Sacred geometry

Emptiness Clinic I: Group Interview for Those Doing Emptiness Practices

Date12th October 2019
Retreat/SeriesOnline Seminar


... of your body with presence, with alive sensitivity, the whole space, grounded and filled with awareness. And staying connected with, alive to, the bodily sense and sphere of the body, how's your heart doing right now? Just noticing, not putting any pressure for it to be any way, this way or that way, just what is there in the heart right now? Strong or subtle, easy or difficult, just noticing, including, connecting. Can there be care in the awareness of the heart right now? Caring for whatever's present. Body awareness and heart awareness and care. And staying connected to both of those, including both of those, awareness, body, and heart, just taking a moment to reconnect with, remember your intention, what brought you here at this time, to choose to spend this time this way? Can you feel that intention, as well as to know it cognitively? Can you actually feel yourself align with that intention, feel it shaping your body and yourself in relationship to that intention? Perhaps there's even a quality of devotion to it. Connecting and aligning body and heart and mind and soul with your intention.

Body awareness, heart awareness and care, connection with intention, alignment with intention -- all that. And is it possible, as well, to have a sense, to open to a sense of the connection with each other? Through the electronic ether, different parts of the world, different time zones, a sense of togetherness, shared intention, shared exploration, shared love, shared care, and sense into the field of community right here, right now, with body, heart, intention, togetherness.

And lastly, still holding on to all that, if it's possible, a recognition that this time together is a dependent arising. It depends on each of us, on each of you as much as me, each of you as much as each other, whether or not you get to ask a question or say anything. The quality of your presence, the quality of your attention, the openness of heart and mind, the awareness of togetherness -- all this shapes and creates, in the moment, the field that we share together. We participate together in a profound way; we are responsible together. So again, there's a cognitive component to that, and there's a heart component. We feel touched by our participation in things.

[5:36] I wonder: is it possible, as we go through the time together, to perhaps remind yourself, each of us remind ourselves periodically of one or other of these five, what we might call the five mindfulnesses -- so body, heart, intention, community, togetherness, and dependent arising, and participation? It's a new thing to be doing Dharma online, live and at this distance, staring at a screen, when screens are usually places where we're not so aware and not so sensitive. Just as a collective experiment, to bring a kind intention to really make it work for body, heart, soul, community, by just gently reminding ourselves of these, what we might call five aspects of mindfulness or five areas of mindfulness.

Okay, so I say this at the beginning of everything: I was really expecting not to say anything at the beginning today, because we had said it was going to be a group interview, and then Jacqui, who I don't think is here tonight, wrote me an email [laughs] with a question in it which I realized, "Oh, that's really, really important and fundamental." So I'm going to start, if it's okay, by reading her question. There's another question as well which I hope to get to later on, but there's something about Jacqui's question, that it's so fundamental and general, that I think it's really, really important, and I'm hoping that it will be helpful to everyone.

[7:44] So I'm going to start by reading her question, and then kind of giving an answer to it, and then hopefully we can open up. I was expecting mostly tonight to really just take questions about the nuts and bolts of emptiness practice, without me having to prepare anything or say anything, but as I said, I think it was yesterday -- I can't remember, or I lose track -- this question came in, and I realized, "Oh, actually that's a really important frame."

So when we talk about emptiness practices, at least the way I would teach it, there are two aspects or two levels, we might say. One is exactly the nuts and bolts of practice: "I'm doing this in practice, and then this happens. I'm not sure quite how to respond," or whatever it is. So that whole nuts and bolts, the details of actual practice, is really important. But what Jacqui's question reminded me of was the need for a conceptual framework, to be really, really clear about what we're actually doing in emptiness practice, how it fits together, and how it unfolds. That conceptual framework is absolutely crucial. So that's what I would have hoped would have come out anyway, but since Jacqui asked me through an email, I will pick it up, as it's really, really important.

Okay, so here's her email. She's not here, but I'll read it out: "I am fine." She's responding to something. I'm going to read it all. It's not that long, but it's fairly long. "I was arrested on Wednesday with Andrew." So she's been part of the XR (Extinction Rebellion) in London with Andrew, her partner. "I was arrested on Wednesday." I just have to say, actually: it's really in my heart a lot, the whole XR thing. I know we're talking about emptiness tonight, and we talked about engagement and activism last time. And we will stick to the topic, absolutely. But it's just very much in my heart at the moment.

"I was strangely exhausted afterwards, but I really felt the fruit of my practice, and I was very grounded throughout. Iona" -- another Saṅgha member, who some of you will know -- "Iona was with me when I was arrested, and she advised me that I told the police about my heart condition, which I did, and they were pretty considerate about that." [10:35] I actually just want to pause there and just say thank you for doing that, Jacqui and Andrew. And I think Catherine and Yanai won't mind me saying that Yanai also got arrested, and they didn't treat him very well.

Anyway, "I want to tune in on the phone to your seminar on Saturday, but don't know yet if I will have been arrested again! My question is about a wide variety of ways in which we experience emptiness. For example: I have experienced what I think is called ego death or the void where personality and the whole sense of self is gone, and I'm not sure what remains -- a black void confronts you, pretty scary. Or in meditation, parts of the body or the whole body dissolves -- a lot less scary, often quite pleasant and beautiful. Or a sense of vastness that permeates body and mind and feels liberating and beautiful. Or vast blackness when meditating which feels exciting. Or a sense of unreality of so-called 'real world' which can be scary at times and at times immensely freeing -- can be a bit trippy. Or what feels like states of grace: experience of intense beauty, sacredness, mystery, otherworldliness, boundary of the ordinary world dissolves -- as they say, "not in Kansas" -- a bit like the above but imbued with a sense of sacred and beauty and never scary. Or, of course, experience of malleability of mind from jhāna work. Or an idea told to me by a teacher, not you, that emptiness is simply a way of seeing and nothing to do with way-out meditative experiences -- it is the lens through which we view experience and thinking otherwise was frankly misguided (obviously a reference to your book). I'm studying your book with Domenica and finding the exercises very freeing. On the chapter on non-duality and dependent co-arising!" Exclamation mark, which I think indicates her excitement there. "Summary question is, 'How to have a more cohesive, coherent understanding of emptiness?'"

[12:55] Okay, so I'm going to read it again later because there's a lot in there, but you get the basic point: she's had all these different experiences, and the question is, how does it all fit together? What is emptiness? How does it cohere?

You understand why that's important, right? Okay, so, first thing, you're going to get very different explanations of emptiness from different teachers, so obviously tonight I'm mostly going to explain the way I would present [it], the way I do present it, mostly tend to present it. And I'm going to try and do it in a fairly brief way, then relate it to Jacqui's question, and then do it in a very brief way. Okay? Actually, we could talk hours and hours and hours about just explaining the framework, and I'm going to try to do it fairly briefly, then relate it to Jacqui's question, then very briefly.

