In Buddhism we have the Noble Eightfold Path, which lays out the steps needed to live a worthy life.
Taken as a whole, the Noble Eightfold Path is an entire system that explains and directs the practitioner in how to live their entire life. Shamanism has no centralized set of beliefs like the Noble Eightfold Path, just a few common themes and ideals, which makes using the Eightfold Path as a Shaman incredibly simple. Take the Path and apply it either as written by Gautama Siddhartha, or as explained by any number of gurus, or interpret it for yourself and run with it.
The Noble Eightfold Path starts with Right View.
Possibly one of the trickiest of the spokes on the path, Right View is all about getting your mind right. To have Right View you need to agree to a few key concepts: first, that karma arises as a consequence of your actions, next that all things are impermanent, and thirdly that suffering arises from craving and decreases with the cessation of craving and desire.
How does a Shamanic point of view encompass the idea of Right View?
Let’s start with karma: in Buddhism, karma accrues throughout your life and is paid in the next life, unless you escape the wheel of reincarnation and become a Buddha. For Shamans, the next life is less important than the life you have right now; instead of doing good deeds to attempt to buy a better life next time, a Shaman does what is needful right here and now, while recognizing that of course your actions have consequences, and of course the world of spirits pays attention to what you’re doing. Sometimes, for a Shaman, karma doesn’t wait for the next life to be worked out. Sometimes, karma comes due very quickly and works out right before your eyes.
Shamans are totally down with impermanence, the second aspect of Right View. So much so that it’s hard for a Shaman to pin down the idea of permanence. It’s self evident that nothing lasts forever, all things change, and that change is a necessary part of the worlds. A Shaman lives on the line between order and chaos; that line between order and chaos is called change.
The third part of Right View, the understanding of suffering, comes a little bit differently to Shamans. In Zen, Right View requires an understanding of suffering as deriving from attachment to desire. You want your parents to live forever, when they die, you suffer. You want to own a fancy car, when you don’t get the car, you suffer. You want all these things and the lack of them leads to suffering. Wanting leads to suffering.
For a Shaman, that’s all true. And… suffering also arises from malicious entities. Sickness leads to suffering, partly because you want good health, but also because being sick is not fun at all. Accidents lead to suffering because your hope for a stable life has been overturned, yes, but also because accidents in general are not desirable. You can reduce your suffering by not expecting good health, you can get ok with accidents by accepting that shit happens. And if you’re a Shaman, you can also reduce suffering by dealing with the underlying energy, entities, and forces behind the sickness, accidents, illnesses, and other events that have lead to suffering.
Right View for Shamans meets Right View for Zen Buddhists.
Right View is, ultimately, a way of grappling with the reality of the world for each individual. As such, Right View is slightly different for each individual. Right View for a Shaman and Right View for a Buddhist could be the same thing, or different, and it’s totally ok that the same thing is different for different people. Right View is what you come to when you ask yourself about the nature of reality and suffering. It can arise spontaneously in a person’s world view, be learned about through books, or taught by a guru or teacher. Right View is what it is, and that’s perfectly fine.
Ask yourself: what is the nature of reality, and what is the nature of suffering? The answer is your own personal Right View.