Ven. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
I didn't come here today to give any formal sermon or lecture, but to have an informal chat among friends. I hope that you all agree to this, so that we can speak and listen to each other without formality and rituals, even if our talk here becomes somewhat different or unusual. Further, I intend to speak only about the most essential matters, important topics which people consider to be profound. Therefore, if you don't listen carefully you may find it difficult to follow and might misunderstand, especially those of you who haven't heard the previous talks in this series.
The last talk called "WhatTo Do To Be Void." This time I intend to talk about "No Religion." If you find the subject strange or incomprehensible, or if don't agree, please take the time to think it over. But remember, it isn't necessary to believe or subscribe to what I say right away.
When we meet together like this, I feel there is something which prevents us from understanding each other and this thing is simply the problem of language itself. You see, there are two kinds of language. One is the conventional language that ordinary people speak, what I call "people language."
People language is used by the ordinary people who don't understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so dense that they are blind to everything but material things. Then, there is the language which is spoken by those who understand reality (Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in the ultimate sense. This is another kind of language. Sometimes, when only a few words or even just a few syllables are uttered, the ordinary listener finds Dhamma language paradoxical, completely opposite to the language he speaks. We can call it "Dhamma language." You always must take care to recognize which language is being spoken.
People who are blind to the true reality (Dhamma) can speak only people language, the conventional language of ordinary people. On the other hand, people who have genuinely realized the ultimate truth (Dhamma) can speak either language. They can handle people language quite well and are also comfortable using Dhamma language, especially when speaking among those who know reality, who have already realized the truth (Dhamma). Amongst those with profound understanding, Dhamma language is used almost exclusively; unfortunately, ordinary people can't understand a word. Dhamma language is understood only by those who are in the know. What is more, in Dhamma language it isn't even necessary to make a sound. For example, a finger is pointed or an eyebrow raised and the ultimate meaning of reality is understood. So, please take interest in these two kinds of language - people language and Dhamma language.
To illustrate the importance of language, let's consider the following example. Ordinary, ignorant worldly people are under the impression that there is this religion and that religion, and that these religions are different, so different that they're opposed to each other. Such people speak of "Christianity," "Islam," "Buddhism," "Hinduism," "Sikhism," and so on, and consider these religions to be different, separate, and incompatible. These people think and speak according to their personal feelings and thus turn the religions into enemies. Because of this mentality, there come to exist diffecent religious which are hostilely opposed to each other.
Those who have penetrated to the essential nature of religion will regard all religions as being the same. Although they may say there is Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Islam, or whatever, they will also say that all religious are inwardly the same. However, those who have penetrated to the highest understanding of Dhamma will feel that the thing called "religion" doesn't exist after all. There is no Buddhism; there is no Christianity; there is no Islam. How can they be the same or in conflict when they don't even exist? It just isn't possible. Thus, the phrase "No religion!" is actually Dhamma language of the highest level. Whether it will be understood or not is something else, depending upon the listener, and has nothing to do with the truth or with religion.
I'd like to give a simple example of people language, the language of materialism. "Water" will suffice. People who don't know much about even the simplest things think that there are many different kinds of water. They view these various kinds of water as if they have nothing in common. They distinguish rain-water, well-water, underground-water, canal-water, swamp-water, ditch-water, gutter-water, sewer-water, toilet-water, urine, diarrhea, and many other kinds of water from each other. Average people will insist that these waters are completely different, because such people take external appearances as their criteria.
A person with some knowledge, however, knows that pure water can be found in every kind of water. If we take rain-water and distill it, we will get pure water. If we take river-water and distill it, we will get pure water. If we take canal-water, sewer-water, or toilet-water, and distill it, we will still get pure water. A person with this understanding knows that all those different kinds of water are the same as far as the water component is concerned. As for those elements which make it impure and look different, they aren't the water itself. They may combine with water, and alter water, but they are never water itself. If we look through the polluting elements, we can see the water that is always the same, for in every case the essential nature of water is the same. However many kinds of water there may seem to be, they are all the same as far as the essential nature of water is concerned. When we look at things from this viewpoint, we can see that all religions are the same. If they appear different it's because we are making judgments on the basis of external forms.
