Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: What’s the Point if it is all Empty?

(9.13cd) (Proponent of things) “If, as you say, nirvana is not truly existent,
But samsara exists conventionally,

(9.14ab) (Proponent of things) “Then Buddha must be in samsara because nirvana does not exist;
So what is the point of practising the Bodhisattva’s way of life?”

The objection here is if nirvana does not truly exist then there is no point in striving to attain it. But because Prasangikas say that that conventional phenomena do exist, if buddhas exist they must exist in samsara. To say otherwise would be to say Buddhas exist in a non-existent place.

This often comes up, what is the point if nothing really exists, if nothing actually exists, what’s the point?   What is the point of helping illusion-like sentient beings and making offerings and requests to Buddhas who aren’t actually there, etc.? 

(9.12cd) Even an illusion does not cease if the continuum of its causes is not cut,
But once the continuum of samsara’s causes, delusions, is severed,

(9.15) Samsara will not occur, even conventionally.
Since Buddhas have done this, they have attained nirvana.

Well the first point of realizing emptiness of things is to stop taking things, especially ourselves, so damned seriously!  We are a bunch of ‘Drama Queens.’  Recognizing that there is nothing really there helps us stop making such a big deal out of things and see them for what they really are – the reflections of our deluded mind. 

The second point is even though living beings do not actually exist, they nonetheless have minds that experience feelings.  We do not actually exist, but we still experience a wide variety of feeling that hurt.  It is the same with others.  We help free others not because they are real, but because they are experiencing pain. 

A third point is they are not separate from us.  Each being, each Buddha is a different aspect of our mind.  When we help others, from the perspective of emptiness, it is one part of our mind helping another part of our mind.  If we seek to liberate ourself, we need to liberate all beings because all are us.

Another point is by not responding with wisdom and compassion, the appearances to our mind will get worse and worse and we will lose sight of the fact that they are mere appearances and we will get swept away by our problems into samsara.  How many times have we received teachings on emptiness, yet all of that flies out of the window when we start to have some problems in our life?  Just because intellectually we may have a certain understanding that none of this is real, at a deep instinctive level, an innate level, we still grasp at it being real.  By not caring for others, etc., our dream will get worse and worse and we will get sucked in.

Another point is we respond to these appearances with wisdom and compassion as a method for generating the state of ultimate happiness, enlightenment, in our own mind.  Generating compassion for dream-like sentient beings is a method for producing the effect of dream-like enlightenment within our own mind.

Finally, it is our responsibility.  Since everything is coming from our mind, it is our main responsibility to bring an end to our own and other’s samsara.  Samsara is the illusion created by the mind of our ignorance.   If we stop the causes of the appearance of samara, it will simply cease to exist – it will disappear. 

(9.15cd) (Chittamatrin) “The illusion-like forms that you assert do not exist,
Because you assert that illusion-like awareness lacks true existence.”

The objection here is if the mind does not truly exist how could it possibly know anything? If there is nothing there, there is nothing there to know anything , therefore nothing can be known. If there is not a valid mind knowing the object, then the object does not exist since the definition of an existent is one that is known to a valid mind.

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