Emptiness: All or Nothing

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enso sunyata

The idea of sunyata (Pali sunnata) or emptiness has been variously understood—and misunderstood—for centuries.

Joan Konner's recent book, "You Don't Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing," gathers together the thoughts of philosophers, poets, and pundits, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, on nothing, emptiness, sunyata. Some examples:

"The nothing is the force whereby the something can be manifested." - Alan Watts

"Poetry makes nothing happen." - W.H. Auden

"Nothing is exciting, nothing is sexy, nothing is not embarrassing." - Andy Warhol

Below you'll find a small collection drawn from the many articles Tricycle has published about emptiness over the years. We hope they help you find a moment of quiet, an empty pause, in the middle of your busy day.

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ninacachua's picture

Looking very good and interesting. Emptiness contains all things or nothing has everything.
Tina @ memory foam mattress topper

epistinym-grammaton's picture

One of the best descriptions I've heard to describe an applied understanding of "emptiness" is to experience it as "openness." Form inheres its own emptiness, and vice versa - if we are open to the continuum of phenomena, both intrinsic and extrinsic, then we can sense that all phenomena are fungible, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Experience self as empty, then it's possible to openly engage the world, selflessly.

Peterpiazza1's picture

'Nothingness' is invariably connected to 'everything-ness', in that 'everything' could not truly be 'everything' if it were devoid of anything, including 'nothing'.
'Nothingness' and emptiness, as well as open-ness are often equated with one another. Similarly, 'everything-ness' and completeness, as well as fullness are also often equated with one another.
However, few can grasp the notion that 'everything' cannot realize its potential as 'everything' without the vehicle of its inseparable component; ie., 'nothing'.
Fewer still can comprehend that were there no 'everything', it would not be true that 'nothing' would simply exist, ....and so it is, that in the absolute, pristine stillness of 'nothing-ness' or emptiness, the full bounty and fullness of completeness or 'everything-ness' is consciously awakened.

salhtun's picture

Very nicely written post it contains useful information for me. I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement the concept. Thank you for the post.

0810_meenu's picture

This article explains the concept very well. The idea of emptiness has been variously understood and misunderstood for centuries. Tricycle has published great views and thoughts of philosophers, poets, and pundits, Buddhist on nothing, emptiness over the years. Thanks for sharing this blog.!!!!!!!!!!!

diane.lancaster's picture

Dear Monty,

Funny you should say, "Maybe you can start one at some point," as I have done just that. I had been working on some ideas and they just came together (HA! or Katsu!) this morning, and our first session is this Saturday morning.

Thank you for the suggestion of the retreats. I am very interested. I will also be passing along your website to my new fellow-cushion mates (as I call them).


Monty McKeever's picture

That is wonderful to hear Diane. I wish you the best with this noble endeavor.

diane.lancaster's picture

Dear Tricycle: What a gem you are! Since joining, I have gone back each day to receive a useful teaching. This is tremendously helpful, as we have no meditation groups in my area. Reading the words of the teacher and those who respond is a way of making a sangha-connection that I otherwise would not have. I am grateful. Palms together, Diane

Monty McKeever's picture

Thank you for the kind words Diane! We are delighted that you are finding these teachings useful.

I am sorry to hear there are no meditation groups in your area. Maybe you can start one at some point!

Have you taken part in any of the Tricycle Online Retreats yet? http://www.tricycle.com/retreats


debbie.whitefield's picture

Looking forward to read more about this subject of emptiness. Thanks for providing this list of articles.

andriabolton2007's picture

QUOTE: “Through my years of teaching, I have met people whose lives work and those whose lives don't. The one’s whose lives don't work, all seem to have something in common - a lack of gratitude for what they have already! It is impossible for us to gain more in life if we are ambivalent with what we already do have.”

QUOTE: “Even if a person is living on the street, there is still always something to be grateful for. And, they had better find it because appreciation is the power that will expand them right off of the street!”

