By Nancy Thompson
I start each day with a brief recitation recommended by Thich Nhat Hahn: Waking up, I smile. Twenty-four brand-new hours are before me. I vow to live fully present in each moment and to look at the world with eyes of compassion.
Often, I find myself contemplating the phrase “eyes of compassion” as I get ready to start my day. What does it mean to see with eyes of compassion? Do things look different? How would I view a particular situation through the eyes of compassion? Would it be different if I looked with critical eyes, eyes of judgment, eyes of hatred?
Think of a plant. It could be seen as a beautiful living thing, an out-of-place invader, a potential source of suffering for those with allergies, and more. That’s how it is with most things — how we see is the result of not only how well our eyes work but the interpretations we bring to the physical action of seeing.
September’s ministry theme is Vision. It generally refers both to the physical process of apprehending visual stimulation in this moment and to the view of what we want to see in the future.
Buddhism is more concerned with the present moment and seeing clearly what is happening in the moment, including the arising of prejudices, memories, and conceptions that affect our direct experience and lead to more preferences and judgments that affect the future. Many of the practices associated with Buddhism, including various methods of meditation, are intended to help us become aware of those filters and to lead us to direct, unfiltered experience of our world.
Direct experience is the foundation of the Buddhist path. The Buddha himself said not to take anything he said on faith but to test it out and determine by your own experience whether it is valid. He laid out a path, but you have to do the work of walking it to know if it is true. The many wise teachers out there can point the way and help keep you on the path, but you have to put in the “joyful effort,” as Pema Chodron calls it, to move toward liberation.
The Buddha named Right View as the first step on the Eightfold Path to liberation from suffering. Right — also called Wise — View includes an understanding of impermanence and interdependence, that everything is always changing, and in the interdependent web of existence, those changes ripple out and affect others. Buddhist monk and scholar Bikkhu Bodhi lists Right View as the ninth step on the path because by working through the other steps our view becomes more refined and subtle as we realize and drop our filters.
An enlightened person is said to see clearly what is happening, both in the immediate moment and the causes and conditions that led to that. That wisdom naturally results in compassion — and Right Action, which is action that leads to liberation from suffering for ourselves and all other beings.