Emptiness and responsibility, part 1

Many people have an intellectual understanding of emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality, but it is not always clear how we actually use this wisdom in our daily lives.  In the next two posts, I will try explain what I do in the hope that it proves helpful. In this first post, I will provide a quick refresher on the meaning of emptiness (or at least my understanding of its meaning…).  In the second post, I will explain how I try use this wisdom in the meditation break.

For me, the sign that our understanding of emptiness is correct in the meditation break is we feel personally responsible for everything, and the action that follows is to choose to change our mind about whatever we have a problem with. 

Venerable Geshe-la explains that phenomena are nothing other than “mere karmic appearances of mind.”  There are three components to this:  “mere appearance,” “karmic appearance” and “of mind.”   Mere appearance means everything is like a dream.  The only difference between regular dreams and our waking world is the mind that does the dreaming.  During sleep, it is our subtle mind that does the dreaming; and during the waking state, it is our waking mind.  But both are equally dreams in that everything is created/projected by our mind – and there is nothing behind any of these projections that they refer to.  All of reality is only dream, and nothing more. 

Karmic appearance means the cause of each mere appearance is our own karma.  Each karmic seed can be thought of as a link to a “YouTube” video (many layers of meaning to that), and the karmic appearance itself is when the link has been activated and the appearances begin to run for a certain duration.  Each video is a karmic echo of your own past actions. 

 The Sutra view of emptiness brings us to the understanding that all things are mere karmic appearances.  People will then often fall into the extreme of nothingness, thinking that things do not exist at all.  The middle way is things do exist as mere karmic appearances.  But what does that mean?  Is there something there or not?  Yes, there is something there, but what is there is only the appearance of something being there.  It is an illusion, yes, but an illusion of what?  An illusion of something real.  There is nothing else there. 

But that begs the question, what then is the nature of this illusion?  What is the illusion “made of”?  This is where the “of mind” comes into play from mere karmic appearance of mind.  “Of mind” means the nature of these karmic appearances is mind.  For me, the easiest way to understand this is with the analogy of waves on an ocean.  Our mind is like an ocean, and each appearance is like a wave on that ocean.  You cannot separate the wave from the ocean, the ocean is the nature of the wave, yet you can still distinguish one wave from another.  What creates the waves?  The karmic seeds on the floor of the ocean of our mind.  When activated, the karmic seeds push up a currents which when they reach the surface (our waking mind) create waves.  Just as different waves have different shapes and reflections, so too different karmic waves take on the form of different karmic appearances.  But they are all inseparable from the ocean of our mind, yet we can still nominally distinguish one wave from another.

The enlightened mind is one in which all karmic waves have been gathered and pacified into the completely still ocean of our clear light mind.  When the karmic waves have settled, the waters of our mind become increasingly clear until they become the completely clear light.  All obstructions have unwound themselves and in this clear stillness we not only know the ultimate nature of everything directly and simultaneously as one nature, we feel as if we are this completely pure and clear ocean of omniscient clear light.  It is from this basis that the meditation break re-emerges.

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