The Wisdom of Emptiness - The Sixth Perfection
Excerpt from 'Awakening the Mind - Basic Buddhist Meditations'
by Geshe Namgyal Wangchen

The fully awakened clear state of mind that realizes the truth of emptiness - the emptiness of inherent existence - is the wisdom we seek. It is called prajna in Sanskrit. When we acheive this wisdom we are able to realize emptiness from the depth of our own personal experience, beyond intellectualization.
Only this wisdom has the true power to cut our delusions from their root completely. No matter how many other virtuous qualities we may have, there is no way to achieve the complete elimination of our delusions unless and until the full realization of emptiness is gained. Therefore, whether we seek liberation or enlightenment, it is essential for us to seek this wisdom.
To gain the full realization of emptiness we must necessarily have developed our inner understanding to the point where we can fully negate the inherently existent self, yet at the same time not fail to maintain the conventional reality of the self - the truth that self does exist in general. This is the perfect middle way of understanding emptiness, as taught by Buddha and elaborated by master Nagarjuna, who established the Madhyamika, or Middle Way School, some four hundred years after Buddha had passed away.
However, we cannot gain the full realization of emptiness without a foundation, hence Buddha taught the emptiness of the substantially existent self and the emptiness of the externally existent self as a base for understanding the most subtle emptiness, the emptiness of inherent existence.
Among the followers of Buddha's teachings on emptiness there arose four different lineage-holders of his teachings on emptiness, known as the four Buddhist schools:
Vaibashika (followers of the early commentaries - The Mahavibhasa - on the sutras); Sautantrika (Sutra Citers); Cittamatra (Mind Only); and Madhyamika (The Middle Way).
.......The Madhyamaka School holds the view that the emptiness of the inherently existent self is the highest form of emptiness that Buddha taught. The ultimate aim of the Buddha is to lead us to the full realization of the miost subtle emptiness - the emptiness of inherent existence as elaborated by Nagarjuna. The first two forms of emptiness, the emptiness of the substantially existent self and the emptiness of the externally existent self are taught as steps towards the full understanding of the most subtle emptiness.
The Importance of Seeking the Truth of Emptiness
The truth of emptiness is the essence of all Buddha's teachings. The realization of this truth is not only the ultimate method for us to cut our delusions from their root, but is also the key path that leads us to the perfect state of Buddhahood. It is important to cut our delusions if we truly wish to be liberated from the suffering of samsara, not to mention how important it is for us to control and eliminate our own delusions to be able to help others effectively and in a sincere and pure way. Hence as Buddha says in the Perfection Sutras:
The Wisdom that realizes the emptiness of the inherently existent self is the mother of both those who reach beyond the suffering of cyclic existence for their own peace and those who attain enlightenment for the sake of all beings.
Similarly Chandrakirti points out:
All those who go beyond cyclic existence have attained their liberation through the perfect teachings of the Enlightened Ones. These are born from Bodhisattvas who fully develop themselves to benefit others. Bodhisattvas in turn are born from three seeds only: the realization of emptiness the mind of enlightenment and great compassion.
If we look at the origin of our anger, attachment and so on, we can clearly see from our own experience that they arise from our misconception of self, holding the view the 'I' exists inherently. Thus it is clear why only the realization of emptiness has the power to cut our delusions completely. No matter how much and for how long we might concentrate on developing the other virtuous paths, such as single-pointed mind, morality, patience and so on, until the truth of emptiness is correctly realized.
Understanding Emptiness According to the Middle Way
The pure understanding of emptiness as taught by Buddha and elaborated by the great Nagarjuna and subsequently by his two main disciples, Buddhapalita and Chandrakirti, is the understanding of emptiness according to the middle way: completely negating the inherently existent self whilst maintaining the existence of the self that is commonly known to everyone without damaging it. This realization is what Lama Tsong Khapa called the union of the two truths. This means that although our self lacks an inherently existent nature, it nevertheless exists and carries out activities, good actions leading to happiness and bad actions lead to unhappiness. Each and every thing that exists has two natures: an ultimate nature and a conventional nature. By understanding the ultimate nature we can get rid of our deeply ingrained misconception of the things we perceive and experience; by understanding the conventional nature we have no trouble understanding the law of cause and effect.
It is most important that we differentiate between which kind of self should be negated and which should be maintained. If we negate too much, we will find it difficult to maintain the self that is commonly known to us and that is the base of our identification. If we negate this normal self, we will have problems in maintaining our understanding of the law of cause and effect. We will see no point in virtuous actions and not understand that our suffering is the result of past non-virtuous actions. This is the extreme of nihilism.
For those who truly wish to understand the root of suffering, it is very imporant to maintain the self that is responsible for happiness and unhappiness. The self cannot be reduced to our material body; it is more than this; It is something that comes from our past lives and goes onto the next life. Seeing this, we can understand that the suffering we experience does not come from outside, but is a consequence of our karma. Happiness also comes from past lives. Our virtuous actions of this life can lead to happiness in our next life. Our practice of Dharma can eventually lead us to enlightenment.
However, when we come to establish that the self is not something limited to our material body but comes from past lives and goes to the next life, some people - non-Buddhist Masters, for example - go to the extreme of eternalism. They believe that the self exists independently and eternally. On the one hand this belief helps to maintain our understanding of Karma; on the other hand, however it strengthens our self-grasping because it views the self as something solid. This leads us to cling to our selfm thus keeping us bound to the sufferings of cyclic existence.
Therefore Buddha taught the middle way: that self is not limited to this very material body, but comes from our past life and goes onto the next. It does not exist solidly but is something merely imputed or labelled by our mind on the basis of the aggregates of which we are composed.
If we do not negate enough then we will not be able to negate the inherently existent self which the mind clings. As a result we will not be able to eliminate our delusions.
...Nagarjuna says:
The nihilistic view only leads to the misery of taking rebirth in the lower realms and eternalism binds us to the suffering of cyclic existence. Therefore only the middle way, which is free from these two extreme views, can leads us to true liberation.
In the traditional analytical contemplation on emptiness there are three stages:
1. Recognizing the appearance of the inherently existent self
2. Negating the inherently existent self
3. Maintaing the meditation on the emptiness of the inherently existent self.