Emptiness and Dependent Arising
January 29, 2005, Sravasti Abbey
Ven. Chodron's interview with Zopa Rinpoche
Lama Zopa Rinpoche: We
ordinary beings who havent realized emptiness dont see
things as similar to illusions. We dont realize that things
are merely labeled by mind and exist by mere name. Generally speaking,
we dont see the mere appearance of the Iuntil we become enlightened, because
whenever our mind merely imputes something, the next second the
negative imprint left on the mental continuum by previous ignorance
projects true existence. In the first moment, the I is imputed;
in the next it appears back to us as real, as truly existent, as
not merely labeled by mind.
Until we achieve enlightenment we have this
appearance of true existence. Except for the meditative equipoise
on emptiness of an arya, all other consciousnesses of sentient beings
have the appearance of true existence. During an aryas meditative
equipoise on emptiness things dont appear truly existent.
It is without the dualistic view (in two senses, first) not only
is there no appearance of true existence, but there is no appearance
of subject and object. This wisdom mind and its object are inseparable,
like water put in water. The aryas meditative equipoise on
emptiness hasnt completely eliminated the dualistic view from
the persons mindstream forever, but it has absorbed it temporarily.
That is how the wisdom meditates on emptiness. It realizes emptiness
directly, becoming inseparable from emptiness.
After arising from meditative equipoise on emptiness,
everything appears truly existent again, even though the meditator
no longer believes that this appearance is true. In this way, the
meditator sees things as like an illusion in that they appear one
way (truly existent) but exist in another (dependent, merely labeled).
These post-meditation times are called subsequent attainment, or
rjes-thob in Tibetan. So the appearance of true existence is there
until we attain enlightenment. Thats why it is said that every
consciousness of sentient beings except an aryas meditative
equipoise on emptiness is a hallucinating mindeverything that
appears to it appears truly existent.
So whatever appears and whenever
there is the thought I, aryas have the appearance of
a truly existent I during the time of subsequent attainment. If
this is the case for aryas, there is no question that ordinary bodhisattvas
on the path of accumulation and the path of preparation, who have
not realized emptiness directly,
have a hallucinating mind. Everything that appears to them appears
truly existent. Needless to say, whenever we common people, who
havent realized emptiness, think I, we dont
think of a merely labeled I. Generally speaking, when we common
people talk about I, its the real I, the I existing from its
own side. During our conversations every day, we dont talk
about some other I; were always thinking and speaking about
a truly existent I. That is how we see and think of things. Ordinarily
people do not question that appearance. Nor are they aware that
they assent to that appearance, grasping it as real and true.
So when we think I or point to I,
naturally we think its truly existent. We dont have
any appearance other than that of true existence. Then we believe
that appearance to be the way things actually exist. So when we
say I, were automatically pointing to and thinking
about a truly existent I because the merely labeled I is not appearing
any more. But the I that appears to us is false; it doesnt
truly exist. When we meditate on emptiness, we drop an atom bomb
on this truly existent I. The atom bomb is the reason of dependent
arisingthe I is not truly existent because it is a dependent
arising. Its not true. What appears true, what appears to
exist from its own side, isnt true. Thus it is empty of true
But its being empty doesnt mean the I
doesnt exist. The real I, the truly existent I, the I that
exists by its own nature, the I that exists from its own side, is
not true. It doesnt exist. However, the conventional I, the
I that exists by being merely labeled, the I that is a dependent
arising, that I exists.
In the Heart Sutra, Avalokiteshvara says no
form, no feeling, and so on. This is like throwing an atom bomb
on the appearance of truly existent things. That appearance is not
true. Those truly existent things that appear to us do not exist.
Then what comes in our heart is that theyre empty. Its
not that they dont exist. They exist, but theyre empty.
Why? Because theyre dependent arisings. Because they are dependent
arisings, they are empty of true existence; because they are dependent
arisings, they exist (conventionally). Use the reason Its
not true because its a dependent arising. Do analytical
meditation to search for the I, then do stabilizing meditation when
you see its emptiness.
For us ordinary beings, whatever we contact,
talk about, or think abouteverythingappears truly existent
and we believe in that appearance. We grasp things as truly existent.
However, when you realize the emptiness of the I or any other phenomenon
and train your mind in that realization, you see that this phenomenon
is merely labeled by mind. Even though true existence still appears
to you, you dont assent to that appearance; you dont
believe that phenomena truly exist. You know they exist by being
merely labeled by mind, even though they appear truly existent.
You have discovered that theyre not true, that they exist
in mere name.
