A Short Sharing on Dependent Origination & Emptiness

Thanks to a question by a student, here’s a short sharing on Dependent Origination & Emptiness that I emailed her.

All phenomena are not independently existing in and of itself. Eg, a table that we use, comprises parts that were not table, and have not “tableness”. If the wooden parts had any “tableness” in them, then the tree from which these parts were made from cannot be made into anything else except a table.

Because the parts do not have any tableness, the ‘table’ that we use, arise dependent on the parts + many other factors as conditions. There is no coming, ie no independent table that exist, created or formed.

When the table is taken apart, there are parts that resemble a table, but do not form a table. So once again, there is no tableness in the parts and without conditions, the table ‘disappears’. It disappears in a sense that no table ceased nor was destroyed. Beyond the parts, there is no table that got taken out and thrown away or ceased.

The last part that even while we are using the table, there is still no inherent table, within the ‘table’, the parts or outside of them.

The same applies to all phenomena, to the five aggregates, to our relationship with our family & friends, to our role as a student now and a certain profession in the future. Precisely because all these
relationships and roles are dependent arising, that is why we can be a student, a daughter, a friend, a teacher, a granddaughter, a beloved one at different times, and sometimes simultaneously. However, we do not realise this sometimes. Clinging onto certain roles and how exactly they should be, we sometimes feel lost or out of place when in reality, conditions have changed, and the role we use to play have changed or is no longer suitable.

Realising dependent arising is to realise emptiness of all these, and to realise that with pervasive impermanence, none of these roles are inherent, intrinsic or permanent. On one hand, we learn to appreciate each moment of uniqueness of the relationships’ and roles’ development, thereby cherishing them. On the other hand, we see that no single moment or state of the relationship or roles can be clung on or attached to.

We learn to grow with it, watching mindfully, reflecting on the best course of development that would benefit ourselves and others best.

There are much more applications of this teaching we can apply in our life. I hope this answers your query.

May this understanding aid you and your friends and love ones on your path towards Buddhahood!



The World Is … Is Not Coming to an End!

We have spent 127 days of this year, with 238 days left. There were much excitement a few months ago about the Ending of the World in 2012, and with all the reports on earthquakes and other natural disasters, is the world coming to an end?

nWithin the past 50 years, there were numerous claims to cataclysmic end of the world. None has come true. I’ve got a strange hunch that this one will be no different.

In Buddhism, we also have predictions, a different kind that had more definite and significant impact on all human beings, all sentient beings.

Instead of predicting an end of the world, the Buddha predicted that as long as there is craving and attachment, there will be suffering, and that when there is an end of craving and attachment, there is an End of Suffering, an End of Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Despair and Distress.

That much, the Buddha predicted.

So which future are you going to fulfill?




CONFIRMED: There Is Life in Outer Space!

The Milky Way 360° panorama at Death Valley

It is confirmed!  There is life in outer space.  In the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, there lies approximately 200 billion to 400 billion stars.  This is considered a fraction compared to our own Andromeda Galaxy, which houses more than one trillion stars.


Amongst this 200~400 billion of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, there lies a solar system emitting regular pulsating radio waves.  Our probes have identified some of the stronger pulses due to radioactive emission from nuclear detonation that occurred in the past.


While contact with the lifeforms found in this solar system is still not established, one particular planet orbiting this system appear to be inhabited by numerous species of intelligent and semi-developed life-forms.  This third planet, currently named by its GUID (Galaxy Unique Identifier) MWG.Sol.3, formed approximately 4.54 billion years ago in the current cycle of the galaxy.  Lifeforms first appeared within a billion years of its formation and is expected to continue for another 5 billion years or so, before its eventual destruction due to the growth of its sun into a red giant.  When the sun runs out of hydrogen, it would turn onto helium to fuel its fussion furnace, swelling up many hundred times, engulfing most of the inner planets, including MWG.Sol.3 in its path.


The Confederation of Solar Systems are convening a summit to decide whether to establish First-Contact in accordance to Interstella-Contact ACT Protcol 2554.  The consideration would include whether such contact would bring about mutual benefit and whether there is anything worthwhile to learn from these Sentient beings from the Milky Way Galaxy.  A possible outcome is a short feasibility study of the native lifeforms for 400 centuries to determine suitability.  Thereafter, the findings may assist in arriving at a suitable recommendation on First-Contact.


Meanwhile, according to the latest report from the summit … …


The above is a possible report from some sentient lifeforms in a neighbouring (2.5 million light-years away!) galaxy about our galaxy, the Milky Waay.  While we search for lifeforms in outer space, it may be worthwhile to consider that we are in outer space, orbiting the sun at 29.78 km/s with an incidental speed of 552 km/s due to the relative speed of the Milky Way as a whole.  That being the case, if we find “ourselves”, what can we learn from ourselves?  What wisdom can we glean from this alien species on MWG.Sol.3, or Earth, the third planet of the solar system in the Milky Way Galaxy?

