Hard As a Diamond
When we look up at the sky and say “Look, there is a rainbow,” we are alleging that a rainbow exists. Yet a rainbow is actually an illusion, so it is as an illusion that a rainbow exists. A rainbow as anything other than an illusion does not actually exist. So one can say that a rainbow exists and one can also say that a rainbow does not really exist.
It could be said that a rainbow near an unreachable mountain waterfall neither exists nor does not exist if no one has ever seen it and pondered either its existence or non-existence. In other words, the supposed reality or non-reality of any phenomenon is an assertion of a mind capable of such a discrimination. Aside from the mind, that is, there is not anything that is determined to be either real or not real.
A mind considers that it is real; and being real, that whatever it determines is real is real.
Thus, the mind itself is real, the self which is the subject of the mind is equally real, and the world and universe that the mind professes to sense is likewise real.
What if there were no minds in the universe; would there be anything that was described as a universe; would there be any notions of a world; would anything identify itself as a self? Would anything be determined to be real or not real?
As it is, you seem to be a self; you seem to have a mind; you and your mind appear to see a world.
But when you go to bed at night, that same you appears in a “real”dream world. While engaged in that experience, you do not deny it as “unreal”. When awake, there is that “you” seemingly engaged in a “real” world, appearing to that very same mind.
Where a mind is not real, can any products of that mind be real? Would the self that’s in your mind be real? Where the self is not real, would any thing which is other than the self be real?
We could say that all these appear to be real: they are real as appearances; like an illusion by a magician sawing a woman in half is real as an illusion—but recognized to be false when minutes later the woman takes a bow.
What this tells us is that if things are not as they appear to be—“real”—they are not real.
The key to what is ultimately real, or always real, is that which is not ephemeral, which does not change. The self changes, the mind changes, the world changes, the universe changes: all phenomenon have a beginning and an ending, and—even if there were not other differences—the difference between the two mark a change.
All forms have a beginning and an ending; all forms change. That which is without a beginning and ending would not be a form; it would be formless.
What is formless would not be an entity, a thing: it would be no thing: nothing. Nothing—not a thing—does not change.
Nothing does not exist, except in our efforts to contemplate or describe it. Hence it does not not exist in that sense.
Whatever is without a form has no edges, borders, boundaries or perimeters. Being formless, it contains no content; formlessness is a zero, it is empty or void. In formlessness there is not any thing which can have an existence. To this extent, formlessness itself cannot be said to manifest existence.
In fact, in its emptiness it is absent any such identity as existent or non-existent. It is uncaused, uncreated, “unborn”. Without any such characteristics as having a beginning or an ending, emptiness is without an origin and without a cessation.
Only one thing could be said of emptiness, if anything. Emptiness is utterly empty.
Thus it says in the Heart Sutra, to Buddha’s approval, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is not other than form.”
Form (including our own bodies) appear to us to be “real”, but they do not actually exist in the way they seem to. Emptiness is the true nature of seeming forms and phenomenon. This is why the sages compare our life in the world to a dream or an illusion. Buddha, for one, declared:
“As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space,
an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble,
a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning—
view all created things like this.”
“No beginning (no origination)”,Buddha said in the Diamond Sutra “is the highest truth.” He says that no one who is onto this truth, “creates the perception of a self, a being, a life, or a soul….these forms are only names; these feelings, discriminations, compositional factors, and consciousness are only names.”
The Ashtavakara Gita says of the universe:
“The universe itself is a figment of imagination. The universe, even though it seems present to the senses, is unreal. The universe does not in reality exist. This manifold universe is nothing…nothing exists.”
The Indian monk Shantideva (685-763) said:
What we see and what we touch
Is stuff of dreams and mirages.
All form, therefore is like a dream.
And who will be attached to it, who thus investigates?
There is nothing; when this is asserted,
No thing is there to be examined.
The Tibetan monk Longchempa (1308-64) said:
It is simply arising, forms are by nature empty.
From what is unborn, there manifests what seems to be born.
But even as it manifests, nothing whatsoever has been born.
From what is unceasing, there manifests what seems to cease,
but there is no cessation.
Within the wholly positive expanse, birth, death,
happiness, and suffering have never existed.
Within the wholly positive expanse, self, other,
affirmation, and negation have never existed.
Afflictive emotions, karma, and habitual patterns
have no support within this vast expanse, but are
the playing out of magical games of illusion.
Like water in a mirage, a dream, an echo,
a phantom emanation, a reflection, a castle
in the air or a hallucination, all things are clearly
apparent yet do not truly exist.
Although they do not exist, they appear to,
and in manifesting they have no basis.
The Dalai Lama has said,
“Phenomena are not objectively existent and are only established as existing through subjective designations and thoughts….In short, it is said that though there is no phenomenon that is not posited by the mind, whatever the mind posits is not necessarily existent…..If we become familiar with this, the objects viewed—self, other, and so forth—appear as illusion-like or dream-like falsities, which although not inherently existent, appear to be so”.
A student of a spiritual teacher wrote this:
“It’s spooky. I would look at everything, like this Japanese lamp that I love, and I’d see that it’s just an appearance. Where that took me is that we’re all appearances. When I went from an object to say it’s an appearance, to a person and say they’re an appearance —it made my hair stand on end! But it’s true!”
A Chinese master has declared:
“The non-existence of both existence and non-existence is the ultimate truth.”
And a sutra has summarized:
“Phenomena are not made empty by emptiness, the phenomena themselves are empty.”
So, all phenomenon—material or immaterial—are “real” only inasmuch as they appear to be real; in actuality, they are empty of real existence. This means that you and your mind appear to be real, but are not.
You and your world are projections of the mind, and the mind itself is not real.
It’s not that the self, the mind and the world have existed, and have been emptied out: not anything has ever truly existed from the start. Emptiness is—and being without a beginning, always has been—the condition. Period. Yes, there are what appear to be phenomenon of solidity, but such appearances are utterly without a foundation in reality. All is empty.
This means that the passage of time, as well, is an illusion. Not anything actual can ever be produced out of emptiness, neither a beginning nor an ending. Not anything has ever been born or created, therefore not anything has ever actually died. Birth, life and death are non-existent. Not anything moves, in emptiness.
Despite what appears—to an apparent mind which has never existed in reality—not anything has ever happened.
Does anything then, in truth, really matter? No. The realization of this might make your hair stand on end—but it’s true!
Bill Porter (Red Pine), who has written one of the 20,000 commentaries on the Diamond Sutra during the past 24 centuries, says of the Buddha’s death: “By the time of his Nirvana in 383 B.C., there were still not many members of his order who understood this teaching or its ramifications.”
Another translator has written: “It is recorded in the Pali Canon that the Buddha foretold the disappearance of some of his most profound teachings. They would be misunderstood and neglected, and would fall into oblivion. ‘In this way,’ he said, ‘those discourses spoken by the Tathagata that are deep, deep in meaning, supramundane, dealing with emptiness, will disappear.’”
Buddha was so concerned for his teachings on emptiness, Porter says that he told his attendant Ananda: “If you should forget all other teachings you have heard me speak, that would be a minor fault. But if you should forget but a single verse of this perfection of wisdom, that would be a serious fault, and it would displease me greatly.”
Emptiness is not for sissies.