Dharma - Merit - Meditation - Nectar - Liberation - Emptiness - Process - Awakening


in Buddhadharma

Guided Insight Meditations

meditations on self-emptiness

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This book is about emptiness, the core of the Buddhayâna, the ‘vehicle’ of the Buddha. Shûnyatâ is the noun form of the adjective 'shûnya', meaning ‘void, zero, nothing and empty’, from the root 'shi', or ‘hollow’. But emptiness does not mean ‘nothing’, and instead refers to the absence of something, to the fact an object has been negated, is deemed not to be present and nowhere to be found. The zero is not mathematical, as if emptiness would be nothingness, but stands for a second order, pointing to what is not there amongst what is given. What is found wanting ? A certain common way of existence entertained by most of us ...

"As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it (on a piece of touchstone), so are You to accept my words after examining them and not merely out of regard for me." - Jñânasara-samuccaya, 31.

"All of these practices were taught
By the Mighty One for the sake of wisdom.
Therefore those who wish to pacify suffering
Should generate this wisdom."
Śântideva : A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, IX:1.

Book I of the Manual on Buddhist Practices is subdivided in Preliminary, Foundational, Accumulative & Preparative Practices. These are based on the Sûtras.

  1. Preliminary : elementary practices, covering body, breath & mind ;

  2. Foundational : building the foundation to be able to quickly generate merit ;

  3. Accumulative : practices to ongoingly increase the accumulation of merit ;

  4. Preparative : realizing the conceptual mind approximating ultimate reality.

In Book II, practices based on the Tantras are discussed. These are the so-called "Finative Practices", activities actually realizing liberation & awakening on the basis of a non-conceptual mind of dual-union, directly prehending emptiness.

Each set of practices enduces a specific degree of calmness :

* Preliminary Practices : calmness ;
* Foundational Practices : deep calmness ;
* Accumulative Practices : deeper calmness ;
* Preparative Practices : insightful calmness ;
* Finative Practices : profound calmness.

These practice levels are consistent with the Five Paths of Kamalashila (ca. 700 - 750 CE) :

  1. Path of Accumulation ("Gate") : entered upon the spontaneous arising of the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings (Bodhicitta), becoming a Bodhisattva who attained meditative equipoise (Calm Abiding), the practice of the Six Perfections causes the two baskets (of merit and wisdom) to be filled. By improving their method and wisdom, Bodhisattvas train in generating virtuous minds, the Four Immeasurables and the Six Perfections. Understanding of emptiness is enhanced by relying principally on the wisdoms arising from listening and reflecting.

    Self-cherishing is eliminated

  2. Path of Preparation ("Gate") : the primary focus here is attaining the best understanding of emptiness ("prajñâ"), and this by relying on the wisdom from Emptiness Meditation (Insight Meditation).

    Calm Abiding with emptiness as object of placement is practiced. "Superior seeing" is attained (calmness sharpening analysis and analysis deepening calmness).  On the basis of this "superior seeing", "special insight" realizes an exceedingly abstract conceptual insight into (and generic idea of) self-emptiness, the fundamental nature of all phenomena ; absence of inherent existence. Because it is conceptual and so not yet existence as it is ("yathâbhûtam", in accordance to what is), this idea rises immediately after the appearance, not yet simultaneously. But once achieved, this pinnacle of conceptual understanding or common wisdom is irreversible. This Path of Preparation is a stepping-stone to directly perceive ("see" or prehend) emptiness (on the Path of Seeing), for when the conceptual mind is truly convinced of the formal (logical), functional & critical rational grounds for the absence of inherent existence or substantiality (self-powered own-form or "self"), it has the power to identify the illusions of conventional reality, thereby generating the conceptual antidote for acquired (intellectual) self-grasping. At this point, conceptual "avidyâ", ignorance of ultimate truth because of acquired, intellectual delusion is over (but non-conceptual ignorance caused by innate delusions not) ;

    The Path of Preparation has four stages, called "Heat", "Peak", "Patience" & "Supreme Dharma" :

