Buddhism 101: Do the Right Thing, Quietly…

To do the right thing isn’t always easy. Do it anyway: samma-ditthi, samma-sankappa, samma-vaca, samma-kammanta, samma-ajiva, samma-vayama, samma-sati, samma-samadhi, often translated as Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration, though I’m not sure what the difference is between Right Understanding and Right Thought. But I do know that Right View is often substituted for one or the other of them, I assume the first, since the modern Nepali translation of ‘view’ is drsya, and probably better for the very reason of its distinction from ‘thought.’

And then there are those who would object to the translation of ‘samma’ as ‘right,’ though for what reason I can’t remember now, and probably misguided, if we remember that ‘right’ in this case is in the context of ‘appropriate,’ which would agree nicely with that word’s derivation in modern standard Thai, which has probably half of its words derived from Pali and/or Sanskrit.

Re-translation is the curse of modern-day Buddhism, especially American-based Buddhism, which must reconcile ancient Indian thought derived from deep contemplation with modern critical analysis largely derived from empirical testing on one hand, and the faddish trends of fashion on the other, and the need for brief sound bites with universal happy endings, perfect for mass consumption.

And that’s fine, since Buddhism is an ongoing dialog, or dialectic, in constant search of a higher truth, those first Four Noble ones and that ensuing Eightfold Path but the starting point for further developments and the groundwork for the Precepts, that were once typically translated as Commandments for simplicity of reason, faith and understanding. All religions seem to need tenets, even when they are almost identical, since most people need constant reminding of even the simplest things in life.

For example: Samma Vaca, Right Speech, is not just for your friends, but your enemies, too, and strangers unnamed and uncounted. Obvious, right? But until someone articulates that most important point, then it might very well go unnoticed by most typical text-skimmers. Less obvious is that all this verbiage is excessive, and should be unnecessary, except for our habits of point and counterpoint, parry and thrust. Buddhism is a religion and philosophy of silence, at the core of its being and existence. Silence is normal. All noise should be treated as an alien force, approached with caution and handled with great care.