Emptiness and responsibility, part 2

In the last post, we looked at what is the meaning of emptiness, namely all phenomena are mere karmic appearances of mind.  In the next three posts, I will try explain how I use this understanding practically as a solution to daily problems.  There are three main parts to the meaning “mere karmic appearance of mind”, namely “mere appearance”, “karmic appearance” and “of mind.”  Each one of these has its own main daily practices, which will be explained over the next three posts, but they all have as a common denominator to assume responsibility for everything and everyone.

First “mere appearance.”  Again, the meaning here is that all things are only (mere) appearances to mind, like dreams or mental holograms, and there is nothing other than these mere appearances.  So how do we practice this? 

The first distinction I make is between the appearance of a thing and my opinion of a thing.  One can argue (wrongly, in the end) that the appearance of something does not depend upon our mind – the thing is just there regardless or independently of my mind – but everyone would agree that our opinion of what appears is entirely dependent upon our mind.  As Hamlet says, “things re neither good nor bad, but thinking makes them so.”  Some people like Obama, others don’t, which shows different people can have different opinions of the same thing.  So our opinions of things are entirely created by our mind, therefore we are entirely responsibile for them.  We can have a good, bad or useful opinion of things.  It is true, from a worldly conventional perspective, getting cancer is bad and getting a rewarding job is good.  Of course they are not inherently so, but everyone more or less agrees about this.  But it is also entirely besides the point.  Everything can ge “good” for us if we change our outlook to be what is useful for our spiritual training.  This is a choice of mind, a choice to change our opinion of things by looking at them through a new optic of what is useful.  We don’t have to deny the conventional good and bad (though sometimes that is necessary too), it suffices to realize good and bad don’t matter, what is important is what is useful.  When cancer strikes, of course from a normal conventional perspective it is bad, but our experience of the cancer depends entirely on our opinion of it, which in turns depends entirely upon our mind – how we choose to relate to it.  If we choose to ask the question, “how can I use this for my spiritual training?”, then we will find ways in which the cancer is useful, and therefore welcome.  It will still be painful, no doubt, but through choice of mind, we can make that pain useful.  The pleasant and unpleasant experiences of our life are fleeting, but the mental habits and karma we create for ourself endure life after life.  Seeing that our mental habits and karma are more important, we are able to remain (more or less) happy in mind even through the most awful of things, cancer.  The same approach can be taken with whatever happens to us in life. 

Another powerful practice we can do with “mere appearance” is the power of “it doesn’t matter.”  We are all way too serious about everything.  We are all “drama queens” about pretty much everything.  Everything is so heavy and dramatic.  We make a big deal about whatever happens, and as a result we create all sorts of problems for ourself.  When we understand everything is just mental phantasamgora, a mental light show, we are able to take a step back like we are watching a movie.  If something terrible happens in a movie, of course it is bad in the movie, but ultimately it does not matter since it is just light being projected onto a screen – nothing is really happening.  In the same way, all of reality is just our mental movie being projected onto the screen of our very subtle mind.  Something terrible may happen in our movie, but ultimately it does not matter since it is just mere appearance – nothing is really happening.  We can still appreciate the good movies and laugh at the really bad ones, but we don’t get wrapped up in them or swept away by them.  We are able to let go, maintain some perspective and distance, and feel safe in our seat no matter what happens to appear.  So no matter what happens, I just keep repeating to myself like a mantra, “it doesn’t matter.”  I am able to let go.  This does not mean we become indifferent or apathetic towards what appears (we will talk more about this when we get to “karmic appearance”), but it does allow us to cut the drama.

So during the meditation break, I try focus on these two practices:  viewing things through the lens of what is ‘useful’ (instead of good and bad), and realizing how whatever happens is just a mental movie I am watching, and so ultimately ‘it doesn’t matter.’  Through these, we can assume full responsibility for our own experience of whatever happens to us and stop blaming others or external things.

3 thoughts on “Emptiness and responsibility, part 2

  1. Being the most serious person in the world is in fact entirely liberating because it illuminates the absurdity that actually, in fact, that self does not exist. It needs a sense of honesty.

    Every fault we have can be laughed at as nothing more than mere appearance.

    This is my ritual, everyday, it’s the spiritual juice that keeps my practice permeable and flowing. There’s no-one there other than an imaginary person. It’s entirely appropriate to laugh at this phantom, who laughs at this person anyway and who takes him seriously?

  2. So true about being our own inner drama queens – this struck me full force recently during a very sudden and serious illness in our family. I saw very clearly how much of what I was feeling was drama queen all the way, and how little was actually beneficial to anyone involved.

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