There is no depth other than emptiness

don't believe 2It’s really helpful when contemplating emptiness to do it with a blissful, spacious mind, to allow the mind to rest naturally, releasing thoughts without clinging. You can use the time-honored Yogis’ favorite meditation on the clarity of the mind, for example; and if you want to experience the natural bliss of your mind and use that to meditate, you can start with a quick meditation on transforming enjoyments.

For coming to understand our own mind experientially in this way enables us to observe how our thoughts create our world, which is the other side of the coin from the world not existing from its own side. Apart from our own deluded conceptions, which we grasp at as true, there is nothing outside the mind that obstructs our peace and happiness. We remain bound by our own delusions, bewildered in suffering as if strangled by a tortoise-hair noose.

So is the dress white and gold or blue and black?!

dress(I am carrying on from this article, The Non-Thingyness of Things.) So, we are continually grasping at real things, at inherently existent things, and this is where the problem lies. Modern Buddhism says (p.104):

We naturally believe that the things we see around us, such as tables, chairs, and houses, are truly existent because we believe that they exist exactly in the way that they appear.

They appear real, so in our ignorance we believe they are real.

Even whether a dress is white and gold, or blue and black, the subject of a video that is going viral, depends entirely on the mind!

But we always believe that what we see is what is really going on. Of course it was white and gold! Everyone who saw it as otherwise was basically wrong! Or, as this article says:

Everyone, it seems, had an opinion. And everyone was convinced that he, or she, was right.

Harmless in this instance, perhaps, and some of the Tweets on the subject made me chuckle; but this rigid belief in our own perceptions also causes all the aversion, disputes, polarization, and so on in this world.

None of us is right!

However, the way things appear to our senses is deceptive and completely contradictory to the way they actually exist. Things appear to exist from their own side, without depending on our own mind. This book that appears to our mind, for example, seems to have its own independent, objective existence. ~Modern Buddhism p. 104

Do you feel that your mind was involved in any way in bringing your body just sitting here, for example, into existence? Your world? Is that how it appears? Or does it feel more like, “Enter stage left, bump into a life full of things – objects, bodies, people, some nice, some not – and exit stage right?” Like we come along and say, “Ooohh, look at that!”, hang out a bit in the world, and then check out? We enter a world that is independent of our mind, and we die in a world that is independent of our mind?earth look

This is a massive hallucination. This world and absolutely everything in it is a projection of our own mind with no existence from its own side in the least. This means that everything without exception – including our friends, our dog, our job, our self — depends upon our mind entirely and completely. There is nothing that can exist out there independent of our mind.

Anything that appears to be more than just appearance to our mind, to exist over and above a dream-like appearance, is what we are grasping at with ignorance. Anything that appears to exist in any way from its own side, objectively, is an inherently existent thing; and grasping at this is causing all our suffering.

Never the twain shall meet

As it says in Modern Buddhism:

[This book] seems to be “outside” while our mind seems to be “inside”.

There’s a gap, isn’t there? We talk about “dualistic appearance” in Buddhism because the mind seems to exist from its own side, over “here”, and the object seems to exist from its own side, somehow over “there”, and there is a gap between us. But that gap does not really exist.

It is due to that gap that we find it hard to cherish others. We also grasp at a real self (somehow over here) and a real other (over there), and as a result it’s hard to bridge that gap and feel in transcendent communion or union with others. In truth, we are totally interconnected with other living beings. There is no independent self or independent other. I am not the real me so cherishing my own happiness and working only for my own happiness is a fool’s game. This gap is responsible for our inability to open our hearts, love others, have compassion, and so on.

There is nothing there to grasp at

Everything is deceptiveWe feel that the coffee cup we are holding can exist without our mind, don’t we? A moment ago it was in the kitchen cabinet and now it’s here – all I did was carry it. The cup was just floating around somewhere in this big old real world, and has nothing to do with my mind. It can exist without my mind, it can go back in the cabinet, it can do what it wants. We do not feel that our mind is in any way involved in bringing this cup into existence. It’s like this cup has a power from its own side to exist.  There just IS a cup there. There is a REAL cup behind the thought “cup”.

Buddha said everything is mere name. Mere name, mere label, mere imputation of mind. We, with our grasping, think there’s got to be something behind that label. We feel this cup is very concrete, we fix things with our ignorance. We reify, make everything solid and real. Ignorance makes us live in a concrete world where everything is solid and real, and we keep bumping up against things and people, or else trying to get away from them.

With wisdom, we get a completely different experience of reality — a non-dual experience of our mind and its objects. Try to compare this experience with the crunchiness of ignorance and we can’t, it is incomparably blissful.

More in a future article. Meantime, your comments are welcome!

