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    Modern version of the Eternal Knot by Charles Huttner
A View on Buddhism
Teksty w jezyku polskim     Deutsche Seiten

Quotations on:
Emptiness, Selflessness,
or the Mystery of Our Ego

Return to the Quotations Index

The Buddha

Know all things to be like this:
A mirage, a cloud castle,
A dream, an apparition,
Without essence, but with qualities that can be seen.

Know all things to be like this:
As the moon in a bright sky
In some clear lake reflected,
Though to that lake the moon has never moved.

Know all things to be like this:
As an echo that derives
From music, sounds, and weeping,
Yet in that echo is no melody.

Know all things to be like this:
As a magician makes illusions
Of horses, oxen, carts and other things,
Nothing is as it appears.
Samadhi Raja Sutra

Though one should conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, he who conquers his own self, is the greatest of all conquerers.
Self-conquest is, indeed, far greater than the conquest of all other folks.
Dhammapada v. 103, 104

"Monks, we who look at the whole and not just the part, know that we too are systems of interdependence, of feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness all interconnected. Investigating in this way, we come to realize that there is no me or mine in any one part, just as a sound does not belong to any one part of the lute."
Samyutta Nikaya, from "Buddha Speaks"

Once there was a layman who came to Ajahn Chah and asked him who Ajahn Chah was. Ajahn Chah, seeing that the spiritual development of the individual was not very advanced, pointed to himself and said, This, this is Ajahn Chah.
Once there was a layman who came to Ajahn Chah and asked him who Ajahn Chah was. Ajahn Chah, seeing that the questioners capacity to understand the Dhamma was higher, Ajahn Chah answered by saying Ajahn Chah? There is NO Ajahn Chah!

A visiting Zen student asked Ajahn Chah, "How old are you? Do you live here all year round?"
"I live nowhere, he replied. There is no place you can find me. I have no age. To have age, you must exist, and to think you exist is already a problem. Don't make problems, then the world has none either. Don't make a self. There's nothing more to say."

Psychologists talk about people who are co-dependent because they don't have a sense of self. What psychologists mean when they say a person has no sense of self is very different from what the Buddha meant by no-self or selflessness. People with psychological problems actually have a very strong sense of self in the Buddhist sense, although they may not in the psychological sense of the word. Psychologically, they don't see themselves as efficacious individuals in the world, but they still have a very strong sense of "I": "I am worthless." When somebody criticizes them, they don't like it. They get into co-dependent relationships to protect or to please this "I." When they fall into self-pity, their sense of an inherently existent "I" is very strong. Thus they still have self-grasping even though they lack a psychologically healthy sense of self.
Buddhism recognizes two kinds of sense of self. There's one sense of self that is healthy and necessary to be efficacious on the path. The object of this sense of self is the conventionally existent "I." The other sense of self grasps at an inherently existent self that never has and never will exist. Within Buddhism, when we talk about realizing emptiness, we're negating the false self, this self that appears inherently existent to us.
Thubten Chodron from Cultivating a Compassionate Heart: The Yoga Method of Chenrezig

Tantric practitioners should also have made progress in meditation on emptiness. Meditation on emptiness is the heart of the Buddhist path in both sutra and tantra. Although compassion is said to be the basis of practice, it is basic in the sense of being one's
motivation; meditation on emptiness is the chief practice of Buddhism because it actualizes one's compassionate intent by removing all obstructions to Buddhahood. All the practices of method, both in sutra and tantra, are done specifically in order to enhance the wisdom consciousness that realizes emptiness, as Santideva's 'Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds' says:
"The Subduer said that all these
Branches are for the sake of wisdom."
Daniel Cozort, 'Highest Yoga Tantra'

Surrender means surrendering who you are not, so that who you really are may emerge.
You are not what you think, you are not what you believe, you are not what you like or dislike.
Those are the adopted filters which speak through you.
Yogi Amrit Desai

If one conceives of 'self', then one must also conceive of 'other'. Attachment and aversion arise as a result of these two conceptions-
of self and other. As a result of relationships accompanied by feelings of attachment and aversion, all faults are generated. It should be understood that the root of all those faults is this view- that the transitory aggregation called I and mine has an inherent existence."
Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen, from the Pramanavarttika, quoted in 'Garland of Mahamudra Practices'

