The Dalai Lama’s Emptiness Teachings – Chapter Summaries
These study materials are divided into three parts:
- Chapter Summaries (this page)
- Introduction (another page)
- List of Terms Used (another page)
On this page you will find a list of the first sixteen chapters of How to See Yourself As You Really Are. Each item in this list contains a short excerpt and a link to a detailed chapter discussion in PDF format.
Chapter 1. Laying the Ground for Insight to Grow
This first chapter is about the importance of identifying ignorance. By “ignorance,” the Dalai Lama (DL) means the conception of inherent existence, which can include cognitive, emotional and sensory components. Another way to think about ignorance is as the misapprehension of how things exist. We think and feel as though things exist in a self-supporting, mind-independent way, whereas when we look for such things, we can never find them. We project a kind of existence upon things that things simply don’t have.
Notes on Chapter 1 (PDF)
Chapter 2. Discovering the Source of Problems
This chapter goes into the detail that was not covered in Chapter 1, for example, more details on the process by which ignorance (the sense of inherent existence) is formed. What is notable in this approach is that the sense of inherent existence is not just a matter of belief. It does include belief, but depends on appearances which are not conceptual in the way belief is.
Notes on Chapter 2 (PDF)
Chapter 3. Why Understanding the Truth Is Needed
Chapter 1 provided motivation for the inquiry into emptiness. Chapter 2 gave a narrative link between ignorance and suffering. Now in Chapter 3, the Dalai Lama gives what many people might consider additional motivation to study the teachings, as well as laying the groundwork for the analytical method that will be used throughout the book.
Notes on Chapter 3 (PDF)
Chapter 4. Feeling the Impact of Interrelatedness
This is another chapter that lays the groundwork for the analytical meditations that will be introduced later. We aren’t yet doing the analytical meditations, but we are sensitizing ourselves to the observations that go into the meditations. This chapter asks us to do two things: notice various ways that things are interrelated, and feel how this interrelatedness conflicts with the appearance of things as if they exist in their own right.
Notes on Chapter 4 (PDF)
Chapter 5. Appreciating the Reasoning of Dependent-Arising
In these notes, I won’t be summarizing the chapter’s points. Instead, I will be drawing out in more detail the points mentioned in the chapter that I think are important to warrant some more elucidation. This may be even more important for people who are coming to the emptiness teachings from other kinds of teachings that don’t use the same tools or concepts. In the Dalai Lama’s system, logic and inference are very important tools. They actually lead to direct, nondualistic, nonconceptual emptiness realization!
Notes on Chapter 5 (PDF)
Chapter 6. Seeing the Interdependence of Phenomena
Chapter 4 helped us see how the sense of inherent existence causes a conflict with the dependent way in which things exist. Chapter 5 helped us put this to use in reasoning about emptiness. Our present chapter, Chapter 6, is concerned with helping us avoid nihilism and essentialism. This is why the Dalai Lama provides several quotes on dependent arising, and cause and effect.
Notes on Chapter 6 (PDF)
Chapter 7. Valuing Dependent-Arising and Emptiness
This is the last chapter in Part 2, which is called “How to Undermine Ignorance.” Chapter 8 will begin Part 3. Part 3 is all about meditative stabilization and how it helps insight. A few chapters later, we get to start with the emptiness meditations themselves.
For the last few chapters, we’ve been dealing with the concepts of emptiness and dependent arising. They are different enough so that when we think about one of them, it seems perhaps distant from the other one. Chapter 6 was about how to avoid nihilism and essentialism. Basically, to avoid nihilism, think more about dependent arising, especially the cause-and-effect aspect. And to avoid essentialism, focus more on emptiness. You will discover the two to be the same after a while.
Notes on Chapter 7 (PDF)
Chapter 8. Focusing Your Mind
The type of meditation discussed in Chapters 8 and 9 is sometimes called “stabilization” or “placement” meditation. The goal with these meditations is not to realize emptiness, but to keep the mind on a single, subtle object without distraction or laxity. The stability of mind we gain through these meditations is automatically transferred over to our emptiness meditations, thereby making them deeper and more powerful.
Notes on Chapter 8 (PDF)
Chapter 9. Tuning Your Mind for Meditation
This chapter goes into more detail about focusing the mind so that it is bright, alert, and unwavering. We need two qualities: intense clarity, where the mind avoids the extreme of drowsiness and laxity, and unwavering stability, where the mind avoids the extreme of excitement and distraction.
Notes on Chapter 9 (PDF)
Chapter 10. Meditating on Yourself First
This chapter presents one important point, which is the need to understand why we begin the meditation on ourselves first. It makes sense to begin this way because it is our own individual self, the one who “undergoes pleasure and pain, makes trouble, and accumulates karma – all the noise and the mess….” It is this (empty) person who is caught in cyclic existence. It is this person who becomes free. Therefore that’s where the analysis should begin, with ourselves.
Notes on Chapter 10 (PDF)
Chapter 11. Realizing That You Do Not Exist in and of Yourself
Chapters 8 and 9 emphasized a calm, focused mind. Chapter 10 gave us the motivation to begin the inquiry on our own self and not on other objects. Now Chapter 11 lays out the plan for how we go about meditating on the emptiness of the self. There are four steps in the meditation. This chapter distinguishes the four steps, and goes into detail about Step 1.
Notes on Chapter 11 (PDF)
Chapter 12. Determining the Choices
This chapter focuses on the importance of narrowing the search for the so-called inherently existing “I.” If we divide all the possbilities into two groups, we can assure ourselves that we are looking everywhere possible for the inherent “I.” Here are the logical choices. If the inherent “I” exists, it must be either the same as the mind-body complex, or different from it.
Notes on Chapter 12 (PDF)
Chapter 13. Analyzing Oneness
The “I” is not the same as the mind and body, because if it were, then illogical and unacceptable consequences would follow.
This chapter is about “oneness” or “sameness,” specifically between the mind-body complex (MBC) and the “I”. This chapter helps us realize one half of this comparison: namely that the “I” is not the same as the MBC.
Notes on Chapter 13 (PDF)
Chapter 14. Analyzing Difference
“The self truly exists, and it is inherently different from the mind-body complex.”
This is the claim that we are investigating in this chapter. In Chapter 12, we saw that if the self truly exists, then it must be the same as the mind-body complex (MBC), or different from it. There is no third alternative. From doing the meditations in Chapter 13, we have discovered that the self cannot be the same as the MBC. In this chapter, we try to discover whether the self is different from the MBC.
Notes on Chapter 14 (PDF)
Chapter 15. Coming to a Conclusion
This chapter is the logical conclusion to the investigation about the self you have done with the help of the last few chapters. Here are the classic four steps we have been following, up to Chapter 14.
Notes on Chapter 15 (PDF)
Chapter 16. Testing Your Realization
Coarse vs. subtle realization: the Dalai Lama draws a distinction here that he had not mentioned before. There are two levels of subtlety possible in realizations of emptiness. They have to do with a difference in how people and things appear. if we have the more subtle realization, then we can instantly transfer this realization to something other than the self.
Notes on Chapter 16 (PDF)