And absolutely everything changes moment by moment. Nothing lasts even a moment. Check out these articles on subtle impermanence to find more.
And, even more profoundly, everything is empty of existing from its own side.
We are attracted to the five sense objects and, like a moth to a flame, we get burned again and again. We need to learn to enjoy lightly without getting absorbed into everything, taken over and burned.
We get so attached to shapes — bodies, houses, art, carpets, mugs, and any number of other shapes, such that we think we can’t even live without them. Sometimes it seems that we are more attached to the shape of things than anything else?! Maybe the color too. This might be because our visual awareness is so important to us. In the old days, some meditators would even pray to be born blind! However, there is an easier way, which is to remember emptiness. Hence me posting this video as a visual reminder.
We think these shapes are actually there, solid and real. But if we go looking for the object of our attachment, such as our lover’s body, we’ll never be able to find it, any more than we can point to a shape in those birds. There is only emptiness. Every shape is mere appearance or mere name — nothing behind that. So what exactly are we so attached to?
(We like the smell, taste, sound, and touch of physical things too, of course, and they are all just as unfindable.)
The problem is not with attractive appearances, but with the belief that they are outside of our mind and hence outside of our control. Hence attachment, or “uncontrolled desire”. So we seek to own (or be owned). We seek to control (or be controlled).
Ideally, in the world of moths, there’d be a flame education program… “Listen guys when you next see that bright shiny thing, fly around it and not right into it. Discover how to enjoy its warmth and beauty from a safe distance and you’ll be happier – trust me!” Similarly, we can learn how to enjoy the mere appearance or mere name of beautiful things, such as we enjoy these starlings, without getting sucked into something that is not actually there.
On the basis of contentment (or renunciation), compassion, and wisdom, we can find out how to channel the desire energy aroused by attractive things into open-ended non-dual blissful wisdom, rather than falling into the flames of attachment and craving and experiencing suffering.
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.
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.
Imagine I’m holding up a rose. Where is the rose? “It is there”, you say, as you point in the direction of the rose, maybe waving your hand around a little.
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 🙂
This is the seventh article in a row on this subject of emptiness, and p’raps you’re thinking, “Hey, this is all well and good, and interesting and such, but rather than sitting around on our butts trying to get to the bottom of things (or not, as the case may be, seeing as there is no bottom), shouldn’t we be out doing more stuff to help others practically?!!”
I have just been stopped on my bike in the King Sooper’s parking lot to sign a petition for the Environmental Protection Agency. And yes, I believe that man-made climate change is a problem that needs addressing. I have lost track of the amount of petitions and good causes I have been asked to sign up and pay for, especially since last November. My in-box and mail box have never been this inundated – how did everyone find me?!
And I do my best. But it is drops in the ocean compared with changing our minds and getting rid of our ignorance and selfish intentions, which alone will lead to lasting good results — a purification of the entire ocean.
Taking time out to ponder the bigger picture and master the mind is the opposite of Me Time because, when we don’t, our old habits naturally lead us to self-cherishing and wasting time yet again trying to make this non-existent real me happy. Which in any case is impossible, so it’s frustrating even just trying. As well as leading to a Them and Us mentality, and self-centered actions.
We remain part of the problem, ie, deluded. So, if that is the case, if delusions are the problem for each one of us, the question would seem to be, “What can I do to be part of the solution?”
The answer is to increase our wisdom. Wisdom is the way to destroy our common enemies of the delusions once and for all.
Just look at this video to see the scale of human and animal suffering in this world. How are we going to even make a dent in this without becoming a Bodhisattva and increasing our wisdom?
In any case, if recent studies are anything to go by, we are not running around helping each other all the time; we are spending something like 40 hours a week just stuck to our Smartphones!
So, if you find yourself too glued to your screens these days, can I make a little practical suggestion? I like to have one or two Kadampa Buddhist books on the go at any time, and I keep one next to my bed. Twenty minutes reading one each day = 20 minutes less time on the internet. Not saying we have to stop Netflix and Instagram altogether, just 20 little minutes?! Go to bed a little earlier and spend the last 20 minutes of the day all tucked up reading?! We’ll definitely sleep better as all studies show that we need to turn off our screens earlier; and we’ll likely get enlightened a lot quicker as well 😁
Normally we think that the physical world and everything in it comes first, and that we are conscious beings who then arrive and bump into everything – enter stage left, move around for a lifetime, depart stage right. But it is the other way around. The world and everything in it, including ourselves, is a projection of mind, like a dream, arising simultaneously with our awareness.