QUOTE: “Gratitude can create a major turning point in your life! It is one of the fastest, simplest, and most powerful ways to expand

(All quotes by Carole Doré)

magnificentminds's picture

It is only in the nothingness that we can truly understand and experience the vastness and magic of the universe. Unfortunately many people are limited by the world, unaware those limits are created not by the world but in their own lack of awareness.

vario.matta's picture

There are many people who would more than willing to see the great potential of musics and this is something we can come up with the good result as well. I think we should be able to deliver the required perceptions.

ethak's picture

Its my first time to visit this site and as I was exploring I cant believe that this site was made up of a very informative articles that you should try to have compliment.

super.marionette's picture

I use the Sunyata concept in my Integral Panendeism model expressed as the "eternal nature", or the suchness or thatness or isness of reality. This is what is meant when Eastern Philosophies speak of the illusion of Maya. I downloaded once a couple of good books on the issue of the illusion. They are not saying that the physical is "not there", which is the common understanding of illusion. What they mean by illusion is an obscurement of the true nature of things. So the actual "isness" is obscured by "awareness". "Awareness" is obscured by "egoic mind". "Egoic mind" is obscured by "biological life". "Biological life" is obscured by "physicalness". The problem is that temporal manifestation is a bottom up construction from a top down essence. So it appears as though we first have physicalness, biologicalness, then mentalness, then spiritualness. So we mistake the physical as "the start", when it is actually "the rebound" from the essences that descended first. We can think of these essences as increasing "densities of Spirit". So the heaviest denisties of Spirit, during the rebound of temporal manifestation, manifest in physical form. That is why I say physics is a manifestation of Spirit, but not Spirit itself.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Re: "the "eternal nature", or the suchness or thatness or isness of reality...what is meant when Eastern Philosophies speak of the illusion of Maya"

One common use of this notion is to awaken the individual to the power he or she inherently has over problems. Understanding that any situation has no death-grip on one's own potential for happiness, one can move on courageously and unhampered through the vicissitudes of life.

afrin11's picture

Avoid is exactly what the world is without the illusion of self. It's not hard to find whatsoever.

prosand's picture

I've had some profound experience trying to empty my mind. This certainly requires a lot of reading and determination. I consider "The Heart Sutra" one of the most beautiful Buddhist writings. I think what helped me in this process was the reading of Koans. They may seem a bit radical and incomprehensible at first. I felt stupid for not understanding anything that those questions were about. Just repeating and repeating, someday it would get inside my mind. Koans give a big twist in your head, and when you try to find the answer and they are almost impossible ( probably just monks can truly understand that) but they can have a great effect and after you search all your possible answers then your mind calms down and realizes that you don't know everything. This helps to attain the emptiness and make you humble in your way to your Dharma Yukam.

avalmez's picture

I just started reading Alan Watts' "The Way of Zen". And he hooked me in the first paragraph of the first chapter where he writes that Zen is not religion, philosophy, psychology, or science. Rather, he writes, it is an example of what is known amongst Indians and Chinese as, "a way of enlightenment" suggested more by what it isn't in much the same way that a sculptor chips away at a block a stone removing what is not his vision. I suspect Watts is considered a radical amongst the Zentists (his manner of reference), but his deep respect for Zen is clear and beyond doubt. He calls Zen one of the greatest gifts of Asia to the world. Anyone have thoughts or suggestions about Watts' perspective? Too bad the book is probably too old (and old hat amongst Zentists) to qualify for the book club.

diane.lancaster's picture

It is one of the first books about Zen that I read many years ago, and my husband and I still have that copy in our personal library. I remember how much information I got from his book and honor what he still has to offer. Diane

Dominic Gomez's picture

As a teen-ager growing up in San Francisco, I would listen to re-broadcasts of Alan Watts' lectures on Sunday mornings rather than attend church with my family. His was a refreshing point of view on life to what I had been raised to believe. HIs books opened the door to Buddhism for me.
I now practice the chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, the law or dharma underlying all universal phenomena. Watts alluded to this law when he described the universe as consisting of a cosmic "self" playing hide-and-seek hiding from itself by becoming all living and non-living things in the universe, forgetting what it really is. The upshot being that we are all it (the universe) in "disguise".

Richard Fidler's picture

Once when I was twelve years old, I fainted in class. I woke up and people told me time had passed for them, yet I only remembered being at one place and time at one second and at another place and time an instant later. After several years of reflecting on what happened, I came to understand the significance: I was running a movie in my head--picking out what I was interested in, ignoring the rest--and suddenly the film tore in the projector---it got spliced back together again quickly, but now I knew the true facts: we only imagine we are in charge of things, making decisions, thinking, dreaming, remembering--but in fact, there is no little man, no actor, sitting there so proudly. It's just a show. Emptiness is what the world is without the illusion of self. It isn't hard to find at all. Just listen, just breathe, just see--and, yes, even think, remember and dream---but don't imagine someone is sitting there orchestrating it all. That is not the way it is.

Gemma Cunningham's picture

This is an interesting list of resources.