Thursday, December 28, 2017

Emptiness ain’t empty. Fullness ain’t full.

Anything in here?
We Westerners are severely short-changed. In the past, we were cut off from Eastern wisdom due to distances which took weeks, if not years, to traverse. That is no longer an excuse since, in less than the time of this writing, communications can zip around the world several times. Or if you like, put the dilemma in the words of Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

So what’s our excuse? Arrogance? Close-mindedness? Your guess, but for whatever reason, we really do need to do a better job. Our lives depend on doing better. With just a few realignments we could improve upon the situation. Notions such as emptiness and interdependence could make things vastly better.

And a good place to start is by bridging the gap with a fundamental grasp of some words and concepts. For example the word Sūtra. We have no problem in grasping the word scripture, since, by and large, our culture has been shaped by Western civilization, the Bible and either Christianity or Judaism. But a Sūtra comes from the East and we get a bit hung up with foreign words, but it ain’t that hard if we cared.

A Sūtra is a rule or aphorism, mostly in the Sanskrit literature (from India), and Sanskrit is an ancient language, no longer used, just as Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) is no longer used. There are hundreds of Sūtras, without an accepted grouping such as a canon. Some are short (as short as 300 lines) while others are composite collections of Sūtras, under a common roof. Examples are the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, or the Mahāratnakūṭa, which contains 49 sūtras of various lengths. Maybe the longest (and my favorite) is The Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra.

Short, or long, they are all crammed full of wisdom. And the one claimed as the standard-bearer for the perfection of wisdom is the Heart Sūtra (short for PrajñāpāramitāhṛdayaThe Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom). So why is that one considered sublime? Because it boils down the essence of Eastern wisdom into a short package on emptiness. In Sanskrit, Śūnyatā refers to the tenet that all things are empty of intrinsic existence and nature, but may also refer to the reality that all sentient beings share a common, indiscriminate nature called “Buddha-nature” or primordial awareness. In essence at the core of us all is a primordial, un-awakened nature (a sleeping giant if you will). And right off the bat, we have a vast cultural disconnect.

This, at first anyway, is a mind blower (literally). The teaching means that there is absolutely nothing that has an intrinsic, independent, stand-alone nature. All things are thus empty. They are instead interdependentone thing dependent upon an opposite. That is one half. The other half is that emptiness is itself empty. It too is interdependent. But the question is, with what is it dependent? 

Before I address the last half, let’s look at the first half and the profound implication. An example is(I love examples): up and down. Neither up nor down can possibly be understood (much less exist) without the other. In an indivisible flash of time, when up comes into existence, so does the opposite of down, and just as fast, they disappear as pairs. 

So what? You might say. Why is that such a big deal? Simple, (yet not self-evident). It is profound when we realize this example pertains to ALL things. There is no “absolute right” without an “absolute wrong”. No “goodness” without “evil”. ALL things have an opposite dimension that defines it. And the implication? Self-righteous stops being an absolute and so does bigotry or any other matter of maleficence. And that alone is wise understanding.

Now the second half: Emptiness is not empty. The absence of things (e.g., “nothing” or “no-thing”) is just as glued to the opposite as anything else. “Everything” is interdependent with “Nothing.” In truth, you, I, and every one of us is (internally and externally) empty of an intrinsic self-nature that is uniquely and distinctly “me”. The “me” we think we are is not “me”. It is “us”. You and I are exactly identical at the core. At that level of consciousness we are unconditional (even though the outside is conditional). Externally, we are of course distinct, unique and different, but not at the core. The external can be perceived. The internal cannot. Our internal core is “un-awakened” until we come to our senses but our outside cloak is asleep (but thinks it is awake). At that level of primordial existence we are self-aware, but not in a perceptible way. Our awareness, at the core, is invisiblelike Harry Potter’s cloak. The thing of it is, the unseen part of us all is the part that is doing the seeing. And what that aspect of us sees, is capable of being seen. That internal eye cannot see nothing. It can only see something. And the something we see is, of course, different from what we see in others.

That is both a problem and an opportunity, at the same time. Why? Because of the unreal (yet perceptible) “I”ego) is proud, arrogant and totally self-absorbed. It MUST play to a loving audience, all of the time to feel worthwhile. That part HATES with a passion (just as strongly as it adores a loving audience) criticism and questioning. THAT is the problem. The opportunity is to “awaken” to what lies beneath the image-of-self (ego) to the part that can’t be seen. The outside, perceptible, non-full ego is interdependent with an opposite imperceptible, full, true selfthe sleeping giant, which is otherwise called “Buddha-nature”. We are, in the most real and profound way, sleeping Buddhas. And we will remain asleep until the false self (ego) steps aside. 

But that is a near impossible scenario. It is like asking a blind man to tell you what he sees. The ego firmly believes there are no eyes, except his own, and believe me, beauty is in the eye of the beholder with the ego looking through rose-colored glasses. Or looking into a mirror and asking “who’s the fairest one of all?” The mirror doesn’t want to get smashed, so the mirror lies and thereby strokes the deluded ego. So what’s the answer? Time and indisputable evidence that being a monster is a failed proposition. Eventually, an egomaniac screws up (and gets really bad press) so many times that it becomes patently obvious to even to a doormat. The truth will out; eventually. But there may be lots of damage done along the way, to others and finally one’s self. Remember Adolf?

The bottom line here is simple (yet requires some solid thinking, employing a few basic principles that can’t be refuted). We are perfect, united, joined at the hip indiscriminate, AT THE CORE, yet living inside a shell with opposite characteristicsimperfect, disconnected, and very, very discriminating: Needing to put others down so we can feel up. 

Sound like anyone you know? Emptiness ain’t empty. Fullness ain’t full.
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