Most people consider spiritual emptiness something to be avoided. After all, if we’re not filled with the love of Jesus, Buddha-like compassion, the fear of God, or whatever (and there are lots and lots of whatevers) then we’re empty.
Isn’t emptiness a bad thing? When the gas tank is empty, your car stops running. When the cupboard is empty, you’ve got nothing to eat. When the bookshelf is empty, you can’t do any reading.
But what about when your spirit, or mind, is empty? Is there really nothing there, or is there more there when nothing is there than when something is there?
If you liked that last sentence, you’ll love my “Science, Spirit, and the Wisdom of Not-Knowing” essay that I’ve previously plugged on my HinesSight weblog. Of course, writing a quasi-scholarly 24-page footnote filled essay on the subject of not-knowing is a decided oxymoron.
But so is my whole Wu Project, since I’ve been engaged in making something out of nothing by thinking about Wu/Mu. One thought I’ve been having concerns faith.
Who has more faith? Someone who opens himself to a particular anticipated manifestation of divinity, or someone who opens himself unreservedly to however the divine might manifest?
I say, the second person. And in my Not-Knowing piece I provide some quotations from various traditions to back up this assertion (sources are shown in the essay):
For Taoism, “In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired; in the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.”
For Kabbalah, “Ein Sof precedes thought, and it even precedes the Nothingness out of which thought is born.”
For mystical Christianity, “God can be found only by learned ignorance.”
For Zen, “you instantly ‘see’ and understand that things are by virtue of what they are not, and that they owe their being to this not-being which is their ground and origin.”
For Sufism, “what outwardly appears existent is really nonexistent, and what seems to be nonexistent is really Existence. The outwardly paradoxical conclusion is that if man desires existence, he must seek it in his own nonexistence.”
For Buddhism, “if you want to reach the other shore of existence, give up what is before, behind, and in between. Set your mind free, and go beyond birth and death.”
Often you hear religious leaders say, “A tea cup can’t be filled unless it is empty,” to illustrate the importance of being receptive to the inpouring of spiritual teachings. But if the tea cup of our mind is thinking “Where’s the tea? Bring on the tea!” it isn’t truly empty or receptive. It’s got some decided expectations about what is going to fill it.
Back in the days when I was a Radha Soami Satsang Beas speaker, I used to frequently quote Tulsi Sahib’s mystic poetry that begins, in this translation, “Cleanse the chamber of your heart, so that the Beloved may enter. Remove all the foreign impressions, so that He can take His seat there.”
Sounds great. This is a scientific approach to spirituality. Get the instrument of consciousness clear and see what godly impressions it picks up. The problem is, most would-be spiritual scientists have already decided what characteristics the “Beloved” has. Their divine investigation is marred by preconceived ideas that skew the research program.
Here’s another perspective on spiritual emptiness that is closer to my own. Of course, an even truer perspective can be found in what immediately follows the colon at the end of this sentence:
This is a really great post, along the lines I have been moving in recently.
I've been reading some translations of Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross) and it is full of great chunks of spiritual rapture by 'I know not what, which is so gladly found', and how he moves through unknowing to realise the 'I know not what'. Such moving stuff, in that it doesn't matter to him what it is, where it is or why it is. It's all just enough to be and enjoy this mind blowing mystery and beauty.
For anyone interested these roughly remembered bits of St John are in Karen Armstrongs 'Tongues of Fire - an anthology of religious and poetic experience'. In the introduction Karen makes a strong case for the agnosticism of mysticism (lots of 'isms' there!).
I'm with you Brian. Isn't it a relief that we don't have to know. We can meditate and enjoy it in our own experience without having to know where we're at or how advanced we may or may not be according to so and so's notions or some books outlines. We can simply plunge into ourselves, enjoy it and cut loose!
Posted by: Nick | March 09, 2006 at 01:18 AM
He eats black
as a rule,
tongue of fire
Posted by: Edward | March 09, 2006 at 08:09 PM
Sorry I hadn't checked in lately.
So, if the mind is the empty cup that asks "Where's the tea?" and hence not really "empty", would looking for Wu automatically make us unable to be empty? Possibly. I think that maybe we should not try or expect to find anything in order to be truly empty. Perhaps stare at a bare wall? But then there is a wall in front of us.......