Okay. So in the way that I would approach emptiness, or that I do approach emptiness, mostly, when I'm teaching it, three concepts are really important: (1) ways of looking, (2) fabrication, and (3) clinging. Three concepts. What do these three mean?

(1) Very briefly, a way of looking is really the way of relating to any experience. So it involves any thoughts I have, any thoughts I have about anything at all -- about myself, or about an object, or about time. Those could be conscious thoughts, or really subtle concepts, okay? It's partly the concept; it's partly my relationship with a thing -- if I'm pushing it away, or I want more of it, or more open, more closed, all kinds of things. So there's always a way of looking. When there's perception of anything, when there's experience of anything, when there's any appearance, the mind, so to speak, the citta, is always in some relationship or other. There's always a way of looking with that experience. And the amazing thing about human beings is that we can look at things -- and I don't mean visually; I mean we can sense things. 'Way of looking' is a shorthand term for all this: concept, relationship, the way we're sensing things. We can sense things in all kinds of different ways, and we can actually deliberately change and be flexible with our way of looking. So that's what I mean by 'way of looking.'

(2) Second concept: fabrication. 'Fabrication' means, if you like, the creation of our sense of experience, so that we notice that sometimes, for example, we are relating to things in a way that we're fabricating, we're creating more suffering. And sometimes we find a relationship with something that perhaps another time would have been difficult that brings less suffering. We're fabricating less suffering through our relating wisely, skilfully in the moment. But this notion of fabrication, we're open to what gets fabricated. It's not just suffering. It's also, we begin to notice, self gets fabricated, and actually, the whole of the world of experience, every aspect of the whole of the world of experience, not just my experience, or rather not just what I think of as me, but also the things out there are fabricated through the way of looking.

(3) The third concept is clinging. And by that I mean, at a gross level, obviously it's like, "No, no, no, don't leave me, don't leave me," or "I hate you -- go away" on a very gross level. But at a very subtle level, we're really talking about any kind of push and pull with experience. At an even subtler level, we're talking about something even beyond any sense of push and pull.

We start with these concepts, that there are different ways of looking, and we can have deliberate flexibility between ways of looking, and we can recognize, as well, that different ways of looking have, if you like, different amounts and degrees of clinging in them. Some ways of looking, some ways of relating, are very graspy, very contracted, very dualistic, etc., and some much less so, and some a lot less so. And not only in degree, but also in different kinds of way. In the way of exploring, we just start with these concepts: "As a human being, I can look at things differently. Let me see what effect that has on my experience." That's our starting point. "It's possible for the mind, the citta, to look at things differently, to relate differently. I'm going to experiment with that and see what the effects are."

And as I do that, I begin to notice, "Ah, the really interesting ways of looking are the ones that affect clinging, the ones that I can reduce clinging through the way of looking." And when I reduce clinging through those ways of looking, lo and behold, there is less fabrication of suffering. As I get into it more, I also find, "Oh, there's also less fabrication of self when I reduce clinging even more." And when I reduce clinging even more than that, there's less fabrication of the perception of the world, of this thing or that thing. So what we've got then is we just start with a really simple concept, that we can look at things differently at different times, and I'm keeping it completely open. It's an open experiment, and I just see: "What's the effect? Oh, that was interesting, less suffering. Let's see if I can develop ways of looking that let go of even more clinging, and even less suffering, and then even less self, and then even less world of perception."

So I'm basically following an open road, and I don't decide at the beginning where is this going to end. It's an open investigation. I mean, we all come at it with default assumptions. So for instance, a lot of people would come at this kind of exploration with basically, "Okay, so you're doing something in the brain. The brain is a real substratum -- neurophysiology is a real substratum, and there are real atoms out there," etc., "and that's the reality," and the whole thing is limited by that basic assumption.

What if I don't assume? I just, "I don't know. Let's see, let's see, let's see. Where is the end of this fabrication? Where is the limit of what's fabricated?" I'm not predeciding. And even if you've heard me or some other teacher say, "Everything is empty," don't believe it. Don't believe it yet. You're just taking this concept, and you're saying, "Okay, I get it." At a very simple -- when I'm completely bonkers in papañca, I see how much suffering, how much dukkha is fabricated. I sense how much self is fabricated. It's contracted, it's separate, it's solid. And I sense how real and dense a particular issue seems. And when I let go of that gross level of papañca, I see, "Oh, there's less fabrication of suffering, less fabrication of self, less fabrication of issue."

Now, some people would say, "Great -- basically then you're not fabricating at all in that state," and it might be a state of mindfulness, etc. We're going to say: "No, no, no, don't assume that. Don't put an end there. Let's see what else is possible. Just keep these basic ideas, these three basic ideas, and follow them, and follow them, and see where it ends. Keep it open-ended." But I have to be deliberate with the idea that it's open-ended, because otherwise the default assumptions -- either of what I've heard in the Dharma about being with what is, or 'things as they are,' or bare attention, or what I've absorbed growing up in Western culture about neurophysiology and the sort of scientific materialist world-view -- that will come in and it will block my exploration. It will put a limit to it. Does this make sense so far? Yeah?

I might have an experience, and I might be tempted to say, "Oh, I've let go of clinging. Now there's no clinging, and this must be the way things are. It must be the truth of things." But I don't know that until I've tried to go beyond it, because I might be able to go beyond it and then realize, "Oh, what I thought was independently existing, a truth that was independent of my way of looking, inherently existing," I start to realize, "Oh, I went beyond it. That, too, was still dependent on my way of looking." What I had felt I was, maybe for years, experiencing with mindfulness and bare attention, whatever, I realize, "Oh, that's not reality at all -- I've gone beyond that now," and so I have to keep it open, okay? That's really important.

At that level, then, what we mean by 'emptiness' is that a thing, this or that perception, whether it's a perception of self or personality or a thing or a body pain, it's fabricated. I see that through my way of looking, through my way of relating, this, let's say it's a pain or this sense of self or this personality, it does not get fabricated -- or another way of looking, it does fabricate. So what's the truth? The truth is it doesn't have an independent, inherent existence. It depends on the way of looking in the moment. That's what it means to be empty. It means, we could say, it's fabricated. At one level, emptiness and fabrication, they go together. This is empty, because it's fabricated by the way of looking. It's not something that exists inherently, independent of the way of looking. Does that make sense so far? Okay, thank you.

