Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Mkoll » Wed Aug 20, 2014 12:37 am

Queequeg wrote:
Mkoll wrote:However, even someone who is just beginning to learn about Buddhism will quickly encounter teachings concerning rebirth. This inevitable encounter can lead to some giving up on taking Buddhism seriously or even trying to divest Buddhism of rebirth, e.g. secular buddhism. But of course there's not much to do about that.


That is true that rebirth will come up, but there are differences in emphasis depending on the tradition. I come from an East Asian tradition in which rebirth is cast in a very different way compared to the role it plays in Himalayan traditions. We generally consider it beyond the scope of anyone to know how it works - our attitude generally approaches agnosticism. Instead, we emphasize things we can confirm now. We emphasize this life, and when we consider birth and death, our aim is to overcome it by attaining the deathless - through our practices and efforts now. These present activities having beneficial effects now give us confidence they will project positively beyond. I don't need to examine all the sand on the beach to know its general quality - for that I can just look at the sand beneath me feet. I don't need to be convinced of rebirth - I can see that dharma practice now has profound effects in one's life.

That sounds like very reasonable approach.

Queequeg wrote:Anyway, I don't think that rebirth need be emphasized, nor that its acceptance be a requisite to undertaking Buddhist training. Buddhist truths ring true in the beginning, middle and end. People can and should take what they can use to be happier, and leave what they don't need or want. We have a long, long time to get around to those difficult to accept doctrines. :)

I agree with what you say here. Personally, I have no problem at all accepting rebirth as the Buddha taught it. At this point, it's the only way of seeing things that makes sense to me. But I think you're right in saying that it takes some time to accept this. That length of time varies from person to person and it's also possible one may never accept rebirth (in this lifetime :P ).
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Queequeg » Wed Aug 20, 2014 6:32 pm

Jesse wrote:It's good to focus on the things we can verify now, but I don't think rebirth is beyond understanding. I think we just always try to understand it from the view-point of a self being reborn. Once you see the self as illusory it becomes a bit easier to understand I think, all that's being reborn is the same illusory nature that makes up our ego's now. that's what I think anyway. :coffee:


Sorry, dude, that does not make it any easier to understand. Certainly, that understanding you point to, in itself, doesn't yield any verifiable evidence that would suggest that rebirth is more likely to be true, or less likely to be true.

What I do know - as the Avatamsaka Sutra teaches, the mind is a skilled painter. Sometimes its a Realist. More often, its a Surrealist. I'd be happy if it could be an Impressionist. I don't generally trust mine - I approach everything with cautious skepticism. Its the only MO that I have found works in all situations.

:rolling:
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Queequeg » Wed Aug 20, 2014 6:41 pm

Mkoll wrote:(in this lifetime :P ).


I don't know if its apocryphal, but my father used to tell me a line he attributed to Rudyard Kipling -

"The Christian will rant and rave and insist that he is right. The Buddhist will smile and nod yes and wear that Christian out."
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Jesse » Thu Aug 21, 2014 5:47 pm

Queequeg wrote:
Jesse wrote:It's good to focus on the things we can verify now, but I don't think rebirth is beyond understanding. I think we just always try to understand it from the view-point of a self being reborn. Once you see the self as illusory it becomes a bit easier to understand I think, all that's being reborn is the same illusory nature that makes up our ego's now. that's what I think anyway. :coffee:


Sorry, dude, that does not make it any easier to understand. Certainly, that understanding you point to, in itself, doesn't yield any verifiable evidence that would suggest that rebirth is more likely to be true, or less likely to be true.

What I do know - as the Avatamsaka Sutra teaches, the mind is a skilled painter. Sometimes its a Realist. More often, its a Surrealist. I'd be happy if it could be an Impressionist. I don't generally trust mine - I approach everything with cautious skepticism. Its the only MO that I have found works in all situations.

