Sunday, December 6, 2009

Working without a net

Karl Wallenda of the famous Flying Wallendas spent his entire adult life defying death and gravity by walking the high wire without a net. Finally, at the age of 73, Karl fell to his death after decades as a high wire performer. Despite this tragedy, Karl lives on today as the most famous high wire artist of all time.

What drives someone to live their life without a net? Why is it that some folks, like Karl, abandon the security of a safety net and deliberately choose to risk it all each time they get up on the high wire? The answer may be found at the deepest depths of the human condition: the emptiness of self.

Philosophers, religous leaders, psychologists and other seekers of truth have been puzzling for centuries as to the ultimate nature of reality. More specifically, searching for the ultimate ground of being. The study of the ultimate nature of being is called ontology. Ontology is the study of "is-ness", "being-ness", "am-ness", etc., etc. Who and what are we anyway? And what is the true nature of reality?

(BTW, this might be a good time to go to the kitchen and fix yourself a sandwich if you are not into "heavy" dialogue and philosophy!)

Most of us would cop to the notion that we exist here and now, moment to moment. But who is this me or I that supposedly exists? The Buddhist teaching of sunyata asserts that ultimately we don't exist as a separate and distinct entity disconnected from and abiding in some "stand alone" juxtaposition to the rest of existence.

Huh? What did you say? I don't exist ... then who is that looking at me in the mirror then?

The answer according to Hwa Yen Buddhist Philosophy is ... well ... no one ... really. Apparently, that image in the mirror is nothing more or less than the coming together at this moment in time of a swirling, dancing, ever changing expression of all that is in this particular place somewhere along the space-time continuum. Once we begin to unpack ourselves we eventually arrive at emptiness. That is "no-thing-ness."

Hwa Yen philosophy informs us that our experience of "beingness" is an expression of our deep seated clinging and attachment to self. To my way of thinking, this is akin to something along the lines of fusion with a "sense of self" that arises out of the coming together of a myriad complex of conditions.

Having asserted this, Hwa Yen philosophy saddles itself with the burden of having to explain how it is that all things are devoid of self or beingness. Said another way, they need to explain how it is that things lack any definitive nature. In order to do this, Hwa Yen philosophy posits the notion of indeterminateness.

Here is how the argument goes: everything is indeterminate; things are such and such only in relation to so and so in a particular frame of reference. Their determinateness is found only in terms of certain conditions and within certain arbitrary realms. This fact of indeterminateness is also called relativity---x is x only in relation to y under certain conditions.

Pretty heady stuff - heh? Well not really. Think of the metaphor of a long corridor stretching away from you. Along the corridor are a series of standing lamps. When one lamp is turned on it emits x amount of light. When a second lamp is turned on, its light interpenetrates with the light emitted from the first lamp to illuminate even more of the corridor. With the turning on of each successive lamp, more and more light forms to illuminate the corridor. Each lamp in an of itself emits light which combines seamlessly with the light of the other lamps. Taken together, the interpenetrating light waves illuminate the entire corridor melding together without hindrance.

The illumination of the entire corridor comes into being as a result of the interpenetration of the light from each of the individual lamps. It is in essence a product of them all while at the same time not any one of them at all in particular. This metaphor points to the nature of our being as well. We don't actually exist independently except for the conditions that have come together like interpenetrating waves of light.

If you can buy that this is the actual state of affairs regarding our individual "sense of self" , then we come face-to-face with a most fundamental truth: we are just this moment without any ground of being that is "really there" supporting us.

We are all operating without a net. Isn't exhilarating up here on the high wire knowing that at any moment it could all change?

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