Preparation 2: Starting with the end in mind.
Before we begin, I want to give the final conclusion of where we are heading. There are two main questions we are going to answer: what does it mean that things are empty, and what are the main implications of this? What does it mean that things are empty? It means that everything is a mere karmic appearance of mind. ‘Mere appearance’ – refers to the fact that things are nothing more than projections of mind, like a dream. ‘Karmic appearance’ – refers to the appearances themselves arise from the ripening of karma. Karma is like a ‘movie’ that when activated projects an image, or more modern and time-sensitive, karma is like a YouTube video that projects certain appearances for a certain duration (and most of it is crap!). ‘Of mind’ – refers to the conventional and ultimate nature of the appearance itself.
Conventional nature means the chair is the mind in the aspect of the chair. The mind is like play dough, and the shape it is formed in is the chair. This world is my mind in the aspect of this world – or more specifically, it is the emptiness of my mind in the aspect of the world. This world is the body of my mind. Ultimate nature refers to the ultimate nature of the mind, emptiness. It is the emptiness of my mind in the aspect of the chair.
Another simple way of getting to the same object is to understand that emptiness has three key recognitions to it. First, things are projections of mind – this is the same as above, things are nothing more than dream-like projections of mind. Second, things are taking place within the mind – everything that happens, happens ‘inside’ the mind. And third, things are the nature of the mind – the objects are ‘made of’ the mind.
What are the main implications of emptiness? For now, I would like to highlight four main implications.
First, we have choice. When we consider karma, we sometimes think that everything is deterministic and we have no choice. But when we understand emptiness, we realize we have complete choice over everything. The whole point of Dharma is to make manifest this choice. We aim for choice of mind, choice of rebirth, choice of experience, choice of world. Nagarjuna said, ‘for whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible. For whom emptiness is impossible, nothing is possible.’
Second, we are responsible for everything. If everything is a mere karmic appearance of OUR mind, then everything is coming from our mind and our karma, so we are responsible for everything that happens. The duality between ourself and the creator falls away. We realize that we have been a negligent creator because we have created a world of suffering, and we need to take responsibility for our creation and create a new, pure world.
Third, we need to become a Buddha because only a Buddha’s mind is powerful enough to free all living beings from suffering. Suffering sentient beings exist because we are uncontrolledly projecting such beings in our karmic dream. Only a Buddha’s mind is powerful enough to completely stop projecting suffering sentient beings and a samsara and to perfectly project a pure world filled with pure beings.
Fourth, from a practical point of view, we need to simplify our life down to two things: appearance and response. Various things appear, like the waves of our karma. What appears does not matter at all. The only thing that matters is how we respond to those appearances. If we respond to these appearances in a deluded way, they will become increasingly turbulent and distorted. If we respond to them in a virtuous way, they will become increasingly pacified and pure. Our job is to make cease this contaminated world of suffering. It is like unraveling a giant knot of Christmas tree lights, until eventually this entire world of suffering subsides completely into clear light emptiness.
The final view we are striving for is the union of the Madhyamika-Prasangika school and the Chittmatrin school. To establish this view, we first need to establish each one individually, and then we put the two together. The Prasangika school quite simply says everything is like an illusion – there is nothing really there. The Chittamatrins say ‘everything is mind.’ They would say there is something, but it is not ‘there’ like it appears to be. There are no ‘external objects’, everything is inside the mind. In fact, everything is mind. It is mind in the aspect of the chair. What is there? The mind is there. The union of the two says, ‘the illusions are the nature of an empty mind.’ It is the emptiness of the mind appearing in the aspect of the chair.