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Thread: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

  1. #1
    Treeleaf Unsui Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    This is a key statement in the Heart Sutra. All things are made up of and rely on other things. All things are interdependent. Nothing exists on its own. So, all things are one, and you and I are part of this oneness, while remaining one of the many things in this oneness.

    Does the dichotomy of the sentence construction, 'Form is emptiness; emptiness is form', cause confusion? Does it suggest that they are opposites, while actually asserting that they are in fact one?

    I think the structure of the sentence causes confusion if it is not carefully read, that emptiness is some kind of nihilistic nothingness. I think this is one of the most well known and most misunderstood utterances in the Zen tradition.

    What do you think?

    Gassho,
    Soen

  2. #2

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    I think, I sit on my ass in the morning and...insert time here.... I think I know nothing. My ass doesn't intellectualize. My ass doesn't ponder. He's talking about the balance point. Nothing to add nothing to take away.

    Perhaps

    Gassho

  3. #3

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    My ass occasionally intellectualizes, but I rarely ever listen.......he's an ass.

  4. #4

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Quote Originally Posted by soendoshin
    I think the structure of the sentence causes confusion if it is not carefully read, that emptiness is some kind of nihilistic nothingness. I think this is one of the most well known and most misunderstood utterances in the Zen tradition.
    I'd tend to agree. I've known colleagues, especially Philosophy types, who make a big deal of the word "empty" in Zen . . . taking it in its plain,everyday sense and almost divorcing the word from the context of all the rest of the sutra. Without zazen practice, the words are just ideas pointing at other ideas, IMO . . . a recipe book being read instead of cooking recipes. Shikantaza is the decoder ring for Zen teachings and sutras, without it, they read like idealistic jibberish.

    Just my view today . . . I'll wake in the morning, read this, and think, "what a moron I was to say that."

    Gassho,
    Eika

  5. #5

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    This is why some translations, such as the "Void", have gone out of favor.

    I have been using "the dancing" ... a swirl and whirl of ongoing flow and movement that (when causes and conditions temporarily come together) seems to spin out you and me and all other things made up of that very swirl and whirl ...

    ... until we spin back into the "dance" again, for you and me and all things were just the dancing, the swirl and whirl, all along ...

    ... such that truly there was no separate you-me-other, but all just the dancing ... the dancing that's dancing the dancing all along ...

    ... a dance so much in constant swirl and whirl that one cannot pin it down or put one's finger on it, there but now not there, already moving on ...

    This Zen Practice might be called learning to be graceful dancers of that vibrant dance.

    (long version here 8) ):

    viewtopic.php?p=41841#p41841





    Gassho, J

  6. #6

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    After a small nuclear explosion goes off in your mind :wink: then the view becomes 'no form, no emptiness'

    But we always seem to pick up the pieces and go about our business so 'form is form and emptiness is emptiness'

    That's what I think.

  7. #7

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Dogen's jazzy version is illuminating:
    Form is nothing but form, emptiness is nothing but emptiness.
    One hundred blades of grass. Ten thousand things
    According to shokaku Okumura in "realizing Genjokoan" Dogen chose that rendering to avoid a more subtle type of dualism of intellectually labeling things as "empty"
    Dogen cautions us not to live our lives according to our thinking: he admonishes us rather to just see and just live. To live this way means that we just see and experience what we encounter in our lives without saying that is empty, even though it really is empty. That's it. We don't need to say " this is empty" if it really is empty
    Gassho

    Rimon

  8. #8

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    I second what Rimon is expressing,

    Form and Emptiness are both only concepts of the mind,
    though there is Form and Emptiness.
    Again, what I just wrote is only a concept, though .. ad infinitum

    However, there is that teaching, and the original question, if this
    expression might cause confusion. Sure it can ! It is medicine and
    sure medicine can help and can make it worse

    _()_
    Peter

  9. #9

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Hello,

    this is actually a huge topic, and I won't be able to do it any justice with my two novice cents, but here it goes.

    The line, "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" should IMHO be read within the context that it is used, with parts of the Heart Sutra being an antidote to certain schools of Abhidharma teachings that had a slight tendency to over-intellectualise and analyse things/create more and more lists and descriptions etc. without necessarily getting closer to the marrow of thusness as it is.

