Author Topic: What’s in a Word? Emptiness  (Read 3578 times)

Online Chaz

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What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« on: December 04, 2018, 02:00:58 pm »
while browsing the winter issue of Tricycle magazine I found this short article by Andrew Olendzki:

What’s in a Word? Emptiness: https://tricycle.org/magazine/emptiness-buddhism/

With the recent discussion of Emptiness, I thought it would be helpful to offer a more learned view of what the word means in a Buddhist context.  It's a quick read and well done, IMNSHO. 

For those who may be skeptical of Olendzki's credentials, his CV can be found on his personal web site

Offline Dairy Lama

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2018, 02:40:22 am »
What’s in a Word? Emptiness: https://tricycle.org/magazine/emptiness-buddhism/

This looks to me like a good summary, particularly in explaining the distinction between anatta and sunyata
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Online Chaz

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2018, 12:42:19 pm »
What’s in a Word? Emptiness: https://tricycle.org/magazine/emptiness-buddhism/

This looks to me like a good summary, particularly in explaining the distinction between anatta and sunyata

The closing statement struck a chord with me:

Quote
Properly understood, things neither exist (since they vanish) nor don’t exist (since they occur); rather, they are simply empty—which calls for a nonconceptual intuition of wisdom, in Japanese kensho or satori.

The idea that some thing cannot exist because it vanishes nor doesn't exist because it occurs, is important in understanding just what emptiness is.  You have to approach it non-conceptually because the question of existence/emptiness defies conceptualization.  It requires wisdom, and not knowledge and that wisdom comes from meditation.

Offline paracelsus

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2018, 08:56:01 pm »
Risky things, poems, but in an attempt to communicate with fewer words:

"Haiku for Past, Present and Future".
Finding stillness, in the hope of one day realising emptiness.


This moment becomes,
Abides without duration,
Flows on without pause.

No past, no present,
What seed have I been sowing
For no tomorrow?

All seems so quiet,
As if no reeds were growing
To sound in the breeze.

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2018, 04:46:38 am »
The emptiness at the start of the article is that found when meditating, the timeless moment where conscious thought ends and you 'dwell' in emptiness. The rest is trying to sort out what it means when the experience is over, when conscious thought returns.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2018, 02:44:44 am »
The idea that some thing cannot exist because it vanishes nor doesn't exist because it occurs, is important in understanding just what emptiness is.  You have to approach it non-conceptually because the question of existence/emptiness defies conceptualization. 

Conceptually I think of emptiness simply as conditionality.   The idea that everything arises and ceases in dependence upon conditions.
"My religion is very simple - my religion is ice-cream"

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2018, 11:40:20 am »
The idea that some thing cannot exist because it vanishes nor doesn't exist because it occurs, is important in understanding just what emptiness is.  You have to approach it non-conceptually because the question of existence/emptiness defies conceptualization. 

Conceptually I think of emptiness simply as conditionality.   The idea that everything arises and ceases in dependence upon conditions.

And I think that emptiness underlies all that: the conditions, the causes ..... all emptiness.

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2018, 04:40:14 am »
Another way into the Buddhist definition of emptiness is that things are empty of permanent elements. Everything is subject to change, so everything is empty of something to hold on to which will last forever.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline Dairy Lama

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2018, 02:16:14 am »
The idea that some thing cannot exist because it vanishes nor doesn't exist because it occurs, is important in understanding just what emptiness is.  You have to approach it non-conceptually because the question of existence/emptiness defies conceptualization. 

Conceptually I think of emptiness simply as conditionality.   The idea that everything arises and ceases in dependence upon conditions.

And I think that emptiness underlies all that: the conditions, the causes ..... all emptiness.

Though emptiness isn't like a ground of being" ( see "emptiness of emptiness" ).  Emptiness is the nature of phenomena, not the source of them.
"My religion is very simple - my religion is ice-cream"

Offline zafrogzen

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2018, 02:48:13 pm »
Nagarjuna warns that emptiness is like a snake that is dangerous if not picked up correctly.

Reification of emptiness into an ultimate truth, some “thing,” whether internal or external, is obviously one danger – although a case could be made for giving folks something on the conventional level to put there minds at rest so they can get on with their lives.

Another danger is to arrive at a conceptual understanding and think that one has figured something out (emptiness) and that there’s nothing further to seek.

