Meditating on Emptiness in Daily Life: Recognizing Hallucinations as Hallucinations




If one doesn’t change one’s attitude into a healthy, peaceful mind bringing only peace and happiness to oneself and others, one will not be able to replace or let go of the grasping dissatisfied mind. A positive, peaceful mind brings happiness right to this moment. It also brings happiness to this and future lives for both ourselves and others. A mind of loving kindness and compassion that cherishes others with a good heart brings happiness right to the end of our lives. Because of having already let go of the painful mind even at death time we have no fears or worries and there is the prospect of having satisfaction and happiness in future lives. In this way, with love and compassion, we are able to achieve Enlightenment and thus benefit other sentient beings. So like that.

The healthy happy mind is the opposite of ignorance because it is unstained by the concept of true existence.[1] This is why we meditate by looking at how the nature of phenomena is dependent arising, existing in mere name, merely imputed by mind, empty. In daily life, with mindfulness, we look at how I, action and object, though appearing as the real one existing from their side, are hallucinations and, as hallucinations, are empty.

So we practice mindfulness like that while driving a car or shopping in supermarkets, department stores or while buying materials. While busy with these activities which are so busily occupying our minds, at the same time we look at how they appear to you as not merely mentally labelled. They appear to exist from their own side.[2] Then you recognise them as hallucinations because they are hallucinations! Likewise, the circle of three – I, action and object are also empty because they are dependent arising and thus merely imputed by mind.

In this way, whichever way you meditate, observing everything leads to the point deep down in your heart that understands all these phenomena as empty. While you are talking to a person or having a meeting, at the same time, while you are discussing, your mind meditates how you appear, how action, object and person appear. You look at them as empty.

When walking on the road the same: you look at how I, action, walking, object and road are appearing. The mind meditates. Their appearing not merely labelled by mind, as something really existing, is Gak cha (the object to be refuted).[3] Look at it as hallucination. Likewise, when working in the kitchen, cutting vegetables. I guess you can do the same while playing golf or football!


It is the same when looking at a flower. How does the flower appear to you right after your mind merely imputed it?[4] It appears as something totally else. So, like that, it’s not there. Apply this to everything you are doing in daily life whether teaching in schools, working in hospitals, in the office, taking care of the baby at home, whatever it is – what has been merely imputed a second before in the next appears as something else – total hallucination.[5] Therefore, meditation on emptiness is just a question of being aware. It is a question of recognizing a dream as a dream. This is how to meditate on emptiness while we are busy. It is a question of being aware. Just as when you are dreaming and remain constantly aware that it is a dream, you recognize the things you are constantly holding as real from their own side as empty. Look at them as hallucinations. So that’s it. Then your understanding is that they are empty.

This is how to meditate while your life is busy. If you do this, you are practising the heart of the Buddhadharma, the heart (sherab nyingbo) of the Buddha’s 84 thousand teachings – the Perfection of Wisdom. Often people think there is no connection between meditation on emptiness and daily life but that is a total misunderstanding. It is a sign that they have not recognized the hallucination as hallucination.

If you do look at hallucination as hallucination then you have a totally different world! [6] No longer are you engaged in the old way of living our life which, from beginningless life, beginningless rebirth, has caused us to suffer, be reborn and again die – all because we have held onto phenomena as real and believed in them existing as true. Holding onto hallucinations as real is the cause of samsara.

This meditation is also presented without notes. See Meditations


Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliographythe_twelve_links_of_dependent_origination

[1] Following a more general introductionKyabje Zopa Rinpoche now appears to be using “healthy” and “happy”  not in the sense of everyday parlance, but rather, to describe a particular mind: one that is reliably happy and soundly healthy because it does not assent to the manner in which things appear (to ignorance) to truly exist. Thus, it can skilfully enable our movement away from suffering and pain i.e. facilitate our real task of overcoming samsara. As Kyabje Zopa says at the end of his meditation: “Holding onto hallucinations as real is the cause of samsara.” Also describing  how this  [happy and healthy] mind is “the opposite of ignorance” Tsongkhapa writes:

Ignorance is the opposite of knowledge, but knowledge should not be taken as just any knowledge; rather, it is wisdom knowing suchness–selflessness. Its opposite is not suitable to be just the nonexistence of it or just something other than it; hence, its opposite is its contradictory equivalent. This is a superimposition of self [that is, inherent existence]; furthermore, it is the two superimpositions of a self of phenomena and of persons. Hence, both a consciousness apprehending a self of phenomena and a consciousness apprehending a self of persons are ignorance.

