It seems to me from Buddha’s teachings that we need to help others locally and practically, with what and who is under our nose, whether we work in business or a caring profession or whatever, and whatever our personal circumstances. But our thoughts about it all need to change. Our thoughts are not fixed; we can learn to think whatever we want.
(Continuing from this article.)
Thoughts conducive to freedom and happiness are selfless ones — both in terms of unselfishness and in terms of the wisdom understanding there is no self. We, our body, and everyone and everything else cannot be found to exist in and of themselves. As Shantideva, an emanation of Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:
Living beings are like objects in a dream
For, when analyzed, they have no ultimate identity, just like a rainbow.
So, if we want to free ourselves and others from suffering in any lasting way, it is very important to understand emptiness – undergo a paradigm shift. Otherwise we are restricted to two inadequate options, it seems to me:
(1) We can continue trying to fix stuff out there, all externally, without taking our mind and intentions into account at all. This is like trying to move the furniture around in a dream, or trying to get the cowboys on the screen to stop shooting the Indians. Lots of expended energy, limited results.
(2) We can change our states of mind and intentions, and this is good and important – we can make our projections and karma better by using love, compassion, and so on, as explained in this article. However, we can only patch things up this way. We are still in samsara, so the hallucinatory dream appearances continue unabated, and we suffer.
To stop suffering once and for all by pulling the plug out from the ocean of samsara, we have to realize that we, others, suffering, and everything else is mere appearance of mind, unfindable, empty of inherent existence.
The disappearing flower trick
Now for the disappearing flower trick — hopefully a helpful way to see what’s meant by the unfindability of everything. It would be good to have a video of this, any volunteers?! Until then, you’ll just have to imagine.
Where, though, exactly?
Why, somewhere in its parts – at least that is where it seems to be.
So, now imagine I am pulling the petals off one by one – is this the rose? No. This one? No. That’s just a petal. Perhaps it is this green bit then (forgive my lack of botanical knowledge)? No.
So the rose is none of its individual parts.
But maybe it is the collection of these parts, then?
So imagine I am holding the collection of petals and green bits in my palm. Is this the rose?
So where is the rose? The only other possibility is that it is somewhere else, other than its parts.
Imagine I now put my hand full of rose petals behind my back. Where is the rose?
We thought there was a real rose out there, existing in and of itself, from its own side. But there never was. That was a projection of our mind. We decided there was a rose there, we imputed “rose”. And then we believed in our own imputation as if it had nothing to do with us. Rather like believing our dreams have nothing to do with us and then reacting to them as such.
Depending on how attached we are to roses, we may or may not get too upset that I have seemingly pulled this one apart. But we are being deceived in a similar way by all those people and objects that we are deeply attached to and irritated on behalf of – our body, our self, our partner, our job, our computer, etc. Nothing is out there existing from its own side. Nothing at all. But we react to everything as if it was.
If you find it, you can have it
Sometimes I like to say to myself: “If you find it, you can have it.” I go looking for the places, enjoyments, and people of samsara that I feel attached to – they have to be either in their parts or separate from their parts or somewhere else; and, if they are not, then what exactly am I so attached to?! As Shantideva says:
With objects that are empty in this way,
What is there to gain and what is there to lose?
Who is there to praise me?
And who is there to blame me?
This is a way to enjoy without grasping. For, if we cannot find these things, we surely have to ask ourselves, “What am I doing spending so much time thinking about them?!” We lighten up and start having more fun. As Shantideva says:
I beseech you, O reader, who are just like me,
Please strive to realize that all phenomena are empty, like space.
These wisdom teachings of Buddha are very profound but I hope you have gotten a bit of a taste in these last eight articles and want to read more. Please pick up Geshe Kelsang’s books, for he is the Wisdom Buddha, a total master of emptiness, and he teaches it all the time. (Any vague understanding I have of this subject comes entirely from him, and any mistakes in talking about it are very obviously my own.) As he said in 2006:
I’ve told you this hundreds of times, and I will keep telling you this until my final breath – the world you normally perceive does not exist.
It is so worth persevering in this listening (or reading), contemplation, and meditation on the subject, now that we have this rare opportunity, because with a realization of emptiness we can do anything. When we realize the true nature of things, there are infinite possibilities. We can purify our mind and our world, experience freedom from suffering forever, and help everyone else to do the same.
So, please don’t stop until you get there! And good luck 🙂
Previous articles on this topic