Form is Emptiness

nothingDuring the discussion of the Heart Sutra yesterday at the retreat I’m leading in Benediktushof, I started talking about how the idea that form is emptiness is very much related to some of the stuff people have discovered recently in the world of science.

A long time ago people figured out that all matter is made of smaller particles called atoms. The Indians of Buddha’s time had a theory like this analogous to the Western version. We’ve now scientifically verified the existence of atoms and have since gone on to discover that even atoms are made of smaller particles; quarks, leptons, slept-ons…

I don’t know the terminology or the details. But I do know that Einstein worked out that all matter is actually energy. One of the people attending the retreat is an astrophysicist. She knew the technical terms and said basically this is the current understanding.

What we experience as mind is also energy. But hang on one second there before you reach for your copy of The Secret and tell me all I need to do to get what I want is think real hard about it. I do not mean to imply that thought is the same as matter. Thought isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s just a specific kind of energy that travels through our brains and helps us create an approximation of the world, each other, and ourselves. We use this energy to navigate our way through life. But mind is much more than thought. Thought is just a tiny ripple on the surface that we pay way too much attention to.

Mind is not limited to my mind or your mind. Mind may be a fundamental property of the universe. Thought isn’t the same as matter. But Mind may be exactly the same as matter.

To say that one mind belongs to one person and another mind belongs to another person may be conventionally true and conventionally useful. But it isn’t the whole picture. Mind doesn’t really belong to any of us. The idea of an individual mind might be another illusion.

Maybe our image of the universe is completely wrong. Or perhaps a better way to say it is that maybe our image of the universe is completely incomplete, ultimately incomplete. Maybe it cannot ever be complete, at least not as long as we try to see if from the vantage point of a single human mind, which is, itself, a kind of fictional entity that doesn’t really exist.

If the elementary particles that make us up are actually nothing, what about us? Maybe we are all ultimately emptiness. We are all silence. We are all nothing.

And if that’s so, what sense does it make for one aspect of nothing to fight with another aspect of nothing over how much nothing each aspect possesses? Especially when we all possess nothing, which is the same as saying we all possess everything.

As you can tell, I have been doing far too much staring at walls over the past seven weeks. It makes looney ideas like this start to make sense. And not just make sense. It starts to make them the only ideas that make sense. The conventional way of looking at things starts to seem like a kind of sustained madness.



October 23-28, 2016 Benediktushof Meditation Centrum (near Würzburg, Germany) 5-Day Retreat

November 11-13, 2016 Mt. Baldy, California (near Los Angeles) Three Day Retreat

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