Buddhism and emptiness

Discussion in 'Off Topic Area' started by m1k3jobs, Mar 2, 2012.

  1. m1k3jobs

    m1k3jobs Dudeist Priest

    I thought it might be interesting to start a discussion on what the Buddhist teaching of "emptiness" means to you. It is something I was having some trouble with until recently. Lately it is starting to make sense.

    Putting it into words will not be easy though.

    Emptiness is tied very much to the teachings of dependent origination and the lack of a permanent self.

    A lot of what I am talking about is from this web page which I am still working on.


    I have read much on this in other places and books but this one pulls it together the best for me so far. What follows is my meanderings base on my understanding or lack thereof.

    I can see the concept of a permanent self can cause a lot of problems and issues and I could handle the concept that my self is not permanent was pretty straight forward.

    However the more I read on emptiness the idea that self is an illusion was really hard to grasp. After all who is doing the typing and the thinking on this? What I finally grasped was.

    Emptiness = no independent self and dependent origination explains it (my words) like this. Everything has causes and conditions that lead to it's existence. If this then that. My existence is do to my parents and a whole bunch of other conditions that lead to my being born. My body is dependent on food and air and stuff to keep existing. My brain is dependent on my body and my mind is dependent on my brain. No brain no mind. No body no brain. My self, the I that is me is dependent on my mind to exist. No mind, no me. Me is a product of my mind. It is a product of the hormones and chemicals in my brain, it is a product of the thoughts in my head, it is totally dependent on the existence of this body.

    Taking this a little further thoughts come and go in my mind of there own, there is no "thinker" behind them. My mind does not think thoughts, how could it. It would need a thought to think a thought. My mind reacts to the thoughts that come through my head. It can treat them as reality or it can recognize them as random thoughts. Mind can analyze and react to the thoughts but it can not create them. If it could why would any of us choose to think anything but happy happy joy joy thoughts?

    So self is just a construct of the mind, it is a tool that the mind uses to give itself a footing for viewing the world/reality as if it were and outside observer. This is advantageous for certain types of behaviors such as modifying the environment for shelter, seeing patterns in seasons for agriculture and for social bonding. It is not always a good way to look at the world from the point of view of mental health or serenity.

    So, there is no independent self, it is simply a tool of the mind. A tool which at times thinks it does exist because it is useful when it behaves as if it does.

    As I have learned in therapy, just because I think it doesn't make it true.

    OK, everyone, fire away and let me know what you think on this subject.

    BTW this is just my way of viewing the Dharma and your milage may vary. A lot. :hat:
  2. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Do you meditate?
  3. m1k3jobs

    m1k3jobs Dudeist Priest

    I do nembutsu (saying the NAMU AMIDA BUDDHA) as my primary practice and I prefer to do it walking or jogging. I do some breathing meditation but I don't enjoy it near as much.

    I can say since I have started this almost a year ago I notice a big difference in my thought process and how centered I feel. I got back into Buddhism because of joining Al-Anon. My wife is an alcoholic. I found there was a huge amount of similarity between the Al-Anon program and Buddhist teachings and practice. There were also some huge differences. Because of this I actually began to get serious about my Buddhism.
  4. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Hey, I'd like to post more but about to hop on a plane. Will get back to this next week. But just my couple of pence, I think the meditation aspect is quite important in regards to the whole emptiness issues as intellect wise, at best (IME) one can only reach a dead end (whether one realises this or no) though perhaps a never ending cycle of questions is more of an apt description. Anyway, meditation which offers a glimpse of the separation between intellect and awareness, i.e. experience/awareness without differentiation (or mass diferentiation) is IMO the way forward. I guess is like a realisation that the intellect can only go so far, and if you keep trying to push it, it just drives you mad.

    Maybe not the most thought out reply, but am in a rush :) Hope my view makes some sense.
  5. m1k3jobs

    m1k3jobs Dudeist Priest

    Inthespirit, I agree that the meditation is very important. As I practice pure land and nembutsu is my meditation. It is different than breath meditation but for me it has been very effective.
  6. JKMann

    JKMann Valued Member

    Mike, Thanks for your take on emptiness. It is certainly a very tricky thing to tackle, but what you wrote made good sense to me.

    I'm curious about your nembutsu practice. Does it function as a generic mantra (no offense intended)? Do you regard the Pure Land literally? If not, is your use of the nembutsu a reflection on the loving-kindness represented by the idea of Amida-butsu? A way of eliminating undue focus on self? (which brings us back to emptiness) And does it connect to 12-steps and your higher power? I'm sorry to be so nosey, I am just very interested in the odd intersection of Zen and Pure Land. Thanks.

    My own two cents on emptiness and no-self: I think most folks see this as a very different teaching than what you find in western notions of the self. While it is true that most folks in Christianity, for example, had a strong body-mind dualism (influenced greatly by Platonism), I don't think that is essential to Christianity. If you consider Judaism's notion of the self - much more monistic in body, soul, spirit - and early Christian teachings, I think it is possible to see Buddhist and Theist notions of the self as compatible.

    Happy Philosophizing! ;)
  7. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Hey Mike, could you tell me a bit more about these methods, I'm not really familiar with them. I only really know about breathing and movement type methods. Would be interesting to hear what impact (physical/psychological) they have on your perception too.
  8. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    I would think that "mindfulness" is on equal par with "emptiness".
  9. aikiMac

    aikiMac aikido + boxing = very good Moderator Supporter

    I associate “emptiness” with the idea, the teaching, that there is no permanent self. I know that’s called “dependent origination.” Maybe technically there is a difference between emptiness and dependent origination, but in my silly brain they merge into the same thing.

    My spin on it is this:

    Nothing can be defined in isolation. “Up” has meaning only when paired with “down.” Likewise, “bright” and “dark,” “me” and “you,” “subject” and “object,” each have meaning only in the context of their respective mate. Any composite item has meaning only through the relationship of its parts. A “wooden chair,” for example, is a wooden chair only because it has wood, four legs, a back, and a seat. Without those constituent parts there is no “chair.” But what of one isolated part of the chair? Say, the front right leg? It, too, has constituent parts that came from outside itself: the seeds and rain that grew the tree; the tree before that tree; the people who harvested the tree; the craftsmen who shaped it; paint. In actual fact nothing at all in the whole human world exists on its own, of its own accord, all by itself, inherently of itself. Nothing. Everything depends on something else for its present existence.

    For example, when you look in the mirror you think “me” and “self.” When your boss or your neighbor or your parent looks at you, that person does not think “me” or “self.” That person thinks “other person” and “that is not me.” You are “me” and “other person” at the same time, but even the very thought itself of “I/me/self” exists and has meaning only by contrast to the opposite thought of “other person who is not me.”

    Human bodies are made up of cells each of which is nourished by food generally purchased in a store. Someone not yourself stood at the cash register and sold the food. Someone else printed the money traded for that food, or the credit card used for the purchase. The food likely was packaged. Even if it was not packaged it was carried to the store in a crate. Someone else made the package or the crate. Someone else trucked the food to the store in that crate. Someone else carried the food in the crate into the store. Before trucking, someone else had to take the food to the place where the truck received it, so that it could even come to the store for you to buy. Someone else prepped the food to make it ready for shipment. Someone else grew the food, or raised it, or caught it. If the food was meat, the animal ate food and this cycle starts over. If instead the food was a fruit or vegetable or grain it came from a plant which came from the ground. Someone else grew it and harvested it. That farmer used tools. The tools were made of metal. Someone else dug the metal ore out of the ground, and someone else fashioned the ore into the tool. Someone else shipped the tool from the factory to the tool store, and someone else worked at the tool store and sold it. And on and on and on it goes. Whatever now exists owes its existence to the union of a huge, huge multiplicity of causes, events, and linked parts. Who made the chair I am sitting on? Or the spoon I used last night at dinner? Or all of the parts to the computer monitor (let alone the keyboard and the memory chips) that I am using right now? These people could not have made any of those things without help from others.

    Going even deeper than that, the major “ingredient” that makes a plant is mud: dirt mixed with water. Every plant grows in mud and draws its food from mud. Every human eats plants, and thus every human is made from the mud of Planet Earth. The water that makes the rain that makes the mud comes from clouds which float around the planet until they rain into rivers and lakes to be evaporated again into a new and different cloud. Rivers and lakes flow into oceans that constantly churn and mix with one another, so that all ocean water really is the same and all rain water really does eventually make its way around the planet. What this means is that every single creature on earth is recycled mud, in key part, and that the mud comes from shared water, emphasis on shared.

    Conclusion: We're all the same, we all need each other literally, and there is no "me" apart from "not me."

    That’s what I get out of it, anyway.
  10. m1k3jobs

    m1k3jobs Dudeist Priest

    Mac, good post and in true Buddhist fashion I will both agree and disagree.

    To me emptiness is the next step, it is beyond interbeing. For example, I sit on an exercise ball when I meditate. Some times it is me sitting on the ball watching my breaths. Some times it is me and the ball, interconnected and balancing together watching my breaths. And sometimes when it is really right there is no me, no ball, no breaths, there is just the sitting. That is emptiness to me. It is those times when you are not just Interconnected with the world, it is when you just are and there is nothing else. It is when that moment is the only moment ever, no past, no future, just nowness.

    Other examples are those moments when you are wholy in the moment. A sunset, a kiss, the first time you hold your newborn child.

    I hope this makes sense and I probably shouldn't post right after meditating. :)
  11. m1k3jobs

    m1k3jobs Dudeist Priest

    47martialman, to me mindfulness is a tool that I use to stay in the moment. I use it to keep me off the treadmill of obsessive thinking and to watch my thoughts and remember just because I think it doesn't make it true. That I have choices on how I want to react to my thoughts and emotions. That I can choose to live life skillfully. Not as easy as it sounds I have come to find out but I am getting better at it.
  12. YouKnowWho

    YouKnowWho Valued Member

    this is a very simple concept. If you look at a

    - pretty girl, under her face skin, you will see a skull.
    - powerful and rich guy, under his body skin, you will see skeleton.

    What you can see in your eyes is only "temporary". If you can see past the "current", you will realize that nothing can last forever, why should you let anything to bother you in your short life time?
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2012
  13. aikiMac

    aikiMac aikido + boxing = very good Moderator Supporter

    That speaks to me. Very nice. :cool:
  14. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    I like this^^^

    Some may say mindfulness is not thinking. Such without concept. Or is in likeness to no conceptual awareness.

    But how does this compare to "emptiness"? Are they the same or part of a equation that are needed for a result?
  15. m1k3jobs

    m1k3jobs Dudeist Priest

    To me mindfulness is thinking of a sort. It is paying attention to my thoughts and choosing how to react to them. I don't know if it is possible to truly turn off your thoughts but what mindfulness does is allow me to turn the volume way down and to recognize when a thought has the potential to turn into an internal storm. When I do recognize a thought pattern like that I often use my Namu Amida as a trigger to bring myself back to the current moment and derail that train before it even leaves the station.

    How's that for mixing metaphors? :hat:

    For me emptiness is being totally in the moment, just being, before my mind begins to label what is happening. It never lasts long but it is well worth it. I think that you can learn to be more aware of and extend these moments but I'm not sure you can make it something that you have all the time. Thinking is something we do. And as verbal beings we label things and see patterns, it is our nature. Its just important to remember that the narrative is not reality. We do not have the language to describe reality in its fullest. Also, we never just describe and catalog reality, we begin to play what if. What if I did something different or said something different or made a different choice and the next thing you know we are off in some fantasy land that is less and less like reality the more it goes own. Or we play what if with the future, what if something happens, what will I do and we end up in another fantasy land trying to make decisions with information we don't have. So mindfulness is a tool to stop the what if train of thought. While I may not experience emptiness as much as I like I can keep my mind in the moment and accept reality for what it is.

    I am going to grab some breakfast and then go into how Al-Anon works on some of the exact same things.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
  16. m1k3jobs

    m1k3jobs Dudeist Priest

    Ok, on to Al-Anon and Buddhism. There are a lot of similarities and some major differences. Also, I do not work the 12 steps. They are way too God oriented and Biblical for my tastes. I have used pieces of them. I do not have a sponsor either. Again the folks who get into being sponsors tend to be way to God oriented for me and I have issues with trust and authority figures. I am a big fan of the slogans and sayings and found them to be a huge help. If you are interested in any of this stuff just google it. There is tons of info out there.

    So one of the first things I got out of Al-Anon is giving up the illusion of control. That is covered in the 1st 3 steps as well as the Serenity Prayer, which by the way is something I am a big fan of.

    Take out God and it has a very Buddhist perspective, especially the way it was explained to me. The things I can not change are other people, places and things. The things I can change are me, myself and I. The only thing I can change is my choices and attitudes. In other words learn to accept reality because there isn’t anything you can do to change it other than how you choose to react to what is going on both inside and outside your head.

    The next big thing I got out of the program was letting go of the past. Another Buddhist idea. It’s over, you can’t change it and there isn’t any need to carry it around any more. It ties in with the slogan “Let go and let God”.

    And finally my last big insight was just to accept myself as I am. I don’t need to play all these different roles I had assumed in the process of trying to protect my alcoholic from the consequences of her actions. I was allowed to take care of my wants and needs. I learned to be comfortable just being me.

    My problem with the 12 steps is the heavy reliance of a biblical God and the need in steps 4, 5 and 6 to confess your flaws and defects of character. They have workbooks dedicated to this reviewing ALL of your faults the whole way back to your childhood. Heck, I’m 58, I don’t ever remember my childhood. The whole confess your sins approach really turns me off.

    So I have taken things I have learned in Al-Anon and merged it with things I have learned in Buddhism. That is why I usually refer to what I do as a Buddhist program rather than a Buddhist practice.

    As they say in the rooms, take what you want and leave the rest.

    My sig on a recovery forum says it all:

    Sanity is giving up the illusion of control.
    Happiness is letting go of the past.
    Serenity is just being myself.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
  17. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

  18. m1k3jobs

    m1k3jobs Dudeist Priest

    Good article. Sometimes I get caught up all the deep thoughts and words that are part of Buddhism and forget that it, for the most part, is just some good advice on how to live a sane, happy and serene life. Of course you can't be sane, happy and serene all the time but Buddhism provides the tools to recenter yourself when you start to wobble. That is what I liked about some of the tools in Al-Anon. They were practical, simple and they worked. And both programs are about reducing suffering and as both programs point out the primary cause of most suffering is ourselves. As Al-Anon says

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