A Conversation with Lama Shenpen about Emptiness and the Heart Sutra

A student writes:

“I’ve been studying the Heart Sutra and some difficulties arise when I look at ’emptiness’ in the context of that sutra.

In your book ‘Buddha Within‘ you say that Thrangu Rinpoche says that both the emptiness of illusion and the emptiness of the ultimate are both implied in ’emptiness’. Yet it is very difficult for me to get a sense that the emptiness of the ultimate is being implied in the ‘Heart Sutra’ apart from the concluding mantra.

How do I work towards a glimpse that both are being talked about?”

Lama Shenpen:

My talks on Dharmata (true nature, absolute reality) might help with this.

How do you understand ‘form is emptiness, emptiness is form, emptiness is not other than form, form is no other than emptiness’? If the sutra were simply saying form is an illusion and so is unreliable and not ultimate reality, why would it then go on to say ’emptiness is form’?


Is it the case that when one sees that phenomenal reality is empty of permanence, satisfaction, substance, that one also realises the ultimate being empty of impermanence, etc?

Lama Shenpen:

Conditioned, created phenomena are empty of permanence, satisfactoriness and self. It does not make sense to say ultimate being is empty of impermanence, suffering and self.

It is empty of anything false that we superimpose on it. In other words it cannot be grasped by our concepts – it can only be known directly, experientially without concepts.


I wonder if this is the case because of Khenpo Rinpoche’s ‘warning’ about not over negating clear light in ‘Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness’?

Lama Shenpen:

He is saying Ultimate reality is Prabhasvarachitta (clear light mind/heart). It is empty of all that is false, not empty of the limitless Buddha qualities that are its innate nature.

Lama Shenpen is teaching on Self and Not Self on 9th -11th April. Find out more HERE.

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