There Is No Suffering 34

The flash of enlightenment (Sanksrit: sunyata; Chinese: jianxing; Japanese: kensho) that is experienced by ordinary sentient beings is not the realization of great bodhisattvas or buddhas. Even great bodhisattvas who have terminated afflictions still harbor subtle habit-propensities. These forces derive from the residual impressions, or traces, of karmic tendencies stemming from avidya, fundamental ignorance. On the other hand, a buddha is free from emotional afflictions as well as habitual tendencies. Perhaps an analogy will make this clearer: the ignorance of sentient beings is like the clouds obscuring sun and sky. The enlightenment of bodhisattvas is the sky devoid of clouds, but with slight haze still remaining. They see the sky and sun and think their view is clear, but it is not absolutely so. A buddha’s sky is absolutely clear; he also perceives the haze that great bodhisattvas do not yet see.

After fundamental wisdom arises, there is never a moment when a bodhisattva’s acquired wisdom of expedient means is not functioning, for there are innumerable sentient beings in need of a bodhisattva’s help. So, in a sense, fundamental wisdom and acquired wisdom arise simultaneously. Manifesting fundamental wisdom and realizing that the five skandhas are empty also occur simultaneously: when we perceive the five skandhas as empty, fundamental wisdom manifests; when fundamental wisdom manifests, we perceive the five skandhas as empty.

Levels of Emptiness

Buddhadharma speaks of different levels of emptiness. First is the illusory, self-centered sense of emptiness that ordinary sentient beings feel. Second is analytical emptiness—the refined, dialectical insights into emptiness derived from meditation.21 Third is the emptiness of the individual self perceived by those on the path of personal liberation. Fourth is the goal of practitioners of the bodhisattva path: the emptiness that is not separate from form.