Someone whose mind has realized emptiness in
the meditation session sees things as like an illusion in the subsequent
attainment time. He knows they exist by being merely labeled by
mind. So even though that meditator has the realization that everything
is a dependent arising and is merely labeled by mind dependent on
the base, he still has the appearance of true existence. But now
he points at that and say to himself, This appearance isnt
true because its a dependent arising. There is nothing
contradictory in thisthings are both empty and arise dependently.
Because this meditator has realized the emptiness
of I, he has also realized that the I exists by mere name and is
merely imputed by mind in dependence on the aggregatesthis
is the Prasangika view. The I is there. It exists, but you dont
grasp it as truly existent, even though it still appears to be.
For example, lets say you see a mirage and have the vision
that water is there. But since you just came from that place, you
know that only sand is there, so you dont believe that its
water. You think, That water is not true. It doesnt
exist as it appears because theres no water there. Theres
the appearance of waterthat appearance of water exists. But
there is no water. Many things are like that. Once when I
was in Italy I saw a lady in a store but she turned out to be a
mannequin. Then there was another figure that I thought was a mannequin
but it was a lady. So this is similar: the appearance is false,
it appears one way but exists in another.
TC: In the texts, it
says that we dont realize that things are merely labeled by
mind until after we realize emptiness. So how can we use the reason
that things are merely labeled by mind as a proof that things are
empty if we cant realize that theyre merely labeled
by mind until after weve realized emptiness?
LZR: Its like
this. Theres no contradiction. Being merely labeled by mind
indicates how things come into existence. At this moment, this is
not something you know through analytical meditation, not something
you know by realizing emptiness.
Usually in the philosophical teachings, it says
that whatever appears appears truly existent. Thats what normally
happens due to the hallucinating mind. The only time true existence
doesnt appear to sentient beings is during the meditative
equipoise on emptiness of an arya.
But in Pabongkas text it says there is
mere appearance of the object for a brief moment. Through analysis
you can get the idea. For example, when you see a drum, analyze
it at the same time. Be aware that your mind is labeling drum
by seeing that base. Be aware at the same time as youre labeling.
Analyze: to be able to label drum you have to see a specific phenomenon.
Even though the table is round like a drum, you wont label
drum on the base you label table. It has
to be a specific base that performs the function of making sound
and that has material to produce sound when hit. You have to see
that base first. Then because of the function it performswhat
its used forthe mind merely labels drum. Seeing that
baseits shape, color, etc.and knowing it has that function
become the reason to label drum.
When you are aware and analyze at the same time
as the labeling process is occurringthat is, youre analyzing
while youre labeling drumthen, at that time, at the
beginning there is a mere appearance.
If youre aware of the brief instant the
mind initially sees that base, the instant youre starting
to label drum, there is a mere appearance. When youre aware
the instant you begin to label drum, youll be aware that theres
no real drum existing from its own side. Youll be aware that
drum is merely imputed by seeing that basethat which performs
the function of making sound when struck. At that moment, theres
just the mere appearance of a drum.
That awareness of the mere appearance of a drum
lasts a very short second. It doesnt last because you dont
continue that awareness or mindfulness and because you dont
yet have the realization that it exists in mere name, merely labeled
by mind. And because the negative imprint left by the past ignorance
is there, it projects a truly existent appearance on the drum and
you see a real drum that exists from its own side. Thats the
gag-cha, the object of negation.
I told Chöden Rinpoche that I agree with
what Pabongka said. Why? For example, lets say you have a
child and you want to give it a name. While youre thinking
of the namethe minute you decide George or Chodron,
for exampleyou dont see George or Chodron right in that
second while youre labeling. If youre aware that youre
labeling, at that instant you dont immediately see George
or Chodron as totally existent from their own side. So I agree with
what Pabongka saidthat this mere appearance is very short,
just a brief moment. Here were talking about actual reality;
thats actually how things come into existence, merely labeled
However, since you dont continue that
awareness or you lack realization, in the next moment you see the
object of negation that was projected by the imprint of ignorance.
George or Chodron appear as if existing from their own side.
Except for the arya in meditative equipoise
on emptiness, everything that appears to us sentient beings appears
to be truly existent. At this time, the appearance of true existence
is temporarily absorbed. Only emptiness appears; it doesnt
appear truly existent to this direct perceiver. This is what is
usually said in the texts.
