Sean Oakes

Emptiness, Consumption, Renunciation

The primary argument against doctrines of emptiness in spiritual practice does not refute the basic premise—that every experience is a process, interconnected with everything else, and therefore insubstantial as an individual unit of meaning. Folks don’t even really object to how emptiness suggests that meaning and language are subjective, contextual, and unreliable. I think we know this intuitively at this […]

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Riddles in the Dark

One of the simplest ways to define the Buddhist concept of “emptiness” (suññatā) is that a thing is “empty of what isn’t there.” We’re looking at what is absent in a thing that we have been assuming is present. What could that be?  My kid and I have been listening to The Hobbit together, and of course the riddles are

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Emptiness & Ethics

What is a bodhisattva? In many convert Buddhist communities, the emphasis is on the “bodhisattva vow” to save all beings, and the ritual of having taken that vow defines one as a bodhisattva. In this sense, practicing the bodhisattva path is primarily around the underlying intention one brings to Dharma practice. The idea has roots in early discourses where the

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Who’s Afraid of Emptiness?

In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha says that bodhisattvas are ones who when they hear these teachings (the Prajñāpāramitā, or “Perfection of Wisdom,” which is a goddess as well as a philosophy and literary movement) are not afraid. The heart of the Perfection of Wisdom is the teaching on emptiness, which is expressed in the summary of the path of

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The Luminous Dharma of “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

In the days since Everything Everywhere All at Once took home seven Oscars at the 2023 Academy Awards ceremony, I’ve been delighted to see the film and its actors so widely recognized and honored. Watching actors Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan receive their awards was tremendously moving given how pervasive anti-Asian bias is in American culture and the film

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How Should We Think About Karma?

Our conversations over the last month or so have been exploring the traditional teachings on rebirth and how they fit, or don’t very well, with contemporary worldviews. The main sticking point is not whether we believe or don’t believe in some kind of continuity of consciousness after death, but a deeper philosophical problem: how to understand action and its consequences.

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We Are All Nihilists Now

“I want to be human. … Humans can live and die and be reborn.” (Microsoft Bing AI Chatbot) Rebirth is not supposed to be an article of faith for Buddhists. Previous births are described in the Buddha’s discourses as memories a meditator can access (with talent, effort, and supportive conditions) through inner vision, which is a result of highly developed

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Nihilism—So Attractive!

Of the many religions shaping human experience at the moment, few have as much sway on the deep worldview of people in the global north as two that aren’t often considered “religions”: Humanism and Materialism.  I’m using “religion” here in line with one of the definitions in Merriam-Webster: “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and

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Steadiness, Sobriety, Joy

The life-changing joy of steadiness. You probably know the feeling, though maybe you don’t often have the conditions for it: you’re well-slept, well-fed, healthy enough, not in relational or political drama, not in a crisis of overwork, overwhelm, deadline, or some other external urgency, and importantly, also not in the pulsing swirl of romance, creative inspiration, or world-saving furor—what does

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“Eldest in the World”

I just came through my birthday weekend (thank you to everyone who sent blessings) and I’m thinking about this enigmatic thing the Buddha said: “I am the eldest in the world.” What he means is that he was the first to awaken fully, like the first chick in a clutch of eggs to break of of their shell. But the

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