synthetic zero

November 5th, 2012

Buddhism is a peculiar tradition in that, unlike most spiritual or religious traditions, it emphasizes not only the emptiness of objects and things, but even the emptiness of its own teleology, in a certain wonderful self-referential way. That is to say, not only does it say the world of apparent things, events, space, and time, and so on are not what they appear to be and are empty of inherent existence (which isn’t to say they have no existence at all — it just means they’re not solid, self-existing “things” that exist on their own, without relation to perception), but it also denies the simple story that “enlightenment” (which is usually seen to be the “goal” of Buddhism in more simple presentations) is itself not in fact a goal, a result of a process in time that unfolds to reach “Buddhahood” as the final limit.

It’s a peculiar tension, because, despite this, Buddhism does talk a lot about realization, enlightenment, and so on. From one point of view, it appears that they’re referring to a process in time, something you build up to and eventually attain (they even use a word which translates to “attainment”.) Yet, it’s not attainment in the ordinary sense, the result or product of ordinary effort in time, because that would be a self-contradiction. The resolution of this seeming contradiction is a central koan, so to speak.

I’ve been attending a meditation retreat, and I came across this book, “Buddhahood Without Meditation”, and flipped open randomly to two pages which seemed quite poignant to me, related to these topics. In the first passage, a mysterious teacher has appeared, and is giving instruction:

“…all sentient beings… are confused because they become fixated, investing apparent phenomena with truth, even though they are in fact like the unfolding of dream images—they cannot be established to be more than mere appearances, empty and without objective existence.

“If you thus come to a definitive conclusion regarding the apparent phenomena that arise from confusion, realizing that they lack true existence, are empty and do not exist objectively, you will have dredged the pit of cyclic existence from its depths. By arriving at the decision that buddhahood is none other than your own inherent ground of being, and by gaining this confidence within yourself, you will actually attain what is referred to as the ‘natural freedom of the many buddhas.’

“Ah, powerful lord of space, omnipresent vajra, you must come to the definitive conclusion that none of the phenomena of samsara and nirvana exist but that all are empty, and you must realize their inherent nature to be that of nonexistence.”

Saying this, he vanished from sight.

Then I flipped to another page, at random, discussing various points one should master:

1) Collapsing the false cave of investing buddhahood and its attendant pure realms with true existence, as objects of hope

Even ”buddhahood” and the various phenomena associated with it do not have real existence and should not be wished for as something one hopes for in the future, as the future result of an ordinary process in time.

a) Negating fixation on conceiving of buddhahood and its attendant pure realms as some final limit

They warn against thinking of “buddhahood” as a limit case of a process or series.

b) To that end, examining the five senses and their attendant objects and refuting the exaggeration of ascribing true existence to these

To begin to realize this, they recommend starting with understanding the constructed, contingent nature of objects of ordinary perception.

2) Collapsing the false cave of investing the states of cyclic existence and their attendant pleasures and pain with true existence, as objects of fear

At the same time, this could potentially lead to the opposite extreme, i.e., thinking of samsara, apparent “reality”, with its pain and pleasure, as something one ought to be afraid of, avoid, attempt to “escape”. In other words, they’re warning against both problematics: setting up “buddhahood” as the limit case of a process in time, or, alternately, seeing “samsara” as a problematic, something one ought to be afraid of, escape, fear. One of the most famous Mahayana sayings is “samsara = nirvana, nirvana = samsara” — not two distinct realms or modes, but two aspects of one unified reality. Yet at the same time, this doesn’t mean there’s no issue — just that the way to work with this tension isn’t via ordinary effort in ordinary time, but rather via an opening to something which is always already the case.

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November 4th, 2012

From the NonsenseNYC art event email list:

NOTE: There are so many ways to help in the wake of the storm. We’ve collected several that require your actual labor — not your donations or your clicks. The most important thing to understanding what’s going on is to actually go to the areas that need attention. People who need help will not always ask for it, or be able to ask for it. This is a do-it-yourself guide: call or internet if you can, but ultimately just go. Also, we’re running regular event listings below the volunteer opportunities, not because we’re trying to pretend that everything is fine — like certain fucking marathons — but because after you’ve spent the day washing out muck water or running up stairs, dancing feels double good.

* Red Hook: Volunteers needed today at to cook food and coordinate aid. 767 Hicks Street, Brooklyn. Come anytime from 10a-10p and bring something to share. Contact: Paulie Anne Duke: paulieanneduke]at]gmail.com. Also: Norton Records needs helps. This is an indoor job, pulling records out of wet boxes, etc. If anyone has a vehicle of any sort to assist in getting wet boxes from the Red Hook warehouse to HQ in Prospect Heights, please call. No reception in Red Hook. Email is best bet at nortonrec]at]aol.com. Billy’s cell 917 671 7185 and the office landline 718 789 4438. Don’t leave a message. We are working from 11a until 11p every day.

* Coney Island: Coney Island USA’s flooded building needs help. They’re looking for people with dehumidifiers, fans, squeegees, mops, mop buckets, household heavy duty rubber gloves, respirators, paper towels, cleaning cloths, brooms, bleach, disinfectant. They’ll be accepting donations from noon-6p Friday and Saturday. They also need people to help with the clean up. Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Avenue, corner of West 12th Street, Brooklyn. @ConeyIslandFun

* The Rockaways: Help the clean up effort in Rockaway, where houses were completely devastated by Sandy. Contact: Zack Tucker: 201 320 0226. Today: Veggie Island, 95-19 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Queens, near Beach 96th Street. Clean and serve food. Contact: Bobby at 718 772 3803. House of Yes is also taking volunteers and supplies: boringincorporated [at] gmail.com

* Williamsburg: Donate blood. 10,000 pints of blood were lost in NYC as a result of cancelled blood drives. Donate blood on Saturday at the Williamsburg Church, 231 Ainslie Street, off the Graham stop on the L train from 10a-4p.

* Lower East Side: Rosie Mendez’s office is doing a check-on-neighborhoods bridged today from 9a-5p. 237 1st Avenue, at 14th Street. Also: The Henry Street Settlement has received an 18-wheeler of meals and donations. They need vehicles, bikes, and humans to help distribute: 265 Henry Street. Also: Some volunteers are going to set up an aid station at ABC No Rio (food and a portable generator for people to charge cell phones) today starting at 10a. 156 Rivington Street between Clinton and Suffolk. Also: GOLES needs help: 169 Avenue B, between 10th and 11th streets, goles.org.

* Chinatown: A strong community effort is happening over at CAAAV, a Chinatown-based community organizing group located at 46 Hester Street, between Essex and Ludlow. They are looking for volunteers. 212 473 6485

* Citywide: The Red Cross needs volunteers who are able to lift 50 pounds and are comfortable working in stressful situations. Contact: staffing (at) nyredcross.org. Also: New York City Public Advocate’s Office needs volunteers. Sign up here to help: bit.ly/nycpaohelp

* More hands-on ways to help:







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