Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

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Kabouterke
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Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by Kabouterke » Wed Aug 24, 2016 11:13 pm

Whatever happened to emptiness meditation in Theravada Buddhism?

Tonight, I unintentionally started focusing my meditation on emptiness. I paid attention to the empty quality of the mind and how any mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness, and how if there was any mind object in the mind, that this was the only form in the mind. Doing this produced one of the longest, deepest and most lucid meditations I have ever had, by far. Emptiness meditation is pretty powerful stuff.

Then I started wondering: Why is this not being taught more in the Theravadan traditions? Are there even any teachers alive today who teach emptiness meditation as their main practice, and not just as an aspect of meditation?

The Theravada tradition has two suttas with unusually detailed instructions on how to do emptiness meditation (MN 121 and MN 122). The Mahayana make emptiness a central part of their meditative practices. The Tibetans even have an entire series of meditations taking emptiness as their object. Yet, we have this powerful practice and these two very detailed suttas and no one appears to be doing anything with them.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html (See this link for a description of the practice by Thanissaro)

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retrofuturist
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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Aug 24, 2016 11:30 pm

Greetings,

It's a very good question.

If I were to give a totally frank response, it would be that I suspect the Abhidhammic model of momentariness of dhammas - whereby they "exist" and then "not exist" with great rapidity - has coloured what it means to say that dhammas are both anicca and anatta in the Theravada tradition. The tradition has therefore been very reticent to embrace an understanding of sunnata as anything more than a synonym for how it understands aniccata, lest such an understanding of the Dhamma be allowed to undermine the well-entrenched orthodox Abhidhammic views of the school.

That's not to speak of the truth or falsity of such views per se, only to highlight that such views have probably had the consequence of diminishing "emptiness meditation" in Theravada circles over the centuries. Whenever the topic of "emptiness" comes up, there's often the fear that someone is going to try to smuggle apocryphal Mahayana doctrine into the Theravada tradition, and such explorations get cut off at the pass in the interests of preserving doctrinal purity.

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

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tiltbillings
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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by tiltbillings » Thu Aug 25, 2016 12:06 am

Kabouterke wrote: I paid attention to the empty quality of the mind and how any mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness,
Things arise "in and out of emptiness?" What does that actually mean? What sutta support such a statement?
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

Kabouterke
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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by Kabouterke » Thu Aug 25, 2016 12:11 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Kabouterke wrote: I paid attention to the empty quality of the mind and how any mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness,
Things arise "in and out of emptiness?" What does that actually mean? What sutta support such a statement?
I'm using my own words here. But that's besides the point. The question is: we've got two detailed suttas that outline two different and complete practices, both taking emptiness as the object of meditation, both leading directly to liberation. And as far as I can see, no one is doing anything with them. Why is that?

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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by SarathW » Thu Aug 25, 2016 12:20 am

And as far as I can see, no ones doing anything with them. Why is that?
Good question.
Actually this is one of the way I do the meditation.
I think it is a very effective way to attain Jhana and realise emptiness.
I am not sure whether this is an aspect of Satipatthana.


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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tiltbillings
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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by tiltbillings » Thu Aug 25, 2016 12:47 am

Kabouterke wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
Kabouterke wrote: I paid attention to the empty quality of the mind and how any mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness,
Things arise "in and out of emptiness?" What does that actually mean? What sutta support such a statement?
I'm using my own words here. But that's besides the point.
Is it beside the point that you have made a statement that characterizes what emptiness is?
The question is: we've got two detailed suttas that outline two different and complete practices, both taking emptiness as the object of meditation, both leading directly to liberation. And as far as I can see, no one is doing anything with them. Why is that?
But you do not know if there are people out there, or not, using these suttas as a basis for practice.

To some degree, in terms of practice, one needs to initially have an intellectual/conceptual understanding of emptiness, which can serve as a tool for understanding, but a conceptual/intellectual understanding is not actual insight into the empty nature of dhammas, the experience of the arising/falling conditioned/conditioning nature of the mind/body process -- the all (SN IV 15)/the world(AN II 48)/Dhp 279/MN 1 190-1/Ud 1.10 .

In other words, developing a strong degree of concentration that allows one to be attentive to rising/falling/conditioned/conditioning nature of the mind/body process -- the all (SN IV 15)/the world(AN II 48)/Dhp 279/MN 1 190-1/Ud 1.10 -- the nature of emptiness becomes clear. It is not "mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness," as if emptiness were a thing/place/some sort of background.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by Goofaholix » Thu Aug 25, 2016 1:29 am

tiltbillings wrote:It is not "mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness," as if emptiness were a thing/place/some sort of background.
Yes. I think a lot of people get attracted to this idea or like the "feeling" of a spacious and quiet mind and interpret this as emptiness. I certainly did, it's just a black hole and a recipe for spacing out.

Any object arising is an object, the absence of an object is also an object (ie a spacious and quiet mind). Both experiences are empty, both are conditioned and empty in the sense that they have no inherent existence in and of themselves.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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tiltbillings
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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by tiltbillings » Thu Aug 25, 2016 2:03 am

Goofaholix wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:It is not "mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness," as if emptiness were a thing/place/some sort of background.
Yes. I think a lot of people get attracted to this idea or like the "feeling" of a spacious and quiet mind and interpret this as emptiness. I certainly did, it's just a black hole and a recipe for spacing out.

Any object arising is an object, the absence of an object is also an object (ie a spacious and quiet mind). Both experiences are empty, both are conditioned and empty in the sense that they have no inherent existence in and of themselves.
Spot on.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by L.N. » Thu Aug 25, 2016 4:21 am

tiltbillings wrote:… developing a strong degree of concentration … the nature of emptiness becomes clear. It is not "mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness," ...
How do you know this? From your own direct experience? Have you developed a faculty of discernment which enables you to fully penetrate the words you quote and the mind of the person who wrote them?
tiltbillings wrote:
Goofaholix wrote:Any object arising is an object, the absence of an object is also an object (ie a spacious and quiet mind). Both experiences are empty, both are conditioned and empty in the sense that they have no inherent existence in and of themselves.
Spot on.
Have both of you arrived at this same understanding through your own direct experiences?

More to the point:
Kabouterke wrote:The question is: we've got two detailed suttas that outline two different and complete practices, both taking emptiness as the object of meditation, both leading directly to liberation. And as far as I can see, no one is doing anything with them. Why is that?
There seems to be some similarity with the formless jhanas (some discussion here). Other forum members may be able to confirm whether these are, in fact, taught in this day and age. Whether they are practiced, perhaps our insightful friends in this very thread can inform us based on their personal experiences and discernment.
Sire patitthitā Buddhā
Dhammo ca tava locane
Sangho patitthitō tuiham
uresabba gunākaro


愿众佛坐在我的头顶, 佛法在我的眼中, 僧伽,功德的根源, 端坐在我的肩上。

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tiltbillings
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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by tiltbillings » Thu Aug 25, 2016 4:45 am

L.N. wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:… developing a strong degree of concentration … the nature of emptiness becomes clear. It is not "mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness," ...
How do you know this? From your own direct experience? Have you developed a faculty of discernment which enables you to fully penetrate the words you quote and the mind of the person who wrote them?
As for the "mental activity was just simply arising in and out of emptiness and taking shape in emptiness," that is not at all an uncommon experience, as [="http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 96#p392986"]Goofaholix[/url] characterizes in the first paragraph of the linked msg. One does not need to read minds to recognize from experience what is being described.

tiltbillings wrote:
Goofaholix wrote:Any object arising is an object, the absence of an object is also an object (ie a spacious and quiet mind). Both experiences are empty, both are conditioned and empty in the sense that they have no inherent existence in and of themselves.
Spot on.
Have both of you arrived at this same understanding through your own direct experiences?
Sure.
More to the point:
Kabouterke wrote:The question is: we've got two detailed suttas that outline two different and complete practices, both taking emptiness as the object of meditation, both leading directly to liberation. And as far as I can see, no one is doing anything with them. Why is that?
There seems to be some similarity with the formless jhanas (some discussion here). Other forum members may be able to confirm whether these are, in fact, taught in this day and age. Whether they are practiced, perhaps our insightful friends in this very thread can inform us based on their personal experiences and discernment.
Do you want a discussion of jhana or do you want a discussion of what emptiness means?
Last edited by tiltbillings on Thu Aug 25, 2016 9:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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L.N.
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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by L.N. » Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:16 am

tiltbillings wrote:Do you want a discussion of jhana or do you want a discussion of what emptiness means?
Do you want to inhale or do you want to exhale? Please surprise us.
Sire patitthitā Buddhā
Dhammo ca tava locane
Sangho patitthitō tuiham
uresabba gunākaro


