Form and Emptiness: the fundamental Two Truths. In the Buddhist Middle Way View these Two Truths are: Ultimate Truth, shunyata/emptiness/boundlessness, dharmakaya, the formless “body of truth”, the unbounded whole (mahabindu). Relative Truth is all of the appearing physical and mental forms of reality that arise within this vast whole. Buddha told, “Form is empty; emptiness is form”. These two truth dimensions are a prior unity. No emptiness, no form. No form, no emptiness. The Three Buddha Bodies (kayas) that constitute this emptiness/form continuum are dharmakaya (OM), Sambhogakaya (AH, the luminous bridge), and Nirmanakaya (form). It is good to chant the mantra OM AH HUM. Well, what is this bright emptiness that fills the worlds with stuff?
Emptiness is not a transcendent, logocentric absolutely existing reality. Rather, emptiness is a selfless, non-essential relativised absolute abiding interdependently, as “dependent arising” or “interbeing”, a timeless infinitely vast causal nexus or matrix of interconnected causes and conditions. Thus there can be no independent essential reality at all. This Madhyamaka Buddhist View is then, non-essentialist. Our appearing world of experience is merely the causal, relative, “dependent arising” of spacetime forms from their ultimate emptiness “groundless ground”. Thus, the fullness of emptiness. Appearing reality then is “ontologically relative”—real, yes, by way of our linguistic, cultural “web of belief”—but not intrinsically, ultimately or absolutely real. H.H. The Dalai Lama terms this seeming paradox the “emptiness of emptiness”.
So, how does this primordial emptiness base (gzhi) exist? Emptiness is established by our conventional minds. It is a concept. It does not exist ultimately, yet it is real via our perceptually imputed, conceptually designated (reified) relative cultural concept-mind. Moreover, Buddhist emptiness is not nihilistic nothingness of the Vedic/Hindu tradition, or of physics. These forms of emptiness are real, just not absolutely real; a middle way between materialistic existence, and nihilistic non-existence. So these are the Two Truths—relative (samvriti satya), and ultimate (paramartha satya). What then shall we do with this precious life we’ve been given?
The Four Noble Truths. To lead beings to realization of the happiness inherent in realization of this prior unity of the Two Truths, Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths:
1) Life is suffering. There are different kinds of suffering: physical and emotional pain; unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the adversity of life; the “suffering of change”, this “free-floating anxiety” and dread that is our preconscious fear of death. After all, life ends in death.
2) Suffering has a cause. This cause is ignorance (avidya) of the nature of reality as empty/selfless (anatman), impermanent (anitya) and interdependent. Ignorance is compulsive grasping/clinging to self and its objects as inherently real. The result is the negative emotions: attraction (greed, pride), and aversion (fear, anger, aggression), the very causes of suffering.
3) Suffering has a cure. As we gradually free ourselves from such ignorance we are liberated from suffering, which opens into both relative and ultimate happiness. But how?
4) The Eightfold Path is the life practice that accomplishes this awakening. It transcends yet embraces human flourishing that is relative hedonic happiness (felicitas, eudaemonia), and results in the fruition of ultimate happiness itself (mahasuka, paramananda, beatitudo) that is Buddha mind (samata jnana), and in due course, actualized Buddhahood. These Four Noble Truths are the foundation of Buddhism. They pervade all the Vehicles of the Buddhist Path.
In the Prasannapada, Chandrakirti’s great commentary on Nagarjuna’s Exposition of the Middle Way, we learn of the natural interrelationship of the Buddha’s Two Truths of the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) that are emptiness (ultimate truth) and the dependent arising of form (relative truth). From Buddha’s Heart Sutra: “Form is not other than emptiness; emptiness is not other than form”. Form and emptiness are a prior unity; the trans-conceptual one truth, invariant through all cognitive state changes—outer, inner, innermost secret and nondual (no subject/object separation). From this primordial wisdom of emptiness naturally arises the wisdom Path to realization of this great truth. That Path is Shakyamuni Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.
