Our ultimate nature, emptiness

In the last post we looked at the emptiness of the self, or we could say how the self we normally see doesn’t exist, and that observing the duality within our self helps us to realise this. Why? Because we gradually start to become aware of a self we don’t normally see. In this post we’ll be exploring our ultimate nature, emptiness

Normally we see ourself within what appears to us… our body, thoughts and anything else we might identify as ‘self’.  This self appears to us not to exist in dependence on external conditions (such as oxygen, a beating heart, working lungs, an environment free from fire etc). Rather, it feels to us that it exists in some way inherently, or independent of external conditions

Because it’s clear the self doesn’t exist in this way, but rather is dependent on many different conditions for its survival, many spiritual practitioners recognise this to be a mistake and so apply effort to understand where they’ve gone wrong and eventually to identify the true nature of the self

Understanding the emptiness of the self

So what does exist then? The mere lack of the self we normally see. In one sense we could say that everything we can observe is not the self. This helps us to evolve towards the understanding of what we truly are. An essence that lacks all physical form and has no beginning or end. This is not easy to understand, because this self is very subtle. In the chapter ‘The Emptiness Of Our I’, in Modern BuddhismGeshe Kelsang says:

‘Although our self that we normally see does not exist, this does not mean that our self does not exist at all. We exist as a mere imputation. So long as we are satisfied with the mere imputation of our ‘self’, there is no problem…… The conclusion of our search was a definite non-finding of our self. This unfindability of our self is the emptiness of our self, the ultimate nature of our self’

This ‘search’ refers to the meditation where, when we search for ourself that we normally see with wisdom, we are unable to find it (for many of us more reading will definitely be required!). So although ultimately our self doesn’t exist we can understand that from one perspective, the essence of what we are is our very subtle body and mind (the deepest level of ourself). In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says:

‘We should regard our continuously residing body, our very subtle body, as the real wishfulfilling jewel; this is our Buddha nature through which the wishes of ourself and all other living beings will be fulfilled.’

Emptiness is our buddha nature

So it could be said that the essence of ourself is our Buddha nature. It is the ripening of this nature that will lead us to realising the completely pure nature of our mind. When we remove the normal perception of ourself, the self we normally see, we could say what remains is simply this pure essential nature

Having removed the perception of the self we normally see, an opening is created for us to relate to the the self we don’t normally see. As we gradually remove the obstructions in our mind through training in spiritual paths, we stop identifying with this self we normally see or perceive (essentially a product of our imagination, albeit a powerful one!) and instead we begin to relate to our pure essential nature

The emptiness of space

For those of us with less familiarity with these concepts, when we think about the nature of our mind it can be helpful to think about the nature of the universe. Just as the universe has no boundaries, neither does our mind, as it too expands through space and time

If we understand that everything is made up of atoms and atoms are essentially 99.9999% empty space, this helps us to understand how it could be possible for our mind to pervade unobstructed throughout the universe and for the mode of existence of our self and all the things that appear to us as being deceptive

Emptiness is our pure essence

Coming to know from our own experience, that this pure essential nature of ourself is actually us, is deeply meaningful. Rather than perceiving ourself as the ‘doer’ that thinks and engages with people and things, we start to identify with ourself as the ‘perceiver’ who is the nature of clarity (an incredibly clear and pure perception)

It is this clarity, which is the nature of our mind…. that pervades all of space, just like the universe. Gradually we come to identify ourself with pure awareness, an experience of the clarity of the subtle mind, and the sense of separation between ourself and other phenomena starts to fade away

Training in spiritual paths helps us initially to remove the more coarse delusions, or negative states of mind, to create space for us to gain deeper understandings such as those explained in books like Modern Buddhism. Practically speaking, there is no more meaningful experience to be gained than coming to know that we ourself, the self we normally relate to, doesn’t exist. As we realise this we gradually become free from problems and eventually attain a deathless state. How wonderful 🙂

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: