Buddhist Fullness Born From Emptiness
Teaching emptiness to the Western student is the most difficult thing, because as soon as I teach emptiness they think about psychological emptiness. Psychological emptiness of having a big hole in your heart. Or you’re lonely or depressed or depleted. Meaninglessness. Something is not there and they need to fill. They think emptiness is that, very negative.
Buddhist emptiness is not that. Buddhist emptiness is, in a way, a fullness.
I like what Thich Nhat Hahn said, “Empty of what?” That is important—empty of this solid, unchanging substantial nature of things. Everything is changing. Everything is becoming. In a way, the emptiness is emptying of a solid, fixed nature. Emptiness is this vortex of life energy where everything is interconnected and everything comes out of it.
I say to students, “Think emptiness in a positive way.” Because they are the computer generation, I say, “Emptiness is as your delete button on your computer. You delete, delete, delete, and then you always have a clean page. You can write anything you want. That is emptiness. You just delete and then there is a beautiful, clean screen and you can really create your life.”
That is Buddhist notion of emptiness. Not a big hole in your heart.
When you start the Heart Sutra you say, fullness is emptiness, emptiness is fullness. That is Buddhist way of explaining emptiness, which means, since everything is void of this unchanging, everlasting solid nature, it is changing constantly in relationships. You can see it and it is constantly changing and constantly evolving and becoming. And, you see this every moment as it is. That is like living with emptiness.
I have always have told them, “You have a bowl. If it is filled with everything, if I want to give you great ice cream or something, there is no place you can put this new thing. But if your bowl is empty, then you can receive everything.”
This emptiness is in a way your wide openness to see whatever is coming to you in this life. You have availability. You have openness to see, “Ah, wow, this is new. How interesting.” That is emptiness.
Chung Hyun Kyung is Professor of Ecumenical Theology and Interfaith Engagement at Union Theological Seminary and a Buddhist Dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen She trained with Seung Sahn Sunim and Thich Nhat Hanh. She is a peace activist and an author of many articles and books on eco-feminist theologies and peoples’ movements, all based on her extensive research in Asia, Africa and Latin America. She was interviewed for the new documentary Jesus and Buddha: Practicing Across Traditions.
Old Dog Documentaries interviewed Prof. Chung for their newest film, Jesus and Buddha: Practicing Across Traditions. ODD is two filmmakers, John Ankele and Anne Macksoud. They write: “We are two “old dogs” worried about the state of our world and saddened by the suffering we see all around us. Since 1985, we have produced and directed documentary films about the subtleties of individual human experience and the complexities of our collective challenges. Our work encourages thoughtful responses to the interconnectedness of all life. We hope it inspires viewers to become agents of change, determined to do what it takes to create a more just and peaceful world.” Learn more about ODD and Jesus and Buddha at Old Dog Documentaries website.
Asst. Editor: Edith Lazenby
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