Wherever and however hard we look, we cannot find anything existing from its own side, independent of our consciousness. Our hand, for example, exists only as the object of an idea, an imputation. No imputation, no hand. Our hand functions as a hand, we can call it a hand, and many people will agree that it is hand. (Maybe not the wild boar I was warned about the other day when I was wandering in South Carolina, who bit someone’s fingers off, presumably imputing something like “Rare meat sticks”.)
So by agreement or convention we can say this is a hand – this is conventional reality. But it is a mere label created by conceptual thought. It is mere appearance — nothing more than appearance. If we look behind the label, we’ll find nothing.
It is almost as if our body does not exist. Indeed, the only sense in which we can say that our body does exist is if we are satisfied with the mere name “body” and do not expect to find a real body behind the name. If we try to find, or point to, a real body to which the name “body” refers, we shall not find anything at all.
Hands in dreams also work as hands and can be called hands. It doesn’t mean they are real. This is true for the body, self, living beings, mind, planet, stars, everything. Things appear and perform a function, but they don’t exist from their own side. Everything is imputed by thought. A dream object only appears for as long as the dream awareness appearing it exists, then, Poof!, it’s gone.
We shall realize that we can cause all the unpleasant things that we dislike to cease simply by abandoning impure states of mind, and we can cause all the good things that we desire to arise simply by developing a pure mind. In this way, we shall be able to fulfill all our wishes. ~ Understanding the Mind
When we realize that we are creating our world with our thoughts, we understand at the deepest level what Buddha is always telling us — that if we want happiness and freedom from suffering we have to change our mind. For if we change our thoughts, we literally change our world. This is utterly radical and utterly mind-boggling — but also utterly true.
It’s also a good idea to get into practice this meditation on the emptiness of our body before our body gets too sore or unhealthy, because we’ll be delighted to have this knowledge when it does. I had a splitting headache the other night and I was able to remember that there was no head there to grasp at. It really helps.
Just as the depth of an ocean cannot be measured by shooting an arrow, if we investigate the aggregates with wisdom we cannot find them. ~ New Heart of Wisdom, p. 46
(“Aggregates” means our body and mind.) And indeed, in this last article, we investigated our body to see whether it was within its parts, and we couldn’t find it.
So then maybe we concluded that at least I’ll find its parts if I go looking, and they are something real that I can pin my body upon.
Meditation on the emptiness of our hand
So, let’s go looking for our hand, for starters. Check out your hand. What are you seeing when you look at it? Due to ignorance, we think there is a real hand here. Where is this hand?
We can do the same analysis – if it is real or independent, and nothing to do with my perception, I can find it, and it must be within its parts or separate from its parts. Then we go looking.
As mentioned here, when we meditate on emptiness we don’t assume from the get go that we are not going to find stuff. Better to think, “I am really going to find this thing. I am so attached to my hand; I want to see if it is really there.”
We need to look within its parts first – is my finger my hand? My palm? We can ask the same for the knuckles, tendons, skin, etc. But none of these is the hand. And when we put them together, we still just have a collection of not-hands.
So maybe the hand exists somewhere else and possesses these parts. In which case we should be able to point to it without pointing to any of its parts. But imagine all your fingers fly off, and the palms dissolves. Where is the hand? It is not there.
We acknowledge the emptiness of the hand before we move on to the next bit …
But maybe the parts of my hand exist?! What about my finger, maybe that exists? But no, the finger too depends upon its parts but is not its parts. Maybe my knuckle?! Or the joint? Or the molecules of my joint?! Or, or, or …
What’s the smallest thing in the universe?!
We can take this search as far as we want, maybe to atoms, or even quarks, or whatever scientists say is the basic building block of the universe these days. But there is no point at which we can terminate this analysis. The arrow will never hit its mark. Even the tiniest particle depends upon its parts.