[23:43] So if I follow this, I'm following this thread, and I'm really being open-minded, I'm developing my skill at my range of way of looking, my range of ways of looking, but also the kind of -- what would you say? -- the power of different ways of looking. So some ways of looking are really very powerful in terms of their capacity to unfabricate things. I'm expanding widthwise, in terms of different ways of looking, and I'm getting more and more powerful in the different ways of looking. And eventually, I might, after a lot of practice, a lot of dedicated practice and care and all that, I might get to the point where nothing arises at all. Nothing. No bare object, no sense of subject, no awareness in the sense that we usually feel it, no time (not past, not future, not present), no space, no jhāna, nothing. The whole world of experience is not being fabricated. The Buddha calls it the Unfabricated, the asaṅkhata dhamma.

So I can follow this process, and I can go all the way to that, with a lot of practice and a lot of care and a lot of dedication. At that level, some people might want to call that -- what we call the Unfabricated or the Deathless or whatever we call that, the Unconditioned -- they might want to call that emptiness. So that's okay; that's one way of using it. And you think, "Oh, that's the truth, because that's what happens when the mind doesn't fabricate anything, and being Unfabricated, it's true -- it's just what is. Everything else is a fabrication." This whole world that we take for granted, that everyone agrees on, the self, and the whole world of all the elements, and perception, and time, and all that -- that's, if you like, an illusion, to some degree, an illusion dependent on the ways of looking, and particularly on different kinds of clinging.

So a lot of people say, "Okay, that's the end of practice." You've realized the Deathless, and here's your cigar, kind of thing. But actually, one can go even beyond that, okay? In the process of getting there, and it depends how you do it, but certainly the way I would outline it, you probably will have realized that time, too, the sense of time, the sense of the movement of time, or past, present, future, and each of those three, are empty too. They are also fabricated. We're saying time is empty, and what is fabricated is empty, because we just said that, and then you start, "Well, if time is empty ..." So the whole process of fabrication, it seems like something we're talking about as if it's a process happening in time. But time is empty, and what is fabricated is empty, so the whole notion of fabrication starts to dissolve. The whole thing starts to eat its tail. It's not a process happening in time, and nothing is really fabricated, so the whole notion of fabrication and the fabricated dissolves. It's empty. And the Unfabricated is really only in a dualistic relationship with what is fabricated. That whole hierarchy of "Unfabricated is more real or more fundamental than fabricated," that collapses, as well, and now you're at a whole other level. There's not really any fabrication, even though that was the raft, that was the whole concept and tool I'd used to get to that point. Then that raft just is dismantled.

[27:42] What am I left with at that point? I'm only left with the possibility of different ways of looking, and the whole range that I've developed of these beautiful, skilful ways of looking, and the possibility of more ways of looking beyond what I've already developed before. And there's no hierarchy of sacredness between the Unfabricated and fabricated. I've just got this freedom and permission to play with different ways of looking. That's where I'm left. Certainly some ways of looking will experientially fabricate less perception. Things will disappear when I engage a certain way of looking, and less so with other ways of looking. But everything's kind of become equalized in the most beautiful, sort of universally sacred way.

So then we've got to a place where, "What does emptiness mean then?" Emptiness means, in shorthand, there is not one real or true, inherently existing way anything is -- anything. Not me, not my body, not matter, not time, not this lamp, not anything at all, not any experience, not this pain in my body, not whatever it is. So that's what we get in the shorthand version of "What does emptiness mean?" Emptiness means the absence, the emptiness of, there being any one real, true, or inherently existing way anything is.

As I said, there are only ways of looking, and that range which is infinitely expandable, and we can play with that. So the whole investigation -- and that's going to take time, and also care and dedication -- it leads to that. Those ways of looking are empty, too, but they're still available as toys to play with, beautiful toys.

[29:51] So we say emptiness is the emptiness of inherent existence of anything. Another way of saying it, the other way around: everything depends on the way of looking. Nothing exists independently of the way of looking. Sometimes you hear people talking about emptiness say, "Okay, these words that I'm saying now are dependent on the food that I had for lunch, and the tofu, and the farmers that grew the tofu, and the soil and the sun and the rain that made the beans and the soybeans, and the people in the soy factory," and there's a kind of material contribution. So this talk now and your hearing of it is dependent on the material kind of coming together of all those material elements. And that's great, but we're talking about another level: the principal dependency is on the way of looking, it's on the citta, okay? So it's a whole other level.

And one starts to realize, as well, that emptiness actually is only a view. That, too, is only a view. So it's something that we pick up or put down, dependent on the situation, and what we need or what we feel we need in a situation. In Buddhadharma, everything is oriented to lessening suffering. In a certain situation, one might decide to see something or other as empty, or look in a certain way, recognizing the emptiness of something, and the suffering goes out of it. But in another situation or another kind of pain -- maybe it's an emotional pain, maybe it's a historical pain from my childhood, maybe it's this or that -- I don't want to see it as empty; actually I want something else from it, that needs me to consider it as real. So once I've gone through all this, I'm actually free to see things as empty when I want to, and to see things as not empty when I want to. That includes the self. So there's the place for the whole avenue of actually respecting the reality of the self -- not as ultimately true, but as something that we can engage in. And then there's a whole avenue of seeing that the self is empty, but the same is true of any element of experience.

[32:30] For instance, it's interesting, you know ... This is the understanding of Buddhadharma that I would put out. It's like this playing with ways of looking that are liberating, that free us from suffering, and so it's very connected with the Four Noble Truths, suffering and the end of suffering. If we open it to Soulmaking Dharma, then in a way it includes that, but actually I might have slightly different intentions for relating in different ways and playing with different ways of looking, and it's not primarily, sometimes, about reducing my suffering; it might be to open up the soulmaking. Maybe they end up being the same intention, but maybe they end up being different intentions. So anyway, we have this flexibility, and the flexibility of ways of looking includes the way of looking of emptiness. We're not then stuck with a view of emptiness: "I always have to see the self as empty. I always have to dissolve the self or ignore it or belittle the self." We have the freedom to explore and relate in different ways, and to me, that's absolutely crucial. It's part of the freedom, to have that range.

So when we explain things this way, then actually we're better off using the word 'empty,' rather than 'emptiness,' because 'emptiness' is a noun, and it tends to suggest some kind of thing or space or experience that we have, whereas 'empty' as an adjective is something that describes. It's something that's true about any experience. Do you understand? If I say emptiness, people [inaudible] a big empty space, as Jacqui was describing in some of her experiences. But to say "this or that is empty" is different. It's an understanding I have about things, about what arises. So it's an adjectival use, rather than a noun use.

