20 December 2005

Emptiness and the Sublime ~ A Holiday Reflection

One of the wisest and most profound scholars and practitioners of the Buddhist tradition of Madhyamaka, the second-century master Nagarjuna, taught that the real meaning of the somewhat cryptic wisdom teachings on emptiness of our Founder, Shakyamuni, as, for example, in the Heart Sutra, mean that all form, all matter; even consciousness itself; are without inherent existence and have as their essential nature emptiness. There are elaborate and very involved logical and experiential bases for this doctrine, but I won't belabor the point. The conclusion from all of this (often omitted in glosses on Buddhism), however, is that far from there being simply nothing, i.e., no-existence (nihilism), the mere appearances to mind which those of us living in the World experience as suffering, transitory enjoyment, form, consciousness. . . the universe itself . . . are by their essential nature beyond conceptual thought; a genuine reality which is open, expansive, relaxed, and blissful.

Perhaps this points to the common ground between Western theological religion and Buddhist practice: The Western One-God and our Vajradhara are both representations of that which is so beyond human ordinary mental conception that all description, all words, all concepts fail us, and we can only revere it and seek to involve ourselves in its direct experience. And in so doing we discover that the sublime creates in our hearts potentially limitless lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity, purification, and wisdom.

May everyone's holidays be happy, and may they have a happy, productive, and healthy New Year!

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