“This practice is every practice.” Can you think of anything that remains to be practiced? In a given moment, if a person—whether Mr. Smith, Mrs. Jones, or anyone at all—has a mind free of grasping and clinging, at that moment, what does the person have? Please think it over. We can see that the person has attained all the traditional practices: the Triple Refuge (tisarana), giving (dana), virtuous conduct (sila), meditation (samadhi), the discernment of truth (panna), and even the path-realizations, their fruits, and nirvana.
At that moment of non-grasping, one has certainly attained the first practice, that of the Triple Refuge. One has reached the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, for to have a heart free of the mental defilements and dukkha is to be one with the heart of the Triple Gem. One has reached them without having to chant “Buddham saranam gacchami” [“I take refuge in the Buddha”]. Crying out “Buddham saranam gacchami” and so on is just a ritual, a ceremony of entrance, an external matter. It doesn’t penetrate to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in the heart. If at any moment a person has a mind void of grasping at and clinging to “I” and “mine,” even if only for an instant, the mind has realized voidness. It is one and the same as the heart of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.
The next practice is giving (dana). The meaning of giving is to let go, to end all grasping at and clinging to things as being “I” or “mine.” At the moment that one has a mind void of ego-consciousness, then one has made the supreme offering, for when even the self has been given up, what can there be left to give? Thus, at any moment that a person has a mind truly void of self, when even the self has been completely relinquished, he or she has developed giving to its perfection.
To move on to virtuous conduct (sila), one whose mind is void and free of grasping at and clinging to a self or possession of self, is one whose bodily and verbal actions are truly and perfectly virtuous. Any other sort of morality is just an up-and-down affair. We may make resolutions to refrain from this and abstain from that, but we can’t keep them. Whenever the mind is void, even if it’s only for a moment, or a day, or a night, one has true sila for all of that time.
As for concentration (samadhi), the void mind has supreme samadhi, the superbly focused firmness of mind. A strained and uneven sort of concentration isn’t the real thing. Only the mind that is void of grasping at and clinging to “I” and “mine” can have the true and perfect stability of correct concentration. One who has a void mind always has correct samadhi.
The next practice is panna (intuitive wisdom). Here we can see most clearly that knowing sunnata, realizing voidness—or being voidness itself—is the essence of wisdom. At the moment that the mind is void, it is supremely keen and discerning. When a mind is void of foolishness, void of “I” and “mine,” there is perfect knowing, or panna. So the wise say that sunnata and panna (mindfulness and wisdom) are one. Once the mind is rid of delusion, it discovers its primal state, the true original mind.
We can go on to the path-realizations, their fruits, and nibbana. Here the progressively higher levels of voidness reach their culmination in nibbana, which is called the supreme voidness (parama-sunnata).
Now, you may see that from taking refuge and progressing through giving, virtuous conduct, concentration, and wisdom, there is nothing other than sunnata, or non-clinging to self. Even in the path-realizations, their fruits, and nibbana, there’s nothing more than voidness. In fact, they are its highest, most supreme level.
Consequently, the Buddha declared that to have heard this teaching is to have heard all teachings, to have put it into practice is to have done all practices, and to have reaped the fruits of that practice is to have reaped all fruits: Nothing whatsoever should be clung to as “I” or “mine.” (Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya.) You must strive to grasp the essence of what this word “voidness” really means.
Adapted for Tricycle from Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree: The Buddha’s Teaching on Voidness, by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, with permission from Wisdom Publications.
Image 1: Courtesy Chiaroscuro.
Image 2: Buddhadasa, 1903-1993. Courtesy Donald K. Swearer.