Chandrakirti reasons that, if we will first postulate the interrelated unity of this luminous emptiness ground of being with its arising interdependent phenomenal appearances (“form is emptiness, emptiness is form”), we can then postulate the causal connection, the cause and effect relationship, between the first two Noble Truths—The Truth of Suffering and The Truth of the Cause/Origin of Suffering. This causal connection is the natural law of karma—thought, intention, action and effect (positive and negative imprints). Karma, H.H. The Dalai Lama tells, is a subset of the scientific law of causality—the Causal Principle—that governs the realm of relative spacetime reality, the reality dimension of Relative Truth. We utilize these relative “concealer truths” to realize ultimate truth, beyond fear and hope, our liberation from suffering. Such enlightenment is the always already present unity of the Two Truths.
Thus, from ignorance (avidya) of the truth of emptiness/selflessness arises concept mind (manovijnana) and with it the adventitious attraction and aversion that causes the egoic negative afflictive emotions—greed and pride, anger and aggression—attachment to the self (klesha-desire mind/klishtamanovijnana). This results in the causal, karmic mental and emotional imbalances that produce the destructive behavior that causes human suffering and human evil.
Hence, for Chandrakirti, from an understanding of the unity of the selfless emptiness and the interdependence (pratitya samutpada) of form, we can understand the causal relationship between these First and Second Noble Truths. Therefore may we conceive the possibility of a way to the cessation of suffering—of its origin and causes—a path to liberation from this ignorance and imbalance (avidya, marigpa, ajnana, hamartia/sin) that is the cause of human suffering. Buddha told, “One who controls the mind, controls everything”. We cannot control adversity. Stuff happens. But with the practice of the Path we can control our response to it.
Thus arises the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth, The Truth of the Cessation/Cure of Suffering. And if this cessation is possible—and by the demonstration of the lives of all the Buddhas and mahasiddhas of our wisdom traditions it clearly is possible—we can then postulate the Fourth Noble Truth, The Eightfold Path that is the mind training program of life practice, the Wisdom Path to ultimate liberation from suffering and its relative causes. The Eightfold Path is:
Wisdom: 1) Authentic View or understanding; 2) Authentic Intention or aspiration
Ethics: 3) Authentic Speech; 4) Authentic Action/Conduct; 5) Authentic Livelihood
Meditation: 6) Authentic Effort; 7) Authentic Mindfulness; 8) Authentic Wisdom/samadhi.
The Six Paramitas. From the Four Noble Truths naturally arise the Paramitas. These six perfections bespeak the qualities/virtues developed and manifested by a Bodhisattva (awakened being) on the Path to ultimate liberation that is Buddhahood. The Six Paramitas are:
1) Generosity: selfless service to reduce the suffering of beings; the very foundation of the compassionate heartmind of bodhicitta. This practice is said to be ultimately sufficient.
2) Ethical Discipline: virtue, conduct; practice of the two bodhicittas, relative and ultimate
3) Patience: gentle tolerance; understanding of cause and effect or karma.
4) Diligence: perseverance, the effort and courage required to continue the practice and complete the Path. Just continue. Don’t quit!
5) Meditation: dhyana/samadhi; shamatha (mindfulness) and vipashyana (penetrating insight); Dzogchen; Essence Mahamudra. These practices are the very foundation of Wisdom.
6) Wisdom: Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom; ground and realization of the wisdom of emptiness/boundlessness/selflessness accomplished by diligent practice—with guidance from a qualified mentor—of all the paramitas. Wisdom protects the bodhisattva’s compassionate conduct (bodhicitta). In the Vajrayana the jnana paramita expresses ultimate (beyond even relative prajna) nondual primordial awareness wisdom (yeshe, jnana, bhavanga, gnosis).
The Five Precepts. From the Four Noble Truths and the Six Paramitas naturally arise the Buddha’s Five Precepts or virtues, the five practical aspects of essential morality or conduct for the Buddhist lay practitioner who aspires to a conscious life of mindfulness and bodhicitta.
