Mirror of Zen Blog

Robert Thurman on “Emptiness”

Ask anyone what they find “hardest” about understanding Buddhism, and 3 out of 5 people will mention the word “emptiness”. It seems that the “negative”-wording of this frightens people, even creating an incentive not to want accept this possibility, as it would seem to negate all of the phenomenal experience which they hold to dearly and expect to be the reasons for their living, from moment-to-moment, day-to-day, and year to year. “Everything is empty? Then my precious cat is empty? How could that be?” “You saying my grandson is empty? How could you even think that?” “My life-partner is ’empty’? How could you imagine such a thing! How empty and cold!” You get such reactions from people all the time in this business.

And I can see where they are coming from, when they just hear a word (badly translated for Sunyata, its Sanskrit root) and do not have the requisite meditative experience that actually shows them the total “fullness” that this word is actually pointing to!

As usual, Prof. Robert Thurman has such a clear and relatable expression for something which seems so hard for people to accept, especially those who have not meditated and who have not “tasted” the fundamentally “empty” nature of reality. I leave it to him, with gratitude:

And his follow-up to that grounds how we can view this “emptiness”, the Absolute (he mentions here as “Nirvana”, for purposes of expression) with our grounded, habituated sense of the “relative” — the foreground/backgrounded, the situated-in-time-and-space, the nitty-gritty of experience:

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