We Need to Realize Selflessness


By Choden Rinpoche

Why do we need to realize selflessness in order to be liberated from saṃsāra? Merely through calm abiding, we will be unable to escape from saṃsāra. Even people who are able to stay in absorption on calm abiding for many eons are unable, through that, to abandon saṃsāra. Furthermore, the story goes that when our teacher Buddha came to this world, there was a forder named Udraka Rāmaputra. Udraka Rāmaputra entered into absorption on calm abiding and thought, “Now my mind has achieved liberation.” So he stayed in absorption. While he remained in absorption for a long time, this forder let his matted locks flow freely. A rat began chewing on his locks, causing him to arise from absorption. Seeing the rat chewing on his locks, he became angry. Through the force of his anger, his calm abiding degenerated. Because his calm abiding degenerated, he generated the wrong view, thinking, “Alas, there is no liberation after all!” and was thereby born in hell. 

Merely by actualizing calm abiding, one cannot achieve liberation. However, we ought to actualize calm abiding and, using calm abiding as a basis, generate the wisdom that realizes selflessness. Using that wisdom as the direct antidote to the apprehension of a self, we can then achieve liberation. For that reason, in order to attain liberation, we do in fact need calm abiding.

"On the basis of the wisdom realizing selflessness, one achieves liberation; no other cause will bring about liberation."

What kind of thing is this concentration which causes the attainment of liberation? From the King of Concentrations Sūtra,

As selfless, if you check all things

then meditate as you have checked,

that’s cause to gain nirvāṇa’s fruit.

Through other causes, peace won’t come.

It is saying that on the basis of the wisdom realizing selflessness, one achieves liberation; no other cause will bring about liberation. As for that selflessness, according to the teaching of Hashang, “Be it a wicked thought or a wholesome thought, you should not allow any thoughts to arise at all. Rather, you should abide without engaging your mind with anything whatsoever.

If you do like that, you will achieve liberation.” This is incorrect. “As selfless, if you check all things . . .” is saying that in order to achieve liberation, you need to realize selflessness. In order to realize that, you need to analyze with the wisdom of individual examination. If at the end of analysis you see the meaning of emptiness, you need to meditate on that and achieve liberation. Apart from that, no other cause at all will give rise to liberation. So it is clearly saying that you need to meditate on the basis of having analyzed with the wisdom of individual examination. Although there are many different views, mainly if you take into practice the view that is most concordant with your individual mind, there is the greatest advantage and least danger. For example, if you have a strong inclination for the Mind Only view, for the time being you should meditate on the Mind Only view. For the purpose of realizing the final view, if you make effort, accumulate merit, purify negativities, and repeatedly make prayers to realize the unerring view, then one day when you meet with the right conditions, you will come to realize the Middle Way view. If instead you right away take on the Consequentialist view, saying, “All phenomena lack establishment by way of their own character,” then there is a danger you will start to think, “No phenomenon exists at all. Karmic cause and effect is also nonexistent,” and you will fall into the extreme of nihilism. When we talk about the Consequentialist view, saying, “No establishment by way of its own characteristics . . . ,” then fear does not even arise in our minds. Legend has it that in earlier times, when our teacher Buddha lived, if he explained emptiness to somebody who was not a suitable vessel for teaching emptiness, then their mind would not tolerate it. They would vomit blood and die on the spot.

For that reason, in the advice to bodhisattvas, it says that you should not teach emptiness to the untrained. In this context, we should explain the view in accordance with the Consequentialist assertion. According to that school, selflessness has both the selflessness of persons and the selflessness of phenomena, and these two do not have any difference in terms of coarseness and subtlety. However, by virtue of the basis of negation being different, the selflessness of persons is easier to realize, so I will explain that first. Selflessness of persons is said to be the nonestablishment by way of one’s own character on the basis of a person. In order to realize the basis, a person, you need to realize the “I” that is posited on the basis of any one of the five aggregates that are the basis of the self. Using dependent relativity—which is dependence on labeling—as a reason proving it, you are going to establish selflessness. Therefore, since (1) if you realize the person, you have to realize a gross imputed existent, (2) if something were truly established, it would have to be established as self-sustaining without relying on anything at all, and (3) if you realize the person, you need to realize its dependence on the aggregates, which are the basis of the self, it is said to be easier to realize the selflessness of persons by virtue of the basis [the person].

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