The Fire Escape
To begin with, the practice is essentially a practice, and not a theory to be idly discussed. Even the theoretical or philosophical aspects of the Buddha’s teachings are there to be used as tools in aiding in the escape from all suffering and stress. It’s because of this fact that the Buddha’s primary metaphor for his teachings was a path: the noble eightfold path, composed of all the “right” factors mentioned above. It’s also why right view, the theory behind the path, is part of the path, and doesn’t stand outside it.
Also, because right view serves as a guide to action, it doesn’t present a full picture of reality, just as a fire-escape map posted on a hotel door doesn’t give complete information about the construction of the hotel. If it did, you’d have trouble figuring out which parts of the map would be useful in the event of a fire. That, in turn, would actually prevent you from making a quick escape. It’s for this reason that right view leaves unanswered many questions about the cosmos and the self, and directs your attention to what needs to be done to escape from the ravages of suffering.
At the same time, right view labels some attitudes about suffering and its end as definitely wrong, just as certain wrong attitudes about fires and escapes would leave you trapped in a burning hotel. Suppose, for instance, that you found messages posted on the hotel room door saying that, in the case of a fire, there is no escape, or that you should wait in your room until a heavenly being saved you, that the fire won’t burn you if you accept and embrace it, or maybe fire isn’t really fire. You’d be wise to distrust those messages, even if they were signed by the hotel management. In the same way, if you’re heedful of the dangers of the fires of the mind, you’d be wise not to fall for messages-even within the Buddhist tradition, that are at odds with the message that it is possible to escape from the suffering that the mind creates for itself, that you can reach this escape through your own efforts, and that it’s the most worthwhile thing you can do in life.
This reflection by Ajahn Geoff is from the book, On the Path, p.7.