Right View: The Sammaditthi Sutta
and its Commentary
Translated from the Pali by
Edited and Revised by
Bhikkhus, just as the dawn is the forerunner and first indication of the rising of the sun, so is right view the forerunner and first indication of wholesome states.
For one of right view, bhikkhus, right intention springs up. For one of right intention, right speech springs up. For one of right speech, right action springs up. For one of right action, right livelihood springs up. For one of right livelihood, right effort springs up. For one of right effort, right mindfulness springs up. For one of right mindfulness, right concentration springs up. For one of right concentration, right knowledge springs up. For one of right knowledge, right deliverance springs up.
Anguttara Nikaya 10:121
The Sammaditthi Sutta, the Discourse on Right View, is the ninth sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya, the Collection of Middle Length Discourses. Its expositor is the Venerable Sariputta Thera, the Buddha's chief disciple and the foremost of the Master's bhikkhu disciples in the exercise of the faculty of wisdom. The Buddha declared that next to himself, it was the Venerable Sariputta who excelled in turning the incomparable Wheel of the Dhamma, in expounding in depth and in detail the Four Noble Truths realized with the attainment of enlightenment. In the Sammaditthi Sutta the great disciple bears ample testimony to the Buddha's words of praise, bequeathing upon us a discourse that has served as a primer of Buddhist doctrine for generations of monks in the monasteries of South and Southeast Asia.
As its title suggests, the subject of the Sammaditthi Sutta is right view. The analysis of right view undertaken in the sutta brings us to the very core of the Dhamma, since right view constitutes the correct understanding of the central teachings of the Buddha, the teachings which confer upon the Buddha's doctrine its own unique and distinctive stamp. Though the practice of right mindfulness has rightly been extolled as the crest jewel of the Buddha's teaching, it cannot be stressed strongly enough that the practice of mindfulness, or any other approach to meditation, only becomes an effective instrument of liberation to the extent that it is founded upon and guided by right view. Hence, to confirm the importance of right view, the Buddha places it at the very beginning of the Noble Eightfold Path. Elsewhere in the Suttas the Buddha calls right view the forerunner of the path (pubbangama), which gives direction and efficacy to the other seven path factors.
Right view, as explained in the commentary to the Sammaditthi Sutta, has a variety of aspects, but it might best be considered as twofold: conceptual right view, which is the intellectual grasp of the principles enunciated in the Buddha's teaching, and experiential right view, which is the wisdom that arises by direct penetration of the teaching. Conceptual right view, also called the right view in conformity with the truths (saccanulomika-sammaditthi), is a correct conceptual understanding of the Dhamma arrived at by study of the Buddha's teachings and deep examination of their meaning. Such understanding, though conceptual rather than experiential, is not dry and sterile. When rooted in faith in the Triple Gem and driven by a keen aspiration to realize the truth embedded in the formulated principles of the Dhamma, it serves as a critical phase in the development of wisdom (panna), for it provides the germ out of which experiential right view gradually evolves.
Experiential right view is the penetration of the truth of the teaching in one's own immediate experience. Thus it is also called right view that penetrates the truths (saccapativedha-sammaditthi). This type of right view is aroused by the practice of insight meditation guided by a correct conceptual understanding of the Dhamma. To arrive at direct penetration, one must begin with a correct conceptual grasp of the teaching and transform that grasp from intellectual comprehension to direct perception by cultivating the threefold training in morality, concentration and wisdom. If conceptual right view van be compared to a hand, a hand that grasps the truth by way of concepts, then experiential right view can be compared to an eye -- the eye of wisdom that sees directly into the true nature of existence ordinarily hidden from us by our greed, aversion and delusion.
The Discourse on Right View is intended to elucidate the principles that are to be comprehended by conceptual right view and penetrated by experiential right view. The Venerable Sariputta expounds these principles under sixteen headings: the wholesome and the unwholesome, the four nutriments of life, the Four Noble Truths, the twelve factors of dependent arising, and the taints as the condition for ignorance. It will be noted that from the second section to the end of the sutta, all the expositions are framed in accordance with the same structure, which reveals the principle of conditionality as the scaffolding for the entire teaching. Each phenomenon to be comprehended by right view is expounded in terms of its individual nature, its arising, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation. The grasp of this principle thus makes it clear that any entity taken for examination is not an isolated occurrence with its being locked up in itself, but part of a web of conditionally arisen processes that can be terminated by understanding and eliminating the cause that gives it being.
