Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Emptiness and Dependent Origination: "Truth That Sets You Free"

"Emptiness," "insubstantiality" and "co-dependent origination" are fundamental concepts in Mahayana Buddhism, yet these concepts are also recognized realities in Daoist teachings, the teachings of many Indian philosophical and yoga schools, and - though not specifically referenced - most of the world's great wisdom traditions.

What we know of the origination and vast emptiness of the universe, as well as the mechanics and profound emptiness of the atom, makes these ancient philosophical realizations particularly relevant to all of us, although the Western worldview, to a large extent, still clings to its traditional materialist view of man, mind, the world and the cosmos.

In Chapter II of the Dao De Jing, we read:

"The thirty spokes converge at one hub,
But the utility of the cart is a function of the nothingness inside the hub.
We throw clay to shape a pot,
But the utility of the clay pot is a function of the nothingness inside it.
We bore out doors and windows to make a dwelling,
But the utility of the dwelling is a function of the nothingness inside it.
Thus, it might be something that provides the value,
But it is nothing that provides the utility."

[Ames and Hall, "Dao De Jin: A Philosophical Translation, page 91.]

"There is nothing," said Tzu-ch'i, "that is not a 'that' and nothing that is not a 'this.' One does not see from the standpoint of another knowing by oneself is knowing something. Therefore it is said: ''That' comes from 'this,' and 'this' is based on 'that.' This explains how 'that' and 'this' arise simultaneously."

"But when there is arising," he continued, "there is passing away; and when there is passing away, there is arising. When there is right, there is wrong; when there is wrong, there is right. By affirming we deny; by denying we affirm."

"Therefore," he notes, "sages do not go this way but perceive it in the context of nature. This is also based on an affirmation."

"A 'this' is also a 'that,' and a 'that' is also a 'this,' he concludes. "'That' is one judgment, and 'this' is also one judgment. Ultimately, are there in fact 'that' and 'this,' or are there no 'that' or 'this'? Nothing can be opposite to 'that and this' - we call this fact the pivot of the Way. When the pivot is centered in its hub, thereby responding infinitely, then affirmation is one infinity and negation is also one infinity."
[Clearey, "The Essential Tao," page 72.]

Vedantists, and other Indian philosophical and yoga schools, label this concept of "this and that,' or 'neither this nor that,' "sunyata" - a transcendental  state in which neither 'this' nor 'that' exists absolutely. In "The Spiritual Heritage of India," Vedantist scholar, Swami Prabhavananda, suggests that these concepts extend to all the world's great wisdom traditions, including Christianity, and that the transcendental reality in which this is experienced can be attained by all.
"The nirvana of Buddha," writes Prabhavananada, "is . . . not a state of annihilation but the attainment of the unchangeable reality, which can be positively described as the eternal peace. But what this peace really is, no words can define; all definition can be only symbol and can offer only a vague suggestion. Buddha employs negative terms for its description, such as freedom from misery and death, freedom from sensuality, from the ego, from delusion, from ignorance."

"This state of freedom is attainable by the 'noble kind of wisdom' - a phrase already quoted from the Buddhist scripture and signifying what the Vedanta calls transcendental knowledge. The wisdom meant is not a wisdom of the intellect, which implies a knower and an object, but rather a state, sunyata, in which no subject-object relation exists, and in which one transcends both intellect and mind - these two words representing, in Hindu psychology, separate entities."

"Christ refers directly to this transcendental wisdom when he says: 'And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.' It is identical with perfection, the same perfection that Christ has in mind when he says: 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.' It is, in brief, the direct, immediate knowledge of that which is timeless unconditional existence."

"The 'noble kind of wisdom' is attainable by 'the noble conduct of life' and 'the noble earnestness of meditation.'"
[Swami Prabhavananda, "The Spiritual Heritage of India," page 186.]

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