Vows, commitments and modern life:  The echo of emptiness

To keep a bell to remind us of emptiness.  There are two types of bell:  outer and inner.  To remind us of the meaning of the wisdom directly realizing emptiness we are advised to keep an outer bell, or a picture of one.  Through gradually training in great bliss and emptiness, eventually we shall attain the union of great bliss and emptiness, which is the very essence of Secret Mantra.  The bell also symbolizes the practitioner’s personal deity and mandala.  Realizing this we should regard it as an object of the field of merit and make offerings to it. Just as with the vajra, the real meaning of this vow is to attain the inner bell, which is the realization of emptiness.

A bell is helpful for reminding us of emptiness because just as a bell’s sounds arise from echo like waves moving through space, so too all phenomena are echo-like karmic waves moving through emptiness. Sounds also remind us of emptiness because although they appear to our ear awareness, they do not truly exist and cannot be found anywhere.

While of course the logical reasoning establishing emptiness is necessary to realize it, sometimes people mistakenly understanding training in emptiness to be some exercise in philosophical abstraction.  Our training in emptiness is actually quite different from this.  During our meditation sessions, we do all sorts of different visualizations.

As we do these visualizations, I find it most helpful to view things in one of two ways.  The first is to view everything I am visualizing as mental holograms generated in the space of emptiness.  There is nothing actually there other than the mental holograms I am generating.  I can generate this awareness by thinking, “though it appears, it does not truly exist.”  I have programmed my mind where when I recall these words, I am able to see my visualizations in this light.  It is like I take a step back out of the world of appearances and instead view the appearances from the perspective of emptiness.  Yet, I am still aware that they have been generated intentionally by my mind through effort.

The second way is I view the emptiness of my mind like a giant clear light play dough, and when I do the different visualizations, I feel as if I am molding the play dough of my mind into the aspect of the different visualizations.  Physical yoga is a process of putting our body in all sorts of strange physical shapes and positions, and we cycle through different positions in a defined sequence, and doing so functions to untie the knots and obstructions in our body.  Tantric practices are often called “yogas.”  The meaning here is the same.  Through engaging in the sadhana, we cycle our mind through different mental positions in a defined sequence, and doing so functions to untie the knots and obstructions in our subtle body and mind.  By engaging in different visualizations, we are putting and holding our mind in different mental positions.  We are literally reshaping our mind, and by doing so we karmically reshape the world.

There are a couple of different methods we can use to combine bliss and emptiness together in our meditation.  First, Kadam Bjorn said, “bliss is what emptiness feels like.”  In other words, when our aggregate of discrimination realizes emptiness, our aggregate of feeling naturally “feels” bliss.  These two together then combine into a single primary mind of bliss and emptiness in the same way that our ear awareness and our eye awareness combine into a single experience of a bird chirping.

Second, using the play dough analogy, we can feel as if the emptiness if our mind is like our body of bliss, and we shape it into the aspect of our visualization.  It is like a liquid metallic creature from some Hollywood movie, where the substance is the liquid metal (of bliss), but the aspect is the shape of the creature (or deity). During the meditation break, we can train in emptiness by viewing everything as a karmic dream, or like a karmic movie unfolding in the space of the emptiness of our mind.  We don’t need to do elaborate logical syllogisms, just view the world through the wisdom glasses of seeing everything as a karmic dream.

We can consider any number of other analogies, such as karmic waves on the ocean of our mind, or karmic echoes moving through the space of emptiness, mental holograms dancing around us.  It suffices to just recall one of these analogies, and then choose to “view” or “see” the world through this lens.  When we do so, we are able to easily recall emptiness and carry our realization of it with us throughout the day.  We can combine bliss and emptiness during the meditation break in the same way explained above that we do for the meditation session.

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