The Concept of Emptiness is Filled with Meaning

The concept of emptiness should be filled with or is just empty nonsense


 

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he concept of emptiness should be rich and useful rather then a stare into nothing. In Buddhism, emptiness is often the subject of great delight specially for beginners. It is a intriguing, strange, confusing and after all difficult concept to fully grasp.

The beginner usually understands emptiness as if there were nothing there, or that everything surrounding us is not real, or worse – nothing has meaning. But if you don’t fully grasp the concept of emptiness, going around thinking nothing has meaning can get you in trouble, hopeless and depressed.

The problem with emptiness is that it is unspeakable, so how can we talk about it? We can talk about emptiness all we want, but as long as we keep it on a intellect level, we’ll never fully understand. We will think we understand but could never sure. But not being sure is part of the answer.

Emptiness is like the flavor of some exquisite food – it can’t be described, you have to taste it yourself.

I am not a teacher so my words are for the most part – empty. I’m in no authority on emptiness, but who is?  You have to find out for yourself. You don’t have to trust me and please don’t. And while am at it, don’t trust anybody.

First off, the concept of emptiness have a few tenets. We need to first define what kind of emptiness are we talking about. The first question we should ask is – empty of what. Empty of meaning? Empty of matter? Empty of consequence? If we don’t define these boundaries it is all a silly quest. There’s the quantum physics argument that all matter is empty because molecules don’t even touch each other. Even though this is an amazing concept, it is not the kind of emptiness I’m talking about.

Scientists are finding amazing things about the Universe. New studies show that our Universe is less solid then we previously though. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies. Each one of these galaxies contains billions of stars; our eye can only see a fraction of what’s out there. Yet if we map everything we consider to be solid, it amounts to less then 5% of what we see. The rest of the universe is comprised of dark matter and dark energy which is intrinsically empty space.

“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is just opinion.” –Democritus of Abdera

Don’t try this at home it could be disastrous. By firmly believing things are not solid we might attempt to prove it by crossing the street in front of a fast moving truck thinking it is not solid. Don’t do it.

The other common concept is that things are empty of meaning. I think that is more useful because it gives us more room for interaction. One has to be careful with this one because it could be easily misconstrued.

People read Buddhist books and conclude that events are devoid of meaning and therefore devoid and so they have no validity. Our next logical reasoning is to think that nothing matters anymore, or nothing is real. Why do anything – nothing means anything anyway. This is what I call the destructive approach to emptiness and it only leads to unhappiness and it can have tragic consequences.

Under this idea we may ignore other people’s pain saying that nothing matters or it is simply an illusion. Most atrocities committed by the worst dictators and mass murderers have somewhat been done under this guise. After the meaning is removed is easy to no longer care about other human being. It simply doesn’t matter anymore and killing becomes an easy task.

In my view everything is filled with real meaning but we are not able to determine the true validity of these events. In other words everything has meaning but we are unable to grasp its true direction because these events are dependent on other events. There is a viewer and a interpreter therefore there is never a conclusion and a final value to anything. So emptiness here is the impossibility of determining a constant value and a defining a permanent true. I find this to be very useful because it keep us open to observation and waiting for what comes next, and something always comes next.

I rather see emptiness in this way because it aligns with the building blocks of Buddhism which always emphasizes goodness of heart; something is going on we just don’t know, so we sit and wait with kindness.

So the concept of emptiness can be so interesting and leading us to unexpected changes. Because we don’t really know what is out there. Something we think is bad turns out to be good and the good turns bad. We will experience this again and again.

So when I think of emptiness these days I think of infinite possibilities we cannot predict. We live in this ocean of change and have little or no control over it. I think of events arising from nothing and then disappearing. With the ideal of emptiness there should be a component of acceptance to what is out there without trying to define it.

The more we drop our idea of understanding reality the closest we are from understanding the concept of emptiness and avoiding mistakes. Easier said than done but practice will help connect the dots.

I’ll leave you with the dancing lady. A very simple optical illusion but a beautiful analogy of how our perception can change inexplicably – Is the lady spinning clockwise or counter clockwise? If you stare long enough she will magically revert her spinning direction.

I believe this illusion can be fond in almost all interactions of life – by observing any situation in life without drawing any conclusions you’ll find out that if you stare at it long enough you’ll find that your point of view may have changed but the object still the same.

 

dancing-lady

 

Image credit: flickr.com

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Marcos Taquechel

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