Also, it is normally said that as soon as you
label something, it appears back to you as truly existent and you
believe it exists in the way it appears to you. For example, suppose
you are a parent with a new child and its time to give it
a name. The thought Döndrub comes in your mind
and you label Döndrub. Of course, the correct way
would be for Döndrub to appear merely labeled by mind. However,
due to the negative imprint or predisposition [Skt: vasana; Tib:
bag-chag] left by past ignorance on your mind, the moment after
you label the child Döndrub, Döndrub appears
back to you as not merely labeled by mind but as existing from its
But Pabongka saysand I think I agree with
himthat doesnt need to happen all the time. I think
that sometimes if youre analyzing and watching closely, there
is a brief moment when the mere object appears without the appearance
of true existence. Sometimes in the moment after the mind labels
Döndrub theres not the appearance of a real
(i.e., inherently existent) Döndrub. Instead there is Döndrub
but not real in the sense of existing from its own side. Theres
the appearance of mere Döndrub, for a very short time. Then,
due to the imprint of the ignorance that grasps at inherent existence,
the mind goes into hallucination, believing that Döndrub exists
from his own side, not merely labeled by mind.
This is a unique explanation. Its not
common and comes due to personal experience. I think I agree with
what Pabongka said about this. I showed the text to Chöden
Rinpoche and consulted him about it. I said I didnt think
that it would immediately appear truly existent. You need to watch
your perception when youre labeling. You usually dont
notice because the mind is not aware. Probably mere Döndrub
appears for a split second and then real Döndrub appears. There
is an evolutionary process: mere Döndrub; then Döndrub
existing from its own sidea real Döndrub appearing more
and more, that appearance becoming stronger and stronger.
Check with your own experience, especially when
youre labeling something for the very first time. I think
you will understand this if you examine your mind when its
For something to exist there
must not only be the mind conceiving it and the label but also a
valid base. You cant just make up a label and think that therefore
the object exists and functions according to the label you gave
it. For example, lets say before they have a baby a couple
decides to name it Tashi. At that time, there are no
aggregatesno body and mind. Remember the lam-rim story about
the man who got excited and labeled a child he dreamed of having
in the future Dawa Dragpa? Its similar here, where
the couple thinks of the name Tashi. At that time Tashi
doesnt exist. Why? Because theres no base. Whether Tashi
exists or not mainly depends on the existence of the aggregates,
the existence of the base of the label. It depends on whether there
is a valid base.
In this case, since a valid base which could be labeled Tashi
doesnt yet exist, Tashi doesnt exist at that time.
In another scenario, lets say a baby is
bornso the mental and physical aggregates are presentbut
the name Tashi hasnt been given yet. So at that
time, Tashi also doesnt exist because the parents havent
labeled Tashi. They could label Peter. They
could label anything. So even though the aggregates are there at
that time, Tashi doesnt exist because the parents havent
named the child. When does Tashi come into existence? Its
only when there is a valid base. When a valid base is present, then
the mind sees that base and makes up the name Tashi.
After making up the name and labeling it in dependence on the aggregates,
then we believe Tashi is there.
Therefore, what Tashi is is nothing. Nothing.
Tashi is nothing other than what is merely imputed by mind. Thats
all. Theres not the slightest Tashi that exists other than
what is merely labeled by mind.
The Tashi or the I appearing to you that you
believe is something even slightly more than what is merely labeled
by mind is a hallucination. That is the object of negation. Anything
that is slightly more than what is merely labeled by mind doesnt
exist at all. It is the object of negation. Therefore what Tashi
is in reality is extremely subtle. What Tashi really is is not what
youve believed up to now. The Tashi you believed existed for
so many years is a total hallucination. Theres no such thing.
It doesnt exist. The Tashi that does exist is what is merely
labeled by mind. Nothing other than that. So what Tashi is is extremely
fine, unbelievably subtle. The borderline of Tashi existing or not
existing is extremely subtle. Its not that Tashi doesnt
exist. Tashi exists but its like Tashi doesnt exist.
When you examine, you discover that its not that things dont
exist. They exist. There are the aggregates. Then the mind sees
those aggregates and makes up the label Tashi. Tashi
exists by being merely imputed. This is how all phenomena exist
and function, including the hells, karma, all the sufferings of
samsara, the path, and enlightenmenteverything. All phenomena
exist by being merely labeled, as in the example of Tashi.
The I is similar. What the I is is extremely
subtle. The borderline between its existing and not existing is
extremely subtle. Compared to how you previously believed things
exist, its like it doesnt exist. But its not totally
non-existent. The I exists but how it exists is unbelievably subtle.
Because the conventional I is subtle, gaining
the correct view is difficult. Thus before Lama Tsong Khapa there
were many great meditators in Tibet who fell into the extreme of
nihilism, thinking that nothing existed at all. Its difficult
to realize the view of the Middle View devoid of eternalismgrasping
at true existenceand nihilismbelieving that the I doesnt
exist at all. The Middle Way view is free from holding things to
exist from their own side and holding that they dont exist
at all. As with the example of Tashi, things are empty of true existencethey
do not exist without being merely labeled in dependence on a valid
basebut they are not non-existent. They exist ever so subtly,
almost as if they didnt exist. But you cant say they
dont exist. Theres a big difference between the I that
exists by being merely labeled in dependence on a base and a rabbits
horn. Similarly, theres a big difference between this nominally,
or conventionally, existent I and an inherently existent I.
While the I and all phenomena are empty of existing
from their own side, at the same time the I and all phenomena exist.
They exist in mere name, merely imputed by mind. The I is the unification
of emptiness and dependent arising. It is empty of inherent existence
and arises dependently. This point is unique to the Prasangika Madhyamikas.
Svatantrika Madhyamikas cant put these two together. When
they think that something is merely labeled by mind they think it
doesnt exist and thus fall into nihilism. Although Svatantrikas
dont accept true existence (den-par drub-pa), they do believe
that things exist inherently (rang-zhin gyi drub-pa), by their own
characteristics (rang-gi tshän-nyi kyi drub-pa), from their
own side (rang-ngös-nä drub-pa). It means theres
something on the aggregates, something on the base that can be found
The term true existence has different
meanings for the Svatantrikas and the Prasangikas. If you dont
understand that, then studying their tenets becomes very confusing.
Although tenet systems may use the same word, they often give it
different meanings, so being aware of this is very important in
order to gain the correct understanding. For Svatantrika Madhyamikas,
true existence means existing without being labeled
by the force of appearing to a non-defective awareness. If something
exists without being labeled by the force of appearing to a non-defective
awareness, then according to the Svatantrikas it is truly, or ultimately,
existent. For them, it has to appear to a valid mind and that valid
mind has to label it for it to exist.
So for Svatantrikas something exists from the
side of the object. While they say that things are labeled by mind,
they dont accept that they are merely labeled by mind. They
dont accept that things are merely labeled because they believe
that the I, for example, is there on the aggregates. In other words,
they believe you can find the I on the aggregates. If you believe
that the I is on the aggregates, then it means the I is findable
on the aggregates. For example, if there is a cow on the mountain
youll be able to find a cow on the mountain. Since there is
something in the aggregates that is the I, it should be findable
under analysis. This is their philosophy. You can find the I on
the aggregates, so while they think the I doesnt exist truly,
it does exist inherently; it exists from its own side.
This is the big difference between Prasangikas
and Svatantrikas. Svatantrikas believe the correct view is that
you can find the I on the aggregates. Therefore they say it exists
from its own side; that it exists by its own nature. According to
Prasangika philosophy this is totally wrong; what the Svatantrikas
believe exists is in fact a total hallucination. Prasangikas believe
this not just because their philosophy says so but because if you
actually meditate and search for an inherently existent I, you cant
find it. In other words, this is not intellectual wrangling but
what you actually discover when you analyze and investigate how
things exist. Therefore, the Prasangika view is the ultimate view.
Not only cant you find a truly existent
I on the aggregates; you cant find a merely labeled I on the
aggregates either. Many people seem to say that the merely labeled
I is on the aggregates but that there is no truly existent I. This
is an interesting point. If the merely labeled I is on the aggregates,
then where is it? This becomes a huge question. Where is it? For
example, if we say there is a merely labeled table on this basefour
legs and a flat topthen where is it? Is the merely labeled
table on top or on the right side or on the left side? If we say
a merely labeled table is on this base we should be able to find
it. Where is it? It becomes very difficult to say exactly where.
Do you remember last summer when Geshe Sopa
Rinpoche was teaching I asked where on the base the merely labeled
table is? I think it would have to cover the whole base. The merely
labeled table would have to cover the entire base, every atom of
it, or it would have to exist on one side or the other. We cant
find it on one side or the other, in one part or another, so the
merely labeled table must cover the entire base, every atom of it.
Then it becomes very interesting. Then if you cut it in half you
should have two merely labeled tables. But if we break a table into
pieces we see only pieces, and there should be a merely labeled
table on every piece. Take a little piece and it would be a merely
labeled table because table exists on the whole object. So that
is totally absurd! Many faults arise.
I find it much clearer to say that theres
not even a merely labeled table on the base. Geshe Sopa Rinpoche
debated with me. At that time I think we were talking about the
person, so I said a merely labeled person is in this room, on this
seat, but its not on the aggregates. Its much simpler,
much easier, to say this. I dont see any confusion in it.
The person is on the bed but not on the aggregates. Why is the person
on the bed? Because the aggregates are there. But the person is
not on the aggregates, because if it were, it should be findable
when we search for it.
If you dont debate and
just say, The merely labeled aggregates are on the aggregates,
it seems OK. But if you analyze and debate, it becomes difficult
to believe that.
