Expanding the Buddhist definition of ‘Right View’ through Spiritual Counseling

One of the fundamental and central philosophies of Buddhism is the Noble Eight-Fold Path – eight steps to enlightenment through wisdom, ethics and meditation. The path has eight aspects that are always listed in a specific order: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

Like any integrated system, all of these parts work together simultaneously.  And listing them separately, I imagine, helps contextualize and organize them as teaching tools for those who study Buddhism. Quoting Pema Chodrun, ‘Buddhism is really big on lists’. 

The Buddha taught that the foundational groundwork of clear seeing, of Right View, is the first step we take toward Enlightenment.

Right View refers to very specific buddhistic philosophical tenets: the inevitability of death, the truth of karma, the reality of rebirth, the nature of samsaric existence, the impermanence of all things, the absence of a fixed individual self, and the interconnection of all things. Lama Surya Dass, author of AWAKENING THE BUDDHA WITHIN colloquially calls these, when adopted as a belief system, ‘mind changers’.

But Right View, to me, needs to be malleable and individual, not just Buddhist. Each person who comes for spiritual counseling is in a search of their own personal ‘Right View’ – a way of being and an intimate belief system that supports their growth, healing, individuation, and potential.

So often, the ‘view’ that clients have of themselves and the world, is in direct opposition to their greater good; a ‘wrong view’, so to speak. Helping them dismantle this, a spiritual counselor must guide the client into unlearning that which has contributed to this mistaken way of being/seeing and to bring them toward new possibilities.

The counselor, therefore becomes not just a loving presence of unconditional love and support, but a teacher as well. Knowledge is a doorway to choice and possibility and it helps destroy the illusions and ignorances that block people from the discovery of their truest selves.

When counselors are able to provide information and knowledge, it can help the client to transform unhealthy habituated patterns and beliefs.

For instance, the acknowledgement of the truth and validity of a client’s childhood trauma (this actually happened to you!), and explaining what trauma is and what it’s long term effects are, can be tremendously healing.

Other examples might include – teaching loving-kindness meditation to someone who tends to be hyper-vigilant and distrustful of others. Helping a client see that their pattern of attracting abusive relationships may stem from some unfinished business with a parent. Explaining to one conflicted about his sexuality that many indigenous cultures revere those who are thought to be gay, lesbian or transgendered; often referring to them as ‘two-spirited’ and pedestalizing them as spiritual leaders of their communities.

The above are just a few of an infinite number of examples that demonstrate how Right View can be essential to healing.

People are often living lives from a foundational belief system of mis-knowledge that is not supported by contemporary psychology, essential spiritual truths, or the energetic laws of quantum physics. In order to heal, we must traffic in truth, and truth is often obscured.

That which is suggested by the counselor as a course of action, or taught as new information to be integrated, are not absolute edicts or commands to be followed by the client. Rather, they are the material with which the counselee learns to see themselves differently. An invitation to adopt a kinder, more inclusive and supportive outlook; one that is instrumental in helping them to claim their wholeness.


Right view is the reliable touchstone that reminds us to look at the world without delusions or distortions about reality, or ourselves; to see roses where there are roses and thorns where there are thorns. Right view emphasizes the development of wisdom, or prajna, which at its essence means knowing what is, knowing how things work, and knowing oneself and others. 

Shamanism and Nature

Shamanism pre-dates, and underlies all spiritual paths and systems. Unitive contemporary spirituality seeks to find and identify that which is true and resonant for all sentient beings. And, the wisdom of the ancient indigenous cultures does this through the reverence of nature.

The reason why we would want to revere something is because we are inspired by it, because we want to align with it; to be more like it.

There is an inherent and unmistakable perfection in nature. Nature exemplifies order and design. When we look at it, we see a system that is self-generating, self-healing, holistic, and deeply interconnected. There is an ‘is-ness’ to nature that is, as Alan Watts would say ‘of itself so’. There is nothing to add or leave out, nothing to improve upon or deny. It is a web of life that functions and exists effortlessly; the sum of all of its parts.

There is no such thing as an imperfect cloud, a neurotic ocean wave, a self-loathing giraffe, a guilt-ridden tree, a shameful thunder storm. Even when nature is violent or unpleasant to us, we still see it as somehow necessary and inevitable. In Shamanism, we use nature’s example of un-conflicted wholeness as a template in which to guide us in our lives.

This is good medicine.

We are nature. Our bones are earth, our breath is air, our blood is water, and our emotions and metabolism are fire. There is nothing that goes into us or comes out of us that doesnt come from or return to the Earth. We are all the children of Pachamama, the Earth Mother, and she nourishes us every second of our lives.

