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Buddhadharma : Summer 2017
summer 2017 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 41 guy armstrong • daiJaku kinst • ari goldField emptiness SCULPTURES | shi zhongying Forum sculpturescourtesyoFredgategallery,beiJing uDDhADhARMA: Let’s begin by exploring how shun- yata is defined in different traditions. Guy, how is it described in the early teachings of the Buddha? Guy ARMSTRONG: There are two main meanings of empti- ness in the early teachings. The first is being empty of self. Ananda asked the Buddha, “What does it mean when you say ‘Empty is the world’?” The Buddha replied, “It’s because the world is empty of self and of what belongs to a self that it’s said, empty is the world.” So the first meaning is not-self, or anatta. The second is an approach to medita- tion that the Buddha called “abiding in emptiness.” The Buddha’s instruction was not to add anything to present- moment experience but to regard it as empty of what is not there. The Buddha also talked about phenomena being empty of substantiality. Although the term shunyata doesn’t get used in this context, he describes the five aggregates as being void, hollow, and insubstantial. BuDDhADhARMA: Daijaku, how does Zen build on the view of shunyata put forth in the early teachings of the Buddha? DAIJAKu KINST: Soto Zen teachings emphasize both the par- ticularity and the insubstantiality of phenomena. It is pre- sented as a kind of dynamic activity. For example, Dogen, in his fascicle Zenki, compares life to a boat sailing on the sea. All the activities of sailing—the boat, the sea, the wind, those working the rudder and sail and pole—make the moment of sailing/boat/person/sea. When we realize that we are this dynamic activity, all of it, in our ordinary day-to- day lives as well as in zazen, there is liberation and compas- sion. There’s a lot made about differences between schools, and there are differences, but here I think it’s more a matter of emphasis. BuDDhADhARMA: Ari, what is a Vajrayana framework for understanding shunyata? ARI GOLDFIELD: There’s an emphasis in the Tibetan tradition on connecting with emptiness in relation to our experience. We tend to experience our world as filled with situations, people, and feelings that seem to have a solid existence that’s hard to work with; from that, we feel averse to our experience and suffering arises. So the first level of the emptiness teachings is to see that things are empty of objec- tive existence, even as they exist in relationship with us as the experiencer. And because things don’t have any fixed, immovable existence, we can discover a sense of fluidity and workability in how we relate to them, and we can experi- ence emptiness as less and less separation between ourselves and the energy of our experience. BuDDhADhARMA: We’re all using “emptiness” as a translation of shunyata. How do you feel about that translation? DAIJAKu KINST: I think the translation of shunyata as Exploring Emptiness The teachings on shunyata, or emptiness, are a cornerstone of Buddhism. Our panel discusses what emptiness is, what it isn’t, and why it ultimately points to an experience that is dynamic, intimate, and workable.