what is emptiness? a buddhist example


simple words for confusing times

A Buddhist Example

We can find many examples we can use to contemplate Emptiness… a book, our laundry… This example comes from traditional Tibetan Buddhist iconography.

Some Vajrayana Buddhist lineages include the prayer practice of the deity Heruka Chakrasamvara.

This entity, often depicted in statues or paintings, represents an Enlightened Being with two components: Heruka and Vajravarahi; man and woman; bliss and emptiness. The appearance is of a male and a female in union, and in Tibetan Buddhism, they usually also includes numerous implements, limbs, and ornaments that raise many eyebrows among Westerners.

The image intends to represent an abstract concept: Enlightenment. The inseparable union of bliss and emptiness. When looking at a statue, especially, one can easily perceive the appearance of two people… having sex.

In truth, Chakrasamvara merely represents a Oneness that is almost impossible to communicate in conventional terms. Trying to gain an understanding of this idea offers a great opportunity to gain an understanding of Emptiness.

Human beings like to break things down into manageable chunks. Chunks of land; chunks of food; chunks of meaning.

You could say that Chakrasamvara is two chunks of One Enlightened Being. This view works pretty well, because humans also seem to think that happiness and its object are separate. Bliss and Emptiness can easily be confused as two separate realizations.

Cast metal statues of Chakrasamvara depict this union particularly well: such a statue appears to depict two figures, but it’s one chunk of Enlightened metal. Look closely; you can’t find where Heruka ends and Vajravarahi begins.

They’re inseparable. That’s why they’re always depicted in union. You can try to give them two bodies, but you really can’t tear them apart.

Philosophers often describe this world as a duality. Humans tend to categorize… the world more or less requires it. We make sense of it best when we put things into dual categories: either/or… good/bad… right/wrong… rich/poor… male/female, etc.

Like language and naming things, categories function to allow people to communicate in meaningful ways. It’s all very clever… it’s all construct.

Consider this: if people did not feel they were separate from one another, would they need to communicate?

Bliss arises when we overcome this sense of separation.

God(s) did create this world of duality. Then God(s) put man in it and encouraged him to name things. And thus, separation – and thereby duality – was born. God(s) also took things a step further and created woman. More duality.

Men and women seem to come together, but inevitably they appear to separate again. More duality. On it continues: people have children. Children turn into adults. Adults form groups, clubs, nations. All of these are nothing more than methods of distinction, devices humans use to group things together and tell things apart.

That’s how this world has worked for eons.

God(s) created the world, and the rules. This world wants you to believe that you have to follow the rules to get by.

But you want to do more than get by, don’t you? The secret is that you will only truly thrive, while you’re in this world, once you begin to view it as the construct that it is. Then you can start to bend the rules and even have a little fun… until you finally step out.

I say ‘bend the rules’ because you do have to observe them as long as you’re here. Even for Enlightened Beings who have emanated here, their emanations still speak, grow older, and submit to the effects of gravity in order to function here. At least most of them do. It’s just more convenient that way.

Once you figure it out and have had enough, you can get out of this place and never come back, if that’s your wish. This place is tough. The rules are demanding, and the veils are many. It’s not the most pleasant place to be born or emanated into. It’s like boot camp, though: once you get out, you are ready to take on anything.

So, Chakrasamvara seems to represent two (somewhat) recognizable beings because if Enlightened Beings appear in forms that are familiar to humans, they get our attention. Chakrasamvara wants your full attention, so Chakrasamvara also show you sex.

Please keep in mind that everything in this World also has a dual way of existing: its conventional reality, and its ultimate reality.

Conventional reality is the way you view things in order to get by in this world and communicate with others; it adheres to the construct. Ultimate reality is the way all things actually exist: Emptiness. All things are empty of independent existence.


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