[34:30] Okay? So if I repeat all that very briefly, we're taking three concepts: ways of looking, fabrication, and clinging. And those are open concepts. In terms of what clinging means, I get to see, "Oh, it's much subtler than what I thought," for example. There are open concepts, but then I just see, "What's the effect of playing with these three concepts and joining them together? Where does it go? Where does it stop?" And I keep it open-ended, and I start to see, "Oh, wow, certain ways of looking fabricate less, because they have less clinging in them," I start to realize. "Oh, if I keep going with that, where does it go, where does it go, where does it go?" And I start to realize, basically, what appears, whether it's so-called inside or outside, what appears depends on the way of looking, and I just follow that. And that's the very short version. I realize, because everything is dependent on the way of looking, it's empty of existing independently of the way of looking. It's empty of an inherent existence. And that's very, very liberating, and very beautiful.

[35:40] Some of you, if you're interested, if you're relating all that to my book, Seeing That Frees, the structure of the book basically just follows that thread. It explains it at first. In the first three or four chapters, it explains about ways of looking and fabrication, etc., and the preface. Then there's a little bit about samādhi, which we need when we're doing emptiness practice for all kinds of good reasons. And then it just starts to go through, in this order, but woven into it are some other kinds of approaches. So basically it is just following that approach that I just outlined, very slowly, with different practices at different levels, and talking about the understanding, bringing this larger conceptual framework to bear on the actual exercises and meditations. But woven into that, like a kind of spiral around it, is a different approach where you use what's called analytical meditation, because some people are actually helped with that and it adds to their kind of conviction of things being empty or it works better for them. But the basic thread right through it is what I've just described there about ways of looking, fabrication, and clinging.

[36:58] Let's backtrack now. If I don't have this conceptual framework about ways of looking and fabrication and clinging -- and just to pick on anything that people say to me regularly, or something from Jacqui's email -- let's say I have an experience of a vast, empty awareness, but I don't have this conceptual framework as a backing, about ways of looking and fabrication and clinging. What's going to happen? What's going to happen in my relationship to that vast awareness with nothing in it? One way or another, I'm going to interpret it somehow. And if I don't have that conceptual framework to interpret it, I'm going to interpret it, "Well, this sounds like what I've heard in the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra," or "This sounds like when I heard that Dharma talk, or so-and-so was saying. It sounds like when I heard that teacher," and it actually is what that teacher says is emptiness, or what they seem to be saying or whatever. So I think, "Oh, this is emptiness."

There's no framework for framing the experience and understanding it. We could go through Jacqui's email -- all these lovely and sometimes she says scary or just weird experiences, whatever, but a lot of them are lovely, and we could go through that, and you see that without the conceptual framework, I'm lost. How do I even put them in order? What do I make sense of? Are they different things? Is one of them the real emptiness and others not? Is this one more important than that one? Is that one completely not on the right track? I have no way of -- what she writes at the beginning -- no way of kind of making it cohesive or coherent. There's not even a direction. Which way forward? Am I going forward now or backwards? Is this deeper or ...? It was weirder, it was more scary -- is that good, is it bad? I have no way of knowing. Do you understand? How important the conceptual framework is to give us bearings, to comprehend, to digest, to actually make liberating different experiences, to make them liberating, to allow them to be liberating. It's not at all that these states which Jacqui describes and other people might describe -- we have loads of different states we can get into, beautiful and far out -- it's not at all to say they're worthless, not at all, but the question is, what is their worth? What is their worth? So, for example, that vast awareness, or we could pick any of what she says, "a vast blackness," "a void," whatever, what is its worth? It has a triple worth, okay?

[39:49] (1) One is in the moment, there's a reduction of suffering. Now, sometimes it's a little bit complicated because you get to a new state like a big black void, and it's scary, so it feels like it increases suffering. We can pick up on questions like that, if you like -- how to work with fear, and how to approach the whole process so it's not so scary, because you're actually approaching it gradually. You're not jumping in suddenly in a deep end; it's actually going quite gradually, so it's less scary. But still, generally speaking, the first worth of the triple worth is that there's less suffering. They're states of liberation in that moment. This vast awareness opens up, and it feels so freeing, so peaceful, so liberatingly dissolving of self.

(2) Second worth in this triple worth of any state is it's mystically beautiful, okay? There's a mystical beauty to a lot of these states. Again, sometimes it might take a little getting used to. It might not be obvious at first, but as you learn to hang out with less fear, as you open to a certain state and get used to it, less fear, more beauty, more depth of being, and the depth of the world is sensed there. This is priceless. Second worth is a mystical depth and beauty that opens up, the sacredness, the depth of being and the depth of the world.

(3) But the third worth is what I was talking about before. It's relatively liberating dependent on my understanding of the conceptual framework. Okay, here's this vast, empty space, but when I start, "Oh, I see, it's a state of profound non-fabrication." There's a lot less fabrication there, and this state is arising because the citta is not fabricating through its way of looking right now, because there's significantly less clinging. Is it the end of the road, the Unfabricated? No. I mean, the answer is no, but basically in terms of the conceptual framework, I'm keeping it open. But I've got that conceptual framework which interprets what is going on in terms of this much larger thread of ways of looking and clinging and fabrication. The final understanding about emptiness, as we said before, is about ways of looking. It's not about a certain state. Every state needs to be interpreted in terms of ways of looking and fabrication, otherwise I'm going to get disoriented, or I'm going to think I'm finished when I'm not, or, you know, a million other problems.

[42:50] So, triple worth: less suffering in the moment, mystical beauty, depth, sacredness, etc., and thirdly, relative liberation if I understand and if I relate it to the conceptual framework (ways of looking, fabrication, less clinging).

So I'm not really interested in kind of scholastic quibbling about "What's the real meaning of emptiness?" Even in the Pali Canon, it's interesting: there are at least two ways the Buddha uses the word 'emptiness' -- at least two, and they're different. But then once you start adding Mahāyāna and the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras or the Heart Sūtra, which actually I've thought for a long time has got some mistakes in the Sanskrit, or something has gone on weird there, which a scholar wrote to me a while ago and was saying the same thing. Or you get to some of the Tibetan practices, Shentong and things like that, they're using the word 'emptiness' in very different ways. Partly what we've inherited as Western contemporary Buddhists is we get teachings already mishmashing all these different usages of the word 'emptiness.' So it would be highly unusual not to be confused, because we've inherited teachings, we hear Dharma talks, we read books where they all get mixed together -- not to say better or worse or anything like that, but it's actually not that helpful to a kind of really, truly, deeply liberating understanding.

[44:30] Okay, so, like I said, something like the book, Seeing That Frees, you could do all the practices in there without understanding the conceptual framework or bringing that conceptual framework to bear, and for many of the practices, just doing them, you're going to get all kinds of amazing experiences or strange experiences, far out. They might feel great, they might feel a little scary. But you can also not get much liberation, because you haven't been bringing the basic conceptual framework understanding. There's so much importance to the sort of fine detail of emptiness practices and really the fine-tuning of the nuts and bolts of practice, but also this, you know, huge importance of the big picture.

