Matthias Mauderer wrote a while back to ask about clinging to views and the apparent contradiction that follows from clinging to the view that views are not to be clung to:
In one of your recent posts, you mention the translation of the Atthakavagga by Gil Fronsdal. In this translation, Gil Fronsdal comments as follows on ‘The Discourse to Pasura’:
“The ideal person doesn’t cling to anything as being ultimate. This doesn’t mean the Buddha is suggesting that one should have no views. In fact, the narrator seems to advocate the view or teaching that one should avoid holding tight to any view; there is no peace in clinging.” (p. 71)
Isn’t there a contradiction in advocating the view ‘that one should avoid holding tight to ANY view’ while at the same time propagating the view that there is no peace in clinging to views?
Doesn’t here the Buddha himself cling to a view, namely the view that there is no peace in clinging? How can the difference between his propagated view and the views he advises not to cling to be explained? Or does the Buddha in the end even not cling to his view that there is no peace in clinging?
(First off, let me say—though it is obvious—that what follows is my answer and not Gil’s.)
This is an important and difficult question, and historically there have been some discussions that apply to this. Perhaps the most immediately appealing is to distinguish between right and wrong views, which may for example be taken from the eightfold path’s inclusion of “right view” (samyak-dṛṣṭi). One could actually argue that, as not just one of the eight but as the first, right view is foundational to the others. Classically this included such matters as understanding that actions have consequences, and the formulation of this idea as the four noble truths.
However, if one takes the symbolism of the eight-spoked wheel seriously, right view is not fixed—it is not a single set of doctrinal claims that are to be clung to. Rather, it is—in contemporary terminology—constantly being updated. As a wheel, as one moves through each of the other seven, one eventually comes back to right view, which as I understand it means that one’s view is changed, modified, revised, updated as a consequence of having gone through the other steps. This willingness to move off one’s position, change in response to having paid attention, for example, to the fact that actions do have consequences, is how I would understand the advice to not cling to views.
More abstractly, however, we might think of this by analogy with the difference between arithmetic and algebra. Arithmetic tells us, for example, that 2 + 3 = 5. Algebra, however, abstracts from that level and generates formulae such as a + b = c. While that in itself is not much use, a squared + b squared = c squared allows us to calculate the length of one side of any right angle triangle if we know the other two sides. If we “cling” to 9 + 16 = 25, that tells us the lengths of the sides of one right angle triangle, but only one.
So treating the advice to not cling to any view as itself a view is to confuse levels, like confusing the formula for one right angle triangle with the formula for any right angle triangle. It effectively reduces the advice to not cling to any view as just another view—as if one were being told to engage in a meditation practice in which one constantly reflected “that’s a view, don’t cling to it,” and mistook that as how one is supposed to live. (Actually, that seems to be the mistake made by people who extend the meditation practice of experiencing what is happening in this moment into a view that one is supposed to only live in the moment.) This is the same problem as treating emptiness as just another absolute. Which, if I recall correctly, is described Nāgārjuna describes as grabbing a snake by its tail. Or, another analogy, continuing to take a medicine even after one is cured.
This is difficult to grasp (ho ho) because it involves a gestalt shift. It requires a shift of perspective, a relaxing of clinging to a views that reduces all claims to the same level.
While I’m afraid that some may find these reflections a bit mystificatory, metaphors and analogies seem to be the best I can do at this time.
UPDATE: trying again–the bit of advice about not clinging to views is not to be held to in the way that one might hold some view as absolutely true, it’s just a bit of advice about loosening one’s grip on concepts—or a concept’s grip on us.
An example: a committed patriot might say: America is the greatest country there is!
An interlocutor might say: Well, but wait a moment, what about…
Clinging to the former could create a sharp dualism, e.g. an interpretation of the latter as: America is the worst country there is!
Clinging to views in this strong form in which there is no room for nuance, for questioning, and so on, is unproductive. That last is an evaluation, not “another view to be clung to”
Concepts are just concepts, ideas are just ideas, views are just views—building one’s identity around any of them (“I’m a proud American!” or “I’m a practicing Buddhist!”) is where the dysfunction lies. It makes the identity-concept, the view, the driving force, rather than a descriptor, or an evaluation.
thank you for “listening” to me try to think through these things