The Dalai Lama on the Emptiness of Phenomenon

“Developing wisdom is a process of bringing our minds into accordance with the way things really are.”

Ultimately, all our difficulties arise from one basic illusion. We believe in the inherent existence of ourselves and all other phenomena. We project, and then cling to, an idea of the intrinsic nature of things, an essence that phenomena do not actually possess. Let us take a simple chair as an example. We believe, without fully recognizing this belief, that there is such a thing as an essential chair-ness, a quality of a chair that seems to exist among its parts: the legs, seat, and back. In the same way, we each believe there to be an essential and continuous “me” pervading the physical and mental parts that make up each of us. This essential quality is merely imputed by us; it does not actually exist.

Our grasping at this inherent existence is a fundamentally mistaken perception that we must eliminate through meditation practices of the wisdom path. Why? Because it is the root cause of all our misery. It lies at the core of all our afflictive emotions.

We can abandon this illusion of an essential quality only by cultivating is direct antidote, which is the wisdom that realizes the nonexistence of that quality. Again, we cultivate this profound wisdom, as we cultivate humility, in order to uproot our pride. We must first become familiar with the improper way we perceive ourselves and other phenomena; we can then cultivate a correct perception of phenomena. Initially this perception will be intellectual, as is the kinds of understanding one achieves through study or listening to teachings. To deepen this perception requires the more sustained meditation practice in Chapter 11, “Calm Abiding,” Chapter 12, “The Nine Stages of Calm Abiding Meditation,” and Chapter 13 “Wisdom.” Only then is the perception able to truly affect our view of ourselves and other things. By directly realizing our lack of an inherent nature, we uproot the very basis of the self-grasping that lies at the core of all our suffering.

Developing wisdom is a process of bringing our minds into accordance with the way things really are. Through this process we gradually remove the incorrect perceptions or reality we have had since beginingless time. This is not easy. Merely understanding what is meant by the inherent or intrinsic existence of things demands much study and contemplation. Recognizing that things have no inherent existence is a profound insight, requiring years of study and meditation.

– Excerpted from An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by the Dalai Lama.

Photo Credit: C&C Iceland 2017
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