Misunderstanding Emptiness

There are many ways you can misunderstand emptiness. The Great Mahasiddha and beloved poet of Tibet, Milarepa, taught his Dharma son, Dharma King Gampopa, that you can lose emptiness by any of the following:

  1. Labeling: This is just saying that all objects of the ordinary rational mind of dualistic grasping are non-existent.
  2. Basic nature of all knowables: This is merely conceptually saying that all phenomena, or samsara and nirvana, are empty.
  3. Antidote: This is holding the dualistic notion that negative thoughts and conflicting emotions are something to be abandoned and that emptiness is the antidote. This is saying that afflictive emotions and discursive thoughts–whatever arises–if you look right at it, that is emptiness.
  4. Attachment to emptiness: This is thinking that emptiness is a goal to be realized; that the ground, the path, and the fruit are separate; and that by following the path you will obtain the goal of realizing emptiness. It is also saying that there is nothing to meditate on whatsoever, so all meditation is emptiness.

Even though they are not the perfect path, these kinds of thoughts may be useful in the beginning to help you reverse your clinging to intrinsic reality. However, they must not be held on to, if you want to understand emptiness.