Instructions on Practising Fourfold Emptiness
Buddhist Philosophy › Prajñāpāramitā | Literary Genres › Stages of Meditation | Buddhist Philosophy › Emptiness | Tibetan Masters › Rongtön Sheja Künrig
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Feast of Ambrosia
Instructions on Practising Fourfold Emptiness, the Meaning of the Heart of Transcendent Wisdom
by Rongtön Sheja Künrig
Homage to the guru and supreme deity!
Your character is one of love for all beings,
And with a rain of sacred Dharma nectar
You bring all beings to complete maturity—
Lord of Sages, in faith, I honour you at my crown.
Single path traversed by all the conquerors,
Supreme essence of all excellent teachings—
Here I shall set out instructions on
How to practice the meaning of Prajñāpāramitā.
The way to practise fourfold emptiness, which is the meaning of the Heart of the Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom, is through the following.
First, 1) the devotional yoga based on the guru, 2) the yoga of taking refuge in the Three Jewels, 3) the yoga of the four immeasurables, and 4) the yoga of altruistic intention and bodhicitta. These four constitute the preliminaries to the path, because it is crucial that they precede all forms of practice.
II. Main Part
The main part of the path has three sections: 1) eliminating conceptual extremes through the view, 2) taking the meaning to heart through meditation, and 3) an explanation of the benefits.
1. Eliminating Conceptual Extremes
This involves observing the five aggregates with wisdom and recognising how they are empty of true nature. First, this is applied to form. For this, bring to mind any aspect of the object of focus, such as shape or colour, and observe how the apparent object is empty of true nature, as in the example of the moon reflected in water. It is necessary to begin by bringing the object of focus to mind, because you can’t eliminate misconceived grasping at attributes as real without first identifying the basis of such attributes. Then observe how the appearance of the object of focus is empty of any true nature or essence. This is the meaning of "form is empty." For example, when a moon is reflected in water, even though the reflection appears to be a moon it lacks the moon’s essence, nature or characteristics. When this is understood, apply the same principle to objects such as form and recognise how while appearing they lack true reality. This eliminates the superimpositional extreme of existence.
The dismissive extreme of non-existence is eliminated by virtue of the fact that while the nature of things is emptiness, there is still manifold appearance. This eliminates the extreme of dismissing them as non-existent and is expressed in the line, "emptiness is form." For example, although the reflection is empty of the moon it still appears as the moon.
The need to understand the indivisibility of appearance and emptiness is conveyed in the lines, "Emptiness is not other than form; form is not other than emptiness." Although a moon appears in the water, there is no moon; although there is no moon, there is the appearance of a moon. In the same way, although there is no form, there is appearance as form.
Understand that the same principles apply to the remaining aggregates. The twelve sources, eighteen elements, twelve links of dependent origination related to thorough affliction (kun nas nyon mongs pa) and complete purification (rnam par byang ba), the four truths that are the focus of the path, the pristine wisdom of the subject, and the results to be attained are all taught to be empty of nature in the same way. This concludes the explanation of eliminating conceptual extremes.
2. Taking the Meaning to Heart through Meditation
Taking the meaning to heart through meditation means repeatedly familiarizing oneself, through samādhi, with the point that was realized through the view: how all appearances lack true reality. If the focus is unclear that is dullness, whereas if the mind does not remain with the focus but drifts elsewhere that is agitation. Employ the sentinel of vigilance, therefore, to detect any occurrence of either dullness or agitation and immediately dispel them. In addition, if any affliction such as the three poisons should arise, analyze it with the wisdom of discernment and meditate on the point that there is nothing to be found. Apply the wisdom of discernment to analyze the mind that meditates on emptiness as well, and meditate on how this too is unobserved.
Meditating on emptiness as an object is the yoga of not observing the apprehended, while meditating on the non-observance of the subject is the yoga of not observing the apprehender. Continuously bringing these two forms of yoga to mind during the post-meditation is the instruction for enhancement. The post-meditation thus enhances the meditation and the meditation encourages progress during the post-meditation. This is a key instruction.
To put it simply, one meditates on the outward indivisibility of appearance and emptiness and the inward indivisibility of awareness and emptiness.
3. Explanation of the Benefits
The benefits are shown in the lines, "Since their minds are unobscured, they have no fear. They transcend error and reach the ultimate nirvāṇa."
This key instruction on how to practise
The fourfold emptiness taught by
The great scholar glorious Dīpaṃkara
Is here set out for the benefit of others.
Through any virtue gained by such a fine explanation,
May all infinite beings, beginning with my own parents,
Realize the meaning of the Prajñāpāramitā
And swiftly attain unsurpassable awakening.
This instruction on practising fourfold emptiness, the meaning of the Heart of the Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom, was composed by the great Rongtön Sheja Künrig in the monastery of Pal Nālendra.
| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2022.
shes bya kun rig. "sher phyin stong nyid bzhi sbyor nyams su len pa'i man ngag bdud rtsi'i dga' ston/" In gsung 'bum/ shes bya kun rig. skye dgu mdo: gangs ljongs rig rgyan gsung rab par khang, 2004. (BDRC W28942). Volume 1: 94–98.