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Right Thinking

When Right View is solid in us, we have Right
Thinking (samyak samkalpa). We need Right View
at the foundation of our thinking. And if we train
ourselves in Right Thinking, our Right View will
improve. Thinking is the speech of our mind. Right
Thinking makes our speech clear and beneficial.
Because thinking often leads to action, Right
Thinking is needed to take us down the path of
Right Action.

Right Thinking reflects the way things are.
Wrong thinking causes us to see in an "upsidedown
way" (viparyasa). But to practice Right
Thinking is not easy. Our mind is often thinking
about one thing while our body is doing another.
Mind and body are not unified. Conscious
breathing is an important link. When we
concentrate on our breathing, we bring body and
mind back together and become whole again.
When Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am,"
he meant that we can prove our existence by the
fact that our thinking exists. He concluded that
because we are thinking, we are really there,
existing. I would conclude the opposite: "I think,
therefore I am not." As long as mind and body are
not together, we get lost and we cannot really say
that we are here. If we practice breathing mindfully
and touching the healing and refreshing elements
that are already within and around us, we will find
peace and solidity. Mindful breathing helps us
stop being preoccupied by sorrows of the past and
anxieties about the future. It helps us be in touch
with life in the present moment. Much of our
thinking is unnecessary. Those thoughts are limited
and do not carry much understanding in them.
Sometimes we feel as though we have a cassette
player in our head — always running, day and
night — and we cannot turn it off. We worry and
become tense and have nightmares. When we
practice mindfulness, we begin to hear the cassette
tape in our mind, and we can notice whether our
thinking is useful or not.

Thinking has two parts — initial thought
(vitarka) and developing thought (vichara). An
initial thought is something like, "This afternoon I
have to turn in an essay for literature class." The
development of this thought might be to wonder
whether we are doing the assignment correctly,
whether we should read it one more time before
turning it in, whether our teacher will notice if we
hand it in late, and so on. Vitarka is the original
thought. Vichara is the development of the original

In the first stage of meditative concentration
(dhyana), both kinds of thinking are present. In the
second stage, neither is there. We are in deeper
contact with reality, free of words and concepts.
While walking in the woods with a group of
children last year, I noticed one of the little girls
thinking for a long time. Finally, she asked me,
"Grandfather monk, what color is that tree's bark?"
"It is the color that you see," I told her. I wanted
her to enter the wonderful world that was right in
front of her. I did not want to add another concept.

There are four practices related to Right

(1) "Are You Sure?"— If there is a rope in your
path and you perceive it as a snake, fear-based
thinking will follow. The more erroneous your
perception, the more incorrect your thinking will
be. Please write the words "Are you sure?" on a
large piece of paper and hang it where you will see
it often. Ask yourself this question again and again.
Wrong perceptions cause incorrect thinking and
unnecessary suffering.

(2) "What Am I Doing?"— Sometimes I ask
one of my stu dents, "What are you doing?" to
help him release his think about the past or the
future and return to the present moment. I ask the
question to help him be — right here, right now.
To respond, he only needs to smile. That alone
would demonstrate his true presence.
Asking yourself, What am I doing? will help
you overcome the habit of wanting to complete
things quickly. Smile to yourself and say, Washing
this dish is the most important job in my life.
When you ask, What am I doing?, reflect deeply on
the question. If your thoughts are carrying you
away, you need mindfulness to intervene. When
you are really there, washing the dishes can be a
deep and enjoyable experience. But if you wash
them while thinking about other things, you are
wasting your time, and probably not washing the
dishes well either. If you are not there, even if you
wash 84,000 dishes, your work will be without

Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma, the founder
of Zen Buddhism in China, how much merit he had
earned by building temples all over the country.
Bodhidharma said, "None whatsoever." But if you
wash one dish in mindfulness, if you build one
small temple while dwelling deeply in the present
moment — not wanting to be anywhere else, not
caring about fame or recognition — the merit from
that act will be boundless, and you will feel very
happy. Ask yourself, What am I doing? often.
When your thinking is not carrying you away and
you do things in mindfulness, you will be happy
and a resource for many others.

(3) "Hello, Habit Energy. " — We tend to stick
to our habits, even the ones that cause us to suffer.
Workaholism is one ex ample. In the past, our
ancestors may have had to work nearly all the time
to put food on the table. But today, our way of
working is rather compulsive and prevents us from
having real contact with life. We think about our
work all the time and don't even have time to
breathe. We need to find moments to contemplate
the cherry blossoms and drink our tea in
mindfulness. Our way of acting depends on our
way of thinking, and our way of thinking depends
on our habit energies. When we recognize this, we
only need to say, "Hello, habit energy," and make
good friends with our habitual patterns of thinking
and acting. When we can accept these ingrained
thoughts and not feel guilty about them, they will
lose much of their power over us. Right Thinking
leads to Right Action.

(4) Bodhichitta. — Our "mind of love" is the
deep wish to cultivate understanding in ourselves
in order to bring happiness to many beings. It is
the motivating force for the practice of mindful
living. With bodhichitta at the foundation of our
thinking, everything we do or say will help others
be liberated. Right Thinking also gives rise to Right

The Buddha offered many ways to help us to
transform troublesome thoughts. One way, he said,
is to replace an unwholesome thought with a
wholesome one by "changing the peg," just as a
carpenter replaces a rotten peg by hammering in a
new one. If we are constantly assailed by
unwholesome patterns of thought, we need to learn
how to change the peg and replace those patterns
with wholesome thoughts. The Buddha also
likened unwholesome thinking to wearing a dead
snake around your neck. The easiest way, he said,
to keep unwholesome thoughts from arising is to
live in a wholesome environment, a community
that practices mindful living. With the help and
presence of Dharma sisters and brothers, it is easy
to sustain Right Thinking. Dwelling in a good
environment is preventive medicine.

Right Thinking is thinking that is in accord with
Right View. It is a map that can help us find our
way. But when we arrive at our destination, we
need to put down the map and enter the reality
fully. "Think non-thinking" is a well-known
statement in Zen. When you practice Right View
and Right Thinking, you dwell deeply in the
present moment, where you can touch seeds of
joy, peace, and liberation, heal and transform your
suffering, and be truly present for many others.

From "Heart of the Buddha's Teachings"
by Thich Nhat Hanh