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Verse 10-3: Meditating on emptiness

Verse 10-3: Meditating on emptiness

Part of a series of talks on the 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta from the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Sutra).

  • Counteracting afflictions through distance and antidotes
  • Samadhi and suppressing the afflictions
  • Wisdom realizing emptiness eradicates the afflictions
  • Removing the seeds of afflictions
  • Applying the gātha in daily life

41 Prayers to cultivate bodhicitta: Verse 10-3 (download)

We’re still on Verse 10:

“May all beings exhaust the fuel of the passions.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when lighting a fire.

When you’re starting to cook…. When, in the winter, you’re downstairs with the furnace loading the wood in…. So at these times.

Yesterday I was talking about different ways, and different levels, of subduing the afflictions. At the grossest level we avoid the object, but that clearly isn’t sufficient because how can we ever control our environment and make sure that we’re never with whoever it is we get angry at, or get lusty for, or whatever it is. But that is one way to deal with it that’s good at the beginning of the practice. And the second way is to apply the specific remedy for the specific afflictions. So we went over those yesterday: meditating on impermanence for attachment, on patience or loving-kindness for anger, and so on.

Another level is to develop samadhi, because when one has samadhi and in particular the shamatha—when you’ve gone through the nine stages to develop shamatha (or serenity, or calm abiding, however you want to translate it)—then the mind can remain single-pointed on its object of meditation for as long as you wish, and during that time the afflictions are suppressed. It’s not “suppressed” in the psychological sense of suppression, don’t get the two things confused. But rather, when your mind is single-pointed on an object like that with serenity, then you’ve already assuaged the excitement, the laxity, all the other wandering thoughts and distracting thoughts, and so while you’re in meditation those thoughts don’t arise. And since all these afflictive emotions are thoughts, they’re conceptual, they’re all based on concept—even though we feel they’re gut feelings, they aren’t, they’re based on thought—so when you’ve subdued all that kind of disruptive thought by putting the mind single-pointedly on an object of meditation, then those afflictions can’t arise during the time of meditation.

Of course, when you come out of your meditation then they can arise again. Perhaps not so strongly because you’re used to being in a meditative state, but still they can arise.

Samadhi is one way to suppress the afflictions, but it doesn’t eradicate them. The only way to eradicate them completely is through the realization of emptiness: the selflessness of persons, the selflessness of phenomena. And that is because when we realize the emptiness of inherent existence that mind completely counteracts the ignorance that grasps at inherent existence, and that ignorance is the basis of all the afflictions that we have. And the way wisdom counteracts the ignorance is that it (wisdom) sees that the object that ignorance grasps onto—which is inherent existence—does not exist at all. So wisdom apprehends things in the totally opposite way from the way ignorance does. And so thus wisdom is able to counteract the ignorance and remove it and the seeds of the ignorance from the mindstream completely.

Removing the seeds of the ignorance is just as important as removing the ignorance, because ignorance is the manifest mental state. The seeds are what carry the ignorance through time. Or what carry—if you have the seeds of attachment, the seeds of anger—they carry the potential to be angry, to be ignorant, to be jealous, to be attached over the time periods when that affliction is not totally manifest. So like right now we may not be angry, but we haven’t eliminated the seed of anger from our mindstream so all it takes is this [finger-snap] and we get angry again. That’s why it’s important not only to remove the affliction, but also the seed of the affliction. Because when the seed’s been eliminated then the affliction can no longer manifest in the mindstream at all, no matter what circumstance you’re in.

That’s what we’re aiming for is that wisdom realizing emptiness that can eradicate the afflictions completely. So that’s what you want to think when you’re lighting the fire. When you’re starting to cook, when you’re heating the house with a fire.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.