Flowering dharma who envisions to preserve the precious Nalanda Tradition by inculcating moral and philosophical understanding among the younger generation has done a great job organizing a two day talk on the concept of emptiness in Nagarjuna’s philosophy and the application of the concept of emptiness to eliminate the fears of life. Firstly I want to appreciate with a lot of applauds to the organization and the volunteers cooperating to make the event a success. It was my fortune to get the opportunity to attend such event of Flowering Dharma for the first time. Organizing such talk is the need of the hour to bridge the gap between the native cultural and ethical values and the younger generation (especially those who are outside of Ladakh for their particular proposes).
While addressing the audience Geshey Damdul la delineated the concept of “emptiness” in a very simple and compressive manner so the beginners can also understand it in a justified manner. Explaining the concept of “emptiness”, he said that it is the central conception and the ultimate reality of every phenomenon according to Buddha and Acharaya Nagarjuna. Things that appear to the perception of layperson are dream-like. They do not exist in an objective and independent state. They are devoid of inherent and intrinsic nature. Giving the example of mirage, he said just as mirage appears to be water at a far distance and disappears reaching near it similarly things that appear to exist independently are empty of external objective and independent existence. In reality, things do not exist as it appears to be. Geshe la said, according to Nagarjuna things do not exist objectively rather subjectively. Objective and subjective are the two ways of the existence of things. Everything exists subjectively and things that appear to exist objectively is ignorance. Ignorance causes to appear things as intrinsically real and this is the root cause of all the problems and sufferings in the world.
Elaborating the concept of “emptiness” Geshey Damdul said that it has two implications; affirmative and negative implication. The negative implication of “emptiness” is the apprehension of the emptiness of the objective independent existence of things. And the affirmative implication implies the dependent origination of things. He said that the dependent origination of things refutes the two extremes of absolutism and nihilism who accepts the absolute independent existence of things and non-existence of things respectively. Dependent origination depicts the “middle way” which is the essence of Buddha’s teaching. Geshey la explained the jargonic subtleties of dependent origination and said that it can be understood in three different levels—dependent origination of causation, dependent origination of whole and part and dependent origination of dependence of mere mental designation.
While clarifying the queries of students he said that emptiness is not like an empty vessel rather it is the emptiness of independent existence of things and the dependent origination of things. Fear, anxiety, anger and other emotions are the origination of the apprehension of the independent existence of thing external to one’s mind. Understanding of the dependence origination of things (middle way) helps to eliminate fear, anxiety and negativities from one’s life. So one should attempt to understand and consistently meditate on emptiness and cultivate genuine love and compassion.
During the event, I learned and enjoyed the analytical meditation focusing our mind on our body while analyzing and reducing it to the subtlest level of the atomic structure of the body. It is a new technique of meditation that I got to learn from Geshey la.
Lastly, I want to thank you all for the wonderful and enlightening event.
Submitted by Jigmet Lhamo.
A WRITE UP ON THE TWO DAYS SEMINAR ON THE CONCEPT OF EMPTINESS AS TAUGHT BY GESHE DORJAY DAMDUL.
The fears of our human life are immense, ranging from fear of being neglected to the fear of being overtly protected. The fear of establishing our own identity in one’s community to the fear of not understanding one’s own self. The dichotomies that we seem to be sandwiched between works at multiple levels, just stressing our brains out. This fear that I want to term as the ‘fear of understanding our existence’, itself is very challenging. There is a thin line that divides the gross world which is full of competition, conceit and deception with the world that can just be the opposite, a world that creates conducive space to be more efficient, without deceit and a more humbling space. The second world that I have depicted might probably be an idealistic notion for many of us but there is a way or a path that I see myself following by understanding and perceiving this world through the words of Buddha and Arya Nagarjuna through the concept of ‘Emptiness’ or ‘Dependent Origination’; as taught by Geshe Dorjay Damdul during the two day lecture series at Academic Research Centre (ILLL), North Campus,University of Delhi on the 28thand 29thof October 2013. It was organised by Flowering Dharma, Ladakhi youth organization for Ethics, Culture and Inner change, in collaboration with the Department of the Philosophy, University of Delhi. The title of the lectures were ‘Nagarjuna’s view of Ultimate Reality: Concept of Emptiness in Buddhist Philosophy’ and ‘Application of the concept of Emptiness to eliminate the fears of Life’ respectively. Both the days had been very enriching in developing and creating a conducive time to further understand the concept of ‘Emptiness’ or ‘Tong- Nyit’.