In Meaningful to Behold, Geshe Kelsang explains this meditation on establishing the non-true existence, or emptiness, of the parts of the body, and says:
The individual parts of the joint are merely imputed upon the collection of particles that make it up and so they also have no true existence. The particles in turn are merely imputed upon their directional parts – north, east, south, and west – and are therefore not truly existent. And likewise even the parts of the directions can be further divided. Thus a lack of truly existent parts, empty like space, is revealed. ~ p. 325
Once upon a time people thought visible lumpy things were the building blocks of the universe. Then, with sophisticated equipment, the atom was discovered, and for a while it was thought to be the indivisible bottom line, before it was split to reveal protons, neutrons, and electrons. These subatomic particles too seemed to be the fundamental building blocks of everything, until scientists discovered that they too are made up of quarks.
There will be no end to this process – even the most sophisticated equipment in infinite world systems will never reveal an ultimate constituent of the universe. However small we go, we will never find an indivisible building block because there isn’t one.
There is no such thing as a partless particle. Everything depends upon its parts, and those parts depend upon their parts, and so on, ad infinitum. And if something depends upon parts, it is not independent or inherently existent.
Even the smallest discernible particle will have directional parts, for example, or else it could not sit next to, or “meet”, another particle. As Geshe Kelsang puts it in Meaningful to Behold (where you’ll find this analysis of partless particles in detail):
Simply stated, if two things are partless, how could they ever meet? ~ p 329
There are no building blocks of reality. And even the mind depends upon its parts — for example its thoughts — and cannot be found.
What does all this mean?!
IT MEANS THERE IS NOTHING REALLY OUT THERE!!!
So what are we doing believing that everything is really out there?! Is it any wonder we have problems?
“It’s a good day to have a good day”, said the sign on the side of the carpet van I just saw in Charlotte, NC. I couldn’t agree more. But it’s not always easy because our delusions keep interfering with us, destroying our inner peace and happiness. As ignorance underpins all our delusions, the best way to have a good day today — and every day — is to break free from ignorance and stop going round and round in circles. How? By realizing the true nature of things. So, with the wish for you all to have a really lovely day, I’m going to continue these articles on the emptiness, or true nature, of our body. And please bear with the new terms if you are not yet used to them, it’s worth it.
That experience of not finding our body, as explained in this last article, is the experience of emptiness. We are experiencing the non-existence of the body we normally perceive, the non-existence of the inherently existent or objectively existing body. We are not looking at nothingness, but at the mere absence of inherent existence of the body. This is a deeply meaningful absence and the most profound object of knowledge.
So, what is my body?
Our body does not exist in the way that it appears, which is findable and real and outside the mind. This does not mean that our body does not exist at all, but that it “barely exists”, as Geshe Kelsang has said – it exists as mere appearance or projection of mind. We normally don’t think of our body as mere appearance — we believe it is really there, just as we believe that objects in a dream are really there (until we wake up). And that wrong belief or wrong conception is ignorance.
And we don’t just do this with our body – we are doing it with everything. It is absurd. And it is causing all our suffering.
We think there is a reality out there, existing from its own side, appearing at us, solid. And so we grasp with ignorance – when things appear attractive we have to have them, for example, and when they appear unattractive we want rid of them. In dependence upon these three poisons of ignorance, attachment, and anger, and their subsidiary delusions, we create karma that causes us to keep circling in dream-like samsara. We are failing to recognize that we are creating our whole reality with our thoughts.
It’s like believing there’s something real out there when watching a movie, as if there really are people there, as if something really is happening, as if there is something coming from the side of the screen. Whereas in reality everything comes from the mind — is dependent upon conceptual imputation or label or projection.
A small boy standing in the gangway at a movie was looking at the screen and then back at the projector and then back at the screen again, with a growing expression of surprise on his face. Then, pointing at the screen, he yelled happily, and loud enough for all of us to hear, “Look, mommy! The movie isn’t coming from out there!” Then, practically jumping up and down with glee, he pointed at the projector: “It’s coming from over here!!!” We all laughed. He may have ruined the magical illusion of the movie for some, but to me he seemed like a little Buddha emanation granting the relief of realizing that things do not exist from the side of the object but are projected by our mind.