The Non-Thingyness of Things

ThingnessThe other day I was sitting among exotic plants, hearing the trickling of a small waterfall and the call of wild birds. Could this be Florida?! But a quick glance upwards reminded me that I am still in Denver —  this was not a “real” tropical paradise but a giant greenhouse at the Botanical Gardens. Rather like a virtual reality tropical forest, like Avatar the movie or something. But I was sitting there feeling just as blissful as I do when I am in the tropics, experiencing this beauty as arising from a blissful mind, beauty that could be found nowhere out there. So it got me thinking, What is the real difference? Where is the real difference? I’ll leave you to ponder that and let me know in the comments

First clear some space

When thinking about Buddha’s wisdom teachings on emptiness, it is a good idea to do so from the standpoint of some flexible wisdom and good motivation rather than graspy ignorance and self-cherishing. We can clear some space first – drop from our thinky head into our heart center and let some of our grosser conceptions dissolve away into the peaceful spacious clarity of our own mind. Imagine, if you like, that all your water-bubble-like thoughts melt back into the water-like-consciousness from which they arise and of which they are made, in the ocean of your root mind at your heart. We can invite Buddha to join us there.

Outside the greenhouse, therefore more real?!
Outside the greenhouse, therefore more the real Colorado?!

Then we can remember why we don’t WANT things to be real in the first place, and how clinging at our own thoughts & projections as if they are independent of the mind binds us needlessly to suffering, like tying ourselves in knots in the sky. We can develop a warm heart thinking how utterly wonderful it will be when our friends and everyone else has transcendent mental freedom and bliss, having let go of grasping.

Emptiness is naturally beautiful. It will free both ourselves and others. If we appreciate that beauty with admiring faith, we want to drink it in, spend time with it, rather than see it as a spiritual chore that is a struggle to comprehend.

Now we are ready to think about emptiness!

Thingy-ness

(I am carrying on from this article, Appearance and Reality.)

Thingyness 1aEmptiness has a specific meaning; it is not nothingness. Emptiness is the lack of inherent existence, not the lack of existence. This is where contemplating appearance and reality comes in handy because we can say that things do exist but they exist as mere appearance. There is nothing behind the mere appearance. There is nothing we can point to and say, “There it is!”

So what our ignorance does for us is that it grasps at a reality behind and within things. It grasps at a thingy-ness. Everything seems to have a thingyness. There is something really there. I think that “thingyness” can be a helpful way to describe inherent existence, which is the technical term.

The truth or thingyness behind appearance. There is something out there and it is appearing in a certain way.  Buddha is not arguing that there is no tree at all. Our problem is that we think there is something that is REALLY the tree. That the tree is more than just mere appearance or reflection, there is a real tree there.

The reality is that there is nothing behind the appearance of tree but what our ignorance does is grasp at a thingyness or (it)self of tree – it is called “self-grasping ignorance” and it grasps at things as if they exist in-and-of themselves. Because our mind is grasping all the time at things being real – at real bodies, real tables, real annoying people, really delicious pizza, really horrible death — we suffer. All our delusions come from grasping at things to be more solid or real than they actually are. The wisdom realizing emptiness is the opposite of self-grasping because it realizes there is no thingyness anywhere to be found, and that lack of thingyness, or that lack of inherent existence, is emptiness. The mere absence of thingyness is emptiness itself. Thingyness 2

As mentioned, emptiness does not mean a lack or absence of everything. Emptiness is not nothingness. There is still a tree, but it’s just not a real tree. Identifying what it is we are grasping at, which is inherent existence, is called “identifying the object of negation” in Buddhist meditation on emptiness. And I think considering appearance and reality helps us to make this identification.

Purple dye

For example, let’s say that at birth you’d been injected with a purple dye and because of this you saw everything as purple. You see things like doors, your house, your friends, and even yourself as purple. And always have done since birth. Then someone comes along and says, “Ahem, you’ve got some strange pollution in you and it’s causing everything to appear purple. Things are not purple.” And you think, “OH, she’s saying nothing exists. If things aren’t purple, how can they exist?” But, in fact, she is not saying that things don’t exist at all, but that purple things don’t exist, or that things don’t exist in the way that they appear, ie, purple.

Likewise, what Buddha is saying when he says that things are empty of inherent existence is not that things don’t exist at all, but that inherently existent things don’t exist, or that things don’t exist in the way that they appear, ie, inherently existent.

Thingyness 3
Ok, this has become an excuse to post my latest CO photos …

All these things still exist, but they are not purple. The appearance of purple is misleading us into thinking that things are really purple. But they are not really purple. It is distortion in the mind that is causing everything to appear purple. It is a pollutant or contamination in the mind, and to decontaminate or purify the mind we need to see things as they are. What is that pollution, that distortion? It’s ignorance, the root of all suffering.

In Modern Buddhism, available as a free download, there is a beautiful chapter on emptiness called Training in Ultimate Bodhichitta. It is well worth the time to read the whole chapter slowly, deliberately, and contemplatively and take it to heart because it is liberating wisdom from Buddha. There is a section in this chapter called What is Emptiness? (p. 104)

Emptiness is the way things really are. It is the way things exist as opposed to the way that they appear.

