On Misunderstanding Emptiness
Emptiness is a subtle topic to always be refined again and again. We should be thankful when a bodhisattva, such as whoever it is you are speaking of, out of compassion and a desire that the teachings be explicated more fully manifests an erroneous view so that further teachings will be given. So, with folded hands, we give thanks. It is quite natural to misunderstand emptiness and to use intellectual conceptions of emptiness, rather than deep abiding realization of emptiness, as a buttress for the hope and fear arising from conceptual constructs. It has always been this way and there is no reason it should not be so today.
Jigme Lingpa spoke of 4 fundamental ways of misunderstanding emptiness in relation to Dzogchen. The first 3 teachings were for clarification of the differences between Madhyamika and Dzogchen.
1. taking emptiness as an object of knowledge
2. taking emptiness as a path
3. taking emptiness as an antidote
1. emptiness is NOT an object of analysis, emptiness is not to be understood by investigation, mental or otherwise, and to attempt this strays from the pure understanding
2. by not understanding that the basis of the path is Brillaint Self Awareness, all-basis wisdom versus all-basis consciousness, with its natural self-recognizing and marvelously illuminating nature, one takes emptiness as a path rather than taking rang rig as a path
3. by not understanding that thoughts, concepts, afflictions are all inseparable from the basic space of phenomena and primordially empty, then one will think emptiness is an antidote
4. As for the 4th way of taking emptiness wrongly, Jigme Lingpa says it is to take emptiness as the wrong kind of ‘seal’ – it is often said in vajrayana texts that one comes to a stage where appearance is “sealed by emptiness,” and this is a good thing.
Jigme Lingpa is referring to a seal made from the concept of emptiness rather than the realization of emptiness. This 4th perhaps applies in regards to your question.
Longchenpa once said that the sage must explain to mistaken ones that intellectual understanding of emptiness is tantamount to a fiction, a fabrication that seduces beings. From this fabrication fools acquire a taste for mere intellectual constructs of realization.
So Jigme Lingpa is saying that the first three wrong ways of taking emptiness address mistaken ways of approaching emptiness which he feels might arise from Madhyamika. Emptiness is always already present and unified with wisdom brilliance and cannot be found, or understood, by contrived intellectual methods.
The yogi, knowing this and discovering the meaning of this in practice, is also liberated from a dissociative emptiness that is incapable of allowing compassion to manifest fully within the karmic body remainder due to conceptual ideas of what should and should not be felt – and confusing heartbreak or the physical body’s feeling of compassion with suffering.
Emptiness is not held over and against the natural way compassion manifests in bodily feeling. This is the mistake your friend is making. Heartbreak, as it is being used within the snippet of talk posted, has nothing to do with ‘suffering,’ but everything to do with a deep, bodily feeling which is in fact painful. It is love manifest as compassion within the very cells and atoms of the body. To see the suffering of beings in the world is heartbreaking. To know this suffering is utterly unnecessary is doubly heartbreaking.
In many places it has been said that Bodhisattvas feel compassion toward beings the way a mother feels about seeing their only precious child harmed. Perhaps your friend has no children … if he did he would know this feeling is heartbreak which becomes action to remove the causes of harm.
In Buddha’s teaching, the 4 immeasurables are joy, love, compassion, and equanimity. Joy gives rise to love – the wish that others might feel joy as well. Compassion arises organically from love as the action that longs to remove the causes of suffering which occlude joy. In its deepest form, this compassion is a spontaneous activity arising as the energy of awareness’ luminous nature. The manifestation, appearing of awareness, is compassion that becomes the action of trinlé (spontaneously accomplish action). While all this is beyond the touch of ‘suffering,’ it is alive and real in the flesh and form. Compassion feels such a deep tender-heartedness, such a heartbreak over the suffering of beings, deep in the cells so that the very cells are alive with response, responsiveness to every situation.
Amitabha cried tears over the suffering of beings. Chenrezig cried tears over the suffering of beings. Karuna and Miatri are not at all aloof, disembodied, un-enworlded states. When trapped in the roiling churning of emotionality, imagination projects a future where the body will never again feel pain. This is because all pain is glossed with the self-identification of suffering. Within the state of immaculate freedom, within stainless awareness animating body, there is no fear of the karmic body’s pain. It is only brightness in response to being’s suffering.
I am sure your friend must have understood this as well, but seeing that the post put up might be confusing to others wished a clearer explanation to be made for the benefit of beings. Very kind!
OK, a bit more about the 1st 3 wrong views of emptiness as they also apply to Do Khyetnse’s tradition. Do Khyetnse once said Madhyamika for view, Mahamudra for path, Dzogchen for fruit. It is important for us practicing this tradition to not make mistakes related to Madhyamika view. All views carry within them possibilities for mistake and so we must be aware of the shadow side of any view. All ways of describing carry innate strengths and weaknesses.
Jigme Lingpa once said the argument between rang tong and shen tong was over “Mounting a donkey from a step.” In either one you are just mounting a donkey. He was trying to point out a very subtle transcendent view of emptiness within Dzogchen. He goes on to say that if you do not cut the root of mind and mental events, then you will go about wandering in the extreme of seeking the natural state in non-affirming negation and affirming negations.
So what should you do – look RIGHT HERE INTO THE ESSENCE AND NATURE OF THE MIND WHICH IS DOING THE SEARCHING!
In the beginning of Madhyamika, emptiness is seen as like space and then within the Prasangika tradition even this elaboration is given up and there is simply non-conceptual non-elaboration – like the emptiness of the second turning Prajnaparamita view. This is excellent for addressing the addiction to conceptions and to a gross level of practice but it does not enter the subtle doorway of non-conceptual non-elaboration inseparable from self-illuminating brilliant awareness. It is the facticity of always present self-illuminating awareness that is the secret of Dzogchen practice. Amongst other things, correctly understood, this liberates from the need to endlessly nit pick about what emptiness can and can not feel within the appearing of the body of the practitioner. Mind’s naturally empty and brilliant self-recognizing nature is the basis rather than intellectual distractions about emptiness.