How do you know what is right?

Good question. Short answer is, you don’t, at least not to begin with. The Pali words for the eight factors of the noble path all begin with sammā- e.g. sammā-diṭṭhi (right view), sammā-saṅkappo (right thought). However, sammā doesn’t just mean right.

How do we usually translate “Sammāsambuddho?” You never see it translated as the Rightly Enlightened Buddha, do you? The usual translation is the Fully or Perfectly Enlightened Buddha.

So our view has to be gradually straightened and corrected until it is not just right, but perfect and without any blemish. This action of straightening our views is one of the ten wholesome deeds.

Most people, including many so-called Buddhists, have more wrong views than right ones. When we gain sincere and well-placed confidence in the enlightenment of the Buddha, we get rid of the gross forms of wrong views such as those denying the law of cause and effect, and gain mundane right view, but we have not attained nibbāna yet. Self-view is one kind of serious wrong view that must be eliminated before we can realise nibbāna.

Self-view is the belief in a permanent self, soul, person, or being who inhabits the body, and motivates it.

“I think, therefore I am. I think?” “No you’re not, you’re magnetic ink. The folded sheets of paper clatter through the great computer …”

Before I became a Buddhist, I used to listen to the Moody Blues Greatest Hits album, from which these lyrics come. The very rapid, and almost incessant mental process perpetuates the illusion of a permanent self or person. That is why most people find it very difficult to be silent, and to do nothing.

When we meditate, the mind gradually becomes still, then we can see this profound truth of emptiness, or egolessness, and gain a deeper realisation of right view. When the mind is truly empty of self — selfishness, egoism, pride, arrogance, conceit — then you will clearly discern right from wrong.

The Buddha never tried to convert anybody to his viewpoint, because he didn’t have one. He knew what was right, and helped others to see it too. When you see the truth clearly for yourself you will gain confidence in the Buddha. If I insult your intelligence by trying to tell you what to believe, why should you listen to me?

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