Emptiness and How to Realize it
Transcription of teachings by Chamtrul Rinpoche, Johannesburg 2017
So we continue from the morning teachings on emptiness. As I mentioned there are 4 great Buddhadharma philosophical shools: Vaibasika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka.
We will discuss the first two schools- the sub schools – Vaibasika and Sautrantika. As we mentioned, Emptiness is the antidote to the obscurations. Obscurations can be divided into two: obscurations of delusions and obscurations to omniscience. Emptiness we can also divide into two: selflessness of person and selflessness of phenomena.
The first one, recognition of selflessness of the person is the antidote to the delusions, which obscure liberation. So if someone wants to be free from the faults and the suffering of samsara then they must be free from obscurations of delusions. How can we be free? There is only one option- we must realize the emptiness or selflessness of the person.
So now we go further. Due to self-grasping, we grasp at the aggregates as if they are the person, then we misunderstand that the continuity of the aggregates is the person, but this is the misperception. As long as we believe that the coarse level of the aggregates are truly existent then it is difficult to realise the selflessness of the person because the 5 aggregates to our normal perception are the enjoyment object of a person. Sometimes we say “I” or “My”. This is our natural feeling. As long as you believe that these aggregates are inherently existent you will naturally have the feeling you are inherently existent.
So now we must investigate the emptiness of the 5 aggregates. The aggregate of form we can divide into two: causal form and resultant form. This means the 4 elements (earth, water, fire and air) are the causes of the coarse level of form. The resultant form is again divided into two: external and internal form. The external resultant form are the 5 sense-source objects: form, sound, smell, taste and contact and sometimes we refer to a sixth as the object of phenomena, but generally we say 5. Then the internal resultant form is made up of the 5 sense-source faculties: the eye, ear, nose, tongue and skin faculty. So in total there are ten that make up resultant form- the 5 sense-source consciousnesses and 5 sense-source faculties.
So now would you think that the tangible form is inherently existent or just appearing? We need to check as before. As ordinary people we believe very much that this form exists ultimately and inherently. Is this true or not? For example his hall or house: we believe it exists inherently. We can buy and sell it, we have trust that it is here, but it cannot be inherently existent ultimately- like the person we mentioned before. It can exist only imputedly, but not ultimately. We grasp at the hall and person in the same way. If you believe this hall or house exists inherently then you must research with ultimate logic to find the ultimate truth.
I am saying the nature of this house is emptiness. But this does not mean this house is nothingness. We can use this house, because conventionally we can use the house, but we cannot use it ultimately because ultimately who can use it? There is no person- the person or subject is also not existing ultimately, but conventionally there is a person who can use this house in an illusory way and have an illusory teaching.
But now we are talking about emptiness and so how can it be that we can use this house? Because the house exists interdependently, not inherently. If you believe from your heart that the house exists interdependently then you cannot believe it exists inherently because if the house can exist independently (inherently) then it can’t exist interdependently.
Its appearance is like magic- an illusion…a magic house. How can a magician show a magic house? Depending on magician’s mantra, subject, object, parts- if they come together the house can appear like a film.
So ultimately we can say the house is houseless. Now we check what is the house? All the pieces together or is only the one part the house? Generally we say all this together is the house, but if you take out the door or window pane you still believe there is a house. Also we recognize that the door is door of the house or the window is the window of the house, but not the house itself. Same for ceiling, walls, and all the parts. You don’t believe the parts are the house, otherwise there would be many houses, the door would be a house, the wall, the ceiling would be a house, but this is not true. So where is the house? So now take out all the parts one by one and then where is the house itself? It totally disappears- it’s totally non-existent, we can’t find the house. This is the meaning of emptiness.
This is not nothingness because interdependently we can use this house, but this is conventional truth. It does not contradict the empty nature. They are the same quality but different aspects. They depend on two different logics to get different results.
Then maybe you say yes I see that the house’s reality ultimately is empty, but what about the parts of the house? Again you can further take apart the parts of the house eg: the wall: it has many corners, and many bricks and you can slowly destroy the wall piece by piece to try find the wall. If I ask whether each piece is the wall you will say no it’s a piece, it is not the wall. You see that the wall is not existent inherently. Finally if you take away all the bricks the wall disappears.