What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.
Thomas Merton

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Whatever good or bad things appear to us seem to exist from the side of those objects. How do they exist? If they exist from the side of the object, then, contemplating the basis of imputation...we should see whether it is the object in question or not. Let us take for example a physical object and examine its shape, color and so on to see if that object is to be found anywhere among those attributes. If we do so, we find nothing that is the object in question. If we take a person as an example, and inspect the individual aggregates that are the bases of designation of a person, we find that none of them is the person. In that way we recognize that the imputed object is not to be found upon investigation.
Then if we contemplate how things appear to the mind, we see that they seem to exist from the side of the object, without dependence upon anything else. But when they are sought analytically, they are not found. They do exist, for they can help or harm us. But when pondering the manner in which they exist, we find no basis for the assumption that they exist from the side of the object. Thus, they exist by the power of subjective convention, by the power of designation.
When pondering the nature of existence, we find that entities are not found upon seeking them analytically. So they exist by means of conventional, conceptual designation. They do undeniably exist. But as long as they do not exist independently, from their own side, they must exist by the power of subjective convention. There is no alternative. An entity exists due to its being designated upon something that is not it.
Transcendent Wisdom

Although there are as many categories of emptiness as there are types of phenomena, when you realize the emptiness of one specific phenomenon, you also realize the emptiness of all phenomena. The ultimate nature, or emptiness, of all phenomena is of equal taste and of the same undifferentiable nature. Even though the nature of emptiness of all phenomena is the same, and all the different aspects of phenomena, such as whether they are good or bad, or the way they change, arise from the sphere of emptiness, you should understand that emptiness cannot be found apart from the subject or the object.
Emptiness refers to an object's being free of intrinsic existence. Things depend on causes and conditions. This very dependence on causes and conditions signifies that phenomena lack independent, or intrinsic, existence. It also demonstrates how all the diverse aspects of things that we experience arise because they are by nature empty. When we talk about emptiness, we are not dealing with those different aspects, we are dealing with phenomena's ultimate reality.
Stages of Meditation

If one has a mistaken view of an emptiness, equating it with a vacuity which is a nothingness, this is not the ascertainment of an emptiness. Or, even if one has developed a proper understanding of an emptiness as merely a lack of inherent existence, still, when the vacuity which is a lack of inherent existence appears, one may subsequently lose sight of the original understanding. This vacuity then becomes a mere nothingness with the original understanding of the negation of inherent existence being lost completely. Therefore, this is not the ascertainment of an emptiness either. Also, even if the meaning of an emptiness has been ascertained, but the thought, 'This is an emptiness,' appears, then one is apprehending the existence of an emptiness which is a positive thing. Therefore, that consciousness then becomes a conventional valid cogniser and not the ascertainment of an emptiness. The Condensed Perfection of Wisdom Sutra says, 'Even if a Bodhisattva realises, "These aggregates are empty," he is acting on signs of conventionalities and does not have faith in the state of non-production.'
Further, 'an emptiness' is a negative [an absence] which must be ascertained through the mere elimination of the object of negation, that is, inherent existence. Negatives are of two types: affirming negatives in which some other positive phenomenon is implied in place of the object of negation, and non-affirming negatives in which no other positive phenomenon is implied in place of the object of negation. An emptiness is an instance of the latter; therefore, a consciousness cognising an emptiness necessarily ascertains the mere negative or absence of the object of negation. What appears to the mind is a clear vacuity accompanied by the mere thought, 'These concrete things as they now appear to our minds do not exist at all.' The mere lack of inherent existence or mere truthlessness which is the referent object of this consciousness is an emptiness; therefore, such a mind ascertains an emptiness.
The Buddhism of Tibet

