Under the rose-apple tree

Under the rose-apple tree

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Emptiness as Motivation

  • The middle way is empty of two views. 
  • The five skandhas are empty of self. 
  • The buddha-mind is empty of any burning fire of passion. 
  • Whatever dependent arising there is, we call that emptiness.
Thus the first four discourses of the Buddha after his awakening are intextricably linked with emptiness.

When we study the first four discourses, there is no record in the Pali or the Sanskrit of the Buddha mentioning emptiness. He does not discuss emptiness in the abstract. But every word he spoke, from the beginning to the end of his teaching career, can be seen as inextricably linked with emptiness, and totally bound up with emptiness. 

This motivates me to produce a translation of Nāgārjuna's MMK that help to clarify how the link with emptiness can be a factor towards unity. I would like to produce a translation, in other words, in the direction of dismantling of sectarian barriers. 

The Pali Suttas are full of emptiness. The Sanskrit of Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna is full of emptiness. The Heart Sutra in Chinese is an attempt at succinct expression of the very essence of emptiness. The Zen teaching of the Chinese Zen masters is full of emptiness. The Zen teaching of the Japanese Zen master Dogen is, from his first version of Fukan-zazengi to the final chapter of Shobogenzo, full of emptiness. 

Emptiness here means, for example, the five skandhas being empty of a self, a self being empty of the fire of the passions, the world being empty of any independently existing thing, and a moment of sitting in lotus being empty of those habitual doings which are the root of suffering in saṁsāra. 

To shed light on these things seems to me this morning like a worthy mission. I may never get to accomplish it. But, in the spirit of akatena me ettha kataṃ, I seem already to have made a start. 

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