Emptiness: The Most Misunderstood Word in Buddhism ~ Lewis Richmond

“Emptiness” is a central teaching of all Buddhism, but its true meaning is often misunderstood. If we are ever to embrace Buddhism properly into the West, we need to be clear about emptiness, since a wrong understanding of its meaning can be confusing, even harmful. The third century Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna taught, “Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end.” In other words, we will be bitten!

Emptiness is not complete nothingness; it doesn’t mean that nothing exists at all. This would be a nihilistic view contrary to common sense. What it does mean is that things do not exist the way our grasping self supposes they do. In his book on the Heart Sutra the Dalai Lama calls emptiness “the true nature of things and events,” but in the same passage he warns us “to avoid the misapprehension that emptiness is an absolute reality or an independent truth.” In other words, emptiness is not some kind of heaven or separate realm apart from this world and its woes.

The Heart Sutra says, “all phenomena in their own-being are empty.” It doesn’t say “all phenomena are empty.” This distinction is vital. “Own-being” means separate independent existence. The passage means that nothing we see or hear (or are) stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless, ever-changing landscape. So though no individual person or thing has any permanent, fixed identity, everything taken together is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.” This term embraces the positive aspect of emptiness as it is lived and acted by a person of wisdom — with its sense of connection, compassion and love. Think of the Dalai Lama himself and the kind of person he is — generous, humble, smiling and laughing — and we can see that a mere intellectual reading of emptiness fails to get at its practical joyous quality in spiritual life. So emptiness has two aspects, one negative and the other quite positive.

Ari Goldfield, a Buddhist teacher at Wisdom Sun and translator of Stars of Wisdom , summarizes these two aspects as follows:

The first meaning of emptiness is called “emptiness of essence,” which means that phenomena [that we experience] have no inherent nature by themselves.” The second is called “emptiness in the context of Buddha Nature,” which sees emptiness as endowed with qualities of awakened mind like wisdom, bliss, compassion, clarity, and courage. Ultimate reality is the union of both emptinesses.

With all of this in mind, I would like to highlight three common misunderstandings of emptiness: emotional, ethical and meditative.


When we say “I feel empty,” we mean we are feeling sad or depressed. Emotionally speaking, “emptiness” is not a happy word in English, and no matter how often we remind ourselves that Buddhist emptiness does not mean loneliness or separateness, that emotional undertow remains. At various times I have looked for a substitute translation for the Sanskrit sunyata — I have tried “fullness,” “spaciousness,” “connectedness,” and “boundlessness” — but as Ari Goldfield points out, “emptiness” is the most exact translation. “Emptiness” is also the term that my own teacher Shunryu Suzuki used, though he usually added context. Once, speaking of emptiness he said, “I do not mean voidness. There is something, but that something is something which is always prepared for taking some particular form.” Another time, speaking of the feeling tone of emptiness, he said, “Emptiness is like being at your mother’s bosom and she will take care of you.”


Some Buddhist students rationalize or excuse bad behavior of their teacher by asserting that through his understanding of emptiness the teacher is exempt from the usual rules of conduct. One student said, “Roshi lives in the absolute so his behavior can’t be judged by ordinary standards.” While it is true that Buddhist teachers sometimes use unusual methods to awaken their students, their motivation must come from compassion, not selfishness. No behavior that causes harm is acceptable for a Buddhist practitioner, teacher or otherwise.


Some Buddhist students think that a meditative state without thought or activity is the realization of emptiness. While such a state is well described in Buddhist meditation texts, it is treated like all mental states — temporary and not ultimately conducive to liberation. Actually emptiness is not a state of mind at all; it is, as the Dalai Lama says, simply “the true nature of things and events.” This includes the mind. Whether the mind of the meditator is full of thoughts or empty of them, this true nature holds.


Finally, since emptiness seems so difficult to understand, why did the Buddha teach it at all? It is because of his profound insight into why we suffer. Ultimately we suffer because we grasp after things thinking they are fixed, substantial, real and capable of being possessed by ego. It is only when we can see through this illusion and open ourselves, in Ari Goldfield’s words, “to the reality of flux and fluidity that is ultimately ungraspable and inconceivable” that we can relax into clarity, compassion and courage. That lofty goal is what makes the effort to understand emptiness so worthwhile.

What Is the Relationship Between God, Angelic Beings and Humans? ~ Lorna Byrne

John Esposito
, Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, sent me a list of questions he would like to ask me when he interviewed me in New York at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on March 14. Dr. Esposito has had to go Kuwait for an urgent meeting (see details of the event and the new moderator below), but I decided I should take the opportunity to answer some of his questions here.

Are all angels created at the beginning of time, or are they still being born or created?

Angels are creatures created by God.

People will frequently refer to a loved one who is dead such as a grandmother as their guardian angel, but the truth is their grandmother is more than any angel: Each and every human being has a soul, but no angel has a soul. This is why you and all humans are more than any angel. One of the reasons angels love being around us is because we have a soul.

