In the Summer 2017 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practioner’s Quarterly, I found an article that really helped focus my study and brought me back to that moment of awareness, brief as it was, in 2002.
The article was on emptiness and the particular author was Dzongar Jamyang Khentsye. The essay, “The Clarity Aspect”, was a response to the idea of emptiness in Buddhist thought. Dzongar’s approach to the subject was incredibly focused and offered an insight into the whole idea of emptiness that I had, up to this point, never really heard.
Briefly, my understanding of emptiness comes from my Ngondro practice through the Rigpa Organization led by Sogyal Rinpoche. I see Rinpoche as my teacher. I am committed to the path that the organization has placed before me and I am thankful have been given the opportunity to study with other Rigpa students.
The emptiness, as presented by Rigpa and as written about in the Heart Sutra always eluded me. More than anything else, I think that my understanding, or misunderstanding of emptiness, comes from my own deluded and confused mind. Have you ever had one of those ideas that just never made sense regardless of how hard you tried to understand it? I have found that confusion more than a few times in my life (like when I was reading Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak ), and in the case of emptiness I kept missing the boat.
Check out this passage from the Heart Sutra:
form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness form.
The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.
Do you GET it? It’s confusing even though the language is pretty straightforward. What does “form” mean? We can understand the individual words but the meaning can still elude us (or, at least, me).
Anyway, so I didn’t quite grasp emptiness….I had a good idea about what it was and I reckoned that I’d know it when I saw it. I always referred back to that mental impression from the guided meditation and reasoned that is what emptiness, at least in part, was.
Then in stepped Dzongar Jamyang Khentsye with his insights on emptiness and his specific suggestion that anyone really interested in this idea and the whole notion of Buddhanature itself read Maitreya’s Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra sutra. Khentsye made this statement, “Everything that we think exists, or does not exist, or both or neither – all these things are fabrications of our mind.” BOOM.
Sure I have heard this idea before, yes it has been communicated, but this essay revealed it to me.
I grabbed a copy of the Uttaratantra Shastra and cracked open the pages preparing to be confused, muddled, or lost in the text. Instead, I was reading and understanding a text for the first time (please note, I am not an expert and do not claim to be; my insights are clearly insights from a deluded mind…got it? Good.)
The text explained emptiness and mind in such a direct way: the nature of mind is spaciousness, pure, clear. Thoughts, emotions all rise and fall but the spaciousness remains, unstained or unobstructed by those thoughts and emotions.
So, emptiness (probably NOT the best word for me) is just the notion that these various thoughts and emotions are fleeting, passing moments and that mind, our true nature, is not affected, shaped or altered by those thoughts….thus we are all spacious. Back in 1998, listening to the cassette tape by Sogyal Rinpoche came back to me and I could hear, in my head, his voice and his words: spaciousness, spaciousness, mind is spacious. That talk was introducing me to the nature of mind, to buddhanature, to clarity and I didn’t get it! What a revelation.