Arguments from Silence - Emptiness, Yoga, and 2 Rare Buddhist Books
emptiness yoga; (stong pa'i rnal 'byor)
The Mahayana is a bird that flies on 2 wings or it falls to the ground. (in my opinion)
The 1st wing is that of the emptiness school which points out the dependent origination of all phenomena and the non-self nature of all composite things deeply understood is that of what they call emptiness. All composite things, either virtuous or non-virtuous, have the same ultimate nature of emptiness openness.
This distinction is between relative reality which is a construction that arises as the flowering of a plant established in the seed of a self nature and of absolute wisdom which embodies the understanding of the non-self nature of all things.
The 2nd wing is that of the school of Buddhist yogis who point out that the rigorous distinction of relative and absolute truth, while the fact of the matter, is a formulation both rigorous and austere that, to put it simply, leaves people on a precipice or a crisis in which a world full of life and living is placed on one side of an abyss that is razor blade thin yet razor blade sharp placing the immediacy of transcendent Buddha wisdom on the other side of the rainbow.
The yogis of Buddhist meditation distinguished a middle ground between the barrage created by bewildered ego centric personality and the ultimate pristine clarity of Buddhist transcendent wisdom. Between these 2 extremes sits the Buddhist meditator who can discern the 4 Noble truths and the 12 links in the chain of dependent origination and the difference between relative and absolute truth. While nothing within our relative cognition or imagination can lift us out of bewilderment and place us in untainted Buddha mind looking with in our experience we can discern an arrow of direction pointing towards deeper bewilderment or lesser bewilderment when we use the 4 Noble truths and the 12 links of the chain of dependent origination and knowledge of the difference between relative and absolute truth as a compost to lay down on the map of our mindfulness. Therefore we are able to choose behaviors that are conduct that leads away from deeper bewilderment.
Each of these natures are empty in their own way. Each of these 3 express the principle of emptiness in their own fashion. The illusory nature is patently empty. The constructed nature in the middle has no self nature but is dependent on recognitions within the mirage of empty nature. And the ultimate nature, Buddha nature, possesses the emptiness of being all extremes or any shared point with relative reality.
Human nature being what it is these 2 wings of the Mahayana have found self-appointed champions who would tear one wing away from the Mahayana or weaken it in respect or privilege.
In real life no one would consider me a particularly good person much less a Buddhist meditator, but I have had some taste of all of this and know what I have tasted.
The truth is like walking with 2 feet in our actual meditational life, at least my experience is that you need to move forward 1 foot at a time consecutively constantly shifting your center of gravity back and forth. That is a pretty image but let me explain how it works out.
Meditating on the emptiness of phenomenon is a training that has a response in your personal character that operates by steeping down into your deep very slowly changing response to phenomena, your own thoughts and the events of your life. A line of logic leads you from a to B to C and eventually to Z. but a meditation on emptiness is like a leaf gradually sinking to the bottom of the pond. That leaf dissolves and becomes part of the silt at the bottom of the pond. The minerals within that leaf form part of the color of the silt. That silt has a slowly changing effect as the backing of a mirror made by the surface of the water of the pond. That in turn changes the character of the reflection on the water. That is the way emptiness meditation works, in my opinion, in my very small experience.
Using the tools of the Buddhist yogis and the 3 empty natures constantly being aware of the seeds of karma we are planting, and how these factors are imputations of our own mind and therefore our own bewilderment, and combining this with our compassion for all beings who must live in the environments created by the planting of the seeds, this is a day-to-day moment to moment wrestling of mindfulness that itself tames the mind and transforms the personality structure to one that is constantly returned to mindfulness and reminded of both consequences and kindness and rehearses in moment to moment life a tap on the shoulder that points out the emptiness of the doer, of what is done, and the consequences to come.
Only in an academic context could you point to the pristine formulation of emptiness in the 2nd turning of the wheel of Dharma and say that it is the reason for considering the 2nd wheel turning of the wheel of Dharma a superior thing of some kind to the 3rd turning of the wheel of Dharma which intentionally uses provisional formulations of the application of emptiness understanding to engage and transform an actual human being into someone less obstructed to awakening.
If one were to be churlish, one could say that a kind of practice that had more chance of doing more good for more people was the superior path.
But that's stupid.
In a way the emptiness understanding of the 2nd turning of the wheel of Dharma works to create a background “conscience” in a sense that emerges as a support for one as the yoga practitioners meditations that create an ongoing bond between practice and mindfulness outside of practice.
I find that getting lost in identifying the factors of our mental confusion is naturally clarified and refreshed by meditation on emptiness. I find that when emptiness meditation becomes an internal psychic game of academic distinctions pretending to be awareness insights, looking at the mind as a liar and popping the bubbles of lies for a while makes for a good self honesty.
There is not a meditation text that I've read by either Tibetan authors or Chinese authors that haven't provided wisdom that is by far obviously more informed and enlightened than this attempt to share my thoughts with you. But these have the advantage of being me not quoting some book but actually speaking for myself.
In passing I would like to say that the late Chögyam Trungpa’s book Glimpses of the Abhidharma will surprisingly engage you in a way that will make you an actual meditator. I have got the sense it is a horribly overlooked book. You could begin with this and go good places and find out later how far you have gone.
Going from this to Living Yogācāra by Tagawa Shun’ei naturally would follow this, basically giving you a “attitude about applying a yogacara perspective to your life” that, even if left at that, would leave you a more grounded person when you go back to or move on to other famous and special practices.
These are 2 books that make the kind of bridge that I am finding in pursuing both the teachings and the meditations of the emptiness school and the Buddhist yoga school together. There is so much talk about Buddhism it is useful to read some talk that leads you back to mindfulness.
The Zen school of Japan, especially in its more austere forms of sitting, as well as the “Great Perfection” teachings of Tibet, are without a doubt presentations of great unobstructed clarity. But even they have become encrusted with the ornaments of legends and mysteries and being so “without a path” that it is easy to lose the path for many.
I quite frankly have no difficulty with practicing both a path-based system of Mahayana Buddhism with what could be called immediacy-imminency pathless-awareness meditation. That is because of my training in Tibetan Buddhism in which deity yoga has a stage of experiencing the illusory nature of phenomena by creating a illusory phenomena of a deity and then dissolving it into open awareness. I understand that this is teaching me the point that my ego created impure illusory nature phenomena of a personality is equally an empty phenomenon of my empty constructed nature.
Deity yoga naturally embraces shifting from a view in which one rehearses the 3 empty natures point of view to a view in which one embodies the seamless unity of samsara and nirvana, luminous clarity and no self nature. These 2 points of view walk hand-in-hand in both the generation in completion stage yogas.
It is like the flickering of a candle. Between the snaps of the candle flame like a flag from one side to the other is a window.
The hermit on the top of the iron mountain every so often wets the end of his brush and returns to sweeping back and forth. Someday that mountain will be eroded to the root. Or someday an Eagle will pluck her from the peak and she will disappear into the sky. No hurry. Just do.
That's the way it seems to me to be the truth.