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Nonduality Highlights: Issue #3820, Saturday, February 27, 2010, Editor: Mark
The profound state of emptiness dries up the ocean of passion. It crumples the mountain of anger. It illuminates the darkness of stupidity. It calms down the gale of jealousy. It defeats the illness of the kleshas. It is a friend in sorrow. It destroys conceit in joy. It conquers in the battle with Samsara. It annihilates the four Maras. It turns the eight worldly dharmas into same taste. It subdues the demon of ego- fixation. It turns negative conditions into aids. It turns bad omens into good luck. It causes to manifest complete enlightenment. It gives birth to the Buddhas of the three times. Emptiness is the Dharmakaya mother.
There is no teaching higher than emptiness. There is no teaching swifter than emptiness. There is no teaching more excellent than emptiness. There is no teaching more profound than emptiness.
Emptiness is the 'knowing of one that frees all.' Emptiness is the supreme king of medicines. Emptiness is the nectar of immortality. Emptiness is spontaneous accomplishment beyond effort. Emptiness is enlightenment without exertion.
- Nyoshul Khenpo Jamyang Dorje Rinpochem, from the website http://www.nyingma.com/artman/publish/mirror_dzogchen.shtml
In Buddhist thought the concept "emptiness" refers to deconstructed reality. The more closely you look at something the more you see that it is not there in any substantial way, it couldn't be. In the end everything is just a designation: things have a kind of reality in their being named and conceptualized, but otherwise they actually aren't present. Not to understand that our designations are designations, that they do not refer to anything in particular, is to mistake emptiness.
When you look closely for anything and find that you can't find it, you do discover that although the thing itself seems to be void, there do seem to be connections. In fact connection is all you find, with no things that are connected. It's the very thoroughness of the connection - no gaps or lumps in it - only the constant nexus- that renders everything void. So everything is empty and connected, or empty because connected. Emptiness is connection.
So, do things exist? Yes and no. Yes, in that experience does occur, and no in that the experience that occurs is radically not what you think it is. The Heart Sutra in a famous passage says there are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body and no mind. This doesn't mean that the sense organs and mind don't exist; it means they don't exist as we are deeply convinced they do: as separate real entities. We think we "have" eyes and ears. But eyes and ears as they exist deconstructed in emptiness can't be possessed. They are inherently dispossessed, even of themselves. Emptiness is freedom.
Why does any of this matter and what consequences does it have for living?
Three attitudes arise as a consequence of the appreciation of emptiness:
* flexibility - since nothing is real, fixed, separate, or able to be possessed what's the point of resistance?
* kindness - since everything is nothing but connection kindness is natural
* humility - who is going to feel like he's master of all this talk?
- Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Nothing has any inherent existence of its own when you really look at it, and this absence of independent existence is what we call "emptiness." Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object; and on a certain level it is. But when you look more closely at the tree, you will see that ultimately it has no independent existence.
When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretches across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all the seasons and the weather, moonlight and starlight and sunlight - all form part of this tree.
As you begin to think more and more about the tree, you will discover that everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is; that it cannot at any moment be isolated from anything else; and that at every moment its nature is subtly changing. This is what we mean when we say things are empty, that they have no independent existence.
- Sogyal Rinpoche
Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to and takes nothing away from the raw data of physical and mental events. You look at events in the mind and the senses with no thought of whether there's anything lying behind them.
This mode is called emptiness because it's empty of the presuppositions we usually add to experience to make sense of it: the stories and world-views we fashion to explain who we are and the world we live in. Although these stories and views have their uses, the Buddha found that some of the more abstract questions they raise -- of our true identity and the reality of the world outside -- pull attention away from a direct experience of how events influence one another in the immediate present. Thus they get in the way when we try to understand and solve the problem of suffering.
Say for instance, that you're meditating, and a feeling of anger toward your mother appears. Immediately, the mind's reaction is to identify the anger as "my" anger, or to say that "I'm" angry. It then elaborates on the feeling, either working it into the story of your relationship to your mother, or to your general views about when and where anger toward one's mother can be justified. The problem with all this, from the Buddha's perspective, is that these stories and views entail a lot of suffering. The more you get involved in them, the more you get distracted from seeing the actual cause of the suffering: the labels of "I" and "mine" that set the whole process in motion. As a result, you can't find the way to unravel that cause and bring the suffering to an end.
If, however, you can adopt the emptiness mode -- by not acting on or reacting to the anger, but simply watching it as a series of events, in and of themselves -- you can see that the anger is empty of anything worth identifying with or possessing. As you master the emptiness mode more consistently, you see that this truth holds not only for such gross emotions as anger, but also for even the most subtle events in the realm of experience. This is the sense in which all things are empty. When you see this, you realize that labels of "I" and "mine" are inappropriate, unnecessary, and cause nothing but stress and pain. You can then drop them. When you drop them totally, you discover a mode of experience that lies deeper still, one that's totally free.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu
To the extent that the fire of truth wipes out all fixated points of view, it wipes out inner contradictions as well, and we begin to move in a whole different way. The Way is the flow that comes from a place of non-contradiction - not from good and bad. Much less damage tends to be done from that place. Once we have reached the phase where there is no fixed self-concept, we tend to lead a selfless life. The only way to be selfless is to be self less - without a self. No matter what it does, a self isn't going to be selfless. It can pretend. It can approximate selflessness, but a self is never going to be selfless because there is always an identified personal self at the root of it.
Being selfless isn't a good, holy, or noble activity. It's simply that when there is no self, selflessness happens. This selflessness is very different from having a moralistic standpoint. When action is selfless, it tends to do no harm. It tends to be the salvation, the secret alchemy that awakens and removes conflict. It's a byproduct of not having a self. It just so happens that reality is overflowing with goodness and love.
This is radical emptiness - where everything is arising spontaneously. There is no more need to discriminate with the mind between what seems to be the right thing or the wrong thing to do. In ego-land it's helpful to have an ego that can discriminate between right and wrong, but at a certain point, that's not what you are operating by. You are operating by the flow of the Tao, which is a higher order of intelligence. You don't need to intellectually discriminate anymore because the Tao discriminates without discriminating; it knows without knowing; it moves without moving. There is no sense of being enlightened or unenlightened. Since there is no self, there is nothing to be enlightened or unenlightened.
We can talk about enlightened beings and non-enlightened beings, and conceptually that has a use. But when there is no self, when there is radical emptiness, the whole enlightenment thing is sort of irrelevant because reality has become conscious of itself, which is enlightenment. That's what is often missed. People believe that enlightenment is an improvement on reality, like becoming a super human being or God-knows-what. But enlightenment is when reality is awake to itself as itself within itself.
All that is limited by form, semblance, sound, color is called object.
Among them all, man alone is more than an object.
Though, like objects, he has form and semblance,
He is not limited to form.
He is more.
He can attain to formlessness.
When he is beyond form and semblance, beyond "this" and "that,"
where is the comparison with another object?
Where is the conflict?
What can stand in his way?
He will rest in his eternal place which is no-place.
He will be hidden in his own unfathomable secret.
His nature sinks to its root in the One.
His vitality, his power hide in secret Tao.
- Chuang Tzu, translated by Thomas Merton
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