Lately, I’ve been Dharmically churning around the usage of the word right, as it pertains to the Eightfold Path and also the nature of our Buddhist practice based teachings in general. The Eightfold Path (listed in the image above) consists of: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
But this word right can also apply to other facets of our practice as well – and simply life in general. I am coming to understand more and more how necessary it is to discern the differences between, for instance, such things as: desire & right desire; joyfulness & right joyfulness; individuality & right individuality; generosity & right generosity; technology & right technology; media & right media; friendships & right friendships; sexuality & right sexuality; and even practice & right practice.
First thing’s first, though. We must come to properly understand what the word right means and refers to, as our western minds often automatically insert the word wrong to counterbalance the inclusion of the word right, which is not only the improper conclusion to draw but also a potentially detrimental and harmful one at that. When we get caught up in the right & wrong game, it rarely – if ever – benefits our situation.
Let’s say we keep the word right in the mix, which honestly I’m wondering if that’s the most helpful thing to do when offering these teachings to our new and budding generation of young mindfulness practitioners. But let’s say we keep it in active use. What does right in this context of practice mean? Right for what? I recently watched a talk by Sister Dieu Nghiem on Youtube and she described wholesome habit energies as leading us in the direction of transformation and healing and unwholesome habit energies as that which leads us in the direction of suffering. And I think this explanation applies here, with the word wholesome equating to the word right. So we could say that right stands in accordance with a thought/word/action that propels us in the direction of transformation and healing.
But if we keep the word right, what do we call its counterpart? What do we call it when we’re moving in the direction that leads us towards creating and causing more suffering, for our self and/or others? Using the words right and unwholesome doesn’t seem quite fitting. What about right and regular? I’m not sure this is quite the ticket either, though I do feel it’s getting much closer to a more approachable and less misunderstood way of fleshing out these teachings.
The more I come into contact with others – whether they are close friends, sangha members, community members, friends of friends, or personal interactions I have with people I only know in passing – the more I come to see how very easily it is to be dominated by misperceptions. We are continually led, ruled, and dangerously overwhelmed by false views of: our self, others, life, and the world at large.
And when it comes specifically to the teachings of mindfulness and/or the Dharma, misperceptions are extremely easy to develop. As the Discourse on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake teaches:
Monks, it is important to understand my teachings thoroughly before you teach or put them into practice. If you have not understood the meaning of any teaching I give, please ask me or one of the elder brothers in the Dharma or one of the others who is excellent in the practice about it. There are always people who do not understand the letter or the spirit of a teaching and, in fact, take it the opposite way of what was intended…
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone equate mindfulness with being happy and joyful all of the time. This is a very common misunderstanding. I lost track of how many people have come up to me after I’ve spoken about the practice of cultivating joy, expressing their interpretation of what I shared as constituting that we should ignore our feelings of upset and hardship when they arise. This too seems to be a very common misunderstanding. And there are a host of others I’ve personally encountered as well.
So we must be careful with how we regard the word right in the context of the Eightfold Path and our practice. And equally, I think we would do well to come up with verbiage around right’s counterpart.
I’ll see if I can flesh out an example, using the right & regular vernacular.
Knowing that I’ve been working on wrapping my mind and heart around how best to talk and teach about sexual energy and address the propensity our sangha members have to misappropriate their sexual energy in a myriad of unskillful ways, a friend sent me this reading from the book 365 Tao, which I’ve read in the past for a spell of time and richly enjoyed.
Making love is natural. Why be ashamed of it?
That seems simple, but it is actually a great challenge in these complex times. Too many other layers of meaning have been imposed upon sex. Religions straitjacket it, ascetics deny it, romantics glorify it, intellectuals theorize about it, obsessives pervert it. These actions have nothing to do with lovemaking. They come from fanaticism and compulsive behavior. Can we actually master the challenge of having lovemaking be open and healthy?
Sex should not be used as leverage, manipulation, selfishness, or abuse. It should not be a ground for our personal compulsions and delusions.
Sexuality is an honest reflection of our innermost personalities, and we should ensure that its expression is healthy. Making love is something mysterious, sacred, and often the most profound interaction between people. Whether what is created is a relationship or pregnancy, the legacy of both partners will be inherent in their creation. What we put into love determines what we get out of it.
– from the book 365 Tao
This reading is speaking directly to the difference between right sexuality and regular sexuality. Regular meaning the ways in which our sexual energy routinely and commonly presents itself and is also collectively understood and regarded.
Right sexuality involves: “an honest reflection of our innermost personalities.” Whereas, regular sexuality involves: “leverage, manipulation, selfishness, or abuse.”
This is a rich topic. Part 2 to follow…