Buddhism has worldly and transcendental aspects, with the worldly aspect considered provisional and the transcendental aspect considered ultimate. Transcendental Buddhism has two vehicles, the Hinayana and the Mahayana, with the Hinayana considered provisional and the Mahayana considered ultimate. The worldly aspect is also called the conventional truth, which refers to the appearances of the world that are seen through delusion, such as the sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, men, women, old, young, color, sound, smell, and taste. However, all of these are only nominal and lack substance, so they are also called the false truth. The transcendental aspect is also called the ultimate truth, which refers to the rational truth perceived by the enlightened ones, who see beyond the nominal and recognize that there are some things that exist beyond nominal labels. This is called the true truth.
乘 means vehicle, and it carries the meaning of the Buddha’s teachings, which help us to overcome suffering on this shore and reach bliss on the other shore; to overcome afflictions on this shore and reach tranquility on the other shore.
Regarding the so-called Hinayana and Mahayana, in general:
The Hinayana is like a bicycle, used for self-transportation; the Mahayana is like a large automobile, used for both self-transportation and the transportation of others.
Practitioners of the Hinayana seek self-liberation (to overcome their own suffering) and self-benefit (to attain their own happiness); practitioners of the Mahayana seek liberation for themselves and others, and benefit for themselves and others.
The Hinayana focuses on contemplating impermanence and only discusses the birth and destruction of all things in the universe; the Mahayana focuses on understanding the nature of all things beyond birth and destruction, and beyond the universe, by recognizing the fundamental equality of all phenomena.
The Hinayana practices the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination; the Mahayana practices the Six Perfections.
The Hinayana aims to eliminate the attachment to the self, cut off afflictions and obstacles; the Mahayana aims to eliminate the attachment to both the self and phenomena, cut off afflictions, and obstacles, as well as the obstacle of knowledge.
The Hinayana aims to attain the Arhat or Pratyekabuddha fruit; the Mahayana aims to attain the great awakening, or the Buddha fruit.
The two vehicles of Hinayana and Mahayana are the practice of transcendental Buddhism. If we summarize the worldly aspect of Buddhism, there are five Buddhist vehicles: the human vehicle, the heavenly vehicle, the Shravaka vehicle, the Pratyekabuddha vehicle, and the Bodhisattva vehicle. The human and heavenly vehicles are worldly vehicles, while the Shravaka, Pratyekabuddha, and Bodhisattva vehicles are transcendental vehicles. Among the transcendental vehicles, the Shravaka and Pratyekabuddha vehicles are Hinayana, while the Bodhisattva vehicle is Mahayana. These five Buddhist vehicles summarize the entirety of Buddhism.
To understand the out-of-worldly aspects of Buddhism, one must first begin with the worldly aspects. Earlier, we introduced the Buddhist worldview of the interdependent origination of all things and the Buddhist view of life through the twelve links of dependent origination. However, these explanations do not represent the ultimate truth of Buddhism. As the Buddhist scriptures say, “The world is impermanent, countries are fragile, the four elements are empty, and the five aggregates are without a self.” This implies that the concept of the universe and human life is only what we see due to our delusions. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce the out-of-worldly aspects of Buddhism, the realm of “awakening.”
There are two vehicles of out-of-worldly Buddhism, the Mahayana and Hinayana. Hinayana Buddhism, also known as primitive Buddhism, is the fundamental teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. Its teachings consist of the three dharma seals, the four noble truths, and the twelve links of dependent origination. Let us start with the three dharma seals of Hinayana Buddhism:
- Impermanence: All things are constantly changing and never remain the same.
- Non-self: There is no permanent self, soul or ego, only the five aggregates that are constantly changing.
- Nirvana: This is the ultimate goal of Hinayana Buddhism, the cessation of all suffering and attainment of peace and liberation. The Hinayana teachings judge whether the teachings of Buddhism are ultimate or not based on these three dharma seals.
“Impermanence of all things” means that all phenomena in the world, including birth, existence, change, and cessation, do not remain constant even for a moment. What existed in the past has changed, and what exists now will eventually fade away. All of this is considered impermanent.
