Comments on “Beyond emptiness: Zen, Tantra, and Dzogchen”

Add new comment

Shane H 2013-12-12

That was excellent. Enjoyed reading it.

Dharmadhatu Daka 2013-12-12

I read this article from start to finish while sipping on a cup of coffee with some freshly ground cinnamon. At the end, I found myself wanting more of both!

I love that you used the sports car analogy. I’ve been using it to describe Tantra for quite some time now, and I have to wonder if it came from you. I’ve used the analogy to describe some of the more unpleasant things I’ve seen developing in some of Bikram Choudhury’s students (I studied with him several years ago). I always said it was like he put his students into a fast car with virtually no training, tied a weight to the gas pedal, and then jumped out just before the car crashed. I’m of the opinion (some people disagree) that the teacher has to be in the passenger seat whether the ride is nice, rough, or at worst, when there’s a 12-car pileup.

Speaking of collisions, is there any use for them? The fellow in the story seems to have not only recovered, but discovered something incredibly useful. I understand that this was your way of describing Tantra going wrong, but what about other types of collisions? I might be mistaken, but I thought that collisions were inevitable (maybe even engineered) in Tantra and Dzogchen. Maybe I’ve misunderstood your analogy. If the collision was in some part a reference to vow breakage, maybe that’s not so useful.

Thanks for another thought-provoking piece!

David Chapman 2013-12-12

Shane — Thank you! It was a lot of fun to write.

Dharmadhatu — Glad you liked it! I think I heard the sports car analogy as “folk wisdom” twenty years ago. It’s not mine originally.

Yes, some teachers do engineer collisions. Maybe that’s related to “taking it way too far, until it breaks” (as I wrote here). And life provides collisions regardless! They do provide “learning opportunities” even if we wish they didn’t.

But, yeah, the analogy of the crash in this fable was to a conclusive failure on the tantric path. It’s probably not frequently feasible then to switch to Dzogchen, so the story shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Hey the Vitali made a guest appearance. Maybe someday you’ll go back to doing something truly useful, like writing trashy vampire fiction! :P

You also, in alluding to alchemy in Skyrim, alluded to actually alchemy, at least in the sense of the teaching of non-dual reality. I also found it personally relevant in your comparison of Theme-park games and sand-box games. Having played video games since the Atari 2600, I’ve often found them to provide unique insights into questions like, “so what do I do now?”, that those who engage themselves in ostensibly more “worthwhile” pursuits seem to have trouble with. On the other hand those people never had to deal with an LJN game, so there are benefits in everything I guess.

David Chapman 2013-12-13

Thanks! I have no idea how she escaped the novel, travelled across cyberspace, and wound up here. Fictional characters can have surprising powers.

Sheena Brown 2013-12-22

I like your way of writing. And the story is very interesting . Excellent job, David!

David Chapman 2014-01-02

Hokai Sobol and Chagmé have both pointed out that Mahamudra also goes beyond emptiness, so the original version of the second paragraph of this post was inaccurate. I have revised it accordingly. Thanks to both of them for catching the mistake!

I don’t know much about Mahamudra, so I can’t compare it with the others. Generally it is said to be quite similar to Dzogchen, but there are also differences, and I don’t know the details.

Big 2014-03-08

Write about it once you have achieved something, then the situation will be clearer. The true time to write May never come.

Alina 2014-04-13

There ist nothing beyond emptiness -

David Chapman 2014-04-13

How do you know?

Alina 2014-04-13

You should have looked through :-) and obviously there is no “beyond emptiness”. Those ten oxherding pictures are wonderful, but they hide also what is obvious and what could be seen, if your eye is open. So - as Dôgen said, when he returned - all I brought are empty hands. And that is the message of the tenth picture - the basket is empty.

David Chapman 2014-10-01

I found this great quote in Regginald Ray’s excellent Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet, and thought it would be nice to add here. [I’m not posting this as a reply to Alina specifically; I didn’t think her last comment needed one.]

The Vajrayana continues the Hinayana interest in laying bare the actual, tangible reality of our experience as human beings. But it has passed through the Mahayana fire and assumes a present reality that is empty—that is, beyond objectifiability and in essence ineffable. The Vajrayana now goes a step further. It declares that once emptiness is recognized, we are by no means done with the world. Having seen that what we think about it is inapplicable, having given up on our version of how things are, we are still left with the question of what the world beyond emptiness may be like and how we are to be in it. For although the world may be empty, it continues to appear and to operate. The Vajrayana examines the nature of this reality "beyond emptiness." Moreover, this examination is done in fulfillment of the bodhisattva vow. In spite of emptiness, one is still–perhaps even more—obliged to engage the world, for the welfare of all beings. Again, this leads to the tantric question: what is the world, beyond emptiness, like? The tantric vehicle is a way of finding out more about this ordinary world that we live in, in all of its profundity and sacredness, and how it can be used to help others on their spiritual paths.

Alexander 2015-03-12

“Undoubtedly some Zen masters have gone far beyond emptiness, and returned to teach; but they seem to have written no systematic guides to what they found. Perhaps that’s restricted to oral transmission in koan study; I don’t know.”
Hello, Im Alexander, I have been Zen stdent for 17 years and then practicing Dzogchen teachngs for 20 years. From my modest experience I can say you are right - Zne goes far ebyond emptines and this is final goal of all Zen lineages, not “some Zen masters” - through oral transmission and koan study. It is very clear, remaining in emptiness is mistake in Zen! ;-)
One can see it clearly in famous koan of Zen Master Seung Sahn:
“Somebody comes into the Zen center with a lighted cigarette, walks up to the Buddha statue, blows smoke in its face, and drops ashes on its lap. You are standing there. What can you do?”
So, this is person attached to emptiness, very strongly manifesting their understanding and we have to teach them correct way!
Thank you for your insightfull article and best wishes! :-)

Alexander 2015-03-12

I would like to add, what the real difference betwen Zen and Tantra and Dzogchen is - it is that Zen does not teach how to work the energy level. This three are different method based on principle of renounciation, transformation asn sel-liberation.

