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Thread: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

  1. #1

    Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Okay, so I've taken a break from the forums in the recent days to focus on some reading. I have a question on emptiness. I'm not too sure if I'm understanding this right. Does it mean to be like an empty vessel, not expecting anything from our practice or from the world around us? Does it mean to be ready for anything that may occur on a day-to-day basis? Or does it mean not to have any feeling or opinion about anything that occurs? I'm probably way off here and maybe it's up for interpretation depending on the practitioner, but I am having a hard time understanding this concept. Maybe if I try to stop understanding these things, true understanding will present itself, but I think I'm getting ahead of myself.

    Another question I have is about explaining Buddhism. Some people have questions about what it means to be Buddhist, or to follow the teachings of the Buddha. The other day, a woman that I work with asked me what I believed in regards to heaven, hell, God, etc. I told her that (in my opinion and belief), Heaven and Hell are names given to states of mind and not really places that one can travel to. In addition, I believe that God is a name given by humankind to explain the reason for life and living. I told her that I do not believe in a supreme "creator" in the sense of maybe Christianity or other God based religions. I don't really think that these questions are important to our daily lives. She really couldn't understand this and maybe I don't either, but I don't take much stock in a being that created everything we experience. But I've noticed just by writing this post, that I'm getting ahead of myself again, so I should go back to my original point. If someone has questions about Buddhism or being a Buddhist, what should I explain? I can give answers based on what I believe and what I practice, but is this an accurate way to express myself. In other words, is holding on to some ideas or concepts that I may have really important in the grand scheme of things? Is it important for the person asking the questions to understand what my opinions or beliefs are? Should I answer in a way that would allow them to search the truth for themselves? Is holding on to certain ideas about my practice suffering in itself? Is this really emptiness...not having any opinions or views of any kind that may define my practice. I hope that I'm making sense, and if I am confusing or need to elaborate on any of the thoughts that I have tried to convey, please respond, and I will try to express myself better. Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading your thoughts.

    Gassho,

    Adam

  2. #2

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Adam,

    Regarding the latter, I too get quizzed on 'what is zen / Buddhism anyway?' and 'just what do you believe?' and so on. With the creator aspect, I often tell them two things: one, is I use the parable of the man shot in the leg by an arrow. Rather than seek treatment, aid himself or stop the blood from gushing from his wound, he analyzes the arrow and demands to know who shot it. Where did the shot come from? What type of arrow is this and what is the nature of the shooter and intention of the shooter? Meanwhile he grows closer to death without ever treating what most needs to be done - mend himself, understand this very moment and what it entails. That is the first step, this moment, this person. I then parallel that by explaining, to me, that what has been and what will be, who has been and who will be are very funny thoughts to me when we cannot figure out in this given moment who we are. Its always fun to then ask people "Who are you?" and then when they laugh or say 'I am John' - well, what is John. "I'm a carpenter' - is the essence of John a job? And so on... And that is the essence of zen - what is this moment? what am I? It is as Dogen Zenji stated "If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it? "

    At times this leads to longer explanations of the mind, our biases, our senses and discourse. Then desire, etc.. but for the general, I stick with Buddhism is a focus on the moment, on the mind and on the nature of ourselves outside of that mind - which granted.. sounds a bit zen-ish.. and in developing compassion. My opinion on your questions:

    If someone has questions about Buddhism or being a Buddhist, what should I explain? I can give answers based on what I believe and what I practice, but is this an accurate way to express myself.
    You should absolutely explain what it is to you. The Buddha warned against rote learning for belief. The core of Buddhism is to experience it yourself and not hinge your life and beliefs on the traditions or words of another. Feel it, breath it, be it - and if not, it is not true. If you express that to whomever you're talking with then I think you've done great.

    In other words, is holding on to some ideas or concepts that I may have really important in the grand scheme of things?
    I do not believe you should 'hold' ideas or concepts but I think its worse to hold ideas and concepts of others and say you're living to those! That's what's great about Buddhism. Don't hold thoughts; live them. “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common experience.”

    Is it important for the person asking the questions to understand what my opinions or beliefs are?
    I believe that it is important that the person understand Buddhism is about compassion, experience and this very moment. It is growth and truly seeing and being those three aspects. What has brought you to Buddhism, where you are on that path to sight and so on should not be left out in an effort to recite a proselytized or catch-all message. The best you can do is to talk from the heart, with best intention. And there is, for me as I have said it many times, nothing wrong with the caveat "Buddhism is more than I can explain and I am on the path but not a master to express all that can be said or experienced by it."

