Nothingness

Alma Rominger

 

Friday afternoon, I went to the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plains and climbed all the way to the top of the hill, where I laid on a bench and became lost in the beauty of the leaves blowing in the wind.

 

Lying motionless beneath

leaves that glisten in the

winter’s sun.

In furthering our conversation about Buddhism, in particular, Zen, I found our discussions and readings for this week, again, fraught with paradox. Professor Inouye explains that “[t]he Zen goal of achieving nothingness, or mu, is to create emptiness in a way that is radically receptive” [Inouye p.68]. That is, we cannot expand our experience or ourselves until we are emptied of our preconceptions about other ways of being and even of ourselves. Our fulfillment grows out of our realization and embrace of Nothingness. Nothingness transcends dichotomy and is what everything has in common [Inouye 2/11]. Thomas Merton even equalizes nothingness with infinity [Merton p.107]. Merton goes even further to say that it is out of nothingness, “this zero[,] that all good is performed and all evil is avoided”[Merton 107]. This is because when we are and act from this nothingness, we are rid of our ego-self, which sees itself as separate from other and confines itself to false conceptions. Kumagai committed a grave sin when he killed Atsumori; this is because he acted from his conception of himself, his role, his ego, instead of from the emptiness he felt when he recognized Atsumori’s likeness to himself. It is not until he has abandoned the world of dichotomies, leaving his military post and becoming a monk, that he is able to heal and save Atsumori soul through prayer. Nothingness has always been a concept that has fascinated me, but in this discussion, I do not believe that nothingness is an idea to be grappled with; instead nothingness seems like a way of being in the world. When I practice mediation and am able to calm my mind and transcend my ego (my self-told stories), I become nothingness, but I also become everything here in this present moment; I feel lightness and connection, emptiness and fulness. To be nothing is to be free, like professor said during class. I’ve heard from many meditation masters that meditation is a way to practice dying. If I can attain the empty state of being, return to nothingness, while I am alive, then death is an illusion. And perhaps that in turn means that this life as an individuated being is also an illusion.

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