Both of the above dangers are what I’d call “getting stuck in emptiness.” However, what is popularly referred to as being stuck in emptiness is having an empty mind, devoid of all activity like thoughts and feelings – what is referred to in zen as “the ghost cave,” which, it’s warned, is a terrible place to get stuck. Frankly I’ve never been even close to falling into that degree of experiential emptiness, where my mind becomes that quiet. The notion of getting stuck in that kind of emptiness is pretty remote, at least for me. On the contrary, like Dogen’s instruction to “think of non-thinking, by non-thinking,” seeing awareness as empty, and emptying the mind, is the most basic meditation technique (samatha), which leads to in-sight and the untying of any number of difficult knots.


« Last Edit: December 10, 2018, 03:12:46 pm by zafrogzen »
My first formal meditation training was with Shunryu Suzuki in the 60's and later with Kobun, Robert Aitken and many other teachers (mainly zen). However, I've spent the most time practicing on my own, which is all I do now. I'm living in a rather isolated area so I miss connecting with other practitioners. Despite my interest in zen I've made an effort to remain secular. You can visit my website at http://www.frogzen.com

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2018, 06:49:50 pm »
So emptiness is not to be thought of in relation to things, nor in relation to a lack of things or attributes. It is not to be thought of.

Emptiness may then relate to the three times, in that they cannot be located anywhere, yet here (we think) we are.

Emptiness is not the absence of, nor the existence of, nor the two together, nor none of the former.

Huang-Po says: “Stop all conceptual thought, and enlightenment is right there before your eyes”.

Zafrogzen quotes Dogen”s “Think of non-thinking by non-thinking”, and warns of the “ghost cave”, yet we meditate with our eyes open, and with the world sounding in our ears.
 
When we get up from the cushion we are not in our samadhi, if that’s where we were.
Nothing has changed yet everything has.

At this time of year where I am, the blackbirds talk more sense than most of us buddhists.

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2018, 04:39:06 am »
Nagarjuna warns that emptiness is like a snake that is dangerous if not picked up correctly.

Reification of emptiness into an ultimate truth, some “thing,” whether internal or external, is obviously one danger – although a case could be made for giving folks something on the conventional level to put there minds at rest so they can get on with their lives.

Another danger is to arrive at a conceptual understanding and think that one has figured something out (emptiness) and that there’s nothing further to seek.

Both of the above dangers are what I’d call “getting stuck in emptiness.” However, what is popularly referred to as being stuck in emptiness is having an empty mind, devoid of all activity like thoughts and feelings – what is referred to in zen as “the ghost cave,” which, it’s warned, is a terrible place to get stuck. Frankly I’ve never been even close to falling into that degree of experiential emptiness, where my mind becomes that quiet. The notion of getting stuck in that kind of emptiness is pretty remote, at least for me. On the contrary, like Dogen’s instruction to “think of non-thinking, by non-thinking,” seeing awareness as empty, and emptying the mind, is the most basic meditation technique (samatha), which leads to in-sight and the untying of any number of difficult knots.
You can get stuck in the idea of emptiness, and can fall into the nihilist trap, but to experience emptiness on the mat is to finally let go of everything and finally find everything.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2018, 04:55:42 am »

Though emptiness isn't like a ground of being" ( see "emptiness of emptiness" ).  Emptiness is the nature of phenomena, not the source of them.

The concept of a  “ground of being” is misleading because being, or awareness, has no ground, no shape or form, and most significantly, no location. Yet we hear sounds and see forms. While we apparently agree that all such phenomena are empty, by the same token that “emptiness” is not empty because there is this very world of phenomenal appearances, coming and going, governed (thankfully) by a complex web of causes and conditions. But being or awareness is not some separate ground or source – conditioned phenomena ARE one’s own being and awareness.

Conceptually I think of emptiness simply as conditionality.   The idea that everything arises and ceases in dependence upon conditions.

What I’d like to know is how a mechanistic, “conditionality” is any different from scientific materialism and why we should bother spending so much time turning our minds around and looking within if that’s all there is to it?

« Last Edit: December 14, 2018, 12:50:16 pm by zafrogzen »
My first formal meditation training was with Shunryu Suzuki in the 60's and later with Kobun, Robert Aitken and many other teachers (mainly zen). However, I've spent the most time practicing on my own, which is all I do now. I'm living in a rather isolated area so I miss connecting with other practitioners. Despite my interest in zen I've made an effort to remain secular. You can visit my website at http://www.frogzen.com

Offline Matibhadra

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #13 on: December 20, 2018, 06:27:09 pm »
Quote
[Chaz:] The idea that some thing cannot exist because it vanishes nor doesn't exist because it occurs, is important in understanding just what emptiness is.

