Form, emptiness, sensations, perceptions, more emptiness...

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  • Alina
    Member
    • Jul 2023
    • 145

    Form, emptiness, sensations, perceptions, more emptiness...

    A few days ago something very upsetting happened early in the morning, so when later I sat Zazen, I was feeling deeply hurt. I couldn't really focus on my breath, I was not comfortable in my body because the "hurt feelings" where all over me. So I sat with that, it was overwhelming, and I kinda lost my patience with it, and thought "This is ridiculous, this is not physical pain (like a headache, or a sore throat, etc), this is psychological pain, there's no part of my body that is actually hurt, so why does it hurt so much? What is psychological pain anyway?"

    And I sat with that question "what is psychological pain?"... and there was no answer... and I felt it... until it just left. It dissolved on its own.

    Later, I guess I had sort of an insight while chanting the Heart sutra
    "O Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness,
    emptiness no other than form;
    form is precisely emptiness,
    emptiness precisely form.
    Sensations, perceptions, formations and consciousness are also like this."

    What is psychological pain? A perception maybe? I was definitely making it worse by rejecting to feel it, and wow, if that is how strong a perception can be... I'm kinda mind-blown by how intense, how real "Sensations, perceptions, formations and consciousness" can feel (and thus, be), and then it can just dissolve...

    Just wow.

    My "insight" is still a bit cloudy, so I thought I'd share with the Sangha, any feedback is appreciated... though I'm not even sure what the question is. Sorry for the long ramble.



    Gassho
    Alina
    stlah
  • Bion
    Treeleaf Unsui
    • Aug 2020
    • 3734

    #2
    Isn’t Zazen always a box full of surprises? Thank you for sharing! As Jundo would say, we acknowledge and enjoy the deep realization of that moment, and then we gently open our hands to release it ( otherwise how else can we form the zazen mudra again if we’re holding on to something )

    gassho
    sat and lah
    Last edited by Bion; 05-15-2024, 05:12 PM.
    "Stepping back with open hands, is thoroughly comprehending life and death. Immediately you can sparkle and respond to the world." - Hongzhi

    Comment

    • mdonnoe
      Member
      • Feb 2024
      • 85

      #3
      In reading your post here, I'm reminded of a really good book I enjoyed studying years ago, that you might also find helpful: "The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra," by Thich Nhat Hanh. He does a much, much better job in describing the skandhas and the heart sutra better than I ever could, and his book helped me make sense of the "poetry" of the text.

      I defer to Jundo and the unsuis here though, they may have a better recommendation.

      Gassho,
      Michael
      sat/lah

      Comment

      • k1982
        Member
        • May 2023
        • 37

        #4
        I love studying the emptiness teachings. Here's a favorite of mine that touches on your questions:

        Q: “If all is emptiness, from whence do these forms arise?”

        A: They don’t. Forms appear to be present; in truth, they are not. Consider: in a mirage, a pool of water appears to be present; but it is not, in actuality.

        The question is posed from the standpoint of the “individual”, not from the standpoint of emptiness.

        If all things are empty, “you” are among one of those “all things”. And equally empty are any “other” forms that are conceived by you. Since you appear to be “real”, all that you perceive appears also to be real. The actuality is that you are empty and all forms perceived by you are equally empty.

        So not anything ever actually “arises” from emptiness: emptiness is, and always has been, 100% empty of anything.

        All that is seen—as well as the seer—is empty of reality. There is only “what is”, and in reality it “isn’t”.
        I'm sick of following my dreams, man. I'm just going to ask where they're going and hook up with ’em later.

        Comment

        • Kaitan
          Member
          • Mar 2023
          • 447

          #5
          I would be cautious of saying that something is not 'real', at least it would be fruitful to explain what do we mean when we say that something is real. I think that we normally confuse 'existence' with 'reality'. Therefore if something doesn't exist it is not real, that's not necessarily true.

          ​​​Gassho

          stlah, Kaitan
          Kaitan - 界探 - Realm searcher
          Formerly known as "Bernal"

          Comment

          • Kotei
            Treeleaf Unsui
            • Mar 2015
            • 3935

            #6
            I am thinking about emptiness more as openness, as the undefined.
            Empty of an independent existence, empty of an intrinsic meaning.
            This is, because everything else is, not because it is something on its own. Our self and our doing is giving it meaning.
            True as in "this is what we are experiencing", although the Ultimate Truth being that what we create our everyday truth on, the uncreated, undefined whole (Buddha Nature - The unthinkable - Emptiness)
            Not emptiness as in "nothing there, nothing real, doesn't matter what we do, not existing".

            Of course just my 2cents,
            Gassho,
            Kotei sat/lah today.
            Last edited by Kotei; 05-16-2024, 08:42 AM.

