Delusion of Extinction

The belief in relative voidness gives rise to a mind that clings to the notion of annihilation. Emptiness as “voidness” just doesn’t exist 😉 . 

What!?

What is relative voidness? It is the kind of emptiness characterized by the statement, “there are no unicorns in my bedroom”. There really are no unicorns in my bedroom! It is empty of unicorns.

We hear about this kind of emptiness in the Lankavatara Sutra. It is ‘the emptiness of mutual non-existence’.

Mahamati,
what is meant by the emptiness of mutual [non-existence]?

It is this:
when a thing is missing here,
one speaks of its being empty there.

For instance,
Mahamati,
in the lecture-hall of the Mrigarama there are no elephants,
no bulls,
no sheep,
but as to the Bhikshus I can say that the hall is not devoid of them;
it is empty only as far as they [i. e. the animals] are concerned.

Further,
Mahamati,
it is not that the lecture-hall is devoid of its own characteristics,
nor that the Bhikshu is devoid of this Bhikshuhood,
nor that in some other places,
too,
elephants,
bulls,
and sheep are not to be found.

Mahamati,
here one sees all things in their aspect of individuality and generality,
but from the point of view of mutuality (itaretara) some things do not exist somewhere.

Thus one speaks of the emptiness of mutual [non-existence].

….mutuality ranks the lowest of all [of the seven emptinesses] and is to be put away by you.

To really seal the deal,
to help you understand what he means by ‘things have no self-nature’,
Buddha drives the point home with:

Again,
Mahamati,
not that things are not born,
but that they are not born of themselves,
except when seen in the state of Samadhi—
this is what is meant by “all things are unborn.”
To have no self-nature is,
according to the deeper sense,
to be unborn,
Mahamati.

That all things are devoid of self-nature means that there is a constant and uninterrupted becoming,
a momentary change from one state of existence to another;
seeing this,
Mahamati,
all things are destitute of self-nature.
So one speaks of all things having no self-nature.

The belief in extinction, as well as the belief that something arises from nothing, depends on a mind that rejects the law of causality. Such a mind, according to Buddha, entertains wrong view. There cannot be an effect-less cause.

Discussing annihilation is like talking about the ‘horns of a hare’.  These people who make these assertions are really just mashing words together, there are no corresponding realities to their assertions.

Effects only arise from causes, causes are considered causes because they have effects. There can be no end until the effect-less cause arises, but such a thing would not be a cause at all– the whole train of thought crashes into absurdity.

A mind that rejects causality is not conducive to the highest happiness– it is confused, it has missed the mark. It has not made use of the relative to see the ultimate, it does not gno the mundane and has, therefore, missed the supramundane.

Annihilation,
or ‘extinction’,
makes no sense.

In fact:

No*thing* is born.
No*thing* dies.

What the Teaching is Not

We are taught more about this form of delusion in the Pali Canon, in the Brahmajala Sutta.

Here, we learn about the various ways ‘Spiritual People’ set up an existent being on a foundation of nothingness, to knock it down into utter annihilation:

4. Annihilationism (Ucchedavāda): Views 51–57

84. “There are, bhikkhus, some recluses and brahmins who are annihilationists and who on seven grounds proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being. And owing to what, with reference to what, do these honorable recluses and brahmins proclaim their views?

85. “Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin asserts the following doctrine and view: ‘The self, good sir, has material form; it is composed of the four primary elements and originates from father and mother. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death, at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way some proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

86. “To him another says: ‘There is, good sir, such a self as you assert. That I do not deny. But it is not at that point that the self is completely annihilated. For there is, good sir, another self — divine, having material form, pertaining to the sense sphere, feeding on edible nutriment. That you neither know nor see, but I know it and see it. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death, at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way others proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

87. “To him another says: ‘There is, good sir, such a self as you assert. That I do not deny. But it is not at that point that the self is completely annihilated. For there is, good sir, another self — divine, having material form, mind-made, complete in all its limbs and organs, not destitute of any faculties. That you neither know nor see, but I know it and see it. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death, at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way others proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

