Emptiness in Buddhism is one other main reason for the confusion between meditation and the mind becoming ‘empty’ or zoning out is due to a misunderstanding of the concept of emptiness. It is a profound concept, but very liberating and empowering.
For emptiness in Buddhism, achieving a full realization and experience of emptiness is the ultimate goal of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist paths. Maha means great, and Vajra means indestructible.
Yana is the word vehicle, the car or train, for example, with these forms of Buddhism the means of journeying along the path to the ultimate destination, enlightenment.
Enlightenment can be defined as wisdom mind free from suffering which seeks to benefit all.
The only real difference is the amount they focus on particular teachings in order to achieve enlightenment. They study both the Sutra teachings (Sutra means book) and the Tantra teachings (Tantra means union), with Vajrayana Buddhists spending more time on the Tantric teachings.
VIDEO: Buddhism, Emptiness, and Fulfillment
The contemporary Buddhist concept of emptiness (shunyata) only describes half of the path to spiritual liberation (nirvana). Once we have emptied ourselves of that which is not real, then we have to embrace that which is real in the absolute sense. Fully realizing atman, or our eternal spiritual self is the actual goal of the Buddha’s original teachings. This is the subject of this short video on the teachings of Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya.
For information on the teachings of Sri Acharyaji, visit: Dharmacentral.com
Both involve meditating on a range of topics, with emptiness being the most profound. There are different meditation techniques concerning emptiness in Buddhism to accomplish this, from simple, to very deep. Think of your meditation as being a set of stairs. Each step you advance in meditation will lead you to greater and greater happiness and wisdom.
Simply put, the concept of emptiness in Buddhism is that the human mind is the creator of all.
We may think a computer is far more intelligent than us, but a human mind created it in the first place. The human mind creates our world. Everything is empty of an intrinsic meaning except for the meaning we impute upon it, that is, assign to it.
We create meaning through assigning words to things, for example. Just look around your room: a TV, table, chair, DVD. We all know what they are and agree that yes, a table is a thing with 4 legs and a flat top that we eat from, yet a rock or our lap can also serve as a table.
There are thousands of words for a dog in all the different world languages, Chein, cane, Perro, Madra, French, Italian, Spanish and Gaelic respectively. There are hundreds of breeds of dogs accepted as ‘pedigree,’ or pure-bred, dogs permitted to compete at dog shows.
If we say Chihuahua or Great Dane, we should get an instantaneous image in our minds of what these breeds of dogs look like, or at least their relative size to one another, from tiny to huge. It’s not just named in various languages that differ, but attitudes as well depending on the culture. In Tibet, dogs are revered and treated with respect.
Just over the border in China, they are eaten as food. Certain Native America tribes dine on a dog as well. Most people in the West would be revolted by the very idea. In fact, we sign petitions to end the dog meat trade in Asia and stop the annual Yulin Chinese dog meat festival that sees around 15,000 dogs rounded up into pens to be eaten. It is all a question of perspective.
The human mind labels things black, white, up, down, good, bad. Once we understand the role of our mind in the world we create for ourselves, we can transform our world.
Think about the labels we stick on things:
• The bad mother
• The terrible boss
• The awful job
• The beautiful dress
• The delicious meal
• The fun day
But X is in the eye of the beholder. A mother may be great one minute when she gives her child the birthday present they have been longing for, and ‘bad’ the next if she refuses to let her son eat an entire package of cookies.
The terrible boss might not seem so bad if they praise you in front of everyone and give you a raise. You might hate him or her, but they are obviously loved by someone, parents, spouse, kids. It is all a question of perspective.
The awful job might not seem so bad if you are a nurse helping sick people in a cancer ward. Conversely, the beautiful dress to one person might be the ugliest another has ever seen. In the West, women have a concept of the ‘sexy little black dress,’ but many people think the color black is associated with death and mourning. To Buddhists, and to the Japanese, black is considered an ugly color, not a sexy one.
We all have our own tastes, so a delicious meal to one person may be disgusting to another. It might even be deadly if, for example, the person is allergic to nuts or eggs. That cookie you crave could actually kill.
Similarly, fun is in the eye of the beholder. Some people play golf. Go figure. Others fish and hunt. Killing a living being of any form goes against one of the main Hindu and emptiness in Buddhism principles, that of ahimsa, “do no harm.” Many people in the East are vegetarian or even vegan for this reason, yet being vegan is almost unthinkable for most Westerners who love McDonald’s and Burger King.
To summarize, meditation and emptiness in Buddhism are not about emptying your mind completely of any thoughts, it is about examining your mind in order to get to know ourselves and thought processes better. The goal of this is to be more aware of the way we think and behave, so it is less automatic and more considered and wise.
It is also about realizing that our mind creates our world and that our point of view isn’t right or wrong, it’s simply ours. Our mind is constantly shifting, judging, discriminating between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Meditation with a mind of emptiness gets rid of these labels. A thing isn’t good or bad, it simply IS.
Emptiness in Buddhism and meditation allows you to experience life more fully and sample its richness.
You can live in the present, not be stuck in the past, or constantly chasing after the future. It’s a chance to enjoy the here and now, and harness your mental energy for higher purposes, such as greater wisdom and understanding, and connecting with the universe.
