Thursday, August 25, 2011

Looking at Emptiness Again

I've been reading, thinking and writing about Emptiness or Ultimate Truth for awhile now and when I read it over again, I wonder what does this have to do with anything? How does it even remotely affect my day to day life? It sounds so 'out there'. So I decided to back up a bit and re-examine why I'm doing this and if it really is important and relevant to a person like me. I live in a large US city, I like rock music and computers, I'm 59 years old and single, I read science fiction and I like to watch television. How can something some man thought up 2,500 years ago apply to me?

My first conclusion is, yes it is important and relevant. Why? Because I want to find a real and lasting peace. I want to understand where that peace comes from for real and how to avoid clinging to things that will not ever bring real happiness or contentment. And, over the past couple of years I have realized that in order to keep any happiness I may have, I must be willing to share it with other people. Helping other people is a key element in personal happiness. In order to share it, I've got to understand it.

Here is what Kadampa Buddhist leader Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says about why understanding Emptiness is important:

"Ultimate truth, emptiness, and ultimate nature of phenomena are the same. We should know that all our problems arise because we do not realize ultimate truth.The reason we remain in Samsara's prison is that due to our delusions we continue to engage in contaminated actions. All our delusions stem from self-grasping ignorance. Self-grasping ignorance is the source of all our negativity and problems, and the only way to eradicate it is through realizing emptiness. Emptiness is not easy to understand, but it is extremely important that we make the effort. Ultimately our efforts will be rewarded by the permanent cessation of all suffering and the everlasting bliss of full enlightenment." Transform Your Life, A Blissful Journey, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

What is emptiness then? My understanding, so far, is that emptiness is how things really are as opposed to how they appear to be. An object, let's say a car, does not have any meaning in and of itself. The only meaning, or inherent existence, a car has is what we give to it, how we think about it. To us, a car can be a means of getting from one place to another, a welcome relief from having to walk or ride the bus. Or, if the car won't start, it is a source of inconvenience and worry - how can I get to work on time or where will I find the money to fix it? Or, what if we grew up in an unhappy home and the one way out of that situation was when our parents let us use the car. Then, the car becomes a means to find a little fun and relaxation. The car is just sitting there in the driveway. All of the importance it has is what we have decided to give it. From its own side, a car has no inherent existence or meaning. Its our choice, our thoughts, our feelings.

Now, this barely, if at all, scratches the surface of the ultimate truth of emptiness. I am trying to gain a deeper understanding, the next level of thinking maybe. So I'm going to continue with the car example and try to move a little further into finding the true nature of a car.

So what exactly is a car? Does it exist as one complete entity or is it made up of different parts? If so, at what point on the assembly line does it cease being a bunch of parts and become a car? Is a car still a car if some of its parts are gone - say If you go out one morning to go to work only to find it sitting up on blocks because someone has stolen the tires? Is it a car only when it performs its intended purpose? Is it still a car if you go out one morning to go to work and it won't start? If it does not perform its intended purpose is it still considered to be a car? And, why do we care about this line of thinking anyway? My first thought is because we need to know the truth about things and we need to live in reality, even at this basic of a level. If I can't define something as mundane as a car, if I don't know the true nature of a car, how can I begin to understand anything that really matters?

And, what does all this have to do with "self-grasping ignorance"?