On Emptiness

On the concept of the void.

The following writing is about two characters from ancient China, circa 600 BCE, to 300 BCE, followed by Zen Buddhism and the concept of emptiness. I’m not an expert on these ways of life. The writing is obviously my interpretation of what it means. It’s not supposed to be a historical document full of facts. So chill out you son of a gun.

I once heard a funny comment on Lao Tzu, regarding Tao. “If those who speak, do not know, then why write a book about it?” And the comment was to note that we talk about our views because we can’t help ourselves. Because we have to. When one has found something interesting and inspiring, they have to share it.

I recently said that it’s pointless to try to talk about something which can’t be explained. It might be pointless, but it’s worth it simply because you can point to it, outline it and play with it. And that’s the point. Something that is inexpressible, is for that very reason, valuable.

Lao Tzu had a follower, named Chuang Tzu. He is considered an “elaborator” of the former, who wrote thirty something books or chapters, allegedly, which were collected into a single book. They expand what Lao Tzu had said in his Tao Te Ching. Chuang Tzu had a lot to say about the value of the useless life. The tree which is to be cut down into a vessel, has more usage as a tree, because it was old and withered. Likewise, things being useless, that they serve no purpose outside their being there, is valuable. The book also makes a case, that every technological instrument that is designed to solve a problem, creates more problems.

So in a way, their books were to show to the rulers of their time, that the best form of government is one, which generally lets things take their course. This was a counterculture against Confucianism. It said that the more you try to force things, the more adverse results you will get. And I think anyone can see some sense in that. If everybody forced their way into wherever they were going, I can imagine all kinds of dire situations.

But, Taoism didn’t go at it alone. It was integrated with Confucianism to form the two principal philosophies of China. And with the migration of Buddhism to China, it gave birth to something called Chan, which a little later was brought to Japan and turned to what is known as Zen Buddhism.

The main idea of Zen that I’ve adopted to a more or less degree, is that reality can’t embraced in a concept. That words, cannot contain it. It would be like trying to drink the Pacific ocean with a fork. And that is why all our attempts to define what reality is, is usually less than satisfactory to people. If it wasn’t, then they would settle for an adequate description of it. But there is none. So they read all kinds of material, to try to find that description.

Zen is the synthesis of Taoism and Buddhism. And the reason why they came along so well was, that each of them contained a concept common to them of emptiness or the void. And what emptiness means to me, as it is called ‘sunyata’, is the following. That, every phenomena in the universe, are void, that is to say, that they don’t contain a self-essence of any kind. That they are not apart or independent from everything else.

In other words, everything is literally relative, and furthermore, part of a massive interdependent network which is the cosmos. This is sunyata as it is depicted in the Avatamsaka Sutra or the Flower Garland Scripture.

Now, without advocating these things any further, I wanted to mention them in passing for one reason. This network that I described, is the same concept, as B. Fuller’s idea of the universe as an interrelated interconnected multiplicity of events, drawing from his Synergetics, Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, which is in my opinion one of the most impenetrable works I own.

I don’t recommend it to anyone unless they have an understanding of math basics, (which I don’t) and loads of passion, time and an open mind. Anyway, the main point here is that the universe is a single system, with its parts connected in subtle ways.

But this network is what the cosmology of those ways of life in the East are showing, thousands of years before we had any idea how vast the universe really is. And in a way, we’re catching up to them now, which is funny.

Still, a person who wants to state that something really is separate from the rest of it, is like taking the internet and claiming that a computer connected to it is separate from the rest of the internet. And to me that makes no sense, unless you disconnected the computer entirely. But in this network that I’m talking about, the universe, there isn’t any “disconnection” taking place, ever. It only seems that way, because we have the ability to think it is.

So, what started out as an anciently simple idea of the inseperability of things, is turning out to be just that, through quantum phenomena, and mathematics in the modern age. And I leave the reader with a question. If the network is real, as a network, why do we generally think that we are disconnected from it?