Article 3: Emptiness

emptiness

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.

Buddha;s enlightenment

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.’

massive diamond

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,

How elusive!

The task is to quieten them,

And by ruling them to find happiness.

With single-mindedness

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.

(Dhammapada:3; Mind)

the intellect

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.

Linden/129156587260233">Nirvana Linden.

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.

intergationAchieving 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.

sky heroes

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.

Permanence, bliss, self and purity image

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.

Article 2: Buddha Nature

Buddha Nature

In the great Nirvana teachings of the Buddha, enlightenment is clearly described. What is central to this enlightenment is one’s Buddha Nature, in other words, one’s true self. Another way of expressing it is the aspiration to become enlightened, which is often described by Buddhists as a seed, which with practice and devotion, will eventually ripen. Buddha Nature is in some ways a mystical phenomenon the Buddha had never mentioned in any of his previous teachings. He had clearly reserved it for this final moment as his parting gift. This is highly significant if we consider that among the enormous gathering of well-wishers present were highly trained and revered monks who had already attained enlightenment under the Buddha’s supervision. Naturally, they were perplexed by this revelation and found it difficult to correctly perceive their hidden Buddha Nature. The Buddha recognized that they had become arrogant and complacent.

Tofukuji, Kyoto

Tofukuji, Kyoto

To discover one’s hidden Buddha nature needs spiritual training and a spiritual master, so it is not possible for me to comment on this aspect of it here. In Esoteric Buddhism, the transmission of teachings from Master to Pupil is the central core, so it is not appropriate to try to render it in words in public. But the notion of Buddha Nature is I believe universally inspiring in this age of competition and cut-throat attitudes, when power-mongering is at its zenith across the globe. It can help us to re-connect with the Universe and humanity, to find confidence if we have lost it, and to shed the dry skin of arrogance if we have acquired it. I will try to express my image of it and how it figures in my daily life. But first, there’s a very famous story, which will speak to the unconscious mind as only story can.

hiiden gem‘Once there was a man – father, son and husband – who could no longer support his family due to loss of work. He had no choice but to go elsewhere to work, so he packed his belongings and left home causing his family great sorrow. He arrived in a new land, quite quickly found work and was soon able to send money home. He developed more and more trust with his employers, and eventually they gave him more responsibility, a house to live in, and opportunities to become wealthy. He enjoyed this new status and became wealthy providing for his family amply. But then he became arrogant, and one day made a mistake which caused his employers to lose all trust in him. His status vanished and he frittered his wealth away on drinking and gambling to find comfort. Finally, he was destitute having only the clothes on his back and no prospects, as he had lost all respect. He suffered, starving and sleeping rough, desperately searching for food and work, but not able to find any. In the end, he was forced to return home to his family, sick and weak.

One day, as he was recovering, his mother asked him what had happened, and he told her that he had lost everything through no fault of his own, and so had eventually given up searching. She smiled and went to bring his ragged cloak, which he had no idea of the significance of. Her fingers searched in the lining of the garment until they found some familiar stitches, which she quickly and carefully tore open, and there from the secret pocket, she brought out a tiny perfect diamond. He was so amazed that self-piteous tears welled-up and he sobbed. His mother said, “ My son, what you were searching for so desperately was close to you all along. You looked everywhere except inside your own heart. You need only that to live a contented and satisfied life, so look no further.” His mother has provided for him all along.’

look within

This story has a very happy ending and teaches us that in our human lives, we have a tendency to look outside ourselves for what we need or desire, somehow either trying to be proactive in engineering happiness, or waiting for it to fall into our laps. But, like the jewel sewn into the man’s cloak, happiness is within us all along. It is hidden, submerged, or covered over with our ignorance and misguided way of living. Each spirit or soul made flesh in the universe is endowed with goodness and purity at birth, our jewel of pure love, our true nature, but it becomes contaminated by our ignorance, our false ideas of self, our self-enforced separation.

In my view, there are two aspects or stages to locating or uncovering one’s Buddha Nature: Firstly, it is our human potential, and if polished, like a tarnished gem, it will shine gloriously allowing all our unique talents and dreams to be manifested; and secondly, when it shines it will serve as a beacon for others who are stranded in spiritual darkness, enabling them to see the way to realizing their own potential, to locate their own gem sewn into their clothing. So, if we can accept that each human is different from the next, in appearance and in temperament, in terms of DNA and Karma, and accordingly has a unique mission in human life which no-one else can bring to fruition, then we can understand the importance of locating our own inner jewel and making it shine. This second stage is altruistic in that we shine for others so that the entire human family can find happiness and fulfillment in the bright light of our united future.

