Gone, gone, real gone, beyond even the most gone. Ultimate wisdom remains when everything has dropped away.
The focus of the month is beyond emptiness or shunyata in Sanskrit. The heart sutra explains that when we no longer identify with the false self is when we attain ultimate wisdom.
In yoga philosophy, there is less emphasis on how people are "good" or "bad" and more clarification on how our attachment to a false identity leads us to cause harm to others. As an example, I recently read an article in National Geographic about a development in creating part pig-part human embryos that will be hosted in the pig's body. The purpose is to harvest the organs from the embryos. No matter how we see it, there is at least one sentient being in this equation who did not agree to this and is thus harmed-- the host animal. One person in the comments section of this article said that he wouldn't hesitate in taking advantage of this "technology" if someone he loves were in need of an organ. His position is fully understandable, as we all would like to protect the ones we love. However, his perception is limited in that he is attached to the false identity and hence the false belief that only his family matters and takes precedence over others'. And so however well-meaning we may be, as long as we are attached to our limited and false identity, we are creating borders in our mind of who are included and who are excluded in our circle of concern.
We can think of our first attachment as the attachment to "who I am", that is what our name is, what our personality is like, what we do for a living, what our preferences are etc. When we are attached to this "I", when this identity is threatened, we would protect it even at the cost of hurting another. Say, we exit this doorway of the first attachment, we then have another attachment, even if the scope is a little bit broader. We are attached to our partner, our family, our tribe, the ones we love. In the same way, when this identity is threatened by another group, and we seek to desperately hold on to this identity, we may just end up hurting others. And so we exit this metaphorical doorway of attachment, and go to another layer of attachment, and it goes on and on and on, following the same idea. As long as we are attached to an identity, however broad and expansive, there will always be separation. You vs me, us vs them, my family vs your family, my religion vs your religion, my politics vs your politics, my nation vs your nation, my race vs your race, my ideology vs your ideology. You get the idea.
What then causes the attachment in the first place? It appears to be the fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of the unfamiliar. The effect of fear is desperation, and so the other side of the fear of death is to cling on to what we know-- this body, this identity, this seeming certainty of this lifetime. It is then important to acknowledge this fear, to invite it up and make peace with it so that we live in a way that is free and liberated. The thought of death paralyzes the spiritual growth of many people, in that it keeps us trapped in clinging and desperation. The advice of the heart sutra is to keep going further, further and further, past one metaphorical doorway of attachment to another, further and further, beyond even the most gone, beyond letting go even of our "humanness" so we start to experience ourselves as part of one another. And then we will cease to hurt the other, because we understand it doesn't make any sense just as it doesn't make sense for our right arm to hit our left arm because one is stronger than the other. We and "others" are one cosmic body. Only this body dies; our collective true identity doesn't. Harming others means harming a part of us. When we reach this point of being "gone", our disinterest in taking advantage of others is greater than compassion or empathy because we simply no longer see others as beings we need to understand from the other's perspective. They simply are us and we are them. We belong to each other. There is no border, no wall, no separation. This embracing of our true self is the ultimate wisdom. As Thich Nhat Hanh so eloquently put it, emptiness is being empty of the separate self and full of everything in the cosmos.