[45:32] That's what I wanted to say based on Jacqui's question. I think in terms of what I've said so far, we don't actually need to go back and read it again. Seems like that made sense, did it? Did it? Yeah. It's unusual. What I'm presenting here is unusual. And some of you are really familiar because you've heard me go on and on and on about it, but it's pretty unusual, and secondly, it seems very hard for people to sort of retain it or really digest it, for whatever reason that is -- I don't know. So it might be you feel a bit confused now. It might be you feel completely clear. But my experience teaching is that it's actually very hard to retain that whole conceptual framework and that view and that understanding of what one is doing, and apply it in a way that really, really gets the most out of it and liberates. But yeah, I think we've sort of addressed Jacqui's question, and hopefully she'll watch the video and that will be helpful to her as well.

[46:51] So let's open it up now. If you want to ask a question about practice, it doesn't need to be anything to do with what I've just said. It just felt like that's an important piece too. So it could be about something else entirely, or some aspect of technique or something, absolutely, so please don't feel obliged to connect it to what we've just talked about. I have another question. It's a more detailed question, so I might weave that in later if I have time.

And then, again, just an encouragement, if you feel shy asking a question, which is very, very common, please know that it's almost certain that your question is going to be helpful to someone else; it's highly unlikely that it's not. So just the encouragement to ask, if you do have something you want to ask. Okey-dokey.

Oh, so someone's writing: "Would you rather we press the 'raise hand' button or write the question?" I think I can see you all. Are you on two screens or one screen? I think I can see you if you raise your hand, so that's good enough, I think. I'll have to navigate between two screens, but I'm pretty sure I can do that. So does anyone have any questions there? Yeah, Farshid?

Q1: Chandrakīrti's sevenfold reasoning

Yogi: [48:24] Thank you for your wonderful book, Rob. I'm rereading it for the manyth time. You mentioned nuts and bolts. I have a nuts and bolts question about Chandrakīrti's sevenfold reasoning. In practice, how do you do it? I've read your explanation in the book, at least that chapter, but how do you go about it in an actual practice? Do you go, like, first point and first aggregate, let's take that apart, and then first point, second aggregate, and so on and so on, very methodically, one by one? Is there a more wholistic approach? How would you suggest? I realize you said to improvise, but still, what's your basic recommendation as to a technique? [inaudible]

Rob: Yeah. My basic one is to improvise! But I'll say more. Thank you. I mean, there is, if I remember -- you know, I used to know the book inside out, and I've completely forgotten [laughs], but if I remember, at the end of that chapter, which I think is Chapter 17 (I've pulled it off the shelf for this session tonight), is a sort of 'how to do it' in practice. So not just in the box at the end, but there's actually a whole section. It's called "Working in Meditation." But maybe that hasn't been helpful to you so far. So I wouldn't, for instance, go one aggregate, one reasoning. No, I wouldn't do that. You have to find out what you need individually. It might be, for instance -- I'm making this up -- you tend to get snagged around one aggregate. So the usual one is consciousness, but it could be anything. And it could actually be historically that the aggregates, the whole teaching of the aggregates, arose because at the time of the Buddha, those were the kind of usual teachings about what the real self was, and so the Buddha was kind of filling it out -- because it's kind of a strange system of, like, dividing up what a human being is, you know. Modern people, you wouldn't do it that way. But anyway, you might tend to get snagged on one particular one, so you might focus in on just that aggregate and go through each of the seven reasonings with just one aggregate. But in a way, although that could be very powerful, that's still only a preliminary exercise. Then you want to take that aggregate and do the sevenfold reasoning with all the five aggregates together -- the sevenfold reasoning in relation to the five aggregates at once. Yeah?

In terms of the order, you don't need to go through those seven reasonings in any order. You can completely make that up. It's up to you. What you do want to go through is all of them, and you want to have this very clear, what's technically called 'ascertaining the pervasion,' which means that I'm really clear that if it's not in any of those seven kind of forms or manifestations, it must be empty. That's a piece that really needs to be there as well. In a way, I need to find my weak points, my points where I'm not quite convinced, and in my armchair or walking in the woods or whatever, I mull it over, mull it over, mull it over, and I have to come up with my own reason which might not be in my book. It might be you read it somewhere else. It might be your own reason, "Ah, that works for me -- that reason works for me about that corner of it." So you have to really find -- it's very personal. You have to find what works for you, makes me feel convinced: "Yeah, that convinces me."

When you take it into meditation, at first it might all be very clunky: "Okay, first I'm focusing on my sense of self, then I'm ascertaining the pervasion, making sure, yeah, has to be in each of these, then I'm going through in order, these things with the five aggregates, and then I'm ascertaining, reminding myself of ascertaining the pervasion, and then I see what happens." And that all might feel like, "Ah, that takes ages, and it's really clunky." It probably will, but what can happen -- and it depends on the intellectual conviction beforehand, which could have taken really quite a while, and be very verbose or whatever. In time, the practice gets very, very quick, really quick. It's very agile and very light. You're kind of playing with these concepts and zipping through this thing, and most of it is not about the reasoning. Most of it becomes about you go through the reasoning, and you actually feel if the self is what you're aiming at (because it could be something else; it could be, as I said, one aggregate, it could be a moment of time, it could be your car, whatever it is), that thing starts to disappear, you know, and then you're actually focusing on that. And that disappearance, again, has to be tied into a smaller conceptual framework, which is it's empty. This disappearance, it's pregnant with the meaning of its emptiness. So, in time, the whole kind of intellectual bit gets really quick, very agile, really like a kind of -- I'm reminded of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Did you see that?

Yogi: Yes.

Rob: Like floating around, all this kung fu, it's like, it's very, very light and agile and can be really, really quick. And so you're going through that, and then most of it is just on the sense of the emptiness -- in this sense, actually emptiness as a noun, an empty space that opens up -- but with the meaning. It's really got this meaning of, like, "Whoa, it's really empty." Yeah? But, again, it's really not cerebral at that point. It's not intellectual. At this point, things have really gotten very non-verbal, and it's really a direct experience of emptiness, kind of pregnant, wordlessly, with that sense of the emptiness of whatever it is that I was aiming at.

And then one's just meditating on that. And then I might need to top that up, but that topping up might be really, really quick and very agile. Practise, you know. The two things are, practice makes ... I don't know if there's such a thing as perfect, but practice makes better. And individual, your order, your arguments that convince you. In emptiness practice, everything depends ultimately on what's going to convince you, not what's going to convince this person next to you or that person. So we really have to go with what makes a difference for me, because I'm going to be living my life based on my realization of emptiness. It needs to convince me. That what convinces me doesn't convince the next person, is their problem, not mine. That what convinces them doesn't convince me, is my problem. I need to figure out what convinces me. Yeah?