Although it is beyond wonderful that Buddha explained all this, we don’t have to take his word for it. We can see the truth for ourselves, using our own wisdom.
In Step One, identifying the negated object, we get to the point when we think, “If this body is not real, what is real?! This is the body I’ve cherished my entire life. Whenever it feels uncomfortable or sick or fat or rejected by someone, I feel sad. Are you telling me I have been wasting all this energy, all these moods!, on a mere figment, a mental elaboration?
In the remaining three steps we try to find something that matches exactly this vividly appearing real body. But when we look for our body, we find nothing that corresponds to the vividly appearing body that we normally perceive. We look everywhere that it could possibly be, so, if we don’t find it, we have to conclude that it doesn’t exist. It is like mistaking a pile of stones at dusk for a man, as Shantideva says:
Therefore, there is no body, but out of ignorance
The thought of “body” arises through perceiving hands and so forth;
Just like developing the thought of a man
Through perceiving a pile of stones. ~ How to Transform Your Life
Within the parts of the body we think there is a real body — but if we go looking for it we cannot find it anywhere. It is an hallucination, like being startled upon seeing a man out there in a pile of stones, only to relax by realizing we made him up.
Maybe if I just look a little deeper?! …
But maybe, we think, if I just looked a little deeper I would find something out there. For example, maybe we think that the parts of the body are real, so there is some sense after all in imputing a body onto them and holding onto it. There is something out there on which to pin my body. My arms and legs, for example, must be real, or my hands. Of course stones are not a suitable basis for thinking “body”, but the parts of my body surely are!!!?
(By the way, we need to bring our contemplation on the non-existence of the real body to a conclusion and meditate on that emptiness before we delve further into looking for its parts. These are different contemplations — emptiness of the body, emptiness of the hand, etc.)
To be continued in the next exciting article, when we’re going to look for the very building blocks of the universe … !
Once again, if you are enjoying this subject, please download this free ebook, How to Transform Your Life, and take your time reading the chapter on Ultimate Truth, where it is explained clearly and perfectly.
We have the target, the body we normally perceive, the independent body. Here is my body appearing to me, existing from its own side, generating awareness of itself. It’s really there. Like a lump. A monolithic lump. Can’t miss it.
As Geshe Kelsang says in Joyful Path of Good Fortune:
We have a mental image of our body as something different from its parts. When we think “My body is attractive” we are not thinking “My feet are attractive, my elbows are attractive, my forehead is attractive …”, and so forth, but we apprehend an independent body.
And we believe with all our heart that this body we are apprehending does exist. Our life revolves around it. Could I point to it? Yes, of course I could, it’s right here isn’t it?!
At this point, once we have identified the negated object, we are ready to go looking for it using Steps Two to Four.
Just a couple of things first, though, before we continue. When we do this meditation on emptiness, it’s important to remember why we’re doing it. This would be because samsara sucks and we are trying to dissolve it away for everyone. How? By realizing it is empty of inherent existence.
I was thinking recently how innocent the term “samsara” might sound to the new ear. A Buddhist once ruefully told me he had named his two kids Sam and Sara before he knew better. Sweet kids, too. Samsara even has a perfume named after it. But there is nothing sweet about samsara. Monstrousara, evilara, deceptivara, sufferingara, cesspitara, crazyara, etc is more like it. A prize for the best word …
Also, when we do this contemplation, it is good to do it in our heart not our head, and not in a big hurry at first — for example after a little breathing or clarity of mind meditation, taking refuge in our own inner peace and pure potential mixed with the wisdom of Buddha.
Step Two: Ascertaining the pervasion
So if our body is as solid and real as it appears, if there is a body there appearing to me, then I will be able to find it if I look for it. In fact, the more I investigate, the clearer it’ll become. If there is mayonnaise in the fridge, for example, then a search should reveal it more and more clearly.
And if my body exists inherently or objectively — if it can be found outside the mind, existing from its own side, as it appears — then I must be able to find it or point to it without pointing at something that is NOT it. That’s only fair, isn’t it? If I’m looking for the mayo in the fridge, I can’t go pointing at the ketchup and say “Found it!”
And there are only two places where my body could possibly be — within its parts or somewhere else. No third possibility. Agreed?
