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Seeing That Frees: Meditations on Emptiness and Dependent Arising
by Rob Burbea


This book by Rob Burbea offers a comprehensive exploration of the Buddhist concepts of emptiness (śūnyatā) and dependent arising (paṭiccasamuppāda) as the path to liberation from suffering. It's a practical guide for meditators, emphasizing experience-based understanding and skillful means to cultivate liberating insights.

Key Concepts:

  • Emptiness: Not a void or a state of deprivation, but the absence of inherent existence in all phenomena, including the self. Recognizing this emptiness frees the mind from clinging and suffering.
  • Dependent Arising: The interconnectedness of all phenomena. Everything arises in dependence on causes and conditions, including the mind itself.
  • Fabrication: All appearances, including the self and even awareness, are fabricated by the mind through delusion (avijjā).
  • Insight: Any understanding that brings a lessening of suffering. This includes both spontaneous realizations and the intentional cultivation of 'insight ways of looking' that reshape perception.
  • Samādhi: Calm, concentrated, unified mind and body, a vital resource for deepening insight.
  • The Three Characteristics: Anicca (impermanence), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and anattā (not-self) are key insights that can be practised as liberating ways of looking.

The Book's Structure:

The book progresses gradually, introducing concepts and practices in a step-by-step manner. It explores:

  • Part One: Orientations - Introduces emptiness and dependent arising, addressing initial reactions and concerns.
  • Part Two: Tools and Provisions - Defines insight, explains the importance of samādhi, and outlines different modes of insight practice.
  • Part Three: Setting Out - Explores the basic practices of recognizing emptiness through social conventions, deconstructing differences, and staying at contact.
  • Part Four: On Deepening Roads - Explores the three characteristics as liberating ways of looking: anicca, dukkha, and anattā.
  • Part Five: Of Highways and Byways - Discusses the role of concepts and analytical meditation in the journey, including the sevenfold reasoning.
  • Part Six: Radical Discoveries - Investigates the fading of perception, the emptiness of clinging, and the mutual dependency of dualities.
  • Part Seven: Further Adventures, Further Findings - Examines the emptiness of walking, the use of mettā to see the emptiness of phenomena, and the malleability of perception.
  • Part Eight: No Traveller, No Journey - Explores the emptiness of awareness and the nature of time, and how these insights challenge conventional understanding of dependent arising.
  • Part Nine: Like a Dream, Like a Magician’s Illusion… - Delves into the ultimate nature of things, moving beyond the concept of emptiness and contemplating the Unfabricated.
  • Part Ten: An Empowerment of Views - Consolidates the journey, exploring the implications of emptiness for various heart practices and for the concept of nirvāṇa.

Key Insights:

  • Emptiness is not a state of mind or a thing to be obtained, but a quality inherent in all things, including the self.
  • The world is fabricated by the mind through delusion and clinging, which itself is empty and lacks inherent existence.
  • There is no true separation between subject and object. Consciousness and perception are mutually dependent and empty.
  • Time itself is a fabrication and lacks inherent existence. The notion of a continuous flow of time is an illusion.
  • The ultimate truth is beyond all conceptual distinctions, including the concept of emptiness itself.
  • The ultimate nature of things, and of the mind, is inherently peaceful and free from the constraints of fabrication.
  • Compassion and enlightenment are inseparable. The realization of emptiness awakens a heart that is wholly devoted to the welfare of all beings.

Overall, the book emphasizes the importance of exploring and realizing emptiness through practice, not simply through intellectual understanding. It offers a rich and nuanced exploration of the path, encouraging open-mindedness, experimentation, and a playful engagement with the teachings.