In my previous post, Everyday Creation, I looked at how we are constantly creating, whether it is in our thoughts, words or actions. In this post, I will be exploring the aspect of creation, where nothing is really ever created or destroyed. This is the core teaching of the Buddhist Heart Sutra.
Here is an excerpt from this sutra: …form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness…all dharmas (things) are marked with emptiness; they are neither produced nor destroyed, neither defiled nor immaculate, neither increasing nor decreasing…
The teachings in this sutra are very subtle and difficult to grasp. How can things be empty of form and how can emptiness be filled with form? In The Heart Of Understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh approaches the profound wisdom of this sutra with a simplicity and beauty that brings clarity to the meaning of this esoteric teaching. In one story he relates, we can begin to understand this obscure phrase, form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
Thich Nhat Hanh recalls an experience he had in a park one autumn day. He was absorbed in contemplation of a small, beautiful heart-shaped leaf. It was barely hanging on the branch, nearly ready to fall down. He spent a long time asking questions of the leaf. He found out that the leaf was a mother to the tree; the leaf was responsible for transforming sap with the help of the sun, to nourish the tree. The leaf was connected to the tree, and they both depended on the clouds and the sun for nourishment. He asked the leaf if it was afraid because it was Autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told him, “…I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree. Please do not say that I am just this form, because the form of leaf is only a tiny part of me. I am the whole tree. I know that I am already inside the tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. That’s why I do not worry. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, I will see you again very soon.”
Thich Nhat Hanh continues, ” Suddenly I saw a kind of wisdom very much like the wisdom contained in the Heart sutra. You have to see life. You should not say, life of the leaf, you should only speak of life in the leaf and life in the tree. My life is just Life, and you can see it in me and in the tree…I bowed my head, and I knew that we have a lot to learn from the leaf because it was not afraid—it knew that nothing can be born and nothing can die.”
This story clearly defines our interdependence of each other and everything in existence. Nothing and no one can stand alone, we need each other and the elements in order to exist. The elements have become a part of the tree, and the tree will return to the elements. It is easy to understand then, that form is empty of independent existence and emptiness contains the possibility of all form. Nothing comes from nothing, all matter has had its existence in the elements. So nothing is ever created, in that all matter can be traced to a pre-existing form, just as we each carry the genes of our ancestors. We existed in another form before we were born. So also, nothing is ever destroyed but transmuted back to the elements. Then we can say that there is no birth and no death. There is nothing to be scared of, if we see all this creation as the dance of Consciousness, sometimes taking form, sometimes formless.
We can enjoy this dance of Consciousness as we enter and exit the stage of existence. Just wave, say to all others, “I will see you again very soon.”