(“Ascertaining the pervasion” is just a fancy way of saying that we become certain that our search pervades or covers everywhere our body could possibly be.)
So in this step we set up the parameters of our search so that we can know when to stop looking. I’m going to look for my body within its parts or somewhere else and, if I don’t find it there, I know I have looked everywhere it could possibly be and so there is no point in looking for it further.
For example, if I have lost my glasses somewhere in the house, they are either in my bedroom or outside my bedroom. If I look in both places and fail to find them, I can conclude that there are no glasses in the house.
Once we are sure of this, we are ready for the next step in the meditation. We are going to look for the body within its parts and separate from its parts to find out, “Is my body really there, or is it just appearing to be really there?”
And we need to search “without prejudice”, as Geshe-la says in Joyful Path, not “Oh yeah, Buddha already told us that the body is unfindable, so I only need to go through the motions to come to that conclusion.” There is no point being half-assed about the search, but rather we can be like a child playing hide and seek — if anything expecting to find what we are looking for. Then the experience of not finding it — if that indeed is what happens — is all the more impactful, “What the heck?! Where’d it go? Are you telling me I have been grasping at an illusion all this time?! Phew, that’s actually seriously cool.”
Step Three: Ascertaining the absence of oneness
This is where we look for our body within its parts – is there anything in the parts of our body that matches up with the image of the body we’re looking for?
Is my back the body? No. It’s a back. My head? My arms? My internal organs? Etc. No. They are all just parts of the body, and the body is the part-possessor.
Each part is in fact a not-body.
What about if we add all these parts together? Eh voilà, a body?! No. We still only have a collection of not-bodies. If you collect a lot of not-sheep together, such as goats, you don’t suddenly, magically, get a sheep. You just have a bunch of goats.
(“Ascertaining the absence of oneness” is just a fancy way of saying that we become certain that our body is not one with, or identical to, its parts.)
The body is labelled on its parts, or imputed on its parts, like a forest imputed on a collection of trees, as explained here – but we can find absolutely nothing within the parts that corresponds to the body we are searching for.
Step Four: Ascertaining the absence of difference
If our body is different from its parts, then we should be able to get rid of all the parts and still be left with a body.
We can imagine our head, trunk, arms, legs, etc all dissolving away into nothingness. Is there anything left that is the body? No.
If you check, whenever we try to point to our body, we point at a part of our body.
(“Ascertaining the absence of difference just means we become certain that our body is not separate from its parts.)
Conclusion of our search
So, we’ve looked for our body everywhere it could possibly be found, as ascertained in Step Two — both one with or separate from its parts. And we have found nothing that corresponds to, or matches up with (“Snap!”), the vividly appearing body we normally cherish so much. This means that this body doesn’t exist — there is no body existing from its own side.
This absence of the body we normally perceive is the emptiness or ultimate nature of the body. It is a very meaningful absence, as explained here. It is the only truth of the body. As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Transform Your Life:
It is almost as if our body does not exist. Indeed, the only sense in which we can say that our body does exist is if we are satisfied with the mere name “body” and do not expect to find a real body behind the name. If we try to find, or point to, a real body to which the name “body” refers, we shall not find anything at all.
We should focus on this space-like unfindability or emptiness of the body – the mere absence of the body we normally perceive – for as long as we can. Every second we mix our mind with this emptiness we are reducing our ignorance that grasps at or believes in a real or inherently existent body, and are moving along the path toward permanent bliss.
It is worth it
You know, this meditation is not so difficult if you go through these steps. And when we get it right, there is nothing that compares with the relief and joy of meditating on emptiness. We can also see for ourselves how it is the truth. It might be the first time since beginningless time that we have been privy to the truth.
There is nothing abstract or airy fairy about this meditation. Emptiness is reality itself. It is going around grasping at things that are not there, things created by ignorance, which is our fantasy. The more we stop our self-grasping ignorance, therefore, the happier and freer we become. And when, for example, our body is ill, it no longer bothers us; which has got to be a good thing as I, for one, hate physical pain.
Out of space. More coming soon. If you like this subject, please download this free ebook, How to Transform Your Life, and read the chapter on Ultimate Truth – I don’t think there’s an easier explanation anywhere.