In practical terms, as is evident from the popular trends of meditation and going-beyond-your-mind philosophies in the secular world, we become attached to our thoughts, our desires, our self-image, so need techniques to detach from them to find a calm resting place. We need the courage to accept what comes up in everyday life in the full light of the truth unearthed by Shakyamuni during his enlightenment, ie. that life is the suffering of birth, sickness, aging and finally death. Once we accept the reality of this, no longer trying to deny it, then our spiritual challenge lies in how we deal with these eventualities. I believe that polishing our potential born of universal love enables us to accept everything and to live with pure unconditional joy.

acceptanceThere are two other facets of Buddha Nature which I will touch upon briefly here and develop in a later articles in this series. The first is ‘emptiness’ – a fundamental principle of Mahayana Buddhism – briefly cutting attachments with all transitory phenomena so that we can find our true nature. The second is ‘ever-presence’ – the strong belief that if we engage in the process of polishing our Buddha Nature for the sake of other beings, then our spirits or Buddha Natures will never perish, and the Buddha and our gurus will be with us always guiding and cherishing us. We cannot change what happens to us, but we can change the way we react to it. We cannot deny the reality or magically transform it on sight, but if our Buddha Nature is shining and we are on the way to recognizing that nothing in our lives is permanent except for unconditional love and all things invisible, then we can overcome anything! The mind is strong and clear and unattached to negative human emotions. If we enter into the process of polishing our Buddha Nature with purification, meditation and mindfulness, gradually we can change our destiny. I speak from experience, and from a desire that all beings embark on this path no matter what their faith or beliefs.

change your destiny

There is another important point behind the Buddha’s revelation in the final teachings about this hidden Buddha Nature. Throughout his ministry he had trained and nurtured many illustrious monks who had gone beyond all craving to Enlightenment, and in a state of deep grieving, they were assembled to say their farewells to their Master. Until that point, it had only been possible to follow the Buddha’s path and attain enlightenment as a monastic practitioner, renouncing everything in normal life. In addition, following on from Brahmin tradition in India at that time, only male aspirants were admitted into training. It was in the final teachings of the Buddha that he invited all beings, whether male, female, cleric or lay, to set about revealing their Buddha Nature. As imaginable, this was a further shock to his close disciples who had renounced everything to follow him, but it is of cardinal importance to the way Buddhism developed later.

people

In most religious disciplines, monastic and lay practitioners are separate. I believe the Buddha was warning that such discrimination should not be so, and that we can learn our best lessons from ordinary daily life, out in the world of humans, once we have got some control of our minds through constructive practice. Every day is an acid test of how we can maintain the shining condition of our true nature surrounded by diversity, temptations, and other beings consumed by ignorance and negative emotions in the thick of samsara. It is so vital that we are our true selves at all times so we can honestly interact with others and become a model fort hem, a beacon to help light up their spiritual darkness.

So, how exciting is it to realize that all sentient beings can polish their Buddha Nature and attain enlightenment in their own lifetime? The Nirvana teachings are the ultimate in unconditional love, and I believe that they demonstrate how essential such boundless love is at perhaps the most deteriorated time of human existence, ‘The Last Days of the Law.’ The Buddha knew that these teachings would be essential as the nightmare of samsara intensified.  I am so deeply grateful to my gurus, Masters Shinjo and Tomoji Ito, for devoting their lives entirely to the teachings of the Nirvana Sutra on 8th February, 1936, 78 years ago. They also could forsee the future, and insisted that ‘the time is now!’

Nirvana Buddha by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

Nirvana Buddha
by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

Article 3 will be based on Emptiness, a central element to reaching the shores of Nirvana.

TouchyourHeart Daily Meditation: 4th February, 2014

beauty nad balance
For the complete meditation go to: http://www.facebook.com/stepbackfromsamsara

‘Our partners, those we are bonded with, are deeply connected to us so that we can grow spiritually. There may be struggles and ecstasy mixed together during the term of the contract, but we have been brought together to create something beautiful out of love and balance, out of differences and similarity, heaven and earth……………..