Paul 2015-06-09

Hi David and all, I am spiritually awake having meandered through no “standard” route, I trusted myself, took an autonomous approach, mixed things, took what I needed and worked and to my surprise (because everyone tells us we need a guru, teacher, guide, empowerments, retreats) it just worked. I read various similar discussions to yours with interest. They also come up at Buddha at The Gas Pump.

The question that came to me her is Why bother? It seems as good a question as any.

Starting at the beginning in an idealized way....we have a problem we just don’t see, it’s hidden in plain sight (ignorance based suffering) , we eventually get more suffering than our denial can cover over, we seek and come across meditation (via friends, books, initial awakening etc)

We do the exercises, we make progress, we hear of emptiness (or we don’t) ,

We keep going, it seems to work, we do more, we get a glimpse of emptiness (we then see ignorance based suffering for the first time, it disappeared and came back) , we then know the process works,

We put more effort in, look for more practices, get involved in deeper and deeper.

If we don’t reject our practice after finding out that our teacher is (in one way or another) is a sick and twisted individual, and we get past the fact that Buddhism is full of people arguing and telling each other their way is the way (just like every other religion) then we carry on and make progress with the Hollywood view of Buddhism left behind.

Eventually we develop the strength to have all of our trauma, terror, fear, loathing etc appear (dark nights of the soul, after the ecstasy the laundry etc) Nobody told us about that stage did they! Except, if you were fortunate enough to come across them, Paul Ingram and Jack Kornfield.

At that point we may run away (again in plain sight) and hide in spiritual practice, academic musings, forum debates etc,

Also at that point we might try to “tough it out” believing that Buddhism and meditation are a panacea for all ills (good luck with that one!!)

If we look beyond meditation and don’t get stuck in trying to avoid every day life with the mantra (well it’s all empty so it doesn’t matter) then we can move to the next stage…

We face the suffering mindfully through whatever method we choose.

Then through facing it maybe at some point the ignorance based suffering ceases (it’s a falsity and thus needs energy to be “propped up”, don’t prop it up and it has to run out eventually)

Then when the (suffering of ignorance) pot runs dry the initial problem is solved....the suffering ceases, more importantly because ignorance is exhausted the cause of future suffering ceases.

The initial problem of suffering is solved.

End of problem. No really end of problem because then there is contentment.

There might be dregs or shadows of suffering still lingering in the pot (residue, fumes etc) but these evaporate over time with no striving, craving or forcing.

We need nothing more than contentment. We don’t need bliss, happiness, joy, miracle powers etc etc etc,

Once our mind isn’t trying to perpetually solve the problem of suffering there is space for listening, caring, compassion, acceptance, honesty, being wrong, being human, forgetting things, making mistakes, being insensitive etc You don’t stop having a personality, being charming or blunt or even critical. Mountain, no mountain, mountain again (with the cold, dirt, litter and sunshine)

So, is there anything the other side of emptiness....contentment and whatever you want to place within it. Nothing more is needed as the problem that caused the search in the first place is solved. Suffering has ceased and the potential to cause suffering has ceased.

Of course anything can be added to space that is free from suffering, anything and everything on and on and on and on and on............

But for what reason? Does this action help others to find their inner guidance and thereby remove their suffering through autonomous practice? Imho at that point this is the only question worth asking?

Giuseppe 2015-07-24

Undoubtedly some Zen masters have gone far beyond emptiness, and returned to teach; but they seem to have written no systematic guides to what they found. Perhaps that’s restricted to oral transmission in koan study; I don’t know. (Maybe you do? Please leave a comment below!)

There can be no “systematic guides” to emptiness. Emptiness cannot be explained, it can only be experienced. That’s why Zen avoids intellectual speculation or “chit-chat” around the subject....in trying to explain there is a risk of producing an idea about what emptiness is, but that idea can never correspond to the REAL emptiness (which is also fullness) experienced.
Rational explanation also limits individual process of comprehension. And there is no rational explanation for what goes beyond words and intellectual understanding…
As the Daodejing states: “The Tao which is known as Tao is not the real Tao”.
If you want to know what “emptiness” is (I dislike this word, since the attempt to definition itself makes one “think” - haha! - that whatever it is it refers to something boring and pointless!) search for it. It is pointless to talk about it, to ask or to give answers about the true nature of this phenomenon…the result in doing this will always provide a “caricature” of the real thing.
That’s why most westeners, so accustomed to logical reasoning and intellectual speculation, have this idea of Zen practitioners as strange beings who indulge in nothingness or behave like quasi-robots…
Certain things cannot be explained, or understood. And that’s that! Difficult to accept for the average western mind, who arrogantly expects to grasp everything in its way....
Humility is the key. Accepting one’s ignorance in front of the un-graspable mysteries of the Universe, of life itself…
Most sages, from Buddha to the Sufi masters, kept silence in front of certain questions, or answered completely different things, non-pertinent to the original question. Just as the koans, their intention is not to provide answers, but to break the boundaries of logical thinking so that one can ultimately EXPERIENCE gnosis (or Silence, vulgarly said). And at the same time, that, ironically enough, was their answer! :-)
That being said, my comments are completely futile with regards to the question.
We should simply all stop discussing so much, and getting work done, sat silently on a chair or washing the dishes…

Thanks for your post though. It was very entertaining.
Peace

Paul 2015-07-25

Hi Giuseppe, in response to your offer of a reply........
I’ll waffle less this time and get to the point…with a direct realization of emptiness I see the absurdity of the concept.....”going beyond emptiness.”
Maybe it’s difference for “your” emptiness.....chuckle :-)

Johnny Foreigner 2015-09-16

What is it that is empty?

Kris 2016-01-11

“Ways of being are non-conceptual know-how that can only be transmitted by apprenticeship. “

Most expediently transmitted with the least chance of crashing and burning, sure. How did the first Dzogchenpa arise their non-conceptual know-how, if the only(!) method is through a Master-Student relationship?

David Chapman 2016-01-11
How did the first Dzogchenpa arise their non-conceptual know-how, if the only(!) method is through a Master-Student relationship?

