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.
Before the World-Honored One preached the Four Noble Truths to the five ascetics, they had already diligently cultivated the Eightfold Noble Path pertaining to right action, right livelihood, and right mindfulness. It was apparent, however, that they still lacked knowledge of the right view and right intention in their cultivations. During and after the World-Honored One’s sermon on the Dharma teachings of the Four Noble Truths to the five ascetics at Deer Park after His enlightenment, all of them attained arhat fruition. They then knew that their transitional bodies (bardo bodies) would no longer arise after death, and that they had exhausted their future existence. Thus, arhats declare the following: “The stream of my transmigration ceases, the pure practice has been accomplished, what must be done has been done, and there will be no more future existence.” The five ascetics thus again illustrated to us the importance of being under the guidance of a truly enlightened mentor.
In Buddhism, the right view is fundamentally that the five aggregates (name and form) and the body are only illusory, without an intrinsic nature. Through the factual practice of tranquility meditation (S: śamatha) and insight observation (S: vipassana), we can verify that our five aggregates, namely the eighteen-element body and mind, arise as a result of cause and condition. In other words, our body components are without any Dharma of True Substance due to the confluence of karmic seeds, ignorance, our parents, the four elements, and the ālayavijñāna, which is the fundamental cause of our existence. Thus, once all the conditions disintegrate, our five aggregates will extinguish and disappear. In light of this, the notions of impermanence, selflessness, and emptiness are oftentimes regarded as characteristics of sentient beings.
The Dharma transmission of the Path to Liberation touches on the doctrines of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path, and their focus here is only on the phenomenal worldly dharma of the aggregates, elements, sense fields which are within the scope of the three realms. The purpose is to observe, understand, and then confirm that the aggregates, sense fields, elements of the three realms, are all illusory, without any indestructible essence of a self. Thus, as mentioned earlier, we should personally realize and affirm that all the dharmas of the three realms are selfless. Naturally, we are subject to death once we are born.
Moreover, we will certainly experience suffering once we are born as a result of our transmigration within the three realms. Only after the extinguishment of future rebirths can we eliminate the myriad sufferings brought forth by transmigration. To be on the Path to Liberation, we must affirm that we have utterly no attachment to or desire for a future self in any of the states within the three realms. When we have completely extinguished any future being and disassociated ourselves from any dharma of aggregates, sense fields, elements, or sense entrances, then we can be said to have attained the remainderless nirvana.
Having the correct insight on the two most important constituents of the Eightfold Path, right view and right intention, and their relation to the remainderless nirvana in the Noble Eightfold Path will help us cultivate our ourselves and proceed to the Path to Liberation. Recognizing “selflessness” explicitly elucidated by the Buddha as the underlying essence of the Agama sutras taught during the First Turning of the Dharma Wheel. It will also help us recognize the phenomenal worldly dharma and gradually overcome or transcend our habitual attachments to mundane affairs.