Category Archives: Week 4: Nothingness

Week 4 posts.

Nothing but love.

Leaving Tisch after finding out my grandmother died, I was greeted by a dark and cold night, while looking at the bright white snow that was diminishing.

In the Winter’s night,
Wind blowing and life asleep,
The snow ebbs away.

I tried to think about nothing this weekend, but then wondered how I could do my homework this week. I rethought what this idea about nothingness was, based on readings and lecture, and came to the conclusion it is an empty space filled with love.  This was an idea I could accept and still have life move on around me.  While reading Zen Birds of Appetite this past weekend, I stumbled upon what Nirvana is. Nirvana is wisdom and perfect love (Merton 84).  Perfect love and spreading it is ideal to me because I’d rather everyone be accepted for their differences, but loved for them too.  This idea led me to the Bodhisattva who are people that have been Enlightened.  The Bodhisattva come back from Paradise to help those who are still struggling to make it (Inouye 52).  Such an act of selflessness was inspiring to me and made me feel that they truly must have gained great compassion from Enlightenment.  Unlike western culture which views nothingness as a vacuum (Lecture 4/15) this nothingness is desirable to me.  The idea of limitless love, possibilities, and acceptance correlates to what I would desire in life.  Though the very desire makes it difficult to find Enlightenment.

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( ´ゝ`) Nothingness?

Looking out my window after the evening showers had passed Tuesday evening.

The melting snow glistens
illuminated by a
single streetlight.


“Mu” or “nothingness” in the context of Zen Buddhism appears at first glance to be self-contradictory – it is the emptiness that embraces the fullness of things (Merton 137). As mentioned as an example in class, sitting with your friends every day in the cafeteria – having something that you’re attached to – closes off opportunities to interact with and get to know other people (Inouye Lecture 2/11). “When one is in the possession of something, that something will keep all other somethings from coming in” (Merton 109). How then, do we empty ourselves of everything? Merton indicates that the key lies in the act of “being” (Merton 110). The act of being can be encapsulated in meditation. How then, does one meditate? Meditation can be achieved through virtually anything, whether it be calligraphy or judo or flower arrangement (Inouye 2/13). In Kendo (a form of Japanese fencing with bamboo swords and armor), there is the ideal of entering a state of mushin (無心), or “no-mindness,” during matches. In this state, it is said that you do not actively seek to strike the opponent. Instead, once an opening appears, your body will move to strike it with no conscious thought in a natural reaction – your mind and body are open to everything that your opponent does. Negative space, or maai (間合い), exists not only in the spatial distance between you and your opponent, but also in your internal mental state. Over the course of this past week, I realized that despite not being Buddhist by any stretch of the imagination, I was raised with an appreciation for Buddhist principles even if I didn’t recognize them as such at the time. My mother once told me that washing the dishes was a form of meditation – I thought she was just trying to get me to do some chores. And it was, once I approached it with the right mindset and lost myself in the act itself. The more this course goes on the wiser she sounds.


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The Zen of Nothingness

This week, I did not experience a lyrical moment, so I do not have a poem to post.  As a result, I feel a bit more stressed than I normally do, which could be the reason why I didn’t have a lyrical moment in the first place.

Yet again I see interesting contradictions in the readings and lectures for this week.  Though I cannot say that I completely understand the idea of nothingness, I can get that it is something we all share (Lecture, 2/13).  What I think I understand is that nothingness is similar to the lyrical moments that we all experience; the same way we can all experience the beauty of the sun, we can all encounter nothingness, which then makes everything nothing and nothing everything.  Another example of contraction is in Merton’s book when he mentions “the desire for Nirvana” (Merton, 83) and yet “desire cannot stop itself from desiring” (Merton, 83).  If we desire Nirvana, how do we achieve it knowing that Nirvana is a state of no desire?  I believe that these contradictions make sense because life is so full of contradictions.  So often we feel two competing emotions and we cannot choose between the two.  Such is the case in Atsumori.  Kumagai no Naozane states in the play “I have left my home…because of my grief at the death of Atsumori, who fell in battle by my hand” (64).  I understand the contradiction between evanescence (his grief at Atsumori’s death) and form (the fact that he by practice had to kill the young man).  I think Professor Inouye captures these paradoxes well when he writes “perhaps it is possible to assert a different order that exists within the physical world” (Inouye, 60).  Here he combines two contradictory ideas of the physical and the metaphysical and the way I understand it, they are found within each other.  These ideas are inseparable; you can’t have one without the other.  I have come to accept and agree with these paradoxes, and I think once you do, these topics are much easier to understand.

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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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