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Nothing for Nothing


Not to keep you in suspense, all those various arrangements that seem like enduring things, but aren't, are known in Buddhist terms as skandhas, which means "heaps" or "aggregates". A particular kind of heap of sand looks like a castle, or a church, but wind or waves will take it back to just part of the beach -- its ground form.

So to speak.

This condition, this fact, that the things we see have no independent existence is called Sunyata, which means "zeroness" or "emptiness." There are many Buddhist texts that say something to the effect that "existence is empty" and sunyata is the term that's being translated as "emptiness".

This leads a lot of people to think that buddhism is essentially nihilistic, that it asserts that everything is meaningless; this usually is carried on to assert that therefore there's no real basis in Buddhism for morals or ethics or really any reason to live. This, I think, is a basic mistake that comes about from our cultural insistence on having there be an Outsider who made things, and is watching them work -- or even meddling with things as time goes on.

When you practice meditation, when you practice the Eightfold Path, the Eight Beautiful Steps, the 八正道, though, you eventually get a different sense. Yes, everything you look at is a temporary heap that came together in the past, and will dissolve into something else in the future, but under it is the ordering principle, the cause and effect, the natural laws that are the universe. When your thinking shifts to see that, you see that those natural laws don't have meaning, they are meaning.

And that meaning is, really, completely, and infinitely cool.


images courtesy shutterstock /  jörg röse-oberreich