Path Factors of Wisdom

Right View and Right Thought

The Role of Reflection in a Wholesome Way of Life

Buddhist spiritual practice may be defined as the way in which laws of nature benefit human beings, or as the application of one’s knowledge of such laws in order to benefit humanity. Correct or excellent spiritual conduct thus refers to living one’s life in a way that optimizes how natural causal dynamics benefit oneself and others. One conducts one’s life with insight into nature, acting to induce causes and conditions that generate favourable results for all people. This emphasis is particularly evident in the teachings on volitional actions (karma/kamma).

Technically speaking, one practises the Middle Way (majjhimā-paṭipadā): one applies the Middle Teaching (majjhena-dhammadesanā; the impartial teaching of truth) to benefit humanity and to reach the final goal of the Buddha’s teachings.

Virtuous conduct (cariya) can thus be divided into three stages:

  • First, to know the truth of nature, to have insight into nature, that all things exist according to causes and conditions.

  • Second, to use this knowledge beneficially, to conduct oneself in harmony with the laws of nature and to act in way that generates favourable results.

  • Third, when one acts in accord with causes and conditions, one allows them to generate results automatically and independently – one observes them with understanding, without grasping onto them and affixing a sense of self.

Knowledge is thus the mainstay of virtuous conduct; it is a vital factor from beginning to end. Virtuous conduct is equivalent to living with wisdom, and a virtuous person is thus referred to as a paṇḍita – a wise person.

Because wisdom is required from the start, the Buddhist system of spiritual conduct (the Path – magga; the Middle Way) begins with right view (sammā-diṭṭhi; right understanding). {688}

Right View (sammā-diṭṭhi)

Importance of Right View

Monks, just as the dawn’s light is the harbinger and precursor of the rising of the sun, so too, right view is the forerunner and precursor of awakening to the Four Noble Truths as they really are. It is to be expected that a monk with right view will understand as it really is: ’This is suffering … this is the cause of suffering … this is the cessation of suffering … this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’

S. V. 442.

Monks, of all the Path factors, right view comes first. And how does right view come first? [With right view] one understands wrong view as wrong view and right view as right view … one understands wrong thought as wrong thought and right thought as right thought … one understands wrong speech … right speech … wrong action … right action … wrong livelihood … right livelihood as right livelihood.

M. III. 71-77.

And how is right view the leader? When one possesses right view, right thought comes into being; when one possesses right thought, right speech comes into being; when one possesses right speech, right action comes into being; when one possesses right action, right livelihood comes into being; when one possesses right livelihood, right effort comes into being; when one possesses right effort, right mindfulness comes into being; when one possesses right mindfulness, right concentration comes into being; when one possesses right concentration, right knowledge comes into being; when one possesses right knowledge, right deliverance comes into being. Thus the trainee who possesses eight factors becomes an arahant who possesses ten factors.1

M. III. 76.

That a monk with rightly grounded view, with a rightly grounded development of the Path, could pierce ignorance, arouse true knowledge, and realize Nibbāna: this is possible. For what reason? Because his view is rightly grounded.

S. V. 10-11, 49.

I see no other thing which is so conducive for the arising of non-arisen wholesome qualities, or for the increase and prosperity of arisen wholesome qualities, as right view. {689}

A. I. 30-31.

Definitions of Right View

The most common definition for right view is a knowledge of the Four Noble Truths:

And what, monks, is right view? Knowledge of suffering, knowledge of the origin of suffering, knowledge of the cessation of suffering, knowledge of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: this is called right view.

E.g.: D. II. 311-12; M. I. 48-9, 62; S. V. 8-9; Vbh. 104, 235.

Other definitions include:

To know both wholesome and unwholesome qualities, along with their root causes:

When a noble disciple understands the unwholesome and the root of the unwholesome, the wholesome and the root of the wholesome, in that way he is one of right view, whose view is straight, who has unwavering confidence in the Dhamma and has arrived at this true Dhamma.2

M. I. 46-7.

To discern the three characteristics:

A monk discerns as impermanent physical form … feeling … perception … volitional formations … consciousness which is actually impermanent: this discernment of his is right view. Seeing rightly, he experiences disenchantment. With the end of delight comes the end of lust; with the end of lust comes the end of delight. With the end of delight and lust the heart is liberated and is said to be thoroughly liberated.

S. III. 51.

A monk discerns as impermanent the eye … ear … nose … tongue … body … mind … physical form … sounds … smells … tastes … tactile objects … mental objects which are actually impermanent: this discernment of his is right view.

S. IV. 142.

To discern Dependent Origination (for examples, see Chapter 4).3

The Buddha also defined two levels of right view: right view ’connected to the taints’ (sāsava) and transcendent right view:

And what, monks, is right view? Right view, I say, is twofold: there is right view that is affected by taints, classified as meritorious, bearing fruit in respect to the five aggregates; and there is right view that is noble, taintless, transcendent, a factor of the Path.

And what is right view that is affected by the taints, classified as meritorious, and bearing fruit in respect to the five aggregates? ’Gifts bear fruit, offerings bear fruit, acts of worship bear fruit; there is fruit and result of good and bad actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are beings who are reborn spontaneously; there are ascetics and brahmins faring and practising rightly who having realized this world and the other world for themselves by direct knowledge make them known to others. This is right view affected by the taints, classified as meritorious, and bearing fruit in respect to the five aggregates.

And what is right view that is noble, taintless, transcendent, a factor of the Path? Wisdom, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the investigation-of-Dhamma enlightenment factor, the Path factor of right view in one whose mind is noble, whose mind is taintless, who possesses the noble path and is developing the noble path: this is right view that is noble, taintless, transcendent, a factor of the Path. {690}

M. III. 72.

General Points

Ditthi is most often translated as ’view’, but its meaning also includes ’belief’, ’ideology’, ’opinion’, ’rational knowledge’, ’things conforming with personal understanding’, ’principles deemed acceptable’, ’agreeable notions’, ’cherished opinions’, ’preferences’, and ’personal values’. The meaning of this term also includes a person’s ideals, worldview, outlook on life, and basic attitudes which result from such views, knowledge, and preferences.4

As mentioned above, there are two levels or kinds of view: first, views and understanding connected to a sense of value, say of what is good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate; and second, views and understanding about the truth, say of what something is, how it exists, and from where it originates.

Views, personal understanding, and cherished beliefs exercise great influence and control over how people live their lives and over society as a whole. In the teaching on the ten courses of action (kamma-patha), diṭṭhi is classified as mental kamma, which has more serious consequences than either physical kamma or verbal kamma.5 This is because mental kamma is the underlying cause for physical and verbal actions. Views are able to lead individuals, society, or the whole human race to either prosperity and freedom or to decline and ruin.

This is apparent in the lives of individual people: views determine how one lives, both in terms of processing information and of outward expression: to how one looks at the world and to how one acts in relation to the world. This begins with how one interprets, evaluates, and judges new experiences. Views determine what things, or aspects of things, one seeks out and selects, and what things one favours or disfavours. They then influence the course of one’s thoughts, speech and actions, the way one responds, reacts, and deals with things: how one speaks or behaves towards another person, an object, a surrounding, or a situation, along with how one creates justifications for such speech and action.

Technically speaking, views determine other mental factors, beginning with one’s thoughts (saṅkappa), making them either ’right’ (sammā) or ’wrong’ (micchā), accordingly.

The importance of views in spiritual practice is obvious. For example, if someone likes money, and sees material wealth as life’s goal, as the yardstick for success and as the sign of self-importance, he will strive to gain such wealth. Both this person’s education and work will be undertaken for this purpose, and he will measure, appraise, and honour others by using wealth as the criteria. If such a person is morally deficient, he will seek wealth indiscriminately, without considering if his actions are righteous, and he will look upon those poor people who are morally virtuous as foolish, old-fashioned, or worthless.

