Having a supple mind means that we can transcend the realm of worldly truths valid only in the human realm. Emptiness allows us to surpass the cycle of birth and death, eliminate delusion, and attain the great truth of permanence-bliss-self-purity. This is the official definition from a Buddhist perspective.
Emptiness is one of the elements of enlightenment the Buddha mentions in his final teachings. To be empty means to be released from all attachments, and to live in an enchanted undistracted state in the midst of the world of samsara. This ‘emptiness’ is the state the Buddha attained during the lead up to his enlightenment. He was determined to achieve such ‘emptiness’ saying ‘I will not move from this seat until I have obtained enlightenment.’ Mara, the demonic presence during this time, conjured up all manner of distractions and temptations to break Prince Siddharta’s concentration, envisioning them as distinct armies: The army of Greed, of Grief, of Hunger and Thirst, of Attachment, of Laziness, of Fear, of Doubt, of Obstinacy, of Fame and Fortune, and of Conceit, one by one, they were systematically defeated. In their place, the Buddha took hold of his principal weapon ‘wisdom’ declaring that from that moment on, he would let it fill him ‘just as water fills a jar.’
Emptiness, like Buddha nature, (see article https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/bodhi-our-true-nature/) is hidden, although it is there inside us all the time. We simply need to let go of everything and everyone and merge with the divine. For me emptiness is the beauty of the silence when my human eyes close and my spiritual eyes open. And this sublime silence is something, the last thing, perhaps the only thing, I desire. If one practices abiding in this state often, then eventually it is not something even to desire because it is perpetual. With practice and with purification, all craving and attachment ceases.
The Buddha earlier in his ministry said,
‘As the fletcher whittles
And makes straight his arrows,
So the master directs
His straying thoughts.
Like a fish out of water,
Stranded on the shore,
Thoughts thrash and quiver.
For how can they shake off desire?
They tremble, they are unsteady,
They wander at their will.
It is good to control them,
And to master them brings happiness.
But how subtle they are,
The task is to quieten them,
And by ruling them to find happiness.
The master quells his thoughts.
He ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart,
He finds freedom.
How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?
If a man is disturbed
He will never be filled with knowledge.
An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.
Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.
In every trial
Let understanding fight for you
To defend what you have won.
For soon the body is discarded.
Then what does it feel?
A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.
Then what does it know?
Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.
But once mastered,
No one can help you as much,
Not even your father or your mother.
To busy intellectually dominated beings, thinking is compulsive, often leading to anxiety or arrogance or even premeditation, so that we cease to live our lives directly. We become convinced that this is reality, when it is in fact just a space in our minds filled with thoughts combined with our experience, culture, etc. We could say that such thinking achieves nothing, like playing games. It can consume our waking hours, making time pass quickly, because to those who dislike contemplation or reflection in silence time goes slowly and is like an empty box which must be filled to be meaningful. We are living always in a self-made zone of concepts and notions distanced from our feelings and from the divine spark.
I first became acquainted with how to avoid this zone deep inside the south Australian desert about 25 years ago (see “My Path So Far.”) when I lived briefly with some indigenous Australians. ‘The Dreaming’ is a well-known aspect of their traditional life, which I came to recognize as reality. I was taught by Ninija, my spirit guide and traditional landowner or spiritual custodian of a huge tract of land in the desert, that I used language to make concepts, and that these concepts placed me always at the side of reality. A common example of this cited by others who have also reaped the harvest of indigenous wisdom, is ‘stars.’ Ninija asked me why I was staring up at the incredible canopy of stars one night, and I told her that I had never seen so many stars before. She had quibbles with the word ‘stars’ insisting that she did not know what I meant, and that they were the campfires of the travelers in the sky. Indigenous peoples believe that after they die their spirits rise up into the heavens and start traveling on to their next spiritual challenge, and if they get cold they stop to light a little fire and warm themselves. I later found out that there was no word for ‘star’ in aboriginal language.
Indigenous peoples, if living a wholly traditional life, are completely integrated into their lives in close communion with nature. They are not separate from it or from the Universe, but see themselves as an essential component of the fabric of the universe, each with a distinct mission. They do not think but instead fill their time with gratitude and joy for their human existence. Their environment is made up of the physical manifestation of their creation heroes and heroines, which they celebrate and make offerings to. Ninija’s main purpose was to watch the natural environment for new stories and then inform her people so that they could add the new story to their daily observances. Their partnership with the spiritual world or the invisible world in this way allowed them to live in reality and to live in full joy, or ‘fully integrated,’ as I later came to refer to it as.
Achieving the state of emptiness also means that there are no fears. The Djang, the death of the physical body, is the absolute climax of their physical lives. They long for it. It is symbolic of their having learned the human lessons, which they need to, in order to move on to the sky and the next stage. Ninija’s son Ginger died as a young adult as a result of alcohol and substance abuse, a common way for indigenes to die when they are corrupted by white-man ways. His wasted body was found in a telephone box in the alien city and he became a young hero when his spirit was released at the Djang, the most mysterious of all the rights of passage. As a result of receiving such wisdom, I too learned to long for my Djang so that I could rise into the sky and continue on with my spiritual journey.
Reading this, you may find it difficult to reconcile Buddhist beliefs with those of indigenous peoples, but I believe there is a huge spiritual connection. After I had received Ninija’s wisdom, my Buddhist pathway became totally clear, so I always include the Sky Heroes of the indigenes of the Pydjinjarra tribe in my pantheon of deities. It is our close connection with the great ‘Mother Nature’ that we have lost and/or abused, and I believe this can be interpreted as our connection with the Universe according to the Lord Buddha’s creed.
Emptiness then is something we achieve when we put aside all our concepts, notions and thoughts, and get back to a direct relationship with our origins in the natural world. Meditation and spiritual reflection, which are in tandem with our higher self, will help take us to that state. Of course this stripping away of concepts, notions and thoughts will open us to more spiritual aspirations and experiences until we are empty.
Emptiness is control and concentration, a return to our divine origins as beings of unconditional love. For me, unconditional love in the Mahayana way when we become able to put all living beings before ourselves, is the way to emptiness. As the Buddha said, what goes on in our own minds if controlled and enlightened can help us more that even our parents. Mastery of our minds is the key to our enlightenment , to our emptiness.
Just a word about ‘Permanence, Bliss, Self and Purity,’ as mentioned in the last teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni. Of course, ‘permanence’ refers to the fact that our spirits are indestructible so that if we sincerely take refuge in the Buddha or indeed any qualified spiritual guide, we can work towards this liberation from the fears of temporal death. “Bliss’ means entering into the joy of being in one with all the holy beings, the state of grace or awakening or oneness with God , ‘Self’ means our true nature, our Buddha Nature, the fact that we need to be ourselves at all times, not blocking or pretending at any time, being totally honest first with ourselves and then with all others. Finally, ‘purity’ means that we work to purify our karma through ritual, and to develop merit through pure acts. We are, after all, all pure beings when we enter our human manifestation, so there is a need to return to that state through practice.