True, or inherent, existence is the gag-cha,
the object of negation. It appears and we grasp it as true. That
is, we believe the label exists on the base. Because of our deep
habit of believing this, when phenomena appear to us, they appear
to exist from the side of their basefrom there on the base,
appearing from there. But in fact, when you come in the room, you
see this phenomenon with legs and a seat that you can sit on. Before
seeing it, you dont label chair. Why not? Because
theres no reason for your mind to label chair.
Theres no reason at all. The label chair doesnt
come first. First you have to see the base. Your mind sees that
and immediately brings up the label. Initially we learned the label
from others; when we were children they introduced us to it, saying,
This is a chair. So much of what we call education in
childhood involves learning labels. Whether we study Dharma at a
monastery or another subject at secular school, were learning
labels. Whenever we have a conversation were talking about
labels. Studying science or any other topic is the study of labels,
learning labels that we werent previously aware of. This is
the same when we learn Dharma and everything else.
First you see the base; the next moment your
mind gives it a label. The same mind sees this base and then generates
the label. The mind merely imputes the label chair.
It makes up the label chair and then believes in that.
In fact, nothing is going onto the object; theres nothing
concrete going there and sticking on the object. Rather, the mind
imputes and then believes the object is that label. The difficulty
and the wrong view begin just when the label has been imputed; we
look and the object appears from there. There seems to be the object
there, existing from its own side, not something that was merely
labeled by mind, but something that is the object there on the base.
That is the object of negation. It appears as
a real chair or person or table, not one that exists by being merely
labeled. The reality is that your mind merely imputed chair
just now by seeing the base. Its the same with the table:
in the next moment, it appears as a real table from the side of
the base, not as something that became a table dependent upon your
mind making up the label table.
Before seeing the base, you didnt label
table and no table was there. First you see the basesomething
with legs that you can put things onthen, upon seeing it,
your mind imputes table. In less than a finger snap, your mind imputes
table, generates the label table because as a child
you were taught that name, This is a table. You know
the label, so by seeing the base, your mind imputes the label table.
Then you believe that. But the next moment, when youre not
aware, because of the imprint of past ignorance, the mind projects
the hallucination of a real table.
For example, bile disease can make you see a
white snow mountain as yellow; wind disease can make you see it
as blue. If you look through colored glasses, a white snow mountain
will appear to be the color of the glass. Its a little bit
like that. The imprint of ignorance makes us see the label on the
base. What we see, in fact, is a labeled object as existing from
the side of the base, as coming from the base. Precisely this is
the object of negation; this is what doesnt exist at all.
Anything appearing from there, from the side
of the base (i.e., from its own side), anything coming from there
is the object of negation. Its a hallucination. Actually,
the table is coming from your mindyour mind makes it up and
believes it, but because youre not aware of that, in the very
next moment the table appears to exist from the side of the base.
Thats the object of negation.
All objects of the sensesvisual, auditory,
olfactory, gustatory, and tangibleas well as the objects of
the mental sense powerin sum, all phenomena that appear to
the six senses, are the object of negation. Theyre all hallucinations.
The entire world, even the Dharma path, hell, god realm, positive
and negative karma, and enlightenment, were made up by your own
mind. Your mind projected the hallucination of things existing from
their own side.
This hallucination of inherent existence is
the foundation. Then, on top of that, you pay attention to certain
attributes and label wonderful, horrible,
or nothing much. When you think, Hes awful
and get angry, you label the person an enemy. Not aware that you
created the enemy, you believe there is a truly existent one out
there and project all sorts of other notions on him. You justify
your actions, thinking they are positive, when in fact you created
the enemy. In fact, theres no real enemy there. Theres
not the slightest atom of an enemy existing; not even a tiny particle
of true existence. Simply by hallucinating that an action is harmful
or bad, anger arises and you label the person who did it enemy.
You label harmful or bad, anger arises,
and youre your mind projects enemy. Even though
that enemy appears real, theres no enemy there.
Its the same with an object of attachment.
By reasoning that a person is intelligent or by projecting beauty
on the body, then attachment arises and you project friend,
but friend doesnt exist because its built on the foundation
of seeing a truly existent person, which does not exist. The special
insight section of the Lam-rim Chen-mo describes this process. I
think this is extremely important psychology. Through such analysis,
we can see that anger and attachment are very gross superstitions.
We understand the process by which ignorance causes us suffering.
First there is ignorance. From it, attachment
and anger arise. Understanding this is very important; it is the
best psychology. When we realize that what anger and attachment
believe does not exist, our mind can be at peace.
The hallucinated appearance (nang-ba), the appearance
of true existence, exists. But the truly existent table doesnt
exist. We have to identify the appearance of a truly existent table;
it exists. If the appearance of true existence didnt exist,
then there wouldnt be an object of negation. The object of
negation is the object of that appearance.
