There Is No Suffering 35

First, we must acknowledge that a large number of people do not think about emptiness at all. Then there are those who, through personal reflection, reject or pre-judge the world, finding in their own existential situation only alienation, meaninglessness, or dread. Concluding that the world is empty, and that life is an illusion, they feel free to do anything or nothing at all. This nihilistic view has nothing to do with the emptiness of which Buddhism speaks. Existential concerns can only be resolved by uprooting the strong sense of self that lies at the center of our worldview. Only by experiencing the world as interconnected by causes and conditions, as well as by causes and consequences (karma), can one bring hope, happiness, and meaning to one’s life.

Then there are those who are on the path of personal liberation. Because of their mental scope, the limitation of their methods, and the course of their cultivation, these practitioners can only realize emptiness of the self. They cannot realize the emptiness of the subtle dharmas that constitute the body, mind, and other phenomena; they still attach to the dharma of nirvana. True Mahayana practitioners let go of even this attachment to nirvana. This is the highest level of emptiness of which the Heart Sutra speaks.

How do we characterize Mahayana emptiness? Buddhadharma speaks of the dynamic interplay of causes and conditions, but there is no inherent self-nature underlying any thing or event-phenomena are not static, independent, or eternal. Mahayana speaks of emptiness in this sense, but even this is not ultimate emptiness. If one stops here, it is mere analytical emptiness derived from reasoning. Essentially, the abhidharma dissects our strong, solid idea of body, mind, and world, into subatomic space particles without independent existence.