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5 years ago  ::  Feb 09, 2013 - 6:11PM #1
Beulah34
Posts: 11
Hello again, I posted these questions on the Dharma board but didn't get any responses, so I'm hoping to have better luck here. Could someone please elaborate (or give me links to helpful information) on the concepts of no-self and emptiness? I'm having trouble understanding what both of those mean. What is no self, and what does it mean that everything is empty?
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5 years ago  ::  Feb 09, 2013 - 9:51PM #2
Ferretling
Posts: 259

I'm going to answer this as best as I can from a Zen standpoint. Both emptiness and no self have to do with the concepts of impermanence and interconnectedness.


In the Heart Sutra it says " form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form, form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form".


Simple words, not the easiest to grasp. And not the easiest to explain once you have grasped them. I work best with mind-pictures, so I'll try to describe it.


I have a wooden chair. At one point it was a tree. Before that, it was a seed. Before that, it was bits of reproductive cells on other trees. Before that.... and so on. At some point, it will no longer be a chair. It may become firewood. It may just get old. It will turn to ash or dust. Eventually it will get broken down and become dirt. And then.... and so on.


But now, it's a chair, right? Well, yes, it's a chair. But it's also a door-barricade. It's a stepstool. It's a clothes-hanger. It's one corner of a child's blanket-tent. It's a perch for a cat. It's part of a group: furniture. It's part of a house. It is something that is part of many things. It might be any number of things. But it is also a chair.


People are like this too. There is no permanent, unchanging self. There is no self that is not interconnected with the world around it. The concept of a fixed, independent self is an illusion. This does not mean there is no "self". But the self there is is a changeable, interconnected being.


I hope this helps.


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5 years ago  ::  Feb 09, 2013 - 10:51PM #3
Bob0
Posts: 487

Excellent!


 


Bob

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5 years ago  ::  Feb 10, 2013 - 11:32AM #4
Beulah34
Posts: 11

Wow, thank you so much for the insight! That's the best way I've heard it explained so far. I am definitely starting to understand it a little better now.

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5 years ago  ::  Mar 12, 2013 - 5:34PM #5
etoro
Posts: 595


Feb 10, 2013 -- 11:32AM, Beulah34 wrote:


Wow, thank you so much for the insight! That's the best way I've heard it explained so far. I am definitely starting to understand it a little better now.




Okay, many westeners are beginning to develop curiosity, interest and even practice of Buddhism and take such analytical approaches to be valuable and beneficial. Eureka!  But there is much much more to the story of how Buddhism is to be understood. There is a huge volume of Buddhist records which illustrate how many a Buddhist sangha across Asia retreated into the concept of "no-self" and become totally withdrawn lost in the pursuit of the anihilation of consciousness simply because there is an infinite regress regarding the begetting of phenomena across the expanse of time and space and the chain of causation. Simply knowing that form is emptiness and emptiness is form does not complete the Buddha wisdom.  In the Japanese Nichiren school for example there is a long history of contemplation and new developments on how to make Buddhism applicable to the times. NIchiren himself wrote a large thesis which posthumously was entitled "The Selection of the Times". in 1275 CE.The hyperlink provides a background explaination of this thesis. 


In this thesis the great teacher of the Mahayana gives very indepth treatment to the way Buddhism was applied to time and circumstances across Indian, Chinese and Japanese history and explains how the teachings evolved from so called Voice Hearer teachings to the various Bodhisattva practices and then to the One Vehicle teaching of the Lotus Sutra in acccordance with the times and the employment of the appropriate methods to address the needs of the times. As the background explains,


"Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism sets forth five guides or criteria for the propagation of Buddhism: namely, a correct understanding of (1) the teaching, (2) the people's capacity, (3) the time, (4) the country and (5) the sequence of propagation. "The Selection of the Time" places the greatest emphasis upon the factor of time."


"Subsequently, tracing the spread of Buddhism through the three countries of India, China, and Japan, the Daishonin explains what teachings were propagated in the days of Shakyamuni Buddha and in the Former, Middle, and Latter Days of the Law, clarifying that these teachings in each case conformed to their respective time. In the first five hundred years of the Former Day, Mahakashyapa, Ananda and others propagated the Hinayana teachings in India. The second five hundred years of the Former Day saw the advent of Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, and others, who propagated the provisional Mahayana teachings. In the first five hundred years of the Middle Day, the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai made his appearance in China and propagated the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra. Toward the end of the Middle Day, the Great Teacher Dengyo propagated the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra in Japan."


Among the lessons to be learned from studying the history of Buddhist philosophy is the awareness that in all periods of its propogation the emergent leaders of the time saught to bring about a constructive viewpoint regarding Shakyamuni's philosophy of life, a view point that was practical and applicable, one that could help average people advance in their understanding and application of the Buddhist philosophy within the context of their own philosophical and religious heritage. 


Buddhism is a broad and deep philosophy of life which encompasses and brings meaning to all aspects, views and expressions that derive from our cognitive process.  Therefore all philosophies and religions can be understood and intepreted for their reasoning within the Buddhist philosophy.


The principle of the five guides abive is a methodology for understanding the evolution of thought and philosophical reasoning as they have developed over time and reflected across cultures, egions and nations of Asia. This method has also been applied in modern times by the Society for the Creation of Value or Soka Gakkai.


The principles of emptiness and non-self within Buddhist philosophy have their limitations. This is the reason why the ideas in the Mahayana where broadened in scope and meaning to encompass an even deeper view of life and reality, one that addresses the nature of each present moment in a valiue creative and constructive perspective, one that gives focus to the altruistic functions of the Buddha. Therefore while a Buddha is a person not fixated by the state of a given moment, the Buddha brings to the present moment the power to create value out of the conditions of each moment, whether good or evil, in such a way as to bring the joy that derives from all things good coupled with a sense of boundlessness and infinite possibility.  It is a state of ever flowing without being fixed to either good or evil while understanding that one must ever thrive and strive within the true realities of life, such as birth, aging, decline and death.  

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4 years ago  ::  May 05, 2014 - 3:18PM #6
etoro
Posts: 595

Another point that can be made here with regard to the principle of emptiness is to say that the Buddha introduced this aspect of life and the mind to draw a profound distinction between how common mortals think and function within the "dualistic" world and how a Buddha, employing his transcendental mental powers, is able to function in a completely unique and original manner, true to the principles of universal leadership of the higher universal and original wisdom, one that is not hindered by the relativity of the dualistic reality, the manifested reality where individual people, and individual groups are simply operataing in opposition to one another, bounded by the illusions of distinctions created by the relativity of spatial and temporal spaces from which they assume thay have originated, seeking to defend what appears to be unique among them and not knowing that all living beings emerge from the same roots.


It is like the case of the clash that occurred between native Americans that settled in the America's ten's of thousands of years ago when the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska was solid and the European settlers that traveled over the water on boats just hundreds of years ago. They assumed, based upon the shallow teachings of the Christian Bible, that the natives of the new world were simply savages that had to be converted by force or destroyed because thay were assumed to have no connection to disciples of Jesus Christ.  Such shallow and false reasoning leads to conflicts of identity between groups of human beings separated by time, circumstances and evolutionary adaptations to the environments where they make their distinct living.  But one can find a common ancestry to all human beings and common mental facility to think in rational terms once a genuine dialogue of mutual respect is established.  


The Buddha was aware of the difference between temporal / dualistic frameworks of thought and sense of identity and the timeless origins of the mystic law of cause and effect and was able to manifest an unhindered characater displaying a deeply compassionate and humanistic sensibility to all people.


Many people who base their understanding of Buddhist philosophy on the principle that "all phenomena are emptry of self nature" and the radical disavowel of all self natures such as displayed in the dialogue carried out within the Prajnaparamita Diamond sutra between Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and the Venerable Subhuti or between the Mahayana Householder Vimalakirti and the Venerable Shariputra in the Vimalakirti Sutra, are struck with confusion when they come upon the Buddha of the Lotus Sutra referring to himself in the first person singular of "I" such as in the 16th chapter where the Buddha says  "But good men, it has been immeasurable, boundless hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of kalpas since I in fact attained buddhahood.


Such matters are difficult for the average student of Buddhism to understand or reconcile when their frame of mind are based upon the provisional teaching. Yet the Lotus Sutra follows all the various literary devices worked out among the community of believers to demonstrate that what it teaches is authentic Buddhist philosophy.  This indicates that the Buddha's teaching of the Lotus Sutra indeed calls for a radical departure from all the other teachings of Buddhism.  Yet unfortunately too many followers even today have yet to understand or believe in such words of the Lotus Sutra. 


The reason why the Buddha returns to the concept of I in the Lotus Sutra is because here the Buddha reveals not only his true identity originating in the infinite past but also the true identity of all living beings who possess the Buddha nature.


As Nichiren clarifies in his deep reading of the meaning of the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra where he states, 


The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings says: “I in fact” is explaining that Shakyamuni in fact attained Buddhahood in the inconceivably remote past. The meaning of this chapter, however, is that “I” represents the living beings of the Dharma-realm. “I” here refers to each and every being in the Ten Worlds. “In fact” establishes that “I” is a Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies. This is what is being called “fact.” “Attained” refers both to the one who attains and to the thing attained. “Attain” means to open or reveal. It is to reveal that the beings of the Dharma-realm are Buddhas eternally endowed with the three bodies. “Buddhahood” means being enlightened to this. ROTT pg 265.



Many people sincerely seek to apply the Buddha's teaching in their ways of life and work hard to internalize a sort of non-self nature that comes from meditating upon a theory of non-self as taught in the provisional mahayana sutras.  Yet such a method is forced upon oneself through a form of rigorous mental self discipline. This approach however forever remains dualistic under the surface because it is based upon a conscious level enforcing of a relative idea.  It leads to the kind of eternal debate between Buddhapalita of the Consciousness Only doctrine and Chandrarkirti of the Middleway Only doctrine where the former makes syllogistic statements of self negation while the other disproves it on the basis of the consequence of uttering a thought of self nature to begin with.  This is why the Buddha of the Lotus Sutra teaches Shariputra that the wisdom of all Buddha's can only be obtained through faith and practice in the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra itself.   The practice of the Lotus Sutra is simply to teach others to embrace it.  All those who practice with this posture of faith enjoy a natural harmony and oneness of mind without having to force their minds to function as one.  This practice simply sets the mind in a state of ease and bliss and one can thoroughly enjoy the unique differences between all people while enjoying their oneness of mind in the same instance.  It is truly the power of the Lotus Sutra that manifests this sigular condition of many in body yet one in mind.    



The way one achieves this beneficial practice is to follow with faith the one individual who practiced and embodied the essence of the Lotus Sutra with his entire being. This person was named Nichiren Daishonin.






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