Tantric Meditation on Emptiness of Self
Mind training on emptiness of self requires single-pointed attention and concentration on space, empty space. Emptiness awareness in
equipoise of meditation appears as the empty of space. When we practice this repeatedly with calm abiding we can attain direct experience of non-conceptual realization – true emptiness. Awareness of emptiness experience may occur as a quick glimpse or as an extended experience. Some people note it as if floating in endless, boundless space, while others experience trance-like nothingness. These are only two of many possible experiences. Once we achieve this condition we are ready to see ultimate truth. The conventional experience of I/Me/Mine will challenge us via attachment and grasping. Much practice is necessary to overcome this trap. Keep in mind the huge differences between conventional and ultimate reality.
- Begin meditating on the expectation of experiencing some form of non-conceptual emptiness.
- Then become acutely aware of the re-experiencing relapse into I/Me/Mine norms of conventional, solid, substantial human existence. Note how your thoughts and emotions make it all seem so, so real. When this occurs, note it and move back to expecting emptiness.
- While meditating in this manner, when your mind reminds you of your past pain and suffering, work at not reacting strongly. Recognize that in ultimate reality the suffering self is somewhat of an illusion.
- Now we are ready to focus on the self as the object of negation. Accept for now that you can attain selflessness of the I-phenomenon. Even in the conventional reality of time-space it is possible to be in emptiness. Do not fear it, but if your “gut” tells you strongly to stay away – do it.
- Contemplate that form is empty, and that the “I” of self-grasping is also empty. Recall a time when you experienced fear. Notice the strong tendency to defend and protect the self. Notice how/where the fear imparted you. Remember what parts of the mind and body reacted, and that the whole is NOT the sum of its parts. Collective parts of the body and mind do not constitute the whole of the person. Here, again, we confront the most difficult understanding of ultimate reality – that the self is impermanent, insubstantial, dependent on causes and effects, a projection of mind, and an illusion – it is empty.
- Contemplate how the mind-body of humans, even the entire universe of form, is ultimately space, time, sensory awareness, thoughts, emotions, consciousness, and flowing energies. The particle is part as is the wave, but neither constitute the existence of a permanent, independent, lasting, substantial self.
- Now try to track your sensation of inner flowing energies. We could do the same for thoughts, feelings(sensations), and emotions. Notice it is all about flow – nothing substantial, fixed, hard, stationary, etc. All our self-oriented experiences are imputed by conception and perception in empty time and space. This is the mind at work. This is the mind doing its work.
- Does your personal experience of self exist in the past? In the present? Or in the future? We note that all three are associated with the self. However, we can only exist ultimately in the present moment of experience, so why suffer so much from the past and dread so much about the future. If we exist ultimately in the present, what happened to the conception/perception of self in the past and future?
- Yes, it disappeared even if we have memory or projections of its experiences. See how impermanent the self is! See how the flowing of what we experience as conventional concrete events is also somewhat empty. We may remember events, but the self is here now and nowhere else. This elusive self is empty.
- Work harder on this meditative experience of the self here now in ultimate emptiness. Then breathe and rest! Sit quietly and contemplate your experience, where you have been, and where you are right now.
For more information refer to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (1982, 2014). Clear Light of Bliss: Tantric Meditation Manual. London, UK: Tharpa Publications, pp. 187-204.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness