The concept of emptiness (sunnata in Pali) is a core aspect of the Buddhist Awakening process. This is the first of two discussions of emptiness, with the focus on how the operation of the Five Aggregates, Form, Feeling, Perception, Mental Formations and Consciousness creates the false belief in a separate, enduring and autonomous self. Each of the aggregates is described, with the emphasis on how craving and clinging affect mental formations and consciousness, creating what the Buddha called “The tyranny of I, Me and Mine”. The ability to use mindful investigation with the underpinning of understanding the operation of the Five Aggregates to see through the illusory self was explained. Emptiness is the creativity that is available when a person deconstructs the process of craving and clinging.
This was followed by a lengthy and lively discussion of the evening’s topic.
Here are the notes prepared for this discussion: Emptiness And The Five Aggregates
Next week’s discussion will be organized around exploring how deepening one’s meditation practice provides a different way to recognize the reality of emptiness and benefits that can be realized from consistent daily meditation.
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The Buddhist concept of selflessness is not well understood by many Westerners. The misperception is that selflessness means emptiness like interstellar space, or a blank mind. This is not the understanding expressed by Peter in this guided meditation. When the mind is stable in focus and serenity is experienced, there’s a quality of softness or spaciousness in the mind. When the mind is caught up in the internal narrative that we call “myself”, it’s as if looking at a page and only seeing the print. The spaciousness is noticing the paper around the print as well as the print. Selflessness goes even further–it’s noticing the paper, the print, what’s around the paper, what sounds are apparent–the totality of present moment awareness without preference for any part of the experience, including the “self” that seems to be witnessing all this! During this meditation, Peter helps the listener open more and more to the inner spaciousness and quietude, until all the sensations that are in awareness have no reference to a body. Sensations that would normally be assigned a “space” in the body, such as pressure of the back on the chair, aches in the knees, sounds, etc., would not necessarily be identified as such. Instead, what is noticed is a difference in vibration, contraction, pressure, heat, etc. that exists as different than where there’s no sensation. Even the “self” that’s noting the sensations becomes another area of very fine vibrations, but doesn’t demand a location–just present awareness. This direct awareness of the field of awareness without any designation can be considered as selflessness. It’s quite peaceful, and reduces the strongly conditioned concept of self that we normally identify with.
During this dialogue, Robert described the developmental arc of Buddhism from the primary cultivation of ethical balance and transcendental insight through the realization of the absence of a separate self, finalized in the manifestation of compassion in the Mahayana tradition.
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During this talk, Kitty explored how Buddhist practices help us relate to the inevitable uncertainty of life, sharing some of her experiences working with Hospice. She used material from Pema Chodron’s book “Comfortable With Uncertainty” as reference. She also included brief meditations on “open mind” and “bodhicitta mind”.
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