3/26 Practice Circle: Practicing Emptiness

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  • #40626

    Mark Knickelbine

    I’ve been reading Stephen Batchelor’s latest book, “Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in and Uncertain World” and was struck by his take on emptiness. For Batchelor, emptiness is not some state of nature or philosophical concept, but the condition of radical perplexity we enter when we relax our grasping at conceptual thought. So when Practice Circle meets this Sunday, March 26, at 9 pm Eastern, 8 Central and 6 Pacific, we will work with a practice that will help us explore the space of unknowing. To get us ready, I’ve included an excerpt from “Secular Buddhism” below.

    If you haven’t joined us at Practice Circle before, we’d welcome the chance to practice with you. Our new videoconference rooms on Zoom are optimized for mobile devices, and of course there’s no charge to participate. Just follow this link: https://zoom.us/j/968569855

    I hope to see you there!


    In recognizing, on one hand, the breakdown of the grand narratives of the West, Buddhists might seek to replace them with their own grand narrative of enlightenment. . . . Yet if, on the other hand, Buddhists find themselves in sympathy with postmodern incredulity toward grand narratives, then they might be compelled to imagine another kind of Buddhism altogether. They will try to rearticulate the guiding metaphors of Buddhist tradition in the light of postmodernity. An attitude of incredulity would itself tend to resonate more with the metaphor of wilderness than with that of path, with the possibilities of unbounded landscape as opposed to the secure confinement of a highway.

    The key notion in such an endeavor would be “emptiness.” For here we have a notion that shares with postmodernism a deep suspicion of a single, nonfragmentary self, as well as of any “transcendental signified,” such as God or Mind. It too celebrates the disappearance of the subject, the endlessly deferred play of language, the ironically ambiguous and contingent nature of things. Yet in other respects it parts company with the prevailing discourses of postmodernity. Meditation on emptiness is not a mere intellectual exercise but a contemplative discipline rooted in an ethical commitment to nonviolence. It is not just a description in unsentimental language of the way reality unfolds; it offers a therapeutic approach the the dilemma of human anguish. . . .

    The anguish and uncertainty of human existence are only exacerbated by the preconceptual, spasm-like grip in which such assumptions of transcendence hold us. While seeming to offer security in the midst of an unpredictable and transient world, paradoxically this grip generates and anxious alienation from the processes of life itself. The aim of Buddhist mediations on change, uncertainty, and emptiness are to help one understand and accept these dimensions of existence and thus gently lead to releasing the grip. . .

    The grip of self not only leads to alienation but numbs one to the anguish of others. Heartfelt appreciation of our own contingency enables us to recognize our interrelatedness with other equally contingent forms of life. We find that we are not isolated units but participants in the creation of an ongoing, shared reality.

    Stephen Batchelor

  • #41821
    Shane Presswood
    Shane Presswood

    Ive just come across leaning more into the understanding of emptiness in the book. Are these circles recorded? Just trying to get more connected.

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