1) Refrain from taking life. Honor all life (ahimsa). Cause no harm to humans, nor to any living creature. This is an aspect of Authentic Action, the fourth aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path. All life is interconnected and interdependent. All beings desire to live. Do no harm.
2) Refrain from taking what is not freely given. Greed is taking too much; more than we really need. We learn to appreciate our interdependence with other beings, including our mother earth, and with life itself. As we cultivate generosity, the first of the Six Perfections we learn to practice giving; to share, to give wisely of our money, energy, time, patience; to ourselves, then to others. We learn to practice an authentic, genuine ecology of body, mind and spirit.
3) Refrain from false speech. Authentic speech is the third aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path. Be a good listener; listen with selfless compassion. Then when you speak, speak what is true, useful, helpful and wise. Use the great power of Voice/mantra mindfully and compassionately, judiciously and constructively. Don’t lie, gossip, bear false witness, or use harsh speech.
4) Refrain from sexual misconduct. Learn to be sexually responsible, authentic, non-grasping/clinging, and non-manipulative. The regenerative energy is powerful. It can cause terrible harm to others, and thus to ourselves. Cause no emotional or sexual harm. Learn to be sexually mindful and compassionate. “In the moment of love, emptiness dawns nakedly”.
5) Refrain from mindless, abusive use of intoxicant substances. Foods and thoughts can also be abused. Be mindful and aware of everything that you take into your bodymind.
The Five Spiritual Faculties (Indriya; also The Five Strengths). These strengths must be cultivated to accomplish the Third Noble Truth, the cessation of ignorance (avidya) that is the root cause of human suffering (dukkha). We do this by entering the Eightfold Path. Four of these qualities or faculties of mind—faith, effort, concentration, wisdom must be balanced and fine-tuned by the third power, mindfulness. Hence, the Five Faculties are:
1) Faith (saddha); confidence, trust, devotion): The seed of certainty in the essential teachings of the Path: karma and rebirth; emptiness/openness/selflessness (shunyata); dependent arising (pratitya samutpada); the four refuges (outer, inner, secret, innermost secret/nondual).
2) Effort/Energy (viriya): We need faith to motivate the effort required by the Path; then we need authentic effort, energy and courage to continue. The three voices/faces of effort/energy are: preliminary effort, liberating effort, and developed or continuing effort.
3) Mindfulness (sati): In the Satipatthana Sutra Buddha teaches the Four Satipatthana or four awareness foundations of mindfulness: body/matter; sensations (vedana); mind (citta), mind states and emotions, positive and negative-afflictive; and mental productions (dhamma).
4) Concentration (samadhi): Here lies the very heart-seed of the teaching; a continuation and continuity of mindfulness practice as the Four Dhyanas (jhanas in Pali) that brought Buddha to his ultimate anuttara samyak sambodhi wisdom. This was the actual mind/body practice of Shakyamuni Buddha. Only a qualified master can transmit the Four (or eight) Jhanas. Entering in Authentic Concentration (samma samadhi) bestows a mindful steadiness to the constant of change that gives a stability of attention to one’s practice, and in due course, a permanent moment to moment stability and continuity of mindfulness (the nine stages of shamatha), and penetrating insight (vipashyana) in the lifeworld of the practitioner.
5) Wisdom (prajna, discernment, deep multidimensional understanding): In the Vajrayana we find nondual (beyond subject-object duality) primordial awareness wisdom (yeshe, jnana). Such wisdom is unshakable steadiness, certainty and mindfulness of change, based in Concentration, that provides a permanent, trans-conceptual knowing and stability to one’s practice. Such wisdom is grounded in both dualistic and nondual understanding of the truths of no-self (anatman), impermanence (anitya), suffering (dukkha), and dependent arising (pratitya samutpada) of form. It’s good to remember that these Five Spiritual Faculties are a prior unity.
The Five Basic Hindrances. Obstructions and obscurations to the above practices are:
1) Attraction: obsessive desire for sense pleasure.