All angels were created at the beginning of time and were created in abundance. No angels have been created since then.

How was the relationship between God, angelic beings and humans designed? Why is everyone assigned an angel or multiple angels, are they the lifeline to God?

I see a guardian angel with everyone, regardless of their religion, or whether they believe in angels. I see angels physically, as I see a person standing in front of me, and I have done so every day since I was a baby.

Everyone has only one guardian angel and this angel is with them from before their birth until after they die. This angel never ever leaves them, not even for one moment. I will often see other angels with someone in addition to their guardian angel. These angels come and go and it is their guardian angel who allows them to be there.

The guardian angel is a gift from God and is the gatekeeper of your soul. Your guardian angel is there to help to guide you through life, to help to make you aware that you are more than a physical body that you have a soul and that God is real. One of its most important tasks is to bring your soul home safely to Heaven when you die.

Your guardian angel is a lifeline between you and God. If God didn’t give us a guardian angel we would find it much more difficult to connect with Him. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we need to go through angels to reach God — far from it. I have never in my life prayed to an angel; I pray to God, but I know the angels enhance my prayer.

You say that angels can bring religions together, how? What is our role in making this happen, in helping angels stop or prevent evil? Why do angels need us to speak to them, don’t they already know from seeing us in trouble that we need their help?

Guardian angels are something we all share in common, regardless of our religion. I am a Catholic, born into an Ireland that at that time was largely Catholic. The first time I got any inkling of the different beliefs people have of God was when I was about 6 and was walking past a Protestant church near my home. I was looking at two big powerful angels who were standing on guard outside the church when my aunt told me I was never to go in there — that that was a Protestant church and no place for any Catholic. I was very confused by her comment.

In the years following, the angels explained to me that different religions have different beliefs, different traditions and different ways of praying. They always emphasized, however, that it was one and the same God that while religions are different one is not superior to another, and that one day all religions would come together under one umbrella.

I see angels in every place of prayer regardless of religion. No one ever prays alone, I see angels at prayer with everyone, even if one is simply saying a short prayer while waiting for the bus.

The angels have told me that when people of different religions come together to pray with an open heart and mind, not wishing to convert or defend, but simply to praise God and talk about him, then the power of their prayer is magnified.

Many people have fears of other religions. There is so much ignorance that leads to distrust and prejudice. The more people of different religions pray together the more we will break down these barriers. Through praying together the angels tell me we will learn to live in peace together and in doing so will create the cornerstone of a new, more peaceful world.

God has given us all free will and no angel can overstep this. This is why no angel can stop a person from doing evil. This does not mean that they are without power; angels are very powerful, but we need to play our part. When someone is listening to the other side (yes, have no doubt evil does exist, we only have to look at our world to see proof of this) his or her guardian angel is working hard trying to get them to listen. Very often, though, we don’t listen, and it is often easier to do wrong than right. I assure you your guardian angel never, ever tells you to do anything wrong, or hurtful, or dishonest, so if you are doing this you are not listening to your guardian angel.

The angels will also work through other people to avert the affects of evil, to change the course of events.

Your guardian angel is constantly in communication with you. However, you have to listen to it; when you acknowledge that you have a guardian angel and ask it for help, you empower it.

View here on Lorna’s bestseller – A Message of Hope from the Angels and Here on Angels in my hair

Lorna Byrne has been seeing and talking with Angels since she was a baby – in this interview she talks about her experiences and new book called Angels In My Hair

Lecture on SOMA Part 1 – 5 by David Frawley ( Vamadeva Shastri )

For more information on Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda: The Power of Rejuvenation and Immortality by Dr. David Frawley View Here

Traditional Tales: The Search for Peace

Once upon a time there was a King who offered a prize to the artist who was able to capture in a painting the concept of Profound Peace.

Many artists presented their screens and artwork.

The King watched and admired all the paintings, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between the two.

The first was a very quiet lake. This lake was a perfect mirror reflecting the placid mountains that surrounded it. On them lay a paradise very faint blue with white clouds.

Everyone who looked at this painting thought it reflected Profound Peace.

The second picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and were stripped of vegetation. On them was a stormy Paradise from which rushed a heavy downpour with lightning and thunder. It rumbled down the mountain in a torrent of foamy water. In all this was revealed nothing peaceful.
But when the King looked more closely, he saw behind the waterfall there was a bush growing in a crack in the rock. In this bush there lay a nest. There, amid the din of violent turbulence of the water, was a bird sitting placidly on her nest in deep … peace!

The King chose the second screen and said: “Peace does not mean to be in a place without noise, without problems, without hard work or to perform free of aches and temptations of the incarnation.

Peace means that despite being in the midst of all this, we remain calm and confident in our Sacred Heart Sanctuary. There we will find true Peace deep in silent meditation.”

~ humanityhealing.net

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