On an even more intelligent level, we can take that pure water and examine it further. Then, we must conclude that there is no water, only two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. There's no water left. That substance which we have been calling "water" has disappeared, it's void. The same is true everywhere, no matter where we find the two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen. In the sky, in the ground, or wherever these parts happen to be found, the state of water has disappeared and the term "water" is no longer used. For one who has penetrated to this level of truth, there is no such thing as "water."
In the same way, one who has attained to the ultimate truth sees that there's no such thing as "religion." There is only a certain nature which can be called whatever we like. We can call it "Dhamma," we can call it "Truth," we can call it "God," "Tao," or whatever, but we shouldn't particularize that Dhamma or that Truth as Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, or Islam, for we can neither capture nor confine it with labels and concepts. Still, such divisions occur because people haven't yet realized this nameless truth for themselves. They have only reached the external levels, just as with canal-water, muddy water, and the rest.
The Buddha intended for us to understand and be able to see that there is no "person," that there is no separate individual, that there are only dhamma or natural phenomena. Therefore, we shouldn't cling to the belief that there is this religion and that religion. We added the labels "Buddhism," "Islam," and "Christianity" ourselves, long after the founders lived. None of the great religious teachers ever gave a personal name to their teachings, like we do today. They just went about teaching us how to live unselfishly.
Please try to understand this correctly. When the final level is reached, when the ultimate is known, not even man exists. There is only nature, only Dhamma. This reality can't be considered to be any particular thing; it can't be anything other than Dhamma. It can't be Thai, Chinese, Indian, Arab, or European. It can't be black, brown, yellow, red, or white. It can't be eastern or western, southern or northern. Nor can it be Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, or anything else. So please try to reach this Dhamma, for then you will have reached the heart of all religions and of all things, and finally come to the complete cessation of suffering.
Although we call ourselves "Buddhists" and profess Buddhism, we haven't yet realized the truth of Buddhism, for we are acquainted with only a tiny aspect of our own Buddhism. Although we be monks, nuns, novices, lay devotees, or whatever, we are aware of only the bark, the outer covering which makes us think our religion is different from the other religions. Because we have failed to understand and haven't yet realized our own truth, we look down upon other religions and praise only our own. We think of ourselves as a special group and of others as outsiders or foreigners. We believe that they are wrong and only we are right, that we are special and have a special calling, and that only we have the truth and the way to salvation. We have many of these blind beliefs. Such ideas and beliefs show that we are still ignorant, very foolish indeed, just like little babies who know only their own bellies. Tell a small child to take a bath and to wash with soap to get all the dift off; the little child will scrub only her belly. She doesn't know to wash all over. She will never think of washing behind her ears or between her toes or anywhere like that. She merely scrubs and polishes her tummy vigorously.
In this same way as the child, most of the adherents of Buddhism know only a few things, such as how to take and how to get. Even while doing good, supporting the temples and monks, and observing the precepts, their only objective is to get something, they even want to get more in return than they gave. When they make offerings, some people expect back ten times what they gave, some a hundred times, some a thousand, and some even more. In this case, it would be more accurate to say that these people know nothing at all, for they are acquainted only with how to get and how to take. That isn't Buddhism at all. It's the religion of getting and taking. If ever they can't get or can't take something, they are frustrated and they suffer. Real Buddhism is to know how to get without getting and take without taking so that there is no frustration and no suffering at all.
This must be spoken about very often in order to acquaint everyone with the heart of Buddhism: Non-Attachment. Buddhism is about not trying to seize or grasp anything, to not cling or attach to anything, not even to the religion itself, until finally realizing that there is no Buddhism after all. That means, if we speak directly, that there is no Buddha, no Dhamma, and no Sangha! (The Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha (Community) are the beloved Triple Gem which most Buddhists cherish as the basis of their faith.) However, if we speak in this way, nobody will understand; they will be shocked and frightened.
Those who understand, see that the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha are the same thing, that is, just Dhamma or just Nature itself. The compulsion to seize and hang onto things as persons and individuals, as this and that, doesn't exist in them. Everything is non-personal, that is, is Dhamma or Nature in its pure state or whatever we wish to call it. But we dare not think like this. We are afraid to think that there is no religion, that there is no Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha. Even if people were taught or forced to think in this way, they still wouldn't be able to understand. In fact, they would have a totally distorted understanding of what they thought and would react in the opposite way to what was intended.
For this reason, after the passing away of the Buddha, there appeared many new systems of religious practice. The teachings were reorganized into descending levels,with lower, more accessible aspects, so that even if someone wished to make offerings in order to gain heavy benefits in return, equal to dozens, hundreds, or thousands of times their "merits," it could be done. This was a preliminary arrangement so that the rewards for good deeds would be a bait to attract people and keep them from going astray. As a starting point, people were encouraged to hang on to the good and its rewards as much as possible. If they continued to do so, they would eventually discover that it was unnecessary to cling, or be attached to goodness. They would come to see that any such attachment is unsatisfying and painful. Thus, they would gradually disentangle themselves from the habit of attachment. This is how Dhamma leads through successively higher levels and is why the practice of Dhamma in its earliest stage is based on "gaining merits" to let people get something they really like at the start.
The next step on the path of Dhamma is to voluntarily choose to live a plain and simple life, a pure life, in which one isn't led astray or intoxicated by anything. On this level, there is still a sense of the "I" who is enjoying this mode of happiness, but it's a better, more developed "I."
The next highest level of Dhamma is to not let any traces of the "I" remain at all. It's finished. The mind no longer has the feeling of being "I," of being a self, and there is no way that suffering or dissatisfaction can happen, since there is no"I" to suffer. Suffering can't occur because this egolessness is the highest happiness, if we speak in people language. If we speak in Dhamma language, however, there is nothing to say. There is nothing to get nothing to have nothing to be - no happiness, no suffering, nothing at all. We call this "voidness." Everything still exists, but it's free and void of any feeling of being "I" or "mine." For this reason we say "voidness."
To see that everything is void is to see things as being neither an aspect of oneself nor in anyway possessed by oneself. The words "void" and "voidness" in the common language of ignorant people mean that nothing exists, but in the language of the Buddha, the Awakened One, the words "void" and "voidness" mean everything exists, but without attachment to any of it in terms of "I" or "mine." That there isn't clinging or attachment to things as being "I" and "mine" is voidness of I and voidness of mine. When the words "void" and "voidness" are used in this way, it's the voidness of Dhamma language. To use "void" in the sense that nothing actually exists is the language of worldly people who are trapped in their senses, is the language of materialism, is the language of householders who know nothing but their homes. Here, "voidness" has given us another example of the difference between people language and Dhamma language.
We should always keep in mind this truth about language and discriminate whether the words we hear, read, and use are people language or Dhamma language. For example, the Buddha said, "Kill your father and kill your mother, then you shall attain Nibbana." "Kill your father and mother, be an ungrateful child, then you shall attain Nibbana." The Buddha didn't mean that we should take this literally and kill our flesh and blood parents. Instead, he meant that ignorance is a kind of father and craving is a kind of mother. The two give birth to ego-consciousness and subsequently all forms of selfishness and sin. There's no reason in feel any gratitude toward them; destroy them immediately and Nibbana is realized.
To speak in this fashion is to use the Dhamma language which the ordinary person is unable to understand. He must study and inquire, think and reflect, until finally he understands. But the Noble ones, those who have realized Dhamma already, will understand immediately, though only a few words are spoken and without any explanation or advice. Just one word is enough for them to understand, without further explanation, because they khow Dhamma language thoroughly.
The words "birth" and "death" require the same discrimination regarding language. In people language, the word "birth" means to be born from a mothers womb. In Dhamma language, however, the word "birth" means some form of attachment is born. This kind of birth happens every time we allow the arising of a thought or feeling which involves grasping and clinging to something as "I" or "mine," such as, "I am," "I have," "I think," and "I do." This is the birth of the "I" or the ego.