If a child believes that having power is good he will incline towards asserting power, enjoying domineering and bullying others. {691}

If a person does not believe in merit (puñña) and evil (pāpa), and views these terms as empty threats, he will pay no attention to teachings on wholesome behaviour or refrain from things considered unskilful.

When one lacks a deep understanding of life and of the world, as being ultimately unstable and fleeting, one tends to cling to the body, to life, to possessions, and to people. One is generally anxious and frightened, and one gives expression to the suffering resulting from one’s attachment and fear.

With all of these examples, the opposite is also true: wholesome views lead to a wholesome outcome.

Right view is called sammā-diṭṭhi, and wrong view is called micchā-diṭṭhi. The conditions for wrong view are a harmful influence by other people, a bad social environment, especially evil friends, and a lack of wise reflection (ayoniso-manasikāra): an inability to contemplate or a tendency to think in incorrect ways.

The conditions for right view are a beneficial influence by other people – to be correctly moulded and instructed by a favourable social environment, especially through contact with virtuous friends and by associating with honest people – and wise reflection.

The main focus of this chapter is right view, with occasional references to wrong view.

Right view is divided into two kinds or two levels:

Mundane right view (lokiya-sammādiṭṭhi): views connected to and dependent on the world; views, beliefs, and understanding about the world that correspond to principles of goodness, accord with the way of righteousness, or are in harmony with virtuous behaviour, as described in the sutta passages above.

Generally speaking, this kind of right view is a result of external teachings (paratoghosa) or of social factors, and it relies on faith as a link or as a guiding force.6 In particular it results from the instruction one receives from society, say through teachings and training in ethics and by cultural transmission. It is related to wise reflection; the kind of wise reflection applied here generally encourages a person to engage in wholesome activities.

This kind of right view is associated with evaluation: what is good, bad, right, wrong, better, worse, what should and shouldn’t be. And it also encompasses belief systems and teachings which preserve these values of goodness.

Because this kind of right view stems from social conditioning and external transmission, it manifests as teachings, rules, standards, and beliefs established or prescribed by human beings. As such, these views are superimposed on, or they are one step removed from, the laws of nature. They are therefore ’mundane’: their details and particulars vary according to time and place, and change subject to surrounding social developments.

Personal likes, preferences, and values are included in this classification of mundane views.

Although the details of this kind of view change according to different places and time periods, there is a general principle for determining what is right view, namely, the principle or law of kamma. This is because the law of kamma is a truth or a law of nature that confirms or validates the entirety of human behaviour. {692}

Mundane right view is confirmed by this law of nature and it is in harmony with this natural truth. For this reason, mundane right view is occasionally defined as kammassakatā-ñāṇa: the knowledge that people are the owners of their kamma, that they must be held accountable for their actions, and that they receive the fruits of their actions.7 This knowledge is in accord with the law of kamma. In other words, it is the knowledge that all human behaviour and the results of such behaviour proceed according to the law of interrelated causes and conditions.

Mundane right view reflects the basic values of people, e.g.: a sense of responsibility for one’s actions; the wish for results from one’s actions, efforts, capabilities, and intelligence; the ability for self-reliance; and the endeavour for mutual assistance.

Note that knowledge of the law of kamma here is simply a basic understanding of how each individual is the owner of his or her intentional actions and must take responsibility for them. This knowledge accords with the law of kamma, but it is not yet a direct understanding of this law or a direct insight into the law of causality. This deeper knowledge or insight is classified as transcendent right view, which will be discussed below.

Moreover, there are other ways to measure mundane right view, for example: views which support and are conducive to a happy life and a thriving society; or views which help a person advance on the Path and engenders other Path factors, beginning with right thought.

Because mundane right view corresponds with truth, it can link up with and lead to transcendent right view.

Transcendent right view (lokuttara-sammādiṭṭhi): knowledge and understanding about life and about the world which accords with truth; an understanding of the nature of reality; an understanding of nature.

This kind of right view results from wise reflection, which is an internal factor. Beneficial teachings by other people or having virtuous friends can help only to the extent of encouraging people to apply wise reflection and to see for themselves. This kind of right view cannot arise by simply listening to others and believing them by way of faith. It requires investigating nature and understanding phenomena directly.

Therefore, transcendent right view is independent of teachings, rules, and beliefs created by people additional to and separate from the laws of nature. It is free from social influence and not subject to varying external factors. It is a true connection with nature, whose characteristics remain the same in every place and era. This kind of right view is ’transcendent’: it is timeless, not restricted to a specific time era; it remains the same knowledge required for comprehensive wisdom and liberation in every time and place.

This second kind of right view, transcendent right view, refers specifically to clear knowledge relating to the stage of path and fruit, resulting in awakening. {693}

Having said this, right view connected to path and fruit is a consequence of the same kind of right view belonging to unawakened beings. Therefore, I suggest defining the right view in this second classification that still belongs to unawakened beings as ’right view conforming to transcendence’.8

The fruits of transcendent right view (or even right view conforming to transcendence) are much more profound than those of mundane right view, and they are able to utterly transform a person’s personality, completely uprooting negative qualities in the mind.

Only this level of right view is able to eradicate the defilements (not merely suppress them), and is able to create true stability in regard to virtue. One is not swayed by the values and perceptions instilled by society because one has penetrated through the level of conventional truth and seen the underlying reality.

This subject has an important bearing on spiritual development: here, one needs to consider the proper relationship to both human society and to nature, to recognize how to properly benefit from these two sources.

As mentioned above, right view conforming to transcendence stems from wise reflection, which plays an essential role. Generally speaking, the behaviour of unawakened persons is dictated by values instilled by society, for example to abstain from specific kinds of bad deeds and to perform specific kinds of good deeds, according to model teachings, instructions, transmissions, edicts, etc. Whenever unawakened persons are not governed by such socially instilled values, they are prone to falling subject to craving (taṇhā), which in today’s parlance may be referred to as ’negative emotions’.9 Wise reflection helps to free people from the influence of social values and from the enslavement by mental defilement; it engenders a freedom of behaviour guided by wisdom.

In sum, at initial stages of spiritual practice, when one thinks or acts without the presence of wise reflection, one either succumbs to external social values or one falls under the power of one’s own craving. When one possesses transcendent right view, however, one is truly liberated from the influence and power of society, and from personal craving.

Whenever ’view’ (diṭṭhi) becomes right view, it is equivalent or synonymous to wisdom,10 even though at beginning stages right view is still just an opinion or a belief. This is because the opinion or belief corresponds with truth and is based on an understanding of reality, and begins to escape from the clutches of ignorance and craving.

Even though the views and beliefs later transform into clear knowledge (ñāṇa), this knowledge is still referred to as ’right view’ in order to acknowledge a progressive and connected development of discernment.

The term ’right view’ thus has a broad meaning, encompassing correct views and opinions as well as a direct knowledge of the truth. {694}

Right View in the Context of Spiritual Study

Some beginning spiritual practitioners who possess a degree of right view may believe that in keeping with the threefold training the starting point of spiritual practice is moral conduct (sīla), i.e. that spiritual development begins with good behaviour (sucarita).11 This claim, however, misses the core of spiritual practice. The real purpose of spiritual practice at the level of morality – of forming a wholesome disposition and creating wholesome habits – is to enable people who are responsive to training (veneyya) to recognize the true value of moral conduct.12

Only when one develops a deep understanding of moral conduct, i.e. one develops right view, will one’s virtuous conduct be secure.13 At this stage one’s spiritual practice has truly begun. In other words, the reason why the threefold training begins with moral conduct is in order to nurture the Path factors, starting with right view. When the Path factors, led by right view, arise in a person, he or she is said to have begun spiritual training.

