Nothing Findable Establishing “Me” as “Me”

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We have been talking about the self or “me,” which is imputed onto the stream of continuity of our aggregate factors that make up each moment of our experience. That conventional “me” is what the word or concept of “me” refers to on the basis of these ever-changing aggregates that form continuity according to individual karma. When we talk about the voidness of a self of a person, we are talking about the absence of various impossible ways of existing that our minds, out of the habits of confusion, project onto that conventionally existent “me” to constitute a false “me.” There are many levels of this a false “me” that we need to refute, and stop thinking, stop projecting, or stop believing in these projections, step by step.

The Conventional “Me” and False “Me” Are Not the Same as a Healthy Ego and an Inflated Ego

By the way, the conventional “me” and the “false me” are not equivalent to what we have in our Western psychology of a healthy “ego” and an “inflated ego.” A “healthy ego,” and an “inflated ego,” those are different. A “healthy ego” is a sense, or a feeling, or an identification with the conventionally existent “me.” An “inflated ego” is an identification, or a feeling of being the “false me.”

What I’m saying is that a “conventional me” and a “false me” are one set. And in the West we talk about a “healthy ego,” and a “healthy ego” is a state of mind. The “conventional me” and the “false me” are not states of mind, and are not ways of being aware of anything; whereas a “healthy” and an “inflated ego” are ways of being aware of something.

So “healthy ego” is identified with the “healthy me,” the “conventional me” that does exist. On that basis we get up in the morning, we dress ourselves, and we go to work; otherwise you don’t take care of yourself. An “inflated ego” is identifying with a “false me” – it doesn’t exist at all: “I am the center of the universe. I am the most important one.”

Doctrinally Based Unawareness about How “I” Exist

First, we need to refute, or get rid of, what is known as doctrinally based unawareness, doctrinally based confusion, about how the self exists. We may think that, “I exist in certain ways” that we have learnt through a certain doctrine. This is referring specifically here to the doctrines of non-Buddhist Indian schools of philosophy. These are views that we needed to learn; somebody had to teach them to us. These weren’t things that anybody would naturally believe. Although the various non-Buddhist Indian schools of philosophy have different assertions concerning the self or the atman, we call it; nevertheless, there are certain features, which are agreed upon in common by all of them.

What are these characteristics? There are three characteristics of this impossible self. Whether we call it a self or we call it a soul, which is bringing in, perhaps, a non-Indian scheme, that’s really hard to say how we would actually translate what we are talking about here; but there are many features of it that are similar to our Western idea of a soul. But let’s leave it just as a self or a “me.” Please keep in mind that we always have to make the difference between the conventionally existent “me” and what is known as the “false me.” The “false me” doesn’t exist at all. We are refuting that the conventional “me” exists in the manner of a “false me.”

The doctrinally based false “me” has three characteristics, as asserted by these non-Buddhist Indian schools.

The first is that it is a static phenomenon. You have to understand what “static” means. We have to be careful not to translate this word just as “permanent,” because what it is referring to here is not that the self is eternal, no beginning and no end. Buddhism says that as well.

Buddhism says that the mental continuum, these aggregate factors, has no beginning, and the mental continuum itself, the mind, has no end. It won’t continue, once we’re a Buddha, to have these aggregate factors that are mixed with confusion; we’ll have the pure aggregates of a Buddha. But still the mental continuum has no beginning and no end and you can impute “me” on that whole thing. No beginning, no end to “me,” the conventional “me,” and of course the “me” is always individual, including the “me” of a Buddha. Buddha Shakyamuni is not Maitreya Buddha – they’re different. They are individual.

A static “me” would be a “me” that doesn’t change from moment to moment; it is not affected by anything. So that’s the first characteristic that, “I never change, it’s still ‘me.’ I went to sleep last night, got up this morning – here I am again.” Same “me” – it didn’t change.

