Having learned about the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, if Buddhist liberation denotes the total extinguishment of our five aggregates and eighteen elements, we might wonder, would it not be equal to reducing our existence to complete nothingness? In fact, during the First Turning of the Dharma Wheel, the Buddha also implicitly taught a permanent dharma through the Ten and Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. Among many others, the following incident recorded in the Agama sutras points to the insight of Nirvana.
The 52 Cultivation Stages (Chart)
According to the sutra, “a truly enlightened mentor is very difficult to encounter.” How much more difficult it is then to encounter a buddha! Imagine yourself in the shoes of the five ascetics. Would you stay and contemplate the teachings, feel indifferent toward them, or walk away? The disciples who pursued the teachings of the Buddha provided us with an encouraging example of how one can achieve nirvanic liberation by following a virtuous and wholesome mentor. Let us think about what we would do if we encountered a buddha in our life.
We humans are born as creatures of habit as we tend to justify our attitudes and approaches to life, willing to be bound by forces that prevent us from realizing our innate potential. The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (S: āryâṣṭâṅga-mārga) during the Agama period to help us not to become prisoners of our own thoughts but to instead achieve true liberation by knowing the true meaning of selflessness and to transcend the cyclic samsara and leave suffering behind. To be able to overcome our habitual attachments through the teachings of the Eightfold Path, first and foremost, we need to draw our attention to the two most important constituents of the Eightfold Path: right views (S: samyagdṛṣṭi) and right intention (S: samyaksaṃkalpa). We can do this under the guidance of a truly enlightened mentor. Let’s recall the incident when the Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path.