And then mixed with all that is, as usual, just how much kind of samādhi is needed right now, because the samādhi helps in so many ways. You know, this can become really, like, liquid and airy, the whole thing, and very light and very agile, and will go deeper when there's more samādhi, but sometimes you don't need that much. So that's also an improvised factor. It's like, just how much right now is needed? So, all of that -- not just improvised, but experimental. Yeah? You have to find out for yourself. Is this answering what you're asking?

Yogi: Yes, it does answer my question, and it's very helpful, because you gave me a progression to look for.

Rob: Okay.

Yogi: And you like fit it sort of in vipassanā terms.

Rob: Good.

Yogi: I can make sense of that.

Rob: Good, very good, Farshid. Yeah.

Yogi: Thank you very much.

Rob: Okay, thank you, I'm pleased. Yeah.

Q2: fear and anxiety that arises alongside sense of wonder, etc., in emptiness practice

Rob: [56:25] I'm just going to scroll between screens. Dayajoti has got her hand up. Yeah, please.

Yogi: Hi, Rob. The short version of my question is I get quite a lot of fear and anxiety in different forms, but consistently, I get it with different ways of looking, different emptiness ways of looking. And I'm wondering, is that, anxiety and fear, does that indicate that there's some lack of understanding there? Does it indicate nihilism? What I find confusing about it is that it can be arising together with other things, like the heart opening, object fading, you know, sense of wonder, and then there's this fear which has a sort of consistent flavour. It's not like really intense, but it's a queasiness, and it just seems to have been consistent over quite a long period of time. It doesn't feel like it's particularly moving on, but it's mixed in with other stuff. Is it an indicator of some kind of "something's not being understood"?

Rob: Thank you for your question. It's really important. Do you feel like it's holding back your practice?

Yogi: Yeah.

Rob: Yeah, okay.

Yogi: I mean, it's in the context of a more general -- there's quite a lot going on with fear. I mean, that particular flavour has been there for a long time, and then more recently there's another flavour which I think is hormone-related.

Rob: Okay, yeah.

Yogi: Anyway, there's a lot of it going on, but this is ...

Rob: So in other words, fear is coming up, and it's not just in your formal emptiness meditation practice?

Yogi: Yeah, but what comes in the emptiness meditation has this particular flavour.

Rob: [58:47] Yeah, yeah. So, it's quite common, and it's really important. You know, there are other systems which I know less about, where they actually -- I shouldn't say, because I actually don't know much about them -- but it's actually kind of mapped out, you know, and it's related to sort of early childhood fears and things like that. But I don't know much about that -- like this is the kind of fear that happens with emptiness for a person with this childhood history or something like that. But I'm just mentioning it; I don't know much about it, but I know that that kind of scheme exists in other non-Buddhist traditions.

I think, yeah, maybe just briefly, the two places to approach it might be, one, as you say, in terms of understanding, but the other is just in terms of attention in practice. Let's take the second one first, attention. Actually, I'll say a third thing, and that relates to what we just said with Farshid about how much samādhi or mettā are in the mix. Okay? So that's the first point: that one of the functions of samādhi and mettā practice as kind of balancing an ongoing exploration of emptiness practice is that it really does soften the field, so that whatever opens up in terms of emptiness, through emptiness practice, is actually in a much more cushioned, soft, loving field. So that may not be the issue, but I'm just mentioning it.

Yogi: [1:00:43] Can I just say something about that? The fear itself is a factor in lessening the samādhi.

Rob: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Yogi: It still does arise, even when the lens is a mettā emptiness lens, it seems to still arise.

Rob: It arises when you do mettā practice?

Yogi: I mean, some of the lenses, the ways of looking that I use are like a blend of, they're mettāful.

Rob: Yeah, yeah. No, I guess I meant more completely samādhi or completely mettā without mixing, that just putting that in the mix, like way, way more than we would think. It's a really curious thing. I think people really underestimate the power of samādhi. So I'm not saying this is what's going on with you, because we're talking to a bunch of people, and it's just really important to put it out there. If I do 90 per cent samādhi and 10 per cent emptiness practices, that's not necessarily out of balance. Okay? There's something about what washes over the being and comforts the being. And also because samādhi and mettā practices are progressively unfabricating, I'm also gradually getting used to states of less fabrication through that.

[1:02:00] So one possibility for people -- again, it may not be your issue, Dayajoti -- but is just much more samādhi and mettā in the mix. It's like just soothing the being, soothing and soothing, and opening up the space. Whatever space then opens up in terms of emptiness is kind of in a context of softness and love, etc., that really permeates the cells, and that does have an effect.

That's one thing. The second thing is in terms of attention when fear arises. And again, it's in my book. If one wants to look it up in the index, you'd probably find different entries. But you've got kind of a few different choices when the fear arises. One is to give attention to the fear itself, to actually let go of whatever emptiness practice you're doing, especially if the fear is intense, and just give that a wholehearted attention -- but in skilful ways. Because we can give fear attention in really unskilful ways, or it can be given attention in really skilful ways. That means I have to know a few things in my repertoire to relate to the fear in a way that kind of calms it and helps. Yeah?

But as you say, the fear often arises in the context of a lot of other qualities. There is, as you say, there's wonder, and I've forgotten what you said, the heart opening and all that. So it's like, it's a strange thing: fear is one kind of mix within the cauldron. This is very, very normal. And if we get into even a slightly unskilful relationship with the fear, then the attention is drawn to the fear or trying to keep it away. Either way is 'clinging' in my language: it's either sucked in and tussling, or pushing away and still tussling. So there's a clinging in relationship to the fear. But that can exacerbate things, you know -- even if I'm kind of keeping it at bay, it exacerbates things. So we really want to find skilful ways of working, of relating to the fear.

But one possibility is acknowledging it's there, acknowledging it's there as part of the mix, and then very, very gently -- I'm not trying to get rid of it, I'm not ignoring it, but I'm actually just gently inclining the attention to something lovely in the mix. There might be some pleasure, there might be some heart opening or beauty or whatever. And actually giving more attention to that, and letting the mind, letting those qualities kind of soak in and enjoy them, usually has, over time, the effect of dissolving the fear. It will happen in the moment, partly because what we give attention to is what gets fabricated, and so it's fabricating those lovely qualities more -- it's drawing them out of the mix in the kind of alchemy of attention. But secondarily, it's doing something else, which is, over time, it's teaching the mind and the heart and the body, "Oh, this is good. There's good stuff here. I'm feeling it in my cells," because I'm actually paying attention to that lovely stuff, the pleasure or whatever or the heart opening. And it's teaching the cells, "Oh, this is good," and gradually I can trust more and more, and the fear subsides. Yeah?

