‘Lack’ – or ‘Luminous Essence’?

Buddhist intellectuals David Loy and Ken Jones theorise that human beings have a fundamental “lack”, a hole in the middle, and that their frenetic materialism, ambition, fetishism, their obsessions, their neuroses, their greed and so on are all attempts to fill the hole, to compensate for what is missing. This “lack” is a form of dukkha, the Buddha’s word for suffering, an anxiety for certainty, permanence and meaning (and the lack is due to impermanence and no-self, anicca and anatta). It accounts for all the wild and futile busy-ness  of people and is their driving force.

I am unpersuaded. I do not feel, and have never felt, as far as I know, this sense of fundamental lack in myself, and I certainly don’t feel a fundamental lack in the world of nature. I don’t see a lot of evidence for it. Many of the people who are pursuing materialism and ambition are highly content with their achievements and quite unaware that anything is missing. There are some lacks, yes: it is not delusional to pursue a living wage if one lacks money; we all have difficuIties in relationships leading to unsatisfactoriness, but that is relative to happier times, not a fundamental vacuum. I prefer another kind of explanation which blames

  • being distracted
  • being side-tracked
  • being confused
  • being drawn into activity

Master Lu, the great Daoist, is my guide. He says that five kinds of false consciousness obstruct the mind:

  • sudden wandering thoughts “drawing forth an outburst like wild animals galloping in all directions”
  • worrying about the future, wearying the spirit
  • getting attached to the beauty of sounds and forms and averse to the ugliness of sounds and forms until “the luminous essence of mind is covered by shadows and you become feeble-minded, unable to attain clarity”
  • people get upset and confused about the past
  • people think that they are intelligent and knowledgeable and “go back and forth in a fog, stagnant, without expanding… it actually destroys essential life.”

This makes more sense to me. There is not a fundamental lack or hole in the centre which we fear and flee from and try to deny with frantic activity. There is a “luminous essence of mind” which gets obscured, covered by shadows, distracted, sidetracked, wearied. Energy is wasted in worries and attachments and life loses its vitality. The mind gets confused and shrinks.

“Luminous essence” is the default state, not lack.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.