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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
summer 2006| 38 |buddhadharma We can speak of two kinds of emptiness: the emptiness of the dharma of teachings and the emptiness of the dharma of mind. The emptiness of the dharma of teachings can be understood through analysis and logic. The emptiness of the dharma of mind, however, can only be realized through actual experience. There is a real experi- ence of this emptiness of the dharma of mind, but not all so-called experiences of emptiness are genuine. Many students of Indian or Buddhist philosophy think they fully understand emptiness. Actually, what they under- stand is merely a part of the emptiness of the dharma of teachings. One can arrive at a shallow understanding of emptiness of the dharma of teachings by analyzing the components of the body and mind, which in Buddhism are called the five skandhas. In Sanskrit, skandha means “aggregate,” or “heap.” The five skan- dhas include the material and the mental aggregates; they constitute our life, our being, and what we think of as our “self.” They are phenomenal components orga- nized in time and space through causes and conditions. In arriving at emptiness through anal- ysis, we look at each skandha and see that none contains an inherent self. We see that what we call our self is actually a composite of these five factors, none of which is a self-entity. Also, we find no self outside of the skandhas. The skandhas fall into three groups. First is the material skandha of form. Then there are three mental skandhas: sensation, perception, and volition. The fifth skandha is a spiritual component, consciousness. When we are born, we have a complete existence consisting of physical, mental, and spiritual components, but after we die only consciousness remains. To repeat, as we analyze the five skan- dhas, we conclude that what we call the self is in fact composed of these skand- has, none of which has self-nature. Since all material and mental components are inherently changing, each skandha is itself empty of inherent nature. We con- clude that the self, being made up of the five aggregates, is also impermanent and empty. Can we say that the self that is com- posed of the five skandhas actually exists? Yes, in a sense we can, but this is not what Buddhism calls real existence. This self that we get at birth comprises physi- cal, mental, and spiritual components, but when we die, only the component of consciousness remains. Consciousness, in and of itself, does not create karma. It does not think; rather, it’s just a men- tal entity. In order to practice, one needs a body. Consciousness alone cannot do Master sheng Yen is the founder of dharMa druM Mountain, which includes the chan Meditation center in elMhurst, new York, and dharMa druM retreat center in Pine Bush, new York. this article is Based on a talk he gave at a chan retreat in Moscow, which was organized BY wujiMen, a russian Martial arts cluB. Into the Depths of Emptiness In this single talk, the Chan master Sheng Yen surveys the path to enlightenment, explaining how it progresses and where its pitfalls are. Our intellectual understanding, our temporary realizations, even the exalted state of oneness – all must be dropped to realize the deepest emptiness, the highest truth. photographs by mary lang