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Studying Prajna as Empty Space

butterfly

 

So — how are you and how is your practice?  Are  you remembering that there’s no good practice or bad practice; there’s only the practice we do?  I’m asking because sometimes I don’t remember that, either.

In his commentary on the “Heart Sutra,” Dōgen says we should study prajna as empty space.  Studying empty space seems a bit fruitless.  After all, if it’s empty, what’s to study? 

The empty space that Dōgen’s talking about isn’t empty like our plate before we go through the buffet line, though.  It’s the emptiness of impermanence and interdependence, which result in no self-nature – no permanent unchanging being anywhere. This is the empty space that is prajna – wisdom.

Where is the unchanging, permanent self-nature of that veggie burger and potato salad that we fill our empty plate with?  First they were vegetables, then burgers and salad, and now they’re becoming part of us.  And we change as we incorporate them into our bodies and talk with the other folks around the grill. What is this that we call “potato salad” and “myself”?

Though we might do a bit of library research to get a better idea of it, the real study of empty space is in living our lives.  We wake up to impermanence and change and we act together with them.  As we worked in the spring garden at the center, we practiced empty space by taking care not to disturb the praying mantis cocoons.   Last week there was a praying mantis on the compost bin.  To notice and work together with empty space in the garden, in our relationships with others, and in all of reality, and to allow it to inform our lives is to study empty space.  We are empty space studying and actualizing prajna which is empty space.

Why was that praying mantis hanging out on the compost bin?  Lunch.  A fine buffet of insects come to eat the vegetable scraps and old weeds.  That mantis is part of a net of interrelatedness – eating insects, laying eggs, and finally dying and becoming sustenance for other beings.  We are all nodes in a web of interdependence, with each part affecting the other as the whole system functions.  Studying empty space is being awake and living in accord with our place in the web.  It’s also taking care of the results of our actions.

So — what does this do for us and the world?  This morning, someone remarked that they didn’t understand  why we do good things, and that sparked some interesting discussion.  I think that if we study, practice, and actualize empty space, which is also prajna, we study this question.  Destructive acts arise from thinking we are separate from reality and in opposition to it, and from thinking we can depend on something outside ourselves that will be stable and permanent.  We do destructive things when we try to manipulate reality to serve our agendas.  When we see that we’re a part of a reality that sustains and advances our lives, our vision changes.  To contribute something useful is to help ourselves.  Seeing that nothing is permanent and unchanging, we no longer depend on stuff outside ourselves to make us happy and comfortable.  We stop meddling.

Rather than doing “good” or “bad,” we do whatever needs to be done at the moment.  With no agenda, we give what needs to be given and take what needs to be taken.  We become empty space/prajna seeing empty space/prajna and we act in accord with it. 

Zuiko

Picture: metamorphosis – by aussiegall, Sydney, Australia – Wikimedia Commons.

You can find the “Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra” here –  https://www.sotozen.com/eng/practice/sutra/pdf/01/04.pdf

Dōgen’s Maka Hannya Haramitsu is in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross, tr. (Woking, Surrey, England: Windbell Publications, 1994), pp.25 – 30.

Shohaku Okumura’s commentary on “Maka Hannya Haramitsu” is in Dharma Eye, nos. 21 – 27 at  https://www.sotozen.com/eng/library/journal/index.html .

Upcoming Events

August— Monday Night dharma discussion  7:00 pm to 8:00 pm –on Zoom – email us for the link

August 17 – Introduction to Zazen – 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm – hybrid – please register

August 21 —All-day sitting–5:00 am to 4:40 pm–please register

August 28 – Sangha Meeting, following Dharma Talk

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9:45 – 10:15 dharma talk
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Quote of the week

One Leaf
 
One day in a lecture Suzuki Roshi said, “When you see one leaf falling, you may say, Oh, autumn is here! One leaf is not just one leaf; it means the whole autumn. Here you already understand the all-pervading power of your practice. Your practice covers everything.”

 

Excerpted from:

 

Zen Is Right Here: Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
by Shunryu Suzuki,
Edited by David Chadwick,
page 18

CEDAR RAPIDS ZEN CENTER 1618 Bever Avenue SE Cedar Rapids, IA