Teaching by Lama Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
September 1998, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Tonight we will discuss the concept of shunyata wisdom, and we will also discuss meditation on shunyata.
First I would like to lead meditation on shunyata, or emptiness. When we meditate on shunyata, first it is very important to meditate on the emptiness or shunyata of person. Shunyata of person, or emptiness of person, or no-self. So according to tradition it is always suggested that one should do meditation on shunyata and start the meditation with analytical mind. So first we ask question to ourself, "Who am I?" We should ask question, "Who am I?" So I'd like you at this point to ask question to yourself, "Who am I?" and find out what kind of answer you can find, or is there answer or no. So please ask this question, "Who am I?" [Meditate.]
We ask this question to ourselves, "Who am I?" So perhaps you find many answers: "I am man. I am human being. I am a Canadian. I am a teacher. I am a photographer. I am a writer. I am a singer. I am a musician. I am a cook. I am a driver. And I am a nice person, and so on and so forth. You can label, you can find lots of words, "I am this, I am this, I am this, I am that." What does that mean? Why do I say, "I am a photographer" and what does that mean? So this is a label, this is a word. This is a concept. We include this label. It is not much different than saying, "This is a table. This is a book. This is a watch. This is a bell. This is a teacup." It is all labels. And so when I say, "I'm a photographer," o.k., what does that mean?
O.k., I'm a photographer, but what makes me a photographer? Now where is the photographer? I can't become a photographer without having camera, and I have to have a camera. Camera itself alone can't become a photographer. I alone without a camera can't be a photographer. And so, me having a camera alone doesn't make me a photographer. I have to go take photos, shoot pictures and produce photo and then I'm called photographer. So there's so much involved there: photo and taking photo and act of making photo and so on and so forth. These are all activities. But what is photographer?
Or when we say, "I am a man," or "I am a woman." So where is the woman? We need to search and we need to go through. Look and look and look on ourselves, try to find where is me -- me or self or I. Those are different concepts -- me, self or I. All those concepts are different concepts. Then you practice, you do analytical meditation. Where is me?
The photographer, individually -- like, I look at the photo, the camera -- that's not a photographer. This body -- that's not the photographer, body alone. What about the mind -- mind alone is not the photographer. If you look, you meditate step by step, one by one, dividing me and part of me, then you look. You cannot find, you can't find, me or self. Except this concept of me or I, this person, human being, man or woman, or photographer or writer. Whatever you're called -- a concept. And this concept, this label and all these different parts. Other than that, you can't find one self, or what we call independent self. Person is, we call empty of substantial and autonomous existence.
Person is empty of substantial and autonomous existence. Because when we look, when we meditate on this way, we cannot find. So that vacuum, that emptiness, is called "emptiness of person" or personality. That is called shunyata or that is called no-self. So that is important. That is an important realization. When you realize that, then you realize emptiness. You realize also, then one will realize egolessness, egolessness. No ego. No self. So therefore, ego-grasping and self-grasping will diminish, will dissolve, because one realizes, one got realization: "There is no self. There is no me."
So when you realize there is no me, no self, no inherent existent self, no independent existent self, that realization is called the wisdom of no-self. And that wisdom is called, in Tibetan, "ne lug tog pen sherub." (??) "Ne lug" means "the true nature." The true nature, the true nature of self. "Tog pen sherub" means the wisdom of realizing the true nature of self. The true nature of self is empty. No inherent existence, no independent existence. And this realization is very important.
Lama Tsong Khapa said, "If you do not have the wisdom, that wisdom that understands the way things exist…" This is the way things exist. Everything exists this way. Like I, myself, do not exist inherently or independently. Likewise, others. And likewise, all phenomena. This realization is important. If you do not have this wisdom, you cannot eradicate the root of existence. This means one cannot eradicate the root of samsara. One cannot get rid of the root of all the defilements. One cannot get rid of ego-grasping. We cannot get rid of, eradicate, self-cherishing mind and one cannot get rid of self-grasping. One cannot eradicate attachment and anger, jealousy, envy, and so on and so on. And therefore, one cannot eradicate karma. If one cannot eradicate karma, unwholesome karma, then one cannot eradicate the cyclic existence, like the death and birth and old age, sickness and all the suffering of samsara.
Lama Tsong Khapa said, "Despite your acquaintance (?) with renunciation and bodhicitta, thus work hard at the means to realize the interdependence of things." Despite you may have realization of renunciation, you may have realization of the bodhicitta and you may have profound realization of renunciation. You may have these strong feelings of renunciation, you know. You realize the life, you realize the human life, the essence of the human life, the value of life or life in general has no really meaning, no greater meaning than temporary benefit, creating temporary happiness, solving temporary suffering, and so on and so forth. And there's not great meaning. Therefore, one realizes that Dharma realization is most important, most beneficial. So you have this strong feeling, feeling of yearning to be liberated from samsara, from cyclic existence. Wish to be free, free. So this realization is called renunciation.
You could have that realization and you have this strong desire to practice meditation and Dharma day and night, day and night. And when someone has a very deep renunciation, realization of renunciation, he or she sometimes forgets so many things, forgets worldly things. The worldly activities are no longer important. Sometimes they meditate and forget about food, like dinner, and just keep practicing, meditating, meditating. It happens so easily.
For example, when you love gardening, when you have so much passion for gardening, you are out there in the garden digging and planting flowers, herbs, and taking out weeds and landscaping, and you forget how the time went so fast. You forget the time. All of a sudden you realize you spent six hours in the garden. You forgot lunch. When you have so much love and passion. Similarly, when you are hiking or doing whatever -- fishing, painting, singing or dance, whatever you do. Likewise, when you have so much love or kind of like passion toward nirvana and free oneself from samsara, one gets into this kinds of state of mind. You even forget about eating lunch, and all these mundane things are not important. So one can have all these kinds of realizations.
Also one can have strong realization of bodhicitta, loving kindness, love toward all sentient beings, unconditioned love, impartial love. So much compassion and love you dedicate your life and your time and energy for the sake of others. One can have those realizations. But if one does not have the realization of shunyata, emptiness, then it is not possible to cut the root of samsara. You cannot eradicate the root of cyclic existence, as I mentioned.

Teaching by Lama Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
September 1998, Vancouver, BC, Canada
So there's still self-grasping and self-cherishing, self-grasping and even now the self-grasping, the grasping of personality, will arise. So the realization of shunyata is considered very important, and the realization of shunyata -- once you have a taste of shunyata, a glimpse of realization of shunyata, or emptiness -- that realization is very powerful. And it will eradicate all kinds of defilements.
And one of the famous Buddhist Mahayana scriptures called the 400 Verses by Aryadeva, it says, "Even those with few merits have no doubt about this Dharma. Even those who still have their doubt will tear existence to tatters." So it means those people who have little merit and does not have doubts about shunyata, doubt does not arise, in other words question does not arise. This means in order to have some question or understanding or arising question, you ask question, "What is shunyata? What is no-self? What is the doctrine of no-self? I'd like to find out about this question of emptiness." But in order to have that kind of question arise, be able to have that kind of question arise, one must have some merit, some virtuous mind, because this question is a very profound question.
And once you have that question, "I want to know what is emptiness? What does that mean? What does shunyata mean? Is shunyata and emptiness are the same thing, or different? What does that mean?" If you have questions -- if you're questioning, if you're questioning and analyzing, doing some sort of analytical meditation, read, think and discuss and debate, having doubt -- that in itself is very meaningful. He said because of that mind will make samsara, the power of that mind makes samsara become -- how shall I say? English word tatters -- like you have a piece of cloth, you chop it down, make it become pieces. Or chopping vegetables, become small pieces. Chop a brick, make little bricks. Crashing rocks, become little rocks. Like that. When you have doubts about shunyata, this is good doubt. Doubt is good and actually there are different kinds of doubt. This kind of doubt is questioning doubt.
