Misunderstanding emptiness

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yadave
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Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby yadave » Sun Jan 01, 2012 3:56 am

Hi all,

This is similar to Konchog1's thread "Understanding emptiness" and I see many helpful replies there (some I am still unpacking), thank you, and I've decided to use a separate thread since that one already has a flavor and my question may be different or may change when I try to write it down. I appreciate the difference between a conceptual understanding of emptiness and its direct experience and my goal here is to find a coherent description of emptiness, a true story as it were. I think my confusion is often a matter of understanding the language or vocabulary usage!

Let me know if the following statements are correct:

1. Emptiness is the state of being empty (duh);

2. In ordinary conversation, when people say "The bottle is empty" they normally mean it doesn't contain any more fluid inside. For example, "The bottle is empty, please pass me another beer!"

3. When Buddhists (at least those discussing emptiness on boards like this) say "The bottle is empty", they mean it doesn't have any inherent existence. Here "empty" is shorthand for "empty of inherent existence."

4. "Inherent existence" is not an expression I normally use among friends and family members. For New Years, you might exclaim "Inherent Existence!" and everyone will applaud but its meaning remains unclear (to me) so,

5. "Existence" is "the state of being or occurring; beinghood" (Wiktionary). Fairly standard stuff, I say "My beloved dog exists but mythical Thor does not exist." I think Julian Jaynes, in his book "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" mentions that Sanskrit had no verb for "To Be", the closest they had was "To Breathe" or something. (Strange what this brain remembers but) If true, this means Buddha had no word for "existence". No wonder this emptiness business is so challenging!

6. Following this Wiktionary path, it says the adjective "inherent" means "naturally a part or consequence of something." Now in Konchog1's thread, everyone seems to agree that "empty of inherent existence" is the same as "dependent origination" which suggests that "inherent existence" needs to come out as being sort of the opposite of "dependent origination" where something exists only in its dependence on other parts or causes and conditions. So this Wiktionary definition, where "inherent" implies parts or consequences, must be rejected from any True Story and a proper burial is in order.

7. Wiktionary should never be referenced, neither for casual nor scholarly use. The site is owned by criminals, run by charlatans, and studies indicate repeated usage may lead to tooth decay and hair loss.

8. Let's try Random House College Dictionary: "inherent, adj. existing in something as a permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute." Much better. So to say something is empty is to say we can find in it no permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute.

Some examples:

9. Our bodies are made of many cells but even these change, cease to be, are newly created. Our bodies are empty (of inherent existence).

10. A harder one. A titanium cube. How did it arise (come to exist)? It wasn't here in the dinosaur age, it was created by special machines. It depends on some special technology and intelligent titanium engineers for its existence. That technology took many people years to develop and those engineers require power bars to keep going. The titanium cube cannot exist without all these dependencies. Years from now, the titanium cube will be dissolved in a nuclear holocaust. (Sorry, bad ending.) Titanium cubes are empty.

11. Our mind. Ken McLeod says Western usage often associates "mind" with "brain" while in Buddhism "mind" is better associated with "experience". I like this clarification. Thoughts come and go. Feelings come and go. Values change. Mind has a permanent and inseparable element, an inherent existence, a soul, if you can find it (but this would not be a conceptual exercise). Mind is empty.

So we've nailed emptiness. Hallelujah. Let me know if the result is on track or hopelessly confused. There is one more expression that confuses me, "nature of."

If I visit the zoo and someone asks "What is the nature of an elephant?" I might (wonder if they are using drugs and) reply "Well, the nature of an elephant is that it has a long trunk, big flappy ears, a little wiggly tail and a gigantic round and heavy body." Buddhist texts talk about "nature of mind" and it feels scary, like something magical is about to happen, or something esoteric I can never grasp. What does this mean? "Well, the nature of mind is that it thinks a lot, feels good on Saturdays, dies nightly and is resurrected every morning?" This doesn't sound very scholarly so let's check Random House:

12. nature, n. the particular combination of qualities belonging to a person, animal, thing, or class by birth, origin, or constitution.