The right view arrived at by penetrating any of the sixteen subjects expounded in the sutta is discussed in terms of two aspects, both aspects of supramundane penetration. The first is the initial penetration of the supramundane path that transforms a person from a worldling (puthujjana) into a stream-enterer (sotapanna), a noble disciple who has entered irreversibly upon the stream to liberation. This aspect of right view is indicated by the words that open each section, "(one) who has perfect confidence in the Dhamma and has arrived at this true Dhamma." These qualities are attributes only of the stream-enterer and those of higher attainment along the path. The description thus applies to the trainee (sekha), the disciple who has entered the path but has not yet reached its end. The words signify right view as a transformative vision which has revealed the ultimate truths underlying our existence, but which must still be developed further to complete the full transformation it is capable of effecting.
The second aspect of supramundane right view is indicated by the closing words of each section, from "he entirely abandons the underlying tendency to lust" to "he here and now makes an end of suffering." This description is fully applicable only to the Arahant, the liberated one, and thus indicates that the right view conceptually grasped by the wise worldling, and transformed into direct perception with the attainment of stream-entry, reaches its consummation with the arrival at the teaching's final goal, the attainment of complete emancipation from suffering.
The translation of the Sammaditthi Sutta and its commentary presented here has been adapted from manuscripts left behind by Bhikkhu Nanamoli. The translation of the sutta has been adapted from Ven. Nanamoli's complete translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. The version used has been taken from the edition of the complete Majjhima Nikaya translation that I prepared for publication by Wisdom Publications in the United States. This version, tentatively scheduled for release in late 1992, employs extensive substitution of Ven. Nanamoli's own technical terminology with my own preferred renderings of Pali doctrinal terms.
The commentary to the Sammaditthi Sutta is from the Papancasudani, Acariya Buddhaghosa's complete commentary (atthakatha) to the Majjhima Nikaya. The translation of the commentary has also been adapted from a rendering by Ven. Nanamoli, contained in a notebook of his that was discovered only a few years ago at Island Hermitage. The terminology used in the notebook version suggests that it was one of Ven. Nanamoli's earliest attempts at translation from the Pali; it certainly preceded his translation of the Visuddhimagga, The Path of Purification, first completed at the end of 1953. In adapting the translation, I have naturally replaced the technical terminology used in the notebook version with that used in the sutta. In places I also decided to translate directly from the Pali text rather than adhere to Ven. Nanamoli's rendering, which sometimes tended to be literal to the point of awkwardness. A few passages from the commentary that are concerned solely with linguistic clarification have been omitted from the translation.
Passages in the commentarial section enclosed in square brackets are taken from the subcommentary to the Sammaditthi Sutta, by Acariya Dhammapala. Passages in parenthesis are additions either by Ven. Nanamoli or by myself. The paragraph numbering of the commentarial section follows that of the sutta. The phrases of the sutta that are selected for comment have been set in boldface. The backnotes are entirely my own.
The Wheel Publication No. 377/379, ISBN 955-24-0079-1,
Buddhist Publiccation Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1991
About the Translator:
Bhikkhu Nanamoli was born in England in 1905 and graduated from Exeter College, Oxford. In 1948 he came to Sri Lanka, where he was ordained the following year at the Island Hermitage near Dodanduwa. During his 11 years in the Sangha Ven. Nanamoli translated into lucid English some of the most difficult texts of Theravada Buddhism. In 1960, on one of his rare outings from the Hermitage, he suddenly passed away due to heart failure.
About the Editor:
Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Buddhist monk of American nationality, born in New York City in 1944. After completing a doctorate in philosophy at Claremont Graduate School, he came to Sri Lanka in 1972, and was ordained the same year under the eminent scholar-monk, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya. Since 1984 he has been Editor for the Buddhist Publication Society, and its President since 1988.
[Part One: The Sutta] [Part Two: The Commentary]
TITLE OF WORK:
The Discourse on Right View
(The Wheel Publication No. 377/379)
AUTHOR: Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed.
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: c/o Buddhist Publication Society
Buddhist Publication Society
P.O. Box 61
54, Sangharaja Mawatha
Kandy, Sri Lanka
COPYRIGHT HOLDER: Buddhist Publication Society (1991)
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1991
RIGHTS AND RESTRICTIONS: See paragraph below.
DATE OF DHARMANET DISTRIBUTION: October 1994
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