Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Studying Emptiness Should be Practical

This chapter has been praised as the best explanation of emptiness ever written.  Since realizing emptiness is the only way to bring samsara to an end and achieve liberation, it is worth applying sincere effort to try to understand this chapter.

Studying emptiness is not a philosophical question – establishing that things are empty.  Rather, it should be approached as a practical issue.  How does the fact that things are empty change the way I act?  The main point is because things are empty, everything is created by the mind.  If we want to change anything, we need to change our mind.  The way to change anything is to change our mind.  To change something other than our mind ultimately will change nothing, because the mind will just reproject the problem in a different way.

Shantideva’s preparation for studying this chapter is very special in that exchanging self with others dramatically decreases our self-cherishing which props up our self-grasping ignorance.  Because it is weakened through exchanging self with others, now it can be eliminated with the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Sharing my understanding of this chapter will likely be the hardest thing I have attempted to do on this blog.  I apologize in advance for any mistakes I might make.  For a definitive commentary, we have Geshe-la’s explanation in Meaningful to Behold.  So why bother writing this at all?  Because Shantideva explains at the beginning of his text that he wrote his commentary to Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life as a method for familiarizing his own mind with the teachings that he had received. By going through this chapter and trying to flesh out what it means to me, I hope to also increase my own familiarity with emptiness and Shantideva’s presentation of it. For the reader, we do not always have Meaningful to Behold with us. Hopefully through reading these posts you too can spend some time each week thinking about the meaning of Shantideva’s explanation. If there are things that I get wrong in my explanation, I invite everyone to please clarify any understandings that they have. In this way we can all learn from one another.

Just as when we engage in painting a room, we first have to engage in certain preparations such as covering the floor, taping the doorways, and getting enough paint; in the same way, to fully appreciate Shantideva’s presentation of emptiness we first have to prepare our mind to be able to receive his teachings. All of the explanations of the previous eight chapters are the primary or distant preparations. But what follows over the next several posts are the close preparations. First, I will spend several weeks discussing the bodhisattva the downfalls associated with the perfection of wisdom. Second, we will start with the end in mind, namely what is the final view of emptiness that we are after. Third, we will examine in detail different explanations identifying the object of negation of emptiness. Fourth, I’ll explain some key analogies that we use for realizing emptiness. Sixth, I will say a few words about how to relate to the philosophical debates about emptiness in Shantideva’s presentation. And seventh, gaining a big picture overview of the chapter by looking at its outline.  I believe these seven close preparations will all help lay the groundwork for enabling us to more easily understand and appreciate Shantideva’s explanations and not get lost in the very detailed debates and outline of his argument. By taking the time to prepare properly, we will be able to understand much more easily all that follows.

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