Ruminating on Emptiness

Neuroscientists say we experience 50 to 80,000 thoughts per day. A high percentage of those thoughts are repetitive. How many of these thoughts benefit anyone? Do our thoughts perpetuate the issues we wish to liberate? Who is it that experiences thought? Addressing these questions is one function of meditation. It helps us recognize how we use our mental energy.

The Tibetan word for meditation is gom, which literally means, “to become familiar with.” Meditation is becoming familiar with the mind. In meditation, we gradually recognize the thoughts, the thinker, then the thoughts without a thinker—the emptiness nature of the wisdom mind. 

In the Nyingma style of meditation, we aspire to discern the emptiness of thought. First we observe thoughts (thought-forms) from the perspective of non-movement of the mind. We then witness non-movement of the mind from within thought itself. In the Heart Sutra this is referred to as form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

In practice, we employ mantras and visualization to recognize how movement in the mind arises as perceived form. We then deconstruct the form through dissolving what we have created. The result is noticing how the mind ‘breathes’. There is a natural arising and dissolving inherent in all thoughts. But if we reify the thought, believe in it as actually existing, we will continue thinking about it and forget it has no substance. We fall into delusion.

Buddha awoke from this delusion and taught a Dharma, a path, that leads to the liberation of delusion. Later, the Vajrayana masters refined those teachings, offering us a glimpse into the nature of mind as reflected by symbolic imagery. If we recognize these mirrors of mind, we catch glimpses of our innate radiance and the veil of delusion disappears.

So, next time you notice one of those 80,000 thoughts, maybe try a mantra instead. Repeat that mantra 80,000 times. Notice what happens when thoughts are dedicated for the benefit of others. See how that motivation liberates our self-absorbed issues and rest in emptiness-awareness, the luminous face of our original mind—reflected in every experience.

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