    1. Heat :
    the beginning of a very powerful enthusiasm to arrive at the best possible understanding of wisdom (
    "prajñâ"). This "fire" of conceptual wisdom is the approximative precursor of the unconditioned "gnosis" present on the Path of Seeing, this prehension or intuition of emptiness ("jñâna"). In meditative equipoise, a clear conceptual understanding of suchness is realized ;
    2. Peak : the culmination of this strong love of common wisdom is an intense conceptual mind grasping at the idea of emptiness, as if this mind mixes with emptiness itself, which is not the case. The virtuous roots cultivated will no longer be lost or cease. Conceptual understanding of suchness exponentially increases ;
    3. Patience : a special attitude towards Dharma in general and the idea of emptiness in particular is the case. Gross conceptual reification is gone, but subtle conceptual reifications remain, hindering a complete mixing of the mind with emptiness. Nevertheless, a refined experience of emptiness is the case. One is no longer reborn in the lower realms of "samsâra" ;
    4. Supreme Dharma : here mind and emptiness are nearly mixed for the emptiness of the idea of emptiness is understood, meaning all acquired self-grasping has nearly completely ceased (all but the idea of emptiness itself). The emptiness of objects still rises after their appearances. This is the highest existence of all ordinary Bodhisattva. All their experiences are supreme Dharma Paths of Preparation, and all worldly attributes necessary for the path are attained. Object & subject are relational, no longer consciously perceived as separate.

    Acquired self-grasping is totally eliminated

  3. Path of Seeing ("PÂRAGATE") : entered upon (a) an approximation of seeing emptiness through conceptual understanding and (b) the cessation of conceptualization hand in hand with being present in the actual moment, a direct experience of emptiness during meditative equipoise happens.

  4. Path of Meditation ("PÂRASAMGATE") : thanks to deeper Insight Meditations on the remaining perfections (ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration, wisdom), the direct experience of the First Stage is deepened, stabilized & refined by way of the remaining levels. To eliminate the subtle & very subtle delusions (obscurations caused by innate self-grasping and obscurations hindering omniscience), the Bodhisattva has to train further (stages two to seven : thoroughly go, and stages eight to ten : bodhi). The experience of emptiness of the Hînayâna Arhat is identified with end of the Sixth Stage. The Seventh Stage offers the Bodhisattva a mind entering into absorption on emptiness and rising again in a finger snap. Only the obstructions to omniscience remain (to be dealt with on the Eight to Tenth Stage).  The Eight Stage Great Bodhisattva or Mahâsattva Bodhisattva equals Dhyâni Bodhisattvas, the emanations from enlightened beings and knows when his or her awakening will happen. In the Ninth, the wisdom of the Bodhisattva is complete. The Tenth Stage, the Bodhisattva actually enters Buddhahood.

    Innate self-grasping is totally eliminated, omniscience a fact

  5. Path of No More Learning ("BODHI") : this is the state of Buddhahood, the nondual simultaneous experience (prehension) of conventional & ultimate truth, of "samsâra" & "nirvâna", of compassion & wisdom ; luminous emptiness.

There are two types of Analytical Meditations : (1) discursive meditations on a variety of core themes of the Buddhadharma ("lamrim") and (2) Insight Meditations or Emptiness Meditations.

The present guided meditations are Insight Meditations.

The First Set of Insight Meditations are guided Analytical Meditations belonging to the stage of the Preparative Practices. The Path of Preparation ends with the conceptual (approximative) realization of self-emptiness (on the basis of a non-affirmative negation of inherent existence).

The Second Set of Insight Meditations are guided Analytical Meditations belonging to the stage of the Finative Practices.

From the First Bhûmi onwards, in each moment of consciousness, a direct, uncontrived & unmediated cognizing of emptiness is at hand. During meditation, objects rise together with their emptiness. Two Emptinesses are at hand : self-emptiness & other-emptiness.

To say anything about ultimate reality (as on the Path of Preparation), self-emptiness uses a non-affirmative logic. Other-emptiness (on all higher Paths) affirms a radiant Buddha-nature inseparable from its properties.