            義道 冴庭 / Gidō Kotei.
            Being a novice priest doesn't mean my writing about the Dharma is more substantial than yours. Actually, it might well be the other way round.

            Comment

            • Kokuu
              Treeleaf Priest
              • Nov 2012
              • 6755

              #7
              Hi Alina, all

              I very much like what Kotei says. The Buddha pointed to a middle way between existence and non-existence or, as it is said in the Surangama Sutra - things are not the way they appear, nor are they otherwise.

              All of our mental states are transitory, but that does not mean that we should just ignore them. Each moment, thing and mental state is an expression of all that is. As such, it is empty of inherent self, but also sacred in its own right, and to be tended gently and then, as Bion said, allowed to go on their way.

              Seeing that all things pass and are without fundamental existence is helpful in not attaching so much to things and, as you experienced Alina, in Zazen we can just watch mental states arise and pass without needing to do anything. They can feel so real, yet are also so insubstantial. This to me, is the wonder of life and practice - all things arise and fade, yet from moment to moment, how wonderful to hear birdsong, taste tea, and even have the pain in my back and neck that exists now through the miracle of being alive.

              Thank you for your post and your practice.

              Gassho
              Kokuu
              -sattoday/lah-

              Comment

              • Daiman
                Treeleaf Unsui
                • Apr 2022
                • 679

                #8
                Originally posted by Alina
                A few days ago something very upsetting happened early in the morning, so when later I sat Zazen, I was feeling deeply hurt. I couldn't really focus on my breath, I was not comfortable in my body because the "hurt feelings" where all over me. So I sat with that, it was overwhelming, and I kinda lost my patience with it, and thought "This is ridiculous, this is not physical pain (like a headache, or a sore throat, etc), this is psychological pain, there's no part of my body that is actually hurt, so why does it hurt so much? What is psychological pain anyway?"

                And I sat with that question "what is psychological pain?"... and there was no answer... and I felt it... until it just left. It dissolved on its own.

                Later, I guess I had sort of an insight while chanting the Heart sutra
                "O Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness,
                emptiness no other than form;
                form is precisely emptiness,
                emptiness precisely form.
                Sensations, perceptions, formations and consciousness are also like this."

                What is psychological pain? A perception maybe? I was definitely making it worse by rejecting to feel it, and wow, if that is how strong a perception can be... I'm kinda mind-blown by how intense, how real "Sensations, perceptions, formations and consciousness" can feel (and thus, be), and then it can just dissolve...

                Just wow.

                My "insight" is still a bit cloudy, so I thought I'd share with the Sangha, any feedback is appreciated... though I'm not even sure what the question is. Sorry for the long ramble.



                Gassho
                Alina
                stlah
                Ah Alina, wonderful insights. The Heart Sutra teaches us that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. In other words, we are going to experience difficulties in our lives, that is just the topography of our life. We will experience pain, that is the truth of this life, but trying to push it away or make it different in some way or wishing we were having a different experience other than the one we are already having is where the suffering comes in (Pain x Resistance = Suffering). We do our best to accept what is here in this moment and then maybe we see a clear path to begin to mitigate, heal, and grow. Sometimes we are just in the discomfort even when we do not like it and other times we are in the pleasantness of the moment even when we wish it would stay forever.

                Take what I say here as coming from a priest in training, I am not a teacher. There are others here that are and perhaps their compass is the one to follow.

                Gassho,
                Daiman
                ST/LAH

                Comment

                • Tom A.
                  Member
                  • May 2020
                  • 237

                  #9
                  My take is that I don’t struggle with thoughts and feelings, nor obey them in Zazen and life, unless it is skillful be absorbed in them (or I sometimes fall back into unhelpful struggle and obey mode, no one is perfect). A sense of balance is what’s important. I think death is the absence of both existence and non-existence, I think the self and all experience are the same, neither existence, nor non-existence. When I’m feeling pain, I ask will this pain pass? When I’m feeling self conscious I ask what is the self? When I’m feeling dukkha, I ask what am I not accepting? The Tibetans have a saying: “thoughts [I’d add feelings and all experience] are like thieves entering an empty house, there is nothing there to steal.” All of this could be wrong, it is only my take though, so talk to Jundo or an Unsui. I send metta to you, hopefully you can find peace with all you are feeling.

                  Sorry for running long.

                  Gassho,

                  Tom,

                  Sat/Lah
                  “Do what’s hard to do when it is the right thing to do.”- Robert Sopalsky

                  Comment

                  • Ramine
                    Member
                    • Jul 2023
                    • 79

                    #10
                    Thank you for sharing Alina, and for all the insightful responses.
                    Sometimes I feel that I understand the distinctions between sensation/perception/formation/consciousness, but I am not always certain that I quite 'get' it clearly. I'll have to read Thich Nhat Hanh, per mdonnoe's suggestion. I would also appreciate other thoughts on understanding the five skandhas, or other resources that could be helpful.


