Working with a Satipatthana approach, Right View and Dhammanupassana, have a lot in common. They are both ways of holding a dharma perspective in mind. We can also talk about this as a wisdom perspective. We train in being able to view ‘objects’ of experience through the window of the Buddha’s teachings. This ‘window’ is like a two-way mirror: as well as viewing objects through the 5 physical senses (sights, sounds, sensations etc.) and mind objects (thoughts, memories, images etc.) you can also look back through this ‘mirror’ to see that ‘objects’ like perception, feeling and knowing are themselves part of the viewing processes.
Right View can be equated with the 3 levels of wisdom. It is a training process. First, we train in viewing our experience through the six senses more as ‘process’ and as ‘objects’ of experience rather than the contents ie ‘seeing is happening’ rather than ‘the lovely view I’m looking at’. In the second level, this perspective becomes more natural and is sometimes there without being consciously brought to mind. In the third level Right View becomes Perfect Vision and the wisdom perspective is established fully.
As its name suggests Right View is about views and view-forming processes that inform and create our thoughts, speech and actions: the views and opinions we hold, that are sometimes so subtle and implicit, and built into the fabric of the mind, like neutral wallpaper in a room you’ve visited for many years.
But Right View isn’t just about the cognitive aspect of experience: Right View has to be ‘held’ in the right way in order not to become ‘wrong view’. Another aspect of Right View is sometimes called ‘Right Attitude’. Right Attitude is much more about our emotions, particularly the ‘afflictive’ or disturbing emotions. Right Attitude is a translation of the term ‘yoniso manisikara’ (wise attention or carefully / thoroughly attending). It is pointing to the wise or helpful way to view objects without reacting. To do this we need an attitude that allows objects to be clearly known, however unpleasant or unwanted they are, or however pleasant and enticing they may be. The attitude is that ‘any object will do’: there is no preferencing of one object over another. A cramped, irritable mind, a tense body or a blissful heart – they are all objects to be aware of. They each bear the same potential for understanding. The crucial aspect is that the mind that observes – the mind that ‘knows’ and ‘feels’ what is happening – has this quality of ease and acceptance in it that is independent of whatever arises. Right Attitude says: “whatever arises, can I be with it with a degree of interest and impartiality?”
This is a blessed state of mind. Right View and Right Attitude have a protective function in the mind. So often we are, even to a small degree, driven by a mind/heart that is wishing things were different: wanting, anticipating or resisting something, with consequent feelings of disappointment, dislike or sadness arising. We lean into a moment or lean away from it, or we’re simply vacant to it. This is natural, and if this is what is happening, this is what we become aware of. Just as it’s possible to be aware of any object, it is also possible to access Right View and Right Attitude in any moment regardless of the overall state of the mind. It is not necessary that the mind is completely free from ‘defilements’. Defilements can be observed and known from the perspective of Right View and Awareness.
Right View changes with the circumstances – different modes for different mind moments. Sampajana, the wisdom aspect of Right Mindfulness, has a thoughtful and flexible intelligence that doesn’t make assumptions about what’s happening in experience but looks afresh each time. (The automatic mode that’s so useful for activities like driving and typing is not so helpful to meditation!). Sometimes Right View will emphasise one quality or aspect: for example patience or acceptance if there is judgement or conflict in the mind; switching awareness to a ‘neutral’ object quite consciously if the mind is overly agitated, so it can calm down; recognising habits of ‘trying’ or ‘doing’ that obscure the recognition of multiple objects or subtle ones, such as very subtle levels of thinking, or recognising that perception or volition is happening.
Interest in the practice is always needed. Right View and Right Attitude are curious about what is in the mind, and what can be understood about any particular object or mental process. We set up the conditions for Insight to arise through continuity of Awareness and Right View. We can’t control how or when that will happen but through patient and consistent observation we can have confidence that the nature of reality will be revealed.