Last Tuesday we began to examine what emptiness means. Emptiness, of course, does not refer to a void, but rather to no self-identity. Some years ago I began to see emptiness as relationship. The more we have a fixed sense of who we are, the harder it is to be in relationship. Emptiness points to a radical form of relationship where we become a space of resonance, of receptivity and deep connection. The less we cling to our self-identification, the more responsive we are to the universe. At that moment we function as though we are that universe, which indeed we are. And that’s the most intimate relationship of all.
Last week today we celebrated the birth of the Buddha. Three days ago was the first night of Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom, when an entire people turned their back on slavery and went into freedom. What is a deeper form of slavery than the ego-clinging that causes the world to shrink so much, and us with it?
Some 2000 years ago a man celebrated the feast of liberation. And in the middle of that meal he turned to his disciples and told them that one of them will betray him. That night he walked in Gethsemane, which is now a beautiful park in the valley beneath the Old City of Jerusalem, and contemplated what would happen to him. Then he was taken, tried, flogged, and paraded along the streets of the city. People lined up to laugh and jeer at him, manifesting the forces of attachment, of greed, envy, and jealousy, of anger, fear, and arrogance. They crucified him on Good Friday, which we marked yesterday.
Imagine what his disciples must have felt. They’d left their work, they’d left their families, to follow him. They’d renounced the world much as the Buddha’s monks did 2,500 years ago in order to walk a path with their teacher towards enlightenment. Only this teacher was not given alms and gifts, this teacher was crucified.
And on Easter Sunday, which we celebrate tomorrow, he arose. Not just his spirit or his soul, but his body too was taken up to heaven. What does that mean? One way to look at it is that he completely realized his True Nature. Before he’d believed it. He’d walked in the desert and had a vision of it, but now there was no doubt. There was no separation among body, mind, or spirit, no separation anywhere. Only Buddha Nature. And on that Sunday He appeared to his apostles and told them to go out and spread the Good News. And the Good News is that there’s only Buddha Nature.
What is Buddha Nature? A few years ago I received an Easter holiday E-greeting from a Palestinian peacemaker in Bethlehem named Niveen. When I opened the card the screen showed a big, gray stone wall, nothing else. Then, with a loud creaking sound, a rock swung open and fell to the ground, revealing an opening. That opening is emptiness. Not a diminution, but an opening. Not a void, but boundless space.
In Passover and Easter there are festive meals to celebrate the miracles of liberation and resurrection. And we sit. We sit because every moment is resurrection, every moment is slavery and every moment is freedom. So how do we live? We just live this moment. When we become this moment, we also become a space of receptivity and response. It’s spring and young birds are all around us. When you watch them, you notice that the slightest breeze causes their wings and feathers to flutter, and you feel that they’re in deep resonance with the basic rhythm of nature, with the basic rhythm of new birth. Life gives us the opportunity to be a space of resonance, of receptivity and complete responsiveness moment after moment. Each time we take it, the miracle of freedom and resurrection occurs.