Different Buddhist Meditation Techniques
There are a number of different Buddhist meditation techniques that followers and many meditation enthusiasts practice. Despite their differences, the techniques are all generally based on developing two things- mindfulness and concentration.
Attentiveness to the movements of the body and to the ever-changing states of mind is to be developed in order to identify the real concept of self. Objectivity, in this case, can be a valuable aid to clear thinking. With objectivity comes concentration, the ability to focus the mind and keep in focused on a single point or object.
Many Buddhist schools employ different techniques in meditation. Some may focus on such practices as breathing meditation while others on movements. The diversity can be so wide-ranging that there is a multitude of variations available. Most Buddhist techniques can be school specific. Only a few masters aim to combine and categorize the techniques from several Buddhist traditions.
One of the known meditation techniques is that being practiced by Western Order meditation master Kamalashila. The teacher identifies that there are five basic methods to be used as a traditional set for meditation. Each method can be used as an antidote to one of the five primary obstructions to Enlightenment- distraction, hatred, craving, conceit, and ignorance.
One of the five basic methods is the mindfulness of breathing. This involves the practice of tranquility meditations. This method helps to counteract distraction and aims to develop better concentration. Another of the five basic methods laid out is the Metta Bhavana. This method includes the four Brahma viharas and is used to counteract sentimental attachment or hatred. This method aims to develop loving kindness in a person.
Another of the five basic methods in Buddhist meditation is the contemplation of impermanence. This method can help counteract craving and develop inner peace and the feeling of freedom. The six element practice is based on meditation involving the six elements- earth, water, space, air, fire, and consciousness. The six element practice method of meditation counteracts craving and develop instead some clarity in a person regarding self.
The fifth basic method of meditation is the contemplation of conditionality which aims to counteract ignorance and instead develop wisdom and compassion. There are also other Buddhist meditation techniques not identified by the five basic methods. This includes different methods of visualizations, meditation by sitting and the walking meditation.
Another of the many techniques used in Buddhist meditation include the five types of Zen as grouped by Kuei-Feng. In this case, the Zen practices were grouped according to five categories. Although most common for Zen practitioners, the techniques are also applicable to Buddhist meditation methods.
One of the types is the “Bonpu” or “ordinary” meditation that is done to achieve physical and mental well-being in absence of any spiritual goal. There is also the “Gedo” or “outside way” which is a meditation that is used for non-Buddhist purposes. The third is the “shojo” or “small vehicle” which is meditation used in pursuit of self-liberation or nirvana.
The fourth of the Zen Buddhist meditation techniques as grouped by Kuei-Feng is the “Daijo” or “great vehicle” which is the meditation in pursuit of achieving self-realization to experience the unity of all things. Then there is also the “Saijojo” or “supreme vehicle” which is the meditation aimed to realize the Buddha nature as imminent in all beings.
A Quick Background On The History Of Meditation
Meditation generally refers to the state of concentrated focus on an object of thought or awareness. The background of meditation stems from the aim to get into a higher state of consciousness. It is usually based on ancient beliefs that make up the component of eastern religions. Its practice has bee going on over 5,000 years.
When it comes to meditation, different beliefs hold different spiritual and psychological practices in order to develop or achieve a higher degree of mental consciousness and awareness. Many religions have developed their own method and technique of meditation that allows their adherents to arrive at a higher state of consciousness.
The differences between the techniques used may be classified according to their focus. There are certain techniques that focus on a certain perception or experience while there are others that focus on a specific object to achieve a higher consciousness. There are also some forms of meditation that combine the use of open focus and the use of a specific object for focus in their practice to achieve a higher state of consciousness.
One of the popular religions known to practice meditation is Hinduism. It is considered the oldest religion that focuses on meditation as a spiritual and religious practice. There are several forms of meditation that are practiced in the different Hinduism sects. A principal of them is the Yoga, one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy. It provides several types of meditation that Hindu believers and even a number of Western adherents have learned to practice.
One of the many forms of Yoga is the Raja Yoga which states the eight limbs of spiritual practices, with half of them classified as meditation.
Then there is the Vedanta which is a form of Jnana Yoga. The Surat Shabd Yoga uses a form of meditation that uses sound and light to achieve a higher state of consciousness. There is also the Bhakti Yoga which practices a form of meditation that focuses on an object of love or devotion. The Japa Yoga which practices a form of meditation where a mantra is being repeated aloud or silently. There is also the Hatha Yoga where different postures and positions are used in meditation in order to raise one’s spiritual energy.
In Hinduism, the object of meditation is to achieve a calm state of mind. In the Yoga Sutras, there are five different states of mind being described. There is the Ksipta which describes an agitated state of mind that is unable to think to listen or remain quiet. Then there is the Mudha, a state of mind where no information seems to reach into the brain. The Viksipta is considered as a higher state of mind where information may reach the mind but it is not able to process it. In this state, the mind moves from one thought to another and in a confused inner speech.
The Ekagra is another higher state of the mind characterized by calmness but not asleep. This state allows a person to stay focused and pay attention. Probably the highest state that a mind can achieve is in Nurodha where the mind is no longer disturbed by erratic thoughts and is completely focused and totally centered on what a person is doing. This will provide you with a basic background of meditation that will allow you to understand better how it is being practiced.
So what does this connection feel like? Many people report physical and mental changes during meditation. Let’s look at some of the most common ones in the next lesson.