Let me share with you my understanding of the above concept during the two day lecture. ‘Emptiness’ or ‘Dependent Origination’ is a concept that means, all things or any phenomenon are empty of independent existence. All existing phenomenon exists with dependence to each other and therefore nothing really exists independently. Which also means that when things exists with dependence with each other, things are dependently originated thus they are empty of independent existence.
Let’s think of a particular thing around us and analyze it closely, we can find out that that particular thing does not exist independently. There is always a factor responsible for the existence of ‘a’ particular thing. And therefore in plain words as per my understanding, when one thing is dependent on another for the origination of something else, then that concept is called ‘Dependent Origination’. An example here would be appropriate, let’s look at a tangible thing like a newspaper that we read. We call it a newspaper and identify it as an individual entity or an independently existing material. However, if we look closely, we can infer that without the raw pulp of a tree, the newspaper would not exist, or for that matter, the numerous articles in that newspaper that many writers have written, without them the newspaper would be just another piece of parchment. Similarly, the ink that prints out the black and white alphabets or the colourful pictures clicked by a photographer with his/her camera would also contribute to the making of a newspaper. The machines that print out the newspaper or the typist who put down each alphabet on a computer in the word format; all this would have to exist dependently in order to form an item called, ‘The Newspaper’. Similar examples, be it tangible or intangible, can be viewed in a similar approach and paradigm thus forming a basis to all things and creating a better and a clearer understanding of this world and our suffering.
The above was a tangible item that was analyzed but as we are a worldly creature, let us look at some of our emotions that take a toll on us on a daily basis. When you are angry, you need to take a bit of a time out and analyze where that anger came from. When you understand where that anger came from, you will also understand that the anger was formed because of certain factors that aroused the “angry” feeling in you. If we compartmentalize and let go of each of those factors which gave rise to anger, then we will be able to understand that one thing led to another so if we let go of even one factor in future , the emotion anger will not come into existence. That is one way to control our mind and keep our mind away from negative emotions like anger. This can be applied to other emotions as well.
‘Emptiness’ or ‘Dependent Origination’ is what Buddha discovered when he was trying to find the middle path and it is also further stated by Ayra Nagarjuna in his text ‘Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā or ‘The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way ’. Our mind is full of ignorance and to eliminate that ignorance Buddha spread his words of wisdom and great gurus like Arya Nagarjuna also explained Buddha’s words to make all of us understand the subtleties of what ‘reality’ is. Arya Nagarjuna talks about five realities of this world. Those are—
- The wisdom which realizes the emptiness of eternal/unitary/ independent existence.
- The wisdom which realizes the emptiness of autonomous substantial existence.
- The wisdom which realizes the emptiness of external existence.
- The wisdom which realizes the emptiness of true existence while not rejecting the existence.
- The wisdom which realizes the emptiness of inherent /objective/intrinsic/independent existence.
According to Arya Nagarjuna what finally reflects is the wisdom which realizes the emptiness of inherent/intrinsic/objective independent existence. One important explanation that we can observe is that when we reject dependence origination of things and therefore reject independent existence of things then we go into the extreme of ‘Absolutism’ and on the other hand when we accept that the things are empty of independent existence but at the same time reject non-existence of a thing then we reach the extreme of ‘Nihilism’. So the two extremes which are ‘Absolutism’ and ‘Nihilism’ can be ruled out by understanding the middle way which is termed as ‘Dependent Origination’.
Understanding the concept of ‘Emptiness’ or ‘Dependent Origination’ is difficult at first, but with the help of a sound teacher this concept can be understood very well. These precious teachings by great minds pave way to transform our human mind. Linking our daily existence through the concept of ‘Emptiness’ or ‘Dependent Origination’ allows us to be optimistic in understanding our existence, and it further helps us to transform our mind and thus transform our world as our minds collectively forms this world and to change the world we can change the way we think.
EMPTINESS: CONCEPT AND APPLCATION TO ELIMINATE FEARS OF LIFE
My association with Geshela Dorjay Damdul during the past three months was of course serendipity. The one of the best thing in Geshela is he never forgets to wear a smile to all those who meet him everyday including his disciples, he always encourages to learn about Buddhist Philosophy and to equally question every doctrines. The energy and enthusiasm he has during his classes is amazing, he never underestimates any question may it is the simplest of all and with full enthusiasm he answers everything said about him seems very less.
Buddhism is one of the spiritual philosophy and more often philosophy is tend to misunderstand as just a thinking process and not a practising thing. One of the noteworthy characteristics of Buddha is that he took birth as human being so as to demonstrate that all human beings possess the seed of Buddhahood covered deep inside by millions of afflictions, one has to recognise and nurture it to become a Buddha.
According to Buddha emptiness is briefly the reality of our existence, those who do not seek reality cannot seek liberation. The flowering dharma centre a foundation trust for culture preservation and inner change consisting of young members of Ladakh is indeed taking a great step to organise such deeply oriented talks of Arya Nagarjuna. It can be consider as they are understanding the need of the hour especially the young generation who are in need of guidance through such philosophies. The two days talk organised by flowering dharma centre in collaboration with department of philosophy Delhi University was very resourceful and enlightening.
The first day of the talk session chaired by Prof. Hira Paul Ganga Negi chairperson of philosophy department. Geshela Dorjay Damdul explained the audience the meaning of emptiness in the simplest way he could so those hearing it for the first time could understand it well. He started beautifully giving an example of chocolate explained indirectly how we are afflicted by the external things and from their perception, when the true joy and happiness is always found within us. Then he talked about the five layers of the understanding through which one can understand the ultimate reality or wisdom. The two types of subjective and the objective existence was differentiated and things exist subjectively and in realty the existence is empty of the objective existence. The emptiness is not taken literally it does not mean nothingness or without anything. The emptiness is the dependent existence where there is no independent existence in short all existence and origination is by dependence of factors. The dependence rejects the independence or absolutism and origination rejects nihilism therefore rejecting both extremes thus accepts the middle way. In other words emptiness and dependent origination are the different sides if the same coin. Likewise everything like pain, fear, joy, and happiness all have dependent origination. The audience got too curious after the talk and as always Geshela answered every question with whole of energy and enthusiasm.
The second day as expected was more interesting then the first day as Geshela talked about the application of emptiness to eliminate the fears of the life, the session was chaired by Prof Ashum Gupta. The session started with the meditation of emptiness, we were guided by Geshela and tinch of fear was experienced by most of us, it was relaxing and different experience though some of us have experienced earlier. Through the meditation it was made to realize that our own existence is through dependence on many factors. The great Arya Nagarjuna (Ratnamala) describes the reality through mirage just a person close to mirage can see the water does not exist so we need to see the reality like that. Experiencing emptiness does not change things like magic, it helps to develop more compassion for all the sentient beings increases, keeps us in a stable sate of joy and thus we respect the law of causation. Over all the two days was blissful and the undying enthusiasm of Geshela always inspire and encourage the young people to attend talks like this in future. So is the enlightening event can be consider as an example of dependent origination, the event is the resultant of inspiring guidance of Geshela, the hard work of the volunteers with the help of administration of the Delhi University. In conclusion we can say that everything exist due to interdepence on each other, nothing exist independently so is the fears of life.
JNU, New Delhi