H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III has told us that there are three levels of true emptiness and wonderful existence. The first is to understand the principle. The second is to realize the wonderful existence. But these two mean that you only understand this. You can’t actually do it. The third is where you actually know the relationship between true emptiness and wonderful existence and not just realize it, but you actually attain that state. You enter that state. That is when “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” It is hard for us to do this because of our bad karma. The dharma protectors will not bless us.

There is a tendency, especially among Western students, to talk about emptiness and to imitate certain masters who actually had the level of realization to understand that samsara and nirvana are both empty. They think that because “everything is empty” that they need not abide by the precepts, show respect for holy objects, etc. They argue that it is ok to behave in this manner because these things are all empty. This is not correct, but the behavior of demons. Only someone who has truly experienced emptiness can understand emptiness in this manner. Some teachers–especially in Zen and Tibet–engaged in outrageous behavior to wake up their disciples and heighten their state of realization. This is known as “deliberate behavior” but it is not to be practiced by ordinary people. Without correct understanding and motivation such behavior will only result in rebirth in the hells or lower realms and will certainly not enable one to progress on the path. One must be careful to not fall into either of the extremes of “nihilism” where one believes that nothing exists or “eternalism” where one believes that things do have an inherent existence. That is the reason we study the Middle Way (Madhyamaka).

True emptiness or non-being is the same as wonderful existence or being. Form and emptiness are one and the same. Nothingness and somethingness are not different. All worldly phenomena exist in a false manner. They arise due to the convergence of causes and conditions. They vanish when these causes and conditions break up or cease. This is the truth underlying the cycle of birth and death. The ignorant person thinks that there is a self underlying the five aggregates or skandhas or that one or more of the five aggregates are the self. All five aggregates are intrinsically empty.

Vimalakirti Sutra

Heart Sutra

Diamond Cutter Sutra