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Lions Roar : May 2014
doors of liberation because if we meditate on them, they will liberate us from all kinds of discriminative thinking so we can touch our true nature. no self the Perfect Communication of emptiness The first door of liberation is emptiness. Emptiness is not a philosophy; it is a description of reality. Suppose you have two glasses, one full of tea and one without any tea. you would describe the glass without tea as empty, but empty of what? The glass is empty of tea, but it’s full of air. And the glass itself still exists, whether or not it contains any tea. Emptiness does not mean nonbeing. There is a big difference between emptiness and nonexistence. In order to be empty, you have to be there. Emptiness is always emptiness of something, just as con- sciousness is always consciousness of something. When we look into a beautiful chrysanthemum, we see that everything in the cosmos is present in that flower—clouds, sunshine, soil, minerals, space, and time. The flower can’t exist by itself alone. The glass, the flower, everything inside us and around us, and we ourselves are only empty of one thing: a separate indepen- dent existence. The simplest description of emptiness in the Buddhist teachings is this sentence: This is because that is. A flower can- not exist by itself alone. To be can only mean to inter-be. To be by oneself alone is impossible. Everything else is present in the flower; the only thing the flower is empty of is itself. Looking in this way, we begin to see that everything has the nature of emptiness. Sometimes that nature of emptiness is called nonself. But don’t worry, nonself doesn’t mean that you aren’t there. Just as the glass that’s empty of tea still exists, you still exist too, even without a separate self. When we look at an action, we believe there needs to be a separate actor existing behind it. The wind blows, yet really there is no blower. There is only the wind, and if it doesn’t blow, it’s not the wind at all. When we have a thought, we may believe there’s a thinker existing separately from the thought. As we cannot find a blower outside of the wind, nor a rainer outside of the rain, in the same way there is no thinker existing outside of a thought. When we think something, we are those thoughts. We and our thoughts are not separate. When we say something, those words are us; there’s no speaker outside of the words. When we do something, our action is us. There’s no actor outside of the action. There is a verse that’s sometimes recited before bowing to a statue of the Buddha that goes: The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are both by nature empty. Therefore the communication between us is inexpressibly perfect. A buddha is made only of non-buddha elements, just as I am made only of non-me elements. If you remove the non-me elements from me—the sun, the dirt, the garbage, the min- erals, the water, my parents, and my society—there’s no me left. If you remove the non-buddha elements from a buddha, there’s no buddha left. Communication is perfect when we can understand that the one who bows and the one who is bowed to are both empty. This is meditation. If we look at a child, we can see that we are fully present in every cell of that child. If we can’t understand how that child could possibly act a certain way, it’s helpful to remember that the child doesn’t have a separate self. A child’s parents and ancestors are inside of him. When he walks and talks, they walk and talk as well. When we can see those around us with this understanding, instead of with anger and attachment, we enjoy the fruit of the contemplation on emptiness. no form the Wonderful Journey of signlessness The second door of liberation is signlessness. A sign marks the appearance of something, its form. We recognize things based on their sign, but we are often fooled by the outer form of things. The Buddha said, “Where there is a sign, there is deception.” For example, when we look up at the sky, we see a particu- lar cloud. But if we look long enough, it seems the cloud we are looking at disappears. The cloud has become rain, mist, or snow, and we don’t recognize it anymore. If you’ve grown attached to that cloud, you may think, “Oh, my beloved cloud, where are you now? I miss you. you’ve passed from being into nonbeing. I can’t see you anymore.” Maybe you don’t feel this way about a cloud, but this is cer- tainly how you feel when you lose someone who is close to you. Just yesterday your friend was still alive. Now it seems that she has passed from being into nonbeing. But in fact our cloud is still there, because it’s impossible for a cloud to die. It may become snow, hail, or rain, but it won’t become nothing. It’s impossible to pass from being into nonbeing. your beloved one is still somewhere there. If you have the wisdom of signlessness, you can still recognize your beloved one in her new forms. SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2014 58