Buddhism and the Sutra of the Half-Empty Cup…

We are hooked on abundance. We are addicted to excess. But the purest form of beauty can be found in ‘shunyata,’ vast and eternal–and empty. And this is the curse of Western civilization, that we have been fed this lie of infinity and eternity, of matter, and no limits to it as far as the eye can see, ‘sky is the limit’ and all that rap.

But this is a deadly miscalculation, and I use the word ‘miscalculation’ instead of ‘lie’ to avoid the sin and fallacy of misplaced intention, when it really makes no difference in the final equation whether it was intended or not, that being only a moral issue between a man and his Maker, or in this case his vessel.

Because the vessel, any vessel, best represents Emptiness, the Source, that propensity and potentiality, while the contents are the stuff of the world. Thus we have the old Aristotelian dichotomy between form and content, revisited in the Buddhist dichotomy between emptiness and matter.

But the only infinity, or eternity, is in that Emptiness, and the matter that constitutes the objects of everyday life are by definition of limited duration in time and space, ephemeral. But don’t tell that to a junkie. A junkie knows that just one more dose is all he needs to last a lifetime, and that lifetime is eternity, of course, infinitely extendable, and with no fences in sight.

So we Westerners love the old conundrum of the half-empty cup, this satisfying our need for closure on issues of good or bad, Communist or Democratic, and most importantly, of course—optimistic or pessimistic. Because we love the optimistic person above all others, the one who is ‘full of life,’ notwithstanding that he, too, will die, unless we get that vaccine, that life dose, perfected in the nick of time, and available at Walgreen’s, under contract with Johnson and Johnson, to provide eternal life at a reasonable price.

And the current thinking is that that just might happen one day, if only we are patient. Thus Christianity makes a promise that it knows that it can’t keep, because life, by definition, is intimately associated with death. What would eternal life even be like, fer Chrissakes, all puns intended? The small print doesn’t specify life in what form, of course, whether old or young, in sickness or in health, just that in death we will part, and be rendered asunder into component parts.

Buddhism is more honest, of course, to the extent that it is itself freed from its wildest fantasies and fears. But I can assure you that you don’t really want that life without limits. You just think that you do, because it is so fantastical. Who wouldn’t try it, at least once, just for the sake of the experience? Ask any junkie.

But those limits, if we choose to accept them, are not only profound, but they are beautiful, sublime, and endearing, works of art blessed by the art of work. But best of all, it’s warm in here, warm and cozy and with no shortage of company. Please come join us. A cup half full is just fine. If it runneth over, then you’ve got a leak somewhere. Provide napkins just in case. Call a plumber if the problem persists…