Bare Bones Biology 219 – Emptiness

Nobody knows what you are trying to say.

That’s why humans need art and spirituality to create and sustain community, or to reach out to each other across communal boundaries. Because the human words and contexts for these things are different in different communities.

Ki. I once wrote a whole big blog about ki. Ki is the beautiful stooping green tree outside the window of my Japanese teacher, in Bryan Texas. That’s what it is to me. I don’t know what it is to him. Maybe the masses of white cherry blossoms alongside a stream bed in Tokyo? For me, one of these is a tree – the other is ki. Now. Before I met my Japanese teacher they both were “trees.”

140221-flower-ASC_8082RLSssOutside of community (and that is the community within which you learned how to COMMUNicate without words) – without that, there is nobody to hear you. You are only a reflection of what they think you are. That is why divide and conquer works, even if it is as simple as changing the definitions of words between one generation and the next. Like Love, or war, or happiness, or emptiness, or the one that bugs me most “heart.” An essential bodily organ. Try to crack it open. It won’t crack. Cut it open and you die. Unless you are attached to a heart-lung machine at the time.

If anyone wants to talk to me about love and they want me to be listening (instead of wondering why the inside of their body is not sloshing all around with blood) they should not talk about hearts cracked wide open.

Something like about only about 60 years ago, I have been told, some English-speaking British Christian missionaries went to Tibet and translated the language into the same basic English words that you see today represented in the attempts of Americans and Tibetans to understand each other. Whatever the word is in Tibetan (or Sanskrit) I do not know, but I do not believe the religion of the Dalai Lama could conceivably be based in any concept so trivial as the American English meaning of the word “happiness.” And yet, that is how both Tibetans and Americans try to represent that essential Tibetan word in English.

The religion of the Dalai Lama is deep and penetrating and has meanings we cannot imagine. Like another word that has been (irrationally) translated as “emptiness.” I also blogged about this, quite recently. It is one of the most unifying concepts I have ever heard. The images it brings into my head are a combination of the “net of Indra,” which I think is originally neither Christian nor Buddhist, and the measurable facts of science, which are also neither of the above.

Emptiness, I say, is one of the most beautiful philosophical concepts I have ever encountered, but of course it is not real, and that’s not how anyone else describes it. Nobody else in the world could understand how I think of “emptiness,” (unless of course I am right in my interpretation), though possibly, perhaps, the Dalai Lama’s translator might, because I got the clue from something he wrote. But nobody else. Therefore, like spirituality and art, and love and compassion, emptiness cannot be explained because nobody is listening. They are too busy trying to explain it to me.

Human emotions are not real either, depending on your meaning of the word “real.” They are nothing more than electrical currents communicating among your cells. But we humans all do have the same sorts of electrical currents and the same sorts of cells so (unlike the words for them) we also have the same kinds of emotions and instincts.

Therefore we CAN (as do horses, cows and other communal animals) understand – within the herd – our emotions, but that does not mean emotions, thinking, belief systems, language, are “real” in the solid “thing” sense of the word – any more than words are real – no matter how real they feel. Even if it is a simple matter of changing the pictures that come into your head when a word is spoken, because the pictures in your head are also not “real.”

So it may be true that nobody knows what you are trying to say. Or maybe they DO know but you can’t understand their way of saying so, because fundamentally everyone does know how you feel.

The audio version of this blog can be downloaded at:

REFERENCES

Joseph Campbell
The Dalai Lama, The Middle Way

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