Interesting question.. the traditional answer would be that the knowledge originates with Kuntuzangpo, who is both the knowledge itself and a personification of it. This solves the logical puzzle at the cost of a highly dubious metaphysics!

A Western-historical answer is that Dzogchen grew gradually out of experience with the practice of tantra; and it was a gradual collaborative improvisational accomplishment of many people over many years. Like most or all other knowledge!

Mandy 2016-04-29

What an ecstatic website! (Finally)…I know this Man Great Man…He is my Teacher. He had an Indian Guru and when He passed - He had a 2 Buddhists Teachers. Later He became a Teacher. We live in ecstasy because of Him. Thank you for this Wonderful website! Mandy

Mandy 2016-04-29

website for Mark Griffin

Mandy 2016-04-29

Google “Hard Light live Stream’ so you can watch Him would be better.

John 2016-05-03

So enlightenment is marked to be in Cyrodiil? Is it in the Imperial City?

David Chapman 2016-05-03

That’s funny—I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, the obvious deduction is that Enlightenment is to be found in the White-Gold Tower!

Does this mean that all those hour of time spent while playing the Elder Scroll games over the year have not been in vain? I feel more enlightened already.

tom garnett 2016-05-20

Imagine you are on a road, not quite sure how you got there. Way off on the horizon you can see mountains but they are hundreds of miles away. In fact, unless that other person on the road had pointed them out, you might now even have noticed them. But he did and you are so thankful to him. So you go on, on the road. Spending the night out under the stars or in some guest hut. Sometimes the road dips and you loose sight of the mountains but you find you have an old map and it shows you that you are roughly heading in the right direction to hit the mountains even though you cannot see them from this dip. And sometimes the road rises and you can more clearly see those far, distant mountains because you aren’t so distracted by the trees and animals and rushing streams. Each day you need to hunt for food and sometimes this is easy and sometimes it is very difficult. But you keep going on and on. And the mountains are distant and far away. From time to time you meet people on the road, or shall we say path. Some of these people walk along side you for days and then peel off to other directions. Others you just bump into. And you converse with these people. And as you go on this path some of these people attack you or scare you or help you. And you help them. It takes a lot of work and gets quite complicated. You break your ankle and it really hurts and someone stops and straps it up and gives you crutches until you can walk better. Someone with whom you are walking gets a bad fever and you have to drop everything to nurse him back to health. The path itself goes through very dry country and through very tropical country where there are so many trees, bushes, shrubs and undergrowth that you can barely see where your feet need to go next. But still you get up the next morning and get moving. People die on the path and you bury and honor them. Children are born and you help them grow. And sometimes it feels like looking at the mountain is just a big distraction because there is so much going on but every now and then when you pass through a clear area, there it is and you notice it.

And you wake up the next day and get moving. You can’t remember when you started walking it’s been so long. You forgot why you started but it doesn’t really matter to you because you have to get up each morning and move. You vaguely remember those days in the past when you thought you had found a nice spot with plenty of game to hunt and warm air and you thought you could stay there, there where there was an especially good view of those distant mountains.. But you realized that was silly. You couldn’t stay. And so step by step you move and it’s doesn’t get any easier but you expect the difficulty so it’s not so disappointing. And you notice more game and more people and more vegetation and more streams and rocks. And then slowly, slowly you begin to notice something else. At first, you can’t put you finger on it. The way your feet strike the ground feels different. This is not the difference between grass and bare soil and rock and mud and leaves and pebbles. You’ve walked over those surfaces and more thousands of time. It puzzles you a bit but still you put one step after another. And then after several more days you realize you haven’t seen the mountains for a very long time. And the new feeling in your feet and legs is rising ground. Not a little rise in road, not a big boulder to climb on but rising ground every where. The ground is steeper. And you try to see the mountains and no matter how hard you try, you cannot see them You are in the foothills and the mountains have disappeared. That map you used to use to guide you has gotten wet and dried and has been folded and unfolded so many times that when you pull it out of your backpack it crumbles into dust. Occasional thoughts flicker of back tracking to the last place on the path where you consulted the map when it was still readable so you might verify or check your direction. But you realize that is not possible.

A. Duffer 2016-05-21

QL;RMOI Naive question: if I close my eyes and it’s all black and empty - is that “emptiness” - and the thing I was born with and is with me all the time etc ?

Biology point: testosterone runs down gradually over a man’s life - along with this also runs down sex drive, desires, aggression and emotional intensity.
I’ve seen nobody connect the simple and automatic process of getting old to their conquering of their selves/delusions/passions etc.
How to separate the two ?
Experiment: give the Dalai Lama massive testosterone shots and tell him he can’t have sex with some juicy young honeys - see if he can remain free of craving then ?

David Chapman 2016-05-21
if I close my eyes and it’s all black and empty – is that “emptiness”

Probably not. Discussions of emptiness are both vague and diverse, though, so maybe someone taught that as emptiness at some point!

I’ve seen nobody connect the simple and automatic process of getting old to their conquering of their selves/delusions/passions etc.

I haven’t either, but I’ve privately made the same connection you did! I think this may explain quite a lot.

A. Duffer 2016-05-21

A. Duffer 2016-05-21

Thanks Dave for the reply. Re: blackness - indeed someone pointed out to me that blackness is a thing, a quality - and (maybe) so are the directions that we can perceive within it if we aren’t completely still of mind. True enough, so we must be looking for something even less substantial, fundamental or abstract. Myself I get the intuition that that even more abstract thing is there too, all the time, just like empty space - born with it, live in it, die in it - not something that can be given to us, but maybe need help to realise it.

A. Duffer 2016-05-21

…and so it might be interesting to compare the hormonal profiles of men and women, and at what age they have spiritual realizations. Last time I heard about it, women get randier as they get older and peak at around 35, whereas men are most charged at 18 or thereabouts. Could be wrong, and studies of female sexuality have an appalling history, so I expect I’m out of range there.
(Sorry about the triplet posting, it’s a habit I find hard to shake)

David Chapman 2016-05-21
is this anything to do with Dzogchen ?

