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Showing posts from June, 2011

The Self That Is Not Other

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The teaching of no self is one of the most difficult Buddhist teachings to comprehend; not because it is such an intellectually taxing one, but because it cuts right to the core of how we view reality. And even after we do “get it” we’re still subject to the relentless tug of karma pulling us back into our old way of looking at self and other and the world. Unfortunately, as well, is the fact that somewhere along the road to our “getting it” lurks the nihilistic view that everything is merely an illusion, a phantasm – self, other, everything.
It is not difficult to understand how Buddhist teachings related to no self, in particular, and emptiness, in general, might be misconstrued as nihilistic. After all, the word emptiness – when used as a description of ultimate reality – almost invites it. And if you think that the word emptiness invites nihilistic ponderings, imagine what the word voidness might inspire. In fact, early scholars of Eastern texts often translated the Sanskrit word…

Dependent Origination - A Structural Interpretation (Part 5 of 5)

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As of the close of the previous post we’d made it all the way through the twelve links of what is generally considered to be the standard representation of the teaching of dependent origination. I’m sure that questions still remain, and I expect that some of them will linger for quite some time. I do hope, however, that there is no question in anybody’s mind that there is something important being conveyed within these links with respect to how we can live our lives with greater awareness.
Perhaps many of the questions that remain relate in some way to the linear presentation of the concepts. “Just how exactly is it that this arises from that?” you might be asking. Perhaps other questions relate to the expectation that this twelve-fold chain should be able to answer far more than it actually does – as if it were a blueprint of metaphysical reality, for instance. I hope that the remainder of this post helps with questions of the first variety. However, as far as those of the second va…

Dependent Origination - The Wheel of Becoming (Part 4 of 5)

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Whether we think of it as having arisen from a different mother or from the moment before last, giving consideration to our past life provides us insight into what makes up this present moment. More important, however, is what we choose to do with this moment now that we are living it. Will we proceed with awareness, in a way that reduces suffering, or will we act without awareness – propelled forward by the kamma (karma), the habit energy that has brought us here?
What we have in this present moment is consciousness (or at least the capacity for it), a storehouse of habit energy (formations, volition, and will), and an inaccurate understanding of the nature of reality. With just this much we dive into the swirling waters of samsara (the continuous flow of life, death, and rebirth) to sputter and thrash around and get pulled under and fight our way back to the surface – over and over again. Oftentimes we think that the solution is as simple as learning how to swim. But, you know, the…

Dependent Origination - Past Life and the Twelve-Fold Chain (Part 3 of 5)

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Okay, we can put it off no longer. It’s time to work our way through the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination link by link. This would seem to be a straightforward process, but as I stated in a comment following the previous post, as soon as you pull on one thread all of Buddhism follows! Immediately upon considering the first link, avijja, we can’t help but wonder: where do nescience, ignorance, and delusion come from? And just what is it that is deluded, anyway – an existing physical being, a soul about to be reborn? For the time being, please hold loosely in mind the possibility that the twelve-fold chain encompasses multiple cycles of physical birth and death. At the same time, though, please keep in mind the possibility that the twelve-fold chain acts within a single physical human lifetime multiple times as we continue “our” process of becoming. Regardless of the way you choose to think about what constitutes ‘past life’, the following list displays the common lines of de…