:rolling:


It's hard to see, but the more you practice the more you'll come to see how your sense of self is created. I suppose it's really something you have to see for yourself, not something you can take others word for. I'm not even 100% sure what I believe is accurate, it's just what I've come to understand. It's just this sense of solidity that's created by the mind, once that solidity is broken, you can literally watch it re-solidify. (the ego.) I think story-teller is a better description of what the mind does, but painter works too. haha. :tongue:
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Gyurme Kundrol » Fri Aug 22, 2014 3:53 pm

I dont think its appropriate. Ive tried, I think many of us have, and there are a number of problems with even trying. The first three problems are all related to what amounts to pride. There is no way to say otherwise, because either you are a fully qualified Guru who can teach the profound teachings to people totally accurately, gauge their readiness, and lead them to realization or you are not. If you are just teaching people these things without them even asking, you've made this assumption about yourself on some subtle level and are now acting it out. I say this only because thats what Ive done, and its how I feel about my own actions. That they are nothing but pride and not rooted in any understanding of these topics.

I. First you are assuming you understand emptiness yourself.
II. Secondly you assume that this understanding is sufficient to explain it clearly to others.
III. Thirdly you assume you are capable of judging the readiness and ability of others to comprehend emptiness.

As for myself Im incapable of judging weather or not anyone does understand emptiness or is ready to understand it. This doesnt even get into the issue that the vast majority of lay people are nowhere near ready to listen to teachings on emptiness even if in the future they could in theory realize emptiness with proper training. The main reason for this is that their perceptions are very solid, their minds see phenomena as very real, and they have very strong attachment to their own belief and protecting the beliefs that maintain their sense of self and reality. The secondary reason they are not ready and why you shouldnt talk to them about emptiness is because most people have never heard of a doctrine so profound, and so they have no existing framework in which to mentally place this new doctrine. Since it is new, it will be experienced as foreign and alien. Because of this most people will outright reject the doctrine or "shut down" when you try to talk to them about it.

Maybe you've seen the shut down before. Its pretty scary. Its what happens when you breach a subject someone is not ready to approach, consider, believe, or even hear. Their eyes gloss over and they just stare into space. Then when you are done talking, they start talking about the weather or some other thing totally unrelated to what you said and its as though you never spoke at all. This can happen not just with topics of profundity but also with anything they dont want to think about and have a major block to mentally considering.

At any rate, due to the solidity of peoples perceptions and their lack of ability to categorize this new info into an existing mental framework most people just reject it. Some will become hostile towards it and you for believing it, which is the worst case scenario, and will even make shit up just to try to piss you off and will take a huge steaming crap on whatever you've just said and laugh in your face about it. If they are open minded enough they may try hard to understand, however this is where your own ability comes into question. Lets say they are willing to listen, and want to understand. If they reach the limits of your own knowledge through discussion they may become discouraged, decide that you dont really know what you are talking about and still end up rejecting the doctrine because they will see that you dont really know what you're talking about and were just trying to impress them or whatever. Even if your intention is good, your good intentions cant be seen or known by them.

This happens when for example you dont accurately judge a persons intelligence and readiness to hear the doctrine. If they are very intelligent and maybe ready to the point that they are even more capable than you in understanding it, then when they reach the limits of your knowledge they can decide that you are just blowing smoke out of your ass even if what you are saying is not just rooted in your own experience, but is all 100% factual and accurate. The reason is because people are always seeking to place those around them accurately in various hierarchical ways. Are they more intelligent, stronger, more beautiful, more capable. Socially this makes sense and is how people understand where others fit into the hierarchy around them. If they reach the limits of your knowledge and they themselves feel themselves more capable than you at this point, they will discount everything you've said and probably never look into the topic again.

Therefore the best place to start with lay people is the four noble truths and a few good beginners books you can point them too. There is never really any reason to discuss topics of profundity with lay people such as madhyamaka, mahamudra or dzogchen. Even if you have real experience with these things and you know your understanding is accurate based on talking to your teacher... and you have the most positive intentions... Still that wont matter and you wont be able to get through to these people.

