What is Shunyata

You are all slaves. You, each and everyone, are enslaved by your thoughts and emotions. Do you think not? Let us try an experiment. You only have to sit there and stop thinking for one minute. Ok now just don’t think.  Try it now.

How many made it fifteen seconds? How many twenty? I know none of you made it a minute. You are trapped by your own mental activity. Your thoughts and emotions — for after all emotions are just thoughts too.

Because you are enslaved by your mental activity, you are not free and thus you constantly have many trials, tribulations, consternations, and more. Your life is like a roller coaster that you can not get off. Your reach great heights when you accomplish something that your ego determined was needed or desired and great lows when you do not.

This is precisely what Buddhism addresses. Buddhism is not some religion that is going to give you all the answers. Actually, I do not think it is a religion at all. It is not big daddy in the sky fixing your problems. It is not the same as pop psychology. Buddhism is about your quality of life! How are you going to live this life free from being enslaved by your own mind?

First, in order to be enslaved by my own mind, I have to have an “I” a self, an ego. We think this self is some sort of permanent thing, enduring from one experience to the next. There is some consciousness of there being an I who is experiencing all these things. However, Buddhism teaches that there is no such self. The self is just as created as the thought content that you experience. In fact, the experience and the experiencer are generated in the same instant. Seeing past this trap is called the experience of no-self. We have techniques that will help you realize that this is so and there are people in this room who have been working with me and who have realized it. What is realization, it is not some intellectual understanding but something you touch with the fiber of your “being.” It is the ground you operate from not some new trinket you can add to your collection of wonderful ideas and thoughts you collected along the way. So the self as we normally understand it is an illusion.

Second, actually, things are an illusion too. We go through life not only acting but actually accepting that things are really out there. This table will be the same table next week when you come. This building is the same building that you passed last year, and so too with all these objects. Oh, yes, things get old and eventually break down but we still think it is the same thing – just broken. However, even modern science will tell you that nothing is the same from second to second. The atomic structure is constantly changing and so the whole universe is different each second. We do not see life this way because our senses are limited. Buddhism teaches that to constantly hold on to that naive view adds to our suffering and enslavement, just as holding on to some permanently existing self does. There are techniques to bring about the realization that things are constantly becoming but never are. This experience is called “shunyata” in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. Shunyata means that things are both empty of an inherent essence that makes them exist as such and that there is an open dimension to being in the world that allows for a dynamic and liberating way to walk through life.

Third, since both self and other are generated at the same time and from the same movement, then in fact all that really is, is the non-dual. The separation of the universe into experience and experiencer is not real. This non-dual wherein no two things can be posited is the sphere of completion. In it, there is no enslavement, no suffering, no problems and it is punctuated with joy and depth of wisdom. Buddhism has techniques to help each person quickly experience this freedom.

Fourth, the expression of the no-self, shunyata, non-dual life is great compassion to all sentient beings. We do not just look at the human situation but take into account all sentient life. If you have even one sense then you suffer. Those who experience these things, who make this their own foundation from which wisdom can arise are concerned about the suffering of others. If there is truly no self, then all your interactions with other beings is based on compassion because there is no self interest involved. In this way, those who follow the Buddhist life, are like tuning forks when some being is vibrating with suffering, the Buddhist also vibrates. Bringing their profound wisdom to bear, they engage the other in ways know and unknown to help alleviate the suffering. Buddhism has techniques that help develop one’s compassion.

Fifth, The Buddha is not some god or god substitute. He is not some high and mighty up there somewhere that we use to measure our failings. He is your own absolute highest expression, something deep inside each of you. Your own profound wisdom and compassion, living free from your self-made enslavement –that is Buddha. Sometimes we externalize him as a way of trying to facilitate our realization but in fact he is no different than you and you are no different than him. You must have a relationship with this real Buddha if you are to be free, for he is freedom. This is why we meditate on the Buddha.

Finally, no-self, shunyata, non-dual, compassion, and Buddha are in fact all the same thing. These are just different words used so that those of us lost in our enslavement can start to gain some understanding. But when you have these experiences, when you have these realizations you come to know that indeed all is one.

Thank you.

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