Emptiness Practice in Tibetan Buddhism

Finding out that you are pure awareness, an egoless presence is a practice that is tricky but important if you are to take life less seriously.

Since suffering is caused by our imagining that things are real, and worth forming intense emotions and opinions about, which is driven by ego, it is worth dissecting. Tibetan Buddhism studies emptiness, or Shunyata, in depth because if we can see through the illusion that the nature of reality is a flow that is not an existent condition, we open up to that flow and relax and discover our true nature which is eternal and every changing.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a union of two emptinesses to form an ultimate reality. This is an analytical approach to enlightenment since we rationalize our way to an understanding that helps free us from desires and attachments that lead to an endless cycle of rebirth. It helps us work our way via logic towards liberation and freedom.

In the following half hour talk by Trungpa Rinpoche at Naropa in 1976, especially the last 15-20 minutes of the talk, he discusses and explains emptiness. But if experienced more correctly, it is “no bullshit” or “no tripping” or “conceptualizing” which refers to a conceptual mind. You are trying to prove that you exist or that others exist. Spiritual materialism is the absence of these kinds of trips and games which can make us feel temporarily great and very brave. We eventually get hit back from our spiritual materialism into depression and complain about everything such as politics or welfare or school systems or whatever you pick. You could create a right society and just be vacant and open through emptiness in a clear, fresh, fantastic space which can take place and is very beautiful and real. Viewed wrongly, it may lead one to nihilism, and to suicide. 

Who are you? What are you? What is this and what is that? If you try to pinpoint it, it is very hard. In the end, if we conclude that we cannot understand therefore there must be nothing. Simply experiencing things as they are, as what’s going on right now in our minds. It includes humor and warmth. You can’t be too harsh on yourself, but must be more gentle and loving to oneself. Once you realize love in yourself there is the real truth. You give up hope trying to understand this thing; at the same time you find gentleness and none caring of yourself. 

Shunyata: Emptiness, between that and this, beyond concept -Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shambhala


The Dalai Lama says, “The self-grasping mind boils down to our misunderstanding of phenomena and the only way to understand the clear nature of reality is through the understanding of Emptiness.” There is a seer. There are states including the dream state. The nature of the mind is clear light. In the subtle mind it is very difficult to identify the “I”. Unanalyzed and unexamined you might assume “I”, but looking for “I” turns out to be unfindable. There is no present time. A strong sense of self is very necessary deals with the two truths, the conventional level of truth and the ultimate level of truth. Strong sense of self for infinite altruism is necessary. Sense of self is like a mirage. Emotions are based on our appearances which are independently interesting, good and bad. Grasping feeling emotions when they arise have intensity but lacking any support, there is nothing behind them. The purpose of meditation is on emptiness – Shunyata.

The Dalai Lama explains emptiness in that phenomena arise in dependence upon causes and conditions just like a magician’s illusions. When examined in the seven fold way, existence is dependent upon examination by the other-power of conceptuality. Consider the image in the mirror. Once we realize that causes and effects are required for existence, we will realize the futility of extreme views. 

Emptiness is not a negative state nor is it voidness. It is rich and warm and caring and connected and joyous. It is an awakened and wise mind full of clarity and compassion.

The emptiness practice helps us release our attachments, our stories, our opinions. It helps us rid ourselves of negative emotions such as judging, anger, jealousy, and others. This releases us from suffering and we find happiness and love in place of fear and judgment. This brings us peace and calm. 

Having the correct view of emptiness helps one attain enlightenment. This requires a certain amount of solitude, a great amount of effort, a good heart, and a good attitude. 

Emptiness & The Absence An Independently Existing Self ~ H.H. The Dalai Lama


It is also worth noting that having an empty mind during meditation is not the same as understanding that the nature of reality is emptiness. One is a temporary experience while the other is permanent.

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