EMPTINESS AND JOYFUL FREEDOM
This post takes its name from a book (1) about the ‘emptiness’ teachings traditionally associated with Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism. It makes the case that the ‘ease’ they bring can support a culturally ‘Western’ approach to life. The insights can illuminate us regardless of tradition, enabling new departures in the politics and art of living. The book includes meditations and exercises, so that readers can check it out for themselves.
“Through the immersion in these teachings, the rigidity and solidity of seemingly inherently existing phenomena give way to a precious lightness of life in the world. The famous Buddhist writer Shantideva expresses beautifully how our mind comes finally to rest:
“When neither something nor nothing
Remains to be known,
There is no alternative left
But complete non-referential ease.
“I feel that, as a person who had been seeking truth and ultimate reality, I found a satisfying answer in the realization of the emptiness of all phenomena. This realization comes with a greater sense of ease.
“For spiritual practitioners like me, the rigid attitude of knowing what’s right for everyone is an easy temptation. Spiritual teachings tend to have notions of absolutes, which by their very nature seem to trump everything else. None of them can claim to have absolute, transcendent truth on their side, so all of them need to prove themselves on the level of conventional, ordinary reality with practical questions like:
’Who does the view serve and who is being marginalized?’ or
‘Is the view helpful, compassionate or humane?’
“It was a wonderfully freeing moment to recognize that there simply is no one way that reality ‘really’ is, and therefore no way to miss out on it. … At that moment, it became completely OK to be my Western self again, rather than trying to emulate what I took to be the Eastern blueprint of an enlightened practitioner’s way of life.
“By realizing that the inherently existent self does not exist, one is free up to work with the empty self. This is where the West’s abundant sources of creative self-expression can come in handy. You can celebrate and transform the (empty) self, creatively expressing it in ever new ways. The self can even be treated as a work of art. Towards the end of his life Michel Foucault said:
‘What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects, and not to individuals, or to life.’
“Joyful irony is our Western Way to describe the fruition of the emptiness teachings. You no longer think that your own values and goals are underwritten by the nature of reality. This insight enables a flexible, unattached attitude towards your one views and vocabularies, and fosters respect for the views of others”.
(1) Greg Goode and Tomas Sander Emptiness and Joyful Freedom Salisbury: Non-Duality Press, 2013 (Section written by Tomas Sander)