Emptiness and Existence


Dwelling on Feelings of Liberation and Happiness ?

How we perceive “existence” and “emptiness” can reveal how shallow or deep our practice is. We need to understand this to avoid getting stuck and to be able to make progress. Before we have gained some real benefit from practice, we perceive phenomena as real and existent. In this ordinary state of mind, the “self” is still deeply embedded in things: “my” body, “my” house, “my” friends, and so on. After practicing well, we may reach a state of concentration where there are only a few thoughts in our mind. At this time, the sense of self is lessened, and we may feel that we have finally cast away the world and everything in it. “I have thrown off all thinking.” “I am enjoying the bliss of liberation.” “I feel so carefree and light.” Dwelling on feelings of liberation and happiness like this only means that one’s perception of “emptiness” is false and one still sees phenomena as existent.

Double Affirmation

When one reaches the state of only one thought, or one-mind, one may feel unified with the universe and that one’s powers are unlimited. One also feels great sympathy and compassion for all sentient beings. At this point one is at the stage of “double affirmation,” or a deeper level of existence. Although there is an expanded sense of self, this sense is not selfish but rather, one feels a sense of energy and responsibility. The degree of mental power depends on the strength of one’s previous practice. One who is not backed up by a strong practice can still reach one-mind but will not have as great a sense of energy and responsibility—will not likely give rise to the feeling of being a savior. Therefore, great religious leaders are a rare occurrence in human history.

Double Negation

At the next stage of no-thought, or no-mind, one is said to be in the state of “double negation” in that one takes emptiness itself as empty. If a person is attached to emptiness (as in stage two), it is called “stubborn emptiness” or “illusory emptiness.” But at the stage of no-mind one actually recognizes that even this emptiness is empty. Since one has emptied out emptiness, then existence is reasserted, but it is an existence of non-attachment. One will definitely not feel that his world is meaningless, nor, if asked “How is your practice doing?” will one give a reply like “Oh, It doesn’t really matter if I practice or not.”

What Is True Empitness ?

We usually feel something “exists” when we have strong feelings about it. If emptiness is also based on feelings and emotions, then it is not true emptiness. It is only when, not bound by feelings and emotional attachments, one genuinely experiences things as existing just as they are, that is, at the same time genuinely existent and also genuinely empty. For practitioners, only this can be considered the first level of entering the door of Chan.

From Chan Newsletter No. 20, March, 1982

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