Emptiness Is Not Nothingness
Emptiness is not Nothingness Emptiness is not Nothingness One of the most beautiful places I have ever had the opportunity to experience. An “experience” is the perfect term to describe it, far more than just a visit, the experience of entering a place so different than what I have known through my life and so beautiful in its own respect was an unbelievable opportunity. Kawasaki Daishi What an appropriate setting for the peaceful meditation, chants, and daily prayers that take place on these grounds.
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The scenery speckled with Buhhdist Monks in all manner of action; some sit on steps sketching next to young children, others lighting incense in the square, and in the Main Hall of the Kawasaki Daishi shrine were two monks who were busy burning what looked to be small wooden boards that one could buy outside of the hall. Having the fortune of being provided some explanation of rituals prior to arriving at the temple, I was instructed to approach the cauldron in the middle of the square prior to heading towards that Main Hall for prayer.
In the cauldron are several incense that the Buhhdist Monks maintain, it is said that allowing the smoke to overwhelm yourself helps to ward off illness for a year; though it apparently does not do much to protect against jet lag (R Furmoto, personal communication, June 6, 2010). After kneeling in silent thought for some time in the Main Hall, there was still much to see. The grounds of the Kawasaki Daishi Temple are quite large and all of it is beautiful. It seems the perfect place to house the Buhhdist Monks who live such quite, spiritual lives.
East Meets West The concept of Buddhism for Westerners may be even more foreign than the experience of entering their place of worship. At least most have seen a picture of a Japanese Temple as a reference, but the actual religious ideals are not as familiar for most. A complete contrast to the major religions in the West, Buddhism is strikingly different than most popular beliefs in this part of the world (R Furmoto, personal communication, June 6, 2010).
Christianity, one of these major religions in the West, has few similarities with Buhhdism. Christianity is a monotheistic religion, which means that it is based around the concept of one divine entity that their followers worship (Fisher, 2005). With the popular Buddhist symbol, that of Buddha, many may be lead to assume that Buhhdism is also a monotheistic religion, this however is not the case. Buhhdists actually do not worship a god at all!
The popular Buddha is revered in Buhhdism as he was the founder of the religion; in search of an ending for all of humanities suffering, Buddha was able to reach true enlightenment and went about sharing his secrets with others in search of answers (Fisher, 2005). Where Christians look for answers, and a sense of morality through the teachings of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: the followers of Buhhdism look inward. This is possibly the most principle difference between the two religions.
Christianity looks to the otherworldly, a power greater then themselves for inspiration and answers to how life should be lived. Buhhdists in contrast do not wish to dwell on those things which they have no control over, instead they accept the realities of this life and concentrate with their best effort as a way to make this world as bright and as peaceful as they are able (R Furmoto, personal communication, June 6, 2010). Though few similarities exist between Christianity and Buhhdism, there are areas of agreement between these two contrasting religions.
The similarities begin with the respective religions founders. Though one is worshiped as a god and the other as a man, each flew in the face of social norms during their time (McLelland, 2009). During the time if Buddha, the Indian caste system played a significant role in civilization. Buddha did not except these norms and paid equal respect to all men (Fisher, 2005). This type of action exhibits the same characteristics of one Jesus Christ. Jesus also respected all men and worked with the poor and sick alike (Fisher, 2005).
The religions that have been based around the teachings of these two men are substantially different in practice, but maybe not as much so in ideology. The fact that they are both based around the teachings of humble, giving men who did all they could to end the suffering of others is going to leave them with a somewhat similar nature. Looking for Answers Though given the opportunity to speak with many who follow the teachings of Buhhdism while in Japan, there were unfortunately no English speaking priests available to speak with during my journey.
As beautiful an example of Buhhdism as the Kawasaki Daishi Temple was, it would take the insight of a Buhhdist Priest to explain the true beauty that the followers of Buddha experience. Ryuta Furmoto of the Arizona Buhhdist Temple was an excellent guide to help better understand the religion of Buhhdism. After briefly discussing my trip to Japan, including my conversations with Japanese Buhhdists and the experience of the Kawasaki Daishi Temple; I explained that I had vacation on the brain and would be highly curious to discover the religious holidays that followers of Buhhdism recognize. A particularly special day for Buhhdists,” states Furmoto-san “is Asalha Puja Day, or Dhamma Day” (personal communication, June 6, 2010) Dhamma Day occurs around July and celebrates the first teaching of Buddha (R Furmoto, personal communication, June 6, 2010). Another Buhhdist holiday would include Bodhi Day, often referred to as Enlightenment Day (personal communication, June 6, 2010). This holiday is, “primarily based around prayer, meditation, and the teachings of Buddha, in remembrance of his enlightenment,” states Furmoto-san (personal communication, June 6, 2010). Emptiness
Not being an overly religious individual, it is difficult to grasp the reasons one might devote their life to a faith in religion. Furmoto-san’s initial reply response to the question on his reasons for first deciding to join the priesthood was a single word, “emptiness” (personal communication, June 6, 2010). Furmoto-san went on to explain his pain, and dissatisfaction in life, but reached a point where he realized that it was not all the external things in this world that were the cause, “it was not the things in this life, it was my lack of understanding what this life was about or how it worked” (personal communication, June 6, 2010).