13. nature, n. the instincts or inherent tendencies directing conduct.

14. nature, n. character, kind, or sort: two recent books of the same nature.

There's that "inherent" word again but there's also some fuzziness here, especially (14). So I read a Buddhist text that posits "What is the nature of mind?" and I think "Oh dear, there is one right answer here" except that the Random House definition is fuzzy, there is no right answer, I could just talk about what my mind, or experience "is like" and celebrate. So I'll end this rambling post with this specific question and wish all the happiest new year:

*** What exactly do Buddhist texts mean when they talk about, or ask us to investigate, the "nature of mind" or "nature or phenomena"? What does "nature of X" mean in this Buddhist context?

Regards,
Dave.

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Konchog1
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby Konchog1 » Sun Jan 01, 2012 10:40 pm

These answers are of course based on my (possibly wrong) understanding so take it with a grain of salt.

1. Emptiness is a quality of things. There is no emptiness without objects. (HHDL's Heart Sutra commentary)

2. Emptiness is a translation. Other translations include voidness. Don't analyze the word. Things are not hollow or lacking in qualities. Emptiness simply means that things are empty of inherent existence. (Emptiness by Tashi Tsering) Not empty of anything else.

3. Correct.

4. Everything exists but not inherently. Not by itself but from conditions. Now you may say "Well duh, trees comes from seeds" but that's a mistake I made. It's deeper than that. Without branches, leaf, space etc. there is no tree. If it existed by itself it still would. Yet, the tree does exist due to conditions. Thus things lack inherent existence. Google Hume bundle theory for a good explanation of this.

5. Everything exists, just not inherently.

6. If things have conditions to exist they do not exist inherently. If things exist inherently they cannot have conditions to exist. These conditions bringing a thing into existence is dependent origination.

If something dependently originates it cannot exist on its own right and is thus empty. Also, because things are empty they must have dependently originated.

7. Sure why not.

8-11. Yeah

Nature of mind is another discussion, it is empty (of course just like every thing else) but in this context it refers to things like Clear Light.
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats

krodha
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby krodha » Mon Jan 02, 2012 12:20 am


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Konchog1
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby Konchog1 » Mon Jan 02, 2012 1:37 am

Right, the conditions are empty too and so forth.

I understand that there are no labels without mind. And that there are no senses without phenomena. And that the mind is empty.

So the following verse means that everything exists due to the labels the mind puts on them but the mind itself doesn’t exist inherently? What does subject mean?

22. The manner of all appearances is the creation of one's own mind; the nature of mind from the beginning is free from the extremes of [mental] elaboration. Knowing this, it is the practice of Bodhisattvas not to make mental distinctions between object and subject.

-37 Practices of a Bodhisattva
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats

yadave
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby yadave » Mon Jan 02, 2012 2:15 am


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Quiet Heart
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby Quiet Heart » Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:55 am

:smile:
I hope this doesn't confuse you more...but such questions and the explanations can not be understood merely by intellectual efforts...not by mind alone.
The best example I can give of what I mean by this type of understanding not dependent on intellectual effort alone is this:
My wife and I have been together for 30 years. We have a shared history of experiences...and a common language of understanding from those shared experiences.
So sometimes when she says something, I can understand her meaning...outside of what another without that common language of shared experience could understand.
But that other person COULD learn that common language...if he or she was willing to invest the time and effort to do that.
For me, personally, that explanantion has a lot to do with understanding "emptiness", "dependent arising or dependent origination", "existance", and the relationship between "object (which is percieved)" and "observer" (that which percieved).
Pretty heavy stuff...and not the kind of thing you can understand in a single reading or even repeated readings.
I started this voyage 5 years ago...had no idea where it would take me then...and, if I have learned anything in that time, it is only in the last 6 months or so that it has become clear where the trip is taking me.
So you see, once you're in the pool, the water gets deep very quickly at the deep end of that pool.
But, enough of that, here's a poem as a quote to consider.
The lines is parentheses () are my comments