Normally we don't even have doubt because we are so caught up with worldly things and worldly existence. And we have this thick kind of mind, you know, black and white mind, good/bad, absolute good and absolute bad, right and wrong, and so on and so forth. When you arise questions, when you ask questions, "What is right? What is wrong? Is there right or wrong, and what does that mean?" Anyway, questioning about shunyata is very powerful. It says it is very meaningful. It is worthwhile to investigate, spend time on studying and meditating.
So it is not easy to understand. Sometimes we think, "Why do we make such a big deal about this shunyata, this so-called emptiness? If it's all emptiness, why bother?" We do know everything's impermanent. At some point everything disappears, everything falls apart, deteriorates, degenerates, or gone. Everything becomes history -- life, society, and wealth, possessions, family and one's own body, and so forth. Everything becomes history, we know. We know intellectually, but knowing intellectually is different than knowing what you feel.
So we ask this question, "What is this emptiness? Why is it so important? What is the big deal?" So we ask questions, but it's difficult to understand. That's why there are so many interpretations about shunyata according to different schools of thought, schools of Buddhism. And according to Buddhist history there are two main Mahayana schools and two main Hinayana schools and they all have different interpretations about shunyata. And within those two Mahayana schools, they also have slightly different interpretations of what is shunyata. And then within Tibetan tradition, we have four different lineages or sects, and each lineage or sect has a little bit different interpretations of shunyata. Within one sect, also, there are also a different interpretation according to different lamas or different philosophers.
So why are there so many different interpretations? Because this topic is very difficult to understand, and therefore, according to teaching, according to lineage, suggests that one should study this teaching very carefully. One should study first intellectually, find the right kind of text and commentary. Read and read, over and over, and then ask some explanation on these topics. And one should take teachings and commentary from a qualified master or teacher. And then one can have some intellectual understanding about shunyata.
And intellectual understanding alone is not enough. One has to experience. Conceptual understanding alone is not enough. One has to experience. Therefore, it is necessary to practice the preliminary practice. It is necessary to do preliminary meditation. It suggests that one should do foundation practice, such as Vajrasattva practice, prostration, and so forth. Also one should rely on guru and yiddam -- the deities. One should make request and ask them to, when you need help, to purify our mind. And we need to accumulate merit, accumulate virtue.
So it is necessary to do those practices and then meditate on it. Meditate on emptiness. According to teaching, first one should first do meditation on emptiness of self, as I mentioned before, like the meditation that we did.
So you meditate and ask the question, "Where is me?" or "Where is I?" So you go through and let's say you look at yourself, look at your body, slowly go through from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. And where is I, where is me? You look at your face, your body, your skin, your hands, your arms, your stomach, your shoulder, your chest, your thigh, your knee, your feet, your toes. Is this me? Is this so? This is body. This is my body. This is only body. This is skin, this is human skin, this is flesh and bone. This is not me. Otherwise, there's too many self, too many "I" because we have so many parts. Our body has so many parts.
The human body is very complicated. There's so many things in the body, the way the body is made. It takes so long to study, to know about human body. You have to go to school and study. Then especially if you want to study about the brain and it takes so long to understand, perhaps you never understand how it works. Similarly, the heart and organs and so forth. So if this body is me, there would be so many me's so many self, so many I's, that's not possible. There's only one self, one "I", one so-called "I". So this body, it can't be me. I don't think this is me. This is not me.
So when you find out the body is not me, then what about feelings or perception, or the mind? So you break down, and you study intellectually and analyze logically. You study each individual skandas are not self, not me.
What about mind, then? Maybe mind is me. The mind who says, "Me" is me, must be me. Again, mind is even more complicated than the body. So many types of mind: positive mind, virtuous mind, non-virtuous mind, according to Buddhist philosophy there are fifty-one secondary minds and ten virtuous minds, twenty non-virtuous minds and so on and so forth. So many different mental events, mental factors. We have six major, what we call basic defilements or delusions, like ignorance, attachments, anger, jealousy, and doubt and wrong view and so forth. Like that, so many types of mind. So if the mind is me, or self, there will be so many again me and self. And that's not possible. So mind is also not me.
So then, where is me? And finally you can only say, "There is not really me. I'm not absolutely sure there is no me, but I can only say there is not me, because I can't find me. I don't know what happened to me. [Laughter.] I always believed, I always felt there is me since I was a little child. Begin to talk about, begin to say Mommy, Daddy, puppy, cat, and then me, me, me. Since then I always say me, and I, and self, and I always thought there was self, there's a me. But now I find out there is no real me, no real me. Me is only concept. I realize something now." So why do we call me then? If there is no me, why do we fool ourselves? Why do we call ourselves me, me, or you? Why?
We have to because we have to communicate on a conventional level. We have to put labels on so many things, labels like table and watch and clock and teacup and book and so on and so forth. We have to put those labels in order to live and function, to survive, and so putting labels on things -- she, me, you, he, and five people, three people. Like, I heard, according to Australian Aborigine, certain tribal people, they don't have many numbers. After five, then there's no numbers. So, "one person, three people, five people," then after that, "many people." "Many people." So I guess they don't need to count ten people, twenty people, fifty people. They didn't need to count people. And numbers are not so important. Just say, "Many people or few people. Some people." So it's a concept. So we put this label of "self", "me", but when we meditate on self, there is no self.
Then we meditate on others the same way. If I meditate on certain person, likewise the same way I meditate on myself, I turn around, meditate on, "There is no real he or she inherently existent." So then what is different between I and you, she and me, he and me? On a relative level we are different -- we are different persons, different beings, different human beings -- but what is really different? We have separate bodies; otherwise, what is different? Likewise, all things are like that.

Teaching by Lama Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
September 1998, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Then after we meditate on emptiness of personality, and when you go up the realization, some realization of emptiness of personality, or emptiness of person or emptiness of self, then you meditate on emptiness of other things, other than person. One should meditate on emptiness of other phenomena. You will find it the same way. Then you could also meditate on emptiness. What about emptiness itself? Does emptiness exist inherently or not? Then you find emptiness does not exist inherently. Emptiness is also empty. There's a book I think I saw called, "The Emptiness of Emptiness."
So then, ultimately, everything is one energy, one essence. At the same time, on a relative level, there are many. So when we meditate on emptiness, shunyata, we need to ask questions. Emptiness does not mean nothingness. Shunyata does not mean nothingness. So now we have a lot of confusions about this thing. Like, many people understand intellectually. Many people have a good understanding about shunyata. Many people have a sort of, how should I say, intuitive understanding about shunyata, or emptiness, but they don't have intellectual understanding. They don't know how to express. They don't know how to express. A lot of times we do have deep, inner, or what we call innate understanding, sort of intuitive understanding of emptiness. We don't know how to communicate or how to say. Sometimes we don't find the words, right kind of term. When we find some kind of term, when we try to say it, then it becomes funny. And then it's confused, confusing. Then you feel it's better not to say anything, just experience, just feel.
And some people have so much intellectual understanding, but no feeling inside, no intuitive understanding. Doesn't really have much deep feeling. So some people have a glimpse of understanding, some people have no clue, no understanding at all, and no foggiest idea. And some people are completely wrong. So there are so many questions.
That's why it's suggested one should do analytical meditation, and that's why it's suggested one should debate, so here I'd like to talk about debating a little bit, according to Tibetan tradition. You have seen videotapes of lamas debating. You have seen those monks who came to Vancouver and did tour, chanting tour, and at some point those monks are debating. One monk sitting on the floor and three monks jumping on this one monk and clapping their hands and laughing and shouting and you don't know what they're talking about. You've seen these pictures. You saw, right? You have seen, some of you. And some of you have been to India, went to the monasteries and saw monks and nuns are debating in Dharamsala, and you have seen, perhaps in Tibet, too, in Sera Monastery and Ganden Monastery. And so we don't know what they're discussing.
