I like to reflect on the nature of this world and what is really true about it. In the Buddhist teachings, the nature of everything is described as emptiness. I have a lot of difficulty to fully understand this view. For example, in the Heart Sutra we find the famous statement, “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” What does it mean that everything is empty? Does it mean things don’t truly exist?
Often Buddhists get accused of believing that things don’t exist. However, many teachers I know have expressed regret about the translation of the term ‘shunyata’ as emptiness and feel it is highly misunderstood. They point out that Buddha does not deny that we experience this world as very solid and real. He is not saying things don’t exist, but rather that they don’t exist in the way we think they do.
In his book, The Joy of Living, Mingyur Rinpoche writes that a much better way to describe the idea that the nature of everything is emptiness would be to describe it as inconceivable.
Even with this new term, I still have a hard time to get my head around this idea. Things appear so real but yet when we investigate we come to the conclusion that we cannot find anything that is inherently existing. For example, lets look at matter, which we believe to be solid and real. If it were really solid and real then we would need to find solid and real atoms or particles in it that are truly existing single, permanent and independent entities. But even modern science shows that matter can be completely broken down into energy. So that stone wall that feels so real and solid, and that we can knock against, is actually mostly space with a lot of tiny little atoms buzzing around. And those atoms can change into energy and light. Yet when we try to run through this wall we can get seriously hurt. It’s a mystery, isn’t it?
I’ve been taught to focus on and look at two aspects in this type of contemplation: how things appear and how they truly are. These two aspects are called the two truths, the relative truth and the absolute or ultimate truth. I try to reflect on one for a while and then go back to the other and keep alternating between these two. It is also said to stop reflecting and to just rest for a while when one gets tired. It seems impossible that things appear so solid and real and yet we cannot find any inherently existing substance. Yet, even though we cannot find a ground or basis, all that appears and exists in this world is still arising.
When I do this kind of contemplation I usually come to the conclusion that it is truly amazing and mind boggling. There does not seem to be a possible answer to this dilemma. But maybe that is not such a bad thing because it is said that the goal of this type of reflection is to arrive at an open and spacious state of mind and simply rest in that.