We have been making one crucial error since beginningless time. An error that is responsible for every bit of our suffering. And Geshe Kelsang sums it up with astounding concision in his latest book:
What does taking rebirth in samsara mean? It means that in each of our lives due to ignorance we grasp at our body or mind as our self, thinking, “I, I”, where there is no I, or self. Through this we experience the sufferings of this life and countless future lives as hallucinations endlessly. ~ Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra
We are not our body – we say “my body”, it is our possession. We are not our mind – we say “my mind”, it is our possession. We are neither a body nor a mind, we are a person.
Yet whenever we perceive our body or our mind we think we are totally in there. We conflate or identify ourselves as them. So when the non-me-body gets sick, we get unhappy, “I’m sick!” and when the non-me-thoughts get unhappy, we get unhappy, “I’m unhappy!”
We have thoughts, ideas, memories, etc; but we are not these. You’ve heard of all that mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy that’s around these days? A lot of it is based on Buddha’s wisdom that we are not our thoughts. When we observe our thoughts at the beginning of the clarity of mind meditation, for example, there is space between us and them. I don’t have to follow them, I don’t have to be helplessly swept up by them, I don’t have to identify with them, I don’t even have to think them. I can let them all go. Why? Because they are not me and I am not them.
I think we could also say “when” in the quote above, ie, “when there is no I, or self”. This is because there has never been an I or self to be found anywhere, ever – in the body, in the mind, in the collection of the body and mind, or anywhere else.
There is also no body to be found. Or mind. Or other people. Or Trump world for that matter. Try pointing to it — you can only point at a version, your subjective version.
There are no inherently existent or real things. When we look, we can’t find anything anywhere ever. We are left looking at space-like emptiness. This is because nothing exists from its own side.
To understand and believe this, we need to go looking for things ourselves. This doesn’t have to be too difficult if we know how.
And the way we can do this is through what is called “the four essential points” or steps, of the traditional meditation on emptiness, by which we can come to understand the true nature of our self, our body, and everything else. These are:
Identifying the negated object
Ascertaining the pervasion
Ascertaining the absence of oneness
Ascertaining the absence of difference
It is easiest to do this contemplation first with our body, perhaps because, as a physical object, it generally feels chunkier than our self or our mind and so is easier to examine.
Step One: Identifying the negated object
We start by ‘identifying the negated object”, setting up the target carefully so that we can then shoot it down with the arrow of wisdom. No target, no point shooting any arrows. In the case of the body, we need to bring to mind the body that we normally perceive.
Our body takes up an inordinate amount of our attention at the moment. We don’t like it when it is stiff, or puts on weight, or is sick. We like it when others say nice things about it, even if they’re not strictly accurate. We are a little bit obsessed with our own body, to be honest, and sometimes someone else’s as well, especially if there is any hope or fantasy of it commingling with ours. Attachment to bodies is one of the three main attachments of samsara (the other two being places and enjoyments).
(I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of our body, of course. Please keep eating and showering 😉 But we can stop being quite so preoccupied with our body, abandon attachment to it, enjoying enormously the space, ease, and confidence that opens up when we do.)
What exactly is it that we are so attached to? What comes to mind when you think “My body”? You can use an exaggerated version first – for example, someone tells you, “Whoah, you’ve put on weight!” The fat-seeming body suddenly feels very real and solid, existing from its own side. Get a sense of that.
Then what comes to mind when you think, “My body that is just sitting here”?
This is a real body, my real body. It seems to be really sitting here, a solid, singular, monolithic entity, independent of everything, including its parts, including thought. And I cherish and protect it above all else. I don’t want it to have the slightest pain or ugliness or insult. This particular body is very important, more so than anyone else’s. If a neighbor’s body is sick, “Oh, they’ll get over it.” But my body?!
Okay, that’ll have to do for now. More on this emptiness meditation next time. Meanwhile, your comments are welcome, and you might also want to check out Introduction to Buddhism where these four points are explained very clearly.
Also, contemplating the dreamlike nature of reality (as described more here for example) helps tremendously in loosening us up and preparing us to think about emptiness logically, to reason our way into reality using analytical wisdom.