Proving, or not, that profound insights are found in the strangest places, I'll share some of the lyrics to an atonal song that I made up and love to "sing" (using that word in its absolutely loosest sense) in the shower.
I love my dog.
I love my cat.
Only problem is,
I don't have a cat.
It's hard to love
What you don't have.
This is how I also feel about loving God. Or, my self.
Except seemingly there's more evidence for a "self" than for "God." Buddhism, though, seizes on that seemingly and runs with it to an intriguing, reasonable, and scientifically defensible conclusion.
As a human being I am more complex than a pot or a daffodil, but I have also emerged from causes and am composed of diverse, changing features and traits. There is no essential me that exists apart from this unique configuration of biological and cultural processes.
...I cannot find the self by pointing my finger at any physical or mental trait and saying: "Yes, that's me." For such traits come and go, whereas the sense of "I" remains constant.
The self may not be something, but neither is it nothing. It is simply ungraspable, unfindable. I am who I am not because of an essential self hidden away in the core of my being but because of the unprecedented and unrepeatable matrix of conditions that have formed me.
Emptiness is Buddhism's shorthand term for this absence of intrinsic selfness or thingness. Living and lifeless entities are equally devoid of independent, free-standing, unchanging existence.
The world is interconnected, with never-ending matrices of causes and effects stretching back to the big bang, and likely beyond. Out of this creative ferment arises...
Me. You. Religious beliefs. Scientific discoveries. Blogs. Books. Life. Death. Joy. Pain. Questions. Answers. Everything.
It isn't exactly true that we are all one, because obviously there are lots of different things that have manifested as Everything. But it's clear that the cosmos is a whole, so now I worship at the altar of scientifically defensible wholeiness rather than imaginary holiness.
What's strange is that most religions ostensibly promote the sort of selflessness that Buddhism and science find already existent at the root of human reality.
That is, if there is no independent "self," there's nothing to get rid of. And there's also nothing self'y to attain: no self-realization, no self-actualization. Nothing soul'y, either, since "soul" is just a metaphysical version of "self," something permanent and unchanging within us.
Stephen Bachelor nicely captures the exhilarating freedom, mixed with a disturbing feeling of What now? that prisoners often have on being released from jail, that comes with this understanding.
To know emptiness is not just to understand the concept. It is more like stumbling into a clearing in the forest, where suddenly you can move freely and see clearly. To experience emptiness is to experience the shocking absence of what normally determines the sense of who you are and the kind of reality you inhabit.
This morning I woke up, made coffee, and went out to get the newspapers. All, as usual. But what is "usual"? Life is different at every moment. So am I.
It got down to the mid 20's last night. Frost was on the nearby trees. The rising sun was illuminating more distant large firs. My mind went Wow! and my body went back into the house to get my camera.
Not usual at all. I just needed to open my eyes to see what was new about this day, this moment, this intersection of me with what seemingly isn't me.
Ah, that word seemingly pops up again. Stephen Bachelor:
The denial of "self" challenges only the notion of a static self independent of body and mind -- not the ordinary sense of ourself as a person distinct from everyone else. The notion of a static self is the primary obstruction to the realization of our unique potential as a human being.
By dissolving this fiction through a centered vision of the transiency, ambiguity, and contingency of experience, we are freed to create ourself anew. The notion of the world as an alien reality composed of stubborn, discrete things is likewise the primary obstruction to world-creation.
In dissolving this view through a vision of the world as a dynamic and interrelated whole of which we are an integral part, we are likewise freed to engage with the world afresh.