A Bodhisattva was saving insects by the water’s edge, letting them crawl up his finger and down into the grass. His friend the Buddhist approached.
“What are you doing?” he asked happily.
“Saving Mothers,” was the reply.
“Is it Authentic?” he queried.
Renunciation is the essential preliminary to emptiness! The foothills before the snow peaks. Before engaging in any meditation on emptiness the practitioner must have developed very subtle renunciation, the realisation that wherever you look you will find nothing to pursue.
Sunyata, emptiness or voidness, is the nature of that which has been abandoned. By realising sunya, the lack of worth of everything, the renunciate begins to examine the nature of those same things that he or she has abandoned to see if they too lack anything worth pursuing. This begins the process of analysis common to many approaches to Buddhism.
Indeed, understanding sunya as the approach to sunyata reveals directly why there are two stages or mental factors associated with this process (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Understanding the Mind, chapter: the four changeable mental factors). On the path of very subtle renunciation we use investigation to determine if any object is worth following. Then entering the path of sunyata we use analysis to examine the very nature of that same phenomenon.
Thus, meditation on the results of your analysis leads you to gain a direct realisation of the nature of phenomena. The nature of the very phenomena you have discarded in your investigation rescues you from the danger of despondency that you might experience otherwise through the result of your investigation. Now sunyata becomes a joyful thing and surprisingly its first realisation is called ‘The Joyful’!
Being parted from what you want, having to put up with what you don’t want and not fulfilling your wishes are the three states of discontent. Together these states describe samsara. Contemplating this misfortune allows you to realise that, moment by moment, throughout your life you have been deceived. You are unable to get what you want nor to keep hold of it. At first this realisation is bitter, but later turns into the knowledge that you have found samsara. Samsara cannot be felt nor tasted and has been hidden from you your whole life. This realisation is subtle renunciation. The final stage, very subtle renunciation, is to come face to face with the mara of samsara itself – the utterly worthless, sunya!
A Zen centre in the USA has the following daily recitation:
We are here to end suffering.
If ending suffering is more important than anything, we will end suffering.
If ending suffering is not more important than anything, we will not end suffering.
Buddha said that the four rivers of suffering are birth, ageing, sickness, and death. These are the inevitable experiences of life. The river is your own experience, your passage through life. Time flows you on to journey’s end and the rocks of karma scrape your boat of happiness and rock its stability. At journey’s end lies the waterfall of death and beneath its mists lie the unknown rocks or pools of your next life.
Contemplating the inevitable journey of life and its lack of freedom leads you to develop the first of the renunciations, the outer or gross renunciation, “Unless I can bring about a change in my life, this journey of loss will continue forever!”