The manner of superimposition by ignorance is to conceive that phenomena exist by way of their own nature, by way of their own character or inherently.

See Hopkins, Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Final Exposition, 38.

Given this precise definition, the wisdom that is ignorance’s exact contradictory equivalent is the “healthy happy mind” because it (alone) allows us to overcome ignorance together with the afflictive emotions that arise from it. There is implicit reference here to the operation of the twelve links of dependent arising. Again in the words of Tsongkhapa:

Therefore, ignorance, apprehending the proliferations of persons, such as man and woman, and of phenomena, such as form and feeling, to be truly existent is overcome by finding the view realizing emptiness–selflessness–and cultivating it in meditation. When that ignorance is overcome, you overcome the conceptuality that is the improper mental application superimposing signs of beauty, ugliness, and so forth upon having observed the objects of the apprehension of true existence. When that is overcome, the other afflictive emotions–desire and so forth–which have the view of the transitory as their root are overcome, When they are overcome, actions motivated by them are overcome. When they are overcome, powerless birth in cyclic existence impelled by actions is overcome, whereby liberation is attained. Thinking about this, you should generate firm ascertainment and then unerringly seek the view of suchness.

See Hopkins, Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Final Exposition, 58. Reading this the other way, the consciousness (third link) that bears the imprint of a contaminated action (second link) due to being motivated by ignorance (the first link) is said to be contaminated or stained. Working together these three links form “the causes which project another rebirth.” See Rinchen, How Karma Works, 47. Though this is the topic for another post, “the view of the transitory” (Tib. jigta) refers to the ignorance that is the first link.. It  refers to something “more specific than the conception of true existence” in that its “observed object” is  the “I” and “mine” in one’s own continuum. “The view of the transitory collection incorrectly grasps these as inherently existent. However, both the view of the transitory collection and the conception of true existence are alike  in erroneously  engaging their (respective) object as something  “existing from it own side, independently of any other phenomena.” See Geshe Jampa Tegchok, Transforming Adversity, 227. See also Geshe Sonam Rinchen, How Karma Works, 57-8.

Pursuing the topic a little further, all wisdoms might be said to be contaminated or “stained” by ignorance except that of the uncontaminated insight of the noble beings in meditative equipoise. That is because their exalted meditative equipoise sees the ultimate nature of phenomena non-dualistically. Therefore, to this supreme mind alone (allowing also, of course for the minds of liberated and enlightened ones), objects exist exactly as they appear i.e. unstained by the fabricated appearances of true or inherent existence. Tsongkhapa says:

If objects really existed as they are perceived through the mists of ignorance, they would have to be so perceived through the uncontaminated insight of the noble beings in meditative equipoise, But although from that perspective they are not perceived even the slightest bit, the way those things really are is the object of that insight. This is because that insight comprehends the way entities really exist, and because the nonexistence of the entities as things really stand is the very way that things really are. This is also because if the object of negation existed it would have to be perceived So, just in virtue of its not being perceived, the negation of the object of refutation is taken to be perceived. The meaning of the statement “nonseeing is the most exalted seeing” is not asserted to be that to have not seen anything is to have seen. Instead, as has been previously explained, to have not seen the fabricated is to have seen free from fabrication. Therefore to have seen and not to have not seen are not grounded on the same basis.

See Tsongkhapa, Ocean of Reasoning, 319. Kyabje Zopa’s meditation therefore invites us to begin destabilizing our compulsive habit of assenting to the myriad appearances of things existing as they appear: as inherently existent. In this manner we can begin to estimate the sheer degree to which we projectively and pervasively fabricate an unreal or false “reality,” one in which we untiringly believe and to which we so tenaciously cling. For how can we even begin to cultivate a happy healthy mind if remaining mired–due to our bewilderment–in the afflicted and obscured nature of our current circumstances? The only remedy: cultivation of the uncontaminated unobstructed wisdom that is the “discordant class” which is “contradictory to ignorance” (which believes that the object of negation really exists). See Tegchok, Transforming Adversity in Joy, 235. Contradiction here must be understood as not partial but exact: it is in this precise sense that wisdom is ignorance’s “contradictory equivalent” (referring back to the earlier Tsongkhapa quote). In this  way we are returned full-circle to the task of identifying the object of negation (estimating not too little and not too much) and  hence to the cognitive  thrust of Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche’s instruction to probe/question the ‘reality’ of  appearances as we go about our daily lives.  