88. “To him another says: ‘There is, good sir, such a self as you assert. That I do not deny. But it is not at that point that the self is completely annihilated. For there is, good sir, another self belonging to the base of infinite space, (reached by) the complete surmounting of perceptions of material form, by the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, by non-attention to perceptions of diversity, (by contemplating) “Space is infinite.” That you neither know nor see, but I know it and see it. Since thisself, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death, at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way others proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

89. “To him another says: ‘There is, good sir, such a self as you assert. That I do not deny. But it is not at that point that the self is completely annihilated. For there is, good sir, another self belonging to the base of infinite consciousness, (reached by) completely surmounting the base of infinite space (by contemplating): “Consciousness is infinite.” That you neither know nor see. But I know it and see it. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death — at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way some proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

90. “To him another says: ‘There is, good sir, such a self as you assert. That I do not deny. But it is not at that point that the self is completely annihilated. For there is, good sir, another self belonging to the base of nothingness, (reached by) completely surmounting the base of infinite consciousness (by contemplating): “There is nothing.” That you neither know nor see. But I know it and see it. Since thisself, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death — at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way some proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

91. “To him another says: ‘There is, good sir, such a self as you assert. That I do not deny. But it is not at that point that the self is completely annihilated. For there is, good sir, another self belonging to the base of neither perception nor non-perception, (reached by) completely surmounting the base of nothingness (by contemplating): “This is the peaceful, this is the sublime.” That you neither know nor see. But I know it and see it. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death — at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way some proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

92. “It is on these seven grounds, bhikkhus, that those recluses and brahmins who are annihilationists proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being. Whatever recluses or brahmins proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being, all of them do so on these seven grounds or on a certain one of them. Outside of these there is none.

“This, bhikkhus, the Tathāgata understands… and it is concerning these that those who would rightly praise the Tathāgata in accordance with reality would speak.

Great!
Wellll. Not really.
Wrong! hahaha.
Wrong views!

Take time to get familiar with those styles of assertion. It will be beneficial. You will be better equipped to recognize this kind of delusion.

At this point, these are the things that should be clear:

  • Buddha, with ‘anatman’, was not promoting annihilationism.
    • If no *thing* is born, no *thing* dies.
  • We should work to drop the idea of ’emptiness as voidness’.
    • We can call this error by a few names, but, whatever we call it, it comes from a mind that has misunderstood that it is ‘not that things are not born, but that they are not born of themselves.”
      • This implies interdependence, which is inline with the teaching on [inter]dependent [co]origination– Pratītyasamutpāda.

So, now that we understand those things, let us heed the warning of the Shurangama about the dangers presented by various stages along the path.

Warning: don’t be an arrogant fool

Ananda, in the practice of shamatha to realize samadhi, when the first aggregate of form ceases to hinder, one will see the minds of all Buddhas, like reflections in the bright mirror (of the mind).

We should be ever-vigilant as we work toward samyak sambodhi– careful that we do not prematurely congratulate ourselves.

Dhammapada, 63:

A fool who knows his foolishness is wise at least to that extent, but a fool who thinks himself wise is a fool indeed.

We are told that, at this stage of the practice, our meditation is being conditioned by the second skandha: feeling (here, translated as ‘receptiveness’). Although we have seen through form, we are still deluded by the second aggregate, feeling. Seeing through form, we take note of infinite light.

There are 10 warnings and I want to highlight the 9th– it is the mistake of perceiving the brightness as devoid of nature.

Let’s take a look:

In this state of Dhyana, as form vanishes and receptiveness manifests, the practiser may misconceive the appearing bright emptiness as devoid of nature, thereby giving rise to the idea of extinction which implies that the law of causality is invalid. This (relative) voidness causes him to develop an empty mind which implies annihilation.

This is harmless if he knows that it is not sainthood, but if he regards it as such, he will succumb to the demon of emptiness who will control his mind and cause him to criticize those who observe the rules of pure living as men of Hinayana and to claim that all Bodhisattvas awakened to the void can dispense with all prohibitions.

Such a person usually indulges in meat and wine in the presence of his believing patrons and leads a licentious life. In time, they will regard all excrement, urine, meat, and wine as empty and good for food. They will break the rules of morality and discipline and will commit all sorts of sin. The practicer will thus lose all benefit from the dhyana so far achieved and will fall into the lower states.

Strong words!

What do you think?

Does any of that make sense to you?

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