As stated before, it is the sense of self that primarily obscures the Middle Way. It is this same sense of self that ultimately drives the tribalistic and divisive politics that have been passed on to the present day. Ironically, even though the reforming movement aimed at removing the encrustations of self that they saw, nevertheless the problem persisted. These tribalistic politics are like family heirlooms of dubious worth yet hard to discard because they are so much part of our collective histories.
The source of this conflict – along with the other ten thousand woes and struggles that the human mind is prone to – is conceiving the arahant and the bodhisattva in terms of self. When we no longer look at the issue through the lens of self view, the picture radically changes.
Bhikkhus, held by two kinds of views, some devas and human beings hold back and some overreach; only those with vision see.
And how, bhikkhus, do some hold back? Some devas and humans enjoy being, delight in being, are satisfied with being. When the Dhamma is taught to them for the cessation of being, their minds do not enter into it or acquire confidence in it or settle upon it or become resolved upon it. Thus, bhikkhus, do some hold back.
How, bhikkhus, do some overreach? Now some are troubled, ashamed and disgusted by this very same quality of being and they rejoice in [the idea of] non being, asserting, ”Good sirs, when the body perishes at death, this self is annihilated and destroyed and does not exist any more – this is true peace, this is excellent, this is reality!“ Thus, bhikkhus, do some overreach.
How, bhikkhus, do those with vision see? Herein one sees what has come to be as having come to be. Having seen it thus, one practices the course for turning away, for dispassion, for the
cessation of what has come to be. Thus, bhikkhus, do those with vision see.
As long as self view has not been penetrated, both in its coarse form of sakkaya ditthi (identification with the body and personality) as well as the more refined asmi mana (the conceit of "I am"), the mind will miss the Middle Way. The “no more coming into any state of being” ideal will thus tend to get co opted by the nihilist view (uccheda ditthi); whereas the “endlessly returning for the sake of all beings” ideal will tend to get pervaded with the eternalist view (sassata ditthi).
When the two extremes are abandoned and the sense of self is seen through, then the Middle Way is realized. Whether we talk in terms of utter emptiness, in the arahant of the Pali Canon or the absolute zero of the Heart Sutra, or in terms of the the infinite view of four bodhisattva vows there is a direct realization that these expressions are merely modes of speech. They all derive from the same source, the Dhamma. They are simply expedient formulations that guide the heart of the aspirant to attunement with that reality of its own nature. That attunement is the Middle Way.