How things appear and how they actually exist differ greatly. A person engaging in practice of the perfection of wisdom does this kind of analysis and then examines how things appear in ordinary experience, alternating analysis and comparison with the usual mode of appearance in order to notice the discrepancy between the actual mode of subsistence of phenomena and their appearance.
In this way the inherent existence which is the object of negation will become clearer and clearer. As much as the object of negation becomes clearer, so much deeper will your understanding of emptiness become. Finally, you will ascertain a mere vacuity that is a negative of inherent existence.
Kindness, Clarity, and Insight

In general, in many of the tantras of the new translation schools, there are no explicit or elaborate references to meditation on emptiness during the main practice, but rather to meditative states of great bliss. Although that is the case, still we do find emphasis on the importance of understanding emptiness prior to engaging in the practices of Highest Yoga Tantra, and the realization of emptiness is taken to be a prerequisite or indispensable factor for the successful realization of the stages of Highest Yoga Tantra. Otherwise there can be no meditation on great bliss without the understanding of emptiness.
As far as meditation on emptiness is concerned, there are two approaches: one is meditation that employs discernment and analysis, and one is meditation on the basis of settling, without analysing. Analytical meditation may support the great bliss of the Highest Yoga Tantra system, but in general, in the Highest Yoga Tantra of the new translation schools, meditation on emptiness consists entirely of settling meditation. It is not explained as analytical meditation, because to engage in analytical meditation inhibits the arising of great bliss and prevents the attainment of subtler states of mind. Since it has this effect, analytical meditation is not practised in this context.
Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection

It is possible to understand the Buddhist teachings as a method of psychological healing, comparable to psychotherapy, that teaches us how we can master destructive forces like anger, envy, and greed. Human beings seem to be a bundle of different qualities and psychological processes. We should attentively examine our qualities and be alertly aware of our experiences in order to recognize what we truly feel and think. At the same time, the personality of human beings is not seen as a unified whole. According to these teachings, the heart of consciousness is composed of various elements, the five types of attachment, or skandhas: body, sensations, perceptions, instinctual forces, and consciousness.
These inner forces impart the false concept of an ego-consciousness. The basic problem of emotional disorders therefore lies in a false concept of identity. This I-blindness should therefore be abolished through self-study.... The goal is not self-realization but selflessness.
Path of Wisdom, Path of Peace

Generally speaking, there are two forms of meditation on emptiness. One is the space-like meditation on emptiness, which is characterised by the total absence or negation of inherent existence. The other is called the illusion-like meditation on emptiness. The space-like meditation must come first, because without the realisation of the total absence of inherent existence, the illusion-like perception or understanding will not occur.
For the illusion-like understanding of all phenomena to occur, there needs to be a composite of both the perception or appearance and the negation, so that when we perceive the world and engage with it we can view all things and events as resembling illusions. We will recognise that although things appear to us, they are devoid of objective, independent, intrinsic existence. This is how the illusion-like understanding arises. The author of the "Eight Verses for Training the Mind" indicates the experiential result when he writes: "May I, recognising all things as illusion, devoid of clinging, be released from bondage."
When we speak of cultivating the illusion-like understanding of the nature of reality, we need to bear in mind the different interpretations of the term 'illusion-like'.... For example, the Buddhist realist schools explain the nature of reality to be illusion-like in the sense that, although we tend to perceive things as having permanence, in reality they are changing moment by moment and it is this that gives them an illusion-like character.
Lighting the Way

     "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form."
We are empty, or rather the matter of which we are composed is empty. But I must emphasize that emptiness does not mean nothingness. Some commentators have been mistaken when they have accused Buddhism of being nihilistic. We believe that the world in which we live is part of a flux, a stream of events. This does not mean it is nothing. Everything depends on everything else. Nothing exists on its own. On account of all the influences that come to bear upon them, things appear, exist, and disappear, and then reappear again. But they never exist independently. Form is therefore empty, by which we mean it is not separate and independent. Form depends on a multitude of different factors. And emptiness is form because all forms emerge from emptiness, from this absence of independent existence. Emptiness exists only to give rise to form.
The Dalai Lama's Little Book of Inner Peace: The Essential Life and Teachings