The second characteristic is that the “me” is a monolith. It is monolithic; it has no parts; it’s partless. It’s usually translated just as “one,” but that’s too vague. And either some of the Indian schools say, “It’s as big as the universe,” and others say, “It’s like a tiny little spark,” but in either case, it doesn’t have any parts; it’s a monolith.

The third characteristic is that it is something totally separate from the aggregates. To put it simply, totally separate from the body and mind. So, it’s like, for instance, if we just make it into a simplistic view, it would be like, “Who am I? What is the ‘me?’” It’s like a little spark, a monolithic spark of life, or soul, or whatever, that never changes and just comes into the body like going into a house, and stays there, and then leaves, and goes to another body, and it’s always the same. So this is the type of “me” that we would have to be taught about. It’s not something that we would naturally just sort of feel that that’s what we are, like a soul that goes from one lifetime to another. So when we first get non-conceptual cognition of voidness, in terms of, “there is no such thing,” that “this concept is not referring to anything that is actually true or real,” we get rid of this. We get rid of this belief in this doctrinally based “false me.”

An interesting question of course is, “What about us, as Westerners who never studied any of the Indian non-Buddhist philosophical systems? Do we get rid of this when we achieve the path of seeing?” Kedrub Je, one of Tsongkhapa’s disciples, said that everybody has this, whether or not you have studied Indian schools of non-Buddhist philosophy in this lifetime or not. In a previous life you must have studied it. That gets into a very strange concept of, you know, these Indian schools of philosophy have been going from beginningless time as well.

But everybody has this, including animals. So concepts of an false “me” that we might have learned from other philosophical and religious systems, let’s says Christianity, or other systems like that, wouldn’t be, what’s known as, the definitional type of this unawareness, this type of confusion. But you would have to say that it is something perhaps similar to it, because we certainly could be indoctrinated from other systems besides the Indian Hindu systems that have some sort of belief that, from a Buddhist point of view, is incorrect. This doesn’t even have to come from a system of religion. It could be from a system of psychology as well.

Let me add as well that there are disturbing emotions, disturbing attitudes, that are doctrinally based, that are based on this misbelief. Based on believing we exist as this doctrinally based false “me,” we become possessive and want to hold on to things as belonging to this false “me.” Or we get angry at people and things that we feel threaten this doctrinally based false “me.” So firstly we get rid of these.

Automatically Arising Unawareness about How “I” Exist

But then, on a deeper level, we have what is known as “automatically arising unawareness.” So, we would say, “Yes, I understand that the self is something that changes from moment to moment, and it has parts over time, and these sorts of things, and it’s not separate from the aggregates; it is just imputed on the aggregates. Yes, yes, I understand that.” This is what we are left with, after we have refuted the doctrinally based false belief. That’s the point, we have to see, well, what is still incorrect with what’s left over after you have done the first refutation.

So, this would be the belief that this changing “me” etc that is imputed on the aggregates, nevertheless is self-sufficiently knowable: “I can know it just by itself.” It could be known on its own, without having to know something else, or cognize something else, at the same time. “I know Sasha.” Right? That automatically arises, “I think I know Sasha.” How can I know “Sasha” without thinking of, at the same time, a body or a mind or a voice? “I hear Sasha on the telephone.” Am I hearing Sasha on the telephone, or am I hearing a voice that “Sasha” is imputed on? But it seems to me that “I am hearing Sasha, and I am seeing Sasha and I know Sasha.” That is this deceptive appearance that the self, or a person, is self-sufficiently knowable. That’s incorrect.

We think like that in terms of “me.” We can’t think of “me” without thinking of at least the word “me,” but we think “me.” And this is a “me” that needs to express its individuality, and be unique, and all these things. “Yeah, I know that it’s changing from moment to moment and all these other things.” We think, “Who am I?” “What is my identity?” “What should I do now?” and it seems as though we are just thinking about… even though I understand, “Yeah, sure, the “me” is imputed,” but still it automatically appears as though I can just think about “me” and what I should do, without having to think also of a body, or the mind, or these other things.

