Question: How do I practise to see emptiness, to depart from forms? I have tried asking myself where is the self-nature of phenomena (which does not exist), so as to not take them too seriously, and reminding myself that my self-nature (Buddha-nature) is instead pure, but forms still seem very real, and hard to let go of.
Answer: There is no need to depart from forms. Although ‘form is not different from emptiness’ and ‘form is the same as emptiness’, the Heart Sutra also taught that ’emptiness is NOT different from form’, and ’emptiness is the SAME as form.’ In other words, we should get to the Middle Path of handling forms/emptiness with ease; without difficulty.
If you are very troubled by attachment and aversion to forms now, you should contemplate upon how every single big and small matter (be it persons, issues or things) that troubled you in the past did not last indefinitely. This is so as all phenomena and experiences of them (other than enlightenment) are impermanent and thus without any fixed self-nature. Watching your thoughts and emotions intently helps too. This is how to see forms as emptiness.
However, as mentioned in the beginning, since emptiness is all forms too, there should not be attachment to emptiness along with aversion to forms – since they are exactly the same. Learning to see forms as emptiness helps us to have wisdom to loosen our clinging to them, to have less suffering, while learning to see emptiness as forms helps us to have compassion, to not forsake others still suffering due to similar problems. This is how to tune to our pure Buddha-nature’s potential for perfect compassion and wisdom.
It is actually very difficult to see form and emptiness as exactly the same, which requires realisation of the perfection of wisdom as taught in the Heart Sutra, which is easiest realised in Amituofo’s (Amitabha Buddha) Pure Land. Training for this balancing act in the mean time is part of the practice. Before enlightenment, it is warned that ‘Rather to have attachment to existence [or form as big] as [Mount] Sumeru, do not have attachment to emptiness [as small] as a mustard seed. (宁可著有如须弥，不可著空如芥子。) This is so as we all still need forms for cultivating compassion and wisdom. Even Pure Land requires pure forms as the most skilful teaching aids.
The Heart of ‘The Heart Sutra’: The Core Of Wisdom
Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra: Introduction To Pure Land Buddhism