Thursday, 27 December 2012
A Trinity of Concepts: Emptiness, Desire and Enlightenment
written by Denis Kurmanov
It is quite obvious that I am about to tackle some major concepts within this blog post. I will not apologize for heavy philosophical writing but I will, for the sake of all beings, attempt to make this as simple as possible. Simplicity within Buddhism is a sacred element in my opinion because it is key to the understanding of universality, interactivity and the progression of Compassion.
So how on Earth can I possibly tackle such major themes, which have everything to do with each other all in one post?
Can I go down a check-list of some sort and check mark everything that I need to say about each and just move on to the next one?
I hate the word blasphemy but I think it would be appropriate for such a project. Not only do these have everything to do with each other, I am going to make a case in stating that they are all the same thing.
That is incredibly “unorthodox” of me to state but those of you who are already thinking to yourself, “What? Why? You’re crazy!!!” I beg you to hear me out. You will see that I am not “stretching” things that far and even if I were, so be it, it must happen.
I will begin with Emptiness!
Within my postmodern mindset it is difficult for me to accept a notion of something being contentless. The only form of contentless that I can even imagine is something having so much content that some of it needs to be thrown out. There are a few ways to go about explaining this. The classic question “why is there something instead of nothing” can be turned into “why is there something instead of everything?”
To quickly ponder over those two questions and to simultaneously move to my next point would be to answer in saying that Nothing is not nearly as much chaos as Everything. Everything must be diluted, Nothing is open, potential where as it is Everything that must be deconstructed and made peace with. Something is a flux between the two, Everything and Nothing even though it seems that this Something is Everything at the same time. That’s as far as I will go with that but my major point here is saying that there are things that could use a little bit of diluting, trimming and throwing out of.
Such statements are beginning to sound a little bit Nihilistic....that’s because they are. They are not Nihilistic in the sense that everything is meaningless but rather the contrary, everything has so much meaning that we do in fact need to peal some of it away, throw it away and then take what is good, useful and pragmatic and continue on with that. Nihilistic pragmatism? Yes. I would state that Buddhism has a lot of that very concept embedded in the heart of it.
Okay so finally, Emptiness. What is emptiness?
We live and continue our days, day-by-day, moment by moment. There is nothing new about this statement to Buddhism. What about these moments? Now. What about right Now? As I am writing this post and as you Now are reading this post. It is difficult to say that the future exists at all because it is now here yet but it is also impossible to say that there is anything static within this world as well. We’re stuck saying things are Becoming. Things are constantly becoming and so Now is a constant process of change. This too is nothing new to Buddhism but here is where it gets interesting. Emptiness is not the idea that there is, in fact, nothing that keeps “me” “you” “us” “we” and so forth but rather it is moments. It is not things that are empty but time.
Moments in time from one moment to the next. The flux between when one thing is about to end and when the next moment is about to begin. There is absolutely no way to ever measure such a thing and so we can say a few things here. We can either say that because there is no quantification of such a thing and such a claim to Emptiness would force Emptiness to be attributed to Now, since Now is all we have, and then everything is Emptiness.
How can everything be Empty so fundamentally when we have already discussed that things have content to them, they have meaning, potency and potential? Can, with such a view everything be Empty at the same time? Because stating Now is Empty only with time, but always Empty would force the way we view content itself to change.
So no. That’s out!
We’re not forced to say that Emptiness does and should have content, we are blessed to be able to say that. This is where Emptiness meets Desire.
Part II: Desire as Emptiness. Emptiness as Desire.
Desire is believed to be the thing that keeps us within Samsara (at least in Theravada.) Samsara to me is more so a continuation of the breaking of community and the lack of realization of interdependency, interactivity and compassion. That definition would make Samsara a negative aspect of reality.
Traditional logic, and the Four Noble Truths state that with the breaking of Desire, Enlightenment can be attained. This understanding continues to do good when Desire and Enlightenment are properly situationally explained but as a general ontological point, I think it leads us way off the road.
Desire as a more conceptual thought cannot be ridden of and all Buddhists know this. The Dalai Lama always tells people it is not Desire that we’re trying to get rid of, it is “bad” Desire. Desire to do evil things like harming people and animals and such.
Okay so back on course. The statement I made was that Desire and Emptiness are the same thing, neither of which is contentless. That last point is incredibly important and please do not forget that! It. Is. Not. Contentless!!!
As moments continue to arise and fall, constantly changing, it is Desire that continues interactivity and community. It is that process, the Desire for those two things which keep the Cosmos and Everything somewhat stable in place. Because we don’t have any idea as to what sort of Desire that is, the basis of it, the reason behind it, the point in which the Desire is Ultimately Fulfilled (or brought to a close) we must call it Empty.
There is one more reason we must call it Empty. As things come from the past and are thrown into the present and continue on, infinitely into the “future” there is a interactivity between what we call Being and Non-being. Being is Existence, transcendent of itself and constantly changing and Non-being are those moments of Emptiness where there is a flux between what has taken place and what is about to take place. Non-being and the word Creativity can be interchangeable here and they both have the quality of being “Empty.” They’re empty because they’re potentials, neither determined nor isolated from anything else, rather influenced by everything instead. It is that slightest moment when we have an Empty choice to do something Good or Evil that is Empty. The manifestation of the action is the leaving of Non-being and into Being and also then becomes either Enlightenment or a continuation of Samsara.
Desire as Enlightenment.
This is where the unorthodoxy really kicks in guys, so please, hold on!
I have now stated that Emptiness is not contentless but is moments in which Good and Evil are in flux and that choice is made. There is no isolation and no determinism but rather influence. Being and Non-being are dynamical in that Empty/Creative/Desire(ful) moments lead to choices to be made which can be Good or Evil.
Samsara has been defined as a breaking of community and interactivity, an ignorance that everything is interdependent and connected.
Enlightenment must be some form of the opposite of that (with exception, of course. It’s not always the case that if it’s not “A” then it has to be “not A.) Please excuse the logic lesson there!
So Desire can be Enlightenment only if Desire is essentially viewed as favorable. I am talking about the same Empty Desire that I talked about just a few minutes ago. The way that it can be viewed as favorable and be viewed as Enlightenment is if the understanding of Desire is positive in the first place. Empty moments must somehow more likely lead to Good than Evil for them to be Enlightenment.
Well....almost. Yes because I am openly an idealist regarding humans and just the world and do believe that most people will make a Good choice as opposed to an Evil one but more so because there is nothing left to call Enlightenment. That sounds like a strange thing to say but I mean it, there is nothing left other than these moments to call Enlightenment.
The “Criteria” for Desire to be Enlightenment generally gets fulfilled.
1) It is mysterious
2) It is objectively present but subjectively participated with
3) It is empty on its own thus requiring context.
4) It is its realization that can change some people.
5) For Mahayana, the realization of this for others is more likely to happen than a realization in one’s own mind.
These similarities do not make it necessary that Enlightenment and Desire are the same thing so I will now move on quickly to Enlightenment.
Enlightenment as Apophatic Participation with Everything
Before I begin here I will have to give some terms. This will seem as the largest “break” from what I have written so far in this post yet it will all tie in together again, I promise.
To describe some terms here, apophatic means negation. It is generally used in theological terms but I believe it to be useful when discussing Enlightenment as well. What I mean exactly by negation is saying that we can only say what something is not instead of what something is. I link this sort of term closely with mysticism but not always.
What Enlightenment is not….
Enlightenment is not a state one enters and leaves that is isolated from some and available for others. Thus Enlightenment cannot be isolated, it must be constant, integrated with everything around it. Attempting to isolate it will go against one of the most important of all Buddhist principles of interconnectivity.
Enlightenment cannot “truthfully realized” via a belief of raw experience.
I mention this statement almost in every post because I honestly believe it is a misconception many Buddhists have, especially in the tradition that I am a part of, Zen.
Through no attempt may a person find a “hidden” or “final” truth about oneself that is completely common, simple and universal to all things. Regardless of whether this “hidden” “Buddhanature” is a positive quality to humanity or not, a raw experience not only is not a way to discover such a religious and subjective term, raw experience itself is not possible. As stated above, the closest we can come to Emptiness is Desire, which is not contentless so no amount of meditation will take a person to a place where “Buddhanature” is discovered.
(On a quick note I am not attempting to make humanity seem as if though it is not in a state of Buddhahood, my explanation for Buddhahood is much different than that and it will be explained more thoroughly in my next post!)
The list can go on and on but I find those to be the most important. With such statements it is possible to justify such intensive history of Buddhist mysticism and monasticism.
Buddhism began as a predominantly monastic faith available to few but as concepts that had to do more and more with everybody arose, the tide shifted into a religion of laity and not of the monks. Buddhism lends itself easily to introspective isolation with such stress on the individual but it is a mistake to assume the individual is, in fact, one single “I.” Realization of anything within Buddhism goes through the motions of discovering the principles that Buddhism presents and one of those is interconnectedness and community. The “I” is only as “we” continue and still personhood is a tricky subject. I will not say much more about this because this will begin the “Self” discussion which is not the purpose of this post.
To Sum Up!
We have now stated that Emptiness is Desire is Enlightenment.
Enlightenment is a mysterious thing, empty in that it is not contentless but rather so mysterious that it is empty. Desire is the progression of each moment in continuation towards community and interdependency, the healthy kind. Enlightenment is such because it is generally characterized as a realization of the Buddhanature within all things but this suggestion is that the Desire that propels everything and its realization is the Enlightenment that we seek. We respond and participate in such ways that it becomes so subjective, yet recurrent that “Empty” is a word that can be used.
There will be more posts on all of these topics as I go into more depth but that is a nutshell introduction to how I view Buddhist philosophy.