For example, when you take drugs, you may have
the appearance of many colors in the sky. That appearance is there.
But are there many colors in the sky? No, there arent. What
you want to realize is that there are no colors in the sky, because
when you do, you will stop arguing with your friend about what shade
they are, in which direction they are moving, and so forth. If there
were no false appearances, then whatever appeared to our mind would
be correct and true, which would mean that we would already be Buddha.
[Is this what Rinpoche meant?]
One way to meditate is to start with your head.
Thats one name that the mind made up. But when we search this
object we cant find a head on it. We see eyes, ears, hair,
and so forth, but not a head. Head is merely imputed by mind in
dependence on the base and then we believe in that. Then search
for the eye and the ear. You cant find them either. You cannot
find ear in any part of the ear. By depending on this base, mind
just made up this label merely imputed ear and believed in that.
What appears as ear from the side of the base is the object of negation;
its a hallucination.
Then if you mentally break the ear into pieceslobe
and so forththese parts are also merely labeled. Then mentally
break the parts of the ear into cells. These, too, are merely labeled.
Then look at the atoms. They too dont exist from their own
side but are merely labeled. As we look at smaller and smaller parts
of a thing all we see are more labels. Even atoms: why are there
atoms? Theres no other reason other than because there are
the parts of the atom. By depending on them as the base, your mind
labels atom. These parts are merely imputed in dependence
on other smaller parts. From the body, to the limbs, to the cells,
to the atoms, there is just another label, another label, another
So the reality is that all these phenomena exist
in mere name (tags-yöd-tsam); they exist by being merely labeled;
they exist nominally; they exist in mere name. Everything is merely
labeled by mind, everything exists in mere name. The I exists by
merely being labeled. Consciousness also exists dependent upon its
parts. We search this lifes consciousness, todays consciousness,
this hours consciousness, this minutes consciousness,
this seconds consciousness, this split-seconds consciousnesseach
one has so many parts. Theres another label, another label,
another label. So every thing, even the mind, exists in mere name.
All phenomena, starting from the I and going down to the atoms,
parts of atoms, split-secondsnone of them exist from its own
side. Therefore everything is totally empty. Totally empty.
That doesnt mean they dont exist.
They exist, but they exist in mere name, merely labeled by mind.
So the way they exist is the unity of emptiness and dependent arising.
Its good to do this meditation when youre
walking, talking, or engaged in other activities. There so many
piles of labels to investigate. All these exist in mere name, merely
imputed by mind. The feet doing the function moving forward one
after another is merely labeled walking. The mouth moving
making communicable sounds is merely labeled as talking.
Writing, teaching, working are similar. This is excellent mindfulness
meditation to do when youre walking, eating, writing, and
so forth. While you write, be aware that writing exists in mere
name; its merely imputed by mind. Therefore the action of
writing is empty. When youre conversing with someone, teaching,
working, playingthese are good opportunities to do this mindfulness
Until now we believed that things exist in the
way they appear to usout there on the base, real from the
side of the base. Our mind is habituated with seeing this as true
and believing it is true. When you start to analyze, you find and
discover that how things exist is actually unbelievably subtle.
What the I or any other phenomenon is is unbelievably subtle. Its
not that they dont exist, but theyre so subtle that
its almost as if they didnt exist.
When we get an inkling of this
unbelievably subtle way that things exist, fear may arise in our
mind because it has been habituated to believe that what appears
real is real, that it exists from its own side. Our mind has been
living with that concept our whole life, and not only this life
but from beginningless rebirths. Our mind believes that if it exists,
it has to be truly existent; it has to exist from its own side.
That which exists in mere name, that which exists merely labeled
by mind and is empty of existing from its own sidethese phenomena
we think dont exist. What in fact exists is for the deluded
mind what doesnt exist. So what doesnt exista
real table, real chair, real mewe believe all these exist.
On the basis of believing this, other delusions arise. In this way
samsara comes about. Our whole life and from beginningless lives
we have believed that everything inherently exists. So when we discover
that everything we believe in is totally false, it is terrifying.
Discovering that everything in which we have believed is a hallucination
TC: You spoke about
labeling on a valid base. To me, that seems to be a Svatantrika
viewpoint. It sounds as if valid base means there is
something from the side of the object that merits its being given
that particular label. Gen Lamrimpa brought that up in his book,
Realizing Emptiness, and said that especially the first time we
give a name to an object, if we say its labeled in dependence
on a valid base, it sounds as if there is something inherently existent
from the object that makes it worthy of that label. In that case,
it would be inherently existent.
LZR: What is labeled
exists. It has a valid base. Otherwise, if a valid base werent
required, then when you dreamed about getting a billion dollars
or dreamed about getting married, having ten children, all the children
growing up and some of them dying, all those things would exist.