So by this logic you think ok the wall is not true but the brick must be true. But the brick you can also destroy piece by piece and finally you get particles and atoms. So now we can say all that we can taste, touch, see etc is like illusion. It appears interdependently and cannot exist independently and that is why it appears as illusion. That is conventional truth. So at the coarse level everything is like an illusion- not existing truly. All is like a dream. That is clear.
So what is the ultimate truth of these phenomena?
Emptiness is the ultimate truth- the reality of phenomena. So therefore even the subschools of Vaibasika and Sautrantika also believe that the coarse level of phenomena are conventionally existent like a dream and illusion. But what do they believe is ultimately true? They believe in the partless particle and partless moment.
They believe that these are the foundations of the whole universe. This universe is composed of these two- partless moments and partless particles. If you ask a person of these schools how was this world created? They will say it’s created by a collection of countless particles and moments. Countless particles join and get bigger and form shapes and you can see them and use them like this house etc. Mind and consciousness is also according to them made up of countless moments of clarity and awareness of consciousness. Age is comprised of partless moments, into minutes, days, years and kalpas.
So these two- partless particle and partless moment- according to the subschools of Vaibasika and Sautrantika are the ultimate truth.
Some scientists believed that atoms exist and they caused the big bang. They said the atom exist inherently, but then they checked the atom and found an atom is made up of electrons, protons and neutrons and then they examined these and found the quark – the subtler particle. Finally at the end of 20th century Einstein found that energy is the final substance of earth, but energy is difficult to define- is it material or not, stable or not? They found that it depends on the personal perception of the person checking. So finally they found that without perception there is nothing existent. Is that right? I understand very little about this science, but I understand a bit of dharma so some of this makes sense. In this way there is some recognition that interdependently something can appear but independently not. This explanation was expounded 2600 years ago by these two subschools.
So now we ask is it true that the partless particle and partless moment can exist ultimately? Now you have to change your philosophical school. If you only use the subschools you cannot go further. From kindergarten you can’t understand everything you need to move to a higher class- you need to go to high school. Now we look at the third class, we look at Cittamatra (mind-only) school.
The Cittamatra school believes that the subschools have tiny faults. They say it is impossible to have partless moments and particles. How do we check that this is the case? We need to follow valid cognition to judge.
So now you can destroy a particle further and further into sand and powder and more and more until it is almost invisible and then you use a microscope and break it down further and then finally the last bit you can call the partless particle because there are no more parts.
It is impossible actually to have a last partless particle. You do believe it is the foundation of all existence and collect millions of these to build the earth, but how can you build bigger things if it the particle is partless? We can use our imagination and wisdom to judge.
First put one partless particle in the centre and then put 4 partless particles around this centre one. Now the question is: If we look at the centre particle, are there different directions of this particle where the other particles are around or touching it or does it only have one direction? So now we have to say that east direction cannot be north and west direction cannot be south etc – each direction is different. Then the object can get bigger because it is growing out in different directions and gets bigger and bigger. But now if you say this then your last assertion of the partless particle is lost because you say that it is partless and can’t be destroyed- it is independently existent, but we just divided it into 4 directions.
Partless should mean that you cannot make more pieces, but now the partless particle has pieces- 4 directions, east, west, north and south that exist interdependently and therefore an object can grow bigger into the 4 directions. If you say, ‘no the centre one and the other 4 particles are completely facing the same direction’ then the thing cannot get bigger- the other four particles should dissolve completely into the centre one and there should be no growth, but this is not so. So finally we see we cannot have a partless particle. As long as something remains it will always be with parts and as long as it is with parts it means it exists interdependently. So this shows that as long as something appears, it does so as illusion, not independently – there is no true partless particle there -only something appearing interdependently, not truly. If something is shown, then it must depend on others, it cannot show itself alone as an independent.
So you can do the same with partless moments. You cannot have 4 directions, but you can use the 3 times, past, present and future. Is the past moment the same or different to the present and future moments? If you say different then it can grow longer, but you lose your partless aspect because the present partless moment must have 3 parts- the duration of past and duration of present and duration of future, so therefore there is no partless moment. If you say it’s the same then even 100 kalpas or eons should be only one moment only and this is not true, so if there is continuity it must be interdependent- even with consciousness. So this is all illusion.
The only-mind (Cittamatra) school understands this clearly. They understand that there is no truly existent partless particle and partless moment. So then if you ask how was this universe created? If there is no truly existent atom then how can you create this earth and galaxy?
Then we need to go to the Cittamatra. They say this is only mind. You don’t need to worry- you can still create this universe, but it is only your mind. All the objects of knowledge are appearing only on your mind. This is similar to what they say in quantam physics. They say the power is dependent on perception- this means mind. If there is no mind, we cannot have perception and recognition.
So the 5 aggregates, form, feeling, recognition, mental compositional factors and consciousness are only created by the mind. So now we ask is it from your mind or my mind? Actually your objects of perception come from your mind and my perception is my mind. This is my house here and you have your house there. Whether beautiful or not depends on your mind’s perception. Some people like a red colour, some like yellow and others like multicolour. Some maybe believe this teaching hall is very big and others say no this is not very big. We need not fight about this, both are true- depending on our perception. So one person can be an object of attachment or an unpleasant object. A mother for example: The child finds their mother very pleasant, her husband finds her very attractive and an object of attachment and her enemy finds her very unpleasant. One woman can appear pleasant and unpleasant – it depends on the person’s perception. Everything is like this; nothing is one hundred percent pure or impure. Some people love you, some people don’t love you, some like you and others don’t like you. This doesn’t come from your side- it comes from them, their perception. Everything is only mind. So if you focus on the pure, then one day the pureland can appear completely on your mind. If you focus on the impure then sure- all can one day appear ugly and uncomfortable to you.
Tantra is very related to the Cittamatra school where we visualize suddenly all as pureland- deity, mantra everything all as the pureland with no negatives, only purity. We start to visualize and change wrong, negative perception into right, pure perception. At the beginning we just visualize, but one day all will appear as pure in your experience- like the mind of the Bodhisattvas & Buddhas.
But on the other side even very negative perception cannot perceive this teaching hall like we perceive it. Lets take a glass of water; hell realm beings cannot see pure water, they can only see burning iron. Hungry ghost beings can’t see water or burning iron but only rotten pus and blood. Sea animals see it as their home- with air to breathe. Human beings see water as liquid for drinking, washing and cooking. A God’s mind is more pure and so they don’t only see water, but nectar. Then if someone has the very high perception of the yogin like a bodhisattva, they see the real nature of the phenomena as deity. They can experience the bliss emptiness of the deity when they use what we call water. Then the completely enlightened Buddha’s mind is beyond ordinary people’s perception. They don’t see normal beings’ perception- even the perception of water as deity. They see only the primordial wisdom and compassion- the display of wisdom and compassion.
This only-mind school is very logical and helpful for sutra and tantra. How do we open the gate of tantra? With pure perception… pure perception is the main key. This is not blind faith- from this logic you can feel that this is true- all is only mind. So we need to train our mind and keep pure perception and avoid wrong perception because wrong perception leads to samsara and even hell realms. Pure perception creates the pureland and at least the higher, fortunate realms.
All that appears is only mind. Nature is empty and the appearance is only mind. Like a dream. Then if we ask, ‘If it is only mind then how does it work?’ Look at you dream. As long as you don’t wake up from your dream and recognize dream as dream then the dream can work. Fire can work for burning and water can work for washing in the dream. Is there any difference to reality? No. When you wake up then yes you recognize that one reality was the dream and one is real. But still even this distinction also comes from your mind. Madhyamika can explain this. But it is a bit hard for us to understand this…higher realised beings can recognise that we have not woken up. We are in a long dream. When you wake up from the deep sleep of ignorance then you realize that night dreaming and life dreaming are no different.
Then there are different experiences – some have a happy life, some have a bad life. This depends not only on perception but also individual karma that leads to that perception. If he or she accumulated lots of positive karma then the objects appear pleasant, but if he or she accumulated lots of negative karma then the perception of the object will be unpleasant. Now tantric practitioners try suddenly to try to change this negative and wrong perception and imprint to pure peception and pure imprint. So try…this is the connection between the Cittamtra and Tantra.