From this point on the Path factors begin to perform their specific functions and to act in a coordinated way. Besides securing moral conduct, right view leads to sincerity and honesty, and it guarantees that one’s behaviour accords with the heart and objective of moral principles. One’s conduct does not err into an adherence to rules and practices (sīlabbata-parāmāsa) or into gullibility. When one possesses right view one can trust in one’s virtuous conduct, but if one lacks right view such self-confidence is absent.

From another angle, by focusing on the conditions for right view, one can say that spiritual practice begins with an ability to reflect wisely (yoniso-manasikāra). This is true because when there is wise reflection right view naturally follows. Even on the level of moral conduct, when wise reflection helps to guide behaviour, one’s actions will be correct and performed for useful ends. In addition, one gains understanding, confidence, and joy.

Take for example the act of dressing oneself properly: besides considering the value of covering oneself modestly and protecting oneself from the elements, wise reflection also assists in considering the benefits to others and to society. One thinks: ’I will dress in a clean and tidy way for the wellbeing of the community or of society. I won’t dress in a distasteful or offensive way. I will dress in a dignified and pleasing way to support wholesome mind states in those whom I meet, to make them feel at ease.’

On the contrary, if one thinks of boasting about one’s elegance or social status, of showing off, of intimidating, seducing, or tricking others, this reveals a lack of wise reflection. The mind will then be dominated by unwholesome qualities; it will be constricted and unhappy, and the act of wearing clothes will be immodest and misguided. {695}

When people hear the word ’study’ they usually think of the learning required for a specific profession and for earning a livelihood, which in Buddhist practice is a matter of moral conduct (sīla).

Naturally, no righteous person would approve of a career education that gives no consideration to whether one’s livelihood is right or wrong. But an education that aims only at establishing right livelihood, without focusing on establishing right view, is still not correct, and it is unlikely to fulfil one’s wishes, even to the extent of creating right livelihood, because it has not reached the heart of spiritual study. It may lead to right livelihood in name only, not true right livelihood, because it involves a training in moral conduct that does not generate the Path factors. It is still superficial and perfunctory; it is not rooted in the Eightfold Path.

The correct way is to establish right view as a foundation for right livelihood. It is inadequate to keep moral precepts without having a love for morality, or to perform good deeds without seeing the true importance of virtue.

Think of the seemingly implausible things that happen in societies in which there is widespread immoral conduct. Many people in such societies see any action that leads to success or wealth, despite it involving dishonesty, deception, and injury to others, as a sign of cleverness and skill. Although there is often material abundance in such societies, there is also much evildoing and crime. In contrast, there are other societies which are relatively impoverished but in which there is little crime. Some of the poor people in such societies would rather beg for food than commit theft or other bad deeds (whereas beggars in dishonest societies may act unscrupulously even while begging).

In the context of formal teaching this subject matter reveals the important relationship between the Eightfold Path and the threefold training, which is evident with these two factors – right view and moral training – the first factors in these two teachings, respectively.

In terms of the interrelationship between moral conduct and right view, when people live together peacefully and in a well-disciplined fashion, there is an absence of fear and distrust. When one acts virtuously the mind is untroubled, calm, and concentrated. When the mind is calm and bright, one’s thinking is nimble; one discerns things clearly and without bias, giving rise to understanding and wisdom. Wisdom’s ability to discern the value of moral conduct is an expression of right view. With right view and right understanding, a person’s thoughts, speech, and actions are naturally virtuous.

And as mentioned above, training in moral conduct is truly an aspect of spiritual practice only when it gives rise to right view, at least when one gains a deep appreciation for moral conduct and one sees its value. There are two ways of training in moral conduct that bear fruit as right view:

  1. Training in moral conduct relying on routine behaviour and faith: this way emphasizes a code of discipline, of setting up a framework to regulate behaviour and of establishing a specific system, say of a daily routine, in order to create good habits and a wholesome disposition. In addition, one develops faith by having virtuous friends or teachers point out the benefits and blessings of doing good and of following a moral code. Virtuous friends may also introduce one to honourable, successful, and happy persons (this may be the friends and teachers themselves) to act as a model for behaviour. {696}

    In this way, a deep appreciation of goodness, a love of moral discipline, and an enthusiasm for virtuous conduct is generated. Even if one does not have a teacher to point out the benefits of doing good or to act as an example, if one is able to adhere to such a moral code, having it influence one’s habits and disposition, and one sees the benefits of virtue, one will develop an interest in morality and apply reasoning in such a way that accords with virtuous behaviour.

    When one goes beyond simply adhering to a moral code or to moral constraints and one sees the value of virtuous conduct, one reaches the stage of right view and one’s spiritual practice truly begins. This is true despite the fact that one’s right view may still be weak and unstable, and one’s practice may contain a degree of attachment, naivety, and an adherence to rules and practices.

  2. Training in moral conduct using wise reflection: this way emphasizes a thorough understanding of the objectives for actions and for practice; one practises with wise reflection, or one applies wise reflection to guide and direct behaviour, as described in the example of wearing clothes above.

    Here, a teacher helps by first pointing out a way of contemplating and understanding the purpose of specific actions. When it comes to practical application, however, the students or practitioners must use wise reflection in each instance themselves.

    Take as another example the act of paying respects to a monk or to an elder. The person paying respects may reflect on the wholesome and appropriate reasons for such an action, considering for example: ’I pay respects in order to train myself to be humble and cooperative’; ’I pay respects in order to honour good manners and for the wellbeing of the community’; ’I pay respects as a sign of reverence for the Dhamma, which is embodied in this person’; ’I pay respects to this person with thoughts of kindness and benevolence, to help remind him to preserve virtuous and suitable qualities’; or ’I pay respects in order to practise the Dhamma in the most beautiful and correct fashion.’

    On the part of the monks, the elders, or the teachers, who are the recipients of such gestures of respect, they may reflect: ’This is an occasion to take stock whether I possess such virtuous qualities making me worthy of such respect’; ’I am in a position to offer advice and teachings to this person; is he acting in a suitable way?’; ’I rejoice in this highly virtuous person’s conduct; she loves the harmony of the community and venerates the Dhamma’; ’I will follow these worldly conventions; I will do whatever is of benefit to the world.’

    When one reflects wisely in such ways one gains confidence in one’s actions, and unwholesome qualities cease to dominate the mind. Those paying respects, for example, do not compare themselves to another through an impure attachment to self-identity, for instance by thinking: ’What does he possess to make him worthy of respect? I am better than him – why pay respects?’ And the recipients of veneration need not become mistrustful, offended, or resentful, say by thinking: ’Why does this person not show respect to me? Why does he not show respect in an agreeable way?’ They do not get carried away by thinking: ’People come to bow and pay respects to me – I am so special and excellent.’ {697}

    The examples here describe a wise reflection that induces wholesome qualities and gives rise to mundane right view. We can see, however, that this second way of training is more profound than the first way, as it is able to prevent the damage of unwholesome qualities taking hold of the mind. The first way of training in moral conduct is unable to provide this prevention. The second way possesses the confidence of wisdom. It gradually increases the understanding of right view while training in moral conduct, and it defends against a naive and gullible moral conduct that is referred to as an ’adherence to rules and practices’ (sīlabbata-parāmāsa).

