The Dalai Lama’s Emptiness Teachings – Intro

The Dalai Lama’s Emptiness Teachings – Intro

This page links to study materials that I wrote to accompany the Dalai Lama’s book “How to See Yourself As You Really Are.”

It is perhaps the easiest step-by-step introduction to the emptiness teachings available in book form. It is written in an accessible non-technical way, and has a minimum of Buddhist doctrine. The need for emptiness realization is clearly set forth, and there are many supporting meditations throughout.

These study materials are divided into three parts:


How to See Yourself is based on an approach to emptiness realization that places high value on how we see ourselves and everything else. The book takes the following approach: we suffer because we take ourselves (and everything else) as truly existent in an independent way, when we are actually empty. Our suffering lies in our failure to experience things as empty, conventional and fluid.  When we attribute independent (the Dalai Lama calls it “exaggerated”) existence to things and to people, we suffer unproductive emotions and rigid, dogmatic views. These emotions and views are also responsible for the disharmonies among people and the lack of world peace.

There are meditative methods for pacifying certain emotions. These methods act like medication for particular ailments. But the only way to affect all counterproductive emotions is to eradicate the ignorance that exaggerates the way we and things exist. We eradicate ignorance through the gift of insight into the way things really do exist. This is their emptiness.

Parts of the Book

Part I: The Need for Insight (Chapters 1-3)

This is explanatory and motivational. It explains why we suffer and how it is based on seeing things in an exaggerated way. It then motivates the reader to look into emptiness as an antidote.

Part II: How to Undermine Ignorance (Chapters 4-7)

This part works on sensitizing ourselves to the discrepancy between the way we see things and the way that things exist. In other more technical emptiness presentations, this part is where one learns to isolate the target of refutation: the sense of inherent existence. We don’t simply refute “the self” or “the table,” but rather just that self or table which would exist independently from everything else. It is one of the most important parts of this style of emptiness meditation. Getting a strong and clear sense of this discrepancy allows us to refute the claims to inherency much more precisely.

Part III: Harnessing the Power of Concentration and Insight (Chapters 8, 9)

This part teaches about focusing and calming the mind. It reviews the process of what is often called “stabilization meditation,” all the way from how to sit, all the way through achieving “calm abiding,” which, according to this school, is necessary for the NONconceptual realization of emptiness. This practice can take much longer than the two weeks we have to cover these chapters. That’s OK, since even the conceptual realizations are very helpful.

Part IV: How to End Self-Deception (Chapters 10-18)

These chapters are the core of the meditation on the emptiness of the self. We understand and meditate on how the self cannot possibly be the SAME as the body and mind, and also how the self cannot possibly be DIFFERENT from the body and mind. We learn how to use the reasonings on “same” and “different” to realize that the “I” is empty. We learn how to ascertain whether our realization is subtle enough, and also how to extend our realization beyond the “I” to the “mine.” And we learn how strengthen our meditation by combining the insights we learn in this section with the calm abiding that we encountered in Part III. This takes our meditation to a whole new level.

Part V: How Persons and Things Actually Exist (Chapters 19, 20)

This part focuses on ways to see how our selves and the world DO exist. We learn about seeing things as like illusions and mirages, and more ways to recognize the discrepancy between how we (unreflectively) see things and how they actually do exist. We learn why and how this helps calm and reduce unfavorable emotions. We also learn more about one of the most subtle kinds of dependencies pertaining to things, namely, the dependency of things on thought. It’s not that things are made up only of thought or that they consist solely of imagination. But rather, thought is a necessary part of the web of dependencies in the setup of our selves and the world. This insight helps us recognize the discrepancy between how we see things and how they exist, and it helps in our realization of emptiness.

Part VI: Deepening Love with Insight (Chapters 21-23)

These chapters are about how insight and caring and empathy work together to produce deeper emptiness insight. We also learn how to visualize gross and subtle impermanence, including the impermanence of our selves. Finally, we learn what the DL calls “ultimate love” which is the kind of love that we feel for sentient beings when we deeply realize that they do not exist inherently, but they suffer because they think they DO exist inherently. We learn how all beings are alike in this, which increased our motivation to apply ourselves to the task of gaining insight and love. We also see how to generate this love and commitment, how to extend them to others, and how to avoid discouragement.


There are lots of realizations mentioned in the book. In a fast 274 pages, the Dalai Lama goes over an entire structure of the path, as seen from the perspective of the emptiness teachings. I should say that it takes longer to realize these goals than it does to read about them and practice them a bit. So I can’t make any guarantees about what you will realize during your participation in this group. I hope at least that you will understand emptiness better, as well as understanding how this particular approach to freedom works!