In a previous post, we discussed Right View and now it’s time to explore the 2nd component of the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. Right View ought to lead to the next step in the journey which is Right Thought. Some have difficulty distinguishing the difference between Right View and Right Thought. I’ll do my best to define Right Thought. Keep in mind that major shifts occur in the most subtle distinctions. So, as it regards spiritual growth it’s essential to slow the mind down, mute the internal chatter and listen with the heart. Then the jewels in the subtle matters will spring forth and present themselves without hesitation.
Now, what is Right Thought? It has a lot to do with our intentions and the ability to differentiate delusion from truth. The greatest barriers to obtaining and maintaining Right Thought are the Three Poisons which we discussed under the Four Noble Truths. Anger, greed or ignorance can each individually, and certainly collectively, prevent Right Thought due to their potent ability to cloud our perceptions or throw us into emotional imbalance. Achieving Right Thought is much easier when focus on cultivating compassion and relieving the suffering of others. This is so because both of these endeavors are natural repellents to the Three Poisons. Our task becomes easier simply by shifting our attention and actions to the practices that actually lead to Right Thought.
Another way to ensure Right Thought is by focusing on the the Dharma. In the particular context of Right Thought, the use of the word Dharma means ultimate truth and the teaching of the Buddha. It is to focus on that which calls us to elevate into our higher selves and best actions. Our ability to maintain Right Thought becomes less of a struggle when we administer the spiritual medicine to ourselves that is here in great abundance. I try as best as I can to ask myself in negatively criticizing someone (or a situation) if I can identify any of the Three Poisons in my assessment. If I find any of them in that thought or criticism, I either immediately shift my thinking to the Dharma or ask myself is what I’m thinking, saying or doing causing more suffering. Alternatively, I may simply ask myself if this is compassionate. Sometimes it is but sometimes it is not.
I will conclude with this personal note. Consistently implementing this 2nd step of the 8 is the most challenging to me. Correcting ones actions is a challenge but I feel I’ve made tremendous strides in this regard. However, correcting myself on the level of thought is a far more challenging to me. There have been many times when I’ve felt I’ve done the “right thing.” Truthfully speaking, some of those times I was angry about it. In other words, the compassion was there and implemented but mentally (strictly within myself) it was slightly tainted with a bit of poison. But, I can also state that the more I focus on the Dharma, regardless of the circumstances, this all becomes effortless. Once I remove the “I” that is experiencing the poison, and remain solely the observer of the experience, my heart is light and the task is not only easier but a pleasure! It’s amazing how it works…
-Sensei Derek Fletcher