In Zen, and Buddhism in general, a central principal is that of ’emptiness’. This is sometimes confused with nothingness, and this is more than understandable. Original Buddhist texts, called Sutras, have been translated over millennia from and into various languages, from Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. Every language has a finite number of words, and sometimes certain words simply do not have an equivalent in another language.
Emptiness, in English, stands to reason would imply nothingness.. if my gas tank is empty, theres nothing left in it. However, in Zen, emptiness means something different. It is an attempt to explain that all things, everything on Earth and beyond, are ’empty’. What are they empty of? Simply, independent existence. In Zen, it is understood that nothing exists independent of everything else. No man is an island!
Philosophically, you have seen this before perhaps… darkness only can exist, or be defined, when light exists…. (as in that darkness is the absence of light) Coldness can only be if hot exists… (as in coldness is the absence of heat)… and so goes the reasoning…Ying and yang…
Humans only exist when they can breathe Oxygen, eat food and go to the bathroom. We can not exist without the Universe. So, it follows, that our true nature is dependant on everything around us. It defines us. .. Yet, it goes both ways… We define the Universe, we define it. I talked about dancing in my previous post… This too is a dance.
So, humans are empty of independent nature and while understanding this can be very good and beneficial, fully realising it can set us free.
It may be seen how free will can only exist with fate. And how fate can only exist with free will. In Zen, both are said to be illusions, as these are concepts, products of conceptual thought. Concepts, no matter how clear, are always limited by their inherent parameters… they are models, and being such, can never match Truth.
This is not to say that conceptual thinking is ‘wrong’… it has it’s time and place, however, most of the time, conceptual thought binds us down.
Zen can be used to become free of the bounds of conceptual thought, to become more ‘free’. Zen is an action and not realized through reading and studying. Central to Zen is the practice of Zazen, which is sitting meditation. This is at the heart of Zen. I will talk about this in a future post.
Sit and do not attach to the thoughts arrising and see what remains hidden behind…that which was always there….