' The Emptiness of Thought '...


Many Dzogchen and Tibetan Buddhist teachers have mentioned that Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Madhyamaka all offer a complete means to actualizing Buddhahood.

Madhyamaka means "middle way". It's a middle way because it is free of the errors of espousing extremes views that favor either the imagined permanent nature of things and persons or their complete imagined non-existence.

In both cases the error would be embodied as a belief. Those fictional beliefs are what support all the suffering as experienced as samsara.

All beliefs are mere conceptual constructions fabricated within a mind. All conceptual constructions are thoughts.

Thoughts are dependently originated from prior thoughts, information as memory and experiences. Any thought is embedded within a vast milieu of associative meanings of which all are also only thoughts.

We therefore discover that samsara is itself comprised only of believed thoughts.

Madhyamaka teachings recognize the unique role that believed thoughts and concepts play in establishing our personal suffering. Samsara has only one cause: believed thoughts.

Madhyamaka doesn't recommend suppressing, denying or ignoring thoughts as a workable solution to our root cause of suffering.

Rather, Madhyamaka recommends seeing the "empty" nature of thought. It's like someone in the dark believing their thought "snake" while only perceiving a coiled rope. In this case the thought "snake" is empty of any reality concerning the current perceptions.

We discover that all thoughts suffer from the same error to only a lesser or greater degree.

This error is usually towards the extreme of reifying and assigning a valid existential status to a perception or conceptual construct. This is like children believing the stories about Santa Claus are true and that Santa Claus actually exists. We also can't say that Santa Claus has absolutely no existence or else we would deny our imaginary thoughts as having ever happened. Santa Claus does have a status as being at least an imaginary character existing in someone's mind. And so, we can conventionally have discussions about an imaginary Santa Claus.

Even though all thoughts only exist as imaginary conceptual constructs that claim to represent perfectly an underlying reality that they attempt to describe; we can indeed have conventional discussions regarding our conceptual descriptions.

Through our thoughts we actually live in our make-believe world of conceptually constructed descriptions as though the names and labels actually represent solidly existing realities exactly as conceptually described. We call this world "conventional reality".

The greatest Madhyamaka master, Nagarjuna, wrote:

"The Ultimate truth is emptiness, the conventional truth is fiction. (prapaƱca)"

The ultimate reality is simply how it really is without our fictional descriptions applied to perceptions and mental phenomena. Empty means empty of all fiction.

Every thought is a fiction because it's can never be more than a mental portrait or mental description regarding some sensory or mental event. The thought can never accurately be what it's pointing to. As Korzybski famously stated; "the map is not the territory".

In conventional conversation we discuss our word-maps as though they were representing real landscapes accurately. Our thoughts are never more than representations that may be completely or partially flawed.

Using our thought maps as reliable guides in life, most humans find themselves quite lost and all too often quite deeply lost in the thickets of major anxiety, depression and suicidal angst. Fortunately the Buddha has discovered and offered a path out from our self-imposed thought delusions and their resulting sufferings.

Nirvana is simply a mind free of all fictional descriptions about self and reality. Such a mind would be free of all believed thoughts regarding appearances and experiences.

Examining thoughts individually we discover they are all hollow with no core or center. They are no more real than momentary clouds in the sky. The mind could focus on a single cloud and believe the sky is only this particular cloud or that the cloud is permanent and has an independent existence all of its own. Whatever the case, a thought is never more than a mental wisp of energetic prana carrying a small message or bit of conditioned and imagined meaning.

We don't have to suppress or deny or push away our thoughts; just see their intrinsically empty nature. All thoughts are equally empty fictional descriptions with no enduring status. They all release upon the arising like the single chirp of a bird.

My personal "self" is such a fictional, empty thought. Other "selves" are also empty fictional thoughts. The thought "mine" is also a fictional thought. Every thought that occurs in your mind is intrinsically empty, fictional and self-releasing.

Seeing the empty nature of all thoughts is what Madhyamaka actualizes. So Madhyamaka is not just the "middle way" but regarding freedom from the mind's self-generating samsara, it would seem to be the "only way".

Liberation is the mind seeing its own content as empty and fictional in nature. Seeing this, it's obvious no one existed to be liberated in the first place, except just as another empty and fictional thought.


-Jackson Peterson

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