Experience of Emptiness 

Experience of Emptiness 

Date Posted:
November 2009

A student wrote to Rinpoche asking for advice about his business and his practice. The student’s questions and Rinpoche's responses are below.

Student: Should I sell my business now?

Rinpoche: First, read the Sanghata Sutra three times. Print the Golden Light Sutra. Print the Sanghata Sutra three times. After you have done those things, try to sell your business. Also, write the Sanghata Sutra as part of your practice, to collect merit for your own practice.

Student: Rinpoche might remember my retreat experience of the self disappearing, feeling that I could arise as anything. I realized that I did not exist at all, did not have anything to hold on to. Since then I have not had that experience again.

Rinpoche: At that time you felt there was no “I” to cherish?

Student: None, nothing. It has had a big effect on my life because I can remember that, but I cannot go back to that really profound experience.

Rinpoche: So, that is an example of what emptiness means. When you meditate on emptiness, it means that, nothing else than that. If anybody thinks it is other than that, that is not emptiness. It is wrong. The person is mistaken. There is nothing to hold on to. There is nothing to cherish. There is completely, totally, nothing there. As a result, it is not that there is no “I.” There is an “I” there, but it is totally empty. It is the opposite of what we have believed—holding on to exactly opposite to that. So, after this, it is not that there is no “I,” there is an “I,” but it is an empty one. It is just a mere name. It is not non-existent, but like non-existent, but not non-existent.

The Prasangika view of the “I” is that it exists as an extremely subtle dependent arising—existing in mere name, merely imputed by the mind. That’s what Lama Tsongkhapa has shown. That is the truth that Guru Shakyamuni Buddha has shown, which liberates sentient beings, including all the numberless sentient beings who are already enlightened. Even in our present time, this truth is still liberating us, and Buddha will also liberate us in the future by showing this truth.

When you understand the "I" which is not non-existent, but is extremely subtle, then you can find unshakable faith in Lama Tsongkhapa’s words. When you put effort into realizing dependent arising, and see the cause and effect of samsara and nirvana, then you can one hundred percent see the exact meaning of what Lama Tsongkhapa said, and the inherent nature of any object that is focused on disappears. It is like at night, you think you see a tiger, then you turn on your flashlight. Before there is an appearance of an animal, that your mind labels tiger. Because you label it tiger, you believe a tiger is there, then you are afraid. When you turn on your flashlight, that view of “tiger,” the tiger that your mind has believed in, disappears.

There are many examples. Another one is the magician who creates an illusion through the power of a mantra. When the power of that mantra is gone, the illusion disappears. Any object that we think of as true, from this morning or from the time of our birth, that is not merely labeled, now disappears.

Now, when this happens, that person has entered the path that is pleasing to the Buddha. So, you have had your own experience. You can feel that it is exactly what Lama Tsongkhapa says. If anybody says that Lama Tsongkhapa’s view is wrong, you know it is not wrong, from your own experience. You can have strong faith in Lama Tsongkhapa. No matter how many people say they are right, you know what is right from your own experience. You must have had an imprint from past lives, and also from your devotion and guru devotion. Also, you have been doing more practice for the last few years.

Student: I wish I could dial it up.

Rinpoche: So, you could not go back to that experience?

Student: No.

Rinpoche: How long did the experience last, half an hour?

Student: Maybe 15 minutes. It was not like I was able to think about it. OK, the room is completely gone, full of light, and I could be anything. It was surprising.

Rinpoche: So, it was total emptiness or just light? During that time, the view of your mind was that there is light but there is no “I.” It was not total negation?

Student: No.

Rinpoche: There is a very intense seeing that there is no "I," in which one has been believing so far, but there is not a total view of the emptiness of the mind?

Student: Not that nothing exists, but it was dependent on whatever I wanted, what I could make. It felt that way. The thought came that I could be a white angel. The thought came that now I see how I can arise as Vajrayogini. It felt like that. But that was two years ago.

Rinpoche: Did you do retreat this year?

Student: This year I was watching Lama’s six yogas and meditating on that. I had a lot of very good concentration and was very happy. Also, I did Vajrayogini and lots of lam-rim. This year I studied the suffering of samsara. I find the lam-rim is fantastic.

Rinpoche: Yes, there is a Tibetan saying that thu, a cheese mixed with a lot of butter, which is a very special food in Tibet, is able to exist by the kindness of the butter. You cut a slice of thu with tsampa, and yum yum. So, in the same way, the tantra teachings are rich through the kindness of the lam-rim.

