How is balanced stillness (samyak-samādhi) connected with emptiness?
In the Lesser Discourse on Emptiness as I have translated it, the Buddha draws a distinction between the idea of balanced stillness of the mind without a meditation object (animitta cetosamādhi), and the reality of being here, grounded in this very body, susceptible to six senses, having life as a condition.
Here the connection with emptiness is that the latter reality is empty of the former idea.
When in Fukan-zazengi Zen Master Dogen wrote of just sitting and being caught by the still state (tada taza o tsutomete gocchi ni saeraru), he was talking from the standpoint of the latter reality – that reality being empty, for example, of attachment to any idea of what samādhi, the still state is.
In the same spirit Dogen wrote:
Although there are myriad distinctions and thousands of differences, we should devote ourselves solely to Zen practice in pursuit of the truth.
(Banbetsu sensa to iu to iedomo, shikan ni sanzen-bendo subeshi.)
And these words are very reminiscent of what the Buddha himself is recorded as saying at the end of the Mahāgosiṅgasuttaṁ, The Greater Discourse in Gosiṅga:
“All have spoken well, Sāriputta, each in his own way. Hear also from me what kind of bhikkhu could illuminate the Gosiṅga Sāla-tree Wood. Here, Sāriputta, when a bhikkhu has returned from his almsround, after his meal, he sits. Folding his legs into the lotus posture, directing his body up, establishing mindfulness to the fore, [he resolves]: 'I shall not break this sitting posture until, through not clinging, my mind is freed from the polluting influences.' That kind of bhikkhu, Sāriputta, could illuminate the Gosiṅga Sāla-tree Wood.”
When Nāgārjuna in MMK26.11 says that the stopping of ignorance is because of the bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing, or because of the cultivation of just this wisdom (jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt), the wisdom in question is wisdom in regard to emptiness. At the same time, the act of knowing in question is the act of knowing this true samādhi which is sitting doing itself, being empty of clinging.
So this, it seems to me now, is how true samādhi is truly connected with emptiness. True samādhi is truly connected with emptiness through the practice of just sitting.
And to produce a translation of MMK that clarifies just this connection, it strikes me this morning, is what I have been working towards for the last 35 years – not least by finding time for sitting, as a general rule, four times every day. Though I can't help feeling that I have fucked up royally in many regards, that standard I have kept, largely under the influence of Master Dogen's teaching of the essence in Fukan-zazengi.
My teacher saw that one way to connect true samādhi with emptiness was through a neuro-physiological explanation of balance. In that explanation, emptiness is the just the state of plus-minus zero which is the balanced state of the autononomic nervous system.
More fundamentally, however, the connection between true samādhi and emptiness is through sitting which is empty of all bullshit explanations of samādhi.
I think the closest Sanskrit equivalent to “bullshit explanation,” incidentally, is prapañca.
a-nirodham an-utpādam an-ucchedam a-śāśvatam |
an-ekārtham a-nānārtham an-āgamam a-nirgamam ||
Not a cessation, not an arising; not nihilism, nothing eternal; not meaning one thing, not meaning many things; not an arriving, not a going away...
yaḥ pratītya-samutpādaṁ prapañcopaśamaṁ śivam |
deśayām āsa saṁbuddhas taṁ vande vadatāṁ varam ||
there is pratītya-samutpāda which, as the benign cutting of bullshit, he the Fully Awakened Sambuddha taught. I praise him, the best of speakers.
Ostensibly what is thus described as the cutting of bullshit (or, more politely, the ending of conceptual elaboration) is “dependent arising” – i.e. pratītya-samutpāda as a middle-way teaching on causality. But pratītya-samutpāda can also be literally translated in such a way – e.g. by the words “a complete springing up, by going back” – as to suggest just sitting itself.