Or we could just identify that self-sufficiently knowable “me” with something, let’s say, the voice that goes on in our heads, and we think that is “me” talking, “What should I do now?” – the one that is worrying inside our heads. The “me,” I understand, is not separate from the aggregates; it’s sort of in there, part of the whole thing. But it’s like the boss, “What should I do now?” Well, “I’ll say this,” “I’ll do that,” as if there was a little “me” inside, sitting behind the control panel, pressing the buttons, taking the information from the eyes on a screen, a computer screen.

Then, we have all the automatically arising disturbing emotions and disturbing attitudes that are based on this automatically arising unawareness of how “I” exist or how “you” exist. So, I think that in order to make that “me,” that I can know just by itself, secure, I have to get a lot of things around me; so we have greed and attachment, and then we don’t want to let go of them, because we think it’s going to make that “me” secure. Or there are certain things we don’t want to be part of us, so we get anger, “I want to get rid of that!” and anger, so that somehow we can make this “me,” this self-sufficiently knowable “me,” secure.

All these disturbing emotions just automatically come up. We can recognize these syndromes very easily and then they’re quite funny, if you think about them. They are funny because they are true. It’s that “I don’t want people to love me just because of my good looks, or just because of my money, or just because of my fame,” and so on. “I want people to love me for ‘me.’” We think like that, don’t we? As if there was a “me” that could be known separately from all these other things. And that could be loved. How sweet. So, these things, we all just feel like that, and nobody had to teach us that. “Love me for me.” So let’s take a few moments to think about how this is true. Also, there are many logical lines of reasoning to show the absurdity of believing like this, that this can’t possibly be the case. We don’t need to go into all of that here; we don’t have so much time.


The Object of Refutation According to Prasangika

OK, so although it feels like this… this is the thing that’s so terrible, it feels like this, that “there is a ‘me’ that can be known on its own, that I can express creatively, and then everybody will know ‘me,’” – this sort of thing, and we try to find our unique individuality and all this sort of stuff. Although it feels like that, that’s not referring to anything real. That’s what’s absent: an actual referent of that. Then we have to see what is left over after that, after that refutation.

So, I know “me” is changing all the time, it has parts, and is not separate from the aggregates. It’s imputed on them and can’t be known by itself. I know all of that. OK, but for that imputation to be correct, of “me,” on this stream of continuity of aggregates, for that to be correct, there’s got to be something unique and findable on the side of “me” that makes “me” “me,” and not you. This is a more subtle level of what automatically arises within the context of all this mental labeling, everything that we’ve discussed – still there is something on the side of “me,” on the side of the referent object of the word “me” that makes me uniquely “me,” a unique individual, that establishes “me” as “me.” That impossible way of existing, of establishing the existence, is what Prasangika is refuting.

So, often we think like that, “I have to find the real ‘me,’” don’t we? I have to find this uniqueness, this is especially in the West where we want to assert that uniqueness, that individuality, something that makes “me” “me.” And we think that it’s somewhere findable inside, even though it’s a little bit vague where we could possibly find it. Then we have all sorts of strange notions, “Last night I was drunk, I was not ‘myself.’”

The refutation of such a false “me” – one whose existence is established by some unique defining characteristic on the side of “me” or on the side of the aggregates –leads us to the Prasangika view of voidness, that the existence of the self, or anything, is established merely in terms of a label, a concept “me.” There is nothing on the side of the referent object that establishes or makes it a knowable, unique item that can be known. There is nothing on the side of the object that establishes sort of a perimeter, like a coating of plastic that makes this thing an item, unique item that can be known, in this case, “me.” Often, we think of that in terms of defining characteristics: there is defining characteristics on the side of the object that makes it what it is, defines it as “me.” “This is what makes “me” “me.””

