Appearance & Emptiness – Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Updated : Nov 08, 2019 in Articles

Appearance & Emptiness – Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso


Again Je Tsongkhapa says: Dependent-related appearance is infallible And emptiness is inexpressible; For as long as the meaning of these two appear to be separate, You have not yet realized Buddha’s ultimate intention. The commentary to this is that dependent-related things, such as our body, our car and so forth actually have functions. Dependent-related things are appearances that actually have functions. So therefore he says that dependent-related appearance is ‘infallible’, which means ‘actually have function’. The mere absence of things that we normally see is emptiness, which is inexpressible. If you believe these two things, appearance and emptiness … We can divide phenomena into two; appearance and emptiness. What is appearance? It is the dependent-related things such as our body, car and so-forth, which actually have functions. Emptiness is the mere absence of things that we normally see, which is inexpressible . If we believe these two things, appearance and emptiness, are different entities we have not realized Buddha’s intention, which means that we have not understood emptiness correctly. To understand emptiness correctly we need to understand these two things, appearance and emptiness, are the same nature, one entity. Appearance is not separate from emptiness. Emptiness is not separate from appearance. Appearance does not exist other than emptiness. Emptiness does not exist other than appearance. These two things are inseparable. When we realize this union of the two truths we realize emptiness correctly because we have realized dependent-related things correctly. Dependent-related things, are appearances that actually have functions, which means infallable. But they are not other than emptiness. They have actual functions but they are not other than emptiness. The mere absence of things that we normally see is emptiness, which is inexpressible. What is emptiness? Put simply, the mere absence of things that we normally see is emptiness. It is inexpressible, Change which means even if we understand emptiness very correctly, it is inexpressible because we cannot explain exactly what we have understood. Even if we understood dependent-related things correctly, so therefore we understood emptiness correctly and we have deep experience of emptiness, almost realizing emptiness directly, but still this emptiness will be inexpressible because we cannot tell others exactly our own experience, because it is too subtle, too profound. When we give an explanation of emptiness, of course we need to be careful. If we explain too much according to our own experience, of course for those who already have experience it is like medicine, like nectar. When we are giving an explanation of emptiness – exactly what we understood correctly through following our own experience – for those who have similar experience to us, for them, it is nectar. But those who are beginners, with no understanding, it may be poison – misunderstanding, big misunderstanding, serious problems arising. Therefore it is necessary to give skilful explanation. So therefore even if we know emptiness very correctly it is inexpressible. We cannot explain it exactly according to our experience. For example, when we taste chocolate, we say it is sweet. If someone asks, ‘What does sweet mean? ” you cannot answer. Only your experience through your tongue consciousness directly experiences it. But you cannot explain exactly what sweet means. What exactly does sweet mean? There is no answer, it is inexpressible. What does sweet mean? Can you reply? What exactly does sweet mean? Sweet means sweet! Sweet means sweet because that’s what I experience. That’s not good enough. What does it mean? What is it? The only thing to do is give them chocolate and then they will understand, this is the only opportunity. But we can’t do this with emptiness. So in reality, sweet is inexpressible, but with chocolate we can help to solve their problem and give them chocolate, here you taste this and you understand through your experience, but with emptiness we cannot do this. But sometimes for faithful practitioners through reading clear books, for them it can be expressible, through reading and through receiving blessings. But generally emptiness is inexpressible. So anyway, things are not other than emptiness, and emptiness is not other than things. If we believe these two things, appearance and emptiness, are different entities, we have not understood Buddha’s ultimate intention, which means that we have not understood emptiness correctly.

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