Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Firm Ground of Nothingness

Jack Kornfield once told a story about a friend of his who accompanied her husband to Southeast Asia while he was researching a book. While she was there, she began to meditate with the monks at a local temple, and as Jack put it, "While he wrote the book, she got enlightened."

Jack was visiting the couple one evening, and after dinner they were doing the dishes. While cleaning a plate, she idly mused, "You know, it's funny how most people settle for the quicksand of 'somethingness,' when they could stand on the firm ground of 'nothingness'."

In his inimitable style of giving Dharma talks, Jack then paused, and let this statement sink in. It took a while for me. The whole next day at the retreat I chewed on these words. What was this "quicksand of somethingness," and how could nothingness provide a firm ground on which to stand?  How can a person consider themselves as nothing? What kind of uplifting message is that?!

I began breaking the phrase down, looking at the key words, "somethingness" and "nothingness." Hmm... Some-thing and no-thing. I think I am some thing, but actually I am no thing. That worked for me. It's not that I am "nothing," but that I am "no thing."

If I take this teaching from the perspective of Dependent Origination (see blogs from 12/2, 12/3, & 12/4/09), the notion of being no thing becomes quite doable. I am not just one thing, but a collection of interdependent causes and conditions that gave rise to what I am today. Since my entire existence, way of life, and sense of who I am does not rely on being some thing - since it is actually countless interdependent things - I can live more comfortably with my personal paradoxes, inconsistencies, and imperfections. If I see myself, not as some thing that is finished and therefore must be a certain way all the time, and experience myself as a work in progress, I can feel more secure about the way my life unfolds. By embracing being no thing, I have found the firm ground on which to stand.

From the Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, Tibetan Lama and Buddhist leader:
We live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality. We are that reality. When you understand this, you see that you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything. That is all.

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