Emptiness & Interdependence

The Buddhist view is not about true or untrue

The point here is that there is no view that is true ultimately. True and untrue are themselves conceptual fabrications.
  • Question: Every year during our shedra study program, when Rinpoche teaches a certain school, I presume that school is our own… and then he refutes it the next year for a more refined truth.  So, in this progression, I really thought that the year we studied shentong we had arrived at the true philosophical view. Then (Dzigar Kongtrul) Rinpoche goes on to say something else is the definitive view.

    Response: I don’t really think we actually “have” a philosophical school. In fact, clinging to any view – even to emptiness – as true is seen as one of the greatest faults. In the sutras the Buddha cautioned us not to hold on to the path as a truth, but rather a means. He asked: “Does a boatman, carry the boat on his back having reached the opposite shore?”  He wanted us to consider that, like a boat, our path serves as a vehicle that transports us beyond confused reactive mind. He encouraged us to see the path as a moving and lively endeavor, not a truth or dogma to cling to.

    All the different approaches and philosophical systems and all the practices we engage are just methods or vehicles (yanas) for understanding something that can’t be captured in words, that need to be directly experienced, ultimately. For instance, the distinctions between rangtong (empty of self) and shentong (empty of other) emerged in Tibet as two ways of communicating or conceptually understanding the nature of things.

    Again, we don’t have to subscribe to one or the other. We can appreciate both. Kongtrul Rinpoche always says that Rangtong provides an approach for those predisposed to eternalism: those who tend to hold on to qualities of the nature as having an intrinsic existence, who think the self exists in some intrinsic way. A lot of people get tripped out on forms. Again, in holding on to views, we are bound to the limits of ordinary dualistic mind. In the Rangtong texts one does not describe the qualities of the nature because words cannot capture a direct experience. That is why the Buddha sat silently in Samadhi\meditation in the Heart Sutra. Once you put words to something you begin to reify it, it becomes something to attain, you start to grasp or reject it.

    Shentong is for those who can’t get past thinking of emptiness as a void; who fear extinction, which is really a misunderstanding of the emptiness teachings. In the Shentong tradition the nature – called Buddha Nature – is described as having the qualities of compassion, power and wisdom. Jnana or wisdom is affirmed. But it is not something adventitious or temporary but part of the nature itself. So, when everything extraneous to the nature falls away you can say that things are empty and yet have this potential or expressive quality of wisdom. But again, once you start to make that a “thing” you get lost in dualism. This is why a thorough understanding of emptiness is important. The teachings on emptiness make Buddhism unique in its approach. Without this understanding you can’t engage genuine Vajrayana practice.

    The Shentong view bridges the Mahayana and Vajrayana in that it acknowledges enlightened appearance. In the Vajrayana the nature is described as luminous and empty. It is the same emptiness as we have been discussing in the Mahayana, but the difference is the luminous expression, the pure appearance of the nature, that manifests as the 5 wisdoms, etc. The skillful means are also more direct and depend upon the transmission and blessings of the teacher\lineage, which cuts to the bone. It has a very different feeling to it than the Mahyana. I always like Greg Seton’s translation of devotion as letting go into humbleness. You give over to your nature through the skillful means of the practice.

    The path is profound in the way it unfolds. Use it all – study it as much as you can. Study openly the basic teachings of the Hinayana – vows and precepts. You might be a Vajrayana practitioner but sometimes you need support to keep yourself in the boundary of your intention. I see the vows and precepts as ways of really looking deeper into your experience and questioning what serves and what impedes my own freedom.

    The point here is that there is no view that is true ultimately. True and untrue are themselves conceptual fabrications. These various approaches (although often called views) are simply means of understanding what can only be known through direct experience. Do you have to adhere to any one view in order to utilize its wisdom? To believe or disbelieve is something extra. I propose that holding on to a view actually impedes your ability to practice genuinely. We are always looking for something to hold on to. But in essence, the whole point is to go beyond views of is\isn’t, true\untrue, existence\non-existence, and belief\doubt.

    As for your own personal practice, you have to gently move forward step by step with humility and curiosity and deep openness as the practice requires. After learning one approach you will be clear and ready for the next. And as you follow the yanas or path the way to understand the nature becomes more and more refined to the point that “view” just refers to resting in the natural state without concept …having a direct experience.

    Hope this helps.

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