Monday, February 17, 2014


The teaching of Emptiness is very important in both the Sutrayana and Vajrayana. A practitioner will not be able to make good progress on the path of enlightenment if he fails to understand the teaching of Emptiness. Emptiness does not mean an absolute void. To an ordinary person, it is either existence or non-existence; good or bad; pretty or ugly; black or white - one tends to fall into the concept of duality. 

Sakyamuni Buddha expounded the Law of Karma and sufferings at the initial stage - these are teachings about Existence. You will likely mistaken the true meaning of Emptiness if you are exposed to this subject too early, that you might assume that there is no need for practice if everything does not exist. On the other hand, if you hear only the teachings of Existence, you will be constrained by the concept of Existence and will not be able to attain enlightenment. So, there is a need to teach the subject of Emptiness – to bring the students to a higher level of realization, breaking away from the concept of Existence. However, there is one thing that cannot be refuted – the Law of Karma. You have to trust the Law of Karma but you cannot be constrained by its concept; you will need to balance it with the concept of Emptiness in order to be able to break free from the Cyclic Existence.

Sakyamuni Buddha expounded the concept of Egolessness, which is not equivalent to the meaning of a complete void; it means that the notion of ego is actually unfounded. In all circumstances, Emptiness and Karma co-exist. All things visible to our eyes are a composite existence of both Karma and Emptiness in one. When Sakyamuni Buddha expounded the teachings of Egolessness, He mentioned the Law of Karma too. Please bear this in mind – the Law of Karma truly exists; you will fall into hell if you do the bad things. Sakyamuni Buddha said that hell does exist. However, had He stopped at this level and not gone on to teach about Emptiness, you would think that once you fall into hell, you will never be able to leave break free from it. Hell is real but it is also empty in nature. After you have fallen into hell, when you realise that hell is also empty in nature, you will be able to break free from the Cyclic Existence. Sakyamuni Buddha mentioned both the Law of Karma and Emptiness. This is an area in Buddhism that is difficult to comprehend because both concepts seem to be contradictory. It is not easy to understand the Law of Karma and Emptiness at the same time. Sakyamuni Buddha said that all phenomena are empty in nature. However, Composite Existence is just another side of the same coin as Emptiness. A phenomenon is a composite existence that is empty of a self-nature, that it is just an appearance. Although an appearance can be seen but it is empty in nature. It is indeed difficult to comprehend this concept. 

Many Vajrayanists and those who study the teachings of Prajna Wisdom have difficulty in grasping the true essence of this teaching. Emptiness does not mean a physical void; it is intertwined with the Law of Karma. The Law of Karma is empty in nature but appearance can be formed based on a set of conditions (composite existence) due to the nature of Emptiness. You will need to actualise the practice in order to fully figure out this teaching of Sakyamuni Buddha, otherwise you will think that He contradicted Himself. This is a concept which cannot be easily understood simply based on our conventional logical thinking. Our conventional logical thinking is very much confined within the sphere of Existence and Non-Existence. Egolessness and Emptiness are very superior views but they are difficult to be comprehended through conventional logic. If you mistaken the teaching to be a complete void, you will fall into nihilism which is wrong. When you fall into nihilism, you will think that since everything is empty, you can do whatever you like and do the wrong things including transgressing the precepts. It is indeed not easy for one to master these two concepts of Emptiness and Existence. Ponder these two concepts.

Our limited cognitive ability is the reason why we are ignorant of the Law of Karma. Usually we cannot see the workings of the Law of Karma – there are many bad people who seem to be still enjoying their lives regardless of their bad deeds. Actually, we can only see a small fraction of an unlimited span of space and time – we are constrained by our limited view and therefore we suspect the Law of Karma. Sakyamuni Buddha said that the Law of Karma is real but the ordinary people do not have a higher wisdom to understand it. Even the Arahats who have developed supernatural powers cannot fully comprehend the Law of Karma, let alone the ordinary ones. A Buddha possesses unlimited supernatural powers and therefore has a full view of the Law of Karma. An ordinary person can never understand the Law of Karma on his own. Death is merely an end of this lifetime but the beginning of the next. All that you have done in this lifetime will be carried forward to your next life. Thus, your present life is a continuation of your past life and the creation of your next life, and this cycle repeats… 

Next, “happiness comes easy”. Happiness does not require too many conditions. Sakyamuni Buddha said that there are many things in life that appear trivial but can bring about happiness – when we are thirsty, we will feel happy after drinking a cup of water; when we are hungry, we will feel happy after eating a bowl of noodle. Small little things in life can create happiness for us – connect the individual happy periods into a long string of happiness, and you will become a happy person. We should purify our mind daily and feel such sense of happiness simply, and you will improve in your practice gradually. Actually, true happiness comes from a peaceful mind but not physical possessions. Many people have mistaken that happiness comes from their physical possessions; Sakyamuni Buddha had denied such view. All the external possessions are not the true source of happiness but suffering. You will feel anguished when you fail to possess what you desire. True happiness comes from the inner peace within our mind, simplicity and the willingness to let go. 

More than 2,500 years ago, Sakyamuni Buddha attained full enlightenment under a Bodhi Tree and He continued to teach for the next 49 years. In the Lotus Sutra, He was recorded as saying “There is no sentient being who does not possess the wisdom of a Buddha.” Another word, every sentient being possesses the wisdom of a Buddha but he is unable to attain it due to his own deluded thinking. The most important thing to us is to rediscover this innate wisdom right within us. All sentient beings are already in possession of a complete and enlightened mind, regardless of how lusty, tyrannical, cunning or ignorant we are; this enlightened mind of ours never depletes. It is there all along. We only need to relax, and bring it out in us – this is the most important objective of a spiritual practice.

A Dharma Discourse given by Acho Rincpohe on 7 Aug 2013.