Category Archives: Lotus Seeds

The Emptiness of Our Lives

Our lives are not separate from the lives or others or the world around us. Our lives are constantly being changed – physically, mentally, and emotionally – through our interactions with our environment and other living beings. Our lives also have a great impact on our environment, and on the lives of those around us. In many ways, our lives extend beyond our own bodies and touch the far reaches of the universe, and our bodily life depends upon the very structure of that universe in order to maintain its existence. The universe as a whole is in many ways our own extended body, for our body depends upon the gravity exerted by the stars, the warmth of the sun, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the ground we stand on, and the many people and other beings who provide us with food, shelter, and companionship. This is true of our ideas and emotions as well.

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The Emptiness of Birth and Death

There is a deeper meaning to Emptiness than simply recognizing the impermanent nature of reality. Emptiness also means that things are without boundaries in terms of both time and space. Again, everything arises and ceases depending upon the coming together of many other elements or factors. But at what point can one say that something has begun or come to an end? For instance, do our lives begin at birth, or at conception, or at the time of our parent’s conception? At what point in the process that we call our lives can we definitely say that the process has begun? The same is true of our deaths. If our lives are carried on through our children or through the impact of our actions on the lives of others, at what point does our life really come to an end? In addition, the Buddha taught that some portion of our existence (composed of our intentions, habits, and to some extent an unconscious storehouse of memories) moves on from one life to another. So it is never entirely correct to say that someone has been born or has died. The reality of our lives defies such a simple description.

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Cling-Free Emptiness

Awareness of Emptiness is awareness of the constantly changing nature of life. To understand Emptiness is to understand that there is nothing that we can hold on to forever, and to see that we must not cling to things like money, power, sexual pleasure, fame, the company of loved ones, or even our own lives. All of these things are temporary and do not possess a fixed or eternal nature. On the other hand, through Emptiness we can learn to appreciate things and people as the dynamic and changing things that they are. When we do not cling to the good things in life, we are finally free to appreciate them for what they are for as long as they do grace our lives, but without being burdened by the fear of their eventual dissolution.

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Seeing the Middle Way

Emptiness is a way of pointing to the ungraspable nature of reality. It is not a denial or existence or being, but is a way of seeing things in accord with the Middle Way.

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The Empty Table

Everything that we can point to or name exists only for as long as other things come together in a certain way to support its existence. A table, for instance, is only a temporary meeting of an uncountable number of atoms working together for a certain period of time. Another example is the human body, which is a changing process that requires a constant supply of new material in the form of air, food, and water to sustain itself, and which is constantly expelling waste material. Even consciousness is not a static thing, but a perpetually changing stream of thoughts and impressions that also depends upon constant input of new material in the form of ideas and sensations.

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The Middle Way

Dependent Origination is the deeper meaning of the Middle Way taught by the Buddha as the path to Nirvana. It is the Middle Way between the one-sided view of existence, which a states that life is made up of separate independent substances, and the one-sided view of non-existence, which asserts that nothing in life is real. Neither of these extreme views recognizes life as a dynamic and interdependent process. Dependent Origination is the teaching that things have an existence based on causes and conditions. Therefore, one who is following the Middle Way will think in terms of causes and conditions rather than in terms of existence and non-existence. For the follower of the Middle Way, there are no longer any static or unchanging categories or boundaries.

Dependent Origination is the awareness of cause and effect, and the interdependence of all things. This awareness gives rise to an authentic sense of responsibility, genuine love, and compassion.

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The World View of Buddhism

Buddhism can be confusing because to some people it seems like a religion, to others it seems like a philosophy, and to others it seems like an ancient tradition of psychology. Buddhism, however, cannot be reduced to any of these categories. At its heart, Buddhism is a world view based upon the awakening of the Buddha, and a way of life that leads to and is consistent with an awakened world view. This “awakening” refers to an awakening from the sleep of delusion and self-centeredness. This is the enlightenment that freed the Buddha from suffering and enabled him to reach out compassionately to others so that they could share his freedom. The Buddha also described and demonstrated the perfect wisdom and great compassion of one who had awakened to the true nature of reality.

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