Explaining Emptiness [video]

If you sit, with enough effort, for long enough, you eventually arrive at the view of the ultimate nature of reality. That “view” is nothing more than the awareness that there is no “separate” identity or substance or reality, one object or being or even “time” or “space” from another. Everything — all reality, all appearance, all laws and principles and states of consciousness — are fundamentally and constantly marked with the utter lack of any abiding separate quality, state, or condition, any material or existence. If there is a word to “explain” this, when we need to discuss things, the terms that are most often employed are “the void,” or “emptiness.” In Sanskrit, it is sunyata (sometimes anglicized as “shunyata”).

But every one of these terms is mistaken. Truly, open one’s mouth to “express” it or describe it or state it or render it is already completely insufficient. The monotheistic traditions somewhat “get” this point: That is why in the Old Testament, it says, “Be still, and know God.” And why, in Islam, one is forbidden from ever trying to depict this deity-expression through any kind of drawing.

And yet both traditions then expend oceans of ink, vast rivers of blood, and histories of conflict in order to declare their ideas about this inexpressibility, and to defend and conquer in its name.

In Buddhism, there is the space for its “expression” to be transmitted — especially in the Zen way of teaching. “Opening your mouth is already a big mistake.” Yes, but when you are called upon to do so, perhaps this might be a closer approximation for how we can deliver the experience to others’ minds, when called out into the realm of words and speech: