Emptiness and Your Aunties Needlepoint
We embark upon an inquiry into the mystery of emptiness and love. In order to reach some conclusions regarding a potential relationship, we need to explore traditional Buddhist meanings of emptiness, although I believe my commentary does diverge into more original thinking than a lot that I read. These insipid commentaries by people who supposedly have studied it do not seem to have that strong a hold on their own idea of emptiness. One unnamed Tibetan lama, after each verse of powerful commentary by Chandrakirti states, "It's empty, Lord Buddha said it's empty, and therefore it's empty." It is a good thing my laptop is valuable, or I might have thrown it out the window.
I have no qualms, no argument, that Lord Buddha Shakyamuni or Nagarjuna did in fact say those things. I truly believe his point was that because we have great faith in the words of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, and because he said it, it is so, that is that! That was good enough for him, and I hope it's good enough for others, but I think it is not good enough for Western people, so let us look at it again here.
We should make a correct the connection between the annoying dryness of scholars statements and the actual juiciness of the subject. This dryness should not spread any further than the halls of the dry pride of intellectual understanding of the nature of emptiness. Abuse of knowledge should go no further. Let us, instead, learn this philosophy based in bodhichitta, the wish to attain enlightenment so that we can be of benefit to all sentient beings. That is the only way I am actually interested to discuss it.
Nagarjuna, a Buddhist who developed the philosophy called the Middle Way lived approximately 1900 years ago. He did not develop the structure of logical debate which is a non-affirming argument. In other words, not this and not that. This is a very common form of logical analysis already alive in Hindu philosophy before Nagarjuna, but he used it so well that I believe it has become more associated with Buddhism than Hinduism.
His important work in Sanskrit is called the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā is the Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way. So, this discussion is based on Chandrakirti's Entrance to the Middle Way, the clarification of that earlier work by Nagarjuna. Some other books that you might see in your local library that are translations of Nagarjuna might be Seventy Verses on Emptinesses. Another one that I do not recall seeing, but it may be somewhere in some scholarly translation which I would appreciate very much is The End of Disputes, and I like the next one, which is called Pulverising the Categories. It sounds quite violent, and I believe that he intended it to be so. Another is called Sixty Verses on Reasoning. Another is called The Hymn to the Absolute Reality. I am just giving you some titles that may strike you as familiar that you have seen or perhaps you have on your library bookshelves in a kind of reverential position.
A student told me,“ Rinpoche, I realized that I purchased the first book you listed and with great enthusiasm took it home, and at some point I put it on the shelf. One day I took it off, opened it up and looked through it a little bit, then reverently closed the book and touched it to my head, and put it back on the shelf because the blessing was about all I could get from it”.
So, like that, perhaps we are just reviewing your library contents. Another one is Constituents of Dependent Arising. Now, you can see a trend here in Nagarjuna's work; Exposition of the Enlightened Mind. There are a number of works and the fact that Nagarjunas works have been worthy of preserving is a bit like having an estate sale of your great-great auntie's goods. As you and the family are looking through aunties objects one or another family member calls out, "Well, this thing is no use, but this, now this is beautiful. Let's hang onto this," and it is placed on the knick knack shelf in your house. Perhaps another auntie put in on her shelf, and when she passed away and her estate sale came, others saw and exclaimed, "Oh, these things are not my taste or fashion or worth anything, throw them out."
You know, you often see at estate sales, the artistic efforts of elderly ladies. For example, I have watched them making cross stitch or a needle point squares so they can cover up nasty, naked boxes of Kleenex. Some have designs of teddy bears or little flowers or some pretty color, but seems like the rule is, under no circumstances should there be anything in a proper home not covered with plastic needlepoint. These are also artistic creations similar to bird houses out of milk bottles or Coke bottles, and amazing artifacts.
Some might ask, "What makes something worth holding onto beyond sentimental value? What are the qualities of objects that hold value generation after generation after generation? What short list of things are worth preserving for thousands of years?” These precious remnents of antiquity in written form or artistic creations that have survived destruction for a very long time and hold value we wish to continue to hold dear.
But if we never study or struggle to learn Nagarjunas thoughts but put them on our shelves and we hold them as objects of veneration we have preserved them for nothing at all. Or perhaps we thinking that we would not want to wear them out by looking at them, and, like that.