The Dalai Lama’s Emptiness Teachings – Terms Used

The Dalai Lama’s Emptiness Teachings – Terms Used

These study materials are divided into three parts:

How to See Yourself As You Really Are is geared to the very general reader, and it doesn’t assume familiarity with Buddhism. The terms are carefully chosen to not appear too technical or too specific to a tradition. Here are some terms used in the book, along with other terms you might have heard used for the same things.

Empathy — In general, empathy means having care and concern for transmigrating beings, or being who suffer. In general, wishing people and other beings well. It can include both love and compassion.

Love vs. Compassion  — “Love” is used especially in Chapter 21 as the deep commitment towards the happiness of others. This corresponds to metta or lovingkindness in Buddhism.

“Compassion” is used in Chapter 21 as the deep commitment to help others become free from suffering. This corresponds to karuna in Buddhism.

Compassion is the wish to help eliminate the negative, and love is for experiencing the positive. Sometimes the Dalai Lama uses the terms more interchangeably.

Ignorance, Sense of exaggerated existence, Sense of concrete existence — This is the sense we get when we as beings and objects seem to exist in a mind-independent and self-sufficient way. Having ignorance, or feeling a sense of exaggerated existence is what happens when we see things and beings as non-empty. Also called the “sense of inherent existence.”

Insight, Wisdom — These terms refer to the opposite kind of seeing, in which we see that beings and things lack inherent existence (i.e., are empty).  The insight is the discovery that something is empty, and wisdom is the aftereffect of this discovery.

Oneness — This kind of “oneness” is not an expansive feeling that everything is the same essence, such as when we way “we are all one.” In the Dalai Lama’s approach this term is more technical. It refers to the self (or some other phenomenon) being “one” or “exactly the same as” its parts.  For example, “The self is one with the body/mind” would mean “The self is exactly the body/mind.” According to the emptiness teachings, an object is never actually one with its parts, though in ignorance we may believe it to be.

Difference — This is the quality of a thing when it is totally other than its parts.  Difference is the opposite of oneness in this case. If we say, “The self is something other than the body/mind,” we would be imputing difference to the self.  According to the emptiness teachings however, the self is neither one with the body/mind, nor different from the body/mind.  The same middle-way status applies to everything else.  That is, things are neither one with their parts, nor different from their parts.

Designation — This is the act of mind that names or identifies something as a thing or being.  The process is as follows:  a group of objects is cognized and thought of as belonging to a single being or object.  Designation involves conceptuality and naming.  It can be done in an “ignorant” way, as when we believe that the object really is the sum of the parts.  And designation can also be done according to wisdom, as when we give a conventional name to something, while remaining open to later revision.

Reincarnation, Rebirth, Transmigration — “Reincarnation” is not used in this book.  It is used more in Sanatana Dharma, where it refers to a new instantiation of the same jiva on the physical plane.   The jiva is said to exist in subtle seed form between lives, and then reincarnates into a new physical form.  Buddhism does not affirm the existence of anything like a jiva that takes life again and again in different physical forms.  Buddhism does not accept incarnation, so it does not accept reincarnation.

“Rebirth” is used in this book.  This term refers to another life that is conventionally designated as being the same as a previous life.  But in this case there is no jiva existing between lives.

“Transmigration” refers to the process of rebirth.