Shakyamuni Buddha discovered this truth through his observations of the reality of human life, particularly the problems of aging, sickness, and death. In the past, while Shakyamuni Buddha was practicing, a demon named Mara appeared as a Rakshasa and spoke half of the following verse: “All phenomena are impermanent, subject to birth and death.” Shakyamuni Buddha requested Mara to recite the entire verse, and Mara replied, “I consume humans as food. If you offer yourself as food for me, I will tell you.” Shakyamuni Buddha agreed, and Mara completed the verse: “Having arisen, they cease; their cessation is happiness.”
Why did Shakyamuni Buddha sacrifice himself to hear the other half of the verse? It was because those sixteen words summarize all the truths of the world and beyond. The first half of the verse refers to the impermanent phenomena of the world, while the second half refers to the ultimate truth of liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Everything in the universe arises from the combination of causes and conditions, so it is natural that they are subject to change. This impermanence includes the birth, aging, sickness, and death of living beings, the impermanence of all phenomena, the temporal flow of the world, and the rise and fall of the universe.
Cao Mengde’s short song says: “Drinking wine and singing songs, life is fleeting like dewdrops. Yesterday’s troubles are numerous.” The shortness of human life is like the fleeting dew.
Du Zimei’s poem says: “In troubled times and famine years, when the world is empty, brothers travel east and west. Fields and gardens lie deserted after wars, and loved ones are scattered on the roads.” This describes the impermanence of gatherings and separations.
Li Taibai’s poem says: “King Goujian defeated the State of Wu and returned home. His loyal soldiers were all dressed in silk. The palace maids were beautiful like spring flowers, but now only quails fly.” This reflects the transient nature of prosperity.
Liu Yuxi’s poem describes the scene of a thriving place that later became abandoned: “Wildflowers bloom on the banks of the Vermilion Bird Bridge, and the setting sun slants over the Black Robe Lane. The swallows that once flew over the royal palace have now flown into ordinary people’s homes.” This illustrates the impermanence of glory.
“The bright mirror in the high hall reflects the sadness of white hair, in the morning it’s like black silk, but by evening it becomes like snow.” This describes the impermanence of youth.
“All things are subject to change, the past and present are connected.” This describes the impermanence of human affairs.
“The singing of the jade tree fades, and the royal aura comes to an end, the soldiers of Jingyang join forces, and the military tower stands empty.” This describes the impermanence of prosperity and decline.
“The autumn wind blows cold, and the grass and trees shed their leaves, with dew turning into frost.” This describes the impermanence of time and seasons.
In summary, the phenomena of causality, birth, decay, and change are all inevitable. As Confucius said, “Time flows like a river, never ceasing day or night.” The truth of the world is just like this.
Impermanence is not just a phrase in poetry. From a scientific standpoint, from particles to the universe, everything is in constant flux and transformation. In terms of human physiology, the metabolism of hair and nails, and the circulation of blood and lymph are always ongoing. Old cells die and new cells are generated continuously. Through this unceasing cycle of birth and death, a person grows from childhood to adulthood, and then ages and eventually dies.
In terms of psychology, thoughts arise and cease moment by moment. This incessant flow of mental activity, driven by the attachment to external objects, is like a movie playing on a screen. The film strip keeps moving, and the images on the screen keep changing. As soon as one image disappears, the next one appears. When the screen goes blank, the story ends. When mental activity ceases, life comes to an end.
Therefore, as stated in the Diamond Sutra, “All things are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, or a shadow. They are like dew or lightning. You should contemplate them in this way.”
However, in Buddhist philosophy, impermanence does not mean annihilation. It is a process of birth and death, continuous and unbroken. This process of birth and death is the truth of all phenomena in life and the universe.
Furthermore, it is said in Buddhism that the so-called “self” is merely a combination of the four elements (earth, water, fire, and air) and the five aggregates (form, sensation, perception, mental formation, and consciousness) in terms of time and space. From a scientific perspective, a human being is composed of fifteen elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. However, whether it is the combination of the four elements, five aggregates, or fifteen elements, the “self” essentially consists of two parts: the mind and the body. What people are attached to is the false appearance of the mind and body being combined as “self.”
