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Thread: Question about the emptiness of perception (a bit philosophical - sorry)

  1. #1

    Question about the emptiness of perception (a bit philosophical - sorry)

    Trying to study the heart sutra nowadays. I have this question about emptiness, i wonder if you might help me.

    Often it is said that what we see is "not real", meaning that, basically, what we see is only effects ; the "real" cause cannot be seen. For example if i watch a cup, the only thing i really see is the representation of a cup. It is made of interactions between my eyes and nervous system (among many other conditions) and "something that is a cup" (but we can't call it a cup, since a cup is what we perceive and is already conventional - we will call it "the real cup", even if we can't know it).

    But in the philosophy about emptiness (Nagarjuna for example), it is also said that cause and effect are not the same, not different, and not "not same and not different". The link between cause and effect is empty. So, if what we see is only "effect", it is empty as well : the representation of the cup is not the same as "the real cup", but not different, and not "not same and not different". So, if i get it right, what we see is emptiness itself ? Since it is also said that the only way to realize (meaning to live in reality) anything is emptiness, and since what we see is emptiness, then what we see is totally "real" !

    So, is it really right to say that what we see is not real ?
    Last edited by Ugrok; 09-10-2014 at 09:28 PM.

  2. #2
    Hi Ugrok,

    Are you reading some Tibetan writings about the Heart Sutra. They can be very philosophical and analytical about the Heart Sutra in keeping with some of the statements you made about cause and effect.

    My too simple way of explaining the Heart Sutra, Nagarjuna and Emptiness is this: In the brain, from data flowing in through the senses from outside (really, inside and outside are one great loop), we create images of the "world out there" and "our self here". The world and our self are seen as rather separate, rather permanent or abiding objects in our mind which we then go on to label, categorize and stick judgments on about what this is a cause of that, what things we like or dislike, what we love or fear or are indifferent too. (Actually, this is necessary ... because we need to do so in order to live and survive in this world. We could not function without doing so. Where am I going to put the coffee I love without a cup? One would also burn one's hand on the stove if one disregarded the reality of the fire!)

    In Zazen we rather reverse the process of dividing and judging the world. The result is a great Dance of Wholeness (a phrase I use for the rather misleading "Emptiness") in which all things ... and us too ... dance with each other flowing together as a constantly changing Whole. In fact, one might say that, without separation, there is just One Great Dance going on and on.

    So one might say that in the Dance the separate cup ... and the drinker ... are swept up into the wholeness of the Dance, so are something of a dream if only perceived as separate objects. Yet, in this world ... well, I am drinking my coffee right now as I type! One might say that a key aspect of Zen Practice is to come to experience/dance the world and our self from both perspectives at once, as two which are also one.

    That is my too simple image to convey. However, in Zazen ... more than any philosophy or image about the Dance ... one must get up to Dance, experiencing the thrill of the dance rather than thinking about it!

    Here are a couple of posts that perhaps might help:

    Buddha-Basics (Part XVII) — The Dance of Emptiness
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...e-of-Emptiness

    My rather modern take on Dependent Origination:
    Buddha-Basics (Part XIV) – The Twelve-Fold Chain
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...lve-Fold-Chain

    Good Dancing!

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-14-2014 at 05:40 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    In Zazen we rather reverse the process of dividing and judging the world. The result is a great Dance of Wholeness (a phrase I use for the rather misleading "Emptiness") in which all things ... and us too ... dance with each other flowing together as a constantly changing Whole. In fact, one might say that, without separation, there is just One Great Dance going on and on.
    That's an excellent way of putting it, thank you Jundo

    I admit, talking about coffee, I rather have a full cup than an emtpy cup.

    gassho

    Vincent
    Ongen (音源) - Sound Source

  4. #4
    Thank you for the answer.

    But - and i'm conscious that i'm falling in the "nihilistic trap" of emptiness here - if all there is is a big whole dance in which no one really takes part, why do anything to dance better ? Why love other dancers ?

    In other terms, why would i want to change a world which is not real, and in which i have no "real" possibility of action at all ?

    It seems to me there are only a few possibilities :

    1 - Well, this whole stuff we see, unreal as it is, and our subject/object relationship, even if we know it's an illusion, is all that we get. So we should work to make this a cool place, even if it has ultimately no meaning. But at the same time, buddhist teachings always say not to attach to things being "better" or "worse", so that's a bit confusing.

    2 - Let's not change it, sit back and relax as everything goes its way and fixes on its own.

    The problem with number 2 is that there are things in the world and in ourselves (i know, there is no real separation between them) that seem totally unbearable. Should we work with those things, or recognize those things as not real as well, and learn not to care about them ?

    Writing about this, my question is, i think : how can there be compassion when there is nothing to have compassion about and no one to feel the compassion ? If i can't trust my own feelings, my own perceptions, how can i help anyone suffering, since the suffering i get from my feelings and perceptions is not real ?

    Thing is, if someone hits me in the face with a stick, real or not real, i feel pain ! Shouldn't it be trusted ? Is it possible not to trust this ?


    Thinking about it, i got a number 3 !

    3 - Things are not real, nor unreal, it does not matter ; the only thing that matters is our experience here and now, so to relieve suffering we should just learn to know it very well so that we can act accordingly.

    And there is a number 4 i guess :

    4 - Sit down and shut up.
    Last edited by Ugrok; 09-11-2014 at 11:58 AM.

  5. #5
    Treeleaf Unsui / Engineer Sekishi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ugrok View Post
    But - and i'm conscious that i'm falling in the "nihilistic trap" of emptiness here - if all there is is a big whole dance in which no one really takes part, why do anything to dance better ? Why love other dancers ?

    In other terms, why would i want to change a world which is not real, and in which i have no "real" possibility of action at all ?
    Hi Ugrok,

    I feel your pain. I know this struggle well. Metta to you.

    As Jundo alludes to, "emptiness" is a problematic translation of shunyata / sunyata. As the Dharma becomes more common in the west, I hope we will be able to leave this word untranslated in the future (much the way karma is untranslated now). The "emptiness" of shunyata is not the "emptiness" or "void" of nihilism, but rather is simultaneously "fullness". We cannot stop with "empty of a separate self", but must press on to see that it is also "full of everything". The entire universe is reflected in a mote of dust!

    The dance IS, even if the dancers do not quite have separate selves, so dance well and love the dance!

    Speaking in relative terms now, I have a left hand and a right hand. Neither really have a separate self (cut off either, and it will die). Both are part of me, and are immensely useful to each other. The left hand brings the spoon to the mouth, the mouth brings to soup to the stomach, the stomach and intestines digest the food and nourish the left hand AND the right hand. It would be folly for the right hand to stab the left hand. The only sanity is for the right hand to love the left hand (in its own alien "handish way") and show it compassion.

    Different is not separate.

    But I don't know anything, so I hope this comment does not lead further down the rabbit-hole of discursive thought and philosophy.

    Gassho,
    Sekishi
    sekishi
    石志

    He/him. As a novice priest-in-training, this is simply an expression of my opinion. Please take it with a grain of salt.

  6. #6
    Thank you Jundo, that was a great explanation.

    Was put off Zen when I first read about it because I misunderstood emptiness. The vital word when describing things is "inherent." Things definitely exist, but they have no inherent existence. The chair I'm sitting on is dependent on the trees it came from, the people that cut them, those who transported the wood, cut and cured it, the factory workers etc. And each of them is likewise dependent on uncountable other conditions, including oxygen from trees. Also, things are constantly changing, which is why the tree is now a chair, but both tree and chair are just schemas in our minds. The mind is wholeness. Totality and potentiality. Like the mind, the chair is formless, rather the idea and perception of it is. But the whole pieces, the elements that compose everything, are form. Where there are pieces, there are wholes, where there are wholes, there are pieces. Partners united as Not Two in the dancing.

    So I am definitely me, but there's no me apart from Everything, and no Everything apart from me. Important to see that this is experiential rather than intellectual. The words just serve to inadequately describe one moment of experience.

    Gassho,
    Neither John Nor Not John
    Last edited by Nameless; 09-11-2014 at 05:55 PM.

  7. #7
    Hi all,

    Could we explain ourselves as cells part of a giant body (the universe)?
    The only thing that could justify considering us as "separate" from other "cells" is our self conscience, which is built on ilusions, on things lacking substance.
    Much like cells are part of our body. If one cell dies it dissolves in our body, and could be replaced by a new one. The body goes on, maybe with less limbs or organs.
    If all the cells of our body die, it gets buried or cremated and the ashes thrown away, and "universal life" just goes on.
    Our selves never existed anyway. If one ceases to attach to the idea of self, then everything is all things.

    The only things that puzzles me is: if there is no self, then "WHO" dances? "WHO" ceases attaching?

    I end up dropping everything, and "just sitting" out of tiredness, because it's our practice, feels good, and one can do no harm while just sitting.
    But don't know if that's the right motivation for "just sitting".

    Sorry for insisting, feel free to ignore me

    Gassho,
    Walter.
    Gassho,Walter

  8. #8
    Hi Ugrok,

    If somebody you love dies in a dream - is the feeling of sadness unreal?

    Gassho,

    Daitetsu
    no thing needs to be added

  9. #9
    My coffee cup has an inside and an outside. It couldn't be a cup without either. I have no idea where the outside ends and the inside begins. Either way I fill it with coffee and it works.

    And don't get me started on when it magically becomes a tea cup!

    Gassho, Entai

    泰 Entai (Bill)
    "this is not a dress rehearsal"

  10. #10
    Treeleaf Unsui / Engineer Sekishi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by walter View Post
    The only things that puzzles me is: if there is no self, then "WHO" dances? "WHO" ceases attaching?
    I would say, if you think you have the answer to this puzzle, check again. Who is it that wonders? Who is it that sits? Who is the dance! WHO?!

    Then, just sit.

    Gassho,
    Sekishi
    sekishi
    石志

    He/him. As a novice priest-in-training, this is simply an expression of my opinion. Please take it with a grain of salt.

  11. #11
    Treeleaf Unsui / Engineer Sekishi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Entai View Post
    My coffee cup has an inside and an outside. It couldn't be a cup without either.

    I have no idea where the outside ends and the inside begins. Either way I fill it with coffee and it works.
    I think this is actually a lovely (if somewhat philosophical and mathematical) way to illustrate some of the difficulty Ugrok and the rest of us have.

    In one view (our day-to-day view), your cup has an inside and an outside. You know it to be true, because when you pour coffee into it, the coffee does not leak out. Simple test, obvious truth.

    In another view (the mathematical view), your cup does not have an inside and outside. Topologically speaking, a coffee cup can be transformed into a torus or a sphere with only squeezing, stretching, or twisting (most importantly in this view it does not need to have a hole punched into it -- that would make it a different order of form). It is of a different order than a Mobius strip or Klein bottle. Look up homeomorphism sometime for light bed-time reading.

    Neither the day-to-day view, nor the mathematical view are "wrong" (both can be tested with simple tests and both can be confirmed!). They are just tunnels through which we view and describe the world. But they are not the world - they are views, not reality itself.

    We are not "wrong" to view ourselves as human beings, wrapped in human forms, separated and feeling worries and suffering. We are not "wrong" to view ourselves as dancers, participating in a dance. But those are views. They are not the world.

    So we dance. And we sit. And sometimes we drop "I", or "Dancer", and there is only "Dancing". And sometimes we drop that too.

    Gassho,
    Sekishi
    sekishi
    石志

    He/him. As a novice priest-in-training, this is simply an expression of my opinion. Please take it with a grain of salt.

