Emptiness

July 13, 2017

A recent talk on one of my favorite subjects, emptiness:

“The nature of the world is that it resists your grasping. It resists being known to you, being owned by you, being in any way held or reconciled in you. The world will change its shape just to slip out of your grasp, shift its very quality just as you feel like you have finally gotten a handle on it. The world will not so much move out of your reach as suddenly become something other than what you thought you were reaching for. It will become a cloud when you thought you held solid rock. It will become a fragrance when you are sure you were tempted by a sound. It will become an enigma right at the moment you believe you have solved it. We cannot dominate this place, we cannot conquer it, not in any way, we cannot have it in any sense that is real, and we cannot know it in any manner other than a fleeting one. It is ungraspable in every way. And this, ultimately, releases us from our worst foibles, our most insidious habits. This fact of the slippery, ever-changingness of everything about this world makes certain that our grasping will come to naught, and so we will be left, over and over again, adrift in the unknowableness of things, lost, in a sense, in a sea of things as they are, things not owned or held, things not ‘belonging to me’, nor ‘of me’, but just things, refusing to adhere to names, refusing to conform to permanent qualities, refusing to be anything other than perfectly and endlessly changing. And it is this feeling, this constantly perpetuated sense of instability and unknowability that frees us from what would otherwise be the suffocating structure of our own minds. Every certainty the mind feels it arrives at, the world overturns beautifully. Every fact grasped and object possessed shifts and folds until it is unrecognizable, until it is, in fact, no longer grasped at all. It is not just that we will eventually lose all of the things that we have, it is that we do not have them even now; even now they are not ours, even now they change, they slide away, and they leave only traces of things we never intended to own in the first place. And it is not just that facts are seen in a new light, with information added, it is not that our knowledge simply fills out, it actually transforms, and from the very instant something is conceptualized it begins to turn into something else. There is nothing but this, this ocean of ungraspables, this sea of qualities unattached to particular forms. It is as if everything that exists was simply a bit of light refracted in a different way and shifting continuously like the sun through a prism. And we move and change and are ungraspable in precisely the same way. There is nothing solid here, nothing stationary. The moment you have grasped anything in your own self, it is something else. And this beautiful and liberating fact of things is a problem only for your mind, only for that part of you bent on concepts and knowledge. The mind wants a world that cannot be, and if it could be, then we would be forever prisoners of that mind, locked in a kind of permanence that would take the life out of our feathers, flight out of our breath. The mind would like you to be a wax version of yourself, posed in its most desired statue. But you are alive, and so you are unknowable, with even your stillness a moving, breathing thing. There is a tremendous fear in seeing the world and yourself this way, the way those truly are, a tremendous sense of dread, an insurmountability, like jumping off a building and just hoping that you can fly. I would simply ask you, is it not better than your prison? Is it not worth the risk of that cascading fall to escape, once and for all, every self-imposed limitation? We are lucky that nothing conforms to our expectations, that our minds are so completely and indeed so endlessly wrong. We are part of the stuff of all creation, and, with all of it, we move and change and refuse to be knowable. We refuse to stay, we refuse to be solid, we refuse to be grasped, and we are liberated in that state and in that state only. Everything your mind tells you about yourself and the world turns out to be wrong. Amen for that luck.”

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