Bodhi College teacher, Christoph Köck, shares his thoughts on the theme for our upcoming study retreat Emptiness, Not-Self and Identity

“The Buddha was not so much interested in Absolute Truths than in providing ways of seeing and cultivating the heart.”

“The pragmatic approach of the Buddha’s Teaching is concerned with how we can skilfully look at our existential situation as human beings, cultivate wholesome ways of being in the world with others and understand how we free ourselves from the patterns that bind us to cycles of stress and suffering.

“Emptiness, Not-Self and Identity are important concepts found within the Buddha’s Teachings. A pervasive principle in the teaching is ‘what are things, ideas, practices for’? (Dhamma/Attha meaning principles and the purpose of these principles

“How we understand these concepts will determine whether they are conducive to peace inside and outside, or lead to confusion and conflict. We seek to explore the often-cited middle way, for instance between moralistic dogmatism and nihilism, blind belief or crippling scepticism: grandiose phantasies of fixing the world or egotistic retreat into privacy, being somebody or being nobody.

“Our experience of life is always a cocreation of the givens in this world and what we make of it. How we feel, react, think and interpret life’s experiences really make a difference.

“Conceptually and contemplatively, I want to explore questions like these:

“Does emptiness mean empty of purpose and meaning?

“How does not-self and ethical responsibility go together?

“A famous quote by Jack Engler was ‘You have to be somebody before you can be nobody’ – pointing to developmental tasks that cannot be sidestepped by lofty concepts. How does this relate to the concepts of Emptiness, Not-Self and identity?

“How do we understand identity? Is it pointing to unbridgeable differences between human beings? “Is it a useful concept or just a delusion?

“A good mature sense of identity seems to be part of healthy development of human beings. How do we reconcile this with ideas of not-self and freedom from all forms of Me- and I-making?

“There is practically a numberless way of identifying ourselves with being something: age, gender, sexual orientation, race, profession, nationality, being a mother or father or not, abilities or the absence of them, intelligence, wealth, being a good or bad person, attractive or not, capable or not, a Buddhist, secular, orthodox, agnostic, or whatever, etc etc. How does a sense of identity foster purpose, community and belonging? Or how do ideas of identity hinder connectedness and harmony within human societies? Is a sense of identity something that limits us or frees us?