    _/_

    Nate

  3. #3

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Hi Adam,

    Well, some BIG questions! Let's take them in small bites ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam
    I have a question on emptiness. I'm not too sure if I'm understanding this right. Does it mean to be like an empty vessel, not expecting anything from our practice or from the world around us? Does it mean to be ready for anything that may occur on a day-to-day basis? Or does it mean not to have any feeling or opinion about anything that occurs?
    First, know that experiencing "emptiness" is at the heart of practice, and describing "it" in words never quite sufficient ... much like trying to describe "diving into and losing oneself in and as a pool of cool water" in words versus the actual experience of diving into and losing oneself in and as a pool of cool water. Even the finest poet cannot quite capture that. (Zazen lets us dive into the pool.)

    However, generally in Mahayana Buddhism, "emptiness" means "empty of abiding, permanent self-existence". It is that Adam thinks that there is an "Adam" there which Adam is experiencing as "Adam" ... and that this "Adam" is continually bumping into, judging, disappointing and being disappointed by, crashing into all these other "selfs" in the world who Adam thinks of as "not-Adam".

    Soften or fully remove the hard barriers between "Adam" and "not-Adam" ... allow this "Adam" to fully drop away ... and, EUREKA, the bumping, judging, disappointing and crashing drops away too (because it takes two to tangle ... no two, no trouble!).

    Also, a lot of our thoughts and mental creations about how the world is are empty ... meaning that they have no more existence to them than our own thoughts bestow (much like the "boogeyman under the bed" is only there and scary to the extent we are scared of the "boogeyman under the bed" ... the thoughts and fear are all that make the thoughts and fear real).

    (By the way, do not misunderstand me, because there sure --is-- an "Adam" and lots of "not Adams" [who is reading this posting now... and who is writing it if that were not the case? [img]{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_eek.gif[/img]viewtopic.php?p=27392#p27392

    I have coughed up a whole series of postings on topics like this, called tongue in cheek "Jundo Tackles the BIG Questions". Have a chuckle, and maybe look at a couple. This one may be most on point ...

    ocal" href="http://www.treeleaf.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1236&p=17297&hilit=god+wood+wa ter#p17297">viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1236&p=17297&hilit =god+wood+water#p17297

    and then there's these two ...

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1206&p=16855&hilit=god+wood+wa ter#p16855

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1205&p=16830&hilit=god+wood+wa ter#p16830

    If someone has questions about Buddhism or being a Buddhist, what should I explain? ... Is it important for the person asking the questions to understand what my opinions or beliefs are?
    I often think it more important to just live and act as a good, peaceful, decent friend, son, daughter, husband, wife, citizen than try to "say" anything. We show more by our actions than any words.

    But if someone presses me, I say that Buddhism is about living so as to minimize harm, and beneficially, to others and to our selves (not two, by the way), and living at one and peacefully in this life-and-world (not two, by the way).

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Regarding the explanation of what Buddhism is, simply say that it is the teachings through which suffering is understood and vanquished.

    As for emptiness, I've noticed that a lot of people have a hard time with this. Emptiness is not simply impermanence - it is not just that things decay and become other things. On a fundamental, experiential level - one will notice that you are not even experiencing 'things' at all. Your perceptions do not automatically add up to the conceptual world that you take as real. Your mind goes from perception to conception so quickly that it appears that things actually 'exist' in the way that we've been conditioned to think they exist - but they do not. This can be shown in the search for hard 'boundaries'. Grab something, and then try to locate with precision exactly where, in your experiential perception, 'you' end and that thing begins. You cannot find it. There are just the perceptions themselves - and even stranger still, those perceptions flee from existence as well if you truly try to focus on them. They cannot even be called 'perceptions'.

    This is just a conceptual explanation. To know emptiness, you must do the experiment yourself.

    Chet

  5. #5

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Hi.

    In regards to the emptiness question, ask yourselves, how important is the emptiness between the "notes/sound" in a song/tune
    How would it be if there we're no pause in between?
    Understand that and you are on a good way to understanding "emptiness".

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  6. #6
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Quote Originally Posted by Fugen
    Hi.

    In regards to the emptiness question, ask yourselves, how important is the emptiness between the "notes/sound" in a song/tune
    How would it be if there we're no pause in between?
    Understand that and you are on a good way to understanding "emptiness".

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen
    The notes are also emptiness.

    Chet

  7. #7

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Quote Originally Posted by Fugen
    Hi.

    In regards to the emptiness question, ask yourselves, how important is the emptiness between the "notes/sound" in a song/tune
    How would it be if there we're no pause in between?
    Understand that and you are on a good way to understanding "emptiness".

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen
    The notes are also emptiness.

    Chet
    While the most perfect and beautiful note played constantly, with out change, becomes an irritating noise,"The sweetest melody is the one you haven't heard." -Bono-

  8. #8

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Quote Originally Posted by Fugen
    Hi.

    In regards to the emptiness question, ask yourselves, how important is the emptiness between the "notes/sound" in a song/tune
    How would it be if there we're no pause in between?
    Understand that and you are on a good way to understanding "emptiness".

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen
    The notes are also emptiness.

    Chet
    Form is no other than emptiness,
    Emptiness no other than form,
    Form is precisely emptiness,
    Emptiness precisely form,
    … all things are expressions of emptiness,
    Not born, not destroyed, not stained, not pure,
    Neither waxing nor waning …
    Thus emptiness is not form ...


    (Heart Sutra)

    Emptiness is so empty, 'tis even empty of emptiness ... yet do not think of emptiness as empty. :shock:

  9. #9
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    Form is no other than emptiness,
    Emptiness no other than form,
    Form is precisely emptiness,
    Emptiness precisely form,
    … all things are expressions of emptiness,
    Not born, not destroyed, not stained, not pure,
    Neither waxing nor waning …
    Thus emptiness is not form ...


    (Heart Sutra)

    Emptiness is so empty, 'tis even empty of emptiness ... yet do not think of emptiness as empty. :shock:
    Don't think of emptiness only as emptiness. If you never think of it as emptiness, you don't understand. Both. Neither. Same thing. You can't get hooked by either.

    Chet

  10. #10

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Don't think of emptiness only as emptiness. If you never think of it as emptiness, you don't understand. Both. Neither. Same thing. You can't get hooked by either.
    Do don't do don't ... cool water :-)

  11. #11

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Gassho Adam,

    First of all, read Jundo's post carefully. It's got everything you need to know.
    I just want to take a turn!
    Because if I write it out it helps me too, and others in the sangha can tell me if I'm on point or missing the mark.
    That's what makes being a part of Treeleaf so great! Everyone helps you as you try to help everyone!
    And if you or I get it wrong, someone will let you know! Probably Chet.
    (Just kidding, boss; you know I love ya!)

    Emptiness is one of those core Buddhist concepts that simultaneously fascinates you and irritates the crap out of you.
    It's easy to get sucked into the thought that if you could just wrap your brain around "emptiness" then you'd somehow become Enlightened (with a capital E).
    But YOU can't "get it" or define it. Ever. (Stick with me though...)

    It's one of the "four seals" or "four principles". (All four are inextricably related to each other by the way)
    1) All things are impermanent
    2) Everything is suffering
    3) All things and events (dharmas) are without self
    4) Nirvana is quiescence or shoho jisso -- all things are themselves ultimate reality, or all things are as they are.

    Number three is "all dharmas are without self", or stated differently: All things are EMPTY.
    Empty of what?
    Empty of definitions, empty of permanent self-existence, empty of separate existence from all-encompassing reality.
    Before your brain sees something and names it (aka DOG!) it is simply what-it-is, empty of definition, part of the BIG picture called the Universe (or God or Infinite Reality or Indra's Web or whatever term you want to use to indicate EVERYTHING).

    Here's a quote from Uchiyama's "Opening the Hand of Thought":
    "The foundation of Buddhism, with it's origins in India, refers to the reality of life prior to all definitions. Different Buddhist scriptures express this same fundamental reality in various ways: emptiness of reality, reality as it truly is, beyond logos, inexpressible tathata, true emptiness. Of course, since life produces all relative definitions, all definitions are life itself, but the reality of life cannot be bottled up in definitions of it. Although it produces all kinds of definitions, the reality of life transcends all definitions."
    Again: The reality of life transcends all definitions.
    So while it sounds silly to say, you can think of fire all you want but you won't get burned by your thoughts.
    Fire doesn't care what you think about it (it's inherently empty of definitions), but if you stick your hand in it you get burned.

    So here's the thing, YOU (the small self, the conscious self that defines everything in relation to itself) can't ever really wrap your brain around emptiness because (as Chet said) that would be a conceptual definition of reality (which is-what-it-is regardless of how you feel about it).
    Sure, you can imagine it however you like (your brain won't break; go ahead, try it, I'll wait...) but whatever you imagined ain't it.
    Understand that and you understand everything.

    Now, how does one really "know emptiness"?
    Zazen. Zazen. Zazen.
    Sitting zazen, "opening the hand of thought" and letting go of any and all definitions of what is, was or should be is living out life-as-it-is.
    Can you do that off the cushion? Absolutely!
    But it's all too easy to lose sight of the absolute reality and the only way to get better at keeping it "in sight" is to PRACTICE.
    Seeing relative and absolute as two sides of the same coin is the goal, but brother it ain't easy.

    For example, I understand that money is simply paper that represents currency and in an absolute sense it is empty of value or definition.
    In fact, it's not separate from myself. The money is me and I am the money! Ooooo! All is one! See how blissed out you feel?
    Then, somebody comes along and grabs your stack of cash and it's "Wait a minute! Get your filthy paws off my dough!"
    So my neatly defined mental conception of emptiness didn't help me at all, did it?