Probably only inasmuch as both involve “formless” meditation practices. But so does Zen, among several other systems.

A. Duffer 2016-05-21

…maybe a bit of a language problem in as much as people (inc me) refer to black space as void colloquially, and generally don’t talk of blackness as an existent quality (I hesitate to use the word “thing” although the Oxford dictionary has blackness down as a noun). I wonder how much this creates a blind spot in understanding a true void - or just reflects the general difficulty in getting beyond the experience of black empty space ?

“Origin of void

Middle English voyde, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *vocitus, alteration of Latin vocivus, vacivus empty, from vacare to be empty”

I’m guessing that this word comes from the every day use “my field is void of sheep” etc, rather than any deeper philosophical root - so there may not even be a good English equivalent to the Tibetan or Indian meanings - unless there are shared Indo-European roots way back when.

And if there are shared Indo_European roots, linguistically and culturally, way back past classical antiquity, then maybe there are better words that survive in English or at least Greek ?

A. Duffer 2016-05-26

I was hoping someone would love me enough to explain the above… no bodhisatvas round here then ?

David Chapman 2016-05-26

I’m not sure I understand the question(s).

The Sanskrit word is “shunya,” which is the everyday word for “empty,” like a pot that is empty because it has no water in it. “Void” is not a very good translation.

Shunya is not usually associated with blackness. It’s associated with blueness, because the sky is blue if it’s empty of clouds, birds, stars, rainbows, and other non-blue things.

Paul 2016-05-27

Dear Mrs Duffer. Before searching for the void/emptiness search for the self that appears to exist seperate from the mind. Also witness the anxiety that exists in the torso due to this. Both hide in plain sight…like the fish not knowing the water.
When you experience emptiness of the object, the object ceases to appear. Equally the associated feeling ceases.

We “grasp” at our “self” This “self” is the one that appears to us but never existed.

When wisdom arises in the mind, the non existent self ceases so the feeling of grasping at it ceases as well.

In other words you’ll know emptiness when it arises in two ways…the object will cease to appear and the unpleasant feeling associated with the object will cease too (as it will have no basis.)

It might sound technical but it’s very experiential.

We know what something is by ruling out everything it is not. If we don’t rule out everything that is not the object we are left with some doubt.

Is it a snake, or a rope. When we are certain it’s a rope the fear ceases. This requires the removal of doubt by careful examination.

Mystical hinduism has some much simpler methods if you’re really interested.

Ask yourself who is trying to figure out if blackness is emptiness? Who feels the doubt? Can I find this person or only atoms and transient thoughts?

Emptiness removes suffering. When the black is perceived is there also a perception of some suffering ceasing too?

Hope this helps…who knows.

A. Duffer 2016-05-28

“Dear Mrs Duffer. Before searching for the void/emptiness search for the self that appears to exist seperate from the mind. Also witness the anxiety that exists in the torso due to this. Both hide in plain sight…like the fish not knowing the water.
When you experience emptiness of the object, the object ceases to appear. Equally the associated feeling ceases.”

Been doing that for decades.

A. Duffer 2016-05-28

“Ask yourself who is trying to figure out if blackness is emptiness? Who feels the doubt? Can I find this person or only atoms and transient thoughts?”

Good question that, because once you have the problem down to something as super simple as observation of the blackness of empty space, rather than something complicated like your stream of consciousness, any movement of a self stands out, and you’re right on the edge of selflessness - like you just have to prise some fingers from the ledge and you will fall all the way. I don’t suppose you even need to be in any absorption state, or need a calm mind, the emptiness should be right there anyway - because any monkey is aware that his life is lived within a space, and that that space is a quality itself perceived in the mind, and therefore a kind of object. So what’s beyond black inner/outer space should be readily knowable - which sounds like what I just read about Dzogchen. But I read that a lineage or transmission is important. So I should have one of those. On the other hand, if we are all One, then I’ll only be transmitting to myself anyway. So why bother with the guy in the orange robes ?

A. Duffer 2016-05-28

…like when physicists say that empty space is full of energy, vacuum energy - though I don’t want to start using physics terms inappropriately, that something is literally the same rather than a handy analogy.
But what happens when we do try and map buddhism on to physics ? Apart from a lot of haughty arguments :-)

Paul 2016-05-28

Sorry I don’t understand your “been doing that for decades post” it might be helpful to frame it in terms of your main point/question. That might help others come along this thread in the future. Are you saying you’ve had success. Or are you saying the practice hasn’t lead to results of direct experience (text is a bit rubbish in these kinds of dialogue…apologies.)

Emptiness is a non affirming negative phenomena.
Negative phenomena - it is a lack of the object that exists separate from the mind
Non affirming - emptiness affirms nothing.
It simply is the direct experience of the lack of an independent self (or any other object, mind, feeling etc.)

Therefore neither “black inner space” or “black outer space” represent emptiness.

Black is an object, inner is an object, outer is an object, and space is an object. The true nature (or mode of existence) of each is their emptiness.

Another way to investigate this is to ask which came first black or the word “black.”
Before the word black came into existence there was no black. Before the word “inner” came into existence there was no inner.
This is the most subtle way of understanding creation. Oak tree is created when the phrase “Oak tree” is first used. Dependence on name.
Less subtle is the understanding of creation based on cause and effect....oak tree is created from acorn. Dependence on cause.

Physics (and other sciences) corroborate the meditators experience of wisdom/emptiness.
Science only ever proves the last theory untrue. It then posits a new theory that in time will be proved untrue. Anything true will by definition always be found to be the same. Science finds impermanence. It finds the unfindability of the object. The atom because sub atomic particles, becomes energy. Space and time become “space time”. Seek and ye shall find describes the play of conventional appearance. It’s endless. Appearance just plays more stuff out forever. Whatever is observed is found to only have smaller parts that are not the object we intended to observe. Therefore appearance occurs (we witness it) but it can’t be said to be true. Emptiness is always the same and so is true. It’s mode of existence is as it appears. There is nothing deceptive about emptiness.