Student: Yes, the more I study, the more I find it unbelievable.

Rinpoche: You see, all the subjects in the lam-rim are so connected. Perfect human rebirth and bodhicitta are so connected. It is like a building. When people don’t study the whole thing, they cannot see how huge it is. Only then can you see the ultimate reality. It is there, but they cannot see it.

Student: So, if it is possible for me to maintain my practice and still be center director, then I am happy.

Rinpoche: Yes, you have to do that, even if you become president. Without Dharma in life, life has no essence, life is a total deception and suffering, Even if you become the American president, work has to be done along with Dharma.

Student: When we are very busy like now, I don’t have time for too much practice. I do my water bowls and try to do 100 prostrations to the 35 Buddhas.

Rinpoche: How long have you been doing prostrations?

Student: Two to three years, I’m not sure.

Rinpoche: That helps a lot, to have this experience. I did not know if you had done preliminary practices or not, that is why I said it could be the imprint from a past life. Prostrations help a lot. Reciting the 35 Buddhas’ names is unbelievable. That helps a lot. Many eons of negative karma are purified. Also, if you recite Vajrasattva with bodhicitta and emptiness, with unbelievably strong regret, then even a few mantras purify the negative karmas from broken vows. Normally you recite it 100,000 times. In tantra it mentions that from reciting just one name of the 35 Buddhas, many eons of negative karma are purified. Therefore, different negative karmas are purified. That helps a lot.

Student: Actually, I think I have been doing it for more than five years.

Rinpoche: Every day?

Student: Usually, but some days I miss it. I do try to do it.

Rinpoche: That helps. That helps a lot.

Student: Now I have a question regarding the center. What retreats can it do?

Rinpoche: You can have a retreat on the preliminary practices, as well as a highest yoga tantra retreat. One thing that makes it easier for people who have preliminary practices is to do water bowl offerings. Lots of water bowl offerings can be done as a group. Different people can set up the offerings, then offer them together, and each person can count all the water bowls as part of their practice. This way they can finish them quickly. You can offer them at the stupa and have tables to make more places to offer them. That is one thing that will help the people who have the preliminary practice of water bowl offerings. They might not have space in their house or they might not have much time. In this way, many people can offer bowls and the preliminary practice can be finished very quickly. That helps a lot of people. It doesn’t have to be like the other retreats; it could be for seven or ten people. Maybe you should not think about the number. Even though some people don’t have a commitment to do the practice, they might want to come because it is such an easy way to do them. Normally, you have family, work, and many things to do. You should advertise it is a good opportunity to collect merit. The essential benefit of water bowl offerings is to make the dry mind, the thick-skulled, stubborn mind, wet with bodhicitta. It is like wetting dry soil with water, so that things can grow. The mind is wetted with bodhicitta so it can be transformed. If you put water on flowers, it is the same with the mind. We use water for the offerings because it doesn’t cost much. In Tibet we take it from the stream, so it is very easy to offer it without miserliness. The other purpose is to soften the heart. You can use my comment as the basis for the advertising

Student: Anything else?

Rinpoche: Developing devotion is the most important thing. Then do self-initiation, that helps also. The mind collects dirt and becomes dark. Self-initiation washes it away, clears it, and all the vows are purified.

Student: Another Rinpoche mentioned that he did self-initiation every day. I wonder, for Vajrayogini practice, how one would do that in a short way.

Rinpoche: Yes, you can do that. What takes a long time is the elaborate offerings. Skip that. You must do the vows. After the mantra and before the torma offering, at the end of the sadhana, there you can do the short Vajrayogini practice. If you skip the offerings, there is outer, inner and secret Vajrayogini. The short practice is to enter inside the Vajrayogini mandala, skip the offerings, do argham, padyam, pushpe and the mantra, and leave out the verses. You can collect extensive merit through offerings, that is why there are so many, but you can do eight offerings—the five offerings that come first, after that the outer, inner and secret offerings. It depends on how short you make it. One thing is to make the stanzas and offerings shorter, just doing the eight offerings and the five offerings. Even shorter than that, after entering the mandala, take the vows, then do the eight offerings, do some offering visualizing the deity in front of you, then take the four initiations. That comes last.

Student: Rinpoche, I have one more small, tricky problem with another student, which I will not record.

Rinpoche: She has to let go. She needs some balance. What you did, what you tried, was the best. If you get angry it becomes like Israel and Hezbilah, like Iraq. That is a good example. Then, there is no end. All these problems are beginningless. If a third person looks at the situation, they will see she has to let go.