I've just finished the Dalai Lama's How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life. In it, the Dalai Lama talks a lot about form and emptiness, which is something I've struggled for years to understand. Here's my understanding of what I read:
First off, there are two planes on which to understand reality: the conventional plane and the ultimate plane. That is, the common, phenomenological way of viewing reality and the deeper, unconventional plane, on which phenomena are seen for what they really are. These two planes intersect in our experience of them, with the conventional plane manifesting in the appearance of things (the form), and the ultimate plane manifesting in the reality underlying that appearance (the emptiness).
Assuming that is accurate, we come to dependent-arising and emptiness. All phenomena are dependent upon causes and conditions past and future, as well as on constituents of themselves (such as the body being dependent on the heart and brain, etc). Our perception of phenomena is also dependent on such things, as a lovely meal may, after eating too much, seem less inviting than it did before we began to eat. This is dependent arising.
Emptiness is observed when we recognize that all phenomena are dependent in this way, and thus lack inherent existence, which seems to be the ability of a given object or phenomenon to exist on its own, independent of causes, conditions, etc. They are empty of this inherent existence. Thus, we arrive at the truth of emptiness, which co-exists with the truth of dependent-arising (in fact, they depend on one another in terms of the logical explanation I just discussed). We perceive things in a conventional way, and they exist on that plane. However, simultaneously, these things are empty of inherent existence, dependent on causes and conditions, and thus are full of emptiness, which is realized on the ultimate plane.
This is my understanding of what I read. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Now, to my question. The Dalai Lama also says, at one point, that "mind [and consciousness] arises in dependence upon a former mind [or consciousness] of similar type, which requires that there had been an earlier beginningless continuum of mind [or consciousness]... there is no beginning of consciousness, and there is no end to it." However, when considering dependent-arising and emptiness, one arrives not at a position of nihilism, but at a position where the world and all its phenomena disappear and become mere constructions, leaving a vast open plane of emptiness with no phenomena of inherent existence contained within it. What, if anything, possesses inherent existence? If nothing possesses inherent existence, what gave rise to the "beginningless" continua of mind and consciousness?
PS. By the way, long time, no post. It's good to be back at Treeleaf.