Emptiness is the most difficult to understand of all the Buddhist Teachings because it is their innermost heart. Being called a heart it must obviously be something subtle and profound. Its understanding does not lie within the scope of mere conjecture or the sort of pondering that ordinary people are accustomed to. It can only be understood by determined study.
The most essential meaning of the word ‘study’ is of the unceasing, dedicated observation and investigation of whatever arises in the mind, be it pleasant or unpleasant. Only one familiar with the observation of mind can really understand Dhamma. One who merely reads books cannot understand and what’s more may even go astray. But one who tries to observe the things going on in the mind and always takes that which is true in his or her own mind as a standard has no way to get, muddled. Such a person will be able to comprehend Dukkha and the cessation of Dukkha and ultimately will understand Dhamma. Then if books are read they will be understood well.
From the moment of birth to the time of death we must train ourselves in this way, examining the contact of the mind with the objects that surround it and the nature of the results of that contact, for in that natural process there will inevitably be both pleasure and pain and observing them will make ‘the mind wiser and more resilient. To keep observing the nature of our thoughts generates a mind emptied of Dukkha, and so, is the very best knowledge there is. Through it we gain familiarity with the realization or awareness of emptiness.
Please think back to the point made in the last talk that the Commentators all called the Buddha the ‘Spiritual Doctor’ and divided disease into two kinds: that of the body/mind and that of the spirit. Both diseases of the body and those of the mind such as are treated in mental hospitals were considered to be Physical Disease. Spiritual Disease, or Mental Disease as they called it, refers to the disease that must be treated with Dhamma. So I would like to make the point that if you are really to understand disease you must make this division: take diseases of the body and of the mind (the mental body) as being both physical disease. As for spiritual disease it is not a disease of the brain or nervous system but is an illness affecting truth discerning awareness (satipanna), that which knows our life and the world as they truly are. So it refers to Ignorance or the wrong understanding that springs from ignorance and causes the wrong actions that lead to Dukkha:, even if physically and .mentally we are quite healthy.
When we are suffering from Spiritual Disease with what must we treat it? We must treat it with emptiness. What’s more, emptiness (sunnata) is not only the cure of the disease but is also the freedom from disease. There is nothing beyond emptiness.
The medicine which cures the disease is the knowledge and practice that gives birth to emptiness. When emptiness has appeared it will be the cure of the disease and alter recovery from the disease there will be nothing save emptiness, the state void of Dukkha and. void of the mental defilements that are the cause of Dukkha This emptiness, which has that wide breadth of meaning, is self-existent: nothing can come to touch it, develop it, improve it, or do anything to it. Thus it is a timeless state, for it mows neither birth nor death. Its ‘being’ is not the same as the being of things which are born and die but since we have no other word to use, we say that it has being characterized by immutable emptiness.
If anyone realizes, that is to say if anyone’s mind realizes this thing, then it will be the medicine that cures the disease and the immediate recovery from disease, a state timelessly empty. It is true health.
Extract from Heart-wood from the Bo Tree.
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