Saturday, March 16, 2013

Things Keep Happening

Many come to Buddhism because they’re suffering. Aversion to what we don't like is natural. But when we hear that “everything is empty” we shouldn’t imagine we can somehow look at things or think about things or experience things in a way that will make what we don't like disappear.

In the Theravada tradition, it’s said that every thing is empty of permanence and separateness; and if we don’t recognize that, we suffer. That means every thing arises temporarily and interdependently, and if we work with that impermanence and interdependence, we don’t struggle.

In the Tibetan traditions of mahamudra (great seal) and dzogchen (great completion) it’s taught that while everything is empty (of permanence and independence), things do arise -- clearly, vividly, unceasingly. And that’s true, right? Internal experience and external phenomena do continue to arise vividly, whether or not we recognize that what arises is empty of permanence and independence. When we don’t recognize the nature of what arises, we struggle and suffer. When we do recognize the nature of what arises, we work within impermanence (change!) and interdependence (influence!), and we get along with a minimum of confusion and struggle.

When we recognize that everything is impermanent and interdependent, we come to appreciate the power of confusion (it makes us struggle and suffer) and of clarity (it releases us from struggle and suffering). We begin to unravel and let go of our habits of confusion and reaction, and we can give others a little more space to unravel their habits too.

Even our sense(s) of self are impermanent and dependent. We walk into the office and become an employee or a colleague. We walk into the mall and become a customer buying stuff. We walk into the house and become a spouse or parent or child. We run into a relative or old school mate and childhood patterns immediately arise. When we recognize that selves always arise in relation to others, we are freed of at least some of the confusion and clinging that lead to conflict and suffering.

So there’s no such a thing as Emptiness. There is an experience when we see that things actually lack the apparent characteristics  (permanence, independence, ultimate satisfaction) that we had projected upon them. That experience can at first be shocking, dismaying, disillusioning -- but in world of change and interdependence, there is a previously unimagined freedom and flexibility. Like all experiences, this freedom is also dependent on conditions, at least in the beginning. The experience of freedom depends on paying attention and being willing to drop the self-defining and self-defending that lead to struggle and suffering.

Recognizing that things are empty of permanence and independence is a good thing. Just don’t pretend that experience and things don’t arise and don’t matter! And don’t go looking for a thing called Emptiness. Nagarjuna said those who believe in the apparent solid, separate existence of things are stupid, like cows, but those who believe in Emptiness are even stupider. Don't get tangled up trying to find Emptiness, or trying to get rid of anything. Just keep testing your everyday experience: Is there any experience or object that is permanent? Or independent of causes and conditions? Be sure... because confusion about that is the cause of all sorts of trouble.

Things are empty of permanence and solidity; we are free.
Things are interdependent; we are not in control.
Suffering arises; we are responsible.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comment will be published (unless inappropriate), but if you want a reply, please send your comment directly to george@naturalawareness. You may also send questions or comments to me directly if you do not want them published in the blog.