Emptiness and Phenonomology


Emptiness and Phenomonology. What is the relationship between that particulaly Buddhist word Emptiness and phenomonology: that is, the world which occurs to us all the time. We look around and we see many phenomena: this temple filled with people, the individuals themselves, my speaking to you; you listening to me. These are all different kind of phenomena.

I used the word emptiness for the Sanskrit term sunyata. Sunyata is a Mahayana world which is used to explain the nature of the world and all its contents. It means that everything is beref of its own intrinsic value. But let us leave that for a few minutes and look at phenomena.

The Buddha taught that every human being is made up of five components: form or matter (rupa), and four mental factors: sense impressions or contacts and the perception of them (samjña); conceptions or thinking about these sense perceptions (vedana); karmic impressions or residual karmic impact of body, speech and mind (samskara); and basal consciousness upon which the other mental faculties rest (vijñana).The samskara are what transforms into latent consciousness when we die and form the basic mental behavior patterns when we are reborn. The consciousness here is basic to all living things: microbes and vegetable life as well. It means awareness of its existance.

Yet, although the Buddha also taught that the individual is made up of five collections of things, these are all impermanent and disappear at death. They also all rely upon each other for their existence: that is, they are all interdependent and cannot exist alone by themselves. So, the first thing a Buddhist must recognize is that he has nothing to grab onto or to proclaim „this is the true me, eternal, forever and ever.

When we meditate we can see that nothing is permanent.

The Buddha also taught that there are 3 basic factors belonging to all conditioned things: duhkha, unsatisfactoriness of existence, anitya, changability, and anatman, no self or no soul.

All phenomena are inherently unsatisfasctory from the human view, because they are not perfect, nor do they last forever. We know that a mountain, which appears to be forever and non changing, is itself constantly moving and will one day disappear. After the earthquake of February 1971, geologists discovered seashells imbedded in the mountain rock pf the San Gabriel mountains, proving that at one time those mountains lay under the sea. We know today that they are constantly changing, rising further into the air as a result of eartquakes and folding of the rocks.

And we know that although we call them mountains, that is a human artifice created to denote something so that we can talk about it. It has no unchanging self. In fact, we cannot separate the mountain from its surroundings. Where does it begin and end? Is there such a thing as a single mountain in a range, or are they merely different peaks of one thing? And are the rock, the vegetation, the animals, the rivers, part of the mountain? Are they essential to its beingness? This is more than a matter of semantics. This involves the whole way we perceive and interpret the phenomenalogical world of which we are part.

In reality then, we know that Buddhism states that on an ultimate level, things do not truly exist. In fact, today physicists are beginning to state that matter does not exist. They cannot locate it anywhere and the deeper they go into the molecule, the more apparent this is. Instead they are saying that all we call matter is actually part of a continuous movement of energy or a wave. What we call light exists in a long ray of energy, which also contains sound, x-rays, etc. And it appears that all phenomena are a part of this long separable, yet inseparable wave.

So, we see that emptiness, or sunyata in Sanskrit, or Mu in Japanese, does not mean the opposite of beingness. Instead it is both phenomena and its ultimate aspect of not existing together. In other words, emptiness includes all things.