Monday, October 12, 2009

The Heart of Zen

One of the most revered teachings in Zen comes from The Heart Sutra and the central teaching of this Sutra is that Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form. In our ordinary way of understanding, one thing is not the same as something else. We see matters as independent and mutually discrete. Form of course has defining characteristics. Since form can be perceived we can define it. But emptiness has no defining characteristics and like air, it can’t be perceived. So how is it possible that form (which can be perceived) be the same thing as emptiness (which can’t be perceived)?

Perhaps there is a better set of questions: Is it possible to be conscious of anything—any form, without the capacity of consciousness itself? And the obvious answer is “no”. By itself, consciousness has no form or defining characteristics. But is it possible for consciousness to be by itself? Can consciousness be excised or isolated from the form of our bodies? Is consciousness independent and mutually discrete? Or is consciousness instead the source and form the manifestation?

Implicit in the notion of manifestation is a source and source has no meaning unless there is a manifestation from that source. There is a temptation to see source and manifestation as separate matters just as there is a temptation to see emptiness as separate from form. We play with word and concept forms and become enamored with distinctions but when these are no longer present, emptiness remains.

When we meditate we see psychic forms wafting across the screen of our consciousness. Obviously to see these forms there is a seer. But when these psychic forms go away there is no seeing going on, OR is there? Perhaps the form being seen IS emptiness. If that is the case then Form is Emptiness. Consciousness is empty yet it is full—the well-spring of all.
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