According to the outline of the Eightfold Path, the second way of training in moral conduct is the most correct. Linking this training with the first way described above is likely to lead to even better results, but solely applying the first way is considered inadequate for true spiritual practice. This is because in correct practice, in relation to one’s surroundings, one begins with training in moral conduct, but in relation to the mind, one must from the very start reflect on things in order to cultivate wisdom and develop right view. Doing this one incorporates wise reflection, which can be applied at all times in one’s life.

One does not hold back and only apply systematic reflection in times of formal contemplation or only apply it to the context of moral conduct – such reflection is equally important when developing concentration and wisdom. Right view and the other Path factors thus become increasingly proficient and complete.

Here, one sees the development of the Path factors that is linked to the practice of the threefold training. From an external perspective or by considering the major stages of practice, one sees the gradual development according to the threefold training, of moral conduct (sīla), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā). But when one looks more closely at the details of a person’s spiritual efforts, one sees that the Path factors are busily engaged. The person continually walks along the Path.

In sum, for practice to be correct, from an external perspective there is an emphasis on the threefold training, while inwardly a person walks in line with the Path. This way the external systems of training and the internal development of spiritual factors are well integrated.

Taking these considerations into account, if one leaves people to develop spiritually on their own in accord with nature, without relying on any social factors for assistance, there will only be a few prodigies who are able to apply wise reflection by themselves and reach the highest stage of realization.

Conversely, if one leaves people to develop solely by way of social influence and control, they will be unable to realize the highest good which is within their potential.

Therefore, the following two ways of spiritual development are considered extreme and incorrect:

  1. Development left to unfold on its own, naturally and without interference.

  2. Development following the control and sway of society.

Spiritual development left up to nature is inadequate; one must also foster an understanding of natural phenomena which leads to a proper relationship to nature.

Equally, spiritual development following the dictates of society is also inadequate; one must also gain a thorough knowledge which allows one to escape from the influencing power of society.

A complete development involves an interaction with and an understanding of both nature and society, because people are shaped and influenced both by natural and social forces. {698} Such development is nourished by society and by nature, bringing about prosperity and happiness.

If people are to live together in peace – even just two people – there must be boundaries and means to regulate behaviour. When many people live together there is a necessity for rules or agreements on behaviour, of what should be done and what should be avoided, in order to bring about harmony and safety for each individual. (Even an individual person has conflicting desires and requires self-discipline in order to live well.)

Take the example of numerous drivers arriving at a junction from different directions: each person is in a hurry and vies to pass first. They thus all get stuck and no one can advance, causing chaos and disputes. If they are willing to lay down a set of regulations, however, everyone can pass comfortably. Likewise, a community or society requires a set of rules.

Apart from rules, there is a collection of inherited social systems, customs, traditions, cultural practices, institutions, and a body of technical knowledge, which give shape to a particular society. These factors shaping society also shape individuals, instilling in them properties that conform with society. At the same time individuals influence the society. Individual people and the society as a whole are thus interdependent.

Nonetheless, when a society has a clearly defined shape and form, it tends to become rigid and inflexible, resulting in a one-sided exchange of people being shaped by society in order to meet society’s needs and expectations.

People, however, do not exist solely to uphold society. Society exists to benefit individuals and on a fundamental level it was created for the increased wellbeing of people.

From this perspective, society is only one supportive factor in people’s lives, and on its own it is unable to lead people to a truly virtuous life, because social institutions themselves were created simply to establish a sense of order and discipline. Once people live together in harmony, there is something besides maintaining social integrity which it is incumbent on them to realize. Besides social institutions, people need to pay attention to nature, and the most supreme blessing of life is obtained through an understanding of nature. This is because the truth of life is essentially grounded in nature.

Society is simply one supportive factor in people’s lives, which can either help to foster an increased intimacy and knowledge of nature, or it can have the opposite effect and cause an alienation from nature. In any case, even though society may have a clear and strictly defined shape it is not the only factor influencing people.

If people are able to apply wise reflection, they can escape from the controlling power of society. Wise reflection enables a person to transcend or see through society and to realize the underlying timeless truth of nature. A person endowed with wise reflection is able to be free from the power of social conditioning, to attain higher levels of virtue, and to return in order to shape society in a fully attentive way. {699}

People require a code of conduct in order to live together in harmony. Society thus needs a moral code as well as a compatible set of rules for people to follow. It is true that this moral code can simply become a way to limit people’s freedom or it can even be a way of enslaving people to a system of control, if it is simply a set of prohibitions and rules which people observe by blindly following one another. And it can lead to other ill effects if it is maintained through coercion or deception.

Similarly, actions which are alleged to be ’free’ may only be expressions of a mind subject to defilement and suffering. In this case, it is simply a freedom to give expression to mental bondage, freedom to be a slave, or freedom to allow people to be enslaved. This form of freedom involves disenfranchising others in some way or other, directly or indirectly.

In contrast, people who are free from the power of mental defilement, and who are able to apply wisdom without the obscuring power of social conditioning, do not require prescribed moral standards. They are endowed with an inherent moral discipline, and, moreover, they are able to comply with any moral code that they recognize as benefiting other human beings.

The important link here is that a moral code is a good thing when it is set down and followed with a correct understanding of its objectives, that is, moral conduct must be accompanied by right view.

Therefore, when one is teaching children a moral discipline, one must also engender an understanding of the value and necessity of discipline.

When laying down rules, regulations, precepts, etc., it is important for participating members to understand their purpose and to give consent, which will prevent them from feeling coerced or ordered about, or from simple blind obedience. (See Note Laying down the Vinaya) Even in terms of existing social systems, customs, traditions, and institutions it is important to teach each new generation the value of these things.

Laying down the Vinaya

Note that when laying down the Vinaya rules for the bhikkhu sangha the Buddha would gather the entire community and explain the purpose of each rule, obtaining everyone’s acknowledgment and consent. Moreover, he did not use such terms as ’command’, ’forbid’, ’force’, ’don’t’, or ’must’.

In reference to clauses resembling prohibitions he used the phrase: ’A monk who acts in such a way commits a transgression of such and such a degree.’ In reference to unsuitable actions outside of the Pāṭimokkha at most he would say: ’You should not do that.’

As for clauses resembling orders or commandments he would use the term anuññāta (’permitted’, ’allowed’) or at most would say: ’You should do that.’

In addition, people should be taught to understand natural phenomena, to discern the world according to truth, which will help them to escape from the power of social conditioning and to reach higher levels of spiritual excellence which society is unable to provide.

Most importantly, society should act as a ’virtuous friend’ (kalyāṇamitta), or at least be a place in which one can discover such friends, in order to help people train in and develop wise reflection on the subjects just mentioned.

There is an important difference between nature and society which should be taught to people from the time they are children. Namely, nature follows general laws of nature (dhamma-niyāma), whereas human society follows the additional law of volitional action (kamma-niyāma).14 {700}

When teaching children, they should be treated with lovingkindness. Besides directly showing them kindness in order to foster their wellbeing, say by making them feel at ease and by promoting longterm mental health, one should also aim to cultivate their faculty of wisdom, by leading them to an understanding of wholesome intentions, of goodwill, and of commitment to other human beings.

This understanding arises by having children draw a comparison between people and nature. If they have skilled teachers, children will recognize that people are different from nature. Human beings are possessed of consciousness and intention; they are able to volitionally manage and steer their affairs. They are able to deliberately act well or to act badly. A mother, for instance, does not raise her child simply by natural instincts; she also possesses the human qualities of love, well-wishing, and kind deliberation. And if people treat each other well, this will lead to everyone’s happiness and wellbeing.