    To understand the general meaning of "Form is emptiness" seems to come easy to most people after a brief introduction to some core Buddhist analytical approaches. However the "emptiness is form" part is a whole lot trickier and is the equivalent of "returning to the marketplace" or mountains being mountains again, which means that we are talking about a deep experiential perspective that transcends mere intellectual mind games (but is no hidden Voodoo magic either).

    The Heart Sutra tells us in no uncertain terms, that whatever we limit, isolate and name, point to etc. is not the full scope of the ultimate nature of things per se, since we are still caught in a web of dualism ....an imaginary subject pointing to an imaginary object.

    At the end of the day, we are not left with nothing, we are left with the Mantra GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA...... and without going into the details of this mantra, it is clear that although there is no form, no mind, no XYZ.... we are not left with a nihilistic void, but with a thusness represented through the great perfection of wisdom. However, as far as our normal day to day reference consciousness applies, it is not a THING in the usual sense of the word.

    Spontaneous unfettered and empty activity, constantly revealing itself through form, through mind, through everything in between, through dualism and peak experiences, through traffic jams and deathbed prayers.

    Let us rejoice at the splendour the ancestors shared with us. SVAHA indeed!


    Gassho,

    Hans


    Gassho,

    Hans

  10. #10

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans

    Gassho,

    Hans


    Gassho,

    Hans
    One Gassho for Form, One for Emptiness.

  11. #11
    Treeleaf Unsui Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Some interesting posts.
    First off, the ass bone is connected to the brain bone. Remember that kid's rhyme? We call it the 'mind-body'. I have yet to meet a disembodied ass.
    I think Jundo's dance analogy is a spark of light. The whole thing is constantly morphing and in motion. I agree, too, that 'void' sends us down the wrong road.
    Hans, I also like your 'an imaginary subject pointing to an imaginary object'.
    Form is emptiness. Simple.
    Emptiness is form. The same thing viewed upside down; downside up.
    But isn't there still room for confusion?
    That things are 'empty' of inherent existence is fine. They are caused by other things.
    But many commentators point to another meaning here of empty … one that agrees with modern physics. That actual matter breaks down into smaller bits until we get to … ? Isn't this another meaning of 'empty'? At the subatomic level, all matter falls away. But clearly, there still is matter. Emptiness is form.
    Yes, I know that the mountain is just the mountain. My toothbrush is just my toothbrush. But as Jundo once said, we have language and words (and brains … and asses, apparently) and therefore we must speak.
    Sit first. Yes. Just sit. But then we can talk about these things, too. Because, as Zen people know, the intellect is just the intellect. But it is the intellect, nonetheless. No more. No less.

    Gassho,
    Soen

  12. #12
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Soen wrote:
    Yes, I know that the mountain is just the mountain
    But like you said modern physics says that a mountain IS mostly empty space. Take away all that space an the mountain shrinks considerably. It retains it's weight but it's size becomes a fraction of what it once was. So quite literally form is mostly empty! I kind of think of the whole form and emptiness somewhat like you mentioned as being upside down only I think of it as being like the moon reflected on the smooth surface of water. The one in the sky truly has form but it's reflection in the water is formless as it can be distorted by a single breeze. Which one is real? They both are at the same time. Well something like that anyway. My understanding of zen concepts is often limited :wink:

    Gassho,
    John

  13. #13

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Quote Originally Posted by JRBrisson
    Soen wrote:
    Yes, I know that the mountain is just the mountain
    But like you said modern physics says that a mountain IS mostly empty space. Take away all that space an the mountain shrinks considerably. It retains it's weight but it's size becomes a fraction of what it once was. So quite literally form is mostly empty! I kind of think of the whole form and emptiness somewhat like you mentioned as being upside down only I think of it as being like the moon reflected on the smooth surface of water. The one in the sky truly has form but it's reflection in the water is formless as it can be distorted by a single breeze. Which one is real? They both are at the same time. Well something like that anyway. My understanding of zen concepts is often limited :wink:

    Gassho,
    John
    It is rather risky to equate Buddhist concepts with modern physics quite often ... because they may or may not be pointing at the same things. However, here, more than the empty space between the little bits of matter ...