2) Aversion: anger/fear, hostility, ill-will, hatred.
3) Laxity: “sloth and torpor”, dullness, drowsiness, laziness.
4) Excitement: restlessness, agitation, nervousness, edginess, compulsive rumination.
5) Paralyzing Doubt: second-guessing your knowing/feeling certainty and confidence as to dharma, teachers, Guru, practices, deities, adversity, timing, time, ad infinitum. What to do?
Just be mindful (shamatha), and aware (vipashyana) of these hindrances as they arise. Buddha told, “Let it be as it is and rest your weary mind; all things are perfect exactly as they are“. Let confusion be transformed into objects of meditation. These objects are openings for the wisdom light to enter in. Suzuki Roshi: “The only mistake you can make in practice is to quit!”
Bodhichitta: The Four Boundless States are the proto-Mahayana of early Buddhism’s Brahma-vihara, or the Four Immeasurables (Apramana). These limitless mindstates of loving kindness (maitri), compassion (karuna), limitless joy (mudita), and meditative equanimity (upeksha)—for both self and others—results in the Mahayana’s spontaneous compassionate bodhichitta (heartmind of enlightenment) of the bodhisattvas (you Buddhas in training). Here is the noble intention to awakening/liberation for oneself, in order to aid the awakening of all beings.
Such an aspiration, with action, bestows the selfless compassionate activity that is, through the inexorable law of karma, the very cause of human happiness. As Buddha told, “What you are is what you have been. What you will be is what you do now”. Our past deeds are past. Our future is what we choose to do now. This transition from past to future requires accepting full responsibility for “what we have been” in the past. No blame. No excuses.
The Seven Point Mind Training (Lojong) of Atisha utilizes the loving kindness (maitri) practice of the Four Boundless States as Tonglen (giving and receiving) practice, and utilizes all six Paramitas, the six perfections of the Bodhisattva’s training. These mind states are the actual causes of relative/hedonic, and ultimate/liberation happiness for practitioners of this Path.
The Four Mind Changes are a correct understanding of: 1) Our precious human birth; 2) Impermanence; 3) Karma; and 4) Suffering, or the defects of living in ignorance/samsara.
All of the above considerations support the noble Eightfold Path that transforms karmic, materialistic, habitual deep cultural background mental, emotional and attentional mindstate imbalances—the causes of suffering—into our indwelling natural innate transcendent wisdom of emptiness/boundlessness. From such wisdom spontaneously and effortlessly arises compassionate action toward all beings; the very causes of both relative and ultimate human happiness. Thus are Compassion (“skillful means”) and Wisdom—the two limbs of the Buddhist Path—a prior unity.
Such wisdom is the Prajnaparamita, Great Mother of all the Buddhas, the “perfection of wisdom”, the end of ignorance that is our unhappiness. This great nondual truth realizes, then actualizes our primordial ground state, bright presence of it—by whatever name—luminous, natural selfless state/space of mind; in due course, ultimate happiness itself, Buddhahood.
Wonder of wonders, this perfectly present state of presence, this inherently abiding seed or potential of Buddha nature (tatagatagarbha) is always already present and fully awake within each one from the very beginning! “The child knows the mother.” Why don’t we manifest it? Because, on the accord of the Mahayana, our innate Buddha mind (HUM) is shrouded in ignorance, grasping at permanence, and in service to the ego/self. Step by step, the Path awakens and liberates us from this adventitious bondage. As His Holiness tells, “Just open the door”. Then enter in.
The result/fruition of The Eightfold Path, with its various practices is the gradual, “brief moments many times”, then sudden permanent trans-personal realization of the mindstate of this conceptually transcendent perfection of wisdom (Prajnaparamita)—the luminous wisdom of emptiness. This mindstate is decidedly not mere conceptual speculation, or reading, or classes. The gravitas of the contemplative wisdom traditions of our species grounds the View and Path in practice of meditative quiescence (shamatha/mindfulness), penetrating insight/vipashyana, then Dzogchen, or Essence Mahamudra. All of it is grounded in compassionate everyday conduct under the guidance of, and with great devotion to the qualified spiritual mentor/master.