                    Ramine
                    Sat and Lah

                    Comment

                    • Onki
                      Treeleaf Unsui
                      • Dec 2020
                      • 672

                      #11
                      Originally posted by Alina
                      A few days ago something very upsetting happened early in the morning, so when later I sat Zazen, I was feeling deeply hurt. I couldn't really focus on my breath, I was not comfortable in my body because the "hurt feelings" where all over me. So I sat with that, it was overwhelming, and I kinda lost my patience with it, and thought "This is ridiculous, this is not physical pain (like a headache, or a sore throat, etc), this is psychological pain, there's no part of my body that is actually hurt, so why does it hurt so much? What is psychological pain anyway?"

                      And I sat with that question "what is psychological pain?"... and there was no answer... and I felt it... until it just left. It dissolved on its own.

                      Later, I guess I had sort of an insight while chanting the Heart sutra
                      "O Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness,
                      emptiness no other than form;
                      form is precisely emptiness,
                      emptiness precisely form.
                      Sensations, perceptions, formations and consciousness are also like this."

                      What is psychological pain? A perception maybe? I was definitely making it worse by rejecting to feel it, and wow, if that is how strong a perception can be... I'm kinda mind-blown by how intense, how real "Sensations, perceptions, formations and consciousness" can feel (and thus, be), and then it can just dissolve...

                      Just wow.

                      My "insight" is still a bit cloudy, so I thought I'd share with the Sangha, any feedback is appreciated... though I'm not even sure what the question is. Sorry for the long ramble.



                      Gassho
                      Alina
                      stlah
                      Hi Alina,

                      Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

                      First, let me say that I am a Priest in Training. Please take what I say with a grain of salt as I do not yet have the ability to teach the Dharma. That being said, I do have some thoughts on this.

                      Psychological pain, what is it? I am pulling this from Wikipedia: Edwin S. Shneidman, a pioneer in the field of suicidology, describes it as "how much you hurt as a human being. It is mental suffering; mental torment."

                      Indeed, psychological (also called mental pain) pain can be debilitating. As someone with a host of mental illness including major depression, OCD, a personality disorder, to name a few, I can absolutely empathize with how you have been feeling.

                      With physical pain, such as a headache, you can take a Tylenol and the headache will eventually go away. I suppose Zazen could also be seen as a way to help with mental pain. However, Zazen is not therapy. Zazen will not “cure” you from mental illness. Yes, it can absolutely be of benefit, but Zazen is not a magic pill. I believe therapy is needed in order to work on oneself, to grow, and learn ways of coping and working with mental pain.

                      When sitting Zazen, we allow thoughts to come and go freely. Not clinging nor grasping. We breathe in and out, freely. We exist in THIS MOMENT. We are THIS MOMENT. One of my favourite quotes from Suzuki Roshi, speaking of sitting Zazen, says, “Let your thoughts come and go, just do not serve them tea.” Basically, acknowledge the thought, and carry on sitting, breathing. Do not latch on or cling to the thought. Let it float on by. No tea for them!

                      There are times (and I’m positive there will continue to be more!) specific to sitting Zazen, where I am full of mental suffering and anguish. My thoughts pull me deep into The Pit (what I call Depression), sometimes to the point where even sitting Zazen seems too much. But I know these are the games that my mind likes to play. My mind tells me that I am not worthy of love, of happiness, of a loving Sangha where folks understand and have common ground.

                      Despite what my mind is telling me, and despite how difficult it can be to get into position (If not sitting upright, reclined is perfectly fine if that is what the body will allow and tolerate) because of aches and pains associated with depression, mental pain, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, etc, I do it as best as I can. Reclined Zazen has become the norm when my fibromyalgia is acting up and sitting upright is too painful.

                      I sit. I sit with the noise in my mind telling me that I will never be “good enough.” I sit with sadness knowing there are folks much less fortunate than me. I sit for those that suffer in war zones, for the LGBTQ2IA+ community, and for folks that feel hopeless. I sit for the benefit of all sentient beings. This also includes MYSELF; the most difficult person to sit for.

                      Sit for sitting’s sake.

                      Gasshō,

                      On

                      Sat today/LAH


                      “Let me respectfully remind you
                      Life and death are of supreme importance.
                      Time swiftly passes by
                      And opportunity ist lost.
                      Each of us should strive to awaken.
                      Awaken, take heed,
                      Do not squander your life.​“ - Life and Death and The Great Matter

                      Comment

                      • Shinshi
                        Treeleaf Unsui
                        • Jul 2010
                        • 3506

                        #12
                        Originally posted by mdonnoe
                        In reading your post here, I'm reminded of a really good book I enjoyed studying years ago, that you might also find helpful: "The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra," by Thich Nhat Hanh. He does a much, much better job in describing the skandhas and the heart sutra better than I ever could, and his book helped me make sense of the "poetry" of the text.

