Vows, commitments and modern life:  How to remember emptiness all of the time

Not recollecting the view of emptiness. 

If we have some understanding of the view of emptiness as taught in the Chittamatra or Prasangika schools and we remain for a day without recollecting emptiness, with the motivation to neglect Vajradhara’s speech, we incur a root downfall.

This vow, of course, does not mean if we go a day without thinking about emptiness we incur a downfall, rather the meaning is we have the express motivation to neglect Vajradhara’s speech and we choose to not remember.  I try keep a picture of Geshe-la on my desk so that I see it.  Knowing he is there helps me remain a good boy!  But sometimes our delusions get the better of us and we want to do something we know we shouldn’t.  At such times, we try to avoid thinking about the fact that he is with us.  We don’t want our remembering the Dharma to ruin our fun.  For some, it will be drinking or smoking, for some it will be indulging in pornography or sweets, for some it will be when we are really angry at or jealous of somebody, or maybe we just think we need some “me time.”  Our delusions convince us that following them is the way to go, and we choose to forget the Dharma so that we can follow them.  We all do this from time to time, or at least I do.

Recalling emptiness protects us from this.  The vows and commitments are not laws written by Buddha where we will be punished if we break them.  It is not like that at all.  The vows and commitments are rather simply a description of what works and what doesn’t given that everything is a dream.  A correct understanding of emptiness establishes karma, and a correct understanding of karma establishes emptiness.  If a little toy boat is placed on top of the water in a fish bowl, making a wave in any direction will eventually find its way back to the boat.  You can’t disturb the waters anywhere without it eventually disturbing the stability of the boat.  Such is the nature of our empty karmic existence.  The vows and commitments explain how to avoid disturbing the empty waters of our mind, violating them creates waves.  It is no different than the laws of physics, it is just how things work.  Just as regardless of whether or not we believe in the laws of physics, they will govern our reality; so too whether or not we believe in the laws of karma and emptiness, they will govern our experience.  When we recall emptiness, we know if we kick the dog we are kicking ourselves.

Nagarjuna said for whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.  Everything is a karmic dream.  Right now, due to our past deluded actions, we have created a nightmare for ourselves called samsara.  But because it is a karmic dream, if we change our actions we can change our karma, and therefore change our dream.  Our Tantric practices are, in the final analysis, powerful methods for reconstructing our karmic dream from a world of suffering into a pure land.

We ourselves currently appear to ourselves to be an ordinary being trapped in samsara.  There is only one reason for this:  we assent to ordinary appearance.  Due to the ripening of contaminated karma, there is an appearance to our mind of ourselves as an ordinary being.  This is just an appearance, but we have a choice whether to assent to this appearance or not.  If we assent to this appearance as being true, then we create new contaminated karma which will ripen in the future in the form of a new contaminated appearance.  We also create the tendencies to assent to ordinary appearances when they do appear, and finally we suffer because our inner peace is disturbed by this deluded thought of believing in the appearance of samsara.

If we choose to not assent to this appearance as being true, in other words we see it as a lie or as an illusion or as a mistaken appearance, then the power of that appearance is cut.  It appears, but it has no power to disturb our mind.  It is little different than remembering the scary movie can’t hurt us, it is just light being projected onto a screen.  It is little different than consoling a child after a nightmare telling them it is just a dream and the monster can’t hurt you.

It is not enough, however, to simply not assent to ordinary appearance.  We also have the opportunity to karmically construct a new, pure dream.  We generate with our imagination a pure world, and with our wisdom and faith we assent to this pure world as being true.  Not inherently true, since nothing is inherently true, but epistemologically true.  Epistemology asks how truth is established.  Truth can only be established either on the side of the object or the side of the mind.  There is no third possibility.  All philosophical schools with the exception of the Prasangika school (and its cousins) seek to establish truth on the side of the object – the object is somehow objectively true.  The Prasangikas thoroughly refute this possibility by showing nothing exists on the side of the object at all.  But then, if taken too far, we can fall into an extreme of nothingness.  For Prasangikas, truth is established on the side of the mind.  If the subject mind is a valid mind, then the object known by that mind is said to be valid.  If the subject mind is a non-valid mind, then the object known by that mind is said to be not valid.  A mind that realizes the union of karma and emptiness is a valid mind, so all objects known to that mind are likewise valid.  If we check, there is no other way of establishing truth than this.

When we generate ourselves, others, our world and our environment as the pure land we then train in assenting to that appearance as being valid and true – not objectively true, but conventionally true.  For an imputation to be valid the name, aspect, nature and function of an object all need to align.  Calling a shovel a car doesn’t make it a car, but calling the basis of imputation of a car a car is valid because the name, aspect, nature and function are all in alignment.  So first we generate a valid aspect, nature and function of the self-generation, and then we impute our name, or our “I” onto that, saying “I am Heruka” or “I am Vajrayogini.”  The correct aspect is the visualized self-generation as described in the sadhanas, the nature of the emptiness of our mind of bliss and emptiness in the aspect of the self-generation, and the function is to ripen and liberate all beings.  On this valid basis, we can impute Heruka or Vajrayogini.

When we do this, we create a new karma which will gradually kamrically reconstruct our dream from a world of suffering into a living pure land, and we can do this for both ourself and for all living beings.

2 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  How to remember emptiness all of the time

  1. Wow this article is so inspired! It just makes the dharma of sutra & tantra seem like common sense! Thank you so much ☺

  2. This is a very deep teaching, one I struggle with, but you’ve explained it very well. I will continue to contemplate it until it becomes part of me. Thank you! Blessings!

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