However, upon closer analysis, which part of this false appearance is truly “me”? Is it the mind or the body? If it is the body, is it the head or the feet that are “me”? Is it the liver or the lungs that are “me”? If the heart is considered the ruler of the body (in physiology, the heart is simply an organ for pumping blood), does removing the head and limbs mean that there is no longer a “self”? If the brain is considered the ruler of the body (in medicine, the brain is responsible for memory, imagination, thinking, and judgment, and the nerves conduct messages), does cutting off the limbs and trunk mean that there is no longer a “self”?
If the body is not “me,” then is it the mind that is “me”? However, a person’s emotions are constantly changing. Who is truly “me” when happy, angry, sad, or joyful?
In terms of human physiology, due to the metabolism process, red blood cells only last for a few weeks, while most cells last for several months. Hair and nails are even more prone to metabolism. Therefore, the “me” at thirty years old is not the same as the “me” at three years old. In terms of psychology, the “me” who was once honest and passionate in youth may become selfish and stingy in old age. Who is truly “me,” the passionate and generous youth, or the selfish and stingy elder?
The true “self” is our true Buddha nature, but this is obscured by our attachment to the false appearance of the five aggregates. This false appearance cannot be constant and has no self-nature. Thus, seeking the “self” among the four elements and five aggregates is ultimately futile.
Finally, let’s discuss nirvana, which is translated as “extinction” or “peaceful enlightenment.” In the Mahayana tradition, it is said that “nirvana” is translated as “extinction” because it extinguishes afflictions and the cycle of birth and death. “Nirvana” is translated as “peaceful enlightenment” because it is a state of great peace beyond all phenomena.
Due to our attachment to the concept of self, we generate delusions and create karma, which results in karmic retribution. Therefore, the attachment to the concept of self is the root cause of the cycle of birth and death. If we let go of this attachment, we can see the true nature of all phenomena and experience the peaceful enlightenment of nirvana in the present moment.
Nirvana is the liberation attained by deeply understanding the nature of emptiness and extinction through the observation of impermanence and non-self. Since all things are impermanent and non-self, there is no fixed entity or substance in the universe, only a continuous state of momentary arising and ceasing. Impermanence and non-self are empty, therefore, the fundamental idea of the Buddha is the dependent origination based on emptiness. The three marks of existence are also based on emptiness.
So, what does emptiness really mean?
In society, many people may use Buddhist terms such as “the four elements are all empty” and “form is emptiness” to mock Buddhism, but if asked what the four elements are, what form is, or what emptiness is, most people may not be able to answer.
Indeed, Buddhism talks about emptiness, but the emptiness in Buddhism does not mean emptiness of everything. The emptiness in Buddhist teachings refers to emptiness of inherent existence and emptiness of characteristics, rather than emptiness of phenomena. How can we tell?
In the Heart Sutra, it says, “When Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva was practicing the profound Prajnaparamita, he illuminated the Five Skandhas and saw that they were all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.” The Five Skandhas, which are referred to many times in this article, are form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. Form is equivalent to matter, while feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness belong to the realm of the mind. Why are the Five Skandhas all empty? Simply put, the Five Skandhas arise due to causes and conditions, rather than inherent existence. Form arises from the combination of the four elements, while feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness arise from deluded discrimination. In the end, all of them lack inherent existence, hence they are all empty.
The universe and all phenomena arise from the coming together of causes and conditions. Before their arising, these things did not exist, and after their cessation, they will no longer exist. During their existence, they are merely illusory forms that arise from the coming together of causes and conditions, and have no inherent nature. For example, a book on a table is the result of the coming together of many causes and conditions, such as the author, publisher, paper maker, printer, and so on. If the book becomes damaged or lost, or burned or drowned, it will cease to exist due to the cessation of its causes and conditions. Therefore, even during its existence, it is merely a temporary phenomenon without inherent nature. The book, paper, and binding are all illusory names, and have no substantial reality.
