Sogyal Rinpoche on God and Emptiness

A recent discussion with a friend on Facebook about the nature of the Absolute, brought to mind something I had transcribed years ago from a CD, but had forgotten about. So, I thought I’d dig it up from my dharma archives and share it here on my blog. The passage is from a talk by the well-known Tibetan teacher Sogyal Rinpoche, and it was titled “Tibetan Wisdom for Living and Dying.”

The question of how Buddhist view God is always of interest to open-minded people, and I think what Sogyal Rinpoche says dovetails nicely with an earlier post that shared the insights of Zen Master Seung Sahn on this subject:

True God, True Buddha

and its follow-up:

Reaction to Seung Sahn-the Buddha laughed!

Here’s what I transcribed. (Because this is from a live talk, not a written piece, the style is informal and friendly, and I hope some of  wit, humor, and  joy of the teacher come through.)

Sogyal Rinpoche on God and Emptiness

Particularly the word emptiness is rather, is something that is very, highly misunderstood. I mean, I think in California it is understood well, because everyone reads, everyone is familiar about Zen and the Heart Sutra and Zen and the teachings, so people know about emptiness and sunyata a little bit.

But in generally speaking, I sometimes find, if you go tell, like someone from the Midwest, that Buddhist do not believe in God, (Sogyal laughs) they believe in emptiness (big laugh Sogyal – big audience laughter). That worse! First tell them that Buddhists don’t believe in God, and secondly you tell them they believe in emptiness (laughs). That’s worse! That they believe in “nothingness!” That’s worse!

That’s why you need to explain. Because when Buddhist say they do not believe in God, it does not mean that Buddhists don’t believe in the nature of God! Because the nature of God is the nature of truth, is the sunyata, or emptiness. The same! But Buddhists do not believe in the concept of God. Because in many ways you, you see, however good the concepts are, it does not do justice for the Absolute. All the concepts of God will not describe, really, what God is.

Do you know what I’m saying? There is a wonderful saying by a great Buddhist master called Shantideva, who is a very great compassion master. He said, “Absolute is beyond mind.” That which is within the realm of mind is called relative. “Absolute is beyond mind.” Since God is beyond mind, it is beyond concept. Therefore empty, empty means free, open, like the sky. It doesn’t mean emptiness in a nihilistic sense, like my cup is empty of tea or something.

You know what I mean? It’s not that kind of emptiness. “Empty” means free. It means limitless. It means open. It means uncompounded. It’s not created. Because anything that is created is subject to death. Emptiness is uncompounded. It’s unchanging. It’s beyond birth and death. It is sky-like nature.”

If this “snapshot” intrigues you and you want to look further into Tibetan Buddhism, you might want to look into getting the 8-CD set, which you can buy at Amazon, among other places:


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

4 Responses to “Sogyal Rinpoche on God and Emptiness”

  1. Heodinni Kandhihawa (Branchi) Reply 2011/06/22 at 3:59 AM

    Greeting from me, Heodinni Kandhihawa, in Yogyakarta _ Indonesia, Guru…
    I’m a new follower in Buddhist…
    Hope you can guide me here….
    tashi delek…

  2. I would like to comment…but it would simply be an impulse to connect with the online sangha…y’know? There is no meaningful way to respond to the words of Sogyal Rinpoche, with more words. That said, here is my attempt:

    Wow! Online sangha! Hello!

  3. Hi, Steve,
    Long time, no comment! I’ve been kind of laying low since moving to FL, but I’m still subscribed to your blog, and this post really made me happy–it’s such a wonderful explanation of so many of the things I’ve been contemplating on my own.
    Starting this week I’m going to be moderating a class for adults called “Meditation and Readings in Spirituality,” in which we’ll be exploring various spiritual traditions and ways of relating to the Divine (kind of sticking my neck out down here in the Bible Belt, but it should be interesting!).
    I was wondering if you’d mind if I quote from this post as part of our reading–I think that it would be a wonderful way to get people to have a deeper understanding of Buddhist thinking on the subject (it certainly helped me!).
    Please let me know, and I hope you’re doing well!

    Nancy (saradode)


  1. John Frusciante – Look On : Cars Blog | Everything You should Know about Cars - 2011/02/21

    […] Sogyal Rinpoche on God and Emptiness « Metta Refuge […]

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