Nevertheless, “I” Still Function

But when we refute that, it’s not that we’re left with no “me.” This is the very important “nevertheless I am here. I’m talking; I feel happy; I feel unhappy. I still need to get up in the morning, and get dressed and go to work or go to school.” But all of that can function and work, because there’s nothing on the side of the object establishing it. If there was something on the side of an object establishing it, it would be like a ping-pong ball, that’s how I described it. It couldn’t interact with anything. It would just sort of sit there. How can I learn anything? If I learned anything from somebody else or from a book, I would no longer be “me,” because that’s something in addition to “me.” It becomes really weird if you really check out all the absurd consequences of believing these impossible ways of existing.

So we always have to bear in mind this clause, “nevertheless.” Nevertheless, despite the self being devoid of all these impossible ways of existing, nevertheless I still function, I still do things, and I can still reach enlightenment. So we just work, we work to accumulate positive force, to understand, to study, to think, to meditate, to help others, etcetera, without worrying about, “Oh! I have to be unique ‘me,’ and I have to express my individuality,” and “Is this one going to like me?” and “What are they going to think of me?” and all this sort of stuff. We don’t need any of that. That’s what I call garbage, mental garbage. We don’t need that. That’s based on a false idea of, you know, “there is a little me inside that I have to protect.”

The same analysis applies to other people as well. We have so much difficulty with other people, because of this mistaken view of thinking there is something special, unique, on the side of the other person that makes them who they are. So, “a lot of people are out there,” and so on, “and they might like me and love me, but that doesn’t count, I want you to love me. Now you, that’s the one that really makes a difference to me.” Why? “Because there must be something special on the side of you that makes you you, the one,” and “I have to have you, that one, on your side, love ‘me.’” And of course we get very upset when that doesn’t happen.

The same thing in terms of objects. “My computer,” and “there is something on the side of this that makes it mine,” or, “I bought it, after all.” We think in terms of objects as well having the same false identity, something on the side of the object that makes it – as I was using the example before –a watch, and so the child that looks at it as a toy is stupid, or dangerous, is going to break it. Now, they might break it. That’s true, but you get so upset, “This is my precious object and this person thinks it’s a piece of junk. They can clearly see that there is value on the side of the object that makes it beautiful, and expensive,” and so on. You can get all sorts of disturbing emotions.

Or we think in terms of a problem, “I have a problem,” and then we think that there is something on the side of the problem that makes it a problem, like it’s this big, horrible ball sitting out there. If it were like that, it should be a problem for everybody and there would be no way to get rid of this problem, because “There it is, sitting!” There is something on its side that makes it a problem. This problem, in terms of, “Yes, there are these difficulties,” and so on, “I label it “a problem,” but it has arisen from causes and circumstances that can be affected and can be changed, so, “no big deal!” There is nothing inherent, findable in it, sitting there, making it a solid problem all by itself, by its own power.

Focusing on Emptiness

When we focus on voidness, emptiness, what we are focusing on is “there is no such thing. There never was; there never will be.” Although it might feel as though there is this impossible “me,” that feeling doesn’t refer to anything actual, anything real. “There is no such thing.” and then we cut off this belief, we cut off any idea of there being such a thing.

You have Santa Claus here, or Father Christmas? I saw somebody out in the street, dressed like that with a red suit and a funny hat. Oh, you have a Father Frost here? Good example! Here is somebody, a man who is dressed as Father Frost and looks like Father Frost, and I think it’s Father Frost, but then after thinking and thinking, I discover that, “Hey, there isn’t any Father Frost.” So what am I left with? I am left with a man who looks like Father Frost, but who isn’t Father Frost. So I’m left with something, the basis. The basis is the man. We are not negating the man. What we are negating is the deceptive appearance. “It looks as though this is really Father Frost!” Then, with the understanding of voidness, we understand not only is he not Father Frost, but the one over at the other corner is Father Frost, it’s not that. We understand, “There is no such thing as Father Frost.” So this is a deceptive appearance.

That is exactly the same thing. There is a conventional “me” that appears as though it exists as the “false me,” but there is no such thing as the “false me.” It doesn’t refer to anything real. And so we are left with the conventional “me” that looks like the “false me,” that feels like the “false me,” and eventually, the more we become familiar with this, and habituate ourselves to this understanding that, “there is no such thing,” eventually the mind will stop projecting this deceptive appearance. So let’s think about that for a moment.


