What does it mean "to see things as they really are"?

It refers to see ‘seven things’ altogether, but can be just to see ‘two things’, according to SN/SA suttas:

Pages 34-6 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (187.5 KB)

It also includes to see: (1) anicca, dukkha, anatta, or (2) anicca, dukkha, sunna, anatta:

Pages 52-4 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (226.0 KB)

1 Like
a quick off topic response

One from Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo here. I was surprised when she said “Buddhist meditation is with the eyes partially or fully open”. There was a D&D thread on eyes open/shut for meditation here; no explicit EBT instructions though it would appear.

There seems to be connotations of the mind opting for one over the other as if it were an option, maintaining the disorder. Clearly, a lifestyle of sensuality would prioritize permanence, pleasure, beauty and self, so it just seems to be a matter of assuming one over the other - a general intention implicit in the choice to behave with one end as the priority (Snp 2.7). In the end, this “twist” is not actually possible - it is factually impossible that the pairs could be reversed and the order changed. Not knowing this is a “twist” in the first place, it seems to be a literal assumption of a misshapen landscape, which would apply to the field of perception, as I read it.

It seems to me that the simplest way to express this is with the English idiomatic expression,

“You’re looking at this the wrong way. “

This expression is commonly used but here it is at a much deeper level.


Absolutely. Deeper in the sense that the change that facilitates “seeing” is available for discernment through avoiding behavior (of body, speech and mind) that contradicts the nature of the view being sought.

In addition, it is related to ‘right view’ in terms of the middle way, e.g. SN 12.15 = SA 301:

Pages 192-5 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (274.5 KB)

Basically the realisation of the 4NTs. …… seeing the truth by reaching the unconditioned.
…… by direct knowledge.

This is suffering: realising the difference between the conditioned and the unconditioned…… realising not-self.

1 Like

Just an additional, small, reminder: “Context” (Maybe this is mentioned already, or it is too technical for the intention of your question, so please pardon me).
I think, one aspect of the “seeing things as they really are” is that things, but much more scenes, that we see (and translate into our inner world-conception), have a context - which needs to be considered when we see something. A very nice visualization is the following scribble that I’ve seen much recently on a friendly website


(but of course this is not only meant for the pure visual aspect in the semantics of “I see”/“you see”)
I’ve once un-cached an even sweeter one, which works with a much simpler visual frame. Enjoy:

Those are surely very simple examples for the advantage of “to see things as they really are”…


To see utterly not just the ‘four’ but the ‘seven’ noble truths, i.e., the seven things as they really are, is a more complete view in context about life in the world.

I don’t!

When we meditate we may “see” all sorts of weird things in our mind’s eye, especially if we are visual types. I’m an artist so I tend to see lots of images. My teachers advise me to ignore ALL of these.

I think that in this phrase “to see” just means to understand. Think of the common rejoinder, “Oh I see!” which everyone uses a lot in the sense “Now I understand, now I get you.”

:pray: May all beings come eventually to understand the true nature of things. :pray:


I believe the phrase “to see things as they really are” means when a person recognizes reality not through the six senses, not through perception.

The key terms for this are: jānāti (one knows) and passati (one sees) yathābhūtaṃ (things as they really are).

I’d like to suggest a different approach to answering this question.

And that is to answer it just with with a single word: Bad.

Not everybody may agree with me and some may think that saying such a thing is very unpleasant.

But looking at it in this way, I think, sheds some very important light on the teaching of the middle way and why it is, in fact, the only way (that does not by itself add to the bad).

The irony here is that I think “to see things as they really are” is an appeal to the middle way. That middle way being “neither perception nor non-perception”. What is “neither perception nor non-perception”?

I believe it is described in Snp 4.11. This is how I think it should be translated.

In terms of something like the arupa jhanas, I think this amounts to

This appears to be a rebuttal to Snp 5.2 and Snp 5.7 in the Parayanavagga. The Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga appear to be at odds with one another.

Snp 4.11 appears to be describing a collapse/cessation of depth perception and proprioception. Note there is still something in the visual field, it is just two dimensional without a sense of the body being “in that”.

I don’t see how an answer of “bad” amounts to a middle way.

It means DO. If you can see things as they really are then you are dealing with some type of correspondence theory - realism - because we know we shape stuff - in our head. If it’s all shaped in our head, that’s idealism. We can dispense with that. It’s the domain of yogacara. So, seeing things as they really are … that’s conditioned.

How are you ever going to pick your way out of the briar thicket if you don’t see that? How are you ever going to attain anything if you don’t apply effort to the mental discipline you’re being guided towards and just let your brain run away on itself in your head? Or be pushed around and tortured and tormented. Uh uh uh.

Ya’ll aren’t little enjoyers out there peering through a telescope in the back of your head looking at something that is what it is. Nope. You ain’t.

If by DO you mean completely knowing sanna, yes. And that requires neither perception nor non-perception. Theories/views about DO would have been anathema to the author(s) of the Atthakavagga. Formulating views was strictly condemned in Snp 4.3 and Snp 4.5.

I don’t see how an answer of “bad” amounts to a middle way.

To explain what I mean by bad, I need to take refuge to a simile: Schopenhauers idea of life - or the world - as a will.

That will has no intelligence in the sense of intelligence of mind. But it constantly wills itself and thereby creates the world. We are part of this will, in that the five (or six) Kandhas are the “incarnated” will of that will.

Now the question is, how do we get out, transcend this senseless spiral of will that causes all our suffering and keeps us in a prison.

We cannot commit suicide or fight destructively against it, since then whe are just adding to the will and and the spiral, making it worse, doing just what it wills us to do.

So the only way - the middle way - out, is using our mind to transcend it, just asking for what we really need to survive and else try to keep out of the spiral as good as we can, and avoid being swept away by that meaningless spiral of will.

This is just a similie that I find my mind constantly drawing when studying Buddhism, especially Buddhadasa. I have of course no idea how valid it is.

I could add that I suspect that the doctrine of the freemasons is exactly like that as well, with their most famous symbols of square (representing will) and compass (representing flexibility of mind).

Sanna is conditioned. There, now you completely understood it.

And no, that’s not what I mean by DO. The basic formula for DO is … when this arises that occurs, when this ceases that ends … roughly. It’s everywhere in the suttas, I’m just not going to go find it and put it here for you. Certainly, someone should have given this to you by now, so my apologies for being so terse and not taking the time. Really.

I’m very surprised that this rudimentary presentation of DO has not been provided for you to know and understand.

1 Like

Hi Thomas,

Schopenhauer wrote his The World as Will and Representation after he was exposed to Anquetil Duperron’s Latin translation of Dara Shikoh’s Persian translation of the Upaniṣads. There is not a lot of evidence to show that he was familiar with Buddhism at that time, and even though later in life he claimed to be a Buddhist, he’s not really thought of as … well … knowing much about it at all. He’s a little marked with having created the idea that it’s pessimistic, which, as we know, was to a certain degree carried through in Nietzsche.

Buddhism takes a lot of work. It is very difficult to understand.


I understand DO. What I am saying is that it is a later development in Buddhism compared to the Atthakavagga. It is like saying Paul knew about the Trinity. The Trinity came hundreds of years later.