Furthermore, even paper and binding are not substantial in nature. If we remove the plant fibers from the paper and binding, what substance is left? The book, paper, binding, and even the fibers are all just illusory names. As stated in the Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra, “All phenomena are empty of inherent existence, and exist only in name due to causes and conditions, such as mountains, rivers, grass, trees, land, people, states, cities, and towns.” If we remove the causes and conditions, the names also disappear. Therefore, the names of countries and cities are illusory, and have no substantial reality. The Buddha said, “All phenomena arise from causes and conditions, and are therefore empty and illusory, yet they are still called by names.” This refers to the three views of emptiness, illusory, and dependent arising in Buddhist teachings.
Understanding the meaning of the three views in Buddhist teachings, we know that emptiness does not mean nothingness, but rather it teaches us not to be attached. By letting go of our attachment and grasping, we can attain enlightenment and liberation from suffering.
The Buddha also often spoke of suffering in his teachings. What kinds of suffering exist in the world? In this world where we live, called the Sahā world, there are countless sufferings and afflictions that beings must endure, such as the ten evils, the three poisons, and various forms of pain and affliction, in order to survive.
In fact, all beings in the three realms suffer, but they are not aware of it because they have become accustomed to it. Sometimes they even take pleasure in their suffering and find it interesting.
There are many types of suffering, as explained in the Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra: “The four hundred and four types of diseases are physical suffering, while mental suffering includes sadness, anger, fear, jealousy, doubt, and so on. The combination of these two is internal suffering. There are two types of external suffering: one is caused by enemies such as kings, thieves, tigers, wolves, snakes, and so on; the other is caused by natural disasters such as wind, rain, cold, heat, thunder, and lightning, which are known as external suffering.”
The most specific types of suffering in life are the eight sufferings mentioned in the Nirvana Sutra. These eight types of suffering are birth, aging, illness, death, separation from loved ones, meeting with those one hates, not getting what one desires, and the aggregation of the five skandhas. They are described in detail as follows:
- The suffering of birth: Most people do not remember the suffering of being in the womb for ten months. At birth, a baby weighing six or eight pounds has to pass through a narrow birth canal, and the pain is indescribable. After being born, the baby is stimulated by the cold and hot air of the outside world and is grabbed and pulled by the hands of the midwife. This pain is even more unbearable than being whipped.
- The suffering of aging: Tang Dynasty poetry says: “In this world, only white hair is just and fair; even the wealthy cannot avoid it.” Aging is something that cannot be avoided by anyone. Even Han Yu, a famous Tang Dynasty writer, said, “I am not yet forty years old, but my sight is dim, my hair is white, and my teeth are loose.” If this is happening at forty, it is still considered early aging. Even if someone has exceptional talent and knows how to take care of their health, the above-mentioned phenomena will inevitably occur when they reach seventy or eighty years old. Moreover, after working hard for decades, in addition to the decline of physical functions, there are also pains from the accumulation of labor, such as back pain, rheumatism, and stomach problems, which are difficult to endure. As for aging, it is even more cruel for women because in addition to the physical pain, they also suffer from the psychological pain of youth fading away. From being beautiful and charming to becoming wrinkled and old, this is something that makes people sigh, but no one can escape the pain of aging.
- The suffering of illness: Since the day we were born, we have had an inseparable relationship with illness. Childhood diseases include diseases such as smallpox and measles, while middle-aged diseases include gastric ulcers and tuberculosis. In old age, diseases such as hypertension and heart disease are more common. Some people may say that with scientific progress and new medicines emerging every day, as long as you have money, you can cure any disease. In fact, this is not the case. Although there are new drugs and new diseases are constantly being discovered, such as polio, cancer, and AIDS, there are also psychological illnesses such as nervous breakdowns, schizophrenia, delusions, and manic-depressive disorders caused by intense social competition and anxiety. These are not easily treatable by medication…
Originally, the four elements combine to form the body, and it is inevitable to experience imbalances in temperature. When one falls ill, they must endure the pain on the sickbed. It may be bearable for a short time, but if one is bedridden for a long time, spending the whole day with medicine, the suffering is indescribable.