[1:05:42] So that's the second possibility. We're talking about very delicate -- we'll really use the phrase 'inclining the attention,' as opposed to yanking it or forcing it to stay on something rather than something else. It's really just tuning to something more than I'm tuning to something else, and in that tuning, enjoying it more, feeling the loveliness more. That will have an effect -- both an immediate effect and a long-term effect. But sometimes this thing is gradual, and even if a person sometimes has fear at one level in emptiness practice, the whole thing can then just repeat when things get even deeper and fade more. It's almost like, "Now I have to get used to it at this other level, where things are really ..." Like Jacqui says, this black void opens up, and it's like, "Okay, I was okay at that level." Sometimes people get fear just in the first jhāna, you know. It's all quite intense, and then this black void is way deeper, and you have to kind of, "I've dealt with my fear at that level, and I got used to that, and now, here I am at this level," and the whole process has to repeat. So that's also fairly normal, but you have the confidence of having done it at one level that you can kind of work.

[1:06:49] And then the third aspect is, and you mentioned this in your question, is it something to do with the conception that's operating? And you mentioned nihilism. But it could also be -- yeah, nihilism, reification, it's almost like they're two sides of the same coin. So do you have a sense there of something lurking or operating? Do you have a sense, or just a more vague idea that it's possible?

Yogi: I don't really have a sense of where the gap in understanding is. Sometimes I find that it's helpful to bring a lens of fullness, the fullness of things, so they're full of all these conditions. I find that really helpful, but the fear is still there with that as well.

Rob: [1:07:42] Okay, yeah. It may be something conceptual lurking, and remember, there will be something conceptual lurking, because that's what avijjā is. Avijjā as fundamental delusion means you can pretty much assume that in any moment of consciousness, unless you're a Buddha, there's some lurking concept that's reifying something or other, okay, or got slightly out of balance in terms of its view of emptiness. Sometimes those go together. What can happen is I'm meditating, and I'm looking at the emptiness of X, whatever X is, and I haven't realized, but the self that's looking at that has kind of slightly become more real -- or rather, I'm retaining a sense of the real self is now confronted with the emptiness of this, as opposed to the self is empty as well. Sometimes it might be just getting a sense of, "Oh, is the self reified at this point?" Now, what you don't want to do is then go trying to bash that self over the head and get rid of it, because you'll just drive yourself crazy like a dog chasing its own tail, sort of thing. But this is what can often happen is that there's a vantage point of a real self that feels threatened by seeing the emptiness either of a part of itself or some other aspect of reality, something like that.

[1:09:12] So that's one possibility. Another possibility, and you alluded to it, is nihilism -- that somewhere in the back of the mind is this sense of, "Well, if that's empty and if everything's empty, it's all meaningless and it's all worthless," or something like that. And sometimes that's not fully conscious. It can be a very, very subtle imbalance. We talk about the Middle Way of emptiness. It's really the Middle Way between nihilism (nothing exists and nothing matters and all that), or reificationism. And that Middle Way is right in between the two, and it's a really, really subtle, narrow razor's edge. As you go deeper into emptiness, at any point, we're going to wobble, you know. Sometimes we wobble both sides. Sometimes people have a habit of wobbling mostly to one side -- the nihilism or mostly to the reification, it doesn't matter. But what we should do -- and it might have to do with tying it in with the conceptual framework, you know? It's understanding, "Oh, if something's empty in the way that we've talked about it, it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist at all. It actually means something very beautiful." So you used the word 'fullness.' We could say that the heart/mind, the citta's participation in being, the participation in the way things are, the participation in things, in reality, is so intimate, it goes even beyond what the word 'intimate' can connote. It's so woven in, so dependent, so mutually implicative, so mutually bound together. This notion of participation -- it's not unreal, and it might be something like that actually brings you nearer to a Middle Way, and further away from nihilism or something like this sense of, "Oh nothing really exists."

But I would expect anyone doing emptiness practice to wobble, and to have a side that they usually wobble to, that's their normal kind of tendency or whatever. As we go deeper, the wobbling gets less and less. But again, none of this kind of necessarily happens automatically. It needs us to sort of think about things or rebalance things or just change the sort of sense of what we're doing more to recognize, "Oh, there's participation," for example. But in time, it can get less and less, and then this kind of, the pain of nihilism -- it really is a dukkha. Dukkha is in nihilism but it's also in reification. Either way off the Middle Way is dukkha. The Middle Way is the liberating one. We wobble less, and it gets less because we're kind of taking care, taking care of it. But it could be, I don't actually know, but it could be that there's some either nihilism or partial reification going on, as I said, that are actually kind of going on without us really being aware of it, and that's having an effect. I don't know, and it's a long time since you and I actually spoke at any length, so I don't kind of know, but it could be any of those three things: the samādhi/mettā, the attention, the care with the attention, or let's say, the conceptual.

[1:12:29] And then one last thing. I mean, you mentioned hormones and things like that, so, you know, certainly hormonally, but for other reasons at different times in our lives, sometimes the organism really can get into a kind of groove where it's just generating a certain, let's say, energetic state. And that energetic state can very easily become anxiety. Okay? It's not necessarily, in itself, an anxiety, but it's just a slight grabbing hold of it in an unhelpful way -- really, really subtle. It becomes anxiety. What was just a kind of buzz or tremor in the energy can become anxiety. And sometimes different things are going on in a person's life. I remember, decades ago, that I also got into a phase where there was just a sort of looping of anxiety. I mean, it was to do with other stuff, but it was almost as if the organism couldn't find its way out of that groove. And so in some ways, this may or may not have that much to do with emptiness, and how you're seeing it or what you're doing, but kind of even knowing that that's a groove -- it's not necessarily anxiety, but it's a certain energy, especially if it's hormonal, you know. Even just that view, then I've got a slightly different view of what's arising, because when I label it 'anxiety,' it actually becomes anxiety. So again, we see a fabrication thing: the label can tend to kind of cohere something. So I just mention that as a possibility, as well, because it sounded like it was a part of what's going on.

So that's a lot of territory. I don't know, hopefully something in there is helpful. Yeah? Do you want to say anything more, or ...?

Yogi: No, just thank you very much. I think the stuff about the "there will be avijjā in there," that's really helpful.

Rob: Yeah, there absolutely will be, and that's the deal. I mean, that's part of the whole understanding. Yeah, good.

Q3: tension and confusion around contraction occurring alongside openings with emptiness and other practices

Rob: [1:14:50] Lauren, is that Derek with his hand up? Derek, yeah.

Yogi: Hi.

Rob: Hi Derek.