The nature of everything is illusory and ephemeral,
Those with dualistic perception regard suffering as happiness,
Like they who lick the honey from a razor’s edge.
How pitiful are they who cling strongly to concrete reality:
Turn your attention within, my heart friends.
Nyoshul Khen Ripoche

Once you have the View, although the delusory perceptions of samsara may arise in your mind, you will be like the sky; when a rainbow appears in front of it, it’s not particularly flattered, and when the clouds appear it’s not particularly disappointed either. There is a deep sense of contentment. You chuckle from inside as you see the facade of samsara and nirvana; the View will keep you constantly amused, with a little inner smile bubbling away all the time.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

The Conqueror [Buddha] said that emptiness
Eradicates all dogmatic views;
As for those who take a dogmatic view of emptiness,
He said that they are incurable.
Nagarjuna's 'Fundamental Treatise', from Introduction to Emptiness: Tsong Kha-Pa's Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path, translated by Guy Newland

When the compassionate bodhicitta radiates beyond conceptions and conceptual states, it is known as prajnaparamita, the practice of transcendental knowledge. Good concentration in itself will not break through our attachment to samsara. We have to go deeper, in order to realize everything as a transparent display of the primordial truth. Transcendental wisdom, the prajnaparamita, realizes all conditions as a display of the primordial nature, and it takes us beyond acceptance and rejection, hope and fear, dualistic thoughts, and ego-clinging. Transcendental knowledge breaks through every one of those notions and reveals the vastness of great equanimity. The nature of this paramita is to understand phenomena clearly, seeing all beings as they are without distortion. To have a perfect insight into the relative, absolute, and unified levels of truth is the basic understanding of the prajnaparamita.
If you cling to the disciplines of generosity, morality, or patience, you are merely going from one extreme of samsara to the other. You simply create a new form of bondage. In order to free ourselves from this trap, we have to release all our ego-clinging and break through the net of dualistic conceptions. The teachings of the prajnaparamita help bring this about. Rather than holding on to a narrow and limited understanding about one aspect of the practice, we are availed of a vast, panoramic view. Remember, paramita means going beyond, or transcending, the dualistic application of these practices. This sixth paramita transforms the other five into their transcendental state. Only the light of transcendental knowledge makes this possible.
Door to Inconceivable Wisdom and Compassion

...if you have not purified ordinary appearances into emptiness, how could you possibly meditate on the mandala circle? The fact that all phenomena are emptiness, that samsara and nirvana are inseparable, is the very reason we are able to actualize this by meditating on the mandala circle. In other words, emptiness is the basis for the development stage. As it is said, "For the one to whom emptiness is possible, anything is possible." If all phenomena were not empty and ordinary appearances were truly present, development stage meditation would be impossible, as the following quotation points out: "Even though one might empower wheat to be rice, rice won't actually appear." However, even if all phenomena are realized to be empty in this way, without the momentum of great compassion you will not be able to manifest the rupakayas to benefit others. This is similar to the listeners and solitary buddhas, who enter into a state of cessation and do not benefit others with rupakaya emanations.
Once one understands this point, it will be like the following saying: ''All these phenomena are like an illusion and birth is like taking a stroll in a park...." Said differently, one will no longer dwell in existence, while through compassion, one will not get caught up in a state of peace either. This is the great, universal path of the offspring of the victorious ones. For all these reasons, making sure the three absorptions are not isolated from one another is a vitally important point.
Jigme Lingpa, Patrul Rinpoche, and Getse Mahapandita, from Deity, Mantra, and Wisdom: Development Stage Meditation in Tibetan Buddhist Tantra

The Buddha was often referred to as the Awakened One. Awakened to all the illusions and freed from them. The analogy that is often used is that the non-enlightened state is like being asleep. This is because your Buddha-nature, your enlightened awareness, is masked by a the sleep of ignorance, greed, and hatred. When you awake to the fact that that all is part of the illusion of egocentricity, you are free from that illusion. So you are awakened from the ego-illusion and all that goes with it.
Rob Nairn

