ymd18: Emptiness as unsurpassable protection

CC BY-NC-ND by jbartok
CC BY-NC-ND by jbartok


This week let’s wrap our head around  Lojong slogan 14:

Seeing confusion as the Buddha kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection. 

This seems like mumbo-jumbo at first, so let’s unpack this.


As We Open to Life in Meditation

As we become more open to our life as it is with our on-going mediation practice, we come to see how much debris there is on the surface of our mind. It’s like that expanse in the Pacific Ocean covered with plastic debris, which I recall reading is the size of Texas.

When we sit and open to the mind as it is, doesn’t it seem like an endless expanse of debris, of flotsam and jetsam, at least at times? Am I the only one with this experience?

So what is this slogan trying to tell us? What is shunyata and what kind of protection can it give us?

We need I to go back and steep in the teachings and practices in the very early slogans, numbers 3, 4 and 5. These present the heart of meditation:

Examine the nature of unborn awareness; self-liberate even the antidote; and rest in the nature of alaya, the nature of all.

When we follow these instructions, and know the depth of meaning they reveal, we are liberated from the confusion of the surface layer of debris covering the ocean of our mind and see below the surface. We don’t need to go that far down to see the clear, fathom-less expanse of mind, or pure presence, of freedom.

We see the confusion in our mind as the “Buddha kayas” – the Buddha expressions or Buddha emanations, or dimensions of Buddha mind – and seeing those we see into the sacred nature of our everyday and see that as radiant, clear and empty.

Resting in this perfect freedom, suffering has no place go gain a foothold. This is the ultimate protection.

Seeing the empty dimension underlying life is the gateway to freedom.

A Tantric Attidude

The teachings in these three early points are often undertaken with a tantric attitude, meaning a vajrayana view, which is a certain way of looking at human experience.

There are some views on Buddhist practice that work from the outside in: we work with our so-called defilements, trying to wear them down, starving them by adhering to ethical guidelines, working with problematic emotional patterns until we remove them entirely and reveal our fundamental nature, and with thorough-going work we  eventually “achieve” enlightenment.

In the tantric view the process is the opposite: we begin with the end in mind. We go straight to the core of our fundamental nature, which is always and already here, free and luminous, with no-place for suffering take root, from the the get go.

We see the fundamental freedom that is our foundation at the start of our journey.

But let’s not be fooled into believing that this approach is some kind of magical ticket to nirvana.

It’s simply a different approach. Rather than working from the outside in, we work from the inside out.

This is an inside job

Even though we focus on diving straight through the debris on the surface our ocean-like mind, and play in the clear waters of our unfathomable nature, we still have to under the slow journey of transformation, just like everyone else.

As all or stuff is still there on the surface – our neurosis, fears, anxieties, weird behavioral loops, all of it.

I love this shirt teaching by a contemporary Korean Zen master:

Buddha and sentient beings wrestled in the mud.

God and sinners were all mixed up. So, I am not

asking about ‘after the beginning.’ Tell me something

about ‘before the beginning.’


When nobody answered, Sunim replied:

Before the donkey was finished, the horse arrived.

The horse arrives – we touch our Buddha nature; but the donkey is not yet finished, could we call this our “ass-nature?”

We still need to relate with donkey mind.

We need to realize our ass-nature but not get caught up in it. As we also realize our Buddha-nature in the process.

But just realizing or touching Buddha nature does not magically eradicate our ass-nature.

Shin Buddhism has a great take on this. Here is a intro from an article on Shin Buddhism by Mark Unno, about the fundamental stance — they we are foolish beings embraced by karma, that this is the necessary first step.

Who are the foolish beings? According to the Shin tradition of Pure Land Buddhism, we all are. Mark Unno explains that only by becoming aware of our limited self and acknowledging our fundamental foolishness can we realize the oneness of all beings and the limitless flow of compassion.

As we become aware of our fundamental foolishness, our ass-nature, the donkey is on his way out, as we are no longer held captive to donkey mind, just by realizing it.

And as we realize this, we make room for the horse, which arrives before the donkey leaves.

We work on it from the point of view of the end of the journey.

The Buddha-nature practices outlined by Lojong slogans 3, 4 and 5 open up a channel to our foundation, this Buddha- nature, which is a kind of intelligence that has nothing to do with our personality, our conditioned mind.

It’s just simple basic awareness.

Everyday awareness.

Within us there is an open, empty and clear awareness, like the sky, vast, clear and free.

The infinite foundation is under us, just below the plastic-strewn debris field.

Let’s end with a little closer look at what this slogan 14 means when it says:

Seeing confusion as the Buddha kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.

I kind of glossed over the Buddha kayas part earlier – these refer to dimensions of Buddha mind. Without getting into theoretical discussion on this, let’s take in what a tantric text, The Supreme Source, says about this unsurpassable protection of experiencing the vast emptiness of our own inner foundation:

In my all-creating Bodhi nature,

as effortless spontaneity,

lies the heart of Buddha, the kayas:

my uncontrived nature, the dharmakaya,

my uncontrived essence, the sambhogakaya,

my manifest compassion, the nirmanakaya,

these three are not to be discovered as results,

rather they are me as Buddha nature,

my nature, essence and compassion unmodified,

since as reality I show the three dimensions of being.


I would love to hear any comments you may have!

Have a great week.

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  1. Hi great website I am a friend of Kristine’s who used to live in Manoa. I’ll be visiting soon and can drop in for a meditation. Coincidentally I’ve been studying the slogans

    1. Hi Linda– great, thanks for your kind words..would be nice to have you visit us and help us with the slogans! Take care.

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