- Furthermore, death is an inevitable part of life. A machine made of steel has a lifespan of only a few years to decades, so how long can a human being, made up of flesh and blood, support themselves? Qin Shihuang and Emperor Wu of Han sought the elixir of life, but they became a joke in history. The alchemy of mercury practiced by Daoist and Taoist practitioners has no basis in reality. The biggest logical fallacy of this religion is the problem of immortality. The universe follows the cycle of birth, existence, decay, and rebirth. Life inevitably leads to death, and success is accompanied by failure. This is the way things are, with no exceptions. The Buddhist sutras say that there is no heaven or hell, and that life can last for 84,000 great kalpas, but eventually, everyone will still fall into the cycle of rebirth and reincarnation.
Given all of this, death is not surprising! Unfortunately, many who die have unfinished goals and ambitions, resulting in many people dying with regrets. The physical and emotional pain before death, the separation of the four elements, difficulty breathing, and a thousand words that cannot be expressed all come together. At this time, surrounded by loved ones, family members, and loved ones, the scene is particularly tragic. Especially when facing death, all of one’s actions, good or bad, will flash through their mind. Those who have performed good deeds and have nothing to be ashamed of will feel peaceful and relieved, but those who have done wrong and gone against their conscience will feel regret, pain, and fear. At this time, the pain and fear may even summon hell, and one’s consciousness will be pulled by karma, leading them down a path of evil. This is what is meant by “nothing can be taken with you when you die, only your karma follows you.”
- The pain of separation and reunion is also known as love and suffering. As the saying goes, “No joy is greater than meeting an old friend, no sorrow is greater than being separated.” Separation and reunion are tragic events in human life. Losing a spouse or child in one’s youth or middle age is undoubtedly heartbreaking. Even if it is not death, the pain of separation from a loved one due to seeking employment or other circumstances will also be felt. There is no feast in the world that never ends. Even those who are as close as father and son or husband and wife may not be able to stay together for life, let alone others. All phenomena are impermanent, and the pain of separation and reunion is unavoidable for everyone.
- The opposite of love and suffering is hatred and conflict. Close friends, loving partners, couples with deep affection, or children who bring joy to their parents may experience separation or death. On the other hand, those who are repulsive, boring, or incompatible, or those with conflicts of interest and mutual animosity, are more likely to gather together. If these detestable people could be avoided for a lifetime, wouldn’t the world be much more peaceful? Unfortunately, social and personal issues are complicated, and in certain situations, those who hate each other are often arranged to work together. They seem to be inseparable, causing immense suffering.
- The suffering of seeking the unattainable: When one desires something but lacks the economic means to obtain it, or when one seeks a particular position but faces a scarcity of opportunities, this is suffering. For example, if Person A falls in love with Person B, but Person B is interested in Person C instead, this is also a form of suffering. Even if one’s first wish is granted, a second wish will soon emerge. The valley is easy to fill, but human desires are difficult to satisfy. Who can feel that everything is fulfilled? If one is not satisfied and desires something, but cannot obtain it, then isn’t this a form of suffering?
- The suffering of the intense aggregation of the five aggregates: The five aggregates (form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness) combine to form the body, which is like a blazing fire, and all the previous seven types of suffering are derived from this. When the aggregate of form is intense, the four elements of the body are not in harmony, resulting in physical illness. When the aggregate of sensation is intense, discrimination and apprehension increase, making all suffering even more intense. When the aggregate of perception is intense, imagination and pursuit lead to the suffering of love and hate, resentment and attachment, and seeking the unattainable. When the aggregate of mental formations is intense, the actions one performs become the cause for future results, and because of the incessant movement of the aggregate, there is the suffering of aging. When the aggregate of consciousness is intense, delusion and action lead to the suffering of birth, death, and transmigration over three lifetimes.
In summary, in the world of Samsara, everything is suffering. However, suffering is only a result, not a cause. What is the cause of suffering? This is explained in detail in the “Four Noble Truths”.
The Third and Fourth Noble Truths
When the Buddha first turned the wheel of Dharma in the Deer Park, he taught the Four Noble Truths to the five monks. During his subsequent teachings and wanderings, he repeatedly expounded upon these truths. It can be seen that the Four Noble Truths are the foundation of Buddhism and the central ideas of the Dharma.
