Good read! Delani
Talk given at Riverview Dharma Center 2016-11-27
After the talk on the Heart Sutra and Mantra a few questions of hearers remained in my mind and it felt it would be a good idea to address the core of these questions in a follow up talk. This talk we have today.
The topic of today’s talk is Emptiness, what is it and how to understand it rationally, in a way that makes it more palpable (if one can say this like that) and in a way that helps us to realize it more easily.
Of course the conclusion on the meaning of the Heart Sutra is that all phenomena are ’empty of inherent nature’. As we analyzed the text of the sutra, we learned by logic that this has to mean that all phenomena actually do not even exist because they do not even get to be created. Nevertheless we experience phenomena, as they appear to us, actually all as being very created, very existent and real.
As we analyzed in the Heart Sutra, phenomena have to be a ‘sort of a dreamed up experience’. Dreamed by a non-dual dreamer, called ’emptiness’ who dreams being a universe with a multitude of phenomena, including our individual personalities who are (being) tricked in to believing the dream is a reality.
We learned from the Heart Sutra there have to be two truths.
Our small personal identity, its experiences and corresponding view on reality are a relative truth in which we experience all phenomena as real.
The ‘Greater Whole’ the ‘Non Dual Dreamer’ (just a few designations I or anyone can imagine for the Foundation on which, or in which, or because of which all phenomena experience one another) is the ultimate Truth. This Truth in Mahayana Buddhism often is referred to as ‘Emptiness’. Another very important reference to this Truth we find in a text called ‘Udana’ which is part of the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism as wikipeadia informs us. I am referring to Udana nr. 80. I will quote that text:
There is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unconditioned. If that Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unconditioned were not, there could be no escape from this that is born, originated, created, conditioned. But because there is That which is Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unconditioned, an escape from this that is born, originated, created, conditioned can be proclaimed.
It seems good to once more shortly emphasize that this ‘Emptiness’ as we find it in Mahayana Sutra’s is actually something which one will find in the Pali Canon as it is accepted in the Thearvada tradition of Buddhism.
At first glance there seems to be an unsolvable contradiction and our mind is screening at us, trying to convince us that it really can’t be true that ‘it all’ does not exist, and, then, when believing our mind, we actually strengthen the experience of the reality of those phenomena which nevertheless do not really exist.
We have to learn to calm this panic-like response of our minds to this notion that phenomena do not exist. We have to learn to ponder on this idea calmly and in a way our minds will accept the possibility of this idea, so that we remain open, in a researching way, for experiences which may bring conformation of the reality of this idea of non-existence of the phenomena.
That this is not an easy task may be obvious. We need to practice relentlessly and we need to correct ourselves every time our mind tricks us in to believing things as real and existent.
If we now look at that board behind me, on my right hand side, (for you that is left of me) we see these lists which I copied from Alexander Duncans book called ‘Conversations with the Buddha’.
These lists are lists which basically have been given to us by the Buddha in his teachings.
The list on top on the right side of the board shows those five aggregates or ‘skandha’s’ of which the Heart Sutra says the are empty or non-existent. This, although in Buddhist philosophy, these aggregates totally constitute and explain a livings being existence.
If we would wish to imagine ourselves upon that image or visa versa, we would spontaneously wish to flip the list upside down. Consciousness on top and form at the bottom, right?
If we do so flip the list, we immediately see the great overlap that this list of aggregates has with the list on the top left side of the board.
Thàt list is called ‘the chain of cause and effect’ also known as ‘the links of interdependent arising’, of which there have evolved several versions with a few more or less links in the list.
The idea however is the same in all of them.
In this chain of cause and effect, we see that the Buddha taught, that a person’s existence here in Samsara starts out with consciousness. Often this first link is called ‘ignorance’ which is consciousness as well, but of an uninformed nature – thus of a not wise nature, lacking in wisdom. It is only at the end of the ‘chain of interdependent arising’ or the ‘chain of cause and effect’, in the last two links, we see the arising of matter as we know it, when we start becoming and get born into this material universe.
If we now look at the list on the bottom right side of the board we see the list called ‘eight liberations’. This list is a list of steps one has to take, or go through, to attain final liberation and these steps are basically doing the opposite of ‘becoming and getting born’ as in the last two links in the list of interdependent arising.
In the list of the Eight Liberations we firstly see those first three steps which correspond to the last step of the chain of interdependent arising which is ‘becoming, getting born in this material world’. After these first three steps of becoming, we then see the first actual step on the actual path of reversing that chain of interdependent arising, which is step 4 in the list of liberations.
We see that we, as a first step, have to transcend all perceptions of matter!
Sidestepping the issue of this talk for a second, we should notice for a moment that according to this list the experience of ‘becoming ,getting born and getting intend on these experiences in Samsara’ are actually part of the path from ignorance to Wisdom! Hence they are on the list of the eight liberations.
Forms do not exist, as we learned from the Heart Sutra, so matter does not exist either. We only perceive matter because we are intend on perceiving it and because we enjoy the sensory experiences it brings to our mind. Nevertheless we are interacting with a delusion, as is also clearly proclaimed in the Diamond Sutra from which the following is a quote:
Diamond Sutra, Section V.
Understanding the Ultimate Principle of Reality
Subhuti, what do you think? Is the Tathagata to be recognized by some material characteristic?
No, World-honored One; the Tathagata cannot be recognized by any material characteristic. Wherefore? Because the Tathagata has said that material characteristics are not, in fact, material characteristics.
Buddha said: Subhuti, wheresoever are material characteristics there is delusion; but whoso perceives that all characteristics are in fact no-characteristics, perceives the Tathagata.
End of quote.
So, In order to start to get an idea of that evading concept called Emptiness we must realize deeply and finally that all phenomena in our universe are NOT made of matter AT ALL !
If we fail to do so, we actually fail on the first step (actual or positive step that is) on the Path of Liberation which is listed as step nr.4 on the list of the eight liberations.
Studying the list of cause and effect leading from the arising of consciousness (in a state of ignorance that is) to being born, as well as this list of the eight liberations, we find ground to assume that the universe and all phenomena in it are made of that kind of energy which is, necessarily, included in that first consciousness and is the root of that consciousness at the same time.
This primal power is to be regarded as psychical or psychic in nature as opposed to material in nature. This we can conclude by logical deduction from the teachings of the Buddha, as is shown in these lists. This position which we actually find in the Pali Canon, the Digha nikaya more precisely, finds conformation in, for instance, such Sutras as the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra. These latter once of course being an important legacy of, and teaching in, the Mahayana tradition.
Let it sink in for a few moments … our entire experience both personally as well as communally is made out of psychical energy as opposed to physical substance!
Let it sink in!
As we also learned from studying the Heart Sutra, our personal personalities are non-existent as well in reality, in absolute Truth. Of course we do experience our personal ‘selves’ as such in our relative view to reality. In objective reality in Ultimate Truth, there is, and can be, only One, since Buddha has taught us that the experience of Nirvana transcends duality. In other words, all our little personal selves are in the absolute reality part of that
non dualistic One Primal Cause
non dualistic One Primal Energy
non dualistic One Unborn
non dualistic One Emptiness
non dualistic One psychical energy, whether we are fully submerged in our little personality and do not believe this can be true, or not.
One may consider these several designations as equally valid or equally invalid I believe, but the most important as a student in Buddhism is the teaching that there is no matter, no material phenomena and no other phenomena in this Ultimate reality and therefor all phenomena can not be made from matter. The experience of matter is the experience of delusion.
As was already suggested in the Talk on the Heart sutra it only seems logic to call this one non dualistic psychical energy ‘Buddha’ or Buddha-nature of which we all carry a perfect copy, or part, at our core being, whether we realize this or not! This particle Buddha-nature in each of us is just as perfect as the one particle of Buddha-nature in Gautama is or was.
So what does this mean for a person like Gautama the Buddha, having realized this to full potentiality, because of understanding the nature of it and controlling it consciously and in wisdom as opposed to ignorance?
It means everything can be done!
Because all we experience is a psychical projection of our collective mind or minds, it is in fact only that, a projection, and nothing more.
Those who have been able to fully realize their Buddha-nature see this projected reality as it is and therefor they do not see any material reality, or specific characteristics, other then that it is a projection, in it.
That is why their consciousness has the ability to remain un-influenced by these projected illusions.
This is why they can make their ‘body’ move through walls, make them walk on water and swim in sand, make them bigger or smaller, make them extremely heavy or without weight at all, make them radiate light or be invisible, or whatever is considered appropriate at any occasion.
All so called supernatural powers, or Siddhi’s are actually fully normal natural powers. Also because of this very same basis of oneness of all that is, supernormal powers like for instance telepathy, mind reading and knowing ones karma are totally understandable and natural too.
This natural aspect of this psychical power works both ways actually.
It does not only allow so called supernormal powers but it also is the root cause for falling into getting born!
Exactly because these powers are in this way fully natural, we keep getting born over and again each time we have died, as long as we did not cease our craving for experiencing Samsara.
The will in one to experience it, did not cease and thus the working of the psychical power granted to this ‘individual’ particle of the ‘whole’ will create a new birth to get the experiences it seeks.
How come we can’t do whatever we want all time then, simply by willing it?
Obviously the answer to that question is that we can’t because we still see reality in material and other phenomena, this is we see material characteristics in the projected universe we find ourselves ‘in’.
However; it is not the universe we are in, but the universe is in us!
How do we arrive at this conclusion?
Now please look at those first two steps on the list of the eight liberations.
The first step says: ‘possessing form, one sees form’. How did we get that form? We got it because of our ignorant state of consciousness in which we traveled down the links on the chain of interdependent origination and having reached the second link we acquired ourselves ‘name and form’ or Nama-rupa. There and then we acquired form!
The second step on the list of the eight liberations says: ‘Not perceiving material forms in oneself, one sees them outside’. This also only is so, because of the (still) ignorant state of our consciousness!
Of course this is a huge hint !
We should not see material forms as outside ourselves.
Seeing the material universe as outside ourselves or outside oneself also does not fit at all to the notion that the Ultimate Reality is that there is a non-dual existence. The non-duality guarantees there can be nothing existing outside of it. A simple question of logical deduction!
Secondly we can’t realize every will at command because of our untrained and un-sustained concentration. We have many and opposing intentions all the time, thwarting the promptly realization of most if not any at all of them.
Thirdly we have been having many intentions for many lives and in these lives we did do many things which have caused good or bad fruit of karma. This fruit of karma has to be experienced as well. This fruit of karma will also thwart the promptly realization of intentions.
Emptiness is the non-dual Primal Force which in reaction to intention brings about the experience of what was intended.
Because of ignorance we do not realize this and that causes us to wrongly identify as a separate individual personal self living inside an Universe which exists separate from us – which it does not.
Realizing this Ultimate Truth to the full, will cease the urge to try to attain anything ‘outside oneself’ or in the ‘material universe’.
Maintaining full concentration on this Ultimate Truth will then lead to exhaustion of fruit of karma. Not as a first goal, but siddhis will arise as a natural side effect of this ‘dwelling in the perfection of Wisdom’ as it is called in the Heart sutra.
So far this try to make the illusive concept of Emptiness a more clear mental concept and as such more ‘palpable’ and better attainable as a goal in meditation and in life. Of course this talk really can’t show you the full reality of emptiness, nothing and no one can except for th non-dual Buddha-nature in you!
I wish you the power and determination to find this one and only refuge from Samsara!
Author: Jos joszpe