As for what I believe, if someone asked me what I believed in the last thing I would do is "elaborate the doctrine of shunyata" to them because I dont believe in emptiness.

On the other hand, I would reply to that same question by saying that I believe all sentient beings have Buddha Nature but that if they dont seek to realize it, it will remain dormant and latent like a seed waiting to be given water and sunlight, and that if sentient beings nurture this Buddha Nature through the practice of Dharma then they can come to realize it for themselves and free themselves from various forms of suffering.
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Aug 22, 2014 7:35 pm

As for myself Im incapable of judging weather or not anyone does understand emptiness or is ready to understand it.


IMO this is skirting the issue a bit. We are not talking about whether you can "give" someone realization or similar, just whether or not it is appropriate in a given circumstance to discuss the philosophical position. There is really nothing beyond reading, and being able to not outright reject what you've read to "understanding emptiness" on a philosophical level. HHDL for examples has plenty of books with fairly clear language, and great analogies on the subject.

It seems like really the bottom line is being able to judge whether or not the person you are talking to will find the concepts off-putting.

I remember talking to a friend about Buddhism once, and I mentioned a teaching that my Zen teacher gave, where basically you are asked to list what intrinsically defines you as a person, then you go through and evaluate each thing. Obviously when you do this you find that whatever you list is empty of any kind of self-essence, and exists only in relation to other things. I remember my friend glazing over this way when I brought it up, he thought it was bizarre, and even laughed a bit about it..It was a mistake for me to mention it. Pretty basic stuff but it rubs some people the wrong way almost immediately.

Similar thing with my Mom, she's very interested in Buddhism, but like many people, I think she gravitates towards positive-language stuff..the "feel good" part you might say. I point her towards teachers that I don't personally like that much (TNH for example) that emphasize interdependence, as for whatever reason (even though philosophically interdependence and emptiness pose the same philosophical questions) this does not trip them up the way teachings specifically on lack of inherent existence does.
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Malcolm » Fri Aug 22, 2014 7:39 pm

Gyurme Kundrol wrote:...because either you are a fully qualified Guru who can teach the profound teachings to people totally accurately, gauge their readiness, and lead them to realization or you are not.


I guess there aren't any shades of grey in your world view.
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Challenge23 » Fri Aug 22, 2014 8:06 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Similar thing with my Mom, she's very interested in Buddhism, but like many people, I think she gravitates towards positive-language stuff..the "feel good" part you might say. I point her towards teachers that I don't personally like that much (TNH for example) that emphasize interdependence, as for whatever reason (even though philosophically interdependence and emptiness pose the same philosophical questions) this does not trip them up the way teachings specifically on lack of inherent existence does.


I would say that even though both points pose the same questions in my experience they have different depressing downfalls, one of which is MUCH easier for people, at least in the US, to deal with.

Interdependance can lead to the depressing conclusion that the individual is ultimately totally insignificant. At least in the United States, we have a whole culture basically designed to make the individual think they are significant so it is like putting a drop of water on an ocean of lava.

Emptiness, on the other hand, if you aren't really skillful about it, looks a whole lot like the obliteration of the mindstream(this is not to say that this is what it is, mostly because I still am not really sure yet). Because the obliteration of the mindstream after death is something many people fear happens in the US, at least, emptiness is a little bit too close to that fear to be comfortable.

Which is why interdependence is a bit easier to digest but emptiness sounds straight up horrifying to a nihilism primed culture in my opinion.
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Jesse » Fri Aug 22, 2014 8:40 pm

That they are nothing but pride and not rooted in any understanding of these topics.


You know, pride has two aspects. The first is arrogance.. the second is self-depreciation. I agree with alot of what you've said, but malcom has a point too.. there are many shades of understanding. I think we all try our best despite our circumstances.