The Four Noble Truths are suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation. “Truth” here means that which is real and not false, and is known only by the wise. Hence, they are called the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths fully encompass the dual causality of the world and the two realms of existence. The cause is represented by “craving,” and the effect by “suffering.” This is the causality of the realm of delusion. The cause is represented by “the path,” and the effect by “the cessation.” This is the causality of the realm of enlightenment. The Buddha taught the Truths in such a way that he first spoke of suffering, then of its cause, with the aim of causing sentient beings to become disenchanted with the pressures of suffering, and then to trace the origins of suffering to its cause, craving, so as to cut it off. He then spoke of the cessation of suffering and the path leading to its cessation, with the aim of causing sentient beings to experience the joy of peace and happiness and to see that the cessation of suffering comes from practicing the path. This is what is meant by the saying, “understand suffering, cut off its cause, experience its cessation, and cultivate the path!”
As for the Truth of Suffering, it has already been explained above. However, worldly suffering is not random; the reason for this suffering is all due to the cause of craving.
“Craving” means gathering or accumulation, and it is often translated as “habituation” or “familiarization.” The cause of craving is karma, and its conditions are the afflictions. Karma has three aspects: bodily, verbal, and mental, while the afflictions have six: attachment, aversion, ignorance, arrogance, doubt, and wrong views. Of these, wrong views are further subdivided into five: views of the self, of the extremes, of mistaken views, of attachment to views, and of attachment to precepts. These ten afflictions are the root of all afflictions. Being deluded by them, one becomes confused about things and about the truth. This is called “confusion regarding actions” and “confusion regarding views.” When there is confusion, it is easy to create unwholesome karma with one’s body, speech, and mind. With confusion and karma, there are the results of the suffering of cyclic existence. These two truths of suffering and its cause are the causality of the realm of delusion, and they are also the basis for judging and observing the reality of human life in the present world.
“Cessation” means the complete cessation of suffering. The characteristic of the cessation is that all craving and attachment are permanently eradicated, without any residue, and without any defilement. It is tranquil, and everything becomes extinct. This is Nirvana. Nirvana is not annihilation, but rather, the relinquishing of all the various aggregates, the eradication of all suffering, and the attainment of ultimate freedom from cyclic existence, which is the ultimate state of the enlightened ones.
The state of Nirvana is attained through the practice of the Path. “Dao” means a path or a way, and by following this path, one can escape from the cycle of birth and death and enter Nirvana. This path is called the Middle Way or the Right Path, and one should follow it to seek liberation. When the Buddha turned the Dharma wheel, he spoke of the Eightfold Path, which leads to entry into Nirvana. Later on, he added the Thirty-Seven Aids to Enlightenment to this teaching. This is a broad classification, but the inner meaning remains the same. The Eightfold Path consists of Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. The contents are as follows.
The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path
The term “right” refers to the correct way, and “path” refers to the unobstructed way. The Noble Eightfold Path, also known as the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment, is the path that can lead all beings to end suffering and achieve the state of enlightenment and tranquility.
The Eightfold Path consists of:
- Right View: Correct understanding. Worldly right views include generosity and ethical conduct. Supramundane right views involve comprehending the Four Noble Truths and are not influenced by worldly views or delusions.
- Right Intention: The right thought process. Ordinary people’s thinking is often based on delusion. When following the path, one should use the wisdom of non-attachment to cultivate right thinking, increase true wisdom, eliminate confusion, and realize one’s true nature.
- Right Speech: Using proper language to cultivate right speech and refrain from false speech, abusive speech, divisive speech, or frivolous talk. If one has right speech, one’s speech karma will naturally be purified.
- Right Action: The practice of pure conduct that is free from the three poisons (greed, hatred, and delusion) is known as right action. Human beings create karma with every thought, word, and action. Following the path, one should avoid killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. One should also avoid lying or idle talk. One should also avoid covetousness, anger, and ignorance in one’s thoughts, speech, and actions.
