All About Emptiness…(from Heruka Chakrasamvara)
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 shows 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.
An Everyday Example Of A Book
A book offers a more familiar example of Emptiness (than the example of the statue).
Let’s suppose that as you’re reading this you’re holding a printed book. The ‘printed book’ (in quotations, in case you’re listening to the book or it’s a digital copy) is the conventional reality of your object of experience.
You think of it as, and call it, a ‘printed book’ in case you need to tell someone else about it.
Now, this conventional reality of the printed book also has a subtle version, which is made up of the parts of the book: the pages, the cover, the glue or stitching, the ink printed onto the pages to form the words that you then read… and the book has also become part of your mind. Cool, huh?
What is the Emptiness of the book, its ultimate reality? The Emptiness of the book is that the book does not exist independently, by itself.
No matter how hard you look, you will not find a book that is constant, unchanging.
Something appears of in front of you that looks like a book; you call it a book, and others would recognize it as a book, so it functions as a book. But the book is made of matter that is made of molecules that are made of atoms that are mostly space. Also, when you hand that book to someone, some molecules of the cover ink will stay on your hand.
And the person who takes the book from you also picks up some molecules, maybe of a page as they flip through the book. Now suppose the book passes on to twenty more people, and over time it becomes quite worn because it’s lost so many molecules to so many hands. And those hands have long since been washed…
So where IS the book?
Conventionally, it still exists somewhere, hopefully not in a landfill. Ultimately, it remains as empty before. The main difference is that your mind has moved towards freedom.
An Everyday Example Of Laundry
I’ll give you another example of Emptiness, one you can remember often. This is important, because grasping Emptiness often eludes us (pun intended). It helps to find regular reminders, and come up with your own examples.
Let’s assume you have a plaid cotton shirt. Let’s say it’s your favorite shirt, so you wear it often. Your friends know it’s your favorite, and everyone else knows it’s a shirt, and many of those people might know it’s made of cotton.
You can’t bear the thought that someday that cotton shirt will become so worn that you’ll discard it. But every time you put it on, it leaves a little lint on your body. And if you sweat on it, a little of your body gets left on the shirt.
So then, is it still your favorite plaid cotton shirt?
Or is it you and your favorite plaid cotton shirt?
Or is it just empty?
Let’s say you sweat on the shirt enough that you decide it needs cleaning. You put it in the laundry, where it loses more lint, and gains water and detergent and fragrance. Where is the shirt now? Now let’s say you put it through the dryer, and when it’s done, you retrieve what still functions as your favorite plaid cotton shirt, and you go on to wear it again and again.
But, as you clean the dryer lint screen, you notice that the lint is the same color as your shirt. Ultimately, where is the favorite plaid cotton shirt that until now existed independently of everything else?
It cannot be found, and never truly existed.
Now you can think of Emptiness every time you do your laundry, or put on your favorite shirt.
Whenever something troubles you, try to think of ways in which it is Empty. Maybe it’s your boss, or bad traffic (try to find the car that started the bad traffic and you’ll find the Emptiness of the bad traffic), or the weather, or your partner (or lack of partner).
You can use everything as an example, because everything is Empty. Start by indentifying the object. Then try to find its parts. Then try to find the parts of the parts. Take it all the way down to the molecules and atoms, if you like.
But please remember that even images of electrons are conventions, representations…
Please also do take breaks. Don’t exhaust yourself through contemplating Emptiness. Go out and enjoy yourself. Then, when you are ready for your next round of Emptiness contemplation, reflect on what you enjoyed.
Try to find a single form of pleasure that exists by itself and separately from everything else. If it’s separate, what is it separate from?
As you accustom yourself to looking at and for Emptiness, it will become familiar to you, so that the looking won’t seem exhausting. Eventually it will become a constant state of awareness, and you will have realized Emptiness.
The Great Bliss comes as you start to notice Emptiness in everything. You may feel like a kid in a candy shop when this starts to happen.
Whether you burst out giggling is entirely up to you…
It’s also up to you whether you remember the rules of convention, and whether or not you’re still interested in following them.
So now you know why there appear to be two of Us – it gives Us something to talk with you about. Please enjoy all your meditations on Emptiness, and try to think of Us often.