But when you wake up you see that none of this happened. It doesnt
exist. Why? The mere labeling was there, but those objects dont
exist because there were no valid bases for those labels.
You have to distinguish the two kinds of merely
labeled: 1) the merely labeled where theres no valid base,
such as things in dream, and 2) the merely labeled that relates
to a valid base, such as this table. Both are merely labeled, but
one does not exist. The one that exists is the one that has a valid
The valid base is, of course, also merely imputed
by mind. Whats called valid base is also merely
imputed by mind. It also comes from the mind.
For example, the I is merely labeled by mind.
The base in dependence upon which we label I is the
aggregates, and each of the aggregates is, in turn, merely labeled
by mind dependent upon the collection of its partsthe body
is labeled in dependence on the collection of physical parts; the
mind is labeled in dependence on different parts, such as the collection
of moments of consciousness. It goes on and on, each part being
merely labeled in dependence upon its parts. Even atoms and split
seconds of consciousness exist by being merely labeled.
Everything that appears truly existenteven
atoms that appear real from their own sideis totally non-existent.
All of these are totally non-existentfrom the I to the aggregates
down to the atoms. All of these are totally empty. But while they
are totally empty, they exist in mere name. They are the union of
dependent arising and emptiness.
This meditation is very good: starting from
the I, to the body, to the organs, the limbs and other parts of
the body down to the atomseverything that appears truly existent
is a hallucination, is totally non-existent. From the I to the mind
to the various types of consciousness to the split seconds of consciousnesseverything
that appears to be real from its own side is a hallucination and
is thus totally non-existent. All of these are empty. Concentrate
for as long as possible on the fact that everything is empty. This
is an excellent meditation to do.
While they are empty, all of them exist in mere
name; you dont need to worry about that. They are empty and
exist in mere namethis is the union of emptiness and dependent
arising. While its empty, it exists; while it exists, its
empty. Whether you are sitting or walking, do this meditation that
everything is empty, from the I down to the atoms. Investigate one
by one; they are all empty. While they are empty, they exist in
mere name; they exist by being merely labeled. Contemplating in
this way even while youre walking is very good. You can do
this meditation while sitting, walking, or whatever.
The following might depend on the individual
persons level of realization of emptiness, but normally when
you think, for example, The I is merely imputed in dependence
on a valid base, the collection of the five aggregates, at
that time you dont see the aggregates as merely imputed. Even
when you say I is merely imputed in relation to the aggregates,
even without using the word valid base, the aggregates
appear existing from their own side. But when you analyze the aggregates
you see they are empty. Before, when you think, The I is merely
labeled dependent upon the aggregates you may see the I is
empty while the aggregates still appear to exist from their own
side. But when you think, The aggregates are merely labeled
in relation to their parts, then how the aggregates appear
to you is different. They dont appear truly existent; they
dont appear truly existent. When we meditate that something
is empty or merely labeled, at that time its base appears truly
existent. Until we achieve enlightenment, the base will appear truly
existent in post-meditation time. But when you take what was the
base and analyze it you see that it exists by being merely imputed
in dependence on its base and thus is empty. On and on, nowhere
do you find anything that is truly existent.
If you have realized emptiness of the aggregates,
for example, when you come out of meditative equipoise on emptiness,
in the time of subsequent attainment, there will still be the appearance
of the aggregates existing form their own side. This doesnt
mean you hold them as true. Instead, you recognize that they are
empty, that that appearance is false. You look at them as you would
the water of a mirage. There is the appearance of water but you
know there is no water there. Similarly, if you recognize you are
dreaming, you have the appearance of many things but you know they
are not real. Its similar here; theres the appearance
of the aggregates existing from their own side but you realize that
appearance is not true. Its empty. But without realization
that the aggregates are empty, the feeling of the aggregates existing
from their own side is stronger. But the valid base of the Ithe
aggregatesalso exists by name, by being merely imputed by
TC: So something is
not an inherently valid base. Its being a valid base is merely labeled.
LZR: When youre
focusing on I is merely labeled on the aggregates, there
appear to be truly existent aggregates but the next minute, when
you see the aggregates are merely imputed on their bases, the aggregates
dont appear truly existent, though their bases may. Theres
no problem with that. Thats an expression of our mind at the
moment. Its a hallucination; it doesnt mean that things
exist from their own side. The base isnt truly existent.
TC: Regarding functioning things, if we meditate
that they are dependent on causes and conditionsjust that
level of dependent arisingis that sufficient to realize emptiness?
Or is it only one step and a deeper understanding of dependent arising
LZR: Meditating that
things depend on causes and conditions helps to realize emptiness,
but its not the most subtle dependent arising. It is gross
dependent arising. You will understand that things are empty of
being independent of causes and conditions and that helps to realize
emptiness, but it is not subtle dependent arising.
The extremely subtle one is this: because there
is a valid base, when the mind sees that valid base, it merely imputes,
simply makes up the label this and that. What exists is just simply
that, nothing else. Theres nothing more real there, nothing
extra than what is merely imputed by mind by seeing that valid base.
Whether a phenomenon exists depends upon whether there is a valid
base for that or not. The reason it exists is because a valid base
exists and the mind merely imputes this or that in dependence upon
that base. This is subtle dependent arising according to the Prasangika
TC: So in order to realize emptiness, we have
to realize a deeper level of dependent arising than things being
dependent on causes and conditions. But Ive heard it said
that we cant realize subtle dependent arisingthat things
depend on concept and labeluntil after weve realized
emptiness. So meditating on which form of dependent arising gets
us to understand emptiness? For example, we should meditate that
the I is empty of inherent existence because its a dependent
arising. But if we cant realize that the I is a dependent
arising in terms of its being dependent on name and concept until
after realizing emptiness, how can we realize emptiness?
LZR: Its like
this example. We talk about generation stage and completion stage.
You can meditate and get the idea but it doesnt mean you have
the actual experience. So its similar. You may not have the
actual realization of the Prasangika view of dependent arising but
you get some idea. For example, you dont have the actual experience
of completion stage but by going through the words you have some
idea of how to practice. That idea helps. By developing it, later
on you actually have the experience. Its similar.
TC: But if its only an idea and not the
realization of subtle dependent arising, then how is that sufficient
as a reason to enable you to realize emptiness?
LZR: That is because
dependent arising and true existence are totally opposite to each
other. They are contradictory. So when you think about dependent
arising even intellectually, it helps. Even though its just
an intellectual understanding now, it helps you to see that phenomena
are not true, that they are not truly existent.
In the Three Principal Aspects of the Path,
Je Rinpoche said,
Without the wisdom realizing emptiness,
You cannot cut the root of existence.
Therefore, strive to realize dependent arising.
Its important to realize emptiness; without
that you cant be free from samsara. In order to realize emptiness,
you must put effort into realizing dependent arising.
Different lamas have different views about what
realize dependent arising means in this context. Kyabje
Denma Lochö Rinpoche emphasized that the meaning of realize
dependent arising is to realize emptiness. In order to do
this you must realize dependent arising according to the Prasangika
view. This is subtle dependent arisingdependent on concept
and label. Geshe Lamrimpa, who gave so many teachings in Tibet and
passed away there, also said that dependent arising
means emptiness, and that means subtle dependent arising.
But when I received the oral transmission of
the text from Chöden Rinpoche in Mongolia, he said that here
dependent arising meant dependent on causes and conditions,
the gross dependent arising. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche said that Pabongka
explained it similarly. So that makes it easier: understanding gross
dependent arising helps to realize emptiness. If you analyze in
this way, even if you dont realize it, having a correct intellectual
understanding helps you to understand that its not independent.
This, in turn, will lead you to realize the subtle view of Prasangika,
how the sprout existsthat it is empty of inherent existence
but exists by being merely labeled, dependent on name and concept.
First gain a correct intellectual understanding
by listening. Then familiarize your mind in that; meditate on it
until you actually experience it, until you have the realization
and actually see things that way. Intellectual understanding is
like a map. Somebody tells you, Do this, youll see this.
But you have to actually go there to have the experience. You can
have an intellectual idea of what Lhasa looks like, but when you
actually go there, thats experience. Its similar here.
I think your question the sprout is not
truly existent because it is dependent arisingis connected
with this. What level of dependent arising is meant in the syllogism?
The sprout is the subject. You havent yet understood that
it is not truly existent, so that is what is to be proven or understood.
Because it is dependent arising is the reason to prove
that its not truly existent. For the person hearing this,
understanding the sprout is a dependent arising helps her realize
that the sprout is not truly existent. This reasoning here and what
is said in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path is the same.
There is no means to realize emptiness other than by developing
the view of the Prasangika school.
You can have an intellectual understanding of
emptiness by using the reason of dependent arising, when dependent
arising means relying on causes and conditions. This is the preliminary
to the actual realization of subtle dependent arising. With the
support of the collection of merit, strong guru devotion, imprints
of the correct view put on your mind stream from hearing teachings
and thinking about them in the past, this intellectual understanding
will act as a cause to realize the extremely subtle dependent arising
of the Prasangika view school. This is something to think about.
This may be a way of harmonizing the two views above. Words and
belief can create hell; they can lead to nirvana.
Thank you for your question.
Yeshe Wisdom Archive.