    ... I think of atoms dancing with atoms, atomic particles swirling within particles, sub-atomic particles twirling inside that ... such that (says modern physics) there really isn't any solid there, just energy and motion first in this place then moving on to the next ...

    ... and so the mountain is in constant motion, although appearing quite solid and still. (I had a geologist friend tell me that, if you could actually take a timelapse photo of a stone, you might see its "pouring" like liquid over time, like molten lava but very slowly ...)

    And the mountain is just pouring into the ground, and not apart from the sky ... or the trees and streams of the mountain ... or the sun, stars, you and me ...

    (on a subatomic level, there is no clear boundary where one thing ends and another begins, all a big "continuum).

    ... all filled with particles, and particles in particles ... that are not even "particles" ... in constant dance. And "you" are just this dance.

    Something like that.

    Gassho, J

  14. #14
    Treeleaf Unsui Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    That's great guys. And Jundo, I really appreciate your last post. Sometimes the nail is hit square and solidly on the head.
    Gassho

  15. #15
    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Thanks for the thread Soen and for all these posts. This line always makes me stop and ponder.
    I understand this idea of physical space and relative mass and the constant transformations that we are all part of. But I also have an understanding that form may also be the concepts that we attach to objects that create the apparent form of something. With a mountain we automatically and subconsciously attach the concepts of large, solid, heavy, permanent, imoveable. Without these attached thoughts the mountain is just a perceived shape or a colour difference on a horizon. If you are on it, it disappears and is just another change in terrain.
    Therefore if we do not attach concepts to things, these things appear to us as fresh perceptions rather than the usual, mundane, accepted objects we have already classified and stored away in our own 'permanent' construction of the world around us.
    I experience a kind of 'space' when this perceiving occurs...not a 'peak' moment ...but a silence and stillness that is just 'empty' ....but not a void.
    Maybe the dance is realised when our thinking ceases to attach?

  16. #16

    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks to everyone for this thread, a lot of interesting things really...
    Just my two "euro-cents"
    Quote Originally Posted by soendoshin
    Does the dichotomy of the sentence construction, 'Form is emptiness; emptiness is form', cause confusion?
    Well, I've found that dualist approach to this "form and emptiness subject" is particularly possible when only referring to the Heart Sutra.
    But the heart sutra is the very heart of all the prajnaparamita literature and thus, the pith instruction with nothing superficial left in it.
    But if you refer to the Diamond sutra, the exacts same things are said... but in the context of a questioning and answering process between Shakyamuni Buddha and the Bodhisattva Subhuti. Each time Gautama speaks about a concept, subuthi expresses his doubts and Shakyamuni directly answers to correct these "wrong views". At the end all the things said in the Heart sutra are also explained in the Diamond sutra, untill the very concept of an Ego or an non-ego, the concept of the Dharma or a non-Dharma are finally sweep by the "unwritable reality" of "Suchness"...

    Well, I hope I'm not too much out of the subject... I just wanted to say that the Heart sutra is a little Jewel, the very condensed core of our practice, but when we read it in relation with the diamond sutra a lot of "concept mistakes" can be avoid... note that the very conception of a mistake regarding this Dharma is quite funny :lol: And that maybe reading the two regularly and trying to interpret them with my narrow views is a "concept mistake" by itself :wink:

    I'll get back to work!
    Have a nice day everyone!
    gassho,
    Jinyu

  17. #17
    disastermouse
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    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    Quote Originally Posted by soendoshin
    This is a key statement in the Heart Sutra. All things are made up of and rely on other things. All things are interdependent. Nothing exists on its own. So, all things are one, and you and I are part of this oneness, while remaining one of the many things in this oneness.

    Does the dichotomy of the sentence construction, 'Form is emptiness; emptiness is form', cause confusion? Does it suggest that they are opposites, while actually asserting that they are in fact one?

    I think the structure of the sentence causes confusion if it is not carefully read, that emptiness is some kind of nihilistic nothingness. I think this is one of the most well known and most misunderstood utterances in the Zen tradition.

    What do you think?

    Gassho,
    Soen
    Not just in the Zen tradition, LOL!

  18. #18
    Treeleaf Unsui Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Re: Form is emptiness; emptiness is form

    It is, among others

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