Thursday, December 3, 2009

Empty of Self, But Full of Dharma

Yesterday I touched upon the important teaching of the Dharma known as interdependent co-arising. I will continue this discussion in today's posting, and take this teaching to a deeper level by introducing the concept of anatta, or no-self. Since this doctrine not an easy one to understand, I will be presenting it in small portions over the next few days.

First, here are the words of the Buddha, adapted from the Visuddhimagga, and translated by Henry Clarke Warren:
When body and mind dissolve, they do not exist anywhere, any more than musical notes lay heaped up anywhere. When a lute is played upon, there is no previous store of sound; and when the music ceases, it does not go anywhere in space. It came into being on account of the structure and stem of the lute and the exertions of the performer; and as it came into existence, so it passes away.

In exactly the same way, all the elements of being, both corporeal and non-corporeal, come into existence after having been non-existent; and having come into existence, pass away.

There is no self residing in body and mind, but the cooperation of the conformations produces what people call a person. Paradoxical though it may seem: There is a path to walk on, there is walking being done, but there is no traveler. There are deeds being done, but there is no doer. There is blowing of the air, but there is no wind that does the blowing. The thought of self is an error, and all existences are as hollow as the plantain tree, and as empty as twirling water bubbles.
(From Teachings of the Buddha, edited by Jack Kornfield)

What we will find as we deepen into the doctrine of anatta is that, although all things are empty of self, they are full of Dharma. In this case, I am referring to the Dharma of interdependent co-arising. As we saw yesterday, just as my teacup is made up of countless interconnected things, so too am I. What the concept of no-self teaches us is that there is no "cup" or "Roger" that can be found in any of these interdependent causes and conditions. There are merely the co-arising events themselves that gave rise to these objects that we call "cup" and "Roger."

Tomorrow, I will present another dimension of this teaching that may help to clarify some of the questions you might have. Again, this is a deep teaching, and needs to be lived with for awhile to be fully understood. Have patience, keep an open mind, and you will begin to penetrate this Dharma.


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