Finally, regarding the very notion or, indeed, possibility of “happy” and “healthy” minds set or established in an ordinary worldly sense, and in counterfoil to the exalted wisdom mind described above, Pabongkha Rinpoche writes:

I can discount the uncontaminated happiness in the mindstreams of all sentient beings; they have only the contaminated sort. Even the thing they take to be happiness has not transcended the nature of suffering. How wonderful if all sentient beings had happiness! May they come to have it! I will procure for them such happiness!

See Liberation in the Palm, 579 (1991 edition).



[2] Following on from the verses of the Seventh Dalai Lama (just quoted above), the Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) explains:

Whatever we perceive seems to exist from its own side. For example, when I look at all of you in the audience, each of you seem to exist from your own side; it does not at all appear as if these appearances are imputed by my consciousness.

If things did exist from the side of the object, then when they are sought analytically, they should become more and more evident. For example, when seeking analytically for my self, the only place where such could sensibly be sought is here in this area where my body is. It can be decided that the place of the existence of my self must be with this self’s mental and physical aggregates and not anywhere else. Then, when this self is sought from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, it is not at all found.

In the same way, without analysis and investigation, we have a common impression of “my mind” and “my body”, and indeed the mind and the body belong to the I; however, aside from mind and body there is no I. Similarly, no matter what phenomena is sought analytically, it cannot be found amongst its bases of designation.

See Harvard Lectures, 203-4.


[3] His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

What is the “self” that does not exist? As Chandrakīrti says in his Commentary on (Āryadeva’s) “Four Hundred Stanzas on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas“:

Here “self” is an inherent existence of phenomena, that is, non-dependence on another. The non-existence of this is selflessness.

Therefore the object of negation, called “self”, is an existence of things under their own power without depending on others. Tibetan lamas have been very skilful in drawing out the meaning of these topics. The Seventh Dalai Lama says:

For a consciousness made crazy by sleep, there are dream objects.
For those affected by magic, there are horses, elephants and so forth.
Aside from mere appearances, there are no factually established phenomena there–
They are only imputed by consciousness.

The various objects that appear in dreams as well as those that appear in magic shows are just appearances to the mind; except for that, such actual objects do not exist in those places; these are only imputed by consciousness. The reference here is to ordinary dreams, not special dream bodies and so forth.

Similarly, self and other, cyclic existence and nirvana,
All phenomena are only imputed by consciousness and terms.
Aside from that, none of them in the least exist by themselves
Right with their own bases of designation.

Nonetheless, that for the six consciousnesses of common beings
Overwhelmed by the thick sleep of ignorance,
Whatever appears seems to be established in its own right
Can be determined by watching our own bad minds.

This mode of subsistence in which the I and so forth appear
To a mistaken consciousness to be established from their own side
Is the subtle object of negation. Therefore, value greatly
The refutation of it, without any remainder, for your mind.

See Harvard Lectures, 203-4. For an alternative translation of the root verses see The Seventh Dalai Lama, Songs of Spiritual Change, “Meditations to Sever the Ego”, 53-5.


[4] The Questions of Upāli Sūtra is quoted by Tsongkhapa to the same effect:

Moreover, the Questions of Upāli Sūtra says that phenomena are posited through the power of conceptualisation:

Here even the various mind-pleasing blossoming flowers
And attractive shining supreme golden houses
Have no [inherently existent] maker at all.
They are posited through the power of conceptuality.
Through the power of conceptuality the world is imputed.

See Hopkins, Tsong-kha-pa’s Final Exposition, 39. This famous verse was also quoted with commentary in the post The Magician’s Illusions.

Pabongka uses a powerful logical analysis to vividly establish how phenomena, although appearing “quite independent and self-contained” are actually merely imputed by labelling thought:

All phenomena are examples of interdependent original, that is, a label is merely assumed upon some basis of imputation–which is some other component serving as the basis of imputation. Take the case of a pot…To the consciousnesses of ordinary beings who have not achieved the view, the pot does not appear to be merely a phenomena imputed on some basis of that imputation. Instead, the basis of imputation and the imputed phenomena are so inextricably mixed that the pot appears to be something self-apparent and established. It may appear in this way, but when you pursue the reasoning that the basis of imputation and the phenomena are separate, you will find that the pot, which instinctively is being held to be true, cannot be established as true. as being the same as the basis of imputation, which is itself supposed to be established as true. Further, once you apply a process of elimination to the basis of imputation of the pot, what remains does not seem to be a pot that you can point to. Instead, the valid conventional pot appears to you in dependence upon its valid basis of imputation–the set of the mouth, the belly, the base, and so on. You must assume that the pot exists merely as a conventional truth, because the pot cannot be established as something that is itself established as true and separate from its basis of imputation.