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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby garudha » Fri Sep 05, 2014 2:52 pm

Gyurme Kundrol wrote:I dont think its appropriate. Ive tried, I think many of us have, and there are a number of problems with even trying. The first three problems are all related to what amounts to pride. There is no way to say otherwise, because either you are a fully qualified Guru who can teach the profound teachings to people totally accurately, gauge their readiness, and lead them to realization or you are not. If you are just teaching people these things without them even asking, you've made this assumption about yourself on some subtle level and are now acting it out. I say this only because thats what Ive done, and its how I feel about my own actions. That they are nothing but pride and not rooted in any understanding of these topics.

I. First you are assuming you understand emptiness yourself.
II. Secondly you assume that this understanding is sufficient to explain it clearly to others.
III. Thirdly you assume you are capable of judging the readiness and ability of others to comprehend emptiness.

As for myself Im incapable of judging weather or not anyone does understand emptiness or is ready to understand it. This doesnt even get into the issue that the vast majority of lay people are nowhere near ready to listen to teachings on emptiness even if in the future they could in theory realize emptiness with proper training. The main reason for this is that their perceptions are very solid, their minds see phenomena as very real, and they have very strong attachment to their own belief and protecting the beliefs that maintain their sense of self and reality. The secondary reason they are not ready and why you shouldnt talk to them about emptiness is because most people have never heard of a doctrine so profound, and so they have no existing framework in which to mentally place this new doctrine. Since it is new, it will be experienced as foreign and alien. Because of this most people will outright reject the doctrine or "shut down" when you try to talk to them about it.

Maybe you've seen the shut down before. Its pretty scary. Its what happens when you breach a subject someone is not ready to approach, consider, believe, or even hear. Their eyes gloss over and they just stare into space. Then when you are done talking, they start talking about the weather or some other thing totally unrelated to what you said and its as though you never spoke at all. This can happen not just with topics of profundity but also with anything they dont want to think about and have a major block to mentally considering.

At any rate, due to the solidity of peoples perceptions and their lack of ability to categorize this new info into an existing mental framework most people just reject it. Some will become hostile towards it and you for believing it, which is the worst case scenario, and will even make shit up just to try to piss you off and will take a huge steaming crap on whatever you've just said and laugh in your face about it. If they are open minded enough they may try hard to understand, however this is where your own ability comes into question. Lets say they are willing to listen, and want to understand. If they reach the limits of your own knowledge through discussion they may become discouraged, decide that you dont really know what you are talking about and still end up rejecting the doctrine because they will see that you dont really know what you're talking about and were just trying to impress them or whatever. Even if your intention is good, your good intentions cant be seen or known by them.

This happens when for example you dont accurately judge a persons intelligence and readiness to hear the doctrine. If they are very intelligent and maybe ready to the point that they are even more capable than you in understanding it, then when they reach the limits of your knowledge they can decide that you are just blowing smoke out of your ass even if what you are saying is not just rooted in your own experience, but is all 100% factual and accurate. The reason is because people are always seeking to place those around them accurately in various hierarchical ways. Are they more intelligent, stronger, more beautiful, more capable. Socially this makes sense and is how people understand where others fit into the hierarchy around them. If they reach the limits of your knowledge and they themselves feel themselves more capable than you at this point, they will discount everything you've said and probably never look into the topic again.

Therefore the best place to start with lay people is the four noble truths and a few good beginners books you can point them too. There is never really any reason to discuss topics of profundity with lay people such as madhyamaka, mahamudra or dzogchen. Even if you have real experience with these things and you know your understanding is accurate based on talking to your teacher... and you have the most positive intentions... Still that wont matter and you wont be able to get through to these people.

As for what I believe, if someone asked me what I believed in the last thing I would do is "elaborate the doctrine of shunyata" to them because I dont believe in emptiness.

On the other hand, I would reply to that same question by saying that I believe all sentient beings have Buddha Nature but that if they dont seek to realize it, it will remain dormant and latent like a seed waiting to be given water and sunlight, and that if sentient beings nurture this Buddha Nature through the practice of Dharma then they can come to realize it for themselves and free themselves from various forms of suffering.


