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Buddhism for Everyone with JoAnn Fox

Apr 27, 2019

This episode begins with an explanation of how meditation works. The seven factors of awakening guide us in how to meditate on an object and adjust the mind when we notice ourselves becoming distracted or sleepy. Secondly we delve into the most profound meditation object of Buddhism, the meditation on reality itself. This meditation on ultimate truth, or emptiness, helps us to wake up little by little. Entering into reality helps us to realize the causes of our fear, loneliness, suffering and attachment are only illusions.

*I promised extra notes because the subject is subtle and challenging...they are below!

The seven factors of meditation (awakening) are:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Investigation of the meditation object
  3. Energy
  4. Rapture or happiness
  5. Calm
  6. Concentration
  7. Equanimity

Analogies From the Episode

The rainbow

The rainbow

To say that something has no inherent existence means that it has no independent, fixed nature of its own. All things depend on our mind’s imputation and the label we give it, among other things. A table, a person, a friend, and enemy are only labels. They have no inherent, fixed existence. A rainbow arises from the coming together of causes and conditions such as the sky, the rain, the sun, the angle of the light, and so on. Looking for a friend or enemy that exists independent of our mind is like searching for the place where the rainbow originates so we can bathe ourselves in the rainbow hues. We never find it. Friend, enemy, pain are like a rainbow appearing in the sky of our mind. We create them. We can un-create them.

The dream

In a dream, we can that the ultimate nature of the things that manifest is emptiness, because none of them is real. The dream fire does not have the nature of fire i.e. it cannot really burn anything. Likewise, a dream tiger cannot really bite, although it causes us great fear while we dream. Thus the fire and the tiger do not have the real nature of fire or of tiger. They are empty of that nature, and yet they appear and function in the sense that they can cause fear and suffering in the dreamer. Their appearing and functioning are what Buddha called conventional truth. Things do function for us, conventionally, but their absolute reality is emptiness. In the same way, in waking life, relative phenomena appear and perform functions and yet, although they seem to have inde­pendent existence of their own, they have no such real­ nature. Their ultimate nature is emptiness. The world of our waking life is an appearance of our mind, like things seen in a dream. Nirvana, or enlightenment, is waking from the dream of mistaken reality. Enlightenment is the absence of conceptual elaboration.

The snake

Clinging to the idea of a real, fixed self is like clinging to the belief that a piece of rope in the darkness is a snake. When you turn on the light, you see there is no snake there, and fear and suffering disappears. There was never a snake; it was simply the clinging to that belief of the snake that caused the suffering and nothing else. The wisdom that realizes there is no real self, no real enemies, no real lovers is like the light that reveals the rope is not a snake.

What Buddhism has discovered is that the experience of suffering is always associated with a strong emotional attachment to fixed, real things. So Buddhism turns its atten­tion to the strong emotional response associated with that sense of a real self and others. From the idea of self comes that of ‘other’. It is from the interaction of ‘self and ‘other’ that desire, hatred, and delusion arise.

Few are the people

Who reach the other shore.

Many are the people

Who run about on this shore.


But those who are in accord with the

Dharma—with the well-taught Dharma—

Will go beyond the realm of Death,

So hard to cross. (86)


Giving up dark ways,

Sages cultivate the bright.

They go from home to homelessness,

To the solitude so hard to enjoy.

There they should seek delight,

Abandoning sensual desires,

Having nothing.

Sages should cleanse themselves

Of what defiles the mind. (87–88)*


Those who

Fully cultivate the Factors of Awakening,

Give up grasping, Enjoy non-clinging,

And have destroyed the toxins,

Are luminous,

And completely liberated in this life. (89)

--Buddha, The Dhammapada


Buddha, The Dhammapada. Translated by Gil Fronsdale. Shambala, 2011. pp. 21-22.

Je Tsongkhapa. Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment Volume 3. Translated by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Joshua Cutler, Editor-in-Chief, and Guy Newlan, Editor. Snow Lion, (kindle edition), pp. 1270-1282, 1431, 1969-1975.

Ven Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rimpoche. Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness. Translated by Shenpen Hookham. Longchen Foundation, 1994, pp. 19-72. PDF file.