See Pabongka, Liberation, 701-2.


[5] Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa similarly observes that “everything that appears to you is the object of negation”:

Kalden Gyatso concludes his discussion of the object of negation by offering to reveal the object of negation nakedly, just as it is. He then says that everything that appears to you is the object of negation! Your own body and mind as well as all external things appear to you as truly, inherently existent, and you then grasp and cling to that false mode of appearance. Although things do exist conventionally in mere name, ordinary beings have not yet realized emptiness and so cannot differentiate experientially between what’s conventionally existent and what’s the object of negation. Ordinary being are always mistaken in actually believing in the false appearance of things existing from their own side. When you negate this false appearance, that simple negation induces the experience of emptiness.

See Lobsang Jampa, The Easy Path, 246. Pabongka similarly observes:

The consciousnesses that lie within the mental streams of us ordinary beings have been affected by ignorance, and when physical things and so forth appear to us, their mode of appearance is none other than that of seeming to be established in their own right. This appearance is the way the object to be refuted appears, and we must refute such appearances of their supposedly being established in this way.

See Pabongka, Liberation, 701 (1991 edition). This said, it is extremely helpful to make the following subtle distinction: the sense consciousness to which an object appears as inherently existent is not itself (an example of) the “concept of true existence”.  Geshe Jamapa Tegchok explains:

The mind to which the table appears to exist from its own side–in this case the visual consciousness that apprehends the table–is not the conception of true existence. When objects appear to our five sense consciousnesses–the visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile consciousnesses–and our mental consciousness, they appear as if they existed from their own side. After they appear in this way, another mind comes along which conceives of them being exactly like that: existing from their own side, without depending on causes and conditions, or anything else. That mind is the inborn conception of true existence. It is a mental consciousness, not a sense consciousness. This is the unknowing ignorance to which objects appear to exist from their own side, and which then conceives of them as actually existing in that way. Ignorance itself is the conception of true existence. It does not see an object’s actual way of being and conceives its objects to exist from their own side.

See Tegchok, Transforming Problems, 226. Recognizing a dream as a dream or an hallucination as a hallucination then, involves understanding how the way things appear to the sense consciousnesses–as inherently existent (due to the latencies or stains of ignorance)–is subsequently erroneously confirmed (or affirmed) by the concept conceiving those objects to “really” or “actually” exist in that (self-existent) way.  It is the non-existence, in reality, of the referent object of that concept–inherent or true existence–that is to be discovered, or established, as totally non-existent by the wisdom realizing emptiness. The point: “this truly existent object does not, in fact exist.” As Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains:

To contradict this incorrect referent object we need a mind that apprehends it in a way that contradicts, or is opposite to, the way ignorance apprehends it. That is, since ignorance apprehends its object as existing from its own side, to eliminate that misapprehension we need a mind which apprehends its object as not existing from its own side. We need a mind that knows, “This does not exist from its own side. Not even the smallest atom of it exists from its own side,” and which thus apprehends its object in a way that is contradictory to that ignorance.” Ibid, 228. 

Again we are returned to the essential meaning of Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche”s most felicitous (not fallacious!) “happy healthy mind.” Seeing (hallucinations of) true existence to be the opposite of how things exist (as mere imputations by thought and thus empty of true existence)  is what allows/enables us to see, or fathom, hallucinations as hallucinations. It is not just a case of verbally repeating that phrase. 

[6] Geshe Rabten gives a very rare first-hand and inspirational account of his unfolding meditational realizations of emptiness while in retreat. I quote two verses (3-4):

When I examined this old monk who
previously seemed so existent,
He turned out to be just like the tracks of a bird
in the sky.
The appearance of a bird just turns through the
But if one looks for its tracks, they are
inexpressible: emptiness is all there is. 

I reflected upon the mode of being of
How can they be different from the example
of space?
The manifold things that briefly appear in
a variety of ways
Are like drawings on water, that cannot stay
Being of the nature of water, they arise from
They repeatedly arise from and dissolve back
into it. 

See Rabten, Song of the Profound View, 25-7.


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