  12. #12
    Thank you all very much for the wonderful comments.

  13. #13
    Hi Ugrok

    All I can say is academics and looking for answers is a fantastic way to understand our practice. But academy can only take you so far.

    I have been chanting the Heart Sutra for years now. Even when my mind is super noisy, I chant. Sometimes I just repeat the words like a broken record. Some times I find meaning, peace. Others I simply find confusion.

    But it all stops as soon as I end the chanting and begin zazen. Then everything comes together and makes sense in a very quiet and logical way. You just feel it in your marrow, deep inside of you. It's all complete.

    Emptiness makes sense. Silence makes sense. And all the craziness surrounding us makes sense too. The Heart Sutra always teaches me something different.

    But don't mind my opinion. It's also empty and worthless.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  14. #14
    Hi Urgok,

    I have no answers, but Dogen's Genjokoan might be of interest (an online version here or checkout Shohaku Okumura's Realizing Genjokoan). I think your questions above and Genjokoan are one: Genjo = reality just as it presently is, and koan = absolute embracing relative. It is about both emptiness and how to practice with that realization. This question drove Dogen and I think it drives all of us here too. I hope this might help you in your practice. Cheers!

    Gassho,
    Jeff

  15. #15
    Heart Sutra rocks! Eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast of champions.

    Gassho, Jishin

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Ugrok View Post
    Thank you for the answer.

    But - and i'm conscious that i'm falling in the "nihilistic trap" of emptiness here - if all there is is a big whole dance in which no one really takes part, why do anything to dance better ? Why love other dancers ?

    In other terms, why would i want to change a world which is not real, and in which i have no "real" possibility of action at all ?
    Who say there is nothing to do? If you do not dance, there is no dancing (or, at least, your part in it!). If you do not dance well, you trip and fall. We love other dancers because that brings love into the show.

    Yes, Buddhism drops thoughts of "better and worse". But at the same time, we DO NOT drop thoughts of "better" and "worse" (only seems like a contradiction) and thus should work as we can to make this world and our self (not two, by the way) better as we can.

    Yes, kind of we are not "real". But, who says we are not real? (more non-contradiction!) Your "3" is getting closer, your "4" is the best means there right now.

    Close your eyes, clear your heart, cut the cord ... Are we human or are we dancer?



    Gassho, J

    PS ...

    The only things that puzzles me is: if there is no self, then "WHO" dances? "WHO" ceases attaching?
    Who? Yes, WHO!!! Go wash your bowls. (There are actually many famous Koans like this "Who is it who hears?" "Who chants the Buddha's name?") Yes, WHO!!!

    SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: WHAT'S WHAT
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...DO-WHAT-S-WHAT

    I end up dropping everything, and "just sitting" out of tiredness, because it's our practice, feels good, and one can do no harm while just sitting.
    But don't know if that's the right motivation for "just sitting".
    Fine, and you may even find out WHO!!! in the course of sitting so.
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-12-2014 at 03:20 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  17. #17
    Thanks again, it helps a lot.

    This morning in zazen i think i understood what bothers me in all this. It is the fear of losing myself, this "I", and the fear of being totally alone. This fear is based on a misunderstanding of emptiness. I still cannot understand it correctly it seems. For me, it's either that everything i see is an illusion, so that would mean the world as i see it is all in my head, which makes it kind of lonely ; or that there is a definite separation between me and the rest of the world, which is another form of loneliness. But all of a sudden i remembered what Jundo said about the inside/outside flow earlier and for a moment i felt - with a tremendous relief that almost brought tears to my eyes - that everything is in constant flow, in constant contact, and so, there is no NOTHING, there is no void of separation in which to fall. Yet, well, there is a separation. Because "I" am typing right now. Nobody else. I am typing on a keyboard. I and the keyboard are separate ; but at the same time the only way i can interact with the keyboard is "flow" and "contact", wether it is by vision, by touch, etc...

    Which leads me to think that this "I", as much as everything else, exists in the way that everything else exists : in constant flow and in constant contact. So there is separation, but this separation is itself constant flow and constant contact. So there is no separation. But there is.

    Ok, turning myself to the psych ward, ill be back in a few years.

  18. #18
    Hi Ugrok,

    After this Zen business started, I used to have dreams that I was all alone in the universe and the dreams were disturbing enough for me to remember them. I don't usually remember my dreams. The subject also came up in Zazen. Then it went away. Don't know what to make out of it.

    Gassho, Jishin

  19. #19
    Ahah, Jishin, to be honest this is not the first time that it arises in my practice and my life as well. From time to time, this question comes - usually at times in my life when things are not easy, not sure, not fixed, which is the case right now. Then it leaves. Then, it seems, it comes back. Sometimes i wonder if this is not a tricky way of my mind to just think of deep philosophy instead of tending to my "real life" "issues", because there are moments in which those questions are not disturbing in the least.
    I must say i'm glad i found this sangha to discuss it with people - and a "real" teacher - who went/go through this as well.

    Gassho, Ugrok
    Last edited by Ugrok; 09-12-2014 at 11:40 AM.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Fine, and you may even find out WHO!!! in the course of sitting so.
    Thanks Jundo.

    Today I sat with that.
    At some point, I got the feeling that I needed to "let life pass through me" or "let life live me" or something.
    Trying to put that feeling or idea in words now, makes me understand how difficult it is to use words to explain that kind of experiences.
    It feel so clumsy trying to express that.

    But that "image" "idea" "feeling" or whatever makes it easier to drop everything else, at least while upon the zafu.
    Now I guess the work is sitting to find out how to keep at that when I rise from the zafu.

    Gassho,
    Walter
    Gassho,Walter

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Ugrok View Post
    Thanks again, it helps a lot.

    This morning in zazen i think i understood what bothers me in all this. It is the fear of losing myself, this "I", and the fear of being totally alone. This fear is based on a misunderstanding of emptiness. I still cannot understand it correctly it seems. For me, it's either that everything i see is an illusion, so that would mean the world as i see it is all in my head, which makes it kind of lonely ; or that there is a definite separation between me and the rest of the world, which is another form of loneliness. But all of a sudden i remembered what Jundo said about the inside/outside flow earlier and for a moment i felt - with a tremendous relief that almost brought tears to my eyes - that everything is in constant flow, in constant contact, and so, there is no NOTHING, there is no void of separation in which to fall. Yet, well, there is a separation. Because "I" am typing right now. Nobody else. I am typing on a keyboard. I and the keyboard are separate ; but at the same time the only way i can interact with the keyboard is "flow" and "contact", wether it is by vision, by touch, etc...

    Which leads me to think that this "I", as much as everything else, exists in the way that everything else exists : in constant flow and in constant contact. So there is separation, but this separation is itself constant flow and constant contact. So there is no separation. But there is.

    Ok, turning myself to the psych ward, ill be back in a few years.
    In our way, one -does not- drop into some nihilistic hole where the self is lost and nothing remains. Saying that life has aspects of being like a dream -does not- mean nothing is real. Snap out of it!

    If anything, one realizes the wonderfully whole and affirming nature of life and oneself as affirmed. Life is a beautiful dream, so row row row your boat!

    You are overthinking and analyzing things! Please stop convincing yourself of this or that in your mind. Just Sit in Wholeness of the moment, see what comes of it.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  22. #22
    I'll do this. Thank you again.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post

    My too simple way of explaining the Heart Sutra, Nagarjuna and Emptiness is this: In the brain, from data flowing in through the senses from outside (really, inside and outside are one great loop), we create images of the "world out there" and "our self here". The world and our self are seen as rather separate, rather permanent or abiding objects in our mind which we then go on to label, categorize and stick judgments on about what this is a cause of that, what things we like or dislike, what we love or fear or are indifferent too. (Actually, this is necessary ... because we need to do so in order to live and survive in this world. We could not function without doing so. Where am I going to put the coffee I love without a cup? One would also burn one's hand on the stove if one disregarded the reality of the fire!)
    A not-particularly Buddhist friend sent me the following little clip today. The speaker is an evolutionary psychologist explaining something of a mainstream modern scientific model of how the brain creates a virtual sense of "self" and consciousness between the ears. The fellow, as an evolutionary psychologist, is very focused on how this is a product of evolution and neurons. That is not really the topic we are discussing (and a rather narrow way to look at the question if you ask me), but his description of the mind's creation of a "holo-deck" version of the self and world between the ears is perfectly harmonious with what the Buddhists have said for thousands of years.

    Is consciousness real? Could it be just an illusion manufactured in the theatre of our minds? And what use is it – why did it evolve in the first place? Professor Nicholas Humphrey explores the mystery.in this film from the Royal Institution


    Buddhist meaning of "Mind" (Big "M"), by the way, is something much much wider in meaning than just what is produced between our ears by the brain (as he is speaking of in the film). What is outside us (assuming, of course, that there is something "out there") is seen or touched and flows in through the senses, is next processed and experienced between the ears, and thereupon results in our thoughts, words and actions back out to the world ... all of which can also be encountered as actually one great feedback LOOP, each dependent on the other for the creation of the whole of "reality" as our experience of the world (and the world's simultaneously being experienced and acted upon by us) ... outside flowing in and inside thereupon acting and flowing out ... so much so that one cannot even speak really of "Mind" as merely "inside" or "outside". In fact, "Mind" is a great inter-flowing inter-acting Whole of inside-outing and outside-ining! The world apparently "outside us", and our experience of "self" somehow "inside us" can be transcended in the Great Dance, and is Mind.



    Thus, in Zazen, perhaps we might say that we encounter such whereby separation of self/other is only one way to see life, and whereby the hard borders may sometimes soften or fully fade away ...



    ... sometimes written by old Zen folks rather like this ...



    However, PLEASE DO NOT MERELY PHILOSOPHIZE ABOUT THIS. Rather, get on the cushion and learn to be so in the bones!

    Gassho, J

    Last edited by Jundo; 09-14-2014 at 09:28 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  24. #24


    Gassho, John

  25. #25
    Thanks a lot !

    When sitting, it is quite simple and good. But when thinking about it, it really tangles my mind...

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Ugrok View Post
    Thanks a lot !

    When sitting, it is quite simple and good. But when thinking about it, it really tangles my mind...
    Many aspects of life are so. If thinking to much about bike riding while riding, which foot should move where and how to stay on the seat ... one may well fall over!

    If thinking to much about making love when making love, about appreciating a rose one sees or a symphony one is hearing, if thinking to distraction about the fact that one exists on this planet while existing on the planet ... one may miss what is right here. Just Sit.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-15-2014 at 01:12 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  27. #27
    The most significant part for me of the clip Jundo posted was this: "Consciousness feeds our self-worth, our joy in life, our fear of death. And, especially, it increases our respect for the other conscious beings we live alongside…"

    In other words, the more conscious we become, the more compassionate we become.

    Time for more sitting...



  28. #28
    Hi all,

    Fear of losing ones-self is only another thought really, isn't it?

    Yesterday at the local zendo I ran some introductory meditation rounds for interested people, and one asked:

    "but if I lose my self, I won't be bothered so much with dis-ease perhaps, but also I wouldn't be bothered too much anymore with happiness. If there's no I, there's no one to see the beauty of things and enjoy them."

    The thing is, this is all just thinking, seperating the world with thoughts. There's no way to get out of that using more thinking.

    If there's no I and no things to see beauty in, only beauty remains. Haha, just sit and don't worry too much would be my advice Urgok

    Gassho

    Vincent



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    Ongen (音源) - Sound Source

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