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Emptiness feels so solid

Emptiness feels so solid

Part of a series of Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talks given during the Green Tara Winter Retreat from December 2009 to March 2010.

  • Emptiness is not a solid, positive phenomenon, but a non-affirming negative
  • Emptiness is a permanent phenomenon, it doesn’t change, but it is dependent like everything else

Green Tara Retreat 014: Emptiness feels so solid (download)

[Responding to written question from the audience]

The question: “I know they say that emptiness is the ultimate truth and also that it does not exist ultimately. That said, I sometimes get the feeling that I am thinking of emptiness too solidly.”

Yes, this is a common experience and question because emptiness is what we call a non-affirming negation. It is saying there is no inherent existence. In saying that, it is not affirming any kind of positive phenomena. Our mind is always used to thinking of positive phenomena, and whenever we think of positive phenomena, they seem pretty solid, don’t they? You say I, or my emotions, or the table, whatever it is, is solid. Thinking of a negative phenomenon that is just a lack of something: we are not used to that so much.

Another part of the problem is that sometimes people have translated the term as absolute truth and that really gives the wrong impression. Absolute is like it is something out there: independent, objective, and unrelated to anything else—it is an absolute that doesn’t change and it exists out there very solidly. While it is true that emptiness doesn’t change, it is a permanent phenomenon, it is dependent, because everything is dependent. It’s not some kind of absolute out there unrelated to everything. Lama Yeshe used to say to us, “Emptiness is right here, right now, you just don’t see it.” In other words, emptiness is our fundamental nature, the deeper mode in which we exist, but we just don’t see it. It’s not in some universe or in some other realm. It’s like (just to use an analogy), it’s like a fish doesn’t see the water. We exist within emptiness, not separate from emptiness. We just don’t see it because we are so busy seeing true existence which is the opposite of the emptiness of true existence.

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.