Fulfillment by Emptying

by Juan F. Lam

Mar 31, 2021

#mindfulness #fulfillment #philosophy

Last year, I read the Daodejing and had the opportunity to write an academic analysis of it using a scholarly article called "The Paradox of Virtue" as a basis. My analysis concerned itself with the intention behind moral behaviors and the reason why the Daodejing is so vague in describing "The Way". As a consequence of being in the class, I had another opportunity -- I read the Bhagavad Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita deals with the same concerns as the Daodejing for the most part: how do you know how to act morally? How do we become better? What is the meaning of life, to what ends should we as humans apply ourselves?

While the Bhagavad Gita and the Daodejing both deal with these questions in the context of their culture, they both call us to eliminate our "selves" from the equation of action, and act as duty calls us to (in the case of the Bhagavad Gita) or the way the particulars of a certain situation require (Daodejing). The Bhagavad Gita goes further, however, and offers an insight: one can achieve salvation through the emptying of the self by meditating and having mindfulness of duty, but one can also achieve salvation by worship of Krishna (the Hindu god). For most people, worshiping Krishna and sticking to a few morally upright behavior is an easier path to salvation, to release from the karmic cycle.

That perspective interested me, because it allowed for a connection I had not yet up until that moment drawn: while the Daodejing, and indeed Buddhist philosophy, calls us to empty ourselves by paying attention to contexts and mindfulness of our own finite nature the Bhagavad Gita calls us to focus our intent on a higher form, a higher entity, as an easier (though not as fast) way to achieve salvation. And in a sense, so do Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Behold Philippians 2:5-8:

"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus. Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross."

Here, and throughout many parts of the Bible (like in Romans 12), we are continually called to offer ourselves up for God and the service of others. To empty ourselves in a directed way.


Thus, it doesn't seem far fetched to me that part of the human purpose, one of the keys to human greatness, is to be empty of yourself. To be fundamentally focused on the moment at hand, the conversation you're in, the actions you're doing, or the person you're interacting with. Many artists have given accounts of being so utterly absorbed in their work that they are rendered unaware of the passage of time. This kind of deep connection and involvement is critical, and major religions tells us so. I think it's a truth worth keeping in mind.


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