Thursday, August 13, 2009


"So learning wisdom is space, space is learning wisdom." - the Zen master Dōgen, in Shōbōgenzō.

Translator Thomas Cleary said, "A thorough reading of Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō will reveal that correcting or preventing the tendency toward nihilistic interpretation of emptiness is a major concern of Dōgen's teaching.... Dōgen identifies phenomena themselves with transcendent wisdom, emphasizing that within so-called nothing or emptiness all things are found, including the facilities, or means, of the Buddhist teachings."

I have begun to think of anthropology as the study of space - not outer space, but the fields in which things happen. When it comes right down to it, what we study are not entities but relations between entities. The relations themselves are, in a strict sense of the word, empty. They have no content. But it is relation we refer to when we refer to things, when we speak of reality. This is pretty non-intuitive for us westerners. At least it is for me. But when you stop and think about it, there is nothing without relationship. Even the basic building blocks of matter - atoms - are made of subatomic particles (and perhaps not even particles but energy) that get their substance not from the particles but the relations between particles. What we regard as real is actually relationship, and relation is empty. And, if we remember Dōgen's advice, we realize that emptiness is not void. It is in fact teeming with reality.

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