Sherab wrote:If you don't buy either Jesse's explanation or my explanation, then we will just have to agree to disagree.
I’m with Jesse on this one.
I think a lot of people in this discussion seem to think that ‘the idea of the meaning of life’ is somehow non-Buddhist. Perhaps the reason it’s thought of as being non-Buddhist, is because talking of ‘the meaning of life’ seems like the kind of thing a Christian would do. For instance, there’s a well-known book by a Christian evangelical called The Purpose-Drive Life. So I think such ideas are associated in many people’s minds with Christian attitudes. Or am I reading it wrongly?
On the other hand - the term ‘emptiness’ can often sound like an idea from existentialism. Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus wrote volumes about adjusting to a world in which there is no purpose - the ‘purpose’ having been revealed as a ruse of organised religion. But their ‘emptiness’ is nothing like śūnyatā. It is more the aftermath of the ‘death of God’. Sartre used the expression ‘the god-shaped hole in the heart’ of Western civilisation.
I don’t think Buddhism fits into either category, either Christian or existentialist. As Buddhism was never predicated on there being a God, the ‘death of God’ is not relevant. So the existentialist view is also not necessarily relevant.
Also I wonder if the question as to whether ‘life has a purpose’ was ever really articulated in traditional Buddhist narratives. It’s not until you reflect on the question that you can really ask it. And I think asking that question is very characteristic of modern and post-modern thinking. I can’t ever recall a passage from the Buddhist texts or commentaries where the question ‘what is life all about, anyway?’, or ‘what does it all mean?’ is explicitly asked. I think it might be regarded as a pretty indolent question by many traditional Buddhist teachers. But not because life or the teaching is or isn’t meaningful - more, because it was just not the kind of question which used to be entertained. It was simply understood that the business of Buddhism was getting on with the teaching and practicing of it.
There is a vow in Mahāyāna against ‘teaching emptiness to the unqualified’ (one of the Bodhisattva vows). I think one of the reasons for this is that if the understanding of śūnyatā is grasped incorrectly, then it can result in forming a nihilistic view - the idea that nothing really matters at all - which is of course remote from the meaning of the teaching. Also it is a very subtle and profound teaching and people need to be properly prepared to receive it. But even so, I don’t equate the teaching of śūnyatā with the idea that life or the universe is or isn’t meaningful. What śūnyatā means is the absence of intrinsic reality in things. But when the bodhisattva ‘sees things as they truly are’ they are not seeing everything as devoid of meaning - only of things being no longer ‘objects of grasping’.
Of course might be mistaken, but that is how I interpret the issue.