In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog. This is part 40 of a 44-part series.
How to practise the perfection of wisdom by sustaining space-like meditative equipoise
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of wisdom
Through the yoga of the space-like meditative equipoise on the ultimate,
With the great bliss of the suppleness
Induced by the wisdom of individual analysis of thatness.
Emptiness is the ultimate nature of all things. It is the way in which things truly exist as opposed to the way they appear. Emptiness is what is called a non-affirming negative phenomena. What this means is we realize emptiness by negating its opposite, inherent existence. Thus, it is a negative phenomena. But it is also non-affirming in the sense that by establishing emptiness we do not then subsequently establish some other existent object. An example of an affirming negative phenomena would be saying “not male” to someone who still grasps at binary gender identities.
What is the object of negation of emptiness? Geshe-la gives many different explanations to help us understand. His most famous explanation is saying it is “the things that we normally see.” What we normally see are objects that appear to exist from their own side independent of our mind. It seems as if our mind has no role in the creation of the objects that we perceive, but rather that they exist out there waiting to be experienced. This is sometimes also called inherent existence or true existence. Inherent existence means the object exists inherently, from its own side, or objectively existent. Objectively existent means existent on the side of the object. Normally, when ordinary beings say something exists, they mean it exists objectively, not subjectively. True existence means that objects exist in the way that they appear. They appear to exist inherently, and we grasp at believing that they in fact do. For myself, I find that inherent existence, objective existence, and true existence work better to gain a conceptual, intellectual understanding of emptiness. But to gain an experiential understanding of emptiness in meditation itself, for me at least, nothing surpasses simply saying, “the things I normally see do not exist,” and then dissolving them all into emptiness. This phrase, the things we normally see do not exist, is specifically an instruction for the meditation session. It works perfectly for bringing us to our object of meditation. All the things that we normally see simply do not exist. We then perceive the clear light, the absence of all the thing that we normally see.
The supreme object of concentration is the emptiness of all phenomena, in particular the emptiness of our very subtle mind of great bliss. When we meditate on the emptiness of phenomena, it purifies the contaminated karma giving rise to that appearance. When we meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena, it purifies all the contaminated karma on our mind to perceive samsara. When we meditate on the emptiness of our very subtle mind, it directly and simultaneously uproots all the contaminated karmic potentialities to perceive any contaminated appearance. With this one concentration we are able to uproot eons worth of samsaric contaminated karmic imprints. Once we have completely purified our mind of the two obstructions, in other words all our past karmic imprints, we attain enlightenment. This is irreversible because there is no longer any basis for us to generate delusions, and therefore impossible for us to generate new contaminated karma.
For more detailed explanations of emptiness, we can read the chapter on ultimate bodhicitta in Modern Buddhism, Chapter 8 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the book Heart of Wisdom, or the book Ocean of Nectar.
How to practise the perfection of wisdom by sustaining illusion-like subsequent attainment
Outer and inner phenomena are like illusions, like dreams,
And like reflections of the moon in a clear lake,
For though they appear they do not truly exist;
Realizing this, I seek your blessings to complete the illusion-like concentration.
Sometimes the easiest way to understand the conventional nature of phenomena is through analogies. Appearances are like dreams, in the sense that they appear to mind but we do not go looking for them when we wake up. We understand they were just mere appearances to our mind. Phenomena are also like illusions. It appears that something is there, but in fact the way things exist do not correspond with the way they appear. Conventional phenomena are also sometimes likened to hallucinations, where our mind projects a distorted image of what is there and we mistakenly believe what is appearing to our mind to be what is actually there. A schizophrenic believes they are talking to other people, when in fact they are just projections of their mind. I find it helpful to consider these analogies as I am going about my day, in particular traveling from one place to another. As I see phenomena move around me, I keep reminding myself that all this is just a mere karmic dream, hallucinations, illusions, and in fact all the things that I normally see do not exist. They are simply mere karmic appearances to mind.
We might mistakenly think if things do not exist inherently and are just mere karmic appearances to mind, then it does not matter what happens to others. But if we are hurt in our dream, we experience pain. The dream is still a mere appearance to mind, but because we believe it to be true, we experience suffering. In the same way, all samsara is nothing more than a dream, but we believe it to be true, and as a result we suffer from it. To attain enlightenment means essentially to wake up from the dream of samsara. And to lead others to enlightenment is to help them wake up from their samsaric dream. As long as they remain trapped in the dream, they remain frightened and experience pain and suffering. We seek to relieve them from their suffering not because it is real, but rather because it is painful.
How to train the mind in the profound view of the middle way
I seek your blessings to realize the meaning of Nagarjuna’s intention,
That there is no contradiction but only harmony
Between the absence of even an atom of inherent existence in samsara and nirvana
And the non-deceptive dependent relationship of cause and effect.
Once we realized that the things we normally see do not exist there is a danger that we could fall into the extreme of nothingness, thinking that if things do not exist inherently then they do not exist at all. Je Tsongkhapa explains the correct view of emptiness is taught by Nagarjuna in his commentary Guide to the Middle Way. The middle way refers to the middle way between the two extremes of existence and non-existence. The extreme of existence is believing that objects exist inherently. And the extreme of non-existence is thinking if things do not exist inherently then they do not exist at all. The middle way is things do exist as mere karmic appearances to mind.
This phrase mere karmic appearance to mind has great meaning. “Mere” means that the appearances are nothing more than appearance, and if we looked for something behind the appearance, we would find nothing. In this sense it is like a dream or a hallucination. “Karmic” means that the appearances themselves arise from the ripening of karma. Karma ripens in the form of appearance. “Appearance” implies exactly that, things appear. There is an appearance of something there, not something actually there. What is there is an appearance of something being there. “To mind” means that the appearance is appearing to our mind. Sometimes we think that objects appear to our senses, but in fact they are appearing to our mind through the medium of our sense powers. Sometimes we say, “appearance of mind.” “Of mind” in this context implies that mind itself assumes the form of appearance.
We have arrived at a correct understanding of the middle way when our understanding of emptiness confirms the truth of karma, and our understanding of karma confirms the truth of emptiness. Sometimes we might think if things do not exist inherently, how can they do anything? There is nothing there to push on anything else to cause something to happen. And so for us it seems as if emptiness and karma negate each other. But the opposite is the case. To be inherently existent means to exist from its own side, on the side of the object, independent of all other phenomena. If something is independent of all other phenomena, how can it come into contact with anything else and therefore do anything? If it can come into contact with other objects, then the object does not exist independently of all other phenomena, and its nature changes from not being in contact with something else to being in contact with something else. Further, we can all observe that as things come into contact with other things they change. The mere existence of change shows that these objects do not exist inherently, independent of other causes. Once we understand objects are dependently related, then we understand it is impossible for them to exist inherently. Dependently existent and inherently existent are opposites. It is easy to understand how an object that is a mere karmic appearance of mind can come into contact and influence another object that is a mere karmic appearance of mind because both objects are the same nature, mere appearances to mind. They are part of the same dream, so therefore can interact with one another. In this way we can understand that the laws of cause and effect establish emptiness, and emptiness establishes karma.