We, as a species, are in trouble because the Earth is currently under threat. She is not a commodity to be exploited. She is a source of life that deserves our love and gratitude. And, she will never be beaten into submission.

And it is through sacred activism, and the inclusivity of our vision, that we can help to save Her and ourselves.

It is my hope that Nature becomes a mirror for all of us to see and recognize the inherent divinity and holism that is our natural state; our birthright.


Philosopher and author, Alan Watts on Christianity in his scathing lecture ‘Sex and the Church’ – ‘Christianity has institutionalized guilt. As a virtue’. 

I am not a church-y guy. But the other day I found myself transfixed (like a car accident where you can’t look away) with one of those Sunday morning Evangelical shows on cable TV. The pasty and paunchy preacher spouted on about ‘Sin’, ‘Absolution’, ‘God’s Remorse’. ‘God’s Forgiveness’, ‘the Sacrament of Confession’.

Usually this would just make me roll my eyes and change the channel. But this time, I felt ‘triggered’ by what was being said; and particularly bothered by this idea of ‘sin’. I had, of course, heard of sin thousands of times. But I hadn’t ever examined the implications of a belief structure where it is a central concept. After all, many people go to church in earnest looking for ways to heal, and means to help them improve their lives. And, what they are often being taught about is their sinfulness.

While I personally did not suffer religious wounding (other than the pervasive Christian cultural dominance in the collective unconscious of much of the Western world) many of my clients have. And I believe that the idea of ‘sin’, as it is traditionally understood, is not only antithetical to healing, but can lead to continued fragmentation, confusion, and disempowerment.

People who have experienced emotional wounding, neglect, trauma etc. often have a deep sense that there is something inherently wrong, dirty or shameful about them. Negative personal decisions they have made and life experiences that they have attracted because of their negative core beliefs, become a further source of embarrassment and shame.

Healing is best approached from a strength-based perspective – one in which the client is being guiding to their already healed self.

Implied in the concept of ‘sin’ is judgment. And judgment (naming those bad things that we have done or that we are) is not only unhelpful, but potentially extremely damaging.

Judgment contributes to the deep inner conflict between who we actually are (perfect and whole) and who we mistakenly think ourselves to be (broken, unlovable, lost etc).

Furthermore, the notion that only someone with specific credentials and some kind of ‘pipeline’ to God’s mercy (The Confessor) can absolve another from the badness that they are, does nothing but help to support an individual sense of powerlessness.

Those on the healing path need a perspective opposite from sin. No matter what mistaken, improper choices have made, no matter the level of ignorance that has led to those choices, no matter how ‘low’ we have ever been, no matter what the ‘sin’, we were always innocent.

We are always, in any given moment, doing our best.

Aligning with this idea creates acceptance and inclusiveness. It teaches us that the best place to be is exactly where we are. Only then can one begin to work with ourselves in a different way.

Even those who commit atrocities or create great suffering do so out of a kind of fear and ignorance that begs understanding and compassion, not judgment. Taking responsibility for the negativity in one’s life comes not from the ‘forgiveness’ offered by the male (always male), all-knowing great Papa-in-the-sky-God. But rather, from a sense that we can acknowledge our mistakes, see and hold our confusion and pain with love, and reclaim our innocence.

Engaging in ‘sin talk’ opens us to the corruptible; to every aspect that is abhorrent about organized religion. A sin to whom? Who decides what is a sin? A sin in the context of a particular culture or religious structure? A ‘mortal’ sin or just an ‘everyday’ sin? Is it a sin to kill Hitler? Capitol punishment? Alternative sexuality? Stealing when your children are starving? What a women does with her body? It’s all a slippery slope.

The notion of sin leaves no room for the unknowable. It projects a human understanding and logic unto God; and worse, a human sense of justice. And whatever this is depends, of course, on what one’s individual sense of justice is. Carolyn Myss (author of ANATOMY OF THE SPIRIT): ‘If we are just, then God must be ALL just. If we are loving, then God must be ALL loving. If we are moral than God must be ALL moral, but times a hundred! 

Everything is reduced to good/bad, black/white, nice/not nice.

But within our mistakes, foibles, and sufferings (our sins) are jewels of directionality that help to light our way.  They are opportunities to help remind us of what we have forgotten – our inherent divinity.

While Christianity is not my path, I am totally on board with the ‘these things and more you can do’ school of Christianity. This means direct revelation from the Christ, as the Christ. We have the power, because we are the power.

The alternative view is guilt. And guilt, as far as I am concerned, is extremely over-rated.