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Samudradaka, FBA Team
Suvarnagarbha, Cambridge, UK
Viryaja, Toowoomba, Australia
Ratnaghosha, FBA Chairman
Candradasa, FBA Team
Mary, FBA Team
Vidyamala, Manchester, UK
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
... just empty. That even what we think is our actual experience is really
just ideas, assumptions and concepts that we superimpose on … on… an indescribable reality.
Whatever we reflect upon in a sunyata like way, it all leads to the same realisation. We might look at the
elements and see that even basic elemental experiences like earth and water do not really exist like that, they
are just experiences which cannot fully be described. Any experience includes a subject that we assume is real,
that we assume has some real substance – but when we look, it has no substance at all. Any experience includes
an object that we assume is some kind of thing – some form – but if we actually try to find it, the form is empty.
There is no actual thing. So all the little judgements and conclusions and feelings and emotions that take place
in between this empty subject and this empty object – they have no substantial meaning, because they are based
on a fundamental mistake. So when we see emptiness, both subject and object just drop away and there is just
peace, and space, and depth of understanding.
Spiritual death may be frightening, it may be blissful, it may be awe-inspiring, whatever - it may be anything -
but the main thing is that once it happens, there is a profound change. This isn’t easy to understand unless you
have actually had some of this experience. Because even though what has changed is so fundamental, it is
something subtle. It’s not as though there’s something new – it’s that something has been revealed as not being
there. So nothing changes, in a way. Everything in your world carries on pretty much as normal. It’s simply that
you’ve seen, for a moment, that it is insubstantial and not anything. You just know that it’s not really there in
the way that you still, most of the time, assume that it is. This is subtle, so that if you haven’t had this
experience, all this kind of talk can sound abstract. But on the contrary, it is very much a direct experience, and
it now becomes the centre of your mandala. This centre is what is radically different. You are guided by it, even
though you don’t understand it. You are guided by the dharma, because you have seen the dharma. And this
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guidance leads you on a new path, the path of transformation. Some of your life, at least, now takes place there,
on this path of spiritual rebirth. In Bhante’s ‘system’ it’s called the stage of spiritual rebirth, but it is also a
path. It is a life, a way of life. It is a life in which we are much more influenced by the Buddhas and
It is this experience that gives meaning and confidence to our Buddhist life. It is something we all have a spark of
- it’s a case of using that spark to light a fire. It is a case of really wanting to look and to try to see what is really
happening. We need to apply that perspective to our everyday experience, so that it can work its magic. It’s a
question of remembering the vision that nothing substantially exists, saying constantly: ‘Now look, Kamalashila:
that applies to this situation as well’, and letting ourselves feel it more deeply.
I try to do this as much as I can. I dedicated my whole retreat to Prajnaparamita, the Perfection of Wisdom.
And doing that, I noticed that pretty much all the time my mind is obsessed with some idea or other so that I
cannot fully relax, cannot fully experience reality as it is. There is always some nub, some centre, some sticking
point – and I stop short there. It’ll be some conclusion I come to, like for example ‘I’m cold’ or ‘I’m tired.’ Or
else there'll be something I want – maybe something quite complex. And that will dominate my mood. But if I
take the time to be mindful and relax into awareness of this, then I see that somewhere I’m sticking to some
assumption or desire that is central to every other thought. I realise I am not even aware of this centre, let alone
applying the realisation of emptiness to it. That’s why it’s a sticking point. But if I can see this central idea, I
can remember that it doesn’t exist – I mean, that it doesn’t exist as such. Nothing exists as such. Everything is
always a mixture of perceptions which themselves are empty, too. To say ‘I’m cold’ is always a distortion of the
actual complex reality, in which there is no substantial me to be ‘cold.’ Of course something is going on, but it is
certainly not a thing that is going on – the reality is far more mysterious and far more interesting.
We come to these conclusions, these full-stops, about reality, under the influence of craving and hatred, and the
mechanisms we have built up to protect our craving and our hatred. We are ruled by them. So to notice is to
begin to undo them, to undo the habitual view that they are concrete things. We can see these sticking points
especially when we have strong negative emotions – say of fear or panic or disgust.
Disgust is quite a good example. One thing that happened to me on my retreat was falling into my toilet. My
toilet was just a trench dug in the ground, and at the time of this incident it had been happily fulfilling its
function for about nine months. One day it was a bit wet on the plank, my foot slipped - and in I went, up to my
You should have heard me shout. It was something I deeply did not want to happen. I did not want my clothing,
my shoes, my socks, to become covered with the worst kind of poo you can imagine. You know, I never want that
to happen. It is a feeling which we all share, I am sure, and for some minutes I found myself flipping through an
interesting range of emotions. I first tried to deny that it had happened at all - I just could not believe what had
just happened. I tried to laugh it off, to pretend that I was a great yogi and it didn’t matter and I didn’t really
mind. For a while I felt hurt and depressed at how foolish I felt, and how unfair it all seemed.
After a while I began to notice how none of these emotions was getting to the real spot. They didn’t do justice
to the situation. It was absurd to feel hurt, as though I had no power to act. It was also absurd to deny anything
had happened… but actually, what had happened? I wasn’t looking at that. Yes, it was funny, but not because I
didn’t mind. I did mind. But why did I mind? What was it I actually minded? I wasn’t looking at that.
Eventually I saw that my basic feeling was simply that this hadn’t been what I wanted. But what was it actually
that I did not want?
Well, you might say, simply, that I didn’t want to be covered in excrement. But that didn’t seem really enough…
because why not?
Of course, I had time to go into such crazy questions. I wasn’t expecting to be seeing other human beings for
another whole year, so I could sit there in my pit for days, if I wanted, asking this. And the answers are not
really so obvious, if you are prepared really to address them. What is it about excrement that makes us resist
having contact? The sight, the idea of it? If you say, ‘No, Kamalashila, it’s the smell’, I say, OK, what is it about
Our typical response to such analysis is to throw up our hands and say ‘Enough, already – this is way over the
top’. But we say that because what we really want is to change the subject. But the notion of ‘I’ who cannot
stand it and wants to change the subject, is just that – a notion. It does not really exist. It really does not. It
can clearly be seen not to exist. Shouldn’t this fact change the situation rather radically?
You may think that I have chosen rather an extreme example to illustrate how to apply the perfection of wisdom.
But extreme moments happen – worse ones happen, actually. In fact wherever there is a situation that we find
extreme, our ego will step in – our passions will step in - and they’ll say ‘OK, hold it right there, I’m taking over!’
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and they’ll take complete control of our mandala, so that we lose interest in awareness of reality, until the crisis
Our ego, our passionate involvement in self-serving interests, is like a controlling, over-protective mother that
wants to conceal the real world from the child. The perfection of wisdom is like the happy mother that wants to
introduce the child to the real world. And in that way, all moments are like our mothers - of either one or the
other sort. Every moment – this side of spiritual illumination – is dominated by our clinging to an illusion of our
self, and protecting it. That clinging is right at the centre of everything. Spiritual death exposes the clinging.
Then, with spiritual rebirth, comes an increase in the times when we are able to relax clinging, because we have
seen how this basic illusion is what causes all our suffering.
We've started to see that, at least. That so many things, so many of the things we get upset about, really don’t
matter. In my example just now, for example, in a sense it really didn’t ...