Thank you for such a comprehensive reply. :good:
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Bakmoon » Mon Oct 13, 2014 11:15 pm

I think it would be very inappropriate to talk about the teachings of emptiness with someone who doesn't have the correct background to understand it correctly. One should understand dependent origination first. I also think that to begin learning Madhyamaka one of the first things to go over and establish very clearly is the meaning of prajnapti, meaning provisional designation or imputation. I think that explaining emptiness in terms of prajnapti is the best way to lay it out for a beginner because it allows you to lay out the meaning of different teachings in a very explicit way, and it is easy to use prajnapti to describe emptiness in a way that is clearly distinct from both absolutism and nihilism, even to a beginner.
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Malcolm » Tue Oct 14, 2014 12:09 am

Bakmoon wrote:I think it would be very inappropriate to talk about the teachings of emptiness with someone who doesn't have the correct background to understand it correctly. One should understand dependent origination first. I also think that to begin learning Madhyamaka one of the first things to go over and establish very clearly is the meaning of prajnapti, meaning provisional designation or imputation. I think that explaining emptiness in terms of prajnapti is the best way to lay it out for a beginner because it allows you to lay out the meaning of different teachings in a very explicit way, and it is easy to use prajnapti to describe emptiness in a way that is clearly distinct from both absolutism and nihilism, even to a beginner.


It depends, I learned about emptiness (via the "Heart Sutra") before I knew what dependent origination was, and it filled me with tremendous joy. In, fact, experiencing joy upon hearing of emptiness is a sign described the Prajñāpāramita sūtras of someone who has previously entered the Mahāyāna.

M
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Oct 14, 2014 3:19 am

Malcolm wrote:
Bakmoon wrote:I think it would be very inappropriate to talk about the teachings of emptiness with someone who doesn't have the correct background to understand it correctly. One should understand dependent origination first. I also think that to begin learning Madhyamaka one of the first things to go over and establish very clearly is the meaning of prajnapti, meaning provisional designation or imputation. I think that explaining emptiness in terms of prajnapti is the best way to lay it out for a beginner because it allows you to lay out the meaning of different teachings in a very explicit way, and it is easy to use prajnapti to describe emptiness in a way that is clearly distinct from both absolutism and nihilism, even to a beginner.


It depends, I learned about emptiness (via the "Heart Sutra") before I knew what dependent origination was, and it filled me with tremendous joy. In, fact, experiencing joy upon hearing of emptiness is a sign described the Prajñāpāramita sūtras of someone who has previously entered the Mahāyāna.

M



This is how my first experience went the Heart Sutra went as well, for me it wasn't all that long ago either, I still tear up a lot with it...so i'm glad no one withheld it from me!
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Bakmoon » Tue Oct 14, 2014 8:47 am

Malcolm wrote:
Bakmoon wrote:I think it would be very inappropriate to talk about the teachings of emptiness with someone who doesn't have the correct background to understand it correctly. One should understand dependent origination first. I also think that to begin learning Madhyamaka one of the first things to go over and establish very clearly is the meaning of prajnapti, meaning provisional designation or imputation. I think that explaining emptiness in terms of prajnapti is the best way to lay it out for a beginner because it allows you to lay out the meaning of different teachings in a very explicit way, and it is easy to use prajnapti to describe emptiness in a way that is clearly distinct from both absolutism and nihilism, even to a beginner.


It depends, I learned about emptiness (via the "Heart Sutra") before I knew what dependent origination was, and it filled me with tremendous joy. In, fact, experiencing joy upon hearing of emptiness is a sign described the Prajñāpāramita sūtras of someone who has previously entered the Mahāyāna.

