Sunyata – Emptiness

This Sunday, Sam led a discussion on the topic of Emptiness.

The first meaning of emptiness is called “emptiness of essence,” which means that phenomena [that we experience] have no inherent nature by themselves.” The second is called “emptiness in the context of Buddha Nature,” which sees emptiness as endowed with qualities of awakened mind like wisdom, bliss, compassion, clarity, and courage. Ultimate reality is the union of both emptinesses.

Finally, since emptiness seems so difficult to understand, why did the Buddha teach it at all? It is because of his profound insight into why we suffer. Ultimately we suffer because we grasp after things thinking they are fixed, substantial, real and capable of being possessed by ego. It is only when we can see through this illusion and open ourselves, in Ari Goldfield’s words, “to the reality of flux and fluidity that is ultimately ungraspable and inconceivable” that we can relax into clarity, compassion and courage. That lofty goal is what makes the effort to understand emptiness so worthwhile.

— Lewis Richmond

Sam played excerpts of talks by Jack Kornfield and Ajahn Sucitto which are linked below:

He also referenced verse 14 of the Tao Te Ching, translated here by D.C. Lau:

What cannot be seen is called evanescent;
What cannot be heard is called rarefied;
What cannot be touched is called minute.

These three cannot be fathomed
And so they are confused and looked upon as one.

Its upper part is not dazzling;
Its lower part is not obscure.
Dimly visible, it cannot be named
And returns to that which is without substance.
This is called the shape that has no shape,
The image that is without substance.
This is called indistinct and shadowy.
Go up to it and you will not see its head;
Follow behind it and you will not see its rear.

Hold fast to the way of antiquity
In order to keep in control the realm of today.
The ability to know the beginning of antiquity
Is called the thread running through the way.

Here are some more quotes which Sam used to good effect in the following discussion:

In all these cases, these teachings were aimed at getting people to focus on the quality of the perceptions and intentions in their minds in the present—in other words, to get them into the emptiness mode. Once there, they could use the teachings on emptiness for their intended purpose: to loosen all attachments to views, stories, and assumptions, leaving the mind empty of all the greed, anger; and delusion, and thus empty of suffering and stress. And when you come right down to it, that’s the emptiness that really counts.

— Thannissaro Bhikkhu

From “I am That”, teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj, compiled by Maurice Frydman:

p. 318: You will find [after discarding all that you are not] that what is left is nothing which the mind can hook on to. You are not even a human being. You just are — a point of awareness, co-extensive with time and space and beyond both, the ultimate cause, itself uncaused. If you ask me: ‘Who are you?’ My answer would be: ‘Nothing in particular. Yet, I am’.

p. 389: But ultimately you will come to see that you are neither the particular nor the universal, you are beyond both. As the tiny point of a pencil can draw innumerable pictures, so does the dimensionless point of awareness draw the contents of the vast universe. Find that point and be free.

p. 451-2: It is because you think yourself big enough to be affectedly the world. It is not so. You are so small that nothing can pin you down. It is your mind that gets caught, to you. Know yourself as you are — a mere point in consciousness, dimensionless and timeless. You are like the point of the pencil — by mere contact with you the mind draws its picture of the world. You are single and simple — the picture is complex and extensive. Don’t be misled by the picture — remain aware of the tiny point — which is everywhere in the picture.

p. 530: The world you think of is in your own mind. I can see it through your eyes and mind, but I am fully aware that it is a projection of memories; it is touched by the real only at the point of awareness, which can be only now.