Mar 2, 2007

Q&A on Buddhism - part 7

Disclaimer: For non-Muslims or Buddhists only unless if you are reading this for knowledge purpose. This is a Q&A session with HH Sakya Trizin.

This is the continuation from part 6.

Q: How should we understand Emptiness?

A: Emptiness is actually only a name. It doesn't mean that all things are empty or void. Every religion tries to explain the true nature of phenomena, but all have come to the conclusion of something existing, either positively or negatively. Ordinary people do not think much about phenomena and their origins, but the more spiritual people do, and wonder why things exist and where they come from. Christianity concluded that all things are created by God. An early Buddhist school, Sarvastivada, concluded that, although gross things do not really exist, atoms - so minute that they can have no sides facing different directions - do exist as basic elements.

A more advanced Buddhist school, the Vijnanavada, decided that ultimately nothing exists externally and that the things we seem to perceive are only projections of mind. However, when the Madhyamika philosophers examined phenomena, everything seemed to disappear and they could find nothing. They were not satisfied by the explanation that God created everything or that tiny atoms existed, and they reasoned that it was impossible for subjective mind to exist if objects did not exist, as mind and objects are as interdependently inseparable as are right and left. So, if there was no external matter, there could be no mind.

The Madhyamika concluded, after a very scrupulous examination, that there was nothing, ultimately, that could be clung to as really existent. Positive things could not be found, negative things could not be found, nothing could be found which could be accepted as really existing because the true nature of all things is beyond existence and non-existence, beyond thought, and inexpressible. Shantideva said, "The Absolute is not an object of mind; it lies beyond mind. It is something you cannot describe; it is the wonder of the incomprehensible." However, when we talk about such things, we have to name them, so we call it the Emptiness, but really Emptiness is not something that can be named, it is inexpressible.

Of course, this is all 'ultimately'. Relatively speaking, the Madhyamika accepts whatever ordinary people accept, but the writings of this school do show an experience of the inexpressibility of all things.

Q: Isn't this critique of phenomena merely a logical paradox? Can it have any bearing on daily life?

A: Of course it does. When you realize the Ultimate Truth, you are free from suffering. We are in suffering because we haven't awakened from the relative illusion. We are wrapped up in this relative illusion and, due to this, we hold things as real; we act and hence suffer and create many more causes of suffering.

Q: So the real point of attachment?

A: When you are no longer attached to things as real, you create no further causes of suffering.

In the next part, we will look at what HH Sakya Trizin had to say, if it is okay to think of ourselves as a Buddha.

Disclaimer: This interview was taken from the book "Pointing Towards Vajrayana" published by The Singapore Buddha Sasana Society Sakya Tenphel Ling. The Palden Sakya Centres of American Buddhism Sakya Shei Drup Ling actually holds the right of this text.

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