First, let me frame my question by establishing a shared understanding of what I mean by "view." Throughout all forms of Buddhism as far as I know, the Four Noble Truths are considered essential Buddhadharma. Included in the 4th Truth is the Eightfold Path, which Bhikkhu Bodhi (in Noble Eightfold Path) describes as follows:
The eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path are not steps to be followed in sequence, one after another. They can be more aptly described as components rather than as steps.... With a certain degree of progress all eight factors can be present simultaneously, each supporting the others. However, until that point is reached, some sequence in the unfolding of the path is inevitable.
Right view has a very important role in that unfolding. One's very definition of "Noble" or "wisdom" reflects one's view, and in fact it seems that inquiry into and transformation of view is integral to how and where one travels as a sentient being. As Bhikkhu Bodhi writes in the same book:
Right view is the forerunner of the entire path, the guide for all the other factors. It enables us to understand our starting point, our destination, and the successive landmarks to pass as practice advances. To attempt to engage in the practice without a foundation of right view is to risk getting lost in the futility of undirected movement. Doing so might be compared to wanting to drive someplace without consulting a roadmap or listening to the suggestions of an experienced driver. One might get into the car and start to drive, but rather than approaching closer to one’s destination, one is more likely to move farther away from it. To arrive at the desired place one has to have some idea of its general direction and of the roads leading to it. Analogous considerations apply to the practice of the path, which takes place in a framework of understanding established by right view.
Back in the full context of the Eightfold Path: among the three trainings, Right View and Right Intention make up the "training in the higher wisdom." This goes along with training in two other sets of Path elements. Bhikkhu Bodhi:
the moral discipline group [is] made up of right speech, right action, and right livelihood; [and] the concentration group [is] made up of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration
To give an example of the role of View from an Indo-Tibetan tradition, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo had a vision in which Manjushri taught: "If there is grasping, you do not have the View.” This same teaching includes 3 specific attachments to relinquish leading up to this:
- If you are attached to this life, you are not a true spiritual practitioner.
- If you are attached to samsara, you do not have renunciation.
- If you are attached to your own self-interest, you have no bodhichitta.
Therefore, as is true throughout the Indo-Tibetan traditions I've encountered, the Right View must include a perspective that looks across countless lifetimes as well as beyond samsara; and that takes consciousness as somehow more primary than the physical. The ontological assumptions behind both "matter" and "mind" can certainly be tested, but by framing this in terms of View I want to focus on how one's convictions about the relationship between the physical world and consciousness (whatever one's ontological stance about them) shapes the way one interprets and practices Dharma.
Second, let me try to explicitly name my motivations in asking this question:
I ask partly as someone born into an environment of unexamined scientific materialsm, who has found greater sanity and happiness extending beyond its bounds as I've inquired into my assumptions. I hope to uncover and test more such assumptions within myself by asking others about their views, and thereby to keep getting more sane and happy for the sake of my own good and that of all sentient beings.
I also ask hoping to become more skillful when I encounter people who are both materialists and Buddhists. I've definitely gotten perturbed before (and probably will again) in reacting to materialist views that I consider unhelpful or already refuted. Beyond the afflictive emotion involved, it seems like such a critique on my part is "wrong speech" if it drives someone away from wanting to study and practice Buddhadharma. Given the interdependent and holistic nature of the Eightfold Path, how could wrong speech possibly help to advance right view or anything else? Further, given the immense range of skillful means employed by Buddhas in training beings, why should I assume that a materialist stance (especially given the dominant cultural assumptions of modern civilization) might not fall within one or more of these skillful means, at least as a provisional adaptation to social mores? With a more complete understanding, I can still speak my own truth but do so in more compassionate and constructive ways.
Hoping I've now given enough context to avoid coming across as rude or provocative, I'll present my question: if as part of your view you find that what you call physical reality (e.g., "matter & energy") encompasses and underpins what you call mind (e.g., "the space of mental events that includes qualia, thoughts, images and feelings"), how do you:
- Express this view in your own words; and
- Carry this view (or not) into how you travel the Eightfold Path? In particular, what are its implications for how you train in ethical discipline and/or concentration?