Mere Emptiness Is Needed Before Realizing the Ultimate Reality
Buddhism often talks about emptiness and many people think this represents the ultimate truth. In fact, the ultimate truth transcends non-existence. Yet to reach the ultimate truth we need the realization of non-existence in order to destroy our strong attachment to all phenomena. Only then can we proceed to the great mansion of ultimate truth, a place free from the four extremes––existence, non-existence, both existence and non-existence, neither existence nor non-existence.
Some may think the mind cannot be established because it is inherently empty, and consider that they get the full appreciation of emptiness in Buddhism. Temporarily, we can consider non-existence as emptiness. But, ultimately speaking, the absence of things is merely an approximate explanation of emptiness.
However, having been wandering in this cyclic existence since beginningless time, we have developed deep ignorance and have been focused upon the true inherent identity of all phenomena. So initially, it is highly necessary for us to build such a view of emptiness. Just as it is said in Madhyamakahridaya (Essence of the Middle Way) written by Acharya Bhavaviveka:
Trying to reach the great mansion
Of the authentic nature of reality
Without the steps of the authentic relative
Is not an approach the wise should take.
This means is that without a stairway, one cannot get to the top of the building, be it an elevator, a staircase or an iron escalator. And you might see some very old-fashioned escalators here in the U.S., which will rumble when they descend to the ground floor. Anyway, we need a ladder to go up—be it old or new, otherwise we cannot make it. When I visited New York in 1993, I took the elevator in the World Trade Center to get to the top. The building was later bombed by the terrorists.
Whatever the case may be, you can’t reach the top without a stairway. Likewise, in order to accomplish the fully qualified realization of ultimate emptiness, which is likened to the perfectly correct mansion, then the perfect correct understanding of mere emptiness, the stairway, will be needed. Eventually we can reach the actual ultimate truth, which is just like the pinnacle of the palace. Without ascending through that process, one cannot claim to be wise. Indeed, Bhavaviveka was an extraordinary master of India.
Before realizing the reality, analyze and determine intellectually that the mind is sole non-existent. Then invalidate the sole non-existence of the mind. Further, overthrow the establishment of both non-existent and existent and the establishment of neither existent nor non-existent. Thus, reaching a state free from all the the four extremes and all attachments is the fundamental nature of the mind and the ultimate reality of all phenomena. As it states in The Ornament of the Middle Way:
And yet the actual ultimate reality is
Free from any construct and elaboration.