Brahmavihāra & Emptiness Course with Bhikkhu Anālayo

Brahmavihāra & Emptiness: A 6-day Online Practice Course
Offered by the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts, USA : Oct 23–29. Registration is open through Thursday, Oct 22.


Why the brahmaviharas are linked to emptiness:

[The Buddha:] "Yes, Ananda, you heard that correctly, learned it correctly, attended to it correctly, remembered it correctly. Now, as well as before, I remain fully in a dwelling of emptiness. Just as this palace of Migara’s mother is empty of elephants, cattle, & mares, empty of gold & silver, empty of assemblies of women & men, and there is only this non-emptiness — the singleness based on the community of monks; even so, Ananda, a monk — not attending to the perception[1] of village, not attending to the perception of human being — attends to the singleness based on the perception of wilderness. His mind takes pleasure, finds satisfaction, settles, & indulges in its perception of wilderness.

"He discerns that ‘Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of village are not present. Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of human being are not present. There is only this modicum of disturbance: the singleness based on the perception of wilderness.’ He discerns that ‘This mode of perception is empty of the perception of village. This mode of perception is empty of the perception of human being. There is only this non-emptiness: the singleness based on the perception of wilderness.’ Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there. Whatever remains, he discerns as present: ‘There is this.’ And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, & pure.”—-MN 121

The Cula-sunnata sutta, the Lesser Discourse on Emptiness, legitimizes wilderness as a subject of meditation and singles it out from human society as a superior subject of attention in its progression of steps. This is probably the threshold at which many western practitiones stand, not able to intellectually break the bonds with human society. For those who practice the meditation on wilderness, this gives rise to the need for the brahmaviharas as a balancing factor since they are the Theravada social attitudes. This inclusion of metta meditation is seen in the alternative system set out in a relatively few suttas (SN 46.54, MN 77, MN 137, and DN 15) where metta is referred to as “the beautiful.”

“Or he may enter & remain in the beautiful liberation. I tell you, monks, awareness-release through good will has the beautiful as its excellence — in the case of one who has penetrated to no higher release.”—-SN 46.54

Metta is then included as a preliminary subject to the meditation on space, which is related to the developing of its “boundless” quality. Although MN 121 does not include a reference to metta, it refers to the diversity of human society being overcome as the first achievement of emptiness, and likewise metta views beings as a unified class subject to suffering. The sutta then describes steps of spatial expansion from wilderness to the earth, and then to the infinitude of space. This allies it with the alternative system referred to above. This system has a visual means of practice.

"Possessed of form, he/she sees forms. This is the first direction.

"Not percipient of form internally, he/she sees forms externally. This is the second direction.

"He/she is intent only on the beautiful. This is the third direction.

"With the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite space,’ he/she enters and remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. This is the fourth direction…” —MN 137

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