For example, think like a criminal and one is instantly born as a criminal. A few moments later those thoughts disappear, one thinks like a normal human being again and is born as a human being once more. If a few moments later one has foolish thoughts, right then one is born as a fool. If one then thinks in an increasingly foolish and dull manner, one will be born as an animal immediately. Whenever an attachment is felt intensely - when it burns inside one with the heat of fire - one is born as a demon in hell. Whenever one is so hungry and thirsty that one could never be satiated, one is born as an insatiably hungry ghost. When one is overly cautions and timid without reason, one is born a cowardly titan. Thus, in a single day one can be born any number of times in many different forms, since a birth takes place each and every time there arises any form of attachment to the idea of being something. Each conception of "I am," "I was," or "I will" is simultaneously a birth. This is the meaning of "birth" in Dhamma language. Therefore, whenever one encounters the word "birth," one must be very careful to understand its meaning in each particular context.
"Birth is suffering." These words mean that the egoistic kind of birth described above is always painful and ugly. That is to say, if we allow "I" to be born in any manner, suffering occurs immediately. If we live simply and directly in the awareness of "not-being-I," it's like remaining unborn and never experiencing suffering. Although physical birth has happened long ago, there is no further spiritual birth of the egoistic "I."
On the other hand, whenever an egoistic thought or feeling arises, there is suffering at once and the suffering always fits the particular kind of "I" that is being born. If "I" is human, it suffers like a human. If "I" is an angel, it suffers angelically. If "I" is demonic, it suffers hellishly. The manner of the grasping and clinging can change repeatedly, even being born as beast, hungry ghosts, and cowardly titans. In one day, there may be many birth many dozens of births, and every one of them is unsatisfactory, frustrating, and painful. To destroy this kind of birth is Nibbana.
2. Animals, demons, hungry ghosts(peta), and cowardly titans(asura) are the inhabitants of thc "lower realms" in traditional Buddhist cosmology.
Concerning death, there's no need to speak about what happens after the people language version. Why talk about what happens once we're in the coffin? Instead, please deal with this most urgent issue of ego-birth, that is, don't get born and there will be no suffering. Without the feeling of being born, there is no person anymore and all the problem disappear with it. That is all. When there isn't this continual being born, there is no longer a "somebody" to have problems. It's as simple as that. The time remaining in life is no longer an issue once we know how to experience the fact that this "I" will never be born again. This can be called "non-birth." You may call it "death" if you prefer.
So you see, betwecn people language and Dhamma language the words "birth" and "death" have opposite meanings. The same situation exists in the scriptures of other religions, especially those of Christianity. As a result, the Christians don't understand their own Bible, just as we Buddhists don't understand the Tipitaka (Buddhist scriptures). Thus, whenever members of the two meet, they end up arguing until they are blue in the face. The quarrels are simply unbelievable; they fight to the end. Therefore, let us develop some understanding concerning this matter of people language and Dhamma language.
We have discussed the word "birth" in a Buddhist context, now let us consider a word from the Christian scriptures, such as "life." Matthew says that Jesus Christ "surrendered his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). Elsewhere, Jesus said, "If you would enter life, keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17). These two statements show that the word"life" has more than one meaning. In the first statement, "life" is used in its people language sense. Jesus allowed them to kill the life of his body, which is the ordinary meaning of "life." "Life" in the second passage is the same word "life," but it now refers to a life that can never be killed. It's a life which will never know death. By this we see that even the simple word "life" can have two very different meanings.
The word "die" provides another example. In people language, "to die" means that the bodily functions have stopped, which is the kind of death we can see with our eyes. However, "die" in the language used by God has quite a different meaning, such as when he spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden telling them not to eat the fruit of a certain tree, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gen. 2:17). Eventually, Adam and Eve ate that fruit, but we know that they didn't die in the ordinary sense, the kind that puts people into coffins. That is, their bodies didn't die. Instead, they died in another way, in the Dhamma language sense, which is a spiritual death much more cruel than being buried in a coffin. This fate worse than death was the appearance of enormous sin in their minds, that is, they began to think in dualistic terms - good and evil, male and female, naked and clothed, husband and wife, and so on. The pairs of opposites proliferated making the pain very heavy, so much so that their minds were flooded by a suffering so severe that it's impossible to describe. All this has been passed down through the years and inherited by everyone living in the present era.
The consequences have been so disastrous that the Christians give the same "Original Sin" to the first appearance of dualistic thinking. Original Sin first happened with that primordial couple and then was passed on to all their descendants down to this very day. This is what God meant by the word "death"; whenever we partake of this fruit of dualism (from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil") we must die right then and there. This is the meaning of "death" in Christian language.
"Death" has the same meaning in the language of the Buddha. Why is this so? Because both religions are pointing to the same truth concerning attachment and dualism. Whenever dualistic thoughts arise there is bound to be suffering, which is death. Death means the end of everything good, the end of happiness, the end of peace, the end of everything worthwhile. This is the meaning of "death" in Dhamma language. Most of us die this way many times each day.
It's called "death" because it makes the heart heavy. It always creates a feeling of frustration and depression to some degree, not to mention worry, restlessness, and anxiety. The more intelligent and clever a person is, the more often one dies and the more profound the deaths. The clever person's deaths are much more special and creative than those of an ignorant person.
We must know how to avoid death in order to be in accord with the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus (along with the other prophets). The objective of Buddhism is the same as of Christianity: don't let this original sin overpower you; don't let dualistic attachment dominate your heart or your mind. Refuse to let it dominate the mind ever again.
We must always be aware of the true nature of Dhamma, that in reality there is no duality of any sort - nogain, no loss, no happiness, no suffering, no good, no evil, no merit, no sin, no male, no female. There is absolutely nothing at all that can be separated and polarized into opposites. Rather than buy into them, we ought to transcend.
The dualistic pairs are the basis of all attachment, so don't fall for their tricks. Don't attach to any of them. Try to understand that these things can never be seized and held onto because they are impermanent, lack any real substance, and are not-self. Try to go about your business with a mind that is unattached. Work with a mind that clings to nothing and is free from all forms of attachment. This is called "working with a void mind."
We should perform every kind of task with a void mind, no matter whether it's at the office or at home. Even rest and recreation should be done with a void mind, a mind that always remains unattached and free because it's above all dualities. If we work with a busy mind, a mind that is restless and always grasping and clinging to one thing or idea after another, a mind that is over-burdened with attachments, then there is suffering and we must inevitably be born in a lowly state. The lower realms spoken of by traditional Buddhists happen right then and there; birth as a demon in hell, as a beast, as a hungry ghost, or as a cowardly titan takes place at that very moment. This is the most serious problem facing humanity, it's the most original sin, and it's death in Dhamma language. Therefore, we should live, work, and play without attachments.
There is a short verse of mine which I'd like to discuss.
Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void
And to the voidness surrender all of the fruits;
Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do,
You'll have died to yourself from the very start.
Some people are unable to understand this verse and they keep saying that the author is crazy. Nonetheless, it isn't so difficult to explain.
That we should do every kind of work with a void mind is a warning that the busy and agitated mind which jumps into things with attachment always becomes dark and clouded with delusion, is full of worries and fears, and becomes gloomy and insecure. If people insist on keeping this up, before long they are sure to suffer a nervouss breakdown or some other kind of illness. If they let these mental diseases and related physical ailments accumulate, they end up confined to a sick bed. Even though they may be intelligent, talented, and sophisticated people who do important work and earn a great deal of money, they will still end up being confined to bed with nervous breakdowns, ulcers, and other disorders caused by insecurity and anxiety. All of these illnesses begin with attaching and clinging to such things as fame and money, profit and loss, happiness and unhappiness, and praise and blame.
