Saturday, November 26, 2011

Emptiness Really Does Exist (Part 2 of 2)

In my last article, Emptiness Really Does Exist (Part 1 of2), I wrote how the word "emptiness" refers to the idea that we assign meaning to sense contacts and the meaning depends on who does the assigning. Read that before you read this.

Everything comes from our own minds, from our own perceptions. That doesn't mean things don't exist. Of course they do. Things won't change or go away because we wish it so. But everything is empty, something coming from our own minds.

I have been reading the book, The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life, by Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally. In this book, he describes the word "emptiness".

The author, Michael Roach, describes how he was working for a diamond company in New York. Their business was expanding and they needed to find larger quarters. He wrote a long story describing all the possible alternatives they had. Should they move into a larger building closer to the diamond district where it was more expensive? Would that impress potential clients so they could charge more? Would that drive away clients who now had to pay more? Should they rent or buy? What if real estate prices go up or go down?

There were many other possibilities described in the book. Every alternative he described had good points and bad points, depending on the point of view. This is where he described the idea of emptiness as "the hidden potential in things".

He said,
"What if we try to evaluate whether the building, or the acquisition of the building, is in itself a good thing or a bad thing. The obvious answer, if you think about it even for an instant, is that, in itself, acquiring the building is neither a good thing or a bad thing -- it just depends on who's looking. ...nothing that ever happens to us is a good thing or a bad thing from its own side because -- if it were -- then everyone else would experience it that way as well."

First we learned about emptiness. Now it's time for another concept. Any experience gives us a mental imprint of that experience. We can say that the experience makes an imprint on our mind. Our minds are constantly recording our experiences. Those experiences all come through our senses or through our thoughts. We have no other contact with the world.

These imprints are our way of interpreting our sense contacts. When a sense contact is repeated, we remember what happened last time. Based on that previous experience, we respond in a way that gives us more of what we like and less of what we don't like. In other words, our response to and understanding of the world is based on previous experiences. Karma.

The point of all of this is that a sensory contact is just a physical sensation or a thought. That is the reality. Our response to the sense contact is based on our imprints. That is not reality because it is empty.

From The Diamond Cutter again, there are four rules about how imprints work (paraphrased):
1. The type of imprint determines the type of response. A negative imprint leads to a negative response. A positive imprint leads to a positive response.
2. The strength of the imprint increases over time.
3. Every response we have is triggered by an imprint. If we have a completely new sense contact, we don't respond well because we don't have an imprint to tell us how to respond.
4. Every imprint we have leads to a response.

To summarize, "Even a relatively minor action, if undertaken with a conscious awareness of how imprints make us see an otherwise "neutral" or "empty" world as we do, will lead to tremendous results." Those people who understands how imprints make us see the world as we do can go about consciously creating the life they want.

The authors are saying that this is not just creating an attitude that affects our future. They are saying that this process of selecting imprints actually creates the reality we want. We can learn to work back from a desired result to identify the particular imprint that will lead to the desired result. Then we can use that particular imprint to create the outcome we want.

How do we use these imprints? Here is my final quote from The Diamond Cutter:
Giving brings wealth, a good world comes from ethics;
Patience brings beauty, eminence comes from effort.
Concentration brings peace, and from wisdom comes freedom;
Compassion achieves everything we all wish for.
A person who takes all seven of these
And perfects them together will reach
That place of inconceivable knowledge,
No less than the world's protector.

That seems a little strange to people that are accustomed to thinking that things happen to us. Let's put it into a more familiar Western perspective: "As ye sow, so shall ye reap". Let's look at an example. Suppose your business is having difficulty in these tough economic times. It may be necessary to make changes to conserve cash.

The imprint you use determines the result of your actions. If you use the imprint of stinginess, poor morale will result and employees will not voluntarily participate in improving the company. The conversations will be something along the lines of "Money is tight this year. We are not paying bonuses to anyone except the executives. We need you all to work harder to help restore us to profitability." In fact, employees will grumble and will not work hard because of the imprint of stinginess.

If you use the imprint of generosity, good morale will result. Imagine the difference in the conversations when the attitude is something along the lines of "We are having concerns about being able to share profits this year. Profits are way off. Here is what we are doing to help the company weather this storm so we can return to profitability and start giving out bonuses again." Employees will work hard because of the imprint of generosity.

When you are faced with any decisions on any topic, the imprint you choose to work with absolutely determines the outcome of the action you take.
Note: The title Geshe is an academic award for Buddhist scholars. The title Lama is usually used as an honorary title for Buddhist scholars who have achieved the highest level of spiritual development.

© 2011 Eric Borreson