- Right Livelihood: Livelihood refers to the means of supporting oneself. Those who follow the path should avoid the five wrongful means of livelihood: 1) deceiving through fraud, 2) praising oneself while disparaging others, 3) making predictions based on superstition, 4) using intimidation to get what one wants, and 5) engaging in practices that encourage people to make offerings. One should instead pursue an honest livelihood that is compatible with the path.
- Right Effort: Making progress on the path to Nirvana is known as right effort. It involves strenuous effort to achieve the goal of enlightenment and involves avoiding practices that are physically or mentally harmful, as well as avoiding practices that lead to superstition or attachment to the world.
- Right Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the state of being aware of the present moment. Practicing right mindfulness involves being mindful of the true nature of things and the positive aspects of oneself and others. This practice leads to the realization of the truth and the attainment of enlightenment.
- Right Concentration: Refers to the practice of abandoning unstable and wrong meditation and achieving stable, non-attachment meditation with wisdom. Right concentration leads to the ability to stay focused and unwaveringly committed to the truth.
The Eightfold Path can be summarized into three categories: morality, concentration, and wisdom. Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are moral practices; Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are practices of concentration; Right View and Right Intention are practices of wisdom. Following the Eightfold Path leads to the elimination of suffering and the attainment of Nirvana.
Twelve Links of Dependent Origination
In the original teachings of Buddhism, in addition to the Three Dharma Seals and Four Noble Truths, there is also the doctrine of the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination refer to the observation of causality within the twelve interconnected factors of existence. The previous discussion only focused on the cycle of the Twelve Links, but the latter half of the doctrine of cessation has not been introduced.
The cycle of the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination has been explained as the cycle of birth and death, in which all existence is dependent on these twelve links, namely ignorance leading to volitional activities, volitional activities leading to consciousness, consciousness leading to name and form, name and form leading to the six senses, the six senses leading to contact, contact leading to sensation, sensation leading to craving, craving leading to clinging, clinging leading to existence, existence leading to birth, and birth leading to aging and death. All sentient beings, throughout the three realms of existence, are subject to the cycle of the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination.
The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination are the fundamental cycle of birth and death. To break free from this cycle, one must understand the doctrine of cessation. Once the practitioner understands the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination and the principle of causality, they can see that all existence arises from ignorance, but ignorance is ultimately empty and impermanent. This understanding is known as the cessation of ignorance leading to the cessation of volitional activities, the cessation of volitional activities leading to the cessation of consciousness, the cessation of consciousness leading to the cessation of name and form, the cessation of name and form leading to the cessation of the six senses, the cessation of the six senses leading to the cessation of contact, the cessation of contact leading to the cessation of sensation, the cessation of sensation leading to the cessation of craving, the cessation of craving leading to the cessation of clinging, the cessation of clinging leading to the cessation of existence, the cessation of existence leading to the cessation of birth, and the cessation of birth leading to the cessation of aging and death. This is the doctrine that enables the practitioner to transcend the three realms of existence.
The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination and the Four Noble Truths are both based on the Three Dharma Seals and explain the causality of the universe and human existence, as well as the dual causality of the world of samsara and the world beyond samsara. The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination can be integrated into the Four Noble Truths, where past ignorance and volitional activities are the causes of suffering, present craving, clinging, and existence are also the causes of suffering, and consciousness, name and form, the six senses, contact, sensation, and the two results of birth and aging and death are all manifestations of suffering. If the practitioner understands suffering and seeks to transcend it through practice, and ultimately reaches the cessation of ignorance leading to the cessation of aging and death, they have attained the cessation and path of the Four Noble Truths.
Four Great Elements in False Aggregation
In Buddhist philosophy, the human body is composed of the four basic substances of earth, water, fire, and wind. These four substances are said to come together in false aggregation due to various causes and conditions, forming the human body. Once these causes and conditions cease to exist, these four substances disperse and return to their respective states, hence the term “false aggregation.”
Speech that is obscene, offensive, or hurtful, designed to make others upset or angry, is called harsh speech.
To sow discord, one speaks to one person about another, or to another about one person, causing strife and division between them. This is called sowing discord.
Speech that is not truthful or genuine, but instead uses clever language to impress others, is called pretentious speech.