So, don't get involved with these things. Get free of all such attachments and the mind will be void. The mind will be brilliantly intelligent, as clear and sharp as possible. Then, do your work with just such a void mind as this. All your needs will be satisfied without the least bit of frustration or suffering. Sometimes, it will even seem to be a Dhammic sort of fun. Best of all, working like this is the kind of Dhamma practice which frees us from the false distinction between practicing Dhamma at the temple and working at home. Such a dichotomy is rather foolish; it's what happens when people think only in people language.
According to Dhamma language, we must practice Dhamma in this body and mind at the same time that we do our work with this same body and mind. Both work and Dhamma practice are done in the same place or the same thing. The practice of Dhamma is there in the work; the work in itself is Dhamma practice. In other words, to do work of any kind without grasping or clinging is a way to practice Dhamma. Wherever and whenever we practice non-attachment, there and then is Dhamma practice.
Accordingly, whether we are engaged in training the mind to be unattached and calm, or whether we are working to earn a living in some occupation or another, if we do so with a void mind that forms no attachments, right there is the practice of Dhamma. It doesn't matter if we are in an office, a factory, a cave, or whatever. To work like this without getting involved in attachments, obsession, and ego is what is meant by " Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void. "
The result of working this way is that we enjoy ourselves while working, and that the work is done well because our minds are very clear and sharp then, and there are no worries about things like money. The things we need are acquired in the usual ways and all this without the attachment forged by grasping and straining.
This brings us in the second line of the verse which is " And to the voidness surrender all of the fruits. " When our work bears fruit in the form of money, fame, influence, status, and so forth, we must give it all to voidness. Don't be so stupid as to cling to these things as "belonging to me" - "my money," "my success," "my talent," or "my" anything. This is what is meant by not attaching to the results of our work.
Most of us blindly cling to our successes and so our experiences of success increase our selfish desires and defilements (kilesa). Let ourselves be careless for only a moment and we will fall into pain immediately due to the weight of attachments and anxieties. In truth, this kind of mental or spiritual pain is always happening. Before long, if we aren't careful, the pain manifest itself physically in the body as well. Some people have nervous breakdowns or go insane, while others develop one of the numeruous varieties of neuroses so prevalent in the world today, even though they may be famous, knowledgable, and wealthy. All this pain results from the fact that people the world over have misunderstood, abused, and ignored their own religious.
We shouldn't think that the teaching of non-attachment is found only in Buddhism. In fact, it can be found in every religion, although many people don't notice because it's expressed in Dhamma language. Its meaning is profound, difficult to see, and usually misunderstood.
Please forgive me, I don't mean to be insulting, but I feel that many religious people don't yet understand their own religion. For instance, in the Christian Bible, St. Paul advises us to "Let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those that buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it" (Cor.7:29-31). This passage is found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible; anyone can look it up. It should be understood in the same way as our basic Buddhist theme of non-attachment. That is, if you have a wife, don't attach to having her; if you have a husband, don't cling to having him. If you have painful or sorrowful experiences, don't cling to them as "I" or "mine" and it will be as if they never happened. That is, don't be sad about them. Don't attach to joy, goods, and worldly dealings, either.
Unfortunately, the fact is that most people - whatever their religion - are dominated by these things. They let themselves suffer intolerably over such matters until finally they go insane or commit suicidc. But those of us who follow St. Paul's advice can go on as if nothing had happened. That kind of suffering doesn't happen to us, we remain fine. We buy things without taking anything home, which means we never get attached to what we buy and take home. We bought it, we brought it home, but it's like we didn't buy anything, because we don't give birth to the thought that we possess something.
This is how to buy and live as though having no goods, but if you discuss this passage with some Christians, you will find that they don't understand it at all. Even some of the clergy, the teachers of their religion, couldn't explain to me correctly how to practice in accordance with St. Paul's instructions. Their explanations were vague and obscure. They beat around the bush and didn't give any practical interpretation of the passage. In fact, this passage has the same meaning as "Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void and to the voidness surrender all of the fruits," which, of course, many Buddhism don't understand either.
The third line of the verse is "Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do." Here, some people might ask, "Then, what do we eat?" If everything is void or given away to the voidness, what will there be to eat? The answer is to eat food that belongs to voidness, the same way that the Noble Ones do. We work with a void mind and turn all the rewards over to voidness. Voidness then stockpiles it all and preserves it safely. When it's time to eat, we can eat from the stock of voidness too.
If you earn a million dollars from your work and store it in a safe or the bank, offer it to voidness and don't think "it's mine, it belongs to me!" When you spend the money, do so with the same void mind. Simply use the money to buy some food to eat, or whatever we need to consume. This is what is meant by "Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do."
In this line, "holy ones" means those who understand deeply and have no attachments. We ourselves ought to eat in the same way that these liberated ones eat. The Buddha ate food and all the enlightened disciples ate foods. So, we aren't saying that a Buddha doesn't have to eat food anymore, but from whomever he gets his food, it's always the food of voidness, for it's received and eaten without any feelings of possession or attachment. And yet, a Buddha always has more than enough to eat. This is the meaning of "Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do."
We can do the same. When we give all the rewards of our work to voidness, they don't disappear. Nothing is lost. Physically, in worldly terms, everything is still there. It's stored and protected in the usual ways and the law still recognizes that it belongs to us. If someone tries to snatch it away, we can battle to protect our rights in court, but always with the same void mind. That is, we needn't get angry or upset, we needn't suffer, we needn't feel personally involved, we needn't attach. In fact, with complete non-attachment we will be able to argue our case even better. We needn't create any problems for ourselves, things won't become complicated and difficult, and we will be able to protect our rights most effectively.
To pursue this point a little further: even when caught in an argument or involved in a lawsuit we should be restrained and mindful at all times so that the mind is free of attachment. Take care not to be attached or emotionally involved. In other words, first make sure the mind is void, then argue and fight out the case to the finish. In this way, we will have the advantage. Our side will debate more cleverly, will argue more skilfully, and will experience a higher level of victory.
Even in cases when we are forced to be insulting, use the usual words but do so with a void mind. This may sound funny and hopelessly impractical, but it really is possible. The word "void" includes such strange aspects; they are all implications of working with a void mind, willingly giving all that we get to voidness, and always eating food from the pantry of voidness.
The fourth, final, and most important line of the verse is "You'll have died to yourself from the very start." We already have died to ourselves - that precious inner "me" is gone - from the very first moment. This means that when we re-examine the past and reflect upon it with clarity, mindfulness, and wisdom, we will know for a fact that there never was a "person" or "individual." We will see that there are only the basic processes of life (khandha), the sensory media (ayatana), the elements (dhatu), and natural phenomena (dhammas). Even the things we had previously clung to as existing no longer exist. They died in that moment.
Everything has died at the moment of its birth. There never was an "I" and there never was a "mine." In the past, we were stupid enough to lug "I"and "mine" around all the time. Now, however, we know the truth that even in retrospect they never were what we took them to be. They're not-me, they're not-mine, the me-ing and my-ing died from the very start right up to this moment. They're finished, even in the future. Don't ever again fall for any "I" and "mine" in your experiences. Simply stop thinking in terms of "I" and "mine." So you see, we needn't interpret this verse to mean that we must physically kill ourselves. One has to be trapped in ones ego to understand it in such a way; such an interpretation is too physical, too superficial, and too childish.
This"I," this ego, is just a mental concept, a product of thought. There's nothing substantial or permanent upon which it's based. There's only an ever-changing process flowing according to causes and conditions, but ignorance misconstrues this process to be a permanent entity, a "self," and an "ego." So don't let attached thoughts and feelings based on "I" and "mine" arise. All pains and problems will end right there and then, so that the body becomes insignificant, no longer a cause of worry. It's merely a collection of the five aggregates (khandha), functioning according to causes and conditions, pure in its own nature. These five aggregates or component processes of life are naturally free of attachment and selfishness. As for the inner aspect, those habits of desire and selfishness, try to do without them. Keep striving to prevent them from being born until the defilements and selfishness have no more opportunities to pollute the heart. In this way, we force ourselves to die, that is, we die through the elimination of polluting selfishness and defilements (kilesa).