A Short Humble Attempt at a Modern Explanation of Emptiness

Vairochana -Embodiment of Emptiness

Vairochana -Embodiment of Emptiness

The Mahayana Buddhist concept of Emptiness is one of the foundations of many Buddhist traditions. It is not an easy concept to really and viscerally grasp outside of an intellectual or conceptual appreciation. Indeed full understanding of emptiness is one of the qualities of enlightenment which is a goal of the Mahayana path in order to alleviate all sentient beings from suffering. To this end Buddhists all over the world keep trying to understand this wonderful view. Those of us lucky enough to have received a Higher Tantric initiation have vowed to remember emptiness at least once every day. A little while ago I remembered through a very modern medium.

I needed to electronically transfer some money into a friend’s bank account and was given an incorrect account number. After transferring the money “it” disappeared from my account. Over the next two days “it” never arrived in her account. Then suddenly “it” was refunded back into my account. So, I wondered, where was “it” in the meantime?

Pondering a bit more set me thinking: of course “it”, the amount in question, never really existed in the same way as a brick, a potato or even punch in the nose. “It” only existed via the mutual interaction of several bank computers that said that in one moment “it” was in “my” account and then “it” was … nowhere…before the computers interacted once more and said that “it” was in existence again in “my” account.

Now this is very similar to the Buddhist concept of emptiness, that each of us, each phenomenon of all types and on all levels only comes into existence via a process of mutual co-arising. In this case the money only existed in “my” account when the causes and conditions arose (my wages) so that it would arise as a positive figure in my ledger. When I did eventually successfully transfer the money, “it” only arose into existence within my friend’s account with the right causes and conditions – several computers agreeing that “it” was now “hers”. My loss was her gain – her and I and the banks and the computers were all engaged and enmeshed in mutual co-arising through interdependence of her positive balance, my negative balance and the banks’ fees.

Of course even physical money works in the same way, the bank notes and coins being nothing more than mutually agreed contracts. The online version however, has a certain immediate poignancy lacking in any physical example. It also avoids an obvious train of thought where the “value” of a dollar note can be seen more or less as an inhabiting or attached entity to the physical paper/plastic, in the same manner as a soul is attached to or inhabits a person. And of course Buddhist is quite clear the soul, as an eternal, unchanging, independent entity does not exist. Then again, given the state of much of the world’s currency and the recent volatility of the Australian Dollar, perhaps it could be a useful pointer to the mutability of the soul or “higher being”. 🙂

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