Fully Empty. . .

Emptiness, the usual translation of the Sanskrit word shunyata, is a key teaching of Buddhism. It is easy to misunderstand this teaching, because it conjures up notions of nothingness—nihilistic thoughts that nothing exists. But this is not what Buddhist “emptiness” means.

In general, we are fixated on things. We take objects in the world to be solid and real, to have an independent existence of their own. According to the Buddha, this view is not correct; this is not the way things actually are. If we look at our experience carefully, we can’t find a solid, separate existence for anything—including ourselves.

Everything manifests in dependence on everything else. At bottom, there’s no fundamental difference between our everyday experience and our experience in dreams: there is an ephemeral, phantomlike quality to experience. We think of things as being solid, independent, and permanent, but nothing actually has this nature. Things can be said to be “empty” in this sense. There is a general lack of solid, independent, permanent things.

Emptiness is taught in order to help us loosen our fixation on things, to let go. Our experience is still vividly present—in fact, more vividly present—when we are no longer fixated on fictitious concrete things; we can be more realistic and more effective in living with the fluid changeableness of the way things really are.

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