It’s easy to get carried away with emptiness.
I’ve met a lot of emptiness fanatics trolling the FB Buddha halls. I used to call them Zen Bastards, but I try not to be such an insufferable prick these days.
But emptiness fixation is a very real danger. It can suck you into some pretty desolate and callous mindsets. This usually happens when we’re introduced to the Prajnaparamita teachings before the moment’s right, before the mind is ripe.
Just like with anatta, the internet makes it easy to dive into the emptiness teachings headfirst, so there’s a high risk of drowning in them. When the teachings are parceled out and tailored to the student or the audience, then we can learn to swim before we’re plunked in the middle of the Pacific without a raft.
When I first introduce emptiness to someone, I give it a very limited and specific territory: thoughts.
If something only exists in the realm of thought, then it’s empty of substance. This is important because a lot of the things that cause us misery live and die as thoughts only. In order for something to be “real” it has to engage more than just thought; it has to occupy the other senses as well.
Let’s take government for example. There’s no such thing as government outside of thought. You can’t see the government. You can’t hear it or touch it. “Government” is really just people pushing paper.
Religion is another one—science too. I can see a religion or a science. Just people bowing, kneeling and reciting verses; people writing, testing, and debating.
Now the things we feel about the government, religion and science are real because emotion isn’t just in the mind. You can feel it in your body. When you’re angry, sad, or in love you can feel your heartbeat change; you can feel your muscles tense up or relax. So feelings are real because they aren’t confined to the mind, they affect the body and the other senses.
This view makes it easier to work with and sever attachments to concepts that cause us harm. A lot of people get really emotional about politics. Occasionally, this intensity even destroys friendships or even precipitates violence.
But if I’m mindful that there’s no such thing as politics, then it’s going to be easier for me to untangle myself from all that anger and passion that are attached to politics. Because if politics isn’t real, then what’s all this fighting about?
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