Test Two Essay #3
November 5th, 2014
The Relationship of Suchness and Emptiness
Even though the definitions for both words will cause some people trouble (and emptiness is probably the most easily misunderstood term from Buddhism), "emptiness" and "suchness" are very closely related, and are not as different as some might think. You can only find yourself in your suchness if you are first "emptied" of everything and all of your conditioning. Everything in nature is in its suchness; it is the way that it is, and in this suchness its emptiness, and the way that it connects with all other things, can be found in the same way as it can be found in human beings.
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Suchness is a word that speaks about the interconnectedness amongst all beings and things through circumstances and interdependence. This is a tricky idea, though, and one that I’ve struggled with from the beginning. It’s easy for one to say that we’re all interconnected and that we must “be the sunshine”, but how does one become the sunshine? I can feel the sunshine, and I can see how, without the sunshine, I would not exist. But how does that mean that without me the sunshine would not exist?
Everything that is, has to be, otherwise the current moment would not be possible. I am a part of this current moment, so it would follow that I must exist in order for everything else to be possible; but without me, why can there not be a different “current moment” that exists? Why can there not be a “right now” where the sunshine exists without me? The idea that something cannot exist without the sunshine, or the clouds, or the air is an easy one to understand. Clearly, all of those things make such a substantial effect on everything. But me, what do I really add to the current moment of life? Without me, people could still make paper, people could still breathe, people could still live and nature would still go on. If we are all interconnected together with everything else then some parts of the connection are very weak indeed.
However, along with this idea of suchness, and being confused with the idea that there is only one immense being that all of creation is a part of, I find that emptiness is a concept that is slightly easier to deal with. The Western idea of emptiness is a bad thing. Living in the good old U.S. of A, if something is empty there is a problem. Your bank account should be full, your closet should be full, your refrigerator should be full, your mind should be full, etc. This Western idea of emptiness is completely off though; emptiness in Buddhism speaks of a wonderful potential and connection. If something is empty, it is in its suchness, it is what it is and it has the potential to be filled with anything. If something is full it is dying. To use the classic example of the cup: if our cups, as people, are full, what more can we add? We are already full. In order to learn new things we must “empty our cups” and let go of the preexisting notions and conditions that have been ingrained in ourselves. “And if we ask, “Empty of what?” he has to answer. And this is what he said: “They are empty of a separate self.” (p. 7) If we empty ourselves of all that we think that we are, we will be empty of the self that makes us think that we are separate. And in this emptiness, if we look, we will find that therein lies our suchness.
Furthermore, emptiness does not necessarily indicate a massive void in reality; my understanding so far is that it speaks to a lack of a specific person. Thich Nhat Hanh says that “Each can only inter-be with all the others. So he tells us that form is empty. Form is empty of a separate self, but...