Question about the emptiness of perception (a bit philosophical - sorry)

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  • Ugrok
    Member
    • Sep 2014
    • 323

    Question about the emptiness of perception (a bit philosophical - sorry)

    Trying to study the heart sutra nowadays. I have this question about emptiness, i wonder if you might help me.

    Often it is said that what we see is "not real", meaning that, basically, what we see is only effects ; the "real" cause cannot be seen. For example if i watch a cup, the only thing i really see is the representation of a cup. It is made of interactions between my eyes and nervous system (among many other conditions) and "something that is a cup" (but we can't call it a cup, since a cup is what we perceive and is already conventional - we will call it "the real cup", even if we can't know it).

    But in the philosophy about emptiness (Nagarjuna for example), it is also said that cause and effect are not the same, not different, and not "not same and not different". The link between cause and effect is empty. So, if what we see is only "effect", it is empty as well : the representation of the cup is not the same as "the real cup", but not different, and not "not same and not different". So, if i get it right, what we see is emptiness itself ? Since it is also said that the only way to realize (meaning to live in reality) anything is emptiness, and since what we see is emptiness, then what we see is totally "real" !

    So, is it really right to say that what we see is not real ?
    Last edited by Ugrok; 09-10-2014, 09:28 PM.
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39454

    #2
    Hi Ugrok,

    Are you reading some Tibetan writings about the Heart Sutra. They can be very philosophical and analytical about the Heart Sutra in keeping with some of the statements you made about cause and effect.

    My too simple way of explaining the Heart Sutra, Nagarjuna and Emptiness is this: In the brain, from data flowing in through the senses from outside (really, inside and outside are one great loop), we create images of the "world out there" and "our self here". The world and our self are seen as rather separate, rather permanent or abiding objects in our mind which we then go on to label, categorize and stick judgments on about what this is a cause of that, what things we like or dislike, what we love or fear or are indifferent too. (Actually, this is necessary ... because we need to do so in order to live and survive in this world. We could not function without doing so. Where am I going to put the coffee I love without a cup? One would also burn one's hand on the stove if one disregarded the reality of the fire!)

    In Zazen we rather reverse the process of dividing and judging the world. The result is a great Dance of Wholeness (a phrase I use for the rather misleading "Emptiness") in which all things ... and us too ... dance with each other flowing together as a constantly changing Whole. In fact, one might say that, without separation, there is just One Great Dance going on and on.

    So one might say that in the Dance the separate cup ... and the drinker ... are swept up into the wholeness of the Dance, so are something of a dream if only perceived as separate objects. Yet, in this world ... well, I am drinking my coffee right now as I type! One might say that a key aspect of Zen Practice is to come to experience/dance the world and our self from both perspectives at once, as two which are also one.

    That is my too simple image to convey. However, in Zazen ... more than any philosophy or image about the Dance ... one must get up to Dance, experiencing the thrill of the dance rather than thinking about it!

    Here are a couple of posts that perhaps might help:

    Buddha-Basics (Part XVII) — The Dance of Emptiness
    Hi to "you" (who is not really the "you" you think you are), [scared] These days, I like to try to explain the Buddhist concept of "Sunyata" (Emptiness) using the image of a .... 'Dance' ... 'Dancing' ... 'Dancers and Dancing' ... A universe of dancers (including you and me, all beings) are


    My rather modern take on Dependent Origination:
    Buddha-Basics (Part XIV) – The Twelve-Fold Chain
    One of the most basic of “Buddha Basics” is the Twelve-fold Chain of Dependent Origination, sometimes called the Twelve-fold Chain of Cause & Effect. It describes how our experience of being a separate “self” arises — and with this, as its mirror reflection, the experience of a separate world that is “not our self” —


    Good Dancing!

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-14-2014, 05:40 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • Ongen
      Member
      • Jan 2014
      • 786

      #3
      Originally posted by Jundo
      In Zazen we rather reverse the process of dividing and judging the world. The result is a great Dance of Wholeness (a phrase I use for the rather misleading "Emptiness") in which all things ... and us too ... dance with each other flowing together as a constantly changing Whole. In fact, one might say that, without separation, there is just One Great Dance going on and on.
      That's an excellent way of putting it, thank you Jundo

      I admit, talking about coffee, I rather have a full cup than an emtpy cup.

      gassho

      Vincent
      Ongen (音源) - Sound Source

      Comment

      • Ugrok
        Member
        • Sep 2014
        • 323

        #4
        Thank you for the answer.

        But - and i'm conscious that i'm falling in the "nihilistic trap" of emptiness here - if all there is is a big whole dance in which no one really takes part, why do anything to dance better ? Why love other dancers ?

        In other terms, why would i want to change a world which is not real, and in which i have no "real" possibility of action at all ?

        It seems to me there are only a few possibilities :

        1 - Well, this whole stuff we see, unreal as it is, and our subject/object relationship, even if we know it's an illusion, is all that we get. So we should work to make this a cool place, even if it has ultimately no meaning. But at the same time, buddhist teachings always say not to attach to things being "better" or "worse", so that's a bit confusing.

        2 - Let's not change it, sit back and relax as everything goes its way and fixes on its own.

        The problem with number 2 is that there are things in the world and in ourselves (i know, there is no real separation between them) that seem totally unbearable. Should we work with those things, or recognize those things as not real as well, and learn not to care about them ?

        Writing about this, my question is, i think : how can there be compassion when there is nothing to have compassion about and no one to feel the compassion ? If i can't trust my own feelings, my own perceptions, how can i help anyone suffering, since the suffering i get from my feelings and perceptions is not real ?

        Thing is, if someone hits me in the face with a stick, real or not real, i feel pain ! Shouldn't it be trusted ? Is it possible not to trust this ?


        Thinking about it, i got a number 3 !

        3 - Things are not real, nor unreal, it does not matter ; the only thing that matters is our experience here and now, so to relieve suffering we should just learn to know it very well so that we can act accordingly.

        And there is a number 4 i guess :

        4 - Sit down and shut up.
        Last edited by Ugrok; 09-11-2014, 11:58 AM.

        Comment

        • Sekishi
          Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
          • Apr 2013
          • 5670

          #5
          Originally posted by Ugrok
          But - and i'm conscious that i'm falling in the "nihilistic trap" of emptiness here - if all there is is a big whole dance in which no one really takes part, why do anything to dance better ? Why love other dancers ?

          In other terms, why would i want to change a world which is not real, and in which i have no "real" possibility of action at all ?
          Hi Ugrok,

          I feel your pain. I know this struggle well. Metta to you.

          As Jundo alludes to, "emptiness" is a problematic translation of shunyata / sunyata. As the Dharma becomes more common in the west, I hope we will be able to leave this word untranslated in the future (much the way karma is untranslated now). The "emptiness" of shunyata is not the "emptiness" or "void" of nihilism, but rather is simultaneously "fullness". We cannot stop with "empty of a separate self", but must press on to see that it is also "full of everything". The entire universe is reflected in a mote of dust!

          The dance IS, even if the dancers do not quite have separate selves, so dance well and love the dance!

          Speaking in relative terms now, I have a left hand and a right hand. Neither really have a separate self (cut off either, and it will die). Both are part of me, and are immensely useful to each other. The left hand brings the spoon to the mouth, the mouth brings to soup to the stomach, the stomach and intestines digest the food and nourish the left hand AND the right hand. It would be folly for the right hand to stab the left hand. The only sanity is for the right hand to love the left hand (in its own alien "handish way") and show it compassion.

          Different is not separate.

          But I don't know anything, so I hope this comment does not lead further down the rabbit-hole of discursive thought and philosophy.

          Gassho,
          Sekishi
          Sekishi | 石志 | He/him | Better with a grain of salt, but best ignored entirely.

          Comment

          • Nameless
            Member
            • Apr 2013
            • 461

            #6
            Thank you Jundo, that was a great explanation.

            Was put off Zen when I first read about it because I misunderstood emptiness. The vital word when describing things is "inherent." Things definitely exist, but they have no inherent existence. The chair I'm sitting on is dependent on the trees it came from, the people that cut them, those who transported the wood, cut and cured it, the factory workers etc. And each of them is likewise dependent on uncountable other conditions, including oxygen from trees. Also, things are constantly changing, which is why the tree is now a chair, but both tree and chair are just schemas in our minds. The mind is wholeness. Totality and potentiality. Like the mind, the chair is formless, rather the idea and perception of it is. But the whole pieces, the elements that compose everything, are form. Where there are pieces, there are wholes, where there are wholes, there are pieces. Partners united as Not Two in the dancing.

            So I am definitely me, but there's no me apart from Everything, and no Everything apart from me. Important to see that this is experiential rather than intellectual. The words just serve to inadequately describe one moment of experience.

            Gassho,
            Neither John Nor Not John
            Last edited by Nameless; 09-11-2014, 05:55 PM.

            Comment

            • Daiyo
              Member
              • Jul 2014
              • 819

              #7
              Hi all,

              Could we explain ourselves as cells part of a giant body (the universe)?
              The only thing that could justify considering us as "separate" from other "cells" is our self conscience, which is built on ilusions, on things lacking substance.
              Much like cells are part of our body. If one cell dies it dissolves in our body, and could be replaced by a new one. The body goes on, maybe with less limbs or organs.
              If all the cells of our body die, it gets buried or cremated and the ashes thrown away, and "universal life" just goes on.
              Our selves never existed anyway. If one ceases to attach to the idea of self, then everything is all things.

              The only things that puzzles me is: if there is no self, then "WHO" dances? "WHO" ceases attaching?

              I end up dropping everything, and "just sitting" out of tiredness, because it's our practice, feels good, and one can do no harm while just sitting.
              But don't know if that's the right motivation for "just sitting".

              Sorry for insisting, feel free to ignore me

              Gassho,
              Walter.
              Gassho,Walter

              Comment

              • Daitetsu
                Member
                • Oct 2012
                • 1145

                #8
                Hi Ugrok,

                If somebody you love dies in a dream - is the feeling of sadness unreal?

                Gassho,

                Daitetsu
                no thing needs to be added

                Comment

                • Entai
                  Member
                  • Jan 2013
                  • 451

                  #9
                  My coffee cup has an inside and an outside. It couldn't be a cup without either. I have no idea where the outside ends and the inside begins. Either way I fill it with coffee and it works.

                  And don't get me started on when it magically becomes a tea cup!

                  Gassho, Entai

                  泰 Entai (Bill)
                  "this is not a dress rehearsal"

                  Comment

                  • Sekishi
                    Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
                    • Apr 2013
                    • 5670

                    #10
                    Originally posted by walter
                    The only things that puzzles me is: if there is no self, then "WHO" dances? "WHO" ceases attaching?
                    I would say, if you think you have the answer to this puzzle, check again. Who is it that wonders? Who is it that sits? Who is the dance! WHO?!

                    Then, just sit.

                    Gassho,
                    Sekishi
                    Sekishi | 石志 | He/him | Better with a grain of salt, but best ignored entirely.

                    Comment

                    • Sekishi
                      Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
                      • Apr 2013
                      • 5670

                      #11
                      Originally posted by Entai
                      My coffee cup has an inside and an outside. It couldn't be a cup without either.

                      I have no idea where the outside ends and the inside begins. Either way I fill it with coffee and it works.
                      I think this is actually a lovely (if somewhat philosophical and mathematical) way to illustrate some of the difficulty Ugrok and the rest of us have.

                      In one view (our day-to-day view), your cup has an inside and an outside. You know it to be true, because when you pour coffee into it, the coffee does not leak out. Simple test, obvious truth.

                      In another view (the mathematical view), your cup does not have an inside and outside. Topologically speaking, a coffee cup can be transformed into a torus or a sphere with only squeezing, stretching, or twisting (most importantly in this view it does not need to have a hole punched into it -- that would make it a different order of form). It is of a different order than a Mobius strip or Klein bottle. Look up homeomorphism sometime for light bed-time reading.

                      Neither the day-to-day view, nor the mathematical view are "wrong" (both can be tested with simple tests and both can be confirmed!). They are just tunnels through which we view and describe the world. But they are not the world - they are views, not reality itself.

                      We are not "wrong" to view ourselves as human beings, wrapped in human forms, separated and feeling worries and suffering. We are not "wrong" to view ourselves as dancers, participating in a dance. But those are views. They are not the world.

                      So we dance. And we sit. And sometimes we drop "I", or "Dancer", and there is only "Dancing". And sometimes we drop that too.

                      Gassho,
                      Sekishi
                      Sekishi | 石志 | He/him | Better with a grain of salt, but best ignored entirely.

                      Comment

                      • Ugrok
                        Member
                        • Sep 2014
                        • 323

                        #12
                        Thank you all very much for the wonderful comments.

                        Comment

                        • Kyonin
                          Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
                          • Oct 2010
                          • 6742

                          #13
                          Hi Ugrok

                          All I can say is academics and looking for answers is a fantastic way to understand our practice. But academy can only take you so far.

                          I have been chanting the Heart Sutra for years now. Even when my mind is super noisy, I chant. Sometimes I just repeat the words like a broken record. Some times I find meaning, peace. Others I simply find confusion.

                          But it all stops as soon as I end the chanting and begin zazen. Then everything comes together and makes sense in a very quiet and logical way. You just feel it in your marrow, deep inside of you. It's all complete.

                          Emptiness makes sense. Silence makes sense. And all the craziness surrounding us makes sense too. The Heart Sutra always teaches me something different.

                          But don't mind my opinion. It's also empty and worthless.

                          Gassho,

                          Kyonin
                          Hondō Kyōnin
                          奔道 協忍

                          Comment

                          • jeff_u
                            Member
                            • Jan 2013
                            • 130

                            #14
                            Hi Urgok,

                            I have no answers, but Dogen's Genjokoan might be of interest (an online version here or checkout Shohaku Okumura's Realizing Genjokoan). I think your questions above and Genjokoan are one: Genjo = reality just as it presently is, and koan = absolute embracing relative. It is about both emptiness and how to practice with that realization. This question drove Dogen and I think it drives all of us here too. I hope this might help you in your practice. Cheers!

                            Gassho,
                            Jeff

                            Comment

                            • Jishin
                              Member
                              • Oct 2012
                              • 4820

                              #15
                              Heart Sutra rocks! Eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast of champions.

                              Gassho, Jishin

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