愿众佛坐在我的头顶, 佛法在我的眼中, 僧伽,功德的根源, 端坐在我的肩上。

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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by Dan74 » Thu Aug 25, 2016 6:03 am

L.N. wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Do you want a discussion of jhana or do you want a discussion of what emptiness means?
Do you want to inhale or do you want to exhale? Please surprise us.
Not sure if this tone is skillful for one practitioner to adopt towards another, but to return back to the topic, isn't just about any Buddhist meditation essentially a meditation on emptiness or at least a preparation for such? I mean, what is meditation if not seeing the arising and falling, impermanent, empty of inherent substance?
_/|\_

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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by tiltbillings » Thu Aug 25, 2016 6:13 am

Dan74 wrote:
L.N. wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Do you want a discussion of jhana or do you want a discussion of what emptiness means?
Do you want to inhale or do you want to exhale? Please surprise us.
Not sure if this tone is skillful for one practitioner to adopt towards another, but to return back to the topic, isn't just about any Buddhist meditation essentially a meditation on emptiness or at least a preparation for such? I mean, what is meditation if not seeing the arising and falling, impermanent, empty of inherent substance?
I am sure someone will come up with something, but "what is meditation if not seeing the arising and falling, impermanent, empty of inherent substance," pretty much sums it up.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by Dinsdale » Thu Aug 25, 2016 6:52 am

Kabouterke wrote:Whatever happened to emptiness meditation in Theravada Buddhism?
Emptiness is conditonality, aka anatta.
Buddha save me from new-agers!

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Re: Whatever happened to meditation on emptiness?

Post by Kabouterke » Thu Aug 25, 2016 7:49 am

tiltbillings wrote:
L.N. wrote:How do you know this? From your own direct experience? Have you developed a faculty of discernment which enables you to fully penetrate the words you quote and the mind of the person who wrote them?
...One does not need to read minds to recognize from experience what is being described.
Tiltbillings, it looks like your confidence has gotten the best of you. I intentionally truncated the description of my meditation last night because I did not want to appear boastful or have to bring up things such as meditative attainments. But it looks like you're steering the conversation in that direction. I am no beginning meditator. In my daily meditation, I usually can attain the 7th jhana and move well into the 8th. How do I know this? Because of the routine sequence of events (states of mind, changing perceptions, etc) that I experience almost everyday. I am more than capable of recognizing for myself the big difference between the motionless, luminous, alert, calm, collected nature of mind that results from the 7th jhana and the dulled-out, dreamy, trance-like state that some beginning meditators find themselves in. If you still have worries, please PM me and I will be happy to discuss this with you further.

In my former line of work, I used to teach Dutch and English as foreign languages and I was often in charge of supervising less experienced teachers. They would come to me and say "I think this guy should be moved down to a lower level, because he's not yet capable of speaking about more complex subjects like economics, science, etc." Then I would ask, "What questions did you ask him or what topics did you discuss that makes you think he's incapable of talking on this level?" They would often answer that they didn't try talking about more advanced subjects with the student, they just went off a hunch they had. I would reply to them "How can you possibly know if someone is capable of X if you don't have a conversation with that person about X?" Then, I would perform the level test myself with the student, and lo and behold, in the majority of cases the student was completely capable of discussing the more difficult topics required by that class. It seems like you've made the same sort of mistake here, too. Going off a single (and, I admit, not carefully formulated) sentence is doing the same thing.

I'm only an occasional user of this forum, so I am not sure if this is the tone you adopt with everyone or if you were just feeling unusually haughty yesterday. But I, for one, do hope that you are not this dismissive of other people on the forum... if only for your sake. It's really off-putting.

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