First published January 2009 in Sugar Mule #29

The Sea Walks Away With a Burst of Laughter

Then there was the time Pippi Longstocking went head to head with the Hardy boys over the idea of Sunyata. Pippi stated, as I recall, "To see or conceptualize emptiness as a thing, a thing apart, or a place, or as something that permeates all things, or as being in all places at all times, to conceive of it as some sort of eternal god, object, or non-present presence is to attach to emptiness. To conceptualize emptiness at all is to deal with it as an ontological entity, or to make a metaphysics of emptiness, or to construe some sort of notion of an ultimate self. Emptiness can ultimately be no more than non-conceptualized reality, thusness. This is akin to saying nirvana is samsara. Though to speak at all, to say 'thusness', 'transience', 'time', 'emptiness' must ultimately be to miss the point. In this sense the apparently non-sequitur, absurd nature of koans begins to reveal this more ultimate understanding. To answer any sensible question from an enlightenment-seeking student with a reply like, 'The sea walks away with a burst of laughter', is an acknowledgement (or can be seen as an acknowledgement) of non-conceptualized reality, thusness, emptiness, without daring to conceptualize or speak didactically."

This was during that period of time when the Hardy boys had just returned from their Arctic Patrol Mystery. I remember Frank telling me that way up there in those northern sod huts breakfast was always a makeshift affair with everyone eating eggs and bread in tin plates wherever they could find a place to sit. "Virtue ethics," Joe said to me, "that's really what we feel that we represent. That which has pleasantness, goodness, and nobleness in the highest degree is virtuous action. It follows, then, that virtuous action is (or provides) the greatest happiness. But virtue doesn't just happen. It's a process of learning and training."

At times a cold dark silence, tinged with bitterness I would say, seemed to choke the rooms where the boys and Pippi would hash out these details of moral worth, a bitterness and coldness antithetical to the very goals of ethical reasoning. The irony of this was not lost on either of the parties involved. It was the morning love-making in the redwood hot tub, the steam rising through the cold winter air, the boys together exploring Pippi's treasures, she satisfying their individual desires, there, I say, in that warm sloshing tub, that intellectual strife dissipated in the wordless pleasure of mutual care. Peering down on their pleasure-making from the book-lined study where I worked, I smiled with the thought that, truly, both Buddhist and Aristotelian ethics are ethics of virtue.

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