Yogi: Recently, I've been sort of going back and playing with vedanā, and then having the allowing practice and anattā, kind of bringing that in as I'm playing with vedanā, in the body and various senses of energetic contraction in the body. And in particular, I've been exploring my relationship that I've had for some time with contraction in my throat, in particular, and in that area. And recently, there's been a lot of dynamism with it, and a lot of shifting and opening at times, and I'm just watching it come and go a bit.

So there'll be a lot of opening and a lot of sense of release, and that'll feel nice, and then I won't have an experience of it completely going, I guess. But it feels like things are very dynamic, and it feels like things are moving, and I feel excited about that. But then I'll sort of go back to my life after practising and sitting a bit, and I'm kind of playing with it in my work, too, as we've talked about, and some of the work that I'm doing out in the world. But I guess the point of my question is that I feel some tension around how I'll have some opening -- and I guess I maybe am impatient or something, I don't know -- I'll have some opening, and I'll at times feel some ease with that, but then at times it feels like I'm more sensitive, or I'll have like a reaction of the reification, or I'll find things a bit more challenging for a time. And I don't know, sometimes that can feel a bit confusing. I'll feel more reactive, like a habit pattern will come in a bit stronger, it seems, after I've been doing some emptiness practice. Yeah, so does that make sense as a question?

Rob: It makes partial sense, thank you. Do you mean you're generally more sensitive after you do emptiness practice? Or this particular contraction that you're talking about comes back and you notice it more, or ...?

Yogi: Yeah, yeah, I think the contraction, it's just I notice it more like you're saying -- the second one. And yeah, it's hard to get out of a sense of battling with it, even when I've had, it's felt like I've had some success in seeing the emptiness of it for a time.

Rob: [1:19:10] Yeah. So, thank you. Yeah, this is really important. This is really, really important. It's very easy to, either when we hear about emptiness in this method that I'm talking about, or this approach that I'm talking about, or when we have some experiences of something, as you say, getting looser or dissolving, some difficulty, it's really easy that the sense of what we're doing gets tipped, and in terms of those triple -- what did I call them? -- triple worth, the first one gets promoted over the other two, and that's a mistake. Okay? In other words, what happens, our emptiness practice becomes a way that we're trying to be free of a certain dukkha forever: "This contraction or this pain -- it should go away," and we're using the practice in what's actually, let's say, the least worthy of its three worths, and something's flipped in the league table there. And that becomes the primary reason of what we're trying to do.

So, it's weird -- emptiness, if I understand it right, if I approach it right, it brings a kind of global liberation. In the moment that I'm applying it, it can bring liberation from this particular dukkha -- this contraction dissolves, this pain in my back dissolves, whatever it is. But that's not the point of it. Okay? It might be, it might be that, I don't know what percentage of people, that a certain habitual contraction then just dissolves, but that's actually not the point. Because we tend to think, first of all, it feels good, "Ah, this thing's annoying me, and now it's gone, which is great. Hopefully it can go forever." And secondly, we think, "Well, practice is about reducing suffering, and now it's back." It might come back even more because one has given attention to it, and has actually become more sensitive to its micro-movements and paid attention to it -- all of which is feeding the attention on it, so one notices it more and notices its gradations more, etc. So that's all very understandable, very understandable in terms of experience, but also in terms of the flip of priorities there.

So the point, as I would say it, if I had to put those three things in order, those three words in order, the bottom, prize number three, goes to reducing suffering in the moment. Desperate as I might be at any time to get rid of this suffering, it's still third in the league table. Second in the league table, in my view, comes the universal liberation, and a whole different relationship with things. That's second in the league table, in my view. First in the league table, in my view, is the opening to beauty and sacredness. But you're free to make your league table however you want it.

If you do flip it the other way around, and this getting rid of suffering in the moment becomes the primary thing, you know, good luck to you, because it's not designed to do that. The Buddha, you know -- go back to the Pali Canon -- in his old age, suffered with a bad back. Could he meditate in certain ways that that pain disappeared? Of course he could, but when he wasn't meditating, when he wasn't working with it directly, he had a bad back. He experienced a bad back in old age. This is, again, we come back to this idea of, "What am I doing here? What's the purpose? How does it all fit together?" We're talking about emptiness tonight -- same thing goes for Soulmaking Dharma, the same thing goes for mettā, the same thing goes for anything: it's like, do I understand the framework of what I'm doing, and in a way that that framework really empowers what I'm doing and makes it cohere and cohesive, and makes sense, and gives me a sense of direction and all that? Yeah?

I remember a year retreat, and I had almost constant kind of difficulty with my intestines -- certain part of my intestines contracting and stuff. From a certain point of view, it's there, and it would release, and da-da-da, but I was more relating to it as, "What can I learn here about dependent arising?", not "I want this thing to go away. I want to have a day where there's no contraction in that portion of the colon," or whatever it was. Sometimes these most difficult things, these kind of chronic areas of contraction, are the place where we actually learn the most, because they're just always there, and I'm always having to deal with it, in a way, or I take it as an object. But I have to be looking at the whole, framing the whole thing in the right way. Do you understand?

Yogi: Yeah, yeah.

Rob: So it's difficult, but actually it could be a real gift if I relate to it in the right way.

Yogi: Thanks. That's very helpful.

Rob: Okay, very good. I'm conscious of time. It's nine o'clock. I know we were late starting because of the technical issues. I would like to take some more questions, but I feel like people probably have different schedules and have made arrangements, etc., so I'm wondering, I'm wondering if it's best to ... Robert is writing me a note right now. Ah, he says, "It may be worth mentioning that there may be other emptiness clinics in the future -- inshallah."

So yeah, that's a good thing to say. Yeah, I'm sorry. I know there were several questions -- I had one written down here from Suzanne that was actually an important question, but I think we'll end now. Two things: one is I may do some emptiness clinics in the future, group interviews about emptiness practice. It's certainly a possibility, all being well with my health. The second thing is that there is a drop-in internet group starting on November 7^th^, led by five of my teacher trainees: Susy, Yahel, Sari, Nathan, and Juha. Some of you will know some of them, some not. And it's going to be on the first and third Thursday of every month, starting on November 7^th^, from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. UK time. It's a drop-in group, so it's not a structured thing, this one. There may be a structured thing later. I think you can find details at Is that right, Nathan?

Nathan: Yeah, that's right,

Rob: For some of you, you know, think about that. That may well be very helpful if you're available at that time. Sorry about the technical difficulty at the beginning. I think we need to respect the time, though, that we agreed on, and I may well do one specifically on emptiness practice in the future, and there's this drop-in group that's starting quite soon. Okay, so let's just have a little silence together to end.

Okay, thank you all very much, and lovely to see you and to be with you tonight. Take care.

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry