Our eyes and mind tell us that a mirage is, for example, a place where we may quench our thirst. Because, in fact, we cannot actually do so, we name it a mirage.
So, is there such a thing that appears to us as a mirage? Yes. Is it actual, or real, in that it contains drinkable water? No.
An appearance may seem to be real. But aside from its appearance as such, it may have no reality.
It is our eyes which see an appearance. It is our mind which declares that what we see is actually real.
No phenomenon is entirely independent. If nothing else, it depends on some other thing for its birth or creation. It has been said that we are the cause of everything that we see or experience. If I look out and see a tree, for instance, it is my mind which tells me that I am looking at a tree. We, in our minds, give birth to every thing that we claim exists and is real. (This includes ourself.)
All things, including ourself, are “dependently arisen.” In other words, not any thing independently arises of its own volition, not any thing is entirely self-controlled or self-governed, or even totally self-defined. However, appearances may seem otherwise.
If there were something that could arise by its very own volition, then—by its own volition—it could determine to ever remain the same, to not change. Yet, there is not any thing that we know of which is not finally impermanent.
As Nagarjuna says:
Never is there anywhere the existence of anything that is not dependently originated, hence never is there anything anywhere that is eternal.
If there were something which was ultimately real, it would not depend upon our minds for its existence: it would not be dependently arisen. Nor would the ultimate actuality change or cease to be.
Things which have an origination, and which change or age, are impermanent and finally cease to be: what has a beginning, has an ending. What does not cease to be (does not go out of existence) has not come into existence. It is permanent because it is unchanging. Unchanging, it knows neither the state of birth nor death.
All things, except for ultimate reality, are impermanent. Ultimate reality is not one of those things: it is no thing. Nothing. It is empty of any appearance; it is empty of any thing of any kind. It is empty of any description, including “existent” (or “nonexistent”). It is empty of origination, or cessation. At best, ultimate reality is total, complete emptiness.
Arising and dissolution do not hold with respect to that which is empty….
Arising does not at all exist either with or without dissolution….
It is not right to say that there is the act of origination, whether of the existent, of the nonexistent, or of what both exists and does not exist….
Co-authors Mark Siderits and Shoryu Katsura write,
According to Madhyamaka, ultimate reality does not contain anything that arises. (And since Buddhists generally agree that there are no eternal entities, this would mean that ultimate reality contains no entities whatsoever.) The realization of emptiness would then be insight into the true character of reality: that it is utterly devoid of existing entities.
But, despite the emptiness of ultimate reality, there are what do seem to be appearances. Would the true actuality of these appearances be emptiness?
The emptiness of ultimate reality cannot be just an appearance. Put another way, an appearance cannot be ultimate reality.
An appearance is just that: non real. All phenomena are empty of reality. Yet they do seemingly continue to appear.
So, emptiness is not apart from phenomena, and phenomena are not apart from emptiness. The appearance of phenonema can be said to have an origination; emptiness does not. Phenonema can be said to exist or not exist; emptiness transcends such descriptions.
The point of this is to recognize that all things which we say are, ultimately are absent of true reality whatsoever. All that is, is empty. Only one thing could be supposed to be real, and that is emptiness.
All appearances are empty and unreal: you; your mind; anything which this mind identifies, whether substantial or insubstantial; others; the world; the universe; this present moment; life; death; eternity.
That by means of which one conceives, the conceiving, the conceiver, and what is conceived—all those things have been extinguished, hence there is no conception….
The domain of objects of consciousness having ceased, what is to be named is ceased.
The nature of things is to be without origination or cessation….
Intrinsic nature and extrinsic nature, existent and nonexistent—who see these do not see the truth of the Buddha’s teachings.
Never in any way is there any existing thing that has arisen…there is neither cessation nor origination, neither annihilation nor the eternal, neither singularity nor plurality, neither the coming nor the going…
The final recognition is that emptiness itself is empty of any qualities or attributes, even “reality” or “unreality,” “true” or “not true.”
There is, in truth, no right or wrong, good or bad. Ultimately, not anything matters; there is no entity to whom anything could matter.
This is the final view which can be said to bring one’s liberation… “the ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth.”