The wisdom realizing reality or emptiness is the third of the three principal realizations of the path. The first two are the determination to be free and the altruistic intention.

Ignorance and Emptiness

The root cause of our difficulties is self-grasping ignorance, i.e., the ignorance that grasps at a truly-existent, independently-existent self.

  • This ignorance is eradicated by gaining the wisdom realizing the emptiness of inherent existence, i.e., realizing dependent arising.
  • This emptiness is the lack of all fantasized ways of existing that we've projected onto people & phenomena.
  • What is it that people & phenomena are empty of? They lack being independently, truly, or inherently existent.

Though phenomena (and we ourselves) seem to be independently existent, we are dependently arising phenomena, i.e., we exist dependent upon:

  • causes & conditions
  • parts
  • concepts & labels

Who am I?

Who is this "I" or self?

  • I'm neither my body nor my mind, nor the collection of my body & mind.
  • What we call "me" is dependent upon yesterday's mind, today's mind, tomorrow's mind, the mind at death, the mind at rebirth, etc., but it isn't any one of them.
  • My mindstream isn't any particular moment of mind, nor is it the collection of moments.
    • My mind is empty of true or inherent existence.
    • Still, there is a continuum of moments of mind that form the mindstream, and this is what takes rebirth.
  • The "I" or self doesn't exist independently of the body & mind.
    • Nor can it be found within the body or mind or body & mind together.
    • The solid, truly existing "I" can't be found anywhere, because it doesn't exist.
    • The "I" is empty of being independently existent.
    • This is what is meant by selflessness or emptiness.

This doesn't mean the "I" doesn't exist at all.

  • What we're negating is its independent or inherent existence.
  • We dependently exist. We depend on causes:
    • The sperm & egg of our parents
    • Our consciousness that came from another life
    • Our parts (body & mind)
    • Concept & label (on the basis of our body & mind being together, we conceive of this as a person and give it the label "I")
  • Realizing emptiness doesn't destroy the "I."
    • An independent, solid, real "I" never existed.
    • What we're destroying is the ignorance that holds on to the idea that such a solid "I" exists.
    • We're simply eliminating the misconception that independently existing things exist.
  • Understanding emptiness or selflessness gives us an extremely strong tool to subdue our disturbing attitudes.
    • Ex: We see there's no solid person who is angry, no person whose reputation needs to be defended, no person/object we need to possess.
  • Realizing emptiness doesn't mean we become inert & unambitious (e.g., "Nothing's real, so why do anything?").
    • Realizing selflessness gives us tremendous space for action.
    • Our energy is no longer consumed by attachment, anger, and ignorance.
    • We're free to use our wisdom & compassion in countless ways to benefit others.