An exercise in emptiness

I am immensely enjoying helping with the online course in meditation that I mentioned previously, however it hasn’t left me with a lot of time of writing in my blog. I have kept my routine of practicing and reflecting, but just haven’t found time to write it down. So today I sat down and decided it is high time to make another post. I felt it was important to keep up the momentum.

Lately I have been beginning to work with another exercise from Mingyur Rinpoche’s book “The Joy of Living” It is called “An Exercise in Emptiness” and I thought it would be nice to share:

“The sense of openness people experience when they simply rest their minds is known in Buddhism as emptiness, which is probably one of the most misunderstood words in Buddhist philosophy. It is hard enough for Buddhists to understand the term, but Western readers have an even more difficult time, because many of the early translations of Sanskrit and Tibetan texts interpreted emptiness as “the Void” or nothingness—mistakenly equating emptiness with the idea that nothing at all exists. Nothing could be further from the truth the Buddha sought to describe.

While the Buddha did teach that the nature of mind—in fact the nature of all phenomena—is emptiness, he didn’t mean that their nature was truly empty, like a vacuum. He said it was emptiness, which in the Tibetan language is made up of two words: tongpa-nyi. The word tongpa means “empty”, but only in the sense of something beyond our ability to perceive with our senses and our capacity to conceptualize. Maybe a better translation would be “inconceivable” or “unnamable.” The word nyi, meanwhile, doesn’t have any particular meaning in everyday Tibetan conversation. But when added to another word it conveys a sense of “possibility”—a sense that anything can arise, anything can happen. So when Buddhist talk about emptiness, we don’t mean nothingness, but rather an unlimited potential for anything to appear, change, or disappear. (p.59-60)

Arya Nagarjuna — one of the six great commentators (the ‘Six Ornaments’) on the Buddha’s teachings, the great scholar Nagarjuna (c.150-250) is revered as an unsurpassed master by all Buddhist schools. He was the revealer of the Prajñaparamita Sutras, the teachings on emptiness, which are the core teaching of the second turning of the wheel of the Dharma.

An Exercise in Emptiness

“The mind is empty in essence.
Although empty, everything constantly arises in it.”

The Third Gyalwang Karmapa,
Song of Karmapa: The Aspiration Mahamudra of True Meaning

translated by Erik Pema Kunsang

Intellectual understanding of emptiness is one thing; direct experience is another. So let’s try another exercise, a little different from the ones described in previous chapters. This time you’ll look at your thoughts, emotions, and sensations very closely, as they arise out of emptiness, momentarily appear as emptiness, and dissolve back into emptiness. If no thoughts, feeling, or sensations come up for you, just make them up, as many as you can, very quickly, one after another. The main point of the exercise is to observe as many forms of experience as you can. If you don’t observe them, they’ll just slip away unnoticed. Don’t loose any of the thoughts, feelings, or sensations without having observed them.

Begin by sitting up straight, in a relaxed position, and breathing normally. Once you are settled, start to observe your thoughts, emotions, and sensation very clearly. Remember, if nothing comes up for you, just start gibbering away in your mind. Whatever you perceive—pain, pressure, sounds, and so on—observe it very clearly. Even ideas like “This is a good thought,” “This is a bad thought,” “I like this exercise” are thoughts you can observe. You can even observe something as simple as an itch. To get the full effect, you’ll want to continue this process for a t least a minute.
Are you ready? Okay, then go!

Watch the movement of your mind. …

Watch the movement of your mind. …

Watch the movement of your mind. …

Now stop.

The point of the exercise is to simply watch everything that passes through your awareness as it arises out of emptiness, momentarily appears, and dissolves back into emptiness again—a movement like the rising and falling of a wave in a giant ocean. You don’t want to block your thoughts, emotions, and so on; nor do you want to chase after them. (p. 66-67)

Mingyur Rinpoche writes more advice on how to work with thoughts and emotions but his is enough to get started and work with this exercise. In my next post I will share a few more things Mingyur Rinpoche wrote about this exercise. (Or you can read it yourself in his book.)

This entry was posted in Meditation, Shunyata, zz Buddha, zz Mingyur Rinpoche, zz Nagarjuna and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to An exercise in emptiness

  1. sesega says:

    Very nice Dharma blog!

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