A Japanese Warrior was captured by his enemies

August 27, 2015 § 3 Comments


“A Japanese warrior was captured by his enemies and thrown into prison. That night he was unable to sleep because he feared the next day would bring interrogation, torture and execution. Then he recalled the words of his Zen master, “Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now.”

Heeding these words, the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep.”

Of course, the warrior represents you, captured and imprisoned by your own thoughts. When you get up in the morning you wonder what the day will hold. When you go to bed at night you wonder what tomorrow will bring. At times you cannot sleep for worry, and you know that telling yourself that tomorrow isn’t real will not help.

Buddhists know that once worry appears that there is no use trying to suppress or deny it. Trying will only drain your strength, which even then will give you no rest. So they tell you that you do not have to struggle with tomorrow. You do not have to prevent anxious thoughts from arising or prevent thoughts of anger or jealousy once they have arisen. You do not have to prevent, stop or change any of these. You need only realize that they have no real existence.

Thoughts arise in dependent origination or dependent arising, as the Buddhist would say. That means what you are thinking is dependent upon a host of other things, all of which is dependent upon every other thing. As everything depends upon everything else, nothing has self-existence or exists of and by it self. The essence of all you see, hear, feel and think is emptiness. This means that none of your thoughts point to anything real. They are all appearance-emptiness.

To the ordinary mind emptiness is seen as nothingness. Seeing thoughts arise in this nothingness leads the mind to conclude that thoughts, and the objects they point to, must be real. Having reached this conclusion the mind moves to attach itself to what it desires. Toward what it does not like it moves with aversion and denial. All this is done in the context of avoiding falling into nothingness.

Seen in this context it is understandable why you would not want to abandon your thoughts. Doing so leaves you with nothing and that is equatable to death.

The Japanese warrior of our story found himself in just this predicament. All that he had was taken from him. He’d been separated from his colleagues, lost his freedom and had no means to defend himself. He had no armor, no sword or hope. He had, in other words, come face to face with nothingness.

It was then that he recalled his master’s words and, heeding them, the nothingness dissolved into luminous emptiness. And, as the story goes,”the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep.”

The Value of a Cup is in its Emptiness

August 6, 2015 § 2 Comments

Form is Emptiness

A couple of years ago I had the bathroom redone. Part of the refit included a plastic liner placed around the walls of the bathtub that had an “L” shaped section for soap. As I looked at this the other day I was struck by how elegantly this shape demonstrated the Buddha’s words spoken to his disciple, Shariputra,

Form does not differ from emptiness,

Emptiness does not differ from form.

When I looked at the soap tray before I saw only the L-shape. But then it occurred to me that this form was not all that was there. Inseparable from it was the emptiness where the soap went. The L-shaped piece was giving the emptiness a form. Like the Yin Yang symbol that has two curved sections, one black, the other white, this “L” form was caressing and molding the emptiness into something I could use. It was as the Buddha said as he continued to instruct Shariputra,

Form itself is emptiness,

Emptiness itself is form.

Looking next at a chair I saw how it shaped the empty space of the room into an area in which I could sit. (Reminiscent of how a star curves the space about it, as described by Einstein.) Without the chair the empty space could not be used. And without the emptiness there would be no place to put the chair. The form and the emptiness were again seen to be inseparable.

I then applied this to the house. Where there was once just an empty lot the builders had placed a form turning the space into one where I could live and carry out my daily activities. I was, in fact, living in empty space as much as a house. This brought to mind Lao Tsu’s words,

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes that make it useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there,

Usefulness from what is not there.

Tao Te Ching. Chapter Eleven.

It is this same chapter in which Lao Tsu writes,

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.

which inspired the title of this post, a Buddhist proverb that reads, “The value of a cup is in its emptiness.”

It is now even more apparent to me that “form is emptiness and emptiness is form” but not in some way remote except to the enlightened few. The unity of form and emptiness is something that is evident and before me right now in my everyday experience.

Someone took clay to make a teacup and in so doing gave empty space a form I could use to drink tea. Someone else shaped wood that turned empty space into a place where I could live and sit. There is no way to separate these forms from the emptiness or the emptiness from these forms.

Buddha went on to tell Shariputra that this is the same for feelings, cognition and the sense of self. Where these are, emptiness is also, co-existing and inseparable. The thoughts and ideas that appear before us are forms that are giving shape to emptiness on a moment-to-moment basis.

Realizing this I asked myself, “If I can see the emptiness of the L-shaped soap tray, why do I not also see the emptiness of thought? Why do I not recognize the no self of the self?”

Where Am I?

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