The Bodhisatva Avelokiteshvara,
Practicing the perfection of wisdom, going deep
Was illuminated and perceived that
All five skandhas are empty of intrinsic existence.
Thus being at one with all things,
Experiencing things directly without the intervention
All suffering and doubt ceased.
The key is perceiving that all five skandhas ... the appearance of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness-ego ... are empty of intrinsic existence because they are all dependent on your specific learned experiences. As a result, someone else with a difference set of learned experiences has different perceptions, etc. And to perceive that truth, one must first be present so that one can go deep within.
That’s the bottom line. But to understand why and how let me go back to the beginning. In my book, Scratching the Itch: Getting to the Root of Our Suffering, I devote two chapters to this question. In the first, “Why Do We Crave,” I say that we have no equanimity, we cannot accept ourselves and our lives because of the fears and insecurities that developed within us, usually during childhood. These fears and insecurities in turn were learned experiences, were the result of experiences we had interacting either with our family, our peers, or the larger society and culture. We ended up defining ourselves and the world around us through a bundle of learned labels, which blocked our mind and heart from the knowledge of who we, and what the world around us, really were.
The first step in the process of finding dispassion is to acknowledge this basic fact of our lives. Once we acknowledge that our perceptions are all a function of our family, peer-group, or larger society and that it is these perceptions that make it impossible for us to truly accept ourselves and our lives as they are, which in turn makes it impossible to approach our lives with equanimity, which in turn causes us to attach to what we do and thus crave those things, which is the cause of our suffering … once we acknowledge all of this, then we have positioned ourselves to address the next steps.
It is one thing to acknowledge that all of our perceptions are based on learned experience. It is quite another to acknowledge and understand that those perceptions are illusory, that they and our learned experience are empty of intrinsic existence and thus do not reflect reality … that we have no way of experiencing reality through the faculty of our mind. This is explored in the book's next chapter, “Discovering the Emptiness of Thought.”
Whether you think about how you relate to the weather or yourself or other people or whatever ... it all comes down to the labels that our learned experience automatically places on things and people.
To be clear, this assertion does not dispute the fact, for example, that it has been gray and raining for days on end, or that we or others are unemployed, or making a certain amount of money, or tend to be introverted … it disputes the label our mind places on those conditions ... nasty, failure, nerd. And the fact that our culture supports that label makes it no less illusory; it makes it seem very real and makes it harder to free ourselves from that perception, but it is still just a creation of our mind based on our learned experience.
When you come to understand this, even at first intellectually, this opens the door to start the process of freeing ourselves and finding dispassion. What you must do is to be aware, which is to be present, so that one is able to observe how our thinking-mind places labels on things that create a barrier to experiencing what really is. And as I’ve noted in many other posts, the key when being aware of the thinking-mind arising is to choose not to follow it’s lead, to follow instead your true Buddha nature. That is the beginning of exercising dispassion.
As time goes on and your understanding of the emptiness of the five skandhas is absorbed by you and comes from your gut or your heart, you will be in conscious contact with your true Buddha nature and you will feel dispassion as a matter of course. It will become the default reaction, not the application of labels.
In this post, I have just been able to touch on this difficult and important subject. For more, see my book, Scratching the Itch: Getting to the Root of Our Suffering.