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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
31 Spring 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly In the Pali scriptures suñña simply means “empty.” It describes the quality of absence—an absence contained within a particular defining form, rather than some kind of absolute value. Every space has its poetics: this personality is empty of self, this glass is empty of water, this room is empty of people—there is a definite voidness in some respects, but it is also shaped by its context. The pair of silences during the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are just silence, but the particular poetry of those silences is shaped by the notes before and after. Without the glass there would not be any emptiness; with- out the other musical notes those moments would not be silent—that is to say, the emptiness only exists in relationship to its vessel, whatever that may be: a personality, a glass, a room, a musical phrase. It’s just a way of speaking about form and space using relative language. Thus from the Theravada point of view, the concept of emptiness is quite prosaic. It lacks the intrinsic mystical qual- ity imputed to it in some of the Northern Buddhist scriptures. However, it becomes more meaningful in terms of liberation as it is almost always used in the context of “empty of self and the property of a self.” If that absence is recognized then the heart is certainly inclining to awakening. The environment of pure awareness is cultivated through a realization of emptiness; it then embodies that characteristic as a result of its perfection. Radiance is another of the principal qualities that manifests as that knowing is purified. Bhikkhus, there are these four radiances—what are the four? The radiance of the moon, the radiance of the sun, the radiance of fire, the radiance of wisdom (paññapabha)... Bhikkhus, among these four, the radiance of wisdom is indeed the most excellent. ~ Anguttara Nikaya 4.142 The qualities of knowing, emptiness, and the radiant mind weave through each other and are mutually reflective and supportive. They are like the fluidity, wetness, and coolness of a glass of water: three qualities that are distinct yet inseparable. These three attributes—knowing, emptiness, and the radiant mind—weave through each other and are mutually reflective and supportive. In a way, they are like the fluidity, wetness, and coolness of a glass of water: three qualities that are distinct yet inseparable. To round things off, here are some words from Ajahn Chah that encompass the themes we have been looking at. About this mind... in truth there is nothing really wrong with it. It is intrinsically pure. Within itself it’s already peaceful. That the mind is not peaceful these days is because it follows moods. The real mind doesn’t have anything to it, it is simply [an aspect of] Nature. It becomes peaceful or agitated because moods deceive it. The untrained mind is stupid. Sense impres- sions come and trick it into happiness, suffering, gladness, and sorrow, but the mind’s true nature is none of those things. That gladness or sadness is not the mind, but only a mood coming to deceive us. The untrained mind gets lost and follows these things, it forgets itself. Then we think that it is we who are upset or at ease or whatever. But really this mind of ours is already unmoving and peace- ful... really peaceful! Just like a leaf which is still as long as no wind blows. If a wind comes up the leaf flutters. The flutter- ing is due to the wind—the “fluttering” is due to those sense impressions; the mind follows them. If it doesn’t follow them, it doesn’t “flutter.” If we know fully the true nature of sense impressions we will be unmoved. Our practice is simply to see the Original Mind. We must train the mind to know those sense impressions, and not get lost in them; to make it peaceful. Just this is the aim of all this difficult practice we put ourselves through. ~ Ajahn Chah, Food for the Heart This article is adapted from The Island: An Anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings on Nibbana. (left-rIght)rIchardyaskI,uNkNowN