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Lions Roar : September 2016
The simplest description of emptiness in the Buddhist teach- ings is this sentence: This is because that is. A flower cannot exist by itself alone. To be can only mean to inter-be. Everything else is present in the flower; the only thing the flower is empty of is itself. Looking in this way, we begin to see that everything has the nature of emptiness. Sometimes that nature of emptiness is called non-self. But don’t worry, non-self doesn’t mean that you aren’t there. Just as the glass that’s empty of tea still exists, you still exist too, even without a separate self. Signlessness A sign marks the appearance of something, its form. We recog- nize things based on their sign, but we are often fooled by the outer form of things. The Buddha said, “Where there is a sign, there is deception.” For example, when we look up at the sky, we see a particu- lar cloud. But if we look long enough, it seems the cloud we are looking at disappears. The cloud has become rain, mist, or snow, and we don’t recognize it anymore. If you’ve grown attached to that cloud, you may think, “Oh, my beloved cloud, where are you now? I miss you. You’ve passed from being into nonbeing. I can’t see you anymore.” But in fact our cloud is still there, because it’s impossible for a cloud to die. It may become snow, hail, or rain, but it won’t become nothing. It’s impossible to pass from being into nonbeing. This is true for us as well. Every thought, word, and action we produce continues after our bodies have disintegrated. We don’t need to worry about no longer existing. Our forms change, but nothing is lost. Whether the cloud has the form of a cloud, the rain, the river, or the tea, it continues on its wonderful journey. Aimlessness Aimlessness means you don’t put anything in front of you as the object of your pursuit. What you are looking for is not out- side of you—it is already here. You already are what you want to become. Concentrating on aimlessness releases your longing and craving for something in the future and elsewhere. If you are running after nirvana, you should know that nirvana is already there in yourself and in everything. If you are running after the Buddha, be aware that the Buddha is already in you. If you are seeking happiness, be aware that happiness is available in the here and the now. Only when you stop running can you get the fulfillment and happiness you have been looking for. ♦ THICH NHAT HANH is a Zen monk, poet, and peace activist. His many books include No Mud, No Lotus and The Miracle of Mindfulness.