Before attempting to decide whether something exists or not, one must clearly decide what “to exist” means.

Lacking such clear understanding, one may mistakenly think that something does not exist just because it vanishes, while the fact that something vanishes is actually a proof of its existence!

Indeed, in order to be able to vanish, something has to exist in the first place.

Now, unable clearly to understand even the very basic meaning of the phrase “to exist”, some people venture to deal with even deeper topics such as “emptiness”, arriving to the impressionistic conclusion that “emptiness” is some state of dumbfounded perplexity between an undefined “existence”, and an even less defined “non-existence”!

Both “existence” and “emptiness” are words, themselves defined by their respective defining meanings. Such defining meanings, just like the defining meaning of any word or phrase, are, by definition, conceptions; indeed, being the defining meaning of a word or phrase is itself the defining meaning of the word “conception”.

Some people, however, not understanding such basics, think that words such as “existence” or “emptiness” are not defined by any conception, and venture into a quest for some “emptiness” without even the slightest clue about its defining meaning, which is necessarily a conception, thus obviously failing to find its defined meaning.

Quote
[Chaz:] You have to approach it non-conceptually because the question of existence/emptiness defies conceptualization.

This sentence provides a good example of the above explanation. Unable to figure out even the mere defining meanings of words such as “existence” and “emptiness”, which are necessarily conceptual, one tries to hide such failure under such pompous names as “non-conceptuality” and the like, as though one could go beyond conceptualization while unable even properly to conceptualize!

Therefore, such so-called “non-conceptuality” is beneath, not beyond conceptualization, and is nothing than mere dumbness of mind, an achievement similar to that of a stone or a piece of wood.

Quote
[Chaz:] It requires wisdom, and not knowledge and that wisdom comes from meditation.

Again, how could any wisdom come from a so-called “meditation” which lacks the basic wisdom understanding what is meditated upon?

That's why Buddhist teachings such as the Abhidharma refer to three wisdoms: the wisdom arising from listening, the wisdom arising from thinking, and the wisdom arising from meditating, in this order, each wisdom depending on the previous one.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2018, 06:48:28 pm by Matibhadra »

Offline paracelsus

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Re: What’s in a Word? Emptiness
« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2018, 09:06:22 pm »

Though emptiness isn't like a ground of being" ( see "emptiness of emptiness" ).  Emptiness is the nature of phenomena, not the source of them.

The concept of a  “ground of being” is misleading because being, or awareness, has no ground, no shape or form, and most significantly, no location. Yet we hear sounds and see forms. While we apparently agree that all such phenomena are empty, by the same token that “emptiness” is not empty because there is this very world of phenomenal appearances, coming and going, governed (thankfully) by a complex web of causes and conditions. But being or awareness is not some separate ground or source – conditioned phenomena ARE one’s own being and awareness.

Conceptually I think of emptiness simply as conditionality.   The idea that everything arises and ceases in dependence upon conditions.

What I’d like to know is how a mechanistic, “conditionality” is any different from scientific materialism and why we should bother spending so much time turning our minds around and looking within if that’s all there is to it?

Thoughts:
It wouldn’t be a mechanistic conditionality if there is also chaos.
If all things arise from previous conditions, there are many conditions in limbo, and depending which arises at any time, a different result will ensue. In hindsight the arisen conditions might be said to have been the most likely to have arisen, but were they? Why shouldn’t the second most likely arise?
Perhaps for no reason, simply that other unconnected conditions coincided. It rained, the seed sprouted. The planting of the seed didn’t bring about the rain.

or:

What is already in train will eventuate, those fortunate enough to be introduced to the Dharma will be given clues on how to determine their future by understanding how Karma works and thus avoid the creation of further conditions, good or bad, for future samsaric existence. The chance that one is exposed to the teachings might be just that, chance. The willingness to take the ideas on board and practice will be a result of Karma.

Spending time looking within, for these reasons, is worth the bother because that is applying energy to actualise the Dharma, as opposed to playing with the ideas as a mental exercise, and also as opposed to sitting vacuously simply for the pleasure of it (I don’t mean to suggest that you do), as it is said that; without wisdom/understanding simply achieving the higher Dhyana states is not going to result in enlightenment, merely a spell in the heavenly realms before crashing back to earth (or elsewhere).

« Last Edit: December 20, 2018, 09:16:55 pm by paracelsus »

 


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