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Volume 5 No 2

The Dharma in Blossom

By Venerable Shen-Kai

Among the principles of Buddhism, the metaphysics of 'emptiness' is perhaps one of the more difficult to understand. It has to do with the mind. When there is no 'emptiness' in the heart, then there is no room for anything else that is not already in there. When the chair is not empty, we cannot sit on it. Similarly, without 'emptiness' we cannot accommodate the many people, situations and adversities that we are bound to encounter in our daily routine. When we understand this, we have found the ultimate treasure.

We revere the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas because of their altruistic spirit and their teachings, not because of superstition or blind faith. When we are learning and practising Buddhism, it is important to understand the meaning of the expressions of the Dharma.

Emptiness is one expression of the Dharma. It is an expression of our wish to learn the mental purity and emptiness of the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva holds no attachment to the form of a self, sentient being and time, and is therefore empty. The Bodhisattva does not attach to the past, the present and the future and is therefore also empty.

It is stated in the Heart Sutra that the five aggregates or components of an intelligent being, that is, form, feeling, thinking, mind-acting and distinguishing, are all empty. The method of cultivation in the Small Vehicle Buddhism is to realise this sublime emptiness to the extent that there is no suffering, no accumulation of suffering, no cessation and no path to its cessation.

On the other hand, Bodhisattvas cultivate to attain wisdom. However, in reality even wisdom and all forms of attainment are also empty. Thus, in a Bodhisattva's cultivation, there is neither wisdom nor attainment, for even the emptiness itself is empty.

A Bodhisattva's benefits to sentient beings should be like air to them. Air is essential to human beings as it is to all living things. Even the non-living things need air. Without air we cannot have light. The emptiness is not exactly empty, for it contains air.

The Heart Sutra also states that emptiness does not differ from form, nor form from emptiness. Emptiness itself is form; form itself is emptiness.

When we say that it is empty, it is not exactly true since form originates from emptiness. When we say that form exists, it can also very quickly becomes emptiness. The Bodhisattvas' method of cultivation is to understand and realise the phenomenon of neither existence nor emptiness.

A train for example would not be able to pass if there was no emptiness. Thus, emptiness is extremely important to cultivators, and in fact, to all beings. The air surrounding us is an empty space, but our lives will be terminated if we stop the flow of air through our respiratory system. Thus, human beings cannot be separated from emptiness.

If, because of your education, knowledge or whatever other attributes, you become conceited and lose your humility to confer with others or to accommodate their opinions, then there is no emptiness in your mind. As a result of this, there is a limit to your progress.

If the chair is not empty then we cannot sit on it. If the room is not empty, it is impossible to be in it. If it has been filled with a lot of undesirable things previously, then these have to be removed such that there is emptiness before we can be in it. If a cup is full with water, it is impossible to fill it with more water. Because of emptiness there is existence; and because of existence, there is emptiness. Thus, emptiness and existence are inseparable.

The significance of emptiness should not be underestimated. In fact, it encompasses the absolute reality. Emptiness is really boundless. Without space or emptiness, where would the earth and the other planets be? Once we understand the profundity of emptiness, we can use emptiness as the principle of our cultivation.


Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre