Disenchantment with Emptiness
Kakuan, a 12th century Chan master, is famous for his 10 ox-herding pictures to illustrate the path to enlightenment. The eighth picture (to the right) always seemed to me to represent “emptiness” and part of the path needed to gain enlightenment. Sure, the series went on to the 10th picture with the boy back in the market (end of post), but I always felt that secretly, the Buddhists I met were in love with the empty circle. In fact, it is this picture you see all over the web when Buddhism is discussed, I rarely see the market picture.
“Emptiness” was something I heard chanted and lectured in Zen Buddhism. It never really resonated with me. It sounded idealized. It sounded sought after. It often almost sounded personified and deified. All that, and surrounded with all-knowing smiles and cute paradoxes. Aesthetically, it repulsed me.
My meditations were simple: watching how the mind jumped around, how thoughts came on their own, how moods, visions and feelings fluxed like thoughts. Yoga had taught me to relax the body and made these observations easier. Buddhism agreed with my insight of no substantial self and the power of self-deception. But the “Emptiness” rhetoric never did anything for me.
I thought, “Well, emptiness is what is left when I am not identifying with my grasping of thoughts.” But again, that seemed like I was trying to distill something out of reality and call it “emptiness” which again was mistaken. For me, the Zen I knew seemed enamored with paradoxes for their own sake and being anti-philosophy was not helpful to my temperament or understanding. Perhaps it was my misunderstanding, but I ignored “emptiness” (the word) and just continued my sittings.
Years later, the Aro explanation or use of the word “Emptiness” now rings very true for me and allows me to use this word in very different ways. My next post explores the Aro explanation.
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