Everything we do, we do for love.
We eat certain foods because we love them, or we love what they do for us (keep us alive); we avoid others because they negate what we love.
Hate, frustration, fear, sorrow, grief, envy, and jealousy: these emotions arise when something we love and enjoy is emptied out of our lives, and its absence is poured into the present moment.
Affection, ease, confidence, joy, satisfaction, and openness arise when something we love and enjoy fills the moment, and their absence is emptied out.
As long as the mind sees things as present or absent, this ultimately dissatisfying cognitive cycle continues. We become enslaved by the wild whims of the unpredictable future. One solution to this is Prajna.
Prajna is a mode of cognition that basically involves detecting the presence and absence of things in the present experience. To an undisciplined attention, day is just day and night is just night. When we view things with Prajna, day isn’t just day, it’s also the absence of everything that isn’t, “day,” and this absence is present, it’s part of the experience.
A square isn’t just a square, it’s a not-circle, not-triangle, not-octagon, etc. The body and mind aren’t just the body and mind, they’re not-table, not-fan, not-Bill Cosby, and not-self.
This view influences perception: crafting a holistic perspective of ordinary experience.
The mind usually ignores absences, but a thing is mostly defined by its absence. How many different objects do you think there are in the universe? If I take out and show you a pickle, that pickle is the absence of everything in the universe that isn’t it. If it wasn’t, then, 1) it wouldn’t exist, or 2) it’d be the only thing that exists.
So, everything is connected, see? The pickle is present because everything else in the universe is absent from it; everything else is present because the pickle is absent from it.
We can be mindful of this, it’s one of the aspects of Satipatthana. While practicing Satipatthana, we’re mindful of the presence and absence of all phenomena. If there’s frustration, we’re aware of its presence and the presence of the absence of not-frustration. If there isn’t frustration, we’re aware of the presence of not-frustration, i.e., the presence of its absence.
The practical, day-to-day method that helped me a fuck ton with this is being aware of space, since space is absence. If, like philosophical Taoists, we think of space as an integral part of every object, we can actually start to “bring it forward” in our perception of things and see it as something solid in its own way.
The first thing I tried this with was the space between breaths, seeing that the gap between inhale and exhale and vice versa is a vital part of the breath. Without those gaps, inhale could never turn into exhale; exhale could never give way to inhale. There’d be no breath without the space in it and around it.
Then I moved onto admiring empty cups, understanding that the space in around the cup is part of the cup. Without the space-inside-the-cup, the cup would just be a solid lump of matter; a cylinder that could only be useful as a paperweight or some abstract work of art. Without the space-outside-the-cup, the cup would be the size of the entire universe, so there couldn’t be anything outside of it to use it and no one alive to observe it.
With that view and a little concentration, you can directly see the space within it and outside it the same way you see the physical properties of the cup itself. This is the nondual unity of presence and absence, form and emptiness. Form is the presence of the absence of absence; emptiness is the presence of absence. 🤣
Then I went on to view everything in this way and perceive space as something real. The kensho arrives when this perspective and concentration turn inward to reveal the presence-absence harmony of yourself as well. I am like a fireworks display in the night sky, with each cell, organ, thought, feeling, and view a spark flashing and illuminating the void I’m suspended in, that I unfold within.
Then, with some nurturing of this realization, we can see that space is just space. The space-inside-the-cup and the space-outside-the-cup are just space. This brings us to the second part of the Heart Sutra: “So emptiness is not form, not sensation, nor perception, not volition nor consciousness.”
Putting all this in terms of the Three Natures theory: 1) There is a cup. 2) The cup depends on the space-inside/outside-the-cup. The space-inside/outside-the-cup also depend on the cup as well, since without the cup there’d be no “space inside/outside-it.” 3) Space is just space, whether there is a cup or not.
#1 is samsara, #3 is nirvana. 1 and 3 are both just #2 from different perspectives, with #1 being a a divided, delusional perspective, and #3 a holistic, wise one.
This is a radically different way to view self and other than we’re accustomed to, and it makes it easier to set down our clinging and craving—which is the point of all of these thousands of different views and methods.
Like anything else, this is upaya, skillful means. It’s meant to be used by certain people who vibe with it, in certain situations and for a certain amount of time. It might not vibe with you now, it might later. If it does vibe with you now, it might not later. In either case, if it doesn’t resonate with you, disregard it and consider it another tool in your Dharma toolbox created for a very specific job.
Anyway, this all relates to the beginning of this post. When we can see that the things we love aren’t in opposition to the things we don’t, we can love without fear. What greater gift is there in life than that?