On the nature of wrong view

Based on a transcription of a talk by the late Luang Por Boontham, translated from Thai. A short note to preface this: the ‘right view’ referred to here is clearly the noble right view, often referred to in the suttas as the understanding of suffering, its origin, its cessation and the way leading to its cessation. (e.g., SN 45.8) The ‘wrong view’ is that which lacks the basis for noble right view.

Developing right view is done in no other way than through learning to see the wrong view.
This means to uncover the misunderstanding in our habitual understanding; the upside-downness of it – and turning the opposite way round.

Master Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways, as though he were turning upright what had been overthrown, revealing what was hidden, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the darkness so those with good eyesight can see forms

AN 5.53 (Just one example)

For example, sensual happiness – that is, the kind of happiness one gets from reaching ‘outside of oneself’ – is unwholesome pleasure; and delighting in it depends on wrong view. Equally, instead of mentally blaming something outside for making us suffer, we need to see that only our own ignorance and craving can make us suffer. If we realise for ourselves how mistaken it is to expect happiness from something ‘outside’, then we turn the other way round and are only be able to expect happiness from ourselves, that is, from our understanding and wisdom as far as we have developed them. Happiness from abandoning the origin of suffering, is the kind of happiness that depends on the right view. When suffering is abandoned directly at its source, only then is there the happiness of the right view.

Yet notice that it is possible to have the idea of this, ‘it is supposed to be this way’ – yet we still find ourselves continually trying to gain happiness with something outside of ourselves, or avoid suffering from something outside of ourselves. This is because we have not properly understood the wrongness in this wrong view; hence it still directs our thoughts, words, actions. Seeing the wrongness of the wrong view is, in itself, right view; there is nothing in between.

Therein, bhikkhus, right view comes first. And how does right view come first? One understands wrong view as wrong view and right view as right view: this is one’s right view.

MN 117

How to reveal the wrong view so as to develop the right view? The trouble is that wrong view by definition does not know ‘wrong as wrong and right as right.’ It assumes it is right, without knowing. You might think ‘I don’t have the wrong view’ but if you are asked questions about the nature of things, are you able to be sure that you will give the right answer? If you answer and it turns out to be wrong, did you intend to speak wrongly? Can you abandon wrong view if you do not realise that you have it?
A question, then: where do we store the wrong view? Where is the wrong understanding?
We can’t find a place! Not here, not there! But where is it? If we dismiss these questions we cannot abandon the wrong view.
Since you cannot abandon the wrong view yet, where do you keep it? Where do you keep it at this moment when you are listening (or reading) the dhamma?

Somebody answers: We keep it inside of us.

Luang Por: Where? Does it have ears, and can it hear? Does the wrong view have the ears to hear the dhamma?
When we are not able to understand, it means we are not hearing the dhamma. An example is Devadatta – he became ordained at the same time as Ananda, and learned the dhamma for many years. He listened, remembered – but remembered what? Did he remember the dhamma? The wrong view can remember the words with no problem. Memory comes under the command of the wrong view; including the memory of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and thoughts.
It’s important not to confuse these things. The kind of knowledge, memory, and ‘mindfulness’ that is valued and that we usually value as a starting point, is correct and good according to the sensual world, not according to right view.

With the same skill and attentiveness that allows you to count money accurately, any of you here can give a dhamma talk fluently from memory. Similarly, Devadatta came to listen to the dhamma, and remembered it according to his perception and his interpretation. In this way even ‘dhamma’ becomes harmful when under the sway of the wrong view; Devadatta used the ‘dhamma’ as a tool to secure himself honour, fame and ultimately disaster.

As far as learning arises for a fool, it is only to his disadvantage,
it destroys the fool’s good fortune, and it will destroy his head.

Dhp 72

When we do not have right view, we do not really know what the wrong view is, we don’t understand its nature. We might think of it as a ‘belief’ that we can choose to take up or leave as we choose, but it is not as easy as this. We cannot just choose to remove the wrong view from our eyes, or ears, nose, tongue, body or mind. It’s not something we can abandon by doing a particular thing, or by avoiding particular things.

I will give a simile: if you are able to speak two languages, you cannot speak both languages at the same time. If you can speak English and French, your ability to speak English must be there before you can speak French. But when you speak English, the ability to speak French is there before you say one word. In a similar sense, the wrong view is not to be found in our physical actions, but in that which precedes them – that which must be there before we can act.

The wrong view is the reason that, though we don’t intend to say something wrong, we say something and it turns out to be wrong. When we have unwholesome desire, we automatically assume it as good at the moment when we act out of it. Whatever we do we always think it is right, yet somehow it is all wrong. That is because it is the wrong view that guides the action. An example is the person who said that the wrong view is ‘inside of ourselves’ without knowing its location – this is when speech is guided by wrong view.

The fundamental difference with right view, is that right view recognises right view as right view. It can distinguish right thinking from wrong thinking; right livelihood from wrong livelihood; right effort from wrong effort; while the wrong view does not. In the same way that we have eyes, the right view has eyes for seeing that this is the path towards suffering, this is the path towards the end of suffering. While listening, we listen and understand for ourselves without any doubt, that this is right; this is wrong. We are able to reflect that what we are doing is wholesome or unwholesome and know this for ourselves.

All of you who are here, do you have wrong view?
No???? If not, do you want to answer questions now? Will you answer them right or wrong? You don’t know, yet you assume always that you are right and will defend yourself if there is any disagreement. I warn you, because if we do not destroy our wrong view we can have no refuge.
If you can abandon it, you will gain such a huge value – but only after we have already abandoned it, are we capable of understanding the value of the right view. If not, we can’t see the value for what it is – how could the wrong view see the value of right view? With the wrong view, one is lost, because the wrong view does not know what the Buddha is, what the Dhamma or Sangha is; it does not know what meditation is, or what the meaning of virtue is.

Then how should we think? We have to see that to be wrong in this case is not to be wrong in the usual way we know. For instance, in the world, one is considered skillful when one can accurately count money with full attention; or play a musical instrument or earn a PhD. It is good to be ‘aware’ in this way according to the world; one who is totally unaware is useless to society. And so, when people go to ‘practice meditation’ they expect the same sort of standard; measuring skill in meditation by how focused one is on a particular sense-object, or the ability to discern minute details in things; or by one’s ability to remember, analyse and explain.

Q: When we do Anapana and get some peace and some knowledge, are we the wrong viewer at that moment?

Luang Por: You might be able to get some psychic power and fly if you are really concentrated! (laughs). What we have to understand is that the principle of the Buddha’s teaching is only about obtaining wisdom. Without wisdom, it is not the Buddha’s teaching. It is only wisdom that counts. Without wisdom we cannot get out of sufferings. Meditation without wisdom from the right view can never be what is called ‘right samadhi.’ Which means there is some wrong view remaining. There were so many kinds of samadhi all over the place before the enlightenment of the Buddha. But right view comes from the Buddha and after the Buddha.

How should we think, to abandon the wrong view? Pleasure, that is seeking pleasure in objects of pleasure – is its food, and ignorance is its territory. Without knowing, admitting our own doubt to the extent that it persists, seeing the extent to which we do not know, it is not possible to abandon the wrong view. But if one who does not understand can understand that he does not understand, there is some footing for letting go of the wrong view. So think about it: when we cannot abandon the wrong view, where do we store it?

The fool who knows his foolishness, is at least wise in that,

The fool who is proud of his wisdom, he is said to be a fool indeed.

Dhp 63.

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