May 12, 2003

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form

I thought I'd share a few thoughts about the Zen saying "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." I will start by saying that any thinking about a Zen saying is a big mistake! But how can we understand what these sayings mean if we can't think about them? This paradox is what is known in Zen as a koan. A koan cannot be solved using the logical, conceptual mind; it must be solved by accessing some other wisdom that we all possess. So let me be clear about this - I'm not trying to "solve" this saying, just sharing some thoughts about it.

One way of interpreting this saying, is to align form with duality - that everything is separate and has its own existence. And to align emptiness with non-duality, that everything is interconnected, and nothing is absolutely separate. Depeding on one's perspective, either of these views can be correct. So a butterfly in China can change the weather, and hence the mood of a person in the US. In that way everything is interconnected, and I am not isolated from anything else in the universe. Yet, from a conventional point of view, we are all separate individuals, and we deal with many discrete items in our lives, and if we did not operate from this point of view, we couldn't live our day to day lives. One way to look at the saying "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" is that it reminds us that both points of view are true, and that if we are attached to one or the other, that we are missing something important. Yes, we are separate individuals, but if we live as if our actions take place in a vacuum without affecting those around us, we are deluded. And we are all connected, but we still need to take responsibility for our own feelings, thoughts, and actions. So there is a paradox here, but only by embracing the paradox, by recognizing both sides of it (and maybe there are more than 2 sides to this paradox), can we begin to recognize the truth of any situation.

Posted by BuddhaBoy at May 12, 2003 11:54 AM
Comments

"'Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness. Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase 'form is emptiness'. That all things are provided for by nothingness is the meaning of the phrase 'emptiness is form'. One should not think that these are two separate things"
- Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Posted by: anton at November 7, 2003 08:14 AM