key teaching of Buddhism - also known as “dependent co-arising”

We participate in the creation of the world at the most fundamental level - Rob Burbea

Integral to the concept of dependent co-arising is the belief that the preconceptions and predispositions of the mind itself shape the reality it sees - Joanna Macy

We suffer because we think things are real (independent of the way of looking) and cling to them

  • Things are empty of independent meaning or significance
    • All things without exception (including space and time and awareness) is empty of existing independent of the way you look at it - Rob Burbea
    • There is no inherent way things are
  • The way we perceive anything depends on our ways of looking
    • e.g. When we practice Metta thinking about a “neutral” or even negative person, we may suddenly start to see them as beautiful, radiating kindness etc…

Chair Example

consider a wooden chair thrown onto a big fire. The chair begins to burn, then gradually deform and fall apart, slowly turning to ashes. At what point exactly is it no longer a chair? Is it not the mind perceiving and conceiving of it one way or another that determines whether it is ‘a chair’ at a certain moment in time after catching fire? Its chair-ness is given by the mind, and does not reside in it independently of the mind. The lack of an inherently existing ‘official’ time when it stops ‘being a chair’ points to a certain emptiness, its lack of inherent chair-ness. from Book - Seeing that Frees - Rob Burbea

Emptiness and Nihilism

”On encountering such teachings, it is easy to assume that their message and their implications are of existential meaninglessness, undermining ethical concern and passionate care for the world. Or that the world of things, once their illusion is exposed, will appear to us as somehow dreary, and we will disconnect. Such assumptions and fears, however, are usually based on various common misunderstandings of what emptiness means."

"To say that all things are void, however, is not to say that they don’t exist at all. Emptiness is not nihilism. Clearly and undeniably there are appearances of things and those appearances follow reliable laws and function in terms of predictable cause and effect.”

Watching Out for Signs

”If I find that my practice is somehow making me less compassionate, less generous, less caring about ethics, then something is wrong in my understanding or at the very least out of balance in my approach, and I need to modify how I am practising.”

Approaching it gradually

”I have found, in my own practice and through teaching, that the realization of emptiness deepens and brings more felt fruits in life if it is approached not only gradually, but also primarily in relation to whatever is immediate in our experience, including, and even especially, any dukkha that may be present in the moment – these sensations, this emotion, these thoughts, and also this physical pain, this heartache, this contracted self-view – learning to see their emptiness, and then deepening and widening the range of experienced phenomena we can recognize to be empty. “

What is Empty?

What is empty? Everything is empty, without question. So not just all selves and all things – and that means any notion of self, so even the self as process, not a real thing. It’s just arising as a way of looking. It’s a relative degree of fabrication. But awareness is empty too. Actually, even the notion of fabrication is empty too. In other words, it’s not really real. It’s a kind of construct that we see – there’s actually a way of going deeper and deeper into the whole teaching of fabrication as a practice, and you find out that fabrication, too, is kind of incoherent. It cannot be a reality. Dependent origination, similarly, is empty – all those twelve links, or thirteen, or ten, or whatever system you’re using. All of them are lacking inherent existence. They don’t refer to real units of existence or units of being or realities or entities or whatever. The Unfabricated actually also turns out to be empty, and the whole distinction then between what’s unfabricated and fabricated, also illusory. Emptiness, as well, is also empty. So emptiness is a very radical, pervasive concept. Everything, without question, is empty. What we end up with then – we start with this notion of ways of looking, and we end up with this really radical, thorough insight that in the end there are only ways of looking. The ways of looking are empty, too, but all we have is a range of ways of looking, which we can expand. And those are not realities; those are ways of looking. Those ways of looking also don’t inherently exist. But all we have, all we come to, the freedom that we come to, is there are just ways of looking. Something very beautiful, very radical, very profound in that insight, and extremely far-reaching.

Scientific Perspectives?

Maturana and Varela do not maintain that there is a void out there, out of which we create matter. There is a material world, but it does not have any predetermined features. The authors of the Santiago theory do not assert that “nothing exists”; they assert that “no things exist” independent of the process of cognition. There are no objectively existing structures; there is no pregiven territory of which we can make a map the map making itself brings forth the features of the territory. Book - Web of Life by Fritjof Capra