That’s not entirely true because emptiness appears and yet it is also empty of inherent existence…it’s just mere appearance to.

We suffer because we perceive objects as existing independent of mind. That’s just not true. When ignorance subsides that erroneous perception ceases.

The emptiness of the “black inner space” is something worth exploring.

If this is of no help please let me know. I’m not trying to teach my granny how to suck eggs here. it is fun discussing it though.

As I mentioned before..Vedanta self inquiry and pointing methods are worth investigating, they are another way to recognise that which is always part of the appearance of now.

Yes transmission is appearance appearing to itself, so is everything else too. It’s just that for some people transmission changes the appearance from discontentment to contentment. Both are just appearances happening to nobody…words are clumsy aren’t they.

Within truth there are no words, they spring from delusion, from conceptual thought. That’s why they are not so useful. Hence sometimes the best teaching is the silence of the wakened teacher, it’s the purest communication.

Paul 2016-05-28

Coming back to the main heading of the blog post. Beyond emptiness.....emptiness describes the true mode of existence of objects. Therefore there is no “beyond emptiness” That statement is in itself meaningless. David are you posting in relation to the awakened practitioner and what there is to be had from life post awakening? If you are then that’s a very interesting topic to me as I’m making my way through that now. I think some people call it “integration.” Once we realize emptiness then whatever appearance arises simply arises whether it be tantric stuff, bars of soap or two flies crawling up a wall. The question I like to chew on with these things is “Why bother?” Gaining clairvoyance, or enhancing it can clearly bring benefit.
Eg increased clairscentience can help with empathy, consideration, sensitivity to others etc no bad thing.
Post awakening tendencies, habits, personal traits etc still play out. Some dregs of patterns can play out and deeply ingrained tendencies may persist. All within emptiness and deep contentment.
That’s what I experience anyway. It’s very weird and after about 18 months I still find there is existence on two different levels at the same time. The ultimate and the conventional and the latter doesn’t always look pretty or nice but it still plays out as an aspect of emptiness.....emptiness is form, form is emptiness etc etc.

I’m sure others have other experiences. So when you refer to the “territory beyond emptiness” I hope you are referring to life after awakening because there is no territory beyond emptiness....it’s a non affirming negative phenomena.

Hopefully you’ll have the time to reply at some point, it’s an interesting post.

A. Duffer 2016-05-28

I mean I’ve been meditating for yonks - observing, looking for self, cultivating energy etc. I agree with most of that, lots of good points, but I’m pretty sure there was black before there was the word for black. I don’t buy this “language creates reality stuff” at all. Tickle a baby and it will laugh without needing to know the word for tickle - it knows the difference between tickle and not-tickle pretty well. Nah, I don’t go for that one.

A. Duffer 2016-05-28

If space can be warped a la relativity, then there is another sense in which it is a thing - you can’t bend an absolute nothing. Folk like to explain the modern world in terms of ancient scripture - but did buddha ever say anything about gravitational lensing ?

Paul 2016-05-29

I found a combined effort of reading books on emptiness, meditating, and discussing with others with a more refined advanced view was very useful. It moved me along the various stages of understanding and experiencing. Each step was a subtler understanding. The block is pride and closed mindedness. It seems you’ve come here to discuss but express quite a closed stance. On the other hand you’ve been friendly and thoughtful.
It’s quite an unusual combination. Maybe you’re close to a breakthrough.
Btw name does definitely create object. It’s blindingly obvious when the penny drops. It just takes clear explanation and contemplation.

You can’t bend a nothing but emptiness isn’t nothing.

It’s precisely because things are mere appearance that they function.

The planet Saturn didn’t exist until it was named. Only ignorance struggles with this. Like only jealousy struggles with others qualities and posessions. Anger can’t percieve nice things. Wisdom can’t perceive non existant objects. Ignorance can only perceive non existent objects.

What time is it on the dark side of rhe moon?

What time is it at the middle of the earth?

What is the universe expanding into if the universe is defined as everything?

If there is only ever now what is time?

Why is a butchers diagram of cuts made up of straight lines? Where does the leg finish and the torso start?

It’s great that you’ve been meditating on emptiness for ages. Whilst we know the strength of our anger quite easily, the strength of ignorance is very hard to see and gauge. Therefore the changes in ignorance are very hard to see and gauge. In other words you might be doing really well. We only spot it when we get a breakthrough or perhaps if we leave the safe sures of our own certainty and set sail on the uncomfortable ocean of doubt. Letting go of certainty is crucial. Doubt shatters pride which in turn shatters ignorance.

Maybe emptiness isn’t the place to start…maybe mindfulness of feelings is a good place, or before that therapy. Sometimes we can avoid feelings by being spiritual about other things. The best hiding place in the world.

Obviously I don’t know you from Adam but it’s an interesting chat we’re having and I’m just throwing stuff out, if any resonates that’s handy, if not maybe this will be of use to a passer by sometime.

A. Duffer 2016-05-30

Sure Saturn existed before it was named. I have memories from before I learned language - and I remember things definitely existed for me.

A. Duffer 2016-05-30

OK thought experiment. You’re a one year old infant. You’re given a ball, which you fondle all the way around it’s perimeter. Does that seem like a separate object to you ? Or does the whole realm of your experience seem like one object - part of which seems like what you later learn is a ball, and part of which is kind of empty and wafty - which you later learn is and object called the atmosphere ?

If you are claiming that the sense of separation and multiple objects is a product of language - how come enlightened people can name things, but stay enlightened ? How come buddha could even talk without losing all his authority ?

A. Duffer 2016-05-30

…but I do get that shifts in self-perspective happen in mental silence when the mind and it’s habit of naming stops.

A. Duffer 2016-06-05

…language creates reality....talking buddha…anyone ?

Paul 2016-06-06

Hi there,

Harder to understand than emptiness of an object is the objects conventional nature. This deepening of experience is expressed in the zen saying “first there is mountain (ignorance), then no mountain (emptiness), then mountain again (mere appearance/conventional).”

