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(Buddhism)
Emptiness is the essential reality. Although things seem to exist, and we may name and manipulate them, they do not really exist the way we imagine them. Likewise the idea of the self, with a single core identity is invalid. In truth all things are inherently empty of identity, and thus in order to comprehend the true nature of reality it is necessary to know and experience emptiness. This is one important purpose of meditation.

A mental state, usually associated with depression, where the individual feels lack of purpose, or worth. The individual may also feel isolated. Emptiness is not really a want of solitude, but rather a cause of it.

"Emptiness" is a concept that appears in Buddhist philosophy, especially in the Mahayana (incl. Zen) and in the Vajrayana (Tibetan) traditions. Emptiness is the most common translation of the term "sunyata", and has also been translated as "void" or "voidness". The term is most often confused, sometimes on purpose by critics, to mean emptiness =nothingness. This misconception has then led to the notion that Buddhism is nihilistic, and that it teaches that nothing exists. This is far from the true viewpoint Buddhism expounds, as Buddhism shuns all extreme views such as this. The Buddha himself said it is better to view all things as real and permanent than to think nothing exists. You'd be technically wrong, but you'd avoid being like those Germans in The Big Lebowski.

To get the true meaning of the word, you should try and see what things are said to be empty of. They are said to be empty of inherent, isolated and permanent existence. That is, all phenomenon, including us people, only exist as a sum total of all other phenomenon in the universe and as a result of their causal relationship with phenomena that preceded them. All things are linked, and cannot be said to ultimately exist by themselves.

As a popular example shows, a car only exist because of it's constituent parts: the engine, wheels etc. It also exists because of the processes that caused it to come into being, such as the factory, the workers and the designers etc. It also exists because of the actions and observation of it by sentient beings, ie., us.

You can see how a car has no Platonic essence of "carness" to it that somehow magically attaches itself to it once it's ready to roll off the production line. It is solely the sum of the parts and the causal conditions that led to its existence.

It is therefore, in Buddhist terminology, Empty - Empty of "carness".

But, as you'd find out if it ran you over, it's certainly real, just not as we habitually take it to be. Breaking this habit of seeing things wrongly is therefore goal.

The sum of this interrelated totality of all things is the Great Void - it is not a yawning abyss, but rather the source and sum of all things. As no object or other form of causally conditioned phenomenon can exist separately from it, all objects are part of it and are a manifestation of Emptiness.

This subject is the central point of many Sutras and Shastras, most notably the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, also known as the Heart Sutra.

Long ago on a hot summer day I walked a narrow trail behind a friend out to the shore of a lake near his home in Long Beach, Washington. Two jagged crinkles in the skin marked the back of his neck with an “X," and bits of dark detritus collected in the sweat there. Weird how some memories are like photographs while others are like fog.

We strolled unhurried through a shady forest of tall trees. What species they were I couldn’t tell you. (A real writer knows the names of trees. Goethe, it was said, could even estimate the age of most trees by the diameter of their trunks.) We snaked through dense underbrush, sticking to an open path that made the going fairly easy if a bit convoluted. I had been reading some Buddhist text recently and the trail reminded me that emptiness isn’t useless by any meas. At times it’s absolutely the best thing you’ve got going for you, and generally you can’t move forward without it. Emptiness is the path.

We’d been writing together that morning and afternoon and had become a bit bleary-headed despite plenty of coffee and, for me back then, cigarettes as well. We decided some movement and fresh air were in order. Many times I’ve been stuck somewhere in a story or a play or sketch and a change of scenery coupled with a little exercise worked like a magic pill for creativity.

Before enough time had passed to make the trip feel monotonous we’d reached the lakeside, the still midpoint of our journey. It was late afternoon by then. I squinted into the sunlight glinting off the water and listened to the buzz of some insects whose names I also didn’t know. The place smelled of life, which means there was the balanced scent of muck and decay as well as of growing things.

We stood quietly side by side as neither of us had anything to say that could improve on the silence. And after a while a thought burbled up in me like the gas bubbles from the lake bottom that broke the surface here and there and sent concentric waves propagating out to meet us on the shore.

“There’s nothing wrong,” I said.

My friend nodded.

“In my life, I mean."

“Uh huh.”

 “I’m used to solving problems. It’s my default mode. I don’t know what to do when there’s no problem to solve.”

“It’s a weird place to be.”

We were both happy at that time, my friend and I. We were creative. We had opportunities and we were making the best of them. We were generating things of value to others. I knew it wouldn’t last, but here in this little caesura in the story of my life there was a perfect emptiness of drama.

“This is as good as it gets, isn't it?” I said.

“Yeah.”

And that has proven to be true all these years later. I’ve had incandescent highs and subterranean lows. Been applauded and gutted. But the best times were the times like that one. Peaceful, complete pauses.

We walked silently back to the house and finished off the day’s writing work in a sudden burst of imagination. Like I knew we would.

And I’ve seldom been back there, to that perfect moment when nothing was wrong. Certainly not in recent years. It feels like recalling a dream. There was no way to stay there as much as I would have wanted to. It’s like throwing a stone straight up. There’s a motionless break at the top, empty of all direction. But only because of the forces that are bound to pull it back to earth.

Emp"ti*ness, n. [From Empty.]

1.

The state of being empty; absence of contents; void space; vacuum; as, the emptiness of a vessel; emptiness of the stomach.

2.

Want of solidity or substance; unsatisfactoriness; inability to satisfy desire; vacuity; hollowness; the emptiness of earthly glory.

3.

Want of knowledge; lack of sense; vacuity of mind.

Eternal smiles his emptiness betray. Pope.

The sins of emptiness, gossip, and spite. Tennyson.

 

© Webster 1913.

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