Out of this lack of understanding grew his faith and a desire to find a place to help him truly discover what this life was about. Going back to the term “emptiness,” from Furmoto-san’s initial reply to the question, a concept of Buhhdism that I grapple with reflects directly in this term. The idea that suffering is caused by our own desires, and only by removing desires and wants in this life can suffering be eradicated, does that not leave one empty? A key theory of Buhhdism has been struck by this, as Furmoto-san explains, “emptiness is not to be confused with nothingness” (personal communication, June 6, 2010).
To help better illustrate his point, a physical example of this statement is required. Taking the last drink from his glass, Furmoto-san holds it out and asks if his glass is now empty; which it appears to be. He poses a second question, “though my tea is no longer contained within, does this glass not hold air” (personal communication, June 6, 2010)? “Even in the absence of air, the glass would hold light, and the absence of light would hold space; therefore can it ever truly be empty” comes the third question (personal communication, June 6, 2010). Desires
Many years must be paid to more fully understand the teachings of Buddha, over the course of his path I wondered what challenges he may have faced in studying the teachings of Buddha. “25 years,” begins Furmoto, “does not seem to have been a long enough period to encounter such issues” personal communication, June 6, 2010). Certainly though, many must face difficulties in practicing this faith. This Furmoto-san is in agreement with, “American Buhhdism faces a unique issue, in that society is firmly based upon material goals,” and an adherence with the philosophies of
Buhhdism seems to be counter culture (personal communication, June 6, 2010). This Furmoto-san explains, “becomes a challenge for those who allow their desire for spiritual truth cause themselves suffering due to that desires confliction with additional desires” (personal communication, June 6, 2010This all relates back to what one chooses to fill their glass with (R Furmoto, personal communication, June 6, 2010). Buhhdism vs. America On the topic of Buhhdism in America, there has been much debate on if the two are compatible (McLelland, 2009).
Assuming that being a practicing Buhhdist in America, Furmoto-san would believe the two are; it was intriguing to listen to his viewpoints on the relationship between American Buhhdism and the Buhhdist traditions in the East. “American Buhhdism, as we spoke before, does face difficulties based on culture,” states Furmoto-san (personal communication, June 6, 2010). Compounding these difficulties is the Buhhdist Temples in the East who do not agree that American Buhhdism is a viable religion and though officially recognized now many still do not agree (R Furmoto, personal communication, June 6, 2010). To answer the question of Buhhdism being a positive influence in America, yes I believe so, and because of this how can the two not be compatible” (personal communication, June 6, 2010)? Asking for more clarification on this point, Furmoto-san went on to explain, “the materialistic nature of Americans is not something that can work in conjunction with Buhhdism; it is an opposing force, but Buhhdism is a positive force in one’s life despite the opposing forces also at work” (personal communication, June 6, 2010).
Going into greater detail on why this materialistic nature is an opposing force, Furmoto-san states, “the desires that are inherent in this society, are desires for short term pleasures; and suffering occurs when these pleasures expire as they always will” (personal communication, June 6, 2010). The positive force that Buddhism displays is the teachings of eternal happiness by lack of these desires, and to a lesser degree for many Americans a teaching that these short term pleasures will end; so that even though they continue to desire, here is less suffering when they are not fulfilled (R Furmoto, personal communication, June 6, 2010). Respecting Buhhdism To aspire to end all suffering in this world, Buhhdism certainly holds lofty goals. The approach they use to conquer this obstacle have shaped the practices of Buhhdisms followers, and the religion has grown in a much different way than most of the world’s most principle religions. Not a monotheistic religion, Buhhdism asks that followers to look within themselves for spirituality and purpose.
There is no higher power that Buhhdism places as a moral compass and place to look for answers as they realize even if there was a higher power, no answer would come and attention is best placed in this world (McLelland, 2009). The beauty and serenity of their places of worship give an excellent impression of this religions culture, and the peacefulness experienced in those places is the perfect backdrop for the inner reflection and meditation that is such a large part of Buhhdism’s practice. Having the opportunity to speak with Furmoto-san provided great insight into concepts that are difficult to grasp.
Through his wisdom, the discussion and examples of the inner conflict of Buhhdism in the United States and some of the more difficult concepts surrounding emptiness have all started to make more sense, and through this greater understanding foster an even greater respect for Buhhdism and its followers. References Fisher, M. P. (2005). Living religions (6th ed. ). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. McLelland, J. “Thiswordly and otherworldly: Hinduism and Buddhism. ” Presbyterian Record Oct. 2009: 29+. General OneFile. Web. 7 June 2010.