Thursday, August 19, 2004

Sunyata: from analysis of a car to synthesis of a mango

Whenever I explain void (in the Buddhist sense, or sunyata) to other people, I always use a car to elucidate. I would dismantle the car piece by piece and ask the person what he calls the "thing." The person would call it a "car" until it comes to a point when he can no longer distinguish the "car" from a heap of components.

"So where is the car?" I would ask. "Your 'car,'effectively an idea of a function, therefore exists in your mind only. It began as an idea (seed) and comes into 'existence' (fruit) only because of various favorable conditions (raw materials, manufacturing process, environmental conditions, people, needs, etc.)."

I would tell him that the same analytical process can be used on a house, a tree, an event, or even a person to understand the emptiness or void or "lack of self-existence" of the particular entity. Sometimes, I'd also include the pratityasamutpada (dependent existence) in our discussion because it is closely related to the topic on sunyata.

That is an intellectual experience.

A long-time friend once pointed out the lack of spirituality in my personal practice. The first time I heard it I was surprised, but on second thought, I agreed with him, especially if the spirituality he meant is a kind of penetrating experience that changes one's behavior or patterns of one's everyday life.

I have tried for decades to embrace Buddhism. I discover that most of my "enlightening experiences" are mere intellectual breakthroughs and insights. Ironical for a Buddhist "practitioner," I feel I can understand the relevant subjects but am unable to really experience or practice them. Furthermore, I learn that my intellectual-based "spiritual achievements" can often times become obstacles to true spiritual practice. For instance, they make me feel elitist over the "dumb minions" of certain religious groups. I believe I am not the only one suffering from such spiritual vacuum and ignorance.


I came across a story this morning. The king was asking the monk about where karma resides. The former was probably referring to the karmic force that influences rebirth. The monk replied that it cannot be said that a mango resides in any part of the tree, but the mango grows on the tree when its season comes (when the right condition arises).

At that moment, I felt I perceived sunyata of the self.


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