“…it is often said that from the standpoint of “after” realization (note the quotation marks), nothing ever happened …” … “…to realize emptiness is to realize the interdependence of what one thought was fixed and independent …” ~ Greg Goode
In Part 3 of this series – Can We Equate Emptiness with Advaita? – Greg completes the differences between Emptiness and Advaita … and concludes the series.
In the awareness teachings, realization of the nature of the Self is something that happens once per lifetime. Depending on the teaching, there might be several different stages to this realization, but regardless of the process, it is not something that can be repeated (or needs to be). In fact, it is often said that from the standpoint of “after” realization (note the quotation marks), nothing ever happened. Who could it have happened to? Oftentimes, depending on the particular awareness teaching, there is not a lot to say about the process or the person who undergoes the process.
In the emptiness teachings there is a lot to say. Whether before or after realization, it is not regarded as unwarranted to speak of the conventionally existent person. The conventionally existent person is an informal designation based upon the essenceless, fluctuating assembly of psychophysical parts. In the spirit of this informal designation, the person exists (conventionally). This person is the one who suffers, meditates on emptiness and does other practices, and who realizes the emptiness of the self. It is all conventional, including the Buddhist teachings themselves.
Another difference is that the realization of emptiness can happen many times. Each realization, even a tiny one, promotes lightness, vibrancy and openness of heart. There can be more than one because to realize emptiness is to realize the interdependence of what one thought was fixed and independent. Since there are many ways for things to depend on each other, there are many different ways these interdependencies can be seen and realized. Each realization strengthens one’s insight.
Some Mahayana Buddhist teachings distinguish between inferential realization of emptiness, which happens through the mediation of a concept, and direct realization of emptiness, which happens unmediated by concepts. One’s first direct realization of emptiness, according to these teachings, eliminates a significant part of one’s afflictive emotions forever. But this direct realization can be repeated many times (even over lifetimes of rebirths according to some Mahayana teachings), so that compassion is increased and the lingering roots of ignorance can be eradicated. The point here is not so much exactly what happens according to certain teachings, but rather that realizing emptiness is something that can happen many times. It even happens after one’s own suffering has come to an end. Why continue if one’s suffering has ceased? This is related to the Bodhisattva ideal, according to which one devotes one’s energies to the eradication of others’ suffering.
Talking about realization
In the awareness teachings, it is quite common to talk about one’s own realization or other aspects of one’s spiritual state. Often this is part of a teacher’s teachings. “I did it; you can too.”
In the emptiness teachings, this is rarely heard, if ever. Buddhist teachers may talk about the realization of someone in the past, and you might hear how difficult and earth-shattering this realization is. But people tend not to talk about their own case. At least I have never heard it. In over 15 years of studying these teachings, working with teachers, visiting temples and monasteries, and reading thousands pages of emptiness teachings, I can’t recall even one time that someone said, “Back when I directly realized emptiness….”
We are honored to publish this guest post series authored by Greg Goode and is sourced from one of his websites dedicated to emptiness. Greg is one of the teachers in Stillness Speaks library so please visit his teacher’s page for comprehensive information about his work.
Images: (all edited and logo added) 1) Amsterdam Night by 1919021, CCO Public Domain, 2) Resting place, ( Saarland, Germany). by Christian Reimer, CC BY-SA 2.0.