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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
19 fall 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Even if we get it wrong once in a while, better to be actively inquiring into the mean- ing of the dhamma at every opportunity than to passively accept a tradition in a given form. Think of how many times the Buddha has said, “Listen carefully, and I will speak...” And how many times we find the phrase, “Here are the roots of trees. Meditate!” Care must be taken to avoid the pitfalls. We are not necessarily better at understanding these teachings than all the Buddhists before us just because we are moderns or Western- ers or humanists or typing on keyboards. We cannot assume that the troubling bits, about miracles, rebirth, and hell realms, for example, must not be “true” and that we, of course, know better. It is possible to hold the greatest respect for all those who think differently than ourselves, for all those who construct their own meaning of these teach- ings differently than we do, and simply say at some point that we are not capable of seeing it that way. There is a huge difference between thinking differently from another and consid- ering the other to be mistaken. From InsIght Journal, 2011 the fullness of emPtiness Emptiness, says Richard von Sturmer, is not some void or abyss we’re in danger of falling into. I’m a shelf of empty jars... I’m like a playing card belonging to an old and unrecognizable suit—the sole survivor of a lost deck. I have no meaning... I’m a bridge between two mysteries, with no idea of how I got built. — Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet erichanson The small, ego self senses the tenuous nature of its existence, of its hold on life, and yet it has no broader perspective that could relieve the disquiet. Narrowly confined and uncom- fortable, it can do no more than obsess about itself and its predicament. In the West, the concept of emptiness has been equated with an inner hollowness. Many people feel that there is a gaping void at the centre of their lives, a void that can never be filled, no matter how many material posses- sions are tipped into it. This way of thinking appears at odds with the Buddhist teachings, where the experience of emptiness, particu- larly the emptiness of the self, leads to libera- tion. In his book Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, Mark Epstein explores how our sense of personal emptiness or insuffi- ciency can be transformed: In meditation, I had stumbled on a new way to be with myself. I did not have to run away from my emptiness, or cure it, or eradicate it. I had only to see what was actually there. In fact, far from being “empty,” I found that emptiness was a rather “full” feeling. I discovered that emptiness was the canvas, or back- ground, of my being. I did not under- stand it, but I was much less afraid. My condition had no name, but I could reach down into it. This is the positive, Buddhist relationship to emptiness; it is not some imagined void, a terrifying abyss we are in danger of toppling into, but rather the direct body–mind experi- ence of our true condition, of who we really are. Sri Nisargadatta expressed it perfectly when he wrote, “Love tells me I am every- thing. Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Between the two, my life flows.” From Zen Bow, no. 4, 2010–11