What Establishes Individuality?

What is the role of that uniqueness or individuality, because you said there’s no unique self, because you just mentioned that Buddha Maitreya is not Buddha Shakyamuni, and so forth? And so various selves are unique; they do function as individuals with beginningless consciousness. So, what’s the boundary between not being unique, but being individual?

We are all individuals, but there is nothing on the side of each of us that makes us that individual. Nothing findable. Even if you think in terms of genes, and chromosomes, and that sort of thing, when you look deeply into that, then there are the various chemicals, and then that’s made up of the various atoms, and then that’s made up of the various electrons, and quarks, and so on. You can’t find anything.

So, conventionally, we can say that there are certain defining characteristics, conventionally, in terms of karma and the continuity of cause and effect, and so on. So one’s mental continuum is a continuum based on cause and effect. You go on through cause and effect, and another one is based on a different stream of continuity of cause and effect. But it’s not that this cause and effect sequence is sitting there, somewhere on the side of the object. Habits, and karmic tendencies, and so on – those are imputations on the continuum of the aggregates, just like the self is, and their existence as well is established merely in terms of mental labeling with concepts and designation with words.

Look at cause and effect. A simple example that is always used in Buddhism is “a seed and a sprout.” A sprout is the result of the seed. A seed is the cause of the sprout. Is there something on the side of the sprout that you can find that says, “I came from that seed?” Is there something on the side of the seed that says, “I am going to give rise to that sprout?” No, obviously not. So, what establishes that the seed is the cause of the sprout and the sprout is the result of the seed? What establishes that? What proves that? How is that established? It’s established in terms of, we mentally label, “this is cause and effect,” based on the concept of cause and effect. Was the seed the cause of the sprout? Yes. The “nevertheless factor.” Did it matter whether or not I knew that this seed was the cause of the sprout? No, it makes no difference at all. That requires a lot of thought.

Is Clear Light Mind the Self?

Yesterday, you spoke about the subtlest level of mind, apparently the clear light mind, which connects all our experiences and has different lifetimes, taking rebirth and so forth, and underlies all types of experiences we are having. So that sounds pretty much like something you’re talking about now, the “true self,” what is an underlying self, which is uniquely ours. So how would that correspond?

No! If we ask, “What is it that has continuity with no beginning and no end?” we could say, “the subtlest mind, with the subtlest energy that’s the basis of it.” And that’s the basis upon which the conventional “me” is imputed, as well as karmic tendencies, habits, and so on. It is also the basis for labeling the concepts of “me,” karmic tendencies and habits and it is also the basis for designation with the words “me,” karmic tendencies and habits. But the basis of designation is not the same as what the designation refers to. That is why I said to really understand voidness, one really has to understand mental labeling and designation correctly – all the components involved in the labeling and designating.

Remember the example, an orange is not a colored shape; it’s not a smell; it’s not a taste. Those were the basis for designation, and an orange is not the word “orange.” It’s not a meaningless acoustic pattern that some group of people decided to use to represent this object, this conventional object, that now they are going to call “an orange.” You know, it’s really weird: we also have a convention that certain lines on a piece of paper also represent this object. That’s really weird, if you think about it.

Ignorance Is Beginningless

This inborn, masochistic ignorance, where does it come from in the first place? Whose end does it serve?

This is a very difficult thing for us as Westerners to really understand and be able to work with. But we speak in terms of beginningless continuity. So there is a beginningless mind, a beginningless mental continuum, and beginningless confusion, beginningless unawareness, automatically arising unawareness – no beginning. It wasn’t created by anybody. It doesn’t serve somebody’s purpose. Nobody put it in us as a test or anything like that, or as a nasty trick, a bad joke.

