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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
winter 2006| 46 |buddhadharma to the point of attachment. this is one of the roles of tranquillity in meditation. if you don’t learn to enjoy the meditation enough to keep at it con- sistently, you won’t grow familiar with it. if you aren’t familiar with it, insight into its consequences won’t arise. however, unless you’ve already had prac- tice using the rahula instructions to overcome grosser attachments, even if you gain insight into the subtlest of attachments, such as attachment to concentration, your insight will lack integrity. because you haven’t had any practice with more blatant attachments, you won’t be able to pry loose your subtle attachments in a reliable way. you first need to develop the moral habit of look- ing at your actions and their consequences, believ- ing firmly – through experience – in the worth of refraining from harm, however subtle. only then will you have the skill needed to develop empti- ness as an approach to meditation, in a pure and undistorted way, so that it will carry you all the way to its intended goal. Emptiness as an Attribute of the Senses and their Objects When used as a departure point for practice, emp- tiness as an attribute leads to a similar process but by a different route. Whereas emptiness as an approach to meditation focuses on issues of distur- bance and stress, emptiness as an attribute focuses on issues of self and not-self. and while emptiness as an approach to meditation starts with tranquil- lity, emptiness as an attribute starts with insight. the buddha describes this kind of emptiness in a short discourse (Samyutta Nikaya 35.85). again, ananda is his interlocutor, opening the discourse with the question, in what way is the world empty? the buddha answers that each of the six senses and their objects are empty of one’s self or anything pertaining to one’s self. the discourse gives no further explanation, but related discourses show that this insight can be put into practice in two ways. the first is to reflect on what the buddha says about “self” and how ideas of self can be understood as forms of mental activity. the second way, which we will discuss in the next section, is to develop the perception of all things being empty of one’s self as a basis for a state of refined concentration. however, as we shall see, both of these tactics ultimately lead back to using the first form of emptiness – emptiness as an approach to meditation – to complete the path to awakening. the buddha refused to say whether the self exists or not, but he gave a detailed description of how the mind develops the idea of self as a strat- egy based on craving. in our desire for happiness, we repeatedly engage in what the buddha calls “i-making” and “my-making,” trying to exercise control over pleasure and pain. because i-making and my-making are actions, they fall under the purview of the buddha’s instructions to rahula. Whenever you engage in them, you should check to see whether they lead to affliction; if they do, you should abandon them. this is a lesson that, on a blatant level, we learn even as children. if you lay claim to a piece of candy belonging to your sister, you’re going to get into a fight. if she’s bigger than you, you’d do bet- ter not to claim the candy as yours. Much of our practical education as we grow up lies in discov- ering where it’s beneficial to create a sense of self around something and where it’s not. if you learn to approach your i-making and my-making in light of the rahula instructions, you greatly refine this aspect of your education as you find yourself forced to be more honest, discern- ing, and compassionate in seeing where an “i” is a liability and where it’s an asset. on a bla- tant level, you discover that while there are many areas where “i” and “mine” lead only to useless conflicts, there are others where they’re beneficial. the sense of “i” that leads you to be generous and principled in your actions is an “i” worth making, worth mastering as a skill. so too is the sense of “i” that can assume responsibility for your actions and can be willing to sacrifice a small pleasure now for a greater happiness in the future. this kind of “i,” with practice, leads away from affliction and toward increasing levels of happiness. this is the “i” that will eventually lead you to practice meditation, for you see the long-term benefits that come from training your powers of mindfulness, concentration, and discernment. however, as meditation refines your sensitivity, you begin to notice the subtle levels of affliction and disturbance that i-making and my-making can create in the mind. they can get you attached to a state of calm, so that you resent any intru- sions on “my” calm. they can get you attached to your insights, so that you develop pride around “my” insights. this can block further progress, for the sense of “i” and “mine” can blind you to the subtle stress on which the calm and insights are based. if you’ve had training in following the rah- ula instructions, though, you’ll come to appreciate the advantages of learning to see even the calm and the insights as empty of self or anything pertain- ing to self. that is the essence of this second type of emptiness. When you remove labels of “i” or “mine” even from your own insights and mental states, how do you see them? simply as instances of stress arising and passing away – disturbance arising and passing away – with nothing else added or taken away. as you pursue this mode of percep- tion, you’re adopting the first form of emptiness: emptiness as an approach to meditation. The Buddha stressed morality as a precondition for wisdom and declared the highest moral principle to be the precept against lying. If you don’t make a habit of admitting uncomfortable truths, the truth as a whole will elude you.