Writings

Dhammalogue no.7


In todays Dhammalogue we will talk a bit about 'emptiness'
Dhammalogue no.7
I: Good morning honey

J: Good morning babe

I: We dedicated the last two Dhammalogues to discuss some of the main Buddhist teachings, we explained impermanence and attachment in the last two entries. Today I would like to shine light on the concept of 'emptiness', a word that sometimes throws people back a little. What does emptiness mean to you?

J: Emptiness in Buddhist terms: 'Sunyata' points to the fact that nothing is by itself alone, all is subject to perception, meaning, interpretation and opinion and is therefore not right or wrong, good or bad, it is what we read in to it, how we have been conditioned to view it.

I: Another way to say that it all depends on our attitude and perspective. A warm day with clear blue skies for instance is a beautiful sight for a family of holiday makers planning a beach day but a daunting one for a farmer that has seen his crop go dry for lack of rain water. The same blue sky means two entirely different things and provoques completely different feelings dependings on the person's circumstance. However, for emptiness to be true, there has to be a way for the farmer to see the blue sky as a good omen, for otherwise we see emptiness as only depending on circumstance. Is that possible? Is it possible to radically change your perspective and transform your view of let's say dangerous or threatening situations into maybe not positive and friendly ones but at least workable ones? Is it possible to re-phrase reality from your internal stand point even in radically challenging circumstances or is the idea of emptiness just for heroes, another new age feel good trick to simply look the other way?

J: Well for such a radical change of perspective we first have to broaden our view. Step away from the immediacy of what lies right in front of us to include a wider perspective. The Zen tradition articulates this very well in their stories, like in this one:

'Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.'

This little story illustrates perfectly how, when the mind remains unattached to the fixed opinion of how things are, there is space for seeing a bigger picture. Pointing once again to the impermanent nature of all that is and the suffering we create unecessarily when we cling to any judgement. Since all is constantly changing, our mental and emotional balance rests on our ability to stay open regardless of what happens. Meditation helps immensely to understand and experience that.

I: This reminds me when I met you, I was planning a long cycling trip in India when I got injured and had to change my plans and do a more conventional train trip. Not the end of the world but I remembered being quite bummed out, looking at the maps of all the little lost roads and small villages that I was planning to ride and visit and now instead I had to settle for cities and places big enough to have a train or a bus station. But then, due to this change of plans, I met you, a completely unexpected event that totally changed my life. I guess we should never outrule life's capacity to surprise us. Let's talk more next week dear, thanks for today.

J: So happy you got injured...my love. Now, let's make a fire and read some Asterix to Iomi.

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