The Three Marks of Existence (Trilakshana, the Three Gates to Liberation): The Trilakshana is Buddha’s explication of the first Noble Truth, the Truth of Suffering. It is accepted by all Buddhist Schools. These three basic characteristics of conditioned, dependently arisen spacetime existence are: 1) suffering (duhkha, dukkha), this adversity of being in form; 2) impermanence (anitya, anicca), everything (the Five Skandhas, physical form, sensation, perception, mental formation/volition, and consciousness) changes and passes; 3) selflessness (anatman, no-self or insubstantiality. Selflessness/emptiness applies not merely to relative phenomena, but to all phenomena (dhamma), both conditioned relative-conventional, and ultimate, including emptiness itself. These three are utterly interdependent, a prior unity. The bright faculty of wisdom (prajna/panna, yeshe, jnana, gnosis) directly, trans-rationally perceives, feels and knows that everything is characterized by these three qualities. Such was Buddha’s enlightenment. Penetrating insight (vipashyana) into these three gates of enlightenment shall bestow liberation from the ignorance that causes suffering, then opening into ultimate happiness itself (mahasuka), Buddha mind, the happiness that cannot be lost (Dhammapada verses 277, 278, 279). This is Buddha’s teaching gift to us as to the way in which we, and everything else, truly exists.
Refuge. We all take refuge in something. Too often this refuge is hedonic and materialistic. The beginning practitioner takes refuge in something far more powerful. The three refuge sources are the Three Jewels: 1) the living Master as the Buddha; 2) the Dharma, the teaching of the Buddha; 3) the Sangha, the spiritual community that includes the luminous rigzin sangha, the vidyadhara lineage of all enlightened beings of the three times—past, present, future.
These Three Jewels have four refuges, with four strata of meaning: an exoteric “outer”, an esoteric “inner”, a secret, and then an “innermost secret” or nondual meaning. These four faces are not in any way separate. They are a prior knowing/feeling unity. Such refuge generates the la/energy that nourishes, holds and protects the practitioner on this difficult Path. This stabilizes the understanding (the View), which motivates the commitment to the Path, resulting in the Fruit of enlightenment, compassionate ultimate happiness itself (mahasuka, paramananda). Such happiness lies not in the future. We cannot become happy; we can only be happy. Thus do we “make the goal, the Path”. “This fruit is no different at the pinnacle of enlightenment than it is at the primordial base” (Adzom Rinpoche). Our selfless, indwelling enlightenment Buddha mind already knows this. And That is who we actually are, without a single exception.
According to H.H. The Dalai Lama, all states of consciousness—negative or positive—indeed all phenomena are pervaded by this luminous clear light wisdom of emptiness, this “wish fulfilling jewel”, reflexive primordial awareness wisdom (gnosis/jnana/yeshe), “supreme source” (chittadhatu) of reality itself. From this ground it all arises, dwells, and into this it all returns, with no essential separation, ever. The dynamic intrinsic awareness (gzhi rigpa) presence (vidya) of that “groundless ground” is our always, already present Buddha heartmind (HUM), now. OM AH HUM
The limbs of the Buddha’s teaching have this one purpose—to lead us to the nondual primordial wisdom—Buddha mind. This wisdom participates in and pervades all views and paths for one who is capable of accessing it…All things flow from emptiness, and return again to emptiness. This is dependent arising…the dynamic display of the mind. This is the true nature of arising phenomena, the nature of reality itself. —Adzom Rinpoche
Thus, let us always remember, moment to moment, wherever we go, whatever we do, the great truth that this always present wisdom presence is our actual “supreme identity.” Who is it that I am? Tat Tvam Asi. That I Am! In that we take refuge. It’s like coming home.
David Paul Boaz Dechen Wangdu www.coppermount.org www.davidpaulboaz.org (11.15)