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Teachings on emptyness

Teachings on emptyness

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Published by: xsrumination on Apr 10, 2011
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If we reflect on the situation in which we find ourselves, we will real-
ize that with so much unbearable pain and suffering, it is as though
we were in a giant prison. This is the prison of cyclic existence.
However, because of our distorted perception, we often see this prison
as a very beautiful place; as if it were, in fact, a wonderful garden of
joy. We don’t really see what the disadvantages of samsara are, and
because of this we find ourselves clinging to this existence. With this
attachment, we continue creating karmic actions that precipitate our
rebirth in it over and over again and thus keep us stuck in samsara.
If we look deep within ourselves, we find that it is the innate
grasping at self that distorts our perception and makes us see cyclic
existence as a pleasure land. All of us who are trapped in samsara
share that kind of distorted perception, and as a result, we find our-
selves creating all sorts of karmic actions. Even our good karmic
actions are somewhat geared towards keeping us imprisoned within
cyclic existence.

We should try to understand that being in cyclic existence is like
being in a fire pit, with all the pain that such a situation would bring.
When we understand this, we will start to change the nature of our
karmic actions. Buddha said this in the sutras and Indian masters
have carried this teaching over into the commentaries, or shastras. No
matter where we live in samsara, we are bound to experience suffer-
ing. It doesn’t matter with whom we live—our friends, family and
companions all bring problems and suffering. Nor does it matter



what kind of resources we have available to us; they too ultimately
bring us pain and difficulty.
Now, you might think, “Well, that doesn’t seem to be altogether
true. In this world there are many wonderful places to visit—magnifi-
cent waterfalls, lovely wildernesses and so on. It doesn’t seem as if
samsara is such a bad place to be. Also, I have many wonderful
friends who really care for me. It doesn’t seem true that those in cyclic
existence to whom I am close bring me problems and sufferings.
Moreover, I have delicious food to eat and beautiful things to wear, so
neither does it seem that everything I use in cyclic existence is suffer-
ing in nature.” If such are our thoughts and feelings, then we have
not realized the true nature of samsara, which is actually nothing but
misery. Let me explain more about how things really are in samsara.
The first thing the Buddha spoke about after his enlightenment
was the truth of suffering. There are three kinds of pains and prob-
lems in cyclic existence—the “suffering of misery,” the “suffering of
change” and “pervasive suffering.” We can easily relate to the suffering
of misery, as this includes directly manifested pain and problems,
such as the pain we experience if we cut ourselves or get a headache.
However, our understanding of suffering is usually limited to that.
We don’t generally perceive the misery of change, which is a subtler
kind of suffering. Even when we experience some temporary pleasures
and comforts in cyclic existence, we must understand that these
things also change into pains and problems. Pervasive, or extensive,
suffering is even more subtle and hence even more difficult for us to
understand. Suffering is simply the nature of samsara. When we have
a headache we take medicine for the pain or when there is a cut on
our body we go to the doctor for treatment, but we generally don’t
seek treatment for the other two kinds of suffering.
Buddhas and bodhisattvas feel infinite compassion for those of us
who are trapped within cyclic existence because we don’t realize that
our pain and suffering are our own creation. It is as though we are
engaged in self-torture. Our suffering is due to our own negative
karmic actions, which in turn are motivated by all sorts of deluded
thoughts and afflictive emotions. Just as we would feel compassion
for a close friend who had gone insane, so are the buddhas and



bodhisattvas constantly looking for ways in which to help us free our-
selves from these problematic situations. With their infinite love and
compassion, they are always looking for ways to assist us in getting
out of this messy existence.
None of us would like to be a slave. Slaves go through all kinds of
altercations, restrictions and difficulties and try with all their might to
find freedom from their oppressors. Likewise, we have become slaves
to the oppressors of our own delusions and afflictive emotions. These
masters have enslaved us not only in this lifetime but for innumerable
lifetimes past. As a result, we have gone through countless pains and
sufferings in cyclic existence. Obviously, if we don’t want to suffer
such bondage any longer, we need to make an effort at the first given
opportunity to try to free ourselves. In order to do this, we need to
cultivate the wisdom realizing selflessness, or emptiness. In Sanskrit,
the word is shunyata, or tathata, which is translated as “emptiness,” or
“suchness.” This wisdom is the only tool that can help us to destroy
the master of delusions—our self-grasping ignorance. Emptiness is
the ultimate nature of all that exists. As such it is the antidote with
which we can counteract all forms of delusion, including the root
delusions of ignorance, attachment and anger.

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