Experiencing self, other and world as empty is to joyfully experience one’s place in a light, free, open-ended, interpenetrating webwork of relations and dependencies. ~ Greg Goode
Stillness Speaks is pleased to offer this comprehensive ten-part series that explores the nature of Emptiness, written by Greg Goode. This post briefly overviews the series. All of Greg’s statements are quoted in italics.
In Part 1 of the series Greg dives right into the Buddhist understanding Emptiness, as a concept and as a lived, embodied experience.
This Intro will be primarily about Buddhism, because this is a very good place to start one’s emptiness study. You get a very clear picture of how realizing emptiness can lead to freedom and peace, and you learn about the importance of compassion. Once the connection to peace and the importance of compassion are in place to serve as guides to your study of emptiness (in addition to any teachers you may have), you can combine Buddhist meditations, if you wish, with a huge variety of Western insights.
Greg describes that emptiness….
- teachings are widely held to be transformational and liberating.
- teachings are found mostly in Buddhism, but analogous teachings exist in the West as well.
- means interdependence or relationality.
- does not mean non-existence; it means interdependent existence.
- meditations do not refute everyday, conventional existence. They refute inherent, objective existence.
- and compassion work together. They are interdependent.
Greg asks Why Emptiness? Emptiness is another kind of nondual teaching. Read Emptiness Part 1 to learn how Emptiness teachings demonstrate that the “I,” as well as everything else, lacks inherent existence and much more….
In Part 2 of this 10-part series Greg continues his overview by exploring key questions: How is Emptiness Nondual? and What Does Emptiness Mean?
The most common connotation of “nonduality” is “oneness” or “singularity.” Many teachings state that everything is actually awareness; those teachings are nondual in the “oneness” sense in which there are no two things….But there is another sense of “nonduality.” Instead of nonduality as “oneness,” it’s nonduality as “free from dualistic extremes.”
To explore what emptiness means Greg asks What are things empty of? According to the Buddhist teachings, things are empty of inherent existence. Being empty of inherent existence means that there is no essential, fixed or independent way in which things exist. Things have no essential nature. There is no way things truly are, in and of themselves.
In Part 3 of this series Greg explores how emptiness helps ease suffering and in the process, he stresses the critical importance of continually investigating ones self, other beings and objects.. if there is anything we still regard as inherent, self-natured or objectively existent, our sense of inherency is not gone…So there is nothing that the emptiness teachings say not to investigate.
Greg relates the Buddha’s legend which helps us understand what Buddhism means by suffering, and how emptiness teachings can alleviate it. From this legend Greg presents insights that help pinpoint what Buddhism means by suffering.
Gautama’s life was already going well before he ever began seeking. According to the legend, he was royalty. The issues that upset Gautama had to do with human impermanence and mortality. Being a member of the royalty was perhaps an easy, pleasant life, but it was not enough to counteract these existential issues.
Part 4 , Part 5, and Part 6 get into the nitty gritty details of Buddhist perspectives on emptiness covering The Dialectical Approach, Emptiness and Dependent Arising, Conventional Existence, Emptiness Itself is Empty and Inherent Existence.
On Conventional Existence…
So how do things exist if they don’t exist inherently? According to the Buddhist teachings, things exist in an everyday, non-inherent, dependent way. Our mode of existence is dependent on many things, such as the causes and conditions that give rise to us, the components that make us up, and the ways we are cognized and categorized. According to the teachings, we are not separate and independent entities, but rather we exist in dependence on webworks of relations and transactions.
On Inherent Existence…
… the kind of existence we uncritically think things have, existing under their own power, without help from anything else. Our sense that things exist in this way is the root of our suffering, according to the Buddhist teachings…. Actually, being able to locate and isolate this sense of inherent existence in yourself is good news. The more clearly you can grasp the sense of inherent existence, the more powerfully you will be able to realize emptiness when you do your meditations.
But isolating our inherent sense of existence is only one step on the way to its complete disillusion…
According to the emptiness teachings, inherent existence is the kind of existence that things do not have. Things actually lack inherent existence, because they exist as dependent arisings. This dependency is the lack of inherent existence which, in turn, is their emptiness.
In Part 7, Greg turns to a much needed component of emptiness, Compassion and Emptiness. Compassion moves the practitioner beyond a merely memorized or intellectual understanding of the emptiness teachings. Compassion helps one’s realization become global and holistic.
A greater understanding of emptiness enables greater compassion. The more strongly one realizes that one’s self and other selves are empty of inherent existence, the less one experiences an essential distinction between one’s self and another. It becomes harder to place one’s own happiness above that of others. It becomes easier to act in such a way that others are benefited, not just one’s self.
Part 8 explores How to Realize Emptiness by outlining in detail numerous stages in the study of emptiness, which are integrated into much of the Buddhist path. In summary, Greg states…
In a nutshell, the realization of emptiness of an object is accomplished through trying to find and validate that object’s inherent existence. One narrows down the options and looks everywhere where the object’s inherent existence might be found. What happens is that one fails to find inherent existence. What one finds is the simple lack of inherent existence. This lack is the thing’s emptiness.
Part 9 looks at the Pivotal Step for realizing emptiness and celebrates the joyful abundance found within the Experience of Emptiness…
Experiencing self, other and world as empty is to joyfully experience one’s place in a light, free, open-ended, interpenetrating webwork of relations and dependencies. Lightness and joy come from no longer feeling as though reality has or needs a foundation. One no longer suffers from existential commitments, yearnings and anxieties. Life and death are freed up. Nothing seems ultimately stiff, frozen, apart, separate or unchangeable. There are no more conceptions of an inherently existing self that exists on its own yet needs to be defended, propped up, aggrandized and pleasured forever.
In the conclusion to this series, Part 10, Greg closes his overview of emptiness with a brief discussion about Western Teaching. He validates Buddhism’s long proven investigative methods compared to Western ways.
There is one big difference, however, between Buddhist and Western approaches. It’s not that Buddhism “takes you further,” but that Buddhism has a very effective, time-tested “soteriological” context in place. That is, Buddhism has sanghas, teachers, meditations and other supportive means that greatly emphasize the liberating effects of this investigation.
We are honored to publish this guest post series authored by Greg Goode which is sourced from his website. Greg is one of the teachers in Stillness Speaks library so please visit his teacher’s page for comprehensive information about his work.