    BUT: If I practice zazen regularly and develop the skill of letting go of my thoughts and conceptualizations and definitions of things, then if someone steals my cash and I can't stop them, I don't have to go through hell over it.
    I can rely on my practice to help me let go of it.
    YEARS of zazen practice (it don't happen overnight, baby!) can help me develop the skill to move easily back and forth from the Relative to the Absolute.
    That is the "fruit" of Zen practice. It's everything and yet, it's really nothing at all!

    As Vimalakirti says "Not to abandon the way of the teaching and yet to go about one's business as usual in the world, that is meditation."

    So loss still hurts. Accepting changes in your life can be excruciatingly difficult.
    And it always will be, because you can't ever completely shed the Relative in favor of the Absolute.

    But as I've said before: there is a part of you that absolutely can accept all things as they are.
    Practice getting in touch with THAT and you'll "know emptiness".

    Gassho,
    -K2

    PS: This definition of emptiness was brought to you by the sick and twisted mind of Kliff T. Kapus DDS, MSD and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Treeleaf Zendo, Jundo Cohen or any other member of the sangha. It may, in fact, be entirely wrong.

  12. #12

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    PS: This definition of emptiness was brought to you by the sick and twisted mind of Kliff T. Kapus DDS, MSD and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Treeleaf Zendo, Jundo Cohen or any other member of the sangha. It may, in fact, be entirely wrong. [/quote]

    I thought it about as good as one can get with such ... in words. Thank you, Kliff (who is not really "Kliff")

    WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS FOR BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY "WONKS" ...

    Also, I am reading a fascinating (although rather arcane) book summarizing something which arose in Soto Zen Buddhist academic circles (yes, they exist ... in the Buddhism departments of Komazawa, the "Soto Zen" university, and elsewhere) over the last 20 years called the debate on "Critical Buddhism" ... and which really picks up a debate in the Mahayana world that has gone on for 1500 years before that ...

    I do not recommend the book for general readers at all, and the academics cited in the book are so lost sometimes in arguing whether the "forest is the trees, or are the trees just the forest, or what forest and what trees?" that I want to slap them (in a loving, Buddhist sort of way) because they get caught up in their own narrow theories and arguments sometimes ... and cannot see some obvious other ways to view/move through these things and escape the dilemna ...

    However, one basic thrust of the debate is this:

    While everyone pretty much agrees that "non-self" and "emptiness" are at the heart of Buddhism and the key to "suffering" ... what exactly "remains" (not the best word) when all phenomena are realized as empty? Is it, as some scholars assert, just the Buddha's original vision of "constant change and non-self, without any underlying strata to it" or "something" (slipped in by the Chinese primarily under the influence of Taoism and such) as we might call "True Self" "True Mind" "Buddha Mind" "The Tao" "Buddha Nature" "Inner Buddha" "Cosmic Consciousness" etc. (I am saying this badly ... the truly intellectually masochistic might try from the middle of page 45 to about page 48 or so, here ...

    http://books.google.com/books?id=AjlCz4 ... q=&f=false

    BOTTOM LINE: EMPTINESS "WORKS", IS THE KEY TO "DUKKHA" AND CAN BE EXPERIENCED ... BUT JUST WHAT'S "LEFT" WHEN ALL IS TASTED AS "EMPTY" ... MAYBE NOT SO CLEAR OR IMPORTANT.

    It is a bit like asking "what is left after the sweet ice cream gets eaten and swallowed?" Is it "something" "nothing" or just "the absence of ice cream"? Or (as I believe) is it that what is truly important is the tasting and "Truth" of the sweet ice cream eating, melting away on one's own tongue as it vanishes down one's throat. (Loosely ... something like that).

    Gassho, Jundo

  13. #13

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Many thanks to all who've posted here.
    I've not posted, but have, nonetheless, benefitted from this discussion.

    TNH:
    "We are not subject to birth and death. A Zen master might give a student a subject of meditation like, "What was your face before your parents were born?" This is an invitation to go on a journey in order to recognize yourself." . . . "Look at your hand and ask yourself, "since when has my hand been around?" . . . Indra's Net and all that.

    There is no birth and death, only the continuation of things as they are . . . empty, and, therefore, full of the universe-as-life. How could anything be otherwise?

    Gassho,
    Eika

  14. #14

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Hello Everyone,

    Thank you so much for the many responses to this post. I really can use every post and apply it to my practice. I'm sure that I'll have many other questions as I go along, so I'm glad that I have the support from the Sangha. Thanks again!

    Adam

  15. #15
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Emptiness is, to me, the lack of inherent existence of all things, including the self.

  16. #16
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    Emptiness is, to me, the lack of inherent existence of all things, including the self.
    The void?

    Or do you mean that the existence of things is not the way we think it is?

    Chet

  17. #17
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Explaining Buddhism and a question about emptiness....

    The latter; definitely not a nihilistic void.

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