What is so nasty is that automatically it just feels like that, because of our limited bodies and our limited minds. It feels like that: it feels as though “I am separate, self-sufficiently knowable, findable ‘me,’” and that’s not just the case when that mental continuum with the label “me” happens to, for various karmic reasons, be associated with a human body. It’s also when it’s associated with the body of an insect, with the body of – whatever.

Put your finger down to stop an ant from moving and the ant will run away in another direction. Put a piece of paper down to try to get the ant to go up on the paper and the ant will run away. Why? It’s thinking in terms of “me.” It might not have the word “me,” but it certainly has a concept of “me” and is trying to defend it. No beginning – that’s a difficult one to really understand.

If you look at things in terms of cause and effect, then every cause is an effect, a result, of the previous cause. So, if you look, “Here is the cause and here is the effect,” and you want to find the ultimate, first cause, you can’t find the ultimate, first cause, because every cause is the result of something else. So, maybe that is a helpful way of getting to “no beginning,” because that’s always the problem with a creator, you have the first cause, a creator. Where did the creator come from? You would have to say that the creator either was always there, or the creator came from nothing.

This discussion can go very, very deep, very quickly, as we get into the whole discussion of time, and these sort of things. Especially if you want to look at it from the point of view of the Big Bang, and time and space starting with the Big Bang, then it doesn’t make any sense to speak of somebody creating the Big Bang, because the same creation implies time. And if time was what was created, how can you have a time variant of what created it. So the whole thing starts to become very, very metaphysically problematic. So the problem put very simply is, “How can you have a beginning of the beginning?” “How can you create a beginning?” To create a beginning implies that there was something before the beginning.

One must understand this in the context of “cycles,” and so a universe, and there are multiple universes, countless universes, but any specific universe is going to go through a cycle. Within that cycle of evolving, maintaining, falling apart, and then being empty, there is a certain period when that world system will be able to support life, sentient beings, sentient life, and so then you get, basically, the Buddha’s version of evolution, of which life-forms are available within that world system into which mental continuums could incarnate.

So, any individual universe will have a beginning, in terms of its cycle, but there is no beginning to the cycles in general, there is no first cycle. And there are countless universes and they are all going through the cycle, and not in a synchronous way. So there is always someplace where sentient beings are going to be reborn. And it isn’t that the sentient beings of one world system or one universe, will always be born in that world system or universe.

Going from a Conceptual to a Non-conceptual Understanding of Emptiness

To quote the words of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in his Cutting through Spiritual Materialism book, he said that the reason we don’t realize emptiness is the fact that we are attempting to realize emptiness. So how does that work?

This is referring to how you go from a conceptual to a non-conceptual understanding of voidness. The point is that if you are making a thing out of voidness and a thing out of the understanding of voidness, then that is based on misconception. We conceive of “me” as a “ping-pong ball” here, and voidness as a ping-pong ball over there, and my understanding of it is another ping-pong ball, which I’ve got to connect to that ping-pong ball. And then you are working really very hard for “me” to get that. Then, of course, we’re never going to get it, because we have a misconception of the whole process.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t apply continuing effort to understand voidness. We are not going to understand voidness by just sitting in our lounge chair in the sun and drinking lemonade, it’s not going to happen. We know this from our experience, if we conceive of the idea, “Now I’m going to have a good time!” Have you had that concept? “Now I am going to try and have a good time”!” It doesn’t work, does it? Then, half an hour before I have to go, I can tell them, “Yes, I’m going to have a good time now,” better do it quickly, because time is running out. That always ruins it, you are with somebody and then you say, “Aren’t we having a good time?” as if there was something on the side of the “good time,” making it into a good time and there it is, sitting out there, this ping-pong ball, A Good Time, and we’ve got to find it, and maybe it’s at that disco over there, or at that party over there.

