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Manjushri meditation on emptiness

Guided Manjushri sadhana with an extended meditation on emptiness

This meditation is excerpted from a talk given at Osel Shen Phen Ling in Missoula, Montana, in October 2008.

  • Benefits of the retreat from afar
  • Guided meditation on the sadhana

Manjushri practice Missoula (download)

I think that the idea was that I lead the front-generation Manjushri practice in preparation for doing the retreat from afar. Because every winter when the Abbey residents go into retreat, then we invite people who are living in other places to join us by doing one session of the retreat that we are doing five or six sessions of daily. And so it’s a very nice way for other people to feel connected to the Abbey and to join in our practice. So I think the idea was that I would lead that and then people would have an idea of how to do it.

I should tell you—tomorrow we’re going to have a lot of fun with the two truths. So be prepared. And do the Manjushri practice before you come tomorrow because we’re all going to need Manjushri’s wisdom to understand this topic. Because there are two truths but one of them isn’t true, there’s a truth that’s false!

Let’s spend a few minutes just watching our breath before we begin. Let the mind settle down.

A picture showing the face of Manjushri

In the space in front of you visualize Manjushri. He’s looking at you with compassionate eyes and he’s surrounded by all the other buddhas and bodhisattvas. (Photo by Wonderlane)

In the space in front of you visualize Manjushri. He’s looking at you with compassionate eyes and he’s surrounded by all the other buddhas and bodhisattvas. And you’re sitting there facing Manjushri. Think, your mother is on your left, your father is on your right. You’re surrounded by all sentient beings as far as the eye can see.

And then think, what I call “I”:

  • this “I” that I care so much about,
  • the “I” that I want to be happy and to avoid suffering,
  • this “I” through which I filter all my experiences,
  • this “I” or “me” that’s the center of the universe,

is simply a karmic bubble. This “I” that I think is so precious is just something that happened to arise due to causes and conditions.

Nothing’s solid that is me. In fact I am simply an appearance that I call “I” or “me”, just an appearance, like a reflection of a face in a mirror. It’s not something that’s truly there. It’s just an appearance. Like the water of a mirage is just an appearance produced by causes and conditions. But there’s no water there. There’s no face in the mirror, just an appearance; that’s all I am. An appearance produced by causes and conditions, by karma. So in fact there’s nothing here to be attached to. There’s no solid “I” here to cling to. Like a hologram. All the self is like a hologram, an appearance, but when you search you can’t find anything there.

All the people that we come in contact with—the ones we like, the ones we don’t like, the ones we don’t know—they too are all just karmic bubbles. They were born as babies, due to karma, due to causes and conditions. They’re just appearances and when they die there’s no real person there either that’s dying. It’s just the end of that particular karmic bubble.

So there are no real other people to be attached to—because they’re only appearances to the mind. And there are no real people out there to hate or fear either—because they’re just appearances to the mind.

All these things—myself, and others, and our whole environment—are just appearances, without anything findable there. They aren’t totally nonexistent. They arise due to causes and conditions and cease because of their impermanent nature. But all this arising and ceasing that we see all the time takes place within the space of there not being anything objectifiable or solid there. It’s just the appearances that arise and cease. No solid people to be attached to or hate.

But we and all these other people are ignorant of this. And instead we make everything solid and real and concrete. So what is fluid and mobile we make crystallized and solidify, and think that things have their own nature that is real and findable. And because of believing in this real findable nature—this essence that doesn’t really exist—then we suffer because we cling to things and crave things that are only appearances but we think are real and truly desirable.

We get upset and angry at things that are our own mental creation because we think that they have real natures which are repugnant. But they’re only appearances produced by causes and conditions.

So we and all these sentient beings around us are born and reborn again and again in cyclic existence due to this ignorance of not realizing that we’re only appearances and are empty of any inherent nature. And so that’s really tragic that totally unnecessarily, simply because of ignorance, there’s so much pain in the world and in ourselves.

But there’s a way to remove that ignorance and that’s done through the wisdom that sees things are simply dependently arising bubbles and thus lack inherent nature. To generate that wisdom we need to learn about it from those who have actualized it. And for that reason we turn to Manjushri and all the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the space in front of us for refuge. And so we, together with all these illusion-like sentient beings, take refuge in the illusion-like buddhas and bodhisattvas so that we can attain liberation and enlightenment which is also like an illusion.

The audio file continues with a guided meditation on the Manjushri sadhana, beginning at 19:40.

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.