When all three are understood and realised appearance still plays out but it’s true mode of existence is known. Until that happens the mind is disturbed by the appearance of non existence objects (objects that appear to exist without the mind having any input in their existence.) The mind perceives objects that just aren’t there, it then wishes to possess them or be eternally separate from them, or be totally indifferent to them. This is the basis of even the smallest discontent/dissatisfaction.

When the mind stills these mis-perceptions diminish in intensity. A bit like a good sleep diminishes the anger from the night before.

Another sticking point that the mind of ignorance struggles with is that objects are only ever a collection of other objects. Eg Object A (Forest) is only a collection of Objects B (Trees.) None of the trees are in themselves the Forest. The Forest cannot be found, only the trees and each tree is not a Forest. The collection of “not forest” are given a name Forest but that is all…merely a name. When the concept Forest is created by humans there isn’t an extra object “Forest” added to the collection of trees. There is still only each tree.

The same can be applied to Saturn and it’s atoms. None of the atoms are the object Saturn. Together they are merely a collection of “non Saturns”

The emptiness of the object is it’s unfindability.

If objects exist independent of mind then they can be found. We only find bits/parts that are not the object.

Thus we can discern that objects do not come into existence independent of mind.

This stuff becomes evident when the mind reading it has a reduction/absence of ignorance, it then becomes very obvious, simply true.

This stuff can be very frustrating…been there..done that…it’s worth sticking with though....who wants inner turmoil when inner calm is an alternative.

A. Duffer 2016-06-06

Some good points.

A. Duffer 2016-06-06

“If objects exist independent of mind then they can be found. We only find bits/parts that are not the object.”

Don’t tell a scientist this, they get really snappy about it.

Paul 2016-06-07

This scientist doesn’t :-)

A. Duffer 2016-06-08

:-)

Philip 2016-10-09

David, do you have any experience with Kundalini yoga/meditation?
Surprisingly it is the only resource I can find locally and while I read up a bit on its meshwork of Hinduist and Shakta tantra and will give it a try, I’d be curious to hear from the more experienced.
Thank you,

David Chapman 2016-10-09

I’m afraid no, I don’t have any experience with that. I have only casual knowledge of Hinduism, and kundalini is not part of any Buddhist system, as far as I know.

Chris 2017-07-30

I am probably wrong but it seems to me that emptiness contains within it both that this is real and at the ame time unreal(for lack of better words) and that a true realization would merge wisdom and compassion as the same thing emptiness being the fact that this is illusion and compassion being the action which sprouts from that seeing that it does matter.delusion and enlightenment the same the freedom to act within both.and that all argument ceases and their really is not much to think about. Please correct me on my misunderstandings as I am sure I have many.

Thomas Garnett 2018-01-21

David, excellent.
Related:
you are on a road, not quite sure how you got there. Way off on the horizon you can see mountains but they are hundreds of miles away. In fact, unless that other person on the road had pointed them out, you might not even have noticed them. But he did and you are so thankful to him. So you go on, on the road. Spending the night out under the stars or in some guest hut. Sometimes the road dips and you loose sight of the mountains but you find you have an old map and it shows you that you are roughly heading the right direction to hit the mountains even though you cannot see them from this dip. And sometimes the road rises and you can more clearly see those far, distant mountains because you aren’t so distracted by the trees and animals and rushing streams. Each day you need to hunt for food and sometimes this is easy and sometimes it is very difficult. But you keep going on and on. And the mountains are distant and far away. From time to time you meet people on the road, or shall we say path. Some of these people walk along side you for days and then peel off to other directions. Others you just bump into. And you converse with these people. And as you go on this path some of these people attack you or scare you or help you. And you help them. It takes a lot of work and gets quite complicated. You break your ankle and it really hurts and someone stops and straps it up and gives you crutches until you can walk better. Someone with whom you are walking gets a bad fever and you have to drop everything to nurse him back to health. The path itself goes through very dry country and through very tropical country where there are so many trees, bushes, shrubs and undergrowth that you can barely see where your feet need to go next. But still you get up the next morning and get moving. People die on the path and you bury and honor them. Children are born and you help them grow. And sometimes it feels like looking at the mountain is just a big distraction because there is so much going on but every now and then when you pass through a clear area, there it is and you notice it.

And you wake up the next day and get moving. You can’t remember when you started walking it’s been so long. You forgot why you started but it doesn’t really matter to you because you have to get up each morning and move. You vaguely remember those days in the past when you thought you had found a nice spot with plenty of game to hunt and warm air and you thought you could stay there, there where there was an especially good view of those distant mountains.. But you realized that was silly. You couldn’t stay. And so step by step you move and it’s doesn’t get any easier but you expect the difficulty so it’s not so disappointing. And you notice more game and more people and more vegetation and more streams and rocks. And then slowly, slowly you begin to notice something else. At first, you can’t put you finger on it. The way your feet strike the ground feels different. This is not the difference between grass and bare soil and rock and mud and leaves and pebbles. You’ve walked over those surfaces and more thousands of time. It puzzles you a bit but still you put one step after another. And then after several more days you realize you haven’t seen the mountains for a very long time. And the new feeling in your feet and legs is rising ground. No a little rise in road, not a big boulder to climb on but rising ground every where. The ground is steeper. And you try to see the mountains and no matter how hard you try, you cannot see them You are in the foothills and the mountains have disappeared. That map you used to use to guide you has gotten wet and has been folded and unfolded so many times that when you pull it out of your backpack it crumbles into dust. Occasional thoughts flicker of back tracking to the last place on the path where you consulted the map when it was still readable so you might verify or check your direction. But you realize that is not possible.