M


I think things like reciting Sutras on emptiness is fine. I mean more along the lines of giving a more detailed explanation in a talk, in which case the explanation on emptiness proper should be prefaced with explanation of dependent origination, imputation, and what Svabhava means. With dependent origination in particular I don't think an explanation of the twelve links is needed, but the general concept that things arise only according to their causes and conditions should be made clear.
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Jikan » Tue Oct 14, 2014 1:02 pm

Perhaps a better title for this topic would be: how to appropriately introduce people to the concept of sunyata through discussion, or any other means for that matter
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Queequeg » Sat Oct 18, 2014 3:53 pm

Jikan wrote:Perhaps a better title for this topic would be: how to appropriately introduce people to the concept of sunyata through discussion, or any other means for that matter

I recently made an ill-considered purchase of a PlayStation 4 (I haven't wasted late night hours like this since discovering Sid Meier's Civilization back in college)

It occurred to me though that the first person adventure video game format holds incredible potential as a Buddhist instructional experience - mandala 2.0!

We need monastics trained in video game design.
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Queequeg » Sat Oct 18, 2014 4:06 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Gyurme Kundrol wrote:...because either you are a fully qualified Guru who can teach the profound teachings to people totally accurately, gauge their readiness, and lead them to realization or you are not.


I guess there aren't any shades of grey in your world view.


And hardly a qualified teacher around. Woe! We are abandoned blind children all alone on a featureless plain!
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sat Oct 18, 2014 6:13 pm

Bakmoon wrote:I think things like reciting Sutras on emptiness is fine. I mean more along the lines of giving a more detailed explanation in a talk,
Sutras and Sutta on emptiness are detailed explanations.
...in which case the explanation on emptiness proper should be prefaced with explanation of dependent origination, imputation, and what Svabhava means. With dependent origination in particular I don't think an explanation of the twelve links is needed, but the general concept that things arise only according to their causes and conditions should be made clear.
I will disagree, if somebody wants to understand emptiness they need to understand dependent origination, as they are the same thing. What you are proposing would lead to a very shallow understanding of emptiness. This always leads to misinterpretation. Actually, I believe that the Pali Canon Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta and the Suttas on Sunnata are the perfect starting point for understanding emptiness.
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Bakmoon » Mon Oct 20, 2014 4:34 pm

Sherab Dorje wrote:
Bakmoon wrote:I think things like reciting Sutras on emptiness is fine. I mean more along the lines of giving a more detailed explanation in a talk,
Sutras and Sutta on emptiness are detailed explanations.


Fair enough, but if one is to give a commentary on such a text, I still think the speaker needs to lay down the groundwork. They are all very deep texts, so covering the prerequisite knowledge is necessary.

Sherab Dorje wrote:
Bakmoon wrote:...in which case the explanation on emptiness proper should be prefaced with explanation of dependent origination, imputation, and what Svabhava means. With dependent origination in particular I don't think an explanation of the twelve links is needed, but the general concept that things arise only according to their causes and conditions should be made clear.
I will disagree, if somebody wants to understand emptiness they need to understand dependent origination, as they are the same thing. What you are proposing would lead to a very shallow understanding of emptiness. This always leads to misinterpretation. Actually, I believe that the Pali Canon Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta and the Suttas on Sunnata are the perfect starting point for understanding emptiness.


It is definitely true that dependent origination and emptiness are the same thing. But I don't think that means that it is strictly necessary to give a full explanation of the twelve links before linking the teaching to emptiness. I think it is sufficient to explain that all things which arise only arise in dependence on causes and conditions, and then use that to link in to a discussion of emptiness, because that is the actual point in which these teachings intersect. The twelve links are definitely important, but they don't tie in directly to emptiness in the same way.

Of course if one is giving a series of talks, giving a talk on the twelve links of dependent origination sometime before giving a talk on emptiness would be very beneficial, but I don't think that when one is giving the talk on emptiness it is necessary to go over the full twelve links as part of the foundations.
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Re: Appropriateness of openly discussing sunyata

Postby Sherab Dorje » Mon Oct 20, 2014 5:34 pm

I believe that without an exposition of Dependent Origination any talk on emptiness will be largely philosophical rather than soteriological. It can also easily lead to the error of "Misunderstanding emptiness as the remedy" (to quote Karmapa Wangchug Dorje).
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