We have a funny -- I'd like to tell you a funny story. Most Tibetan people, lay people, who haven't really studied Dharma, they don't even know what these monks are debating, what they're talking about. And because they're using philosophical terms, they're not using ordinary words. They do use sometimes, use ordinary words, but its meaning is different. So one nomad man, fellow, came visited Sera Monastery. He went there and he saw these two young monks debating and arguing, very seriously arguing, for hours and hours, sitting on the rock and in hot sun, summer day, you know. And they are sweating and debating. So he overheard they're talking about, they're arguing about "vase". We call "Bumpa" in Tibetan.
So one monk is asking, "What is emptiness of vase?"
And the other answers, "This is emptiness of vase."
"Tell me what is the definition of vase according to the Parasangyimika Madhyamika school?"
And so on. They were just debating. So this man thought, "Why are these two young monks arguing about this vase? What a waste of time! Strange. I thought all the monks sitting, meditating, chanting, praying, sitting like very holy man instead of arguing, yelling and jumping around and clapping their hands. It looks like they're swearing to the Buddha and looks very, sort of uncivilized and aggressive sometimes, even aggressive." So he was kind of sad. He was a little disappointed. He didn't know what was going on. So he went back to Lhasa.
The next day he came back again, the same two monks debating about vase. So then he thought, "This is not good. They should stop arguing. Not right. They should go in temple, prayer in front of shrine."
So he went up to the monks and said, "Excuse me. Yesterday I came here and you two were arguing about the vase. Today I came and you two argue about the vase. Yesterday you argued for four hours. Today you've been arguing for four hours. I feel very sad. Please don't argue. Tonight I'm going back to Lhasa. And tomorrow I'll buy each of you a vase! Stop arguing about vase. Forget about vase!" [Laughter.]
Now about debating at a monastery. Debating is maybe the right term, maybe is not always the right term. They are not always debating. I think the style of debating is different than I think the style of debating in the west. Actually according to tradition, when you debate there is no loser; there is no winner. It is also not really a competition. You are not competing. And there's no loser or winner; there is no good guy or bad guy.
And it is more like sharing the knowledge, sharing understanding. What I have studied, what I know, I'd like to share with you. What you have learned you share with me. We discuss. And find out differences. Maybe you learn something different. You have studied more about certain philosophical point of view. Maybe you have studied about interpretation of shunyata according to a particular Madhyamika school, like Parasangyimika. Then I study a different school a different school of Madhyamika, or you have studied a commentary on shunyata and a certain lama according to the Gelugpa tradition, and I study different. Or maybe you studied Kargyu tradition. I studied Sakyapa traditon, so here we sharing the differences. And certain things are not different. We share that as well. Sharing and trying to exchange views, now, and sharing knowledge and trying to help each other. Help each other so you will not forget. See, after debating, it helps you not to forget. You always remember.
And now, when you do formal debating, very formal, for example examination, and when you are receiving a degree, like a what we call Geshe degree, or there are many degrees. One can receive degree or recognition or like certificate, a certain degree. And then there is a formal debate. So there is a judge, there is a witness, like the abbots and the higher lamas or philosophers. They are the judge, and they will judge you -- the way you debate and the way you answer and the way you question. So then they will decide who has the best understanding, who gave the best answer, who asked the best question. Then according to the abbot or the judges of the monastery will give degree to certain monks, like first degree, second degree, third degree. But that's sort of like recognition, it's not a competition.
