“The perfect man is like a mirror; it does not move with things, nor does it anticipate them; it receives but does not retain them. Therefore he is able to deal with things, but he is not affected by them.”
excerpt from Chuang Tzu (Chapter 7)1
Why Emptiness? At first look, you may wonder how the concept of emptiness can have any value. After all, by definition, it can be defined as nothingness. The wise sovereign looks beyond what may seem obvious to seek other perspectives. The concepts of non-absolute, inevitable change, and seeking multiple perspectives will give you a starting point.
If it is true that emptiness is not absolute, then there must be something more to emptiness. Empty and nothing are sometimes subjective and are relevant to the observer. Accepting that even emptiness is not absolute will give you a reason to look deeper. If at this point your are arguing in your mind about this, try relaxing your tight grip on that perspective and just see where it goes. A different point of view or perspective is not necessarily a threat, right?
Consider the void of outer space. For so long humanity has considered the nothingness between planetary bodies to be completely empty of anything. Perhaps this is because there was little to perceive through visual means. But when scientists use other instruments or devices to scan the void of space they find a lot of other phenomena going on. The human eye can only see light-energy in one area of its’ spectrum. So even though it may at first appear to be empty, with help we can see something where there appears to be nothing.
While it is not absolutely known what existed before the big bang, many theorize that there was only a void. From this void came the universe in a creative bang that is still in the creative process. From nothingness came everything. From the smallest cluster of wave packets to the largest galaxies, the expanding universe began from emptiness.
“The stillness in stillness is not the real stillness.
Only the stillness in movement,
can the spiritual rhythm appear which pervades heaven and earth.
The Caigentan (Ts’ai-ken t’an)2
Another way to view emptiness is in the concept of stillness. Stillness of the mind as a state of being, is to be empty of the incessant mind-stream of thinking. Within the stillness, that gap between the episodes of thinking, you can gain insight. Stillness is the residence of the spiritual self.
Consider, who it is observing the mind? That alone should give you pause. This is the object of meditation. Realization of that which observes. It is pure consciousness. This is the true self, your spiritual core as a living being. Observing and realizing what is crossing over the mind, yet free from it, is the realization of true self-awareness. Sitting in stillness you return to calm abiding (meditative state).
Creative potential remains unseen in emptiness or where there seems to be nothing. Then some motive initiates the spark that unleashes change. As the sovereign, the ruler of your mind-kingdom, you hold the potential for creation. Consciousness, or spirit, observes and gives birth to thought. Thought becomes creative action that will manifest in the outer or external world. Consciousness is the stillness before thought. Each of us has enormous potential waiting in the stillness. When thinking arises it creates the reality we dwell in. When your spirit becomes sovereign over the rest of the external mind, (the ego), then choices are coordinated from a deeper intention. Choices can be aligned with wisdom to create a better world.
Emptiness gives function to form
“Thirty spokes join in one hub
in its emptiness is the function of a vehicle
Mix clay to create a container
In its emptiness there is the function of a container
Cut open doors and windows to create a room
In its emptiness, there is the function of a room
Therefore, that which exists is used to create benefit
That which is empty is used to create functionality
Chapter 11 Tao Te Ching
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In chapter 11, Lao Tzu shares the concept that emptiness gives functionality to that which is solid.
- It is the hole in the wagon wheel hub that allows an axle to be placed.
- A coffee mug that is a solid cylinder has no space for coffee.
- A room with no doors or windows has little function without a means to enter and exit. It also would have no way for air and light to enter. If a room were solid, there would be no place to dwell and thus have no relevant function.
From an abstract perspective, you may consider that an absolute and solid conviction about any subject leaves little room for possibility and discovery. When we can empty our minds from the ego and an entrenched perspective we allow:
- Stillness (pure consciousness) to create space for spiritual insight.
- Spiritual insight (intuition) to create space for possibility
- Possibility to create space for hope
- Hope to give rise to courage and willpower
Consider how the insight of emptiness overlaps with the first four steps listed in the previous chapters.
Your sacred journey “begins beneath your feet.” If you are without hope or are too bound up within the ego frame of perspective you may never take the first step. When open to possibility, hope will empower you to begin your journey of self-exploration.
If you are open-minded and empty of entrenched beliefs and views you allow yourself to consider the ancient wisdom of the Tao. This philosophical wisdom has matured over 4500 years and is as relevant today as it was back then.
When you step back from absolutism you give function to potential by opening the door to possibility. Extremism is a room with no doors and windows which may only function as a mental-emotional prison cell. Change is the only absolute and is the creative force of nature.
Emptiness gave birth to the “myriad of things”3 that we can observe as the universe. Free of absolutism, you can accept impermanence and change is the process of creation. The complementary relationship between yin and yang can also be seen in another complementary relationship of empty becoming less empty, or nothing becoming something.
Cause and effect is a law of nature for both the internal and external aspect of reality. Your choices are seeds planted in the present moment that grows into a destiny realized in a later now. Thoughts become action through choice. Choice initiates change which results in your destiny. When you can be empty of a fixed perspective, you become open to a possibility. Realization of what is possible, you can allow inspiration and hope to enter your empty mind and guide you out of the prison of suffering.
Emptiness As A Source
Emptiness is the source by which possibility becomes reality through choice. Good choices create a more successful destiny. Emptiness, possibility, hope, inspiration, and intuition reveal the door to your mental prison and give you the courage to walk out of the darkness and into the light.
Mindfulness meditation is a way of cultivating the ability to observe what is on your mind. When you learn how to observe without judgment and reaction you can gain insight.
Insight meditation is a concentrated observation or reflecting on your life and being able to view it through multiple perspectives. This is a kind of openness or emptiness that can free a person from the prison of mental activity.
In cultivating sovereignty, you will work towards understanding and the implementation of the concept of emptiness as a source. Hopefully, by now, you realize the necessity of meditation as the awakening process from the ego-mind into pure being and spiritual awareness.
Contemplate the insight of how emptiness can give function to substance (form) for both the internal and the external. Being the sovereign of your mental kingdom (your mind), it becomes possible to make better choices that create your life. In stillness, the sovereign can be open and able to provide the space for hope, possibility, inspiration, intuition, and change.
1Paraphrase from several translations of the Chuang-tzu
2Ts’ai-ken t’an: a treatise written in the late 1500’s by Ming Dynasty philosopher Hong_Zicheng. A compiliation of teachings from Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.
3“myriad of things” This phrase is used in various chapters of the Tao Te Ching and means “all things” or “all under creation” (everything)