4 Descriptors

So, last week we talked about clinging, and how appealing it is to stay stuck. To recap, we looked at the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, which I prefer to call the

4 Descriptors of the Way it Is.

the 4

The 4 Descriptors, having a party…

One of my online friends, Peter Hoban, commented about the blog post, and his comment reminded me to mention that many of the Buddhist texts were translated in the late 1800s. “Life is Suffering,” for example, is the first of the 4 Descriptors, and is a translation that is apropos of the 1800s. The actual Pali word that is translated as suffering, dukkha, is really about the unsatisfactory nature of life. Dukkha is commonly used to describe a range of feeling, from unease to suffering.

Peter’s point is accurate. Suffering was a big deal to theologians and philosophers 100 year or more ago. For us, not so much.

It’s the same with “Noble Truths.” I certainly don’t use the word “noble” in my daily speech. A better translation is “important” or “preeminent.” And “truth” does not capture the essence of the Pali word sacca, which really means, “to be.” It refers to something that is “right there, obvious.”

Thus, my shifting to 4 Descriptors of the Way it Is. Once you see them, they are “right there,” and oh so obvious.

For the next three articles, let’s look at the 4th descriptor, what is called the 8‑fold Path.

Each of the 8 paths is typically prefaced with “Right,” as in Right View, Right Vocation, etc. For purposes of our discussion, I’ll follow Glenn Wallis (I’m using his ideas for this entire series, as conveyed in the book, Basic Teachings of the Buddha.) He notes the language translation issue, and suggests that “Right” has the contemporary meaning of “correct,” as in right and wrong. He proposes using the word “sound,” as in “that which leads to the result we seek.” I agree. “Sound” it is!

The 8 can be put into three groups:

  1. Understanding – Sound View, Sound Inclination
  2. Conduct – Sound Speech, Sound Action, Sound Livelihood, Sound Effort
  3. Attentiveness – Sound Awareness, Sound Concentration

A look at understanding

This is what this blog focuses on. Many times we’ve mentioned how people operate out of a skewed view of how life is, and who they are. This view is embedded into our sub-conscious minds through the normal growing up and learning process—something I call the ego development project.

This project is absolutely necessary—it is through this project that we self-identify, separate from “mother,” and develop a sense of “me / not me.” It, however, is the basic, first step in a lifetime of exploration – in a sense, it’s something that provides the convenience of a name, but very little insight into “the way it is.”


Most people, however, stall right there, and spend the rest of their lives protecting and defending their ego identity, to the detriment of finding true contentment and an elegant way of being. This is not their fault. It’s pretty hard to move past a socially acceptable place of being, to something entirely different. In a sense, without external intervention, or another point of reference, all we can expect is to be just like, or a little worse than, the social standard or norm.

Sound View

We could get into a long debate about what the alternative to the cultural norm is. Again, I’ve been writing about this alternative view since 1999, on this blog, and in my e‑zine, Into the Centre, before the blog. I have consistently pointed to a viewpoint that is non dual, self-responsible, and one in which I see myself as “that which is engaging with life.” I have the choice to live in my head, lost in thought, finding myself dwelling in the past or the future. Or, I can come into moment-by-moment presence, recognizing that, by choosing to view life in this way, I have no permanent reality.

I am as I am, and then I become that which is,
in the next moment.

From this place of expansiveness, I can choose. I can engage, or I can step back. I can let go, or I can embrace. I can shut down, or open up. Nothing is right or wrong (the non dual part) and nothing is required, other than presence. I begin to see my life as a series of comings and goings, with no permanence to attach to. Things are as they are, and then they are something else.

This process of letting go (of non clinging) is
the key to the practice.

Our egos desperately want to be important, and to elevate everything we touch to special, unique, and important. Our egos are excessively invested in keeping the status quo, and remain a part of our ongoing experience until we die.

So, part of a sound view is tied up in how I see my ego.

I choose, then, to make peace with my ego, with my thoughts, with my emotions and feelings, and with my body. In other words, I do not ignore, sublimate, beat down, or disparage any of the “stuff” that accompanies being alive in a body. Nor do I elevate any of the stuff to the level of demi-god. I am alive and having human experiences—and all of it is just as it should be.

The key to moving past an old view to a new one is gentle acceptance of what is, and who I am, while breathing into who I am becoming.

Sound Inclination

Inclination and view are paired. If our view is that the world is unfair, we will be inclined to be untrusting. If we view the world as scary, we will be inclined to be timid and reserved. If my view is that the movies I am running in my head are both “right and true,” my inclination will be to look for evidence that matches the film, and also to try to convince or manipulate others into accepting my view.

And on and on.

d & w

If our view shifts to “the way it is, is the way it is,” our inclination will be to treat the world with open-eyed wonder and curiosity. With this inclination, my eyes focus on what is before me to see. This includes thoughts which arise. I see “what is,” and I interact with it.

So, you might say that inclination is about intention, and interaction.

In other words, it’s not enough to say that you have a new view. It’s not enough to commit to following that view.

What is required is that final step of actually living in harmony and coordination with the view you espouse.

Most have difficulty here. I say to clients, “I don’t care what you say you will do, or what you say you understand. The only thing that matter is what you choose to do as you live your life.”

In the following sections to this series, we’ll look at specifics for the “doing of our being.”

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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