This is distinct from nature, which is neutral, does not possess faculties of mind, and does not think in good or bad ways. Nature is sometimes gentle and favourable to people, giving them satisfaction and joy; at other times it is violent and destructive, causing pain and suffering. Whichever way it goes nature is not wilful – it does not act out of spite. Nature exists according to its own causes and conditions. In any case, human beings are dependent on nature. We should thus cherish nature and relate to it with an understanding of causality.

Moreover, human life is normally subject to a considerable amount of pain, due to the unintentional oppressive aspects of nature. We who are endowed with the ability to deliberately choose a course of action should not increase the level of suffering for others. Instead, we should use intention in order to assist others, alleviate their suffering, and show kindness and compassion.

When showing kindness to children one should beware that this kindness does not become an indulgence of their craving. For if one indulges their craving, children will not develop an appreciation of people’s wholesome intention: they will not recognize how these kind actions are performed deliberately and intentionally. Moreover, they will fail to understand the contrasting neutrality of nature. Besides failing to nurture lovingkindness and a sense of personal responsibility, this indulgence causes further harm to children by allowing unwholesome mind states to breed, e.g.: selfishness, stubbornness, weakness of mind, greed, and envy.

The way to avoid such indulgence is to teach children how to know the distinction between kind and loving actions performed by human beings and the causal dynamics inherent in nature. This way one avoids mistaken expressions of lovingkindness, which obstruct or impair children’s insight into the truth.

When educating children, one needs to possess all four of the ’divine abidings’ (brahmavihāra). Besides being firmly grounded in lovingkindness (mettā): one shows compassion (karuṇā) when a child is suffering; one acknowledges or rejoices (muditā) in the child’s happiness or when he or she does something good or acts with sound judgement; and one is equanimous (upekkhā) or looks on with objectivity when the child is acting responsibly and reasonably, or when the child needs to be accountable for the results of his or her actions. {701} This last factor of equanimity, in particular, ensures that lovingkindness does not hinder wisdom.

Surrounded by natural forces which are sometimes favourable and sometimes harmful, human life has no true stability. People must struggle to survive; they must find things to sustain life, and escape from and remove hostile elements. When one does not truly understand nature, one attaches and devotes oneself to those things one hopes will gratify desire; one sees the world as a place for pursuing sense pleasures, a place to fulfil all one’s desires. One views oneself as ruling over the world, and one sees others as obstacles or competitors. This in turn leads to possessiveness, hostility, hatred, contempt, competition, and oppression between people. Moreover, when one does not get what one wants or things later change, this can give rise to intense suffering.

When one receives encouragement by a virtuous friend, someone who helps to see the value of lovingkindness, one’s relationship towards other people and towards nature improves. This, however, is still right view on a mundane level.

If one wishes to develop a truly secure understanding, one must also cultivate transcendent right view. This is done by understanding the truth of life and of the world, namely: all things exist according to causes and conditions; all worldly phenomena (loka-dhamma) are uncertain and impermanent; they are inherently insubstantial – they are without an essential ’core’ which would make them independent from other phenomena; they cannot be truly controlled; and they cannot give essential meaning to life.

We human beings are without a ’self’ which is able to truly control anything else; our lives are subject to the same laws of nature as other people; humans and other living creatures are all companions in birth, old age, sickness, and death – we all cherish happiness and are averse to suffering; moreover, all life is dependent on other life in order to exist.

This kind of understanding is fundamental, even for children, in order to know how to correctly relate to the world and to other people. It leads people to change how they give value to things, switching from using craving to using wisdom as the means of evaluation. They recognize what is truly valuable in life and worthy of aspiration, they know how to make their minds free and happy, and they become more skilled at alleviating suffering. This firmly established right view reduces greed, hatred and delusion, reduces competitiveness and oppression, and reduces moral problems.

When right view is established, a person advances towards the goal with the support of several other spiritual factors, as described in this sutta passage:

Monks, if it is aided by five factors, right view has liberation of mind and liberation by wisdom as its fruit and reward. These five factors are:

  1. Virtuous conduct (sīla; behaviour free from oppression).

  2. Learning (suta: knowledge gained by listening, study, reading, etc.).

  3. Discussion (sākacchā: conversing; debating; exchanging ideas; verifying one’s knowledge).

  4. Calm (samatha: calming the mind; an absence of restlessness and distraction).

  5. Insight (vipassanā: using wisdom in order discern things as they truly are).15 {702}

A. III. 20-21.

To summarize, right view accords with reality: it refers to seeing things as they truly are. The development of right view requires continual systematic reflection, which prevents seeing things superficially or seeing only the end result of natural phenomena. Systematic reflection helps one inquire closely into things, by analyzing the various converging factors and the sequence of causes and conditions within natural processes. It prevents one from being deceived by things or from becoming a puppet that is propelled, convulsed, and manipulated by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, and popular beliefs, leading to personal and social problems. Instead, one is mindful and fully aware, free, self-confident, and able to determine and act with wisdom.

Right Thought (sammā-saṅkappa)

The general scriptural definition for the second factor of the Eightfold Path – right thought – is as follows:

Monks, what is right thought? The thought of renunciation, the thought of non-ill-will, the thought of non-cruelty: this is called right thought.16

D. II. 311-12; M. III. 251; Vbh. 104, 235.

Here is a definition which distinguishes between mundane and transcendent right thought:

Monks, what is right thought? I say there are two kinds of right thought: there is right thought that is affected by taints, classified as meritorious, bearing fruit in respect to the five aggregates; and there is right thought that is noble, taintless, transcendent, a factor of the Path.

Right thought that is affected by the taints … is the thought of renunciation, the thought of non-ill-will, the thought of non-cruelty.

Right thought that is noble, taintless, transcendent, a factor of the Path is thinking (takka), reasoning (vitakka), intention (saṅkappa), concentrated thought (appanā), firmly established thought (byappanā), focused attention, and the prerequisites for speech (vacī-saṅkhāra) in one whose mind is noble, whose mind is taintless, who possesses the noble path and is developing the noble path.

M. III. 73; Vbh. 110, 237.

For the sake of brevity, here I will explain only the definition of right thought as a mundane factor. According to this definition, sammā-saṅkappa refers to right intention, or to thoughts that go in a correct direction. This is in contrast to ’wrong thinking’ (micchā-saṅkappa) of which there are also three kinds:

  1. Thoughts of sensuality (kāma-saṅkappa; kāma-vitakka): thoughts tied up with sensuality; thoughts that are part of the search for and preoccupation with gratifying sense objects or with things to satisfy craving and clinging; selfish thoughts. Such thoughts are marked by greed or lust.

  2. Thoughts of ill-will (byāpāda-saṅkappa; byāpāda-vitakka): thoughts accompanied by anger and aversion, indignation, and displeasure; to see things in a negative light; to see others as adversaries; to see external things as the source of irritation. Such thoughts are marked by hatred in the sense of one being the victim of impingement (this is the opposite quality to friendliness – mettā). {703}

  3. Thoughts of cruelty (vihiṁsā-saṅkappa; vihiṁsā-vitakka): thoughts of oppression, harm, injury, abuse, and destruction; the wish to disturb and violate others; the wish that others experience suffering and distress. Such thoughts are marked by hatred in the sense of actively instigating conflict (this quality is opposite to compassion – karuṇā).

Such thoughts and intentions are common among people. This is because when unawakened persons experience a sense impression, for instance by seeing a visual form or by hearing a sound, one of two feelings generally arise: if one likes the object, one is pleased and charmed, desirous of and attached to it, and defers to it; if one dislikes the object, one is displeased, annoyed, offended – one is averse to it and sets oneself in opposition to it. From here various thoughts occur in line with, or following the momentum of, these likes and dislikes.

