What exactly does it mean to “drop the object” during an emptiness
meditation? In essence, there are three steps:
1. Becoming aware that the object you are focusing on is a projection.
2. Consciously trying to dissolve that projection which the mind is creating, and then
3. Focusing on the absence of that object existing once you take away its projection.
Of these three steps, it is the last which is the most important. It is that absence which we want to fix our minds on for as long as possible.
What if I try to dissolve the object but it doesn’t work? This is quite likely, actually, because it takes a lot of good karma to be able to do this completely.
The mind is really just replacing a projection of an object with a projection of its absence, and as we all know, we can never control our projections in the present moment. In this case, we would imagine that the projection has disappeared, and then focus on that third step – the absence of there being anything beyond that projection. And because doing this meditation is such good karma, with practice we collect the karma to be able to do it better and
An Exercise in Dropping the Object
I become aware of my right shoulder. I feel the curve of the skin, and watch the mind as it forms a mental picture of that same shape.
Now I move my mind down to my left big toe. I can see and feel the outline of the toenail and the shape of the toe. I can feel the fabric of my pants pressing against it.
Now quickly I check, while I am still focusing on the toe, where is the shoulder? Since I was single-pointed in my focus on the toe, my mind dropped the image of the shoulder. The shoulder was removed from my consciousness for that period of time. (Of course, as soon as I think “shoulder”, it pops up again.)
So really, I am dropping conceptions all the time and replacing them with different conception, but without any awareness that I am doing so.
Now I need to apply an awareness of emptiness to this act. When I think about it, in those moments when I was focusing on my toe, I was completely unaware of every other part of my body. They simply didn’t exist as objects of my consciousness in those moments.
In fact, I can never actually be conscious of more than one part of my body at any given moment. Though of course I can switch quickly from one to the next, like when I think of “eye”, “nose”, “mouth” so quickly that it seems like I can experience “face”.
But this idea of a “body” – where did it come from? It has no basis in an actual experience of an awareness of an entire body, because I can never be aware of more than one part at a time. Even when I look in a mirror, my eyes can only register one part at a time.
So it is my mind that is linking these distinct experiences of consciousness together and calling them one body. This is just a concept. And the fact that in reality there is no body out there, coming from its own side, is the emptiness of this body.
This mental image I have of a body – this is just something being projected by my mind. That is step #1. Now for step #2, I simply take away that image which my mind is projecting; I just dissolve it. Now, step #3: after I have taken away the body that my mind was projecting, what body is left out there? There is no body that exists outside of my projection. I lock my mind onto that absence of a self-existent body, and I try to stay there steadily and clearly for as long as I can.
When the image of a body starts creeping back in my mind again, or when the emptiness I am focusing on starts to get fuzzy, I just take myself through the three steps again.
But what about the parts of the body? Are they really out there?
I bring my focus back to my shoulder, and I analyze what I am experiencing.
First the mind “locates” the shoulder, meaning that it outlines an area of “space” where it thinks the shoulder should be.
Then when I place my mind on that shoulder location, two things arise: an image of the general shape of the shoulder, and a corresponding physical feeling. In actuality these are two separate projections of the mind – neither one is “out there” the way they seem to be.
I focus on the fact that these are mental images. I watch how my mind is actually drawing a curved line to make a shoulder. And I think about how the feeling of the shoulder wasn’t there before I focused my mind at that location – if it was “out there”, wouldn’t I always feel it?
Now that I’ve got it firmly in my mind that what I am experiencing are merely two projections (step #1), let’s see if I can stop projecting them (step #2). First let’s try to remove the visual image. Then I’ll try to remove the feeling.
Now that my projections of a shoulder are gone, let’s see what shoulder is left (step #3). There is no shoulder outside of my projections. I fix my mind on this absence of a shoulder out there for as long as I can.
[Note: while using your body and its parts is a bit more difficult initially, it is a much more powerful meditation. It directly attacks our wrong views of seeing a self-existent “me” and “mine”, and is a very good seed for seeing emptiness directly. (When you see emptiness directly, the emptiness you focus upon is yourself.)]