Thought Creates Reality: Emptiness in the Diamond Sutra

What ya see is what ya get.

That’s the overall practical message in the Diamond Sutra, one of the key Zen scriptures and one of the oldest extant books on earth. I recommend it, but be warned, it’s super fucking repetitive. You can pretty much set it down after the first ten chapters or so.

Anyway, the message is that thought determines our reality. A chair is a chair if we think that it’s a chair. If we don’t think that it’s a chair, then what is it? What else could it be?

Empty. Mind is what transforms emptiness into form. But the mind doesn’t extract the chair from the flow of dependent arising, it doesn’t freeze emptiness. Form and emptiness are just two ways of viewing the same thing.

The day-to-day value of this teaching is in how it can influence our emotional perspectives.

If I think that I’m a fat, stupid loser, then I’m a fat stupid loser. If I don’t, then I’m not. If I think that life is terrible, then it is terrible  If I don’t, then it’s not. That’s only possible because everything is relative.

The path to freedom from suffering is essentially a path of freedom from the view, “I’m suffering.”

It’s a kind of chicken and the egg scenario. Which came first, suffering or the view of suffering? What are grief, sadness, and pain without the views we have of those states? What’s grief without the view, “I’ve lost someone I love”? What’s sadness without the view, “This is meaningless, and I just can’t take it anymore”? When we strip them down, they’re just unpleasantness. Dissatisfaction.

The emptiness in the Diamond is the emptiness of views.

If you think a song is awesome but someone else thinks it’s crap, who’s right? Neither can be right. If the song was legitimately awesome, everyone would think so, and vice versa for it being crap. The song is really empty of being shitty or excellent.

If you think you’re a fat loser but someone else doesn’t, who’s right?

Same thing. That means you’re neither fat nor a loser. That doesn’t mean that you’re a skinny winner though, either because if you were then you’d never have thought, “I’m a fat loser.” What we really are can’t be spoken of, and views can’t capture it.

That sounds more mysterious than it really is. It just means that an experience is just an experience, a feeling a feeling, and the moment is just the moment. We drown in specifics but the nature of things is simple and general. When we say something like, “The true nature of things,” we’re painting with a broad brush. In this case, that nature is, “All things are empty of absolutes.”

If we take a good look at ourselves, we can see that there’s nothing absolute about us, there are no unchallengeable facts, there’s no empirical me. If someone could look at our thoughts as we think them, they could find valid reasons to disagree with every single one of them. Someone could say that thoughts don’t exist and demonstrate by breaking them down into their parts.

That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, that’s not what the Diamond is saying. What it’s saying is that we don’t know what’s going on.

5 thoughts on “Thought Creates Reality: Emptiness in the Diamond Sutra

  1. Many thoughts seem to come from programming—stories we tell ourselves that derive from repetition. The source: Parent says, “You’re a fat loser,” over and over during your formative years so you’re programmed.

    Unsaying it or changing the story and then abandoning stories seems far beyond choice, and still the only way to change the negative message is to find a way to change or abandon the negative message.

    Very challenging.

    Thank you for a very thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent essay on the Diamond and Emptiness, John! When I first read the Diamond years ago, I was like “Meh.” then I came back to it much later, after having laid the groundwork on studying Emptiness, and it blew my mind infinitely open. My only addition to your catchy summary line of “What you see is what you get” would be: “What you think is what you see is what you feel is how you act is what the world and you become!” =)

    Liked by 1 person

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