For this reason the thoughts of unawakened persons are usually biased; they are obstructed and influenced by pleasure and displeasure, making it impossible to see things as they truly are.

Thoughts resulting from pleasure and gratification lead to attachment and entanglement – a gravitating towards certain objects – and become thoughts of sensuality (kāma-vitakka). Thoughts resulting from displeasure and discontent lead to resentment, hostility, and antagonism – to see certain things in a negative light – and become thoughts of ill-will (byāpāda-vitakka). When these latter thoughts erupt as thoughts of oppressing or injuring others, they become thoughts of cruelty (vihiṁsā-vitakka). All of these wrong thoughts give rise to incorrect viewpoints and an incorrect course of intention.

Biased thoughts, distorted opinions, and obstructed viewpoints originate due to an initial lack of systematic reflection. One looks at things superficially, receiving sense impressions without mindfulness and clear awareness, and one then allows thoughts to flow according to feelings or according to reasoning driven by likes and dislikes. One does not analyze the various factors involved in various phenomena and investigate the participating causes and conditions, conforming to the principle of systematic reflection.

Wrong view (micchā-diṭṭhi), the failure to see things as they truly are, leads to micchā-saṅkappa: wrong thinking, wrong intention, and a distorted outlook on things. Conversely, wrong thinking leads to wrong view. These two factors support and reinforce each other.

To see things as they truly are requires systematic reflection. Thoughts must be free and independent, without the detrimental influence of preferences, attachments, and aversions. To enable this one must possess both right view and right thought, and these two factors must be mutually supportive, just as in the case of incorrect understanding and thinking.

Systematic reflection fosters right view. When one discerns things correctly, right thinking in regard to these things arises naturally, without bias, attachment or aversion.

When one is able to think objectively,17 free from likes and dislikes, one sees things as they are: right view is enhanced. In this way these two factors continue to support one another. {704}

Right thinking (sammā-saṅkappa) – the opposite of wrong thinking – refers to the state of mind in which there is independent thought and analytic reflection, free from bias, either as attachment or aversion. There are three kinds of right thought:

  1. Thoughts of renunciation (nekkhamma-saṅkappa; nekkhamma-vitakka): thoughts free from greed; thoughts free from sensuality, unpreoccupied with objects gratifying desire; nonselfish thoughts; thoughts of relinquishment; the entire range of wholesome thinking.18 This form of thought is classified as thought free from lust (rāga) or greed (lobha).

  2. Thoughts of non-ill-will (abyāpāda-saṅkappa; abyāpāda-vitakka): thoughts free from anger, hatred, aversion, and negativity; in particular, this refers to the opposite qualities to ill-will: to have thoughts of lovingkindness, well-wishing, and friendliness – the wish for others to be happy. This form of thought is classified as thought free from hatred (dosa).

  3. Thoughts of non-cruelty (avihiṁsā-saṅkappa; avihiṁsā-vitakka): thoughts free from oppression – free from the intention to harm or injure; in particular, this refers to the opposite quality: to have compassion – the wish to help others be free from suffering. This form of thought is similarly classified as thought free from hatred (dosa).

In the context of Buddha-Dhamma, when referring to a wholesome or virtuous quality that stands in contrast to an unwholesome or negative quality, instead of using an opposite (i.e. positive) term, more often a negating term is used. This leads some people to think that Buddhism is a negative or passive teaching: it teaches that goodness is merely the abstention from bad actions and an abiding in a state of passivity. In the above context, ’wrong thinking’ is defined as thoughts of ill-will, but ’right thinking’, rather than being specifically defined as loving thoughts, is defined as thoughts of non-ill-will – a negation of wrong thinking.

I will address the misunderstanding that Buddhism is a negative or passive teaching at more length below,19 but allow me to offer three short explanations here refuting these charges:

  1. The Eightfold Path emphasizes wisdom; its goal is realization of the truth. It does not give sole importance to the stage of morality.

    One should recognize that right thought (sammā-saṅkappa) is a Path factor of wisdom, not of morality. The principle of right thought, which encourages people to abstain from ill-will and to cultivate lovingkindness, does not aim merely at establishing virtuous conduct – of refraining from killing and persecution, or of mutual assistance. It aims primarily at generating non-biased thinking, not influenced for example by hatred, in order for the thinking process to be free and unobstructed, following in line with truth. In this way there arises correct and undistorted understanding.

    The best way to explain right thought is thus through negation – as free from greed, ill-will, and cruelty. In the act of thinking or contemplating, if one is able to abstain from thoughts of covetousness and ill-will, or the wish to harm or injure others, the thought process will be pure and is likely to accord with truth.

  2. According to Pali grammar, in some cases the negating prefix ’a-’ has a comprehensive meaning, referring both to the specific opposite of the word in question and to anything that is distinct from the quality beings discussed (in the sense of ’not this’ or an ’absence of this’.). In other cases it refers specifically to the opposite of the word in question. {705}

    The term akusala, for example, does not mean ’not wholesome’ (which could refer to indeterminate or neutral factors – neither good nor bad), but refers specifically to that which is unwholesome – the opposite to wholesome.

    The term amitta does not refer to a neutral person – someone who is not a friend – but specifically to an enemy.

    In the context of right thought, however, the negating prefix ’a-’ is comprehensive, referring both to the opposite and to whatever is distinct from the quality in question. The term abyāpāda-saṅkappa, for example, refers both to lovingkindness, which is the opposite to ill-will, and to pure, non-biased thoughts free from ill-will. Wholesome qualities like lovingkindness are thus already inherent in this Path factor of right thought.

  3. The meaning of the negating prefix ’a-’, besides being comprehensive as mentioned above, is also more definite and categorical than the meaning of a term opposite to a quality in question. This prefix specifies the complete and thorough negation of an object, so that no trace of it remains.

    The term abyāpāda-saṅkappa, for example, refers to thinking that is completely free from ill-will: it refers to unbounded, supreme kindness. This is different from the teachings on kindness and compassion found in some other doctrines, which limit these qualities, by stating that only specific groups of people or specific kinds of living creatures are worthy of such kindness. In truth, all beings are worthy of kindness.

Generally speaking, people engage in thinking in order to satisfy craving (taṇhā) in one way or another. Their thoughts may be subtly influenced by fixed view (diṭṭhi), e.g. personal values. Alternatively, they may think subject to raw craving arising in that moment, which can manifest in three ways: as desire referred to as direct or explicit craving (taṇhā); as conceit (māna) – self-aggrandizement, boosting the ego, protecting one’s status, etc.; or as an attachment to cherished views (diṭṭhi). The thinking of unawakened people is thus said to be accompanied by ’I-making’ (ahaṅkāra), ’my-making’ (mamaṅkāra), and an underlying tendency to conceit (mānānusaya); it is intertwined with fixed views (diṭṭhi), craving (taṇhā), and conceit (māna). In sum, one can say that their thinking functions to serve craving.

Thinking in order to satisfy craving can occur in both an affirmative and a negative fashion. As an affirmation it manifests as thoughts of sensuality: thoughts of acquisition, self-gratification, and self-indulgence. As a negation it manifests as thoughts of ill-will – thoughts of conflict, negativity, dissatisfaction, antagonism, rivalry (fearing that others will get in one’s way), animosity, and hatred – or as thoughts of cruelty, wishing to oppress, prey on, or destroy others.

In any case, thinking that panders to craving can be eliminated by systematic reflection, which discerns things according to the truth.20 Thinking accompanied by this form of systematic reflection is pure: it is not influenced by sensual desire, ill-will, or cruelty. It does not veer off or get stuck on one single aspect of an object and thus has an extensive range of engagement.

In this sense, one can define right thought (sammā-saṅkappa) as any form of thinking that does not involve selfish gratification, malevolent intent, or thoughts of persecution. This refers to right thought as a pure component of wisdom, which supports right view directly.

Alternatively, thinking in order to satisfy craving can be eliminated by systematic reflection which summons up wholesome qualities. Thinking accompanied by this form of systematic reflection uses thoughts that are opposite to sensuality, ill-will, and cruelty: i.e. thoughts of renunciation, lovingkindness, and compassion. It is a way of developing unique wholesome qualities. Although this form of right thought also supports right view, it is directly linked to virtuous conduct: it leads to right speech, right action, and right livelihood, as illustrated on Figure The Practice of Right Thought. {706}

The Practice of Right Thought image

Note that this division simply shows the chief results of distinct forms of practice; it does not imply that these practices are completely separate from one another.

Figure Right Thought and its Expressions is an illustration of how right thought is related to the two Path factors of virtuous conduct: right speech and right action. Right thought here is given expression through the principles of the four divine abidings (brahmavihāra) and the four favourable qualities (saṅgaha-vatthu).

Right Thought and its Expressions image

The connection between right thought and right view is especially evident in the context of the three root defilements (akusala-mūla): greed, hatred and delusion. Right view eradicates the most basic defilement of delusion (moha). Right thought on the other hand eradicates the affiliated defilements: thoughts of renunciation eradicate greed or lust, and thoughts of non-ill-will and of non-cruelty eradicate hatred. In this way these two Path factors are thoroughly integrated and compatible.

Developing these two initial Path factors is considered an elementary stage of practice. At the beginning, wisdom has not yet reached the stage of completion. As with all Path factors, their full range and potential may not be realized immediately, but rather they must be developed gradually.

For this reason, in reference to the three kinds of right thought: ’thoughts of renunciation’ sometimes refers to a basic stage, or to a symbolic gesture, of taking ordination as a monk or of removing oneself from the life of a householder; ’thoughts of non-ill-will’ refers primarily to the practice of lovingkindness; and ’thoughts of non-cruelty’ refers primarily to the practice of compassion.

Granted, the wisdom a person develops here may be an expression of right view, of seeing things according to the truth, but it is not yet pure and free – it is not yet a complete realization. Completion is reached at the stage of equanimity (upekkhā), which is based on concentration.

Moreover, even lovingkindness (mettā), a virtue one can develop at initial stages of spiritual practice, is not as simple as people may commonly think. What people normally refer to as ’love’ in most cases is not true lovingkindness. {707}

Let us review some basic principles in relation to lovingkindness:

Mettā may be defined as ’friendliness’, ’love’, ’well-wishing’, ’sympathy’, ’mutual understanding’, ’a wish for others to be happy’, or ’a desire to foster wellbeing for for all living creatures’.21

Lovingkindness is an impartial quality, both in terms of the person expressing the love and of the person who receives the love. Love should be mutual between subordinates and superiors, the rich and the poor, beggars and millionaires, high-class and low-class people, the laity and the ordained sangha. Lovingkindness is the first step in building healthy relationships between people. It leads people to see one another in a positive light, to express care for one another, and to exchange ideas in a reasonable manner. People then do not base their actions on selfishness or aversion.

Lovingkindness (along with the other sublime states of mind – brahmavihāra) is said to be an attribute of a superior person. Here the term brahma is defined as ’one who is superior’. These states of mind thus belong to one who is excellent, whose heart is expansive, who is noble by way of virtue. This differs from how people generally judge a great person.

Buddhism teaches that all people should cultivate and possess the four sublime states, elevating and broadening their minds. Many people believe that these qualities are the preserve of leaders in the community. Although this is a limited understanding, one can say that it emphasizes responsibility: granted, everyone should develop the divine abidings, but leaders in particular, being role models, should excel in these qualities.

But if people hold on to the belief that it is only the responsibility of leaders or of ’great people’ to develop these qualities, this will lead to a distorted understanding.

It is important to understand the advantages (sampatti) and disadvantages (vipatti) of lovingkindness. Sampatti here can also be defined as the ’fulfilment’ or ’benefit’ of lovingkindness, whereas vipatti can be defined as the ’failure’ or ’shortcoming’ of lovingkindness, or an ’incorrect practice’ in relation to it.

According to the scriptures, the advantage of lovingkindness is that it is able to quell ill-will (byāpādupasamo etissā sampatti).22 The disadvantage is that it may give rise to infatuation (sinehasambhavo vipatti).23

There are some special observations in regard to this disadvantage: the term sineha refers to love and affection for an individual – a personal form of fondness and attachment, e.g.: putta-sineha refers to love for one’s children, and bhariyā-sineha refers to love for one’s wife.

Such affection is a cause for favouritism, and it may lead to inappropriate actions performed to help the person who is the object of affection. This bias is referred to as chandāgati (’bias due to love’). Examples for such affection are statements like: ’He has a unique love for me’, and, ’He loves her exceedingly’, which may express an absence of true lovingkindness. {708}

True love is impartial and preserves objectivity. It leads to altruism and fairness, to an absence of harmful thoughts, to friendliness and the wish to help everyone equally, and to reasoned judgements and actions, aiming for the true welfare of all beings. One does not act out of personal preference or in order to acquire something. True love is characterized as follows:

The Blessed One was even and impartial, towards the archer (who was hired to secretly assassinate the Buddha), towards Devadatta (who ordered the assassination), towards the bandit Aṅgulimāla, towards the elephant Dhanapāla (which was released in order to kill the Buddha), and towards Rāhula (the Buddha’s son), without exception.24

Ap. 47-8; DhA. I. 145.

The benefits of lovingkindness are obvious during times of dispute and debate, when each party is able to consider the other side’s reasoned arguments and even to realize the truth of these arguments.

An example is the story of a Jain follower who engaged the Buddha in a discussion and who used harsh words to criticize him. The Buddha responded using reasoned arguments until the Jain said:

This being so, I have confidence in Master Gotama. Truly, Master Gotama is developed in body and developed in mind….

It is wonderful, Master Gotama, it is unprecedented, how when Master Gotama is insulted by me, cross-examined by discourteous speech, his complexion remains bright and the colour of his face radiant, as is to be expected of one who is accomplished and fully enlightened.

M. I. 239-40, 250.

In the case that wrong thinking (micchā-saṅkappa) has arisen, it cannot be rectified by headstrong, fretful, or incoherent behaviour. Instead, one must use systematic reflection, investigating with reasoned discernment and reflecting on the advantages and disadvantages of phenomena:

Monks, before my enlightenment, while I was still only an unenlightened bodhisatta, it occurred to me: ’Suppose that I divide my thoughts into two classes.’ Then I set on one side thoughts of sensual desire, thoughts of ill-will, and thoughts of cruelty, and I set on the other side thoughts of renunciation, thoughts of non-ill-will, and thoughts of non-cruelty.

As I abided thus, diligent, ardent, and resolute, a thought of sensual desire arose in me. I understood clearly thus: ’This thought of sensual desire has arisen in me. This leads to my own affliction, to others’ affliction, and to the affliction of both; it cuts off wisdom, is an obstruction, and is unconducive to Nibbāna.’

When I considered: ’This leads to my own affliction’, it subsided in me; when I considered: ’This leads to other’s affliction’ … ’This leads to the affliction of both’, it subsided in me; when I considered: ’This cuts off wisdom, is an obstruction, and is unconducive to Nibbāna’, it subsided in me. Whenever a thought of sensual desire arose in me, I abandoned it, diminished it, did away with it.

As I abided thus, diligent, ardent, and resolute, a thought of ill-will arose in me … a thought of cruelty arose in me. I understood clearly…. Whenever a thought of cruelty arose in me, I abandoned it, diminished it, did away with it. {709}

Monks, whatever a monk frequently thinks about and ponders over, that will become the inclination of his mind. If he frequently thinks about and ponders over thoughts of sensual desire, he abandons the thought of renunciation to cultivate the thought of sensual desire, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of sensual desire…. If he frequently thinks about and ponders over thoughts of renunciation, he abandons the thought of sensual desire to cultivate the thought of renunciation, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation.

M. I. 114-16.

The initial stage of spiritual practice incorporating these two Path factors can be summarized as follows:

Monks, a monk possessed of four things is called one who follows an unerring way of practice and who begins to build the basis for the destruction of the taints. The four things are: the thought of renunciation, the thought of non-ill-will, the thought of non-cruelty, and right view.

A. II. 76-7.

Appendix: Relationship between Internal Qualities and External Actions

The earlier illustration in the section titled ’Right Thought (sammā-saṅkappa)’ combines the dual teachings on the four divine abidings (brahmavihāra) and on the four favourable qualities (saṅgaha-vatthu) with three of the Path factors: the divine abidings are included in the factor of right thought, and the four favourable qualities are included in the two factors of right speech and right action. The purpose for combining these is twofold:

  1. To prevent confusion and to enable a correct distinction between fundamental mental qualities (behaviour on the level of thought) and qualities which are expressed outwards (behaviour on the level of external conduct). In particular, there tends be confusion about the four divine abidings, which some people talk about or define as forms of outward practice and conduct.

    In fact these abidings, say of lovingkindness, are inherent mental qualities; they exist on the level of thinking and are associated with right thought. The cultivation of these abidings is included in the section of concentration (samādhi) or in the training in higher mind (adhicitta-sikkhā). For this reason, the four divine abidings are classified as one group of meditation (kammaṭṭhāna) in the list of forty meditation techniques: they are connected with ’mental cultivation’ (citta-bhāvanā).25

    On the level of outward conduct, the four favourable qualities take over from the divine abidings and function as expressions of these abidings in a person’s social environment. If one wishes to describe lovingkindness in the context of outward expression, one must link it with an external action, for example by saying: ’Physical actions accompanied by lovingkindness’, or: ’Speech accompanied by lovingkindness.’ Mettā on its own is not an action on the level of outward conduct. In contrast, acts of generosity, kindly speech, and acts of service, for example, which are part of virtuous conduct (sīla), are external, social actions.

    An understanding of these principles enables Buddhists to practise these teachings in a more correct, clear, and definite way. Buddhists will also recognize the flaws in the accusations by other people, who claim that Buddhists have been taught to do good simply by idly sitting in their rooms and spreading lovingkindness.

  2. To illustrate the relationship between internal, mental qualities and external practice in the context of society; to describe the complete, well-ordered system of Buddha-Dhamma, which addresses all levels of spiritual practice; to reveal how expressions of outward goodness – virtuous actions in relation to society – must be rooted in deep-seated mental qualities in order for them to be stable, lasting, pure, and true. Beneficial social actions, say of giving or acts of service, are only pure and genuine when they are based on a foundation of lovingkindness and compassion.


(Open large size)

The Phimpha Philap sīmā stone (temple boundary marker) at Mueang Fa Daet Song Yang, Kamalasai, Kalasin Province Khon Kaen National Museum, Khon Kaen Province, Thailand


Similar passages occur at: D. II. 216-17; A. V. 236-7. The expression ’comes into being’ is a translation of the Pali term pahoti, which can also be translated as ’suitable for application’ or ’workable’. Passages at S. V. 1-2 and A. V. 214 present a deeper analysis, stating that although right view is the leader of all the Path factors, knowledge (vijjā) is the leader in the undertaking of all wholesome qualities and is the source of right view. (Similarly, ignorance – avijjā – is the leader for all unwholesome qualities and is the source of wrong view.)


The three unwholesome roots: greed, hatred, and delusion; the three wholesome roots: non-greed, non-hatred, and non-delusion.


See, e.g.: S. II. 17; M. I. 47-55. There are many such definitions.


In the Pali Canon there are two equivalent terms which often accompany diṭṭhi to form the following group: diṭṭhi (view), khanti (things conforming with personal understanding), and ruci (preferences or agreeable notions), e.g.: Vin. I. 69-70; Nd. I. 40; Ps. I. 176; Vbh. 245, 324-5. See also the section in chapter 2 on the different kinds and stages of knowledge. Although the term diṭṭhi corresponds to the English word ’attitude’, this latter word also corresponds in part to saṅkappa (thought; intention) – the second Path factor.


Diṭṭhi as mental kamma in the teaching on the courses of action (kamma-patha), e.g.: A. V. 264-8, 292. On the critical importance of diṭṭhi, see: M. I. 373; A. V. 212.


Saddhāmūlikā ca sammādiṭṭhi (’right view with faith as root cause’): DA. I. 231; MA. I. 132; AA. II. 109; ItA. II. 45.


E.g.: Vbh. 328.


The commentaries refer to this form of right view as ’insight right view’ (vipassanā-sammādiṭṭhi); the original Pali term for it is ’knowledge conforming to truth’ (saccānulomika-ñāṇa). (In the commentaries this latter term is specifically used in reference to the final stage of the nine kinds of insight knowledge – vipassanā-ñāṇa.)


Both negative values and negative emotions are a result of craving. The difference is that the former are a form of embellished or modified craving, while the latter are an expression of pure craving.


E.g.: Nd. I. 44-5; Vbh. 237.


The term sucarita here refers to virtuous physical acts, speech, and livelihood; it does not include mano-sucarita (’virtuous mental acts’), which encompasses right view.


This is an example of how individual behaviour can shape values, in the same way as external social factors can shape values.


In this case, values determine behaviour.


This is a very general explanation, focusing on the main principles involved. In fact there are also physical laws, genetic laws, and psychic laws, but these are not relevant to the present discussion. (Dhamma-niyāma: general laws of nature, especially those of cause and effect; laws concerning the interrelationship of all things. Kamma-niyāma (kammic laws): laws concerning intention and human behaviour, i.e. the law of actions – kamma – and their results.)


An abridged translation. Add to this the Buddha’s teaching: Listening well, inquiry, and investigation is the nutriment for wisdom (A. V. 136).


Trans.: note that sammā-saṅkappa is sometimes translated as ’right intention’, ’right attitude’, ’right motive’, or ’right aspiration’.


When developed to a higher degree this perspective becomes equanimity (upekkhā), which is a vital factor for effective reasoning. This is not the same as complacency or indifference as commonly understood. This matter will be explained at more length below.


Nekkhamma = alobha (’non-greed’). The ’property of renunciation’ (nekkhamma-dhātu) = all wholesome qualities; the ’property of non-ill-will’ (abyāpāda-dhātu) = lovingkindness (mettā); the ’property of non-cruelty’ (avihiṁsā-dhātu) = compassion (karuṇā): Vbh. 86; VbhA. 74; PsA. I. 68.


See the appendix.


Cf.: VbhA. 91, 115; Vism. 515.


The definition for mettā at Nd. I. 488 is: mettāti yā sattesu metti mettāyanā mettāyitattaṃ anudā anudāyanā anudāyitattaṃ hitesitā anukampā abyāpādo abyāpajjho adoso kusalamūlaṃ; the definition at SnA. I. 128 is: hitasukhūpanayanakāmatā mettā.


Vism. 318.




See also the examples of how the Buddha radiated lovingkindness, at: Vin. II. 195; [JA. 8/215].


See, e.g.: Vism. 295-325.