Actually one verse of Buddha’s teachings can have a direct, indirect and hidden meaning. So within the prajnaparamita or emptiness teachings- the heart sutra for example..the direct meaning is emptiness or selflessness of person and phenomena. The indirect meaning of the heart sutra is the explanation of the stages of the paths from path of accumulation to the path of no more learning. “Tayata om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi soha”. Go go go beyond go until enlightenment. The hidden meaning is not possible to understand yourself- you have to follow the instructions from pure lineage, master to master and follow the tantric path. The hidden meaning is from the 3rd turning of the wheel. In the 2nd turning Buddha said mind is emptiness, emptiness is mind etc then in the 3rd turning Buddha does not only say mind is only empty, but the nature is luminosity. The luminosity is the join between sutra and tantra. It is the basis of all tantric teachings. All pure objects and perception is displayed from the luminosity. If there is no luminosity then pure perception is not possible. Anyway still the details are hidden and the only direct meaning comes from highest school tantra and the complete direct explanations are from Dzogpachenpo, otherwise it is hidden.
So, however, everything is from our mind and perception. Conventionally we can say the mind-only school can be divided into two. One is the conventional conventional truth and the other is ultimate conventional truth. Conventional conventional truth says you are not my mind, the external object is not my mind, but ultimately these objects are my mind. So finally what is the ultimate truth of the mind-only school? There is no object or subject existing inherently, there is only the Buddha nature. Mind is not mind truly, but its nature is luminosity. Pure and impure reality are display of the base clear light. The fundamental nature is base clear light. Except for this mind everything else is illusory. So this is the empty nature. So in this way we understand that the 5 aggregates are like illusions originating interdependently. Finally even the partless particle and partless moment are imputed by the subschools, but not final truth. So what is the final reality of mind-only school? Selflessness of person and selflessness of phenomena.
We need to understand all these stages and the objects of knowledge. Objects of knowledge depend on perception. If nobody has perception there is no way to know objects of knowledge. If something exists it is by your perception. If there is no mind there is no knowledge if no knowledge there is no object, so now we should know everything is created by mind. So who is knowing? Knowledge. If there is no Knowledge then we can’t recognise. A microscope itself in quantum physics can’t know the object of knowledge without the mind. So true – mind-only school is really beautiful – all is mind.
So mind itself also is empty, but that we will talk about tomorrow- the emptiness of Madhyamika. Today we are only addressing the first 3 schools, Vaibasika, Sautrantika and Cittamatra. Still this is not the final view of Buddhism, but still true. The rest goes deeper into emptiness.
Therefore now it is clear: If you recognize selflessness of the person you will be free from the ignorance or the misconception of the person. We apprehend the person as substantially existent but this is not true. Person is empty.
If you practice and meditate and finally realize no-self, then no problem, but we have problems because we apprehend a self. My problem, your problem comes from apprehending a self. All problems come from self-grasping. Even if you remain in samsara but you realize the true nature of samsara then there is no problem- you are free from the faults of samsara. Even if you remain in the pureland beside Buddha, but you believe that your self is truly existent, then though Buddha has pure perception you perceive everything as impure because of your impure perception. This tells us that between samsara and nirvana there is no distance. The main distance is from your heart or your mind. Mind is the creator of impure samsara appearances and pure appearances of Nirvana or Buddha’s purleland.
Buddha’s pureland is not created by Buddha actually it is created by those people with pure perception… it’s the same for the Hell realms. Hell is not created by a creator god, according to Buddhism (excuse me). The hell realm is created by your heart or mind, so someone who has not created the causes and conditions cannot see the hell realm even if they want to and someone who doesn’t want to will have to if they have created the causes and conditions. Like in a dream… I can’t dream your dream but you can experience it. It is not true, but still you can burn in the fire. Hell beings do not necessarily exist thousands of kilometers below the ground, but you can feel when you suffer in the burning fire that you are thousands of kilometers below the ground. You can dream you are falling or sinking below the ground, but this is not really true- you are actually sleeping nicely on your bed.
In the common teachings of the Abidharma for example they say the hell realm is 80 000 km below the earth, but I think this is bigger even than the diameter of the earth and you will come out the other side. So this is just how far down you feel with your perception. You will feel suffering like this.
So the pureland is the same. It doesn’t mean you reach a pureland on the aeroplane. This would be good because maybe one day we can get there without practice, but it is not so. When you practice you can feel that this pureland is like this in your mind. Actually both nirvana and samsara are from your mind. Even if you want to be born in samsara in the higher realms, this is all dependent on your mind. If you think carefully about Buddhas teachings- everything is interdependently clear from ten no virtues until this explanation…but you cannot teach this explanation to most beginners, you will only give them a headache. You can teach them the ten virtues and they can understand and practice