David Chapman 2018-01-29

Thanks Thomas! That’s a nice version of the same general metaphor, pointing perhaps in a slightly different direction…

whateverthisistupd 2018-04-15

Not sure if you get notified of comments on old posts. The talk about the ideas that enlightenment is something someone “has always had” reminds me of my intuitive problems and “emperor’s new cloak” issues with Buddhism as it’s been sold to me as a westerner. I’ve often had a lot of difficulty getting a straight answer on what should be a straightforward question from advocates of Buddhism. Basically, I ask, “Is enlightenment a subjectively “better” state then non-enlightenment?” I get answers like “when one is enlightened, the distinctions between “better” and worse” become illusions. So I try to rephrase the question to get the answer I’m looking for. “Is the state of enlightenment subjectively preferable to non-enlightenment?” The answer I would usually get would be something like “In enlightenment, one is freed from delusions about the nature of reality. If you believe truth is preferable to delusion, then you could say it is preferable, but upon attaining enlightenment, one realizes that preferences themselves are attachments to the impermanent.

“uh huh, but my point here is, since this enlightenment business seems to take a lot of work, what’s the point of trying to get there unless the state is somehow subjectively superior?”

“Upon enlightenment, one realizes that the distinctions between superior and inferior are illusions.”

Your description was sort of helpful, but I’m still unclear- if you haven’t experienced this yourself, and you have pointed out the seeming bs tantric people have tried to sell you on, how can you be sure that “enlightenment” is actually a thing, and not just a carrot like eternal salvation that’s dangled/a status that people try to signal socially like your squabbling buddhists?

I have read some of your meaningness blog as well as some of this one, but given your realistic view of the failures of many buddhisms and you’re understanding of how it was intentionally marketed to western liberals, why do you remain convinced there is a “there”, there?

I understand the crisis of meaning and culture you are depicting; your description of the disintegration of the subcultural mode really resonated for me, as it was something I had seen in the punk rock subculture that changed from the 90s to now but had a hard time putting my finger on. I sort of get nebulousness, and I have my own thoughts on meaning and the direction things are heading. As a transhumanist who believes that multiple singularities are inevitable and sees the incredible stakes for the future of the species that is done in ways that favor human experience and doesn’t reshape humanity according to the structure of the existing marketplace, someone who strongly believes in the principles laid out in David Pearce’s hedonistic imperative, the crisis of meaning seems like a temporary thing whose biggest significance is how it informs the values that the post-human take off from.

I also have my own sense of the transcendental, informed from punk rock, but it differs I think from your buddhist instincts- I think in between eternalist values and nihilism are the tangible things that give human life a sense of meaning- connections to others, a sense of self that has a role in one’s social circumstances, an appreciation of other people, a unique usefulness and domain of self-control, a balance between a sense of freedom and security, etc.

I think I largely get “nebulousness”.

What I don’t quite get, and you’ve probably covered this in other posts, it’s the origin of your conviction in the basic values of buddhism that you think are worth recovering from the buddhisms you seem to criticize.

David Chapman 2018-04-15

I mostly avoid the term “enlightenment” because it gets used to mean many entirely different things, and has extensive baggage that we are better off without. I wrote about that in “Epistemology and enlightenment” (which also addresses the “why should we believe any of this at all?” question somewhat).

how can you be sure that “enlightenment” is actually a thing

I don’t think it is. It’s not a thing. However, there are things. If you meditate a lot, odd, hard-to-describe things may happen that seem highly significant. Sometimes they lead to lasting changes in the way you think and feel and act.

That’s pretty certain; it’s a common experience among people who meditate fairly intensively for a few years. I don’t know of statistics, but I’d guess that it’s more likely than not after a couple thousand hours of practice.

I have no desire to convince anyone to meditate that much. Some people feel inspired to, for whatever reason. Most commonly, they find that small amounts seem either to be interesting, or to improve their lives, so they keep doing more and more.

(Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people, who meditate just because it makes them feel better, to have unexpected and unwanted “enlightenment” experiences that have serious negative effects. If you suddenly find you have no self, and you weren’t aiming for that, it can be terrifying and can render you psychologically non-functional for a while.)

I think in between eternalist values and nihilism are the tangible things that give human life a sense of meaning- connections to others, a sense of self that has a role in one’s social circumstances, an appreciation of other people, a unique usefulness and domain of self-control, a balance between a sense of freedom and security, etc.

I agree with that.

the basic values of buddhism that you think are worth recovering

Hmm. The most basic thing is that there is no Western approach I know of that doesn’t try to absolutize something, or to negate something. At their best, some versions of Buddhism try to explain how to avoid both those alternatives.

the crisis of meaning seems like a temporary thing

I agree; I think it’s a feature of a particular period in history, produced by particular cultural and technological developments. It’s going to be with us for a while, though, and is potentially catastrophic, so it seems worth addressing.

Not sure if you get notified of comments on old posts

Yes; but recently I have mostly not been replying, because I’ve been too busy. Today I am coming down with a cold, so my brain is too stupid to do what I’m supposed to, and I’m replying instead :)

Paul 2018-04-15

Here’s a straightforward experiential answer. It’s f*cking miles better.
I experienced satori in 2000. It was essentially temporary yet complete enlightenment. No doubt some academics will chew my ear for writing that but I’m writing to answer your question. I had no capacity for anything but complete peace for weeks. It was impossible to insult me, annoy me, I could not get ‘triggered’ if you tried. I put myself in intense situations and not a jot of mental disturbance. In essence there was no ignorance. This was not in an intellectual sense or effortful sense. I just could not experience anything but stillness. I knew the mind of ignorance intimately and extremely clearly when it gradually came back. I gaind the realizations of suffering and of ignorance. They never left my general moment by moment awareness.
Ignorance is a mind like anger and craving. I witness it subtley now in my heart as I write this. So few people seem to be able to perceive this very simple error in the mind. Hence a million theories about what it is. I now find that as weird as you would listening to millions of people speculate about what anger could possibly feel like.

Very very few people fully grasp what the problem is. So few people are interested in the problem. They have no interest in direct experiential recognition of the problem mind they are trying to make cease.

They rush on ignorant of ignorance and spend years debating and arguing about what enlightenment might be like.

It’s the absence of ignorance. When ignorance ceases there is no capacity whatsoever to get mentally or emotionally disturbed.

That is a million times better than being vulnerable to anything arising in the mind that will disturb it at any moment or any other human being (in a conventional sense) suddenly pisding you off.

