Right View is the Cure
The first step on the path to enlightenment is getting rid of ignorance. What ignorance specifically? The ignorance that we have to have an ‘I’, an ego or ‘self’. The Buddha said:
“Monks, there are these four floods. Which four? The flood of sensuality, the flood of becoming, the flood of views, and the flood of ignorance. These are the four floods.
Now, this Noble Eightfold Path is to be developed for direct knowledge of, comprehension of, the total ending of, and the abandoning of these four floods.” — Ogha Sutta [SN 45.171]
And ignorance is the first flood. All the other floods arise from ignorance, so we will cover it first. The Buddha says we have to develop the Noble Eightfold Path. The first element of the Noble Eightfold Path is right view. How do we develop right view?
“When — having entirely abandoned passion-obsession, having abolished aversion-obsession, having uprooted the view-and-conceit obsession ‘I am’; having abandoned ignorance and given rise to clear knowing — he has put an end to suffering and stress right in the here-and-now. It is to this extent that a disciple of the Noble Ones is a person of right view: one whose view is made straight, who is endowed with verified confidence in the Dhamma, and who has arrived at this true Dhamma.” — Sammadithi Sutta [MN 9]
So, our prospects for enlightenment depend on our having Right View. What does that mean? That we understand that possessiveness, passion, obsession, aversion, and especially, the view and conceit of ‘I am’. ‘I am’ means a ‘self’, a false ego, a fabricated identity. We don’t need it; we’re actually much better off without it: much happier and more peaceful.
We create a false ego, a false ‘self’, and then we create desires based on it and make up stories about it: “I am this; I am that. I’m a member of this family; I’m a citizen of that country. I’m an employee of this company; I am this, I am that, I am so many different things.”
We change these ‘I’s like hats, put them on and take them off all the time. We base our behavior on our concept of ‘I’. And this of course leads to the concept of ‘mine’. So then ‘I’ have all this stuff that’s ‘mine’, and I have to take care of it, to do this and that with it.
Pretty soon our whole life is taken up with ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and stuff, useless unnecessary activity. We have no time to actually be, without having to ‘be somebody’. That’s where all our suffering starts.
If we look closely at the cycle of Dependent Origination, we see that the cycle of becoming begins from ignorance, and this ignorance is precisely that we must have a ‘self’. As soon as we can let that go; as soon as we can see very clearly that we don’t need it, then we can stop fabricating a false ego, creating a lie about who and what we are.
And what is the lie? That ‘I’ exist—‘I’ the great ‘me’! The ‘self’ is a lie. And the sooner we get rid of it, the sooner we can see that all the other conceits and obsessions based on it are actually useless. If we can stop the process of fabrication, the creation of a false ‘I’, we could go directly to cessation of conditioned existence on the Noble Eightfold Path—and that means the end of our suffering, and then we can easily go to nibbāna, the step before Unbinding.
We really want to short-circuit Dependent Origination and go directly to cessation if we can. If we can’t, if our practice is not that advanced, we can catch the cycle lower down, at contact, but it’s hard. It’s better if you have Right View—if you know from the beginning of your practice that the idea is to stop the fabrication of the false ‘I’.
Of course you can’t stop fabrication immediately because it is a very old habit. But through observation and insight, gradually you’ll find out how to stop it. This is the key to attaining enlightenment. Think over this insight and use it to practice in a way that stops your suffering. That’s what this is all about.
And finally, a little poem I composed in December 2012:
I have seen the beauty of the sun
Beyond the covering of cloud.
Right view, practice, concentration
Will get you there without a doubt.