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  • Writer's pictureLama Jigme Gyatso

In Buddhism, what is the“Unborn?”

In Buddhist literature

we sometimes stumble

upon the word “unborn.”

We are often told

that is a reference

to emptiness.

But blindly accepting the teachings

does NOT, to enlightenment, lead.

So how do we connect the dots

between the ideas of “unborn”

and the notion of “emptiness?”

Two fundamental observations in Buddhism

are FIRST the pervasive nature of stress

and SECOND those which exacerbate our stress;

our physical impulses or cravings,

and the mental stories we tell about our impulses.

These stories are sometimes known

as our clinging.

Our physical impulses and our mental stories

are the mechanisms with which

we resist the perceptions, memories, and fantasies

that we experience in the present moment.

The essence of Buddha’s meditation technique

was FIRST to notice our present moment experience

in harmony with each inhalation,

and SECOND to let go of the present moment experience

in harmony with each exhalation.

He called the noticing “mindfulness”

and the letting-go “insight.”

It was said that Buddha taught for many decades,

and over the years his literal explanations

evolved into figurative explanations

for doing so speaks

to the oldest regions or our brains.

And so the literal instruction

to blend relaxation with our exhalation,

and to then surf the momentum of our physical relaxation

into the mental experience of letting go,

was enhanced with similes.

And he taught that by letting go,

it could feel like that which we noticed,

was as non-graspable as a vast, empty expanse,

like the infinite azure sky,

on bright and cloudless winter’s morn.

And that, my friends,

is how the experience of letting-go

became associated

with the metaphor of emptiness.

But wait, there is more!

We are only halfway there.

Now that we understand the association

between non-graspability and emptiness,

let us explore how that relates

to the so-called “unborn.”

The literal act of grasping

is fundamental to all primates

including humans.

Even human infants:

weak, and slow, and defenseless humans

are born with the instinctual drive

to pull themselves up to their mother's breast

and begin suckling

as if their lives depended upon it,

for they most certainly do.

From birth, an infant’s grip is so strong,

that if you place your finger in an infants palm

they will grasp with such intensity

that you can lift them up by it.

That is how the idea of grasping and graspability

came to be associated with being born.

If you have ever felt an infant tightly grasp your finger

then you know what a visceral experience

this could be.

So if all that are born grasp

and the opposite of grasping is letting go

then the opposite of being born, being UN-born,

becomes a metaphor for letting go.

Now let’s tie it all up

in a big red bow.

All who are born grasp,

yet we who train in noticing and relaxing

taste the UN-born flavor

of letting go

as if the object of our mindfulness

suddenly became as non-graspable

as a vast, empty expanse

like cloudless azure sky

the color of Kun-tu-zang-po’s ,

body of light,

or like a Jawa vaporized

by the Mandalorian.

So when we read that form is unborn

we could understand

that although our body could feel very graspable

during our inhalation

our body could also feel far less graspable

as we relax during our exhalation.

This, my friends, is the essence

of Buddha’s path of meditation.

The fruits contemplation and compassion

are substantial,

thus, may we each

meditate like a Jedi.

Let us conclude

with a simple

call to action

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