Book excerpts from the Spirit and Flesh religion and spirituality online library.
Tibetan Buddhism in Dharamsala, India: the great emptiness: om mani padme hum
excerpted from OM, baby! a pilgrimage to the eternal self, by Jack Haas
I say emptiness, but I do not mean absence. In the west we have learned to equate emptiness with vacuity, loneliness, torpor, or ennui. But the emptiness of the Tibetan Buddhists is a completely different void altogether; it is a substantial, uplifting, expanding, peaceful, fulfilling emptiness.
This was my third trip to Dharamsala, and on each successive visitation I have fallen more and more in love with this sacred landing pad of emptiness. But then, you'd have to have a soul made of lead and a spirit made of phlegm to not love Dharamsala, for, in addition to the emptiness, the main part of town is thick with good vibes, good food, and spectacular scenery.
On past visits to this hallowed village I was not yet capable of experiencing the great emptiness which lies dense as soup within the walls of this Tibetan Buddhist enclave. But this time it was unmistakable.
Every afternoon my soror and I made our way to the main temple or monastery. Once there we would take up the lotus position and enter into the pristine emptiness contained within these sacred places due to the sedulous efforts of the Tibetan Buddhist monks, ever meditating, ever awake, ever alive, ever empty, and ever present.
To experience the immense emptiness which the Tibetan Buddhists are slowly integrating into this realm of form is to enter the formless. And to go to Dharamsala and to sit within the precinct where so many dedicated souls have been expanding into that emptiness, while living in this world of form, is to enter a welcoming void which requires no effort to arrive at, no obligation, no shaved head, and no crimson robe- for the emptiness to be found in the temple and monastery of Dharamsala is ever present, and one need only walk into it with an open heart and a clear mind and the work is done.
I make this claim now because this is what I experienced. Though, as I have said, this was my third visit to the sacred town, and on my first two encroachments I experienced no such profundity. But, then, I may not be the quickest learner in the world: it took me four extended trips to India before I finally received what India had to give; it took me the same number of trips to Europe before I was capable of imbibing some of what Europe had to offer; and it took me many sojourns out into the wilderness before I could receive the glory of that domain. I may be slow, but I am determined.
I had therefore grown more capable of entering the emptiness over the years succeeding my last visit to Dharamsala, and had opened myself to the extent that I was capable, and thus I could receive more of what was available to be received. Furthermore, my kundalini had been active all winter while I was living in Vancouver as a hermit, and this later helped precipitate my awakening to the profound emptiness to such an extent that one evening in Dharamsala I awoke in the middle of the night and it seemed as if I had been cognitively decapitated, for I had the feeling of having no head- I had become one with the great cosmic emptiness; my crown chakra had evaporated. In that deep, ubiquitous stillness the upper part of my being had vanished and I had become one with the nothingness. I had become the emptiness, for the I that I had been was gone, and only the singular, undivided, pristine emptiness remained.
I fell back to sleep, my crown chakra re-assembled, and I awoke the next morning feeling more like my individual, limited self once again. However, the emptiness remained in the atmosphere, waiting patiently for my effortless attention.
A few days later my soror and I made our way to the main temple, as per usual, and we sat down near a few monks who were reading and chanting from the holy books.
It was then, as I sat motionless, with the empty monks chanting sacred mantras on my right, and my soror sitting close by me on my left, that I experienced the union of emptiness and form, or, rather, the presence of both emptiness and form; I became the common ground between these two realms. I was receiving the feeling of the great cosmic void from the monks on one side, and the sense of the great earthly density of flesh from my soror on the other. Emptiness and form became the separate yet united halves of my being; the Great Absence, and the Great Presence- one.
I knew then that we are emptiness and form; one half of our being is the cosmic emptiness, the other half is the form.
We are the emptiness pervading all form, and the form impregnating all emptiness.
It is for this reason that the sacred mantra of the Tibetan Buddhists is om mani padme hum. Om is the great emptiness, and hum is the actualization into form. Om mani padme hum is the method by which the spirit and flesh are united.
Om mani padme hum describes the descent of the cosmic vibration, the om, the alpha, into the worldly realm, the hum, the omega.
In om we live, and breathe, and have our being, and in hum we are that being.
Om is everything, hum is anything. Om is the I, hum is the AM. I the eternal, AM the ephemeral. I the formless, Am the form. I the spirit, Am the flesh. Om mani padme hum.
Inner and outer meet in the stillness of om, and in the activity of hum. Om is the witness, hum is the witnessed. Om the ether, hum the air. Om the theater, hum the play.
When emptiness unites with form the cosmic om attains the earthly hum, and God is born into isness.
The union of these two seemingly opposed realms is the experience of Avalon, which is cosmic wholeness. In order to bring this mythical event into our own existence- for Avalon is not a physical place, it is a metaphysical union- we must all dive down into the deepest reaches of the flesh, and we must all rise into the furthest expanse of the great space. We are the bridge between the formless and the form, between consciousness and matter, and between emptiness and love. If we don't reach in both directions Avalon will remain a mythical land. If we attain unity with these divided realms, we achieve the union of emptiness and form, of spirit and flesh, which is Avalon. Om, baby!
 This mantra is often translated in linear fashion into English as 'Hail the jewel in the Lotus'. This is an unfortunate catastrophe, since the mantra has far deeper and infinitely more profound esoteric implications than this translation would betray. The mantra describes the path from the cosmic to the worldly- from the infinite to the finite- in which the great emptiness is condensed into human dimensions, and therefore can be effective in transforming not only the individual but humanity at large. It would be foolhardy of me to attempt here a more detailed explanation of this mantra, as I am wholly unqualified to do so. Instead, I would highly recommend the book Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, by Lama Anagarika Govinda, for anyone interested in an immensely profound and readable interpretation of this sacred mantra.
 Although Avalon is the name used to describe the mythical island of the Goddess, often associated with King Arthur and the Grail quest, my own experience is that Avalon occurs whenever there is the complete union of spirit and flesh, or, male and female, within the individual. On a macrocosmic level this is felt as the unified vibrations of Christianity (the Father) and Paganism (the Mother), which historically have been almost mutually exclusive, but are now coming together in and through individuals who attain inner wholeness.
by Jack Haas