If we are the alien species that others find, what wisdom do we want to be known for?  For that matter, do we really have to go searching for some lifeforms out there, when we are also an “alien lifeforms” hurling through space, waiting to be discovered.  While we’ve spent trillions trying to conquer space and perhaps find lifeforms in outer space, have we conquered our inner space, our minds so that we are worthy alien lifeforms for others to find, to contact and to learn from?

So, dear alien reader, what wisdom do you have to share?



Hint: Satire

LEGO: There Are No Cars or Houses

LEGO, the famous toy that kids around the world played with, is a very interesting toy that I grew up with.  In its simpler earlier form, it comprises of identical building blocks, differing only in color and sizes.

The human figures were also modular, meaning that the head-gears, head, upper torso, lower torso were interchangeable. You could have a figure with yellow face and brown hands and any colored legs.  The really adventurous can even swap the limbs, but that would make this article PG-13, so we’ll leave that for another article! 😉

To those who know, LEGO is written LEGO, and not lego, or Lego.  It is officially trademarked as LEGO.  But there is more to the name as well.  According to wikipedia,

The company name Lego was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”. The name could also be interpreted as “I put together” and “I assemble” in Latin, though this would be a somewhat forced application of the general sense “I collect; I gather; I learn”; the word is most used in the derived sense “I read”. The cognate Greek verb λέγω (lego) also means “gather, pick up”, but this can include constructing a stone wall.[1]

This is very apt in describing the way LEGO is played.  It is meant to be put together or assembled.  It is interesting that while I never knew what LEGO meant in Danish, it didn’t diminish the fun I had in playing with LEGO, the hours I spent assembling the blocks.  It makes me wonder if sometimes, it is so important that we must understand every single
word recited in Buddhist pujas.  After all, not knowing what LEGO really meant still allowed us to have a good time, do we really need to know all the meaning of what we chant, especially when the chanting itself is at times targeted at devotional or tranquility development purposes.  But that is another story altogether … mmm … …

The interesting thing about LEGO struck me awhile back.  Something so obvious staring in my face (yours as well perhaps?) suddenly leapt in my face.  There are really no cars or houses! If you get it already, you can stop reading and go extend this thought / reflection on your day, week and / or life and reflect how there is no intrinsic characteristic in (every)thing!  If you still haven’t get it, read on.

When we build a car with the LEGO blocks, a car appear to exist, albeit a toy car, but still a car!  But when we examine the individual building blocks, there is no “car-ness” in them.  If there were any such “car-ness”, we cannot later disassemble them and build houses with them.

When we build the house, there is also no “house-ness” in the blocks, otherwise we couldn’t use it to build the car we built with earlier or spaceships later on! 😉

This in short, is Emptiness 自性空. The blocks are empty of any intrinsic characteristics, empty of any car-ness or house-ness. The car-ness and house-ness do not exist.

Further, if the individual item has no “anything-ness”, then the combined item also does not have it as well (ie car-ness or house-ness).  What exist is a car and a house that arises dependent on the building blocks.  Yes?  …. No!  Not just that.  It is a car, that arises dependent on the building blocks, our labelling of it as a “car”, our definition and identification of the function of a car etc etc.

This means that while there is no car-ness (before the car is assembled, or even when the car is built!), a “car” arises dependent on many condition.  We say that a “car” do not inherently exist, it exist or arises dependent on conditions.

In short, this is what is meant by Dependent Arising 緣起有.

Ok, let’s recap:

Before the car is built, there is no car-ness.  When the blocks are assembled, a car ‘arises’.  The car arises dependent on many conditions (blocks, our labeling, concept etc). When we later, disassemble the car, there is no more car.  When there are no coming together of such conditions, there is no more a car; there is again no car that can be found.  However, even when the car is built, there is still no car-ness (‘no-car-ness’ == emptiness).  Only a dependent arising car exist.  Emptiness is ‘there’ whilst the dependent arising car exist.  Emptiness in fact, is the dependent-arising-ness!

Hence, dependent arising car is ’empty of car-ness’ (ie empty), the emptiness of car-ness is precisely because the car is dependent arising!  Ergo: 色不亦空、空不亦色,色即是空、空即是色.

The car is not a car, it is just called / labelled a “car”

And finally, reflecting on how the car do not contain any car-ness, but whatever car we can say exist, exists dependent on the conditions, including our labelling of it, as a “car”.  If it was a car, or is known as a “car”, we would not have to further label it “car”.  We would not have to be taught in school “this is a car” or “這是輛車子” or “kore wa kuruma desu”.  It is therefore, not just lacking in any car-ness 性空, it is also not called a “car”, but it is just labelled 唯名 a “car”.

Hence,  together, 緣起性空 性空唯名, dependent arising, empty of intrinsic characteristic; empty of intrinsic characteristic, is only labelled such.

This is the teaching of Emptiness in the Madhyamika school 中觀.

Didn’t know that the Danes were into Buddhism did you?  Maybe
they didn’t know as well! 😉

Hungry for more?  Tuck in for A bowl of Delicious Laksa.