18 March 2011

The Emptiness of All Five Skandhas

So by sheer force of circumstance I ended up being the person in the department who teaches the Asian Philosophy course.  I'm giving it again this semester, and this week we started in on Buddhism.

We're reading Gethin's Foundations of Buddhism, and I was pleased the students are taking to it as well as I first did.  It simply has to be the best, most straightforward, complete yet engaging primer on Buddhist basics I've ever read.  I've praised it to all who would listen.

Yesterday we were in the chapter on "No Self," and there Gethin takes up the point about the five skandhas.  Of course I've known about this bit of Buddhist teaching for many years now, but recently it hit me like a ton of bricks just how profound it is.  It's one thing to consider that we are each of us but a bundle of forces that just happen to be coming together in a relatively stable pattern for the time being.  It's another to realize how absolutely freeing that understanding is.

Of course I've been told so many, many times in the words of the Prajñā Pāramitā Hridaya:
The Bodhisattva of Compassion from the depths of prajña wisdom saw the emptiness of all five skandhas and sundered the bonds that cause all suffering. 

It's freeing because there is no "thick" ideal against which to measure oneself, no picture-perfect form of existence glaring down at our differences in personality, interests, quirks and tendencies, calling some higher or lower or better or worse.  At bottom, all of these – all of these – are empty.  That isn't to say that there isn't work to do, of course: greed, anger and delusion can twist us all into grotesqueries of thought and speech and action.  But the problem is not one of the root kind of person each one of us happens to be.

I used to fret that I wasn't calm like this one or more diligent like that one.  I used to be rather pleased that I was more on top of things than someone or more talented at something than someone else.  Comparing and ranking, I either punished myself or thought ill of others.  Suffering upon suffering, for no good reason whatsoever.

No comments:

Post a Comment