By the sound of it you got bullshitters answering the question or people who think they are enlightened but aren’t because they never knew the problem to realise they are a way short.

My experience faded and the purification stage (Dark Nights) manifested.

After the past trauma was cleared out in chunks realizations occured that were step changes in general peace, insight and stillness.

All of my experiences were a million times better than pre satori. I know quite a few awakened people and they all say the same thing.

On the ultimate level there is nobody to become enlightened and there never has been. Sometimes I answer questions on the conventional level and sometimes on the ultimate. I’m always aware of both and try to be as helpful as I can by answering from one, the other, or both. I can’t know which will be best received but I know neither are separate from the general appearance to senses and mind. Self and other are concepts but this question seemed best answered mostly on the conventional level.
There is no beyond emptiness. That’s meaningless. Perhaps it’s not meant to be taken literally here.
There is the mere appearance which is what is left when ignorance has been ceased by emptiness practice and all that is left is what is describe in middle way of existence.
If you found my answer of any use feel free to find other answers on meditation, awakening and enlightenment on Quora.
And at www.surreymeditationclasses.com
I try to avoid academic speculation and conceptual gymnastics. Sometimes terminology is needed and I try to be honest, simple, experiential and precise.

David Chapman 2018-04-15

Paul, I don’t want to disagree strongly, because different approaches work for different people. And, I have no particular qualifications or insights about this.

However, at a purely technical and conceptual level, your explanations of enlightenment and emptiness are consistent with what Dzogchen calls “Sutrayana,” and are not consistent with Vajrayana.

Vajrayana is about what lies beyond emptiness. That is meant as literally (or as figuratively, take your pick) as “emptiness” itself.

My limited experience of meditation is that the Vajrayana conceptual framework is correct on this point. And, that what it describes as “enlightenment” is not the same thing as what is described as “enlightenment” in Sutrayana.

Paul 2018-04-23

Hi David,

Thank you for responding. Much appreciated.

Emptiness as I’ve seen it used in Buddhism describes the experience of a cessation of the appearance of inherent existence. The things we normally see do not exist yet they appear to our deluded ignorant mind.

I experience emptiness of self as a cessation of a specific mind that is tight and manifests in the heart area.

When it is there I can get p*ssed off, crave etc. When it’s not there I can’t at all.

Emptiness of all phenomena conjoined with the mind of sleep and great bliss (mind of Mahamudra Tantra) is, in my experience, incredibly powerful at removing the ignorance that mis-perceives the way things exist. The effect is still the same though…a very expansive feeling in the heart and ability for it to tighten and generate anger, craving and indifference.

What’s the definition of emptiness from the Vajrayana framework that you reference above.

There cannot be more than a cessation of ignorance. You can’t get more cessation so I wonder if you are pointing to what the mind chooses to generate once it is liberated from the bondage of deluded mind. We can choose to condition the mind to do all manner of things. Vajrayana as I’ve practised it is essentially bringing the future attainment into the Path by not assenting to appearances as ‘ordinary’ but choosing to perceive objects as bliss and emptiness, pure land, dakinis etc etc (sort of....language is crude) I may be incorrect here, it’s many years since I practised it and didn’t do a great deal before I left the Tibetan Tradition I had been receiving instruction from. The usual dysfunctional institution blah blah blah :-)

All the best,

Paul

David Chapman 2018-04-23

Hi Paul,

Generally, discussions of emptiness are confused and confusing, due to two thousand years of academic scholasticism and unhelpful reverence for historical precedent. There is no good introductory textbook on the Vajrayana version that I know of.

Adding to the confusion, different lineages have different traditions of interpretation; some radically contradictory, some varying only on minor points.

The standard text on emptiness in the Nyingma tradition is Mipham’s Beacon of Certainty. I wrote about it briefly here, in a different context. It’s a difficult book, but if you want an authoritative source, it’s that.

I wrote about the difference between Mahayana and Vajrayana (especially Dzogchen) treatments of emptiness here, in the context of ethics. I’m afraid it’s also pretty hard going, but I did my best.

I gave a much simpler presentation, in the context of a particular Nyingma lineage, here. This Aro gTér interpretation is somewhat unusual, but generally consistent with the Nyingma approach, which is generally consistent with Vajrayana overall.

by not assenting to appearances as ‘ordinary’ but choosing to perceive objects as bliss and emptiness, pure land, dakinis etc

Yes… this is training in perceiving “empty form,” which is what lies beyond emptiness. The exercise works only if you retain the perception of emptiness. If you take the pure land, etc., as solid, you are just deluding yourself. If they appear as shimmering and transparent, you have attained non-dual vision.

(“Solid,” “shimmering,” “transparent,” and “perception” are somewhat metaphorical here. It’s not literally a matter of the visual image, although that is involved somehow.)

Linda 2018-06-06

I’ve enjoyed this article greatly as much as the last. I also enjoy playing ESO even though it’s been a bit dull for me lately. My dreams have been a bit more fanciful at least… Cherry Trees, Emanations showing me directions and Mt. Fuji in the distance. Still… maybe I’ll just slow down more than still and smell the flowers that way.

Why go beyond the fish

Samya 2021-09-21

I don’t understand! If I have always been the fish, the lake and the perceiver, then isn’t that totality? There’s nothing left as ‘other’! How do you go beyond that?

Beyond oneness

David Chapman 2021-09-21

Well, it’s up to you what you want to do! People may have different preferences, because people are different.

That’s why you might want to go beyond a feeling of oneness. The world is not undifferentiated gray goo. It’s brilliantly colorful (which is why the fish is striped in the story) and full of all sorts of extremely different things.

It’s more interesting to hike in the mountains and admire the scenery than to reside in featureless equanimity. Also, more useful for other people, if you discover healing mushrooms in the forest.

Add new comment:

You can use some Markdown and/or HTML formatting here.

Optional, but required if you want follow-up notifications. Used to show your Gravatar if you have one. Address will not be shown publicly.

If you check this box, you will get an email whenever there’s a new comment on this page. The emails include a link to unsubscribe.