                        I defer to Jundo and the unsuis here though, they may have a better recommendation.

                        Gassho,
                        Michael
                        sat/lah
                        I quite like this text by Thich Nhat Hanh - reading it was my gateway to seeing that the Heart Sutra might make sense after all. I wanted to add that there is a more recent book by Thich Nhat Hanh: The Other Shore, where he offers a new translation of the Heart Sutra. I find the first book superior, at least for me. Just a casual search will more likely find the second book.

                        Gassho,

                        Shinshi
                        空道 心志 Kudo Shinshi
                        I am just a priest-in-training, any resemblance between what I post and actual teachings is purely coincidental.
                        E84I - JAJ

                        Comment

                        • Jundo
                          Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                          • Apr 2006
                          • 39272

                          #13
                          Originally posted by Shinshi

                          I quite like this text by Thich Nhat Hanh - reading it was my gateway to seeing that the Heart Sutra might make sense after all. I wanted to add that there is a more recent book by Thich Nhat Hanh: The Other Shore, where he offers a new translation of the Heart Sutra. I find the first book superior, at least for me. Just a casual search will more likely find the second book.

                          Gassho,

                          Shinshi
                          I will drop in one small comment on TNH's wonderful presentation of "emptiness" in the Heart Sutra, not only noted by me: Surprisingly, TNH offers a very material presentation of Emptiness that may miss something for that reason, e.g., in his very famous teaching that a piece of paper holds clouds, rain, sunshine, the trees which all are "in" the paper for having made it possible. (https://www.awakin.org/v2/read/view.php?tid=222) It is a bit like saying that a symphony contains the notes, violins, horns ... but somehow missing the sound and silence and harmony and "Great Music" of the universe which is also contained in every note and the whole and every instrument and player. In other words, he sometimes focuses on physical "parts" but seems to miss the true emptiness and wholeness which is not a matter of parts and contributing causes. It is something like saying the "cat" is the fur and teeth, cat food and litter, cat parents and all the earlier animals that evolved to be a cat ... but missing somehow that the whole universe is now purring in one's lap. TNH is right, but that can sometimes prevent folks from coming to realize that it is more than just that every separate thing is the product of many other separate things like its parts.

                          Just something to keep in heart when reading his explanation. Perhaps I should not even split such hairs.

                          Gassho, J

                          stlah

                          PS - Some lovely teachings above from Onki, Daiman, all the others ... much wisdom.
                          Last edited by Jundo; 05-20-2024, 01:56 AM.
                          ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                          Comment

                          • Alina
                            Member
                            • Jul 2023
                            • 145

                            #14
                            Thank you everyone for your replies and insights into this topic that feels so elusive sometimes (at least to me). I've been sitting with everything you've shared and will continue to do so, much to learn for me here. Thank you mdonnoe for the book recommendation, I've added it to my list. And thanks a lot for your concern, and metta, it's really heart warming to read all your lovely comments

                            Originally posted by Kotei
                            I am thinking about emptiness more as openness, as the undefined.
                            Empty of an independent existence, empty of an intrinsic meaning.
                            This is, because everything else is, not because it is something on its own. Our self and our doing is giving it meaning.
                            True as in "this is what we are experiencing", although the Ultimate Truth being that what we create our everyday truth on, the uncreated, undefined whole (Buddha Nature - The unthinkable - Emptiness)
                            Not emptiness as in "nothing there, nothing real, doesn't matter what we do, not existing".
                            This is also the way I had always understood it too, but it was like a "nice concept", in my head, theoretical almost.

                            What was most powerful about the experience I had in Zazen was that I felt this very intensely, one moment the feeling/perception was there, the next it was gone. Since the conditions had changed, because I stopped resisting it, I felt it fully and then... it was gone, the conditions for it were not there anymore. After a few days the confusion I felt initially started to change into something more peaceful, more at ease.


                            Gassho
                            Alina
                            sat and lah

                            Comment

                            • Seiko
                              Treeleaf Unsui
                              • Jul 2020
                              • 968

                              #15
                              Well, right now, for me, my understanding of emptiness is to walk into a room with a mind like a blank sheet of paper. Approaching a place or situation or people without my own baggage, my preconceived ideas, opinions, my prejudice, is not easy, but now and then can be done. This emptiness is a gift, a wonderful place to begin, again and again.

                              Just my own thoughts, as a priest in training, please take anything I say with a pinch of salt.

                              Gasshō
                              Seiko
                              Stlah
                              Last edited by Seiko; 06-07-2024, 09:40 PM.
                              Gandō Seiko
                              頑道清光
                              (Stubborn Way of Pure Light)

                              My street name is 'Al'.

                              Any words I write here are merely the thoughts of an apprentice priest, just my opinions, that's all.

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