But most of the time when we're debating in a debating class, you share what you have learned. See, before you actually debate a topic, what you're going to debate, according to tradition you have to memorize the text. Necessary you have to memorize the root text, maybe fifteen page, twenty page, thirty page, certain kind of text, or maybe 100 page long. You have to memorize the root text. Then you have to memorize certain outlines. So there's a lot of memorizing. You have to memorize. When you debate, you're not allowed to bring a text and read, or when you ask questions, you cannot read a text. And when you answer the questions, you cannot read the text. Because anyone can read text. You have to memorize, then you have to say, "Nargajuna said, according to text called Madhyamika Mulamademika Karika, in verse 15, chapter 2, 'Dada dada…'" You have to repeat or recite those verses and then you give a commentary. And you ask commentary.
Let's say I am the debater. I am a person who is asking questions, let's say to Cyndy. So I already memorized the verses, one or two verses, whatever, and before you go debate, that day or the day before. Maybe could be long ago, maybe I memorized the whole text. So I recite several verses or one paragraph. I recite, then I say, "Could you please give commentary. I would like you to give a commentary." So then if you don't know the commentary, if you're not prepared, not sure, then you can say, "I cannot give you commentary on this." So then I have to move on. I have to recite another verse or another paragraph. "What about, maybe you can give me commentary on this." If you know, or are not sure, you can kind of guess. "Well, I'm not sure, but o.k., I'll try." And, "O.k., what did you say? O.k." And then you give a commentary.
So this way I'm listening. I learn something from you, the way you give a commentary. You may have more understanding than me, and so I learn something from you. So now, also, you will find something more than when you try to give your own commentary, your own interpretation. That is different than what you read. That will be different than commentary written by certain lama, even a great scholar. It's your own commentary, it's different, right? I learn something from you.
So if we both agree that you are not sure, your commentary is not clear and not completely accurate, then I will try to help you. Say, "This part of your commentary is good, but this part is not very correct. I would like to give a commentary." I could be also wrong while I give the commentary to you. So then, at that point, another monk jumps in and says, "No, you're wrong. You both are wrong, and that's not the way it is. This is how I think. This is what a certain teacher like Nagarjuna said," and you give another commentary.
So the dialogue goes on and on. So that is the style of debating, certain style of debating. There's many things you can debate about. In other words, it's a discussion. And then I could also ask question, definition. This is a very important one. "Could you give me definition of shunyata?" or "Let's change the subject. Let's talk about generosity. According to Dharma it says there are three types of generosity: generosity of Dharma, generosity of material aid, generosity of fearlessness or generosity of protection. There are three types of generosity. So I would like to ask you, what are those three generosities? So I would like to ask you to give me commentary, or first I would like to ask you to give me a very precise definition of what is generosity of Dharma? Then you tell me what is definition of generosity of material aid and what is definition of generosity of protection." So you tell, you explain the definition. You don't have to know exactly, you can just say what you think.
And then another topic is you ask divisions. First you discuss definition, then divisions. Ok, how many are there? Are there different types of generosity of Dharma, or not? And how many divisions? How many types of generosity are there generally, divisions. So like that. It's discussion, lots of discussion, and then division and then subdivision. Then subdivision of subdivision. And sometimes you count with mala, fifteen different types of this, ten different types of this. Sometimes they are not very exciting. They are kind of tiring, boring. At some point you don't have the energy for clapping hands and jumping around, decide to sit down and start counting using pebbles and rocks. [Laughter.] And using mala. I even, one time I saw a monk with an abacus keep counting -- fifteen different types of mind, three types of delusions, like an accountant, counting. There's all kinds of ways of debating.
And also literal meaning, you can debate about literal meaning, meaning of certain things, certain Dharma. And also the real meaning. There's different kinds of literal meaning, real meaning. And interpreting and un-interpreting teachings. Certain teachings cannot be interpreted, has to be followed literally. Some teachings, sutras, has to be interpreted. One must not follow it literally.
I should actually ask question to you, or let you ask question. I think it's important we should have discussion. So if you have any questions regarding style of debating, or shunyata, most welcome.