The true character of the human Self4 min read

The Buddha did not have the loneliness of being deserted; he knew the loneliness of having a million friends. It is said that he renounced his home when he was twenty-nine—in one tradition, nineteen. Before that he rejoiced in his beautiful queen and his lovely child. He excelled in learning and wisdom and was a master of all the sciences and arts. As the heir to the throne of the emperor, he was held in great honour. At no time were the circumstances ever lonely. He was one who had satisfaction in all the desires of human life. There was no outward isolation.

Inwardly it was that he felt extreme loneliness. In spite of all the wealth and talents and accomplishments, when he considered that the self could rely on none of these things, he was overwhelmed by unspeakable loneliness, and this was the loneliness of the Buddha. So his renunciation of everything and his withdrawal to the mountains alone for his spiritual practices were not from outward loneliness but the loneliness arising from inner awakening. When he penetrated to the very bottom of it, he touched that supreme power of absolute compassion.

What can a poor mortal say of holy Kannon? Only that Kannon too is one who once pierced to the bottom of the inner loneliness, and, realizing liberation, turned to the universe with the conviction that all others must be saved also. The ideal of Kannon is salvation for oneself and for others also.

That being of the world of faith and satori, namely the state of Emptiness holding nothing, who weeps with me and laughs with me, is none other than the Bodhisattva Kannon. To carry all beings beyond suffering is the vow of the Bodhisattva. This life in which weeping we must not weep,

laughing we must not laugh—even while we are treading the agonies of the wheel—is the world of liberation of holy Kannon. Nay, more, is it not in the midst of the pains of life and death that we experience more and more deeply the Buddha power of holy Kannon?

Next in the Sutra comes the declaration to the disciple Shariputra: ‘Form is not different from Emptiness, Emptiness is not different from form; form is Emptiness and Emptiness is form.’ Such is human life as seen by holy Kannon; when it is said that form is not different from Emptiness and Emptiness not different from form, it does not mean to sweep away completely what is called form and to take up something separate called Emptiness. On the contrary, through the form-body of illusion, the body which is revolving in birth-and-death, we are to make Emptiness and embody the meaning of Emptiness. Emptiness does not mean a void with no content.

The true character of the human Self

‘O disciple Shariputra, form is not different from Emptiness, Emptiness is not different from form; form is Emptiness and Emptiness is form; and so also with sensation, thinking, impulse and consciousness. ’

Here Buddha, as holy Kannon, tells to Shariputra, highest of the disciples in wisdom, the true character of life. Form is not different from Emptiness and Emptiness not different from form, and so with Vedana-sensation, Sanjna-thinking, Sanskara-impulse and Vijnana-consciousness. These are the five aggregates as explained before. The full reading would thus be: ‘Form, Vedana, Sanjna, Sanskara, Vijnana are not different from Emptiness, and Emptiness is not different from form, Vedana, Sanjna, Sanskara, Vijnana. ’

Form means the form-body, namely the physical body. The other four are taken as mental functions of the mind-king; taken together they are mind or spirit. With the physical form come together here in temporary association through karma, we speak of our individual nature. But in it there is nothing like an essence of permanent nature. There is no permanent I. Our deep-seated delusive involvement in the notion of a permanent I, somehow existing in this temporary conglomeration, is called hanging on to self, and the five skandha-aggregates are a synonym for our sticking to self, which manifests as the passions. The movement of the mind under attachment is called passion.

Specifically the passions are greed, anger and folly. To covet what should not be coveted, to be angry at what should not cause anger, to say foolish things for which there is no ground—these are the activities of our heart. Such activity, based on attachment to self, is passion. It manifests physically as word and deed: our illusions become apparent in our words and actions.

Form is not different from Emptiness. It is not said that if forms are negated we shall get Emptiness. The character of the skandha-aggregates is the character of Emptiness. The illusion as it stands is wholly of the character of Emptiness. Through the very existence of attachment to self, more and more deeply we can come to appreciate a taste of the world of Emptiness. In the illusory form- body in the round of birth-and-death, let us by realizing Emptiness grasp the real meaning of Emptiness, that it is not a void without content.

by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect