most of us just look at the physical act and make wild guesses about intention, but the guru understands the intentions of the two disciples; he understands that one tends toward anger, the other towards fear. Defending for one would be out of anger, for the other it could only come out of out of real concern for correcting the situation (only possible if fear is overcome). Praying would be out of real concern for correcting the situation for one (only possible if anger is overcome) and out of fear for the other. In both cases the guru recommends exactly the same thing, which is, Don’t let a defiled state of mind be the basis of the action.

    As for self and giving: our language always assumes a self, the self is there by convention, just like money exists only by convention. If you give up the idea of the self words fail you.

  6. don Says:

    Venerable Cintita,

    Thank you.

    Told you I would butcher that story. I would guess that losing a warped image of fear would pretty much negate anger,greed,pride etc….

    I am always trying to protect my personal security, financial security and sexual securities mostly due to imagined fears that never seem to really happen.

    I see where I am choking. (I think). Re-reading your thoughts on the right view I see you are not only talking of ideals for the future self but the present self too. A quote from you below.
    “Right View is seeing things as they really are”.

    So I am thinking the right view must be thoroughly examined not only as the plan for the future idea self but also my present self which causes suffering and can block me from this ideal self.

    I certainly suffer from not having the level of introspection to correctly apply them to what is actually going on with me.

    This fundamentally seems to always cause me to burn down my house and what seemed to be good intentions are at the end done with the wrong intent. I am very sneaky when dealing with me.

    How is it that one formulates this plan?

    Would one sit down with a Monk and confess to who they are? How does one go about making a rudimentary discovery of what causes their suffering? Is the monk there to discuss the plan for a right view before implementing it? Or does the lay person just ask questions as they go along?

  7. bhikkhucintita Says:

    Don, mostly just observe, but in a completely detached and un-self-critical way. Pretend you are watching someone else, or yourself in a movie. Be curious, what is this guy doing? What caused that response? Don’t worry about the warts; everyone has them. Just be aware of them. Look at the little things, don’t try to make a big sweeping story; it will be wrong. Life is nothing but little responses to little things, that is it, except sometimes our responses are skillful and sometimes not. You also do not need a grand plan, just have right view now, over and over. The only time you can practice is right now.

  8. don Says:

    Venerable,
    Thank you.

    All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
    Layin’ in the sun,
    Talkin’ ’bout the things
    They woulda coulda shoulda done . . .
    But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
    All ran away and hid
    From one little Did.
    ~ Shel Silverstein from “Falling Up”

  9. Terasi Says:

    Dear Bhante, your answers to don and Sherry should be in the post, otherwise one might miss these extremely practical and useful tips to start applying the Right View in daily life!
    Sorry to be so demanding 🙂 .. I just find the answers to be perfect & very practical to complement the teaching.

    So I’ve done my homework, I’ll write them down to seal them down in my own mind. If you happen to read this, and find my thoughts to be incomplete, I’d appreciate any correction and help.

    What is it that brought me to Buddhist practice, that is, to walk the Noble Eightfold Path?
    – Originally, the inner pain, then I recognised how it made people around me (especially my family) suffer because of my irrational and rude attitude.

    How is my practice a Gift to the World?
    – I think I can grasp a bit about this Gift thingy. When I start watching my mind, I think I’ve turned into a slightly gentler and happier person. I then notice people around me started to warm up, which means they are happier because I treat them better.
    This sounds so egocentric, but this is a small start, I am convinced that if I keep on trying, in the end I can reach out to even more beings. In my limited scope, the World is whatever/whoever around me and myself, the World is in my mind. Educating myself means reducing the suffering of those within my Mini World.

    Can the two answers be reconciled?
    – Yes, the same practice, educating my own mind, benefits both myself (the original motive that brought me to N8P / Buddhist teaching), and my Mini World. In such sense, it’s a Gift to the World.

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