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?