The mind-ground is birthless from the first;
(In short...it is EMPTY....emptiness)
The causal ground arises from underlying cause.
(All objects and experiences that are CAUSED are dependently arising...therefore they are essentially empty)
Seed and underlying cause do not impede each other;
(BOTH the object percieved and the perciever do not invalidate the other's existance)
Neither do the flower of wisdom and the fruit of enlightenment.
(I take this conclusion on faith alone...I hope it is indeed true)

From: The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata p.35
:smile:
Shame on you Shakyamuni for setting the precedent of leaving home.
Did you think it was not there--
in your wife's lovely face
in your baby's laughter?
Did you think you had to go elsewhere (simply) to find it?
from - Judyth Collin
The Layman's Lament
From What Book, 1998, p. 52
Edited by Gary Gach

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DarwidHalim
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby DarwidHalim » Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:59 am

You may need these books to have a clear understanding of emptiness, relative truth, ultimate truth, or dependent origination.

1. The sun of wisdom - this is the foundation
2. Relative truth, ultimate truth - geshe tashi tsering
3. Emptiness - gear tashi tsering
4. Boddhisattva way of life, chapter 9 - perfection of wisdom - shantideva

There are a few books explaining this chapter 9, such as
Practicing wisdom - dalai Lama
The nectar of manjushri's speech - kunzang pelden

They are many books actually.

With your super effort, you will quickly get it.
:namaste:
I am not here nor there.
I am not right nor wrong.
I do not exist neither non-exist.
I am not I nor non-I.
I am not in samsara nor nirvana.
To All Buddhas, I bow down for the teaching of emptiness. Thank You!

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ground
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby ground » Mon Jan 02, 2012 5:34 am


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Beatzen
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby Beatzen » Mon Jan 02, 2012 6:32 am

as i understand this, and in the context of my practice, it is something unattainable.

i like how dr. robert thurman puts it. he says that you spend so long looking for the self, not getting caught up in story lines of the non-finding, but keeping watch untill a non-conceptual understanding sunyata effortlessly arises.

i think that this sort of tells us that on the relative level, concepts of an 'emptiness' can be useful. ultimately, you're discussing a freedom which is free of itself. i like the mahayana idea of a dharmakaya... that we are already in touch with these truths, but so ignorantly fixated that we can't recognize what's under our noses

im of the opinion that emptiness is something you settle for when your desire to 'possess' truth is utterly exhausted, the way a zen student's mental effort implodes before they understand the meaning of a koan.
"Cause is not before and Effect is not after"
- Eihei Dogen Zenji

yadave
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby yadave » Mon Jan 02, 2012 6:35 am


krodha
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby krodha » Tue Jan 03, 2012 4:08 am


krodha
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby krodha » Tue Jan 03, 2012 5:02 am


yadave
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby yadave » Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:32 pm


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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:59 pm

Take a careful look at this list of ingredients:
Water: 78%
Fat: 11%
Protein:8%
Soluble organic substances: 2%
Inorganic salts: 1%
That is the material composition of the human brain.
So, who is reading the list - Is it "you" or is it these these composites?
.
...or is it something else?
Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.

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LastLegend
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby LastLegend » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:01 pm

I am sorry can you all repeat the question? Just put all of your concern about emptiness into one question.
NAMO AMITABHA
NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)

Bodhidharma [my translation]
―I come to the East to transmit this clear knowing mind without constructing any dharma―

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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:26 pm

Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.

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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:36 pm

Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.

krodha
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby krodha » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:29 pm


yadave
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby yadave » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:35 pm


yadave
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Re: Misunderstanding emptiness

Postby yadave » Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:12 am



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