Teaching by Lama Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
September 1998, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Tonight we will discuss the concept of shunyata wisdom, and we will also discuss meditation on shunyata.

First I would like to lead meditation on shunyata, or emptiness. When we meditate on shunyata, first it is very important to meditate on the emptiness or shunyata of person. Shunyata of person, or emptiness of person, or no-self. So according to tradition it is always suggested that one should do meditation on shunyata and start the meditation with analytical mind. So first we ask question to ourself, "Who am I?" We should ask question, "Who am I?" So I'd like you at this point to ask question to yourself, "Who am I?" and find out what kind of answer you can find, or is there answer or no. So please ask this question, "Who am I?" [Meditate.]

We ask this question to ourselves, "Who am I?" So perhaps you find many answers: "I am man. I am human being. I am a Canadian. I am a teacher. I am a photographer. I am a writer. I am a singer. I am a musician. I am a cook. I am a driver. And I am a nice person, and so on and so forth. You can label, you can find lots of words, "I am this, I am this, I am this, I am that." What does that mean? Why do I say, "I am a photographer" and what does that mean? So this is a label, this is a word. This is a concept. We include this label. It is not much different than saying, "This is a table. This is a book. This is a watch. This is a bell. This is a teacup." It is all labels. And so when I say, "I'm a photographer," o.k., what does that mean?

O.k., I'm a photographer, but what makes me a photographer? Now where is the photographer? I can't become a photographer without having camera, and I have to have a camera. Camera itself alone can't become a photographer. I alone without a camera can't be a photographer. And so, me having a camera alone doesn't make me a photographer. I have to go take photos, shoot pictures and produce photo and then I'm called photographer. So there's so much involved there: photo and taking photo and act of making photo and so on and so forth. These are all activities. But what is photographer?

Or when we say, "I am a man," or "I am a woman." So where is the woman? We need to search and we need to go through. Look and look and look on ourselves, try to find where is me -- me or self or I. Those are different concepts -- me, self or I. All those concepts are different concepts. Then you practice, you do analytical meditation. Where is me?

The photographer, individually -- like, I look at the photo, the camera -- that's not a photographer. This body -- that's not the photographer, body alone. What about the mind -- mind alone is not the photographer. If you look, you meditate step by step, one by one, dividing me and part of me, then you look. You cannot find, you can't find, me or self. Except this concept of me or I, this person, human being, man or woman, or photographer or writer. Whatever you're called -- a concept. And this concept, this label and all these different parts. Other than that, you can't find one self, or what we call independent self. Person is, we call empty of substantial and autonomous existence.

Person is empty of substantial and autonomous existence. Because when we look, when we meditate on this way, we cannot find. So that vacuum, that emptiness, is called "emptiness of person" or personality. That is called shunyata or that is called no-self. So that is important. That is an important realization. When you realize that, then you realize emptiness. You realize also, then one will realize egolessness, egolessness. No ego. No self. So therefore, ego-grasping and self-grasping will diminish, will dissolve, because one realizes, one got realization: "There is no self. There is no me."

So when you realize there is no me, no self, no inherent existent self, no independent existent self, that realization is called the wisdom of no-self. And that wisdom is called, in Tibetan, "ne lug tog pen sherub." (??) "Ne lug" means "the true nature." The true nature, the true nature of self. "Tog pen sherub" means the wisdom of realizing the true nature of self. The true nature of self is empty. No inherent existence, no independent existence. And this realization is very important.

Lama Tsong Khapa said, "If you do not have the wisdom, that wisdom that understands the way things exist…" This is the way things exist. Everything exists this way. Like I, myself, do not exist inherently or independently. Likewise, others. And likewise, all phenomena. This realization is important. If you do not have this wisdom, you cannot eradicate the root of existence. This means one cannot eradicate the root of samsara. One cannot get rid of the root of all the defilements. One cannot get rid of ego-grasping. We cannot get rid of, eradicate, self-cherishing mind and one cannot get rid of self-grasping. One cannot eradicate attachment and anger, jealousy, envy, and so on and so on. And therefore, one cannot eradicate karma. If one cannot eradicate karma, unwholesome karma, then one cannot eradicate the cyclic existence, like the death and birth and old age, sickness and all the suffering of samsara.

Lama Tsong Khapa said, "Despite your acquaintance (?) with renunciation and bodhicitta, thus work hard at the means to realize the interdependence of things." Despite you may have realization of renunciation, you may have realization of the bodhicitta and you may have profound realization of renunciation. You may have these strong feelings of renunciation, you know. You realize the life, you realize the human life, the essence of the human life, the value of life or life in general has no really meaning, no greater meaning than temporary benefit, creating temporary happiness, solving temporary suffering, and so on and so forth. And there's not great meaning. Therefore, one realizes that Dharma realization is most important, most beneficial. So you have this strong feeling, feeling of yearning to be liberated from samsara, from cyclic existence. Wish to be free, free. So this realization is called renunciation.

You could have that realization and you have this strong desire to practice meditation and Dharma day and night, day and night. And when someone has a very deep renunciation, realization of renunciation, he or she sometimes forgets so many things, forgets worldly things. The worldly activities are no longer important. Sometimes they meditate and forget about food, like dinner, and just keep practicing, meditating, meditating. It happens so easily.

For example, when you love gardening, when you have so much passion for gardening, you are out there in the garden digging and planting flowers, herbs, and taking out weeds and landscaping, and you forget how the time went so fast. You forget the time. All of a sudden you realize you spent six hours in the garden. You forgot lunch. When you have so much love and passion. Similarly, when you are hiking or doing whatever -- fishing, painting, singing or dance, whatever you do. Likewise, when you have so much love or kind of like passion toward nirvana and free oneself from samsara, one gets into this kinds of state of mind. You even forget about eating lunch, and all these mundane things are not important. So one can have all these kinds of realizations.

Also one can have strong realization of bodhicitta, loving kindness, love toward all sentient beings, unconditioned love, impartial love. So much compassion and love you dedicate your life and your time and energy for the sake of others. One can have those realizations. But if one does not have the realization of shunyata, emptiness, then it is not possible to cut the root of samsara. You cannot eradicate the root of cyclic existence, as I mentioned. 

Onward Onward to Shunyata, p.2

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