The Purpose of Philosophical Views Concerning Emptiness

What was the intent behind the development of Buddhist philosophy? Because it’s usually said that all those things, all those teachings apply to us as remedies and they are to help sentient beings. And they are for us and they treat us and help us to reach liberation or enlightenment for countless beings before. And with all these high philosophical schools of Mahayana Buddhism, all of them that rear all beings and help all beings and many beings gained enlightenment using them as their ultimate views. So what is the intent behind the whole development thing and behind Lama Tsongkhapa for example, reinventing the whole thing and rewriting the whole thing if a great number of beings before Lama Tsongkhapa reached, with that understanding, enlightenment, and in Tibet and outside of Tibet. What’s the point behind the evolution of this philosophy, from the beginnings from the way it was given by Buddha or by Nagarjuna?

The way in which teachings were presented by Buddha might have been clear to some arhats in the early days, who were able to understand it directly from what Buddha said. But for most others, particularly after the passage of time, it became very unclear and confusing, what was said in the sutras, and so you have Indian commentaries. Then later on, it was unclear to people what that meant, even though in the beginning maybe it was clear, and then you have further commentaries. And so the reason for writing further and further commentaries over time is to make things more clear for people of that present time, for whom earlier presentations were no longer terribly clear.

Also, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama has pointed out, there are many masters in the past who are really highly, highly developed practitioners and achieved very, very high attainments – whether enlightenment or not is irrelevant – but achieved very high attainments. But they weren’t very good at expressing themselves. So the texts that they wrote were confusing. They weren’t very clear. That doesn’t mean they didn’t gain very high realizations; they did. Just because you’ve achieved high realizations doesn’t mean that you can explain it to others and write texts that are clear.

Also, times change and ways of thinking change, and it is necessary to explain things in a way that people of your own age – world age I am talking about – and culture can understand. We hear the teachings explained from Tibetans with examples from yaks and donkeys, and maybe that doesn’t make terribly much sense to us; but if we have it explained in terms of working with a computer, it might be more easy for us to understand. You know, “Don’t be like the donkey, that when gold is poured into its ear, it shakes it out.” OK, very nice example, we can understand it, but, “Don’t be like somebody who gets a file onto their computer and then forgets to save it, and then it’s gone.” Which example can we relate to? Some people can relate to one example, some to the other example. “I own a computer; I don’t own a donkey. So I can relate to the example of the computer.”

The Need for Building Up Positive Force for Understanding Emptiness

Hopefully, we’ve now gotten some general idea of what voidness is speaking about. It’s very difficult to really understand. And even if we understand it, it is difficult to really have a deep, gut-level conviction that this is so. So, in order to understand, it is not sufficient merely to listen, and think about it, and try to meditate, and so on. It is not sufficient to just do it on the side of gaining the knowledge side. That’s not sufficient. Because, you know, we have a lot of, what we would call in the West, “mental blocks,” that “I just don’t understand and there is sort of a block that’s preventing me from really understanding this.” So to cut through these mental blocks what we need is a great deal of positive force.

That’s why we need to do a lot of very constructive things, helping others, and prostration, or whatever it might be, to build up this network of positive force, that is sometimes translated as “collection of merit,” but that sounds as though you have to collect enough stamps to win a prize. You have to build up enough positive force. It’s like putting enough charge into a battery so that it lights up. So, we’ve got to put enough energy into it, enough positive force, so that we can break through the mental block and understand something. This is really, really true. So, this image of putting a charge into a battery so that it will work, I think is very helpful. It’s not that we have to do certain things and then we earn, it’s like almost buying understanding, or we earn it, that’s merit, by being deserving. This type of way of understanding, of conceiving of the process is quite false.

Just doing positive actions isn’t enough; it needs to be with the proper motivation. And the dedication of that positive force, “May it contribute to gaining bodhichitta, gaining the understanding of voidness, and so on, so that it acts as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.” Without that proper dedication, we’re just building up a positive charge on the battery to run some stupid toy car go around in a circle over and over and over again, and make a nice, pleasant samsara. So, we think, “Whatever positive force has come from this, whatever understanding has come from this, may it act as a cause for really understanding voidness with full bodhichitta, so that we can really reach enlightenment for the benefit of all.