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Right Thought

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Right Thought (sammā saṅkappa) is the second step on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Thoughts are either words or pictures that form in the mind and which are often accompanied by or give rise to feelings which in turn may give rise to actions. The Buddha described two types of thought: logical or directed thought (vitakka) and wandering thoughts (vicāra). Normally our mind is filled with scattered, random, wandering thoughts and we have little say in what they are or what they will be next. When we have a task to do or a problem to solve, the will takes hold of and directs our thoughts in a particular direction. But usually, as soon as the task is finished or the problem solved, the will subsides and thoughts begin their erratic wandering again. The Buddha made this important but often overlooked observation: ‘Whatever one thinks about and ponders on often, the mind gets a leaning in that way.’ (M.I,115). The more of a particular type of thought we think, the more it will occur. If we often have thoughts of greed and allow them to persist they will tend to occupy our mind more frequently and we may begin to act in a greedier manner. Therefore, an important aspect of Buddhist training is to cultivate Right Thought, not to let negative thoughts persist within our mind and to encourage positive thoughts. The Buddha broadly defines Right Thought as thoughts of detachment, of love and of helpfulness (M.III,251). Right Concentration, Right Mindfulness and Right Effort are, of course, important in helping the development of Right Thought.

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