If we are still an ordinary being who has not yet realized emptiness …

we naturally believe that the things we see around us, such as tables, chairs, and houses, are truly existent, because we believe that they exist in exactly the way that they appear.

They are true as opposed to fake because their appearance and reality coincide, and this means that they are real because they appear real.

Due to our beginningless grasping at things as being real, at the moment whatever appears to us appears to exist Thingyness 4from its own side. It appears to be real. A bit like you’ve been injected with purple dye at birth and that is all you’ve ever seen, so you have deep familiarity with that. In the same way, through our familiarity with self-grasping, not just in this life but in countless previous lives as well, the imprints of this ignorance are causing everything that appears to us to seem to exist from its own side, under its own power. A thing unto itself. But in fact no thing exists like that.

It is our ignorance that causes us to perceive things in that way and then to grasp things in that way. There are two things going on. First off, due to our previous ignorance and the imprints of that ignorance, everything already appears to us as if existing from its own side.  I’m over here, you’re over there, stars and planets are over there. This thing we’re reading seems discrete, independent of the mind — we don’t feel our mind has had anything to do with bringing it into existence. It just IS. A minute ago, before you Thingyness 6logged onto the blog, you had nothing to do with this article – then it suddenly appeared from its own side and generated a consciousness of itself.

That’s how things appear at the moment. Even we ourselves appear that way to ourselves. We feel real. Our body and breakfast feel real. Everything appears real to us. That’s the first thing that happens

Then, instead of distrusting that appearance and wondering if things really are as real as they appear, our ignorance immediately latches onto that appearance and assents to it, “Yes. This is how things are.”

It’s just a deep-seated almost instinctive grasping — it’s not like we’re going around saying, “That’s how are they are, that’s how they are.” We are just blindly assenting because we haven’t yet examined to see if they really do exist in that way. A bit like just grasping at things being purple rather than ever examining to see whether things actually are purple.

This carries on here

Appearance and reality

When we think about appearance and reality, we think of them as two different truths. But the truth is that they are not.

treeConsidering appearance and reality helps us understand where our ignorance, and therefore our problems, lie. This is because, generally speaking, when we think of something, for example a tree, we think that the tree is appearing and that there is something there that is the tree appearing. We don’t think of the tree as just being appearance. We think there is something there appearing. There is a tree that is appearing.

When we think of our body, we don’t think of something merely appearing, like in a dream say –we think there is something there that is my body appearing to me.

When we think about ourself, we grasp so strongly at ourself — we don’t think of “myself” as just an appearance of mind, we think there is something that is really me appearing. There is something behind the appearance.

reflection of treeFor people who have not experienced emptiness, if something is not real, then we don’t trust it. We feel that something has to be there to trust it. If it was just a reflection of a tree, just an appearance in a lake, say, and there was nothing behind that appearance, we know we are being deceived because there is no real tree there. What we don’t realize is that we are being deceived all the time.

We distinguish between the appearance of a tree and a tree. We think that trees and planets and bodies and jobs are somehow real and solid and dependable — the ground of our being. And a mere reflection or appearance of a tree is utterly false and deceptive. And so, for ordinary beings who have not realized emptiness, there is a need to distinguish between things that are real and valid and things that are fake, apparent, deceptive, hallucinatory.

A famous actress recently had a lot of work done on her face and her appearance changed dramatically. Where did the actress’s “real” face go?! People are calling her fake, saying that it is not her face. But of course it is her face. Just not really her face. But nor was her previous face really her face.

We need to explore what is real and what is fake. And basically we come to see that everything is fake. Except for reality.

appearance and reality
What is really moving?!

However, reality is not what we think it is. For an ordinary being, reality means inherent existence, it is things existing from their own side. You have a tree over there, the mind is over here — the tree exists from its own side and has the power to generate an awareness of itself. In fact, it doesn’t, but that’s what it feels like because our ignorance makes us think the tree is really there. So for us the reality of the tree is the tree being a tree from its own side. That is the truth. That is the ground of our being.  Take that away and there’s nothing. We actually mistake inherent existence for reality, whereas reality is the lack of inherent existence. The truth is the opposite of what we think at the moment.

And this is why we suffer. In Buddha’s analysis, ignorance is grasping at reality, inherent existence, and truth as all being the same. Thinking that things are as real as they appear, when in fact nothing is as real as it appears. There are things we know we are not being fooled by, such as mirages, hallucinations, reflections – “I’m not fooled by that mirage! fake realOr by that Botox! Or by that fake brand name!” But, unfortunately, we are being fooled by everything else. And because of that we suffer. If we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t need to examine the nature of reality because we would be fine. But the fact is that all our delusions and all our contaminated karma come from grasping at something that is not there. We are grasping at a reality behind the appearance of things, when there is none to be found.

Next article, The Non-Thingyness of Things, can be found here.