Posted by: Eric | March 10, 2006 at 12:03 PM
Good points, Eric. You are forgiven for your sin of not visiting the Church of the Churchless regularly. (Note: you will be even more forgiven if you give me $20 next time I see you in Tai Chi class).
Yes, emptiness is the hardest thing to put your finger on. Or your mind. I certainly am aware of the contradiction involved in making a Wu Project out of nothingness.
But like you said, starting where we are now, there's always something between us and emptiness. The Buddhists say that empty doesn't really mean empty, nor does it not mean empty. It is just what it is.
More intellectually, "empty" seems to mean empty of any enduring qualities, not non-existent. So the bare wall is "empty" so long as we see it just as it is in its relationship with all else that is.
Where does the wall end and we begin? Is there really a wall and us? Or is there just one thing going on? I don't know. But the questions lead in the Wu direction.
Posted by: Brian | March 10, 2006 at 01:01 PM
[This comment from Robert is via Brian: I got an email message from Robert about this post that deserves to be shared. So, I've made it a comment.]
Dear Mr. Hines,
About a half hour ago I finished your 24 pp. article referred to in your March 8th Church of the Churchless remarks. (By the way, there are 10 kinds of people - those who know binary numbering...and those who don't.)
As for me, I just don't know about what you have stated/asserted. Perhaps you are correct that "...we possess an Intelligence that Science can only dream of" (very end of text on p. 24), and "Perhaps knowledge is an inherent dimension of reality, at least as fundamental as time and space" (near bottom of p. 16).
But I wonder. I sympathize with your observations, logic, and reasoning (although I am disinclined to accept the citations of "words"/"scriptures" as if I should respect them just for whoever it was that said them, or for their presence in some "canon").
But I still wonder. You are quite correct that: "For some, this talk smacks of irrational mystic blather, New Age claptrap..." - despite your reassuring words that: "It is nothing of the sort" (all near bottom of p. 15).
I don't know - but I do know that I don't know. I "liked" (so to speak) what you maintain(ed). I shall commend it on to several others for their possible reading/consideration. I just still wonder if you are full of crap. (No offense intended - as I've stated before.)
The "material" world certainly seems to lack an inherent "meaning" of which I am aware, but it surely does seem "real" in its impact on me (and others). The that which is "no thing" from which all "things" seem to have come forth...........well..........I just don't know.
Posted by: Robert | March 10, 2006 at 02:51 PM
Just for the sake of clarity, I indicate that the immediately above comment was sent to you by me some sixteen months ago.
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | July 09, 2007 at 01:59 PM
that which is "no thing" from which all "things" seem to have come forth...........well..........I just don't know.
Posted by: metin2 yang | June 15, 2010 at 06:23 AM
gosh, darn i cant cuss and rant and rave on this post. o well i'll do my besty to be polite. so u want me to turned my other cheek. be a good christian and accept the racism and hate that christian "whites" acted out on our First Nations peoples and in accordance with their so called holy book (and whites always and still do.....labeled us as "natives" indians tribes aleuts eskimos navahos etc etc. In this very day and hour, we are just a bunch of heathen dirty natives. I have 500 years of anger and by calling and lumping the whole of the white race into the slang racist term of "whites" do i get happy. o how i currently just love to call whites whites. and the more i do it the more enlightened i feel ha ha...the more i connect with holy divine eternal emptiness. i will probably stop this racist practice when you all stop calling us natives tribes indians etc etc
Posted by: mike | February 23, 2014 at 11:44 PM
so how to deal with this emptiness?cause i feel empty for 2 years,it is like nothing makes sense anymore...thoughts,emotions,structures...nothing makes sense to me and i can`t let go ,i can`t go deeper into experience because im afraid,im very much afraid :)
Posted by: ggggga | July 10, 2015 at 05:31 PM
Hi ggggga |
If it is what I remember myself from long ago
it is horrible
Are you on any SRSI medication
or were you
If you sharing some
my email is [email protected]
Posted by: 777 | July 11, 2015 at 03:20 PM