Nirvana is the actual antidote or “active ingredient” in the medicine of the Dharma. A single, direct, nondualistic realization of emptiness eradicates permanently some portion of the desire, hatred, and ignorance that have bound one in misery for infinite cycles of time up until that moment. Repeated realizations over many lifetimes are still needed before all of the ancient roots of ignorance can be eradicated. During this training, the bodhisattva alternates between periods of meditation on emptiness and periods of compassionate action in the world. Even after the bodhisattva escapes samsara altogether, she must still practice for a long time to overcome the “hangover” of dualistic appearances, the aftereffects of having been ignorant for so long. Finally, these last limitations are cleared away and the bodhisattva becomes a buddha. A buddha continuously knows emptiness directly while also simultaneously acting compassionately in the world of persons and forms.
Guy Newland, Introduction to Emptiness: As Taught in Tsong-kha-pa's Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path

All the violence, fear and suffering
that exists in this world
comes from grasping at "self".
What use is this great monster to you?
if you do not let go of the "self",
there will never be an end to your suffering.

Practicing compassion will bring about the recognition of emptiness as the true nature of the mind. When you practice virtuous actions of love and compassion on the relative level, you spontaneously realize the profound nature of emptiness, which is the absolute level. In turn, if you focus your meditation practice on emptiness, then your loving-kindness and compassion will spontaneously grow.
These two natures, the absolute and the relative, are not opposites; they always arise together. They have the same nature; they are inseparable like a fire and its heat or the sun and its light. Compassion and emptiness are not like two sides of a coin. Emptiness and compassion are not two separate elements joined together; they are always coexistent.
In Buddhism, emptiness does not mean the absence of apparent existence. Emptiness is not like a black hole or darkness, or like an empty house or an empty bottle. Emptiness is fullness and openness and flexibility. Because of emptiness it is possible for phenomena to function, for beings to see and hear, and for things to move and change. It is called emptiness because when we examine things we cannot find anything that substantially and solidly exists. There is nothing that has a truly existent nature. Everything we perceive appears through ever-changing causes and conditions, without an independent, solid basis. Although from a relative perspective things appear, they arise from emptiness and they dissolve into emptiness. All appearances are like water bubbles or the reflection of the moon in water.
Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche from Opening to our Primordial Nature

If there is someone who always harms us, and we discover that this person lives in our own house, we think, "This is too much!" Once we figure out that he is causing all our hardships, we kick him out; we do not see it as a laughing matter at all. Here, it is worse: we have been wandering in the six realms of cyclic existence since beginningless time, undergoing great pain and confusion. What is the main cause of all this? Self-centeredness and its basis, self-grasping ignorance. These two are right inside us, in our own mindstream. How can we continue to tolerate that? It is just too much! We definitely must evict these sources of harm. When we know the antidotes to them, we will use them, just as we would go to any length to evict a troublemaker from our home. With strong determination, we will find out what harms self-centeredness and self-grasping and then go ahead and destroy them.
Geshe Jampa Tegchok, Transforming Adversity into Joy and Courage: An Explanation of the Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas

The cause of all fear is self-grasping ignorance,
and all the delusions, such as selfishness, attachment and anger,
arise from that ignorance,
as well as all the unskillful actions motivated by those delusions.

We cannot get rid of suffering by saying, "I will not suffer." We cannot eliminate attachment by saying, "I will not be attached to anything," nor eliminate aggression by saying, "I will never become angry." Yet, we do want to get rid of suffering and the disturbing emotions that are the immediate cause of suffering. The Buddha taught that to eliminate these states, which are really the results of the primary confusion of our belief in a personal self, we must get rid of the fundamental cause. But we cannot simply say, "I will not believe in the personal self." The only way to eliminate suffering is to actually recognize the experience of a self as a misconception, which we do by proving directly to ourselves that there is no such personal self. We must actually realise this. Once we do, then automatically the misconception of a self and our fixation on that "self" will disappear. Only by directly experiencing selflessness can we end the process of confused projecti! on. This is why the Buddha emphasized meditation on selflessness or egolessness. However, to meditate on egolessness, we must undertake a process that begins with a conceptual understanding of egolessness; then, based on that understanding, there can be meditation, and finally realization.
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, from Pointing Out the Dharmakaya

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Last updated: December 11, 2016