For the last two days, I sat with His Holiness (“HH”) the Dalai Lama to receive his teachings. I have been receiving teachings from him since 1980. This year, the quality of his teachings seemed to take on more urgency—certainly he always sees the need to urge us on to deeper meditation, contemplation, reflection and action. Yet, I was struck by the immediacy of his pleas that we practice with spiritual urgency, study to realize more deeply “true nature” and reflect and contemplate in such a way that our practice and study are not superficial but more deeply investigative of the nature of this precious human birth and its world. Accordingly, even though it is difficult to summarize in this slim column two days of teachings, it seems beneficial to pause our reflection on the five spiritual faculties to glimpse them. Essentially, he said that if we stay on the superficial level of knowing the nature of persons and phenomena, without realizing deeply their empty and selfless nature, freedom will not be ours. Clinging to and grasping at self leads inexorably to suffering. Thus, he taught, without developing our understanding of emptiness and living accordingly, liberation is not available. You may be more familiar with the phrase “not self” in the Theravada teachings than HH’s “emptiness.”
How have you received those teachings? Have you developed and deepened understanding? If not, why not? Reflect on the depth of your desire to be free and see how you can find the resolve and patience to do what it takes. The time is now.
This waking life is like a dream. If we know we’re dreaming, will we hold on to the people in the dream? get upset about how we feel or that we lost something in that dream? Son to Mom: “Pretend you are surrounded by monsters and they are all coming at you. You’re really frightened. You think they’re going to attack you. What would you do?” Mom: “I don’t know—What would you do?” Son: “Stop pretending!”
Examining the aggregates of existence in the past few weeks, we see that we live in a constructed reality. Consciousness storing received sense impressions in memory and projecting them into the future, we create a solid, personal, view of an abiding self. But consciousness is only here and now—the present moment is all there is. The texture of thoughts, mental states, perceptions, body sensations is ephemeral, empty. Appearances are insubstantial, fleeting, generated by a nervous system pulsing on and off thousands of times every second. What feels solid is just hardness conveyed by the sense of touch, another fleeting sense impression. We may never know what underlying reality truly is.
The wisdom of the teaching of the five aggregates is to see “emptiness” or “selflessness,” which does not denote nothingness, a state of desolation—it points to the transparency and spaciousness of experience. The potentially deeply liberating effect of meditation is that it gives a steady basis from which emptiness—the impermanent and insubstantial nature of sense experiences that arise and dissolve, appear and fade—is revealed.
Buddha: “Empty phenomena roll on. This view alone is true.” Look deeply, be free.