In the First Set of guided meditations, the various components necessary to gradually arrive at the Right View are given. They are inspired by the tenets developed in the Great Exposition School, the Sûtra School, the Mind-Only School and the Middle Way School. They culminate in the Meditation on the Right View as found in the Prâsangika-Mâdhyamaka (or "Rangtong"), based on :

  • Nâgârjuna (2th CE) in Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ (A Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way) & Shûnyatâsaptatikârikânâma (The Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness) ;

  • Chandrakîrti (ca. 600 – 650) in Mâdhyamakâvatâra (Entering the Middle Way) ;

  • Śântideva (8th CE) in his Bodhicharyâvatâra (A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life) &

  • Tsongkhapa (1357 - 1419) in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, The Ocean of Reasoning and The Essence of Eloquence.

In the Second Set of guided meditations, Ati-Yoga instructions are given. This material is based on the tenets of the Mahâmadyamaka or Great Middle Way, teaching other-emptiness (or "Shentong") as found in :

  • Dolpopa (1292 - 1391) : Mountain Doctrine ;

  • Târanâtha (1576 - 1634) : The Essence of Other-Emptiness & Twenty-one Differences Regarding the Profound Meaning.

The Right View, the proposition affirming self-powered objects cannot be found, is put into practice by meditating on the Selflessness of Persons & Others and on Universal Interdependence. Also included in this Right View is the yoga affirming the existence of an actual & fully enlightened Buddha Within.

The author is in agreement with the non-partisan, "ecumenical" view explaining why philosophy only takes us as far as self-emptiness, eliminating inherent existence in a non-affirmative way.

On the basis of this best understanding (
"prajñâ") of wisdom (as in "rangtong" or "self-emptiness"), one can do no more than claim Buddha-nature is a potential to be actualized by meditations on the emptiness of the mind itself. To the pandit, the idea of an always existing Buddha-nature radiating enlightened properties is interpretative, not definitive. This is the correct conventional view of philosophers manipulating concepts.

Now moving beyond philosophy, the yogis confirm experientially, i.e. directly, by their own living wisdom (as in "shentong" or "other emptiness"), that our Buddha-nature is fully unfolded & fully endowed here & now, and so empty of anything other than itself, as prehended by a non-conceptual direct yogic perceiver able to end ignorance and thus suffering. This original, pure and primordial mind is not a self-existing, substantial entity, and can only be "pointed at" as in Ati-Yoga (cf. Book III : Mahâmudrâ, Other Emptiness, Dzogchen & Ch'an/Zen). This is the unmistaken view of yogis observing absolute nature (on the Paths of Seeing and Meditation).

In logic, philosophy is valid. In experience, yoga is.

"If two philosophers agree, one is not a philosopher. If two saints disagree, one is not a saint." - Tibetan saying

Operating Method

Before using these guided Insight Meditations, one best first reads the text of the meditation involved. Some of these call for simple tasks such as smelling rosewood oil, cutting paper or striking a bowl.

In terms of practice, these Analytical Meditations presuppose the realization of Calm Abiding (Jhâna Yoga). They do not manipulate the Vajra-body, are Sûtra-based or Ati-Yogic. To perfect Insight Meditation, the mind of "superior seeing" must be generated. This is a special mind generated by taking emptiness as the object of Calm Abiding and characterized by a synergy of calmness & analysis.

During superior seeing, the calmer the mind, the sharper the analysis and the more vivid the analysis, the calmer the mind. In this special mind, instead of hindering each other, calmness & analysis reinforce one another.

meditations on self-emptiness

Great Exposition School Meditation
Sûtra School Meditation
Mind-Only School Meditation
Identity & Negation
Inherent Existence Meditation
Seven Steps Meditation
Meditation on the Selflessness of Persons & Others
Meditation on the Right View
Meditation on Unbounded Wholeness

To continue : Emptiness Panacea (2017)


© Wim van den Dungen, Antwerp - 2018
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.


initiated : 10 X 2014 - last update : 14 IX 2017 - final version