Value of Emptiness in Accomplishment and Loss

Sitting outside there is a lot of construction and rebuilding going on in Old Town Scottsdale.  Buildings that have been around for some time are being gutted, reformed and reshaped. I wonder what their original designers would feel about their work being removed, how will these changes be accepted by them or people visiting the area?  It is a stark show of Impermanence of buildings correlating to the Change of tearing down.

There is a section in the book of Lieh Tzu discussing pride and emptiness.  It is in stark contrast to how most of us view our lives as well as how we formulate them.  Lieh Tzu states:

“Most people like to be praised.  They feel good when their accomplishments are acknowledged …. But, we would be better off if we were empty of such attachments and not imprisoned by recognition and approval… Even if you are given credit for doing something, you should realize that it was not entirely your own doing. Events occur because conditions are right and your action only contributes to one of the many conditions.

We are accustomed to thinking that when things happen, they are our ‘accomplishments’; we don’t understand that there is actually nothing to accomplish. Therefore, rather than accept credit that does not belong to anyone, why not quiet down…”

It is common for us to feel that when things happen they are our accomplishments and readily accept the credit that really does not belong. Unfortunately feelings of accomplishment degrade into pride when we start extolling the accomplishment. Or worse yet, we enter into competition to compound the ego through endeavors designed to only demonstrate that we are better than others.  If there is real satisfaction in an accomplishment, why is there a need to to do this ?  Is there a real Loss that occurs if we do not?

This represents an underlying aspect that I have observed. When speaking of Attainment in the West we general refer to either “things” or accomplishments in physical activity, business activity, influence, etc. As a relatable example – How many videos can you identify in which a person films sports or physical accomplishments and uploads them to social media, seeking relevance through likes or comments of adulation. The Attainment fades into the background in relation to pointing to the self saying “Look what I can do”, “Look how much better I can do this than others” (in competitions).  At this point it has devolved into Ego – A beast of self worth of our own making which requires us to feed it on a daily basis. We cloak our self worth in this beast touting its relevance and importance. Does the architect identify with his designs which have been built, extolling their grandeur and permanence? When these are gone, of what value are either off physical attainments or designs?  When we get older our bodies decline so that we can no longer sustain our physical achievement and we are no longer able to repeat our achievements. With time buildings degrade or replaced, should we identify ourselves by our architectural accomplishments that no longer exist?  Neither of these represent Attainment, they lack the mettle on which we should base our self worth

Many people approach areas of meditation and self development in a similar “assault” fashion. They strive to achieve an Attainment of their goal of Happiness, Detachment, Enlightenment, etc.  There are scores of individuals proclaiming to have done such, offering to sell their approach to people, and so on. Falsely believing they have the Attainments, they proclaim, “Look what I have done, see me, follow me!” Unfortunately they have failed to see the real essence behind classical teachings, it is not possible to strive and to achieve these as goals. These are Attainments  achieved through Loss, they are only discovered after the removal of entanglements and contrivances.

“Seeing the emptiness of things can help us cultivate stillness and peace of mind.”

I am not saying not to strive for accomplishments, it is in the natural process to grow and change. It must be realized what perceived accomplishments really are, and your relation to them.  Will Attainments matter when you are older and physically less capable, will things you have designed and erected be of any value when replaced?  What will be of value when you become more mature….how much weight you were able to deadlift, how fast you were able to drive your car, how many buildings you designed, how many hours you meditated… ? Real Attainments are those enduring things you can think of and feel an accomplishment about when you are alone. A defining characteristic of real Attainment is that it does not require others. Deep Losses are those things to which you desperately hold to justify self image or which you continually proclaim to convince yourself or others of this image. This only serves to erect more entanglements and contrivances which separate us from true achievements.

I recently lost a friendship which is extremely important to me. I had the realization while writing this entry that I was no different than someone who takes sole credit for their accomplishments regardless whether physical, business, or development.  I had become so involved with “being” a friend that I forgot what lead to the friendship in the first place. And, I have taking on myself the sole responsibility (credit) for the loss of the friendship as well.  In truth, I have been stuck in an indulgence no different than what I mention above. Though I am coming to realize this, in all honesty, it is still quite painful. Through what is going on, I can better understand and relate to a Haiku written by a Japanese master after learning of the death of his son:

Fall winds blow, leaves swirl

Just another leaf falls

And Yet….

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