What is Emptiness?

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from Plum Village is dated Thursday, January 16, 2014 and is the eighteenth talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. English translation, available below, is by Sr. Tue Nghiem.  In this talk we learn about emptiness along with the continued theme of the winter retreat on consciousness, perception, and manas.

0:00-19:56 What is Emptiness?
19:56-30:40 Science and Consciousness
30:40-42:30 Suffering and Happiness
42:32-56:58 Mode of Perception
56:58-1:13:50 Manas
1:13:50-1:25:10 Subject and Object of Consciousness

Today we chanted the heart sutra. The most important word in this chant is emptiness; sometimes mistaken for nothingness. Emptiness is Sunyata in Sanskrit. Being as the opposite of non-being. Emptiness has no opposite. Right View is one of the elements of the noble eightfold path. The highest view of right view is to transcend the idea of being and non-being. These are two extremes and just notions that don’t describe reality. Right view helps us conserve a lot of energy. A practitioners we should practice slowly to transcend these notions. And this is called emptiness.

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Matter and energy. Cloud is snow but it is also rain and water. The sun is matter but it is also energy. Matter is energy and energy is matter. Science is getting closer to the nature of phenomenon. String theory. Everything has manifested from seeds. Manifestation only. There is also the law of thermodynamics.

Store consciousness is all the seeds. When they manifest, they are a formation. We can use the eyes of a scientist. Research of phenomenon. All phenomenon have the nature of no birth and no death. Consciousness and the object of consciousness cannot be separated. There still exists some duality in science between consciousness and phenomena. In manifestation-only teaching we are learning to erase that boundary. The two rely on one another to manifest. They are waiting for each other to manifest as a pair of opposites. Co-arising.

In the original teachings of the Buddha, they used very simple terms to explain. This is because that is. The conclusion is we should not wish for happiness without suffering but that suffering can be transformed. This is the art of suffering. If we know how to suffer then we suffer much less. In this winter retreat we shouldn’t think there is a realm where there is only happiness – there is no place like that. If we want happiness then we must also have suffering. Reciprocal by way of mutuality. Reciprocity. When we learn the Four Noble Truths, we have to see under  this light. The second noble truth talks of the path that leads to ill-being. It is because we live unmindfully. The presence of the second truth brings along the presence of all four which in turn brings along the noble eightfold path.

When we learn of alaya consciousness, we know that it holds all the seeds and energies and it can manifest the wondrous universe. Store consciousness can reach reality as it is. Things in themselves. This is a mode of perception and it is the nature of phenomena. A manifestation of the seeds from store consciousness. Direct and true perception of ultimate reality. All objects of store consciousness and store consciousness itself. Some examples drawn from Christianity and God are explained. The nature of all phenomena is no birth and no death. Neither pure nor impure. A direct and true perception of reality.

Manas cannot come in touch with reality as it is; it only grasps to part of store consciousness. In the sutras, there is an insight view of the body. Manas sees this body as itself. In the body, there is the five skandhas (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness). In store consciousness, these are a wonder. But according to manas, the five skandhas are me – they are attachment. Where alaya is the beloved and manas is the lover. Store consciousness is the root consciousness and manas grabs ahold of alaya and says “this is me.” Manas represents the mud and is part of life.

Store consciousness holds all the seeds. It holds concentration and the five universal mental formations. The subject and object of consciousness. The foundations of seeds.


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