Onions and No-Self

I’ve always thought of personal and spiritual growth as peeling back layers of an onion. The more you peel away, the closer you get to the heart of the onion. When I think about ideas of non-self, I extend this into a little joke – for if you peel away all the layers of an onion, there’s nothing left.

Not very original, I’m sure, but it’s something I’ve been thinking of.

Onion image courtesy of cobalt123.


Resources I’ve been Contemplating …

Here’s some of what I’ve been reading concerning emptiness, if anyone’s interested. At all. ^_^


(…this is a Pali word, meaning abundance, or fullness.)

I deeply appreciate the insight of all who have commented on this to me.

Right about the time I was reading Kunzang’s wonderful commentary, I realized that I really did need to turn my view of emptiness around. So to speak.

I’ve long understood the usefulness, particularly in Buddhism, of studying/understanding paradox. However, in this case, I got hung up on the ideas and words of a specific concept. It took me a while to get over my over-intellectualizing of sunyata.

Anyway, I finally realized the truth of the fullness of emptiness. And vice versa. And once I got my head around the necessary duality of the concept, I was able to easily mesh the concept in with the concept of compassion. (By seeing our interdependence and co-arising, we see the absolute necessity of compassion and loving kindness. By exhibiting loving-kindness we are moving all of us towards enlightenment and the end of suffering. (At least that’s my coarse and primitive sum-uppance. Gosh, this whole paragraph looks (is?) so droll and self-absorbed.))

I also realize that by approaching my understanding in this way, by coming at the mountain via more the idea of interdependence and co-arising, I am limiting myself. However, it’s a start, and as I am just beginning to sort out the first few steps on this Path, I am content. For the moment.


“Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form; form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form”
-Heart Sutra

I have been slowly studying the Heart Sutra. This (quote) I get. Still, I wonder at the idea of placing understanding emptiness before compassion. Can one not understand and practice ego-less compassion without having understood Sunyata?


Lately I’ve been focused on deepening my understanding of Emptiness. It’s been slow going – this is where it is obvious to me that being able to participate in a local sangha would be good.

I started my exploration of sunyata after reading an excerpt from Bodhi magazine (Vol. 8, No. 3) in Buddhadharma‘s Spring 2007 issue. There’s an article there by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche called “Emptiness First, Then Compassion.” He writes:

When we try to practice compassion without the view of egolessness, or emptiness, we are often not really helping because we ourselves are so confused. Our own lack of clarity only produces further confusion. If we have an idea that we think will help someone, it is usually based on our own interpretation of what we think they require or want. We are not looking at their situation from their point of view. Instead of giving them what they truly need, we give what we think they need. There is a difference between the two. Furthermore, we have value judgments about how they should accept our help, and so we “help”them further by imposing conditions and guidelines.

Compassion and loving-kindness that is free from ego clinging allows us to see the suffering of others from their own perspective. We can see beyond our own ideas and beliefs. We can see what they need from their point of view, and we can apply our own wisdom at the same time. with this more open and clear view, we can see more realistically what will meet their actual needs and be truly beneficial.

I do understand what he is saying. However, for myself, I come to the idea of egoless compassion and loving-kindness through my attempts to broaden my ability to be compassionate. There was a point when I realized that to be truly compassionate and loving I needed to move beyond my own concepts and try to understand the needs and feelings of others in order to better “serve” them. (I wish I could think of a better word than “serve” – the best thing I can think of is my own crudely-realized idea of bodhicitta, though it is only in recent years that I’ve come to have a (beginner’s) understanding of this concept.)

I guess it’s a matter of perspective. For me, the idea of linearly studying one concept before another does not work as well as a more holistic approach studying many aspects of Buddhism at one time. I’m not suggesting a scattered approach leading to little understanding. It’s more about the concepts of interdependence extending into my understanding of the Dharma – no one concept being free of others.

Perhaps the Venerable Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and I have different styles of thinking. Or perhaps I am just not knowledgeable enough to have a separate perspective, and I am just deluding or confusing myself. ^_^

Links I’ve recently been looking at on the topic: