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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Emptiness?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Emptiness

Emptiness Felt as the Spacious Absence of any Substance

A question may arise here about the relation of pure consciousness to awareness, and whether the ultimate truth of the self is emptiness, as Buddhism teaches. This is a matter of subtlety in the experience of the presence of consciousness. Emptiness is the ultimate truth of the soul not in the sense that a soul does not appear to awareness, but that her mode of existence is beyond our normal concept and feeling of existence. This mode is called emptiness, and feels like spacious absence of any substance. Yet this emptiness is also inseparable from a transparent clarity—as formulated by Buddhist schools—both constituting a unity that characterizes both soul and universe. When we experience the coemergence of emptiness and clarity we recognize it as pure awareness, and feel it phenomenologically as presence. Awareness is then consciousness, but consciousness experienced inseparable from emptiness. Therefore, we are at this point discussing consciousness and not awareness, not because we do not think that the ground of the soul is awareness, but because to discuss awareness accurately we need to first understand emptiness.

Emptiness is Not a Medium. Nonbeing Does Not Have Extension

There are further consequences to the understanding of emptiness as nonbeing, which takes the enlightened awareness to new mysteries. For instance, in the perception of the unity of reality, in which everything is at once Being and nonbeing, there can remain the perception of “here” and “there.” There are here and there, and the distance between here and there. When we penetrate the concept of space, there is a feeling of no here and no there. We recognize that emptiness is not a medium. Nonbeing does not have extension; it is not a medium. We sense that here and there are one single spot, that here is there and there is here. Space does not disappear in terms of perception; as long as there is a distance between here and there that can be measured, there is a concept of space and a perception of space. Even if space as extension is perceived, in the realization of nonbeing it disappears as a felt sense. Manifestation always manifests in space; true nature is beyond space, and our realization can reflect that.

Emptiness is Simply the Insubstantiality, the Nonbeing, of Manifest Forms

When we precisely understand the nature of the absolute, the paradoxical coemergence of emptiness and presence, we understand how emptiness appears in manifestation. Emptiness is simply the insubstantiality, the nonbeing, of manifest forms. This nonbeing is what makes the absolute so light, so empty, so spacious and open. We begin to see that this absence appears at more superficial ontological dimensions as the experience of inner space, with its various degrees of subtlety. Since it is nothing at all, it appears as the total openness for anything to arise and as the allowing necessary for anything to be. Such openness and allowingness are the properties of empty space, which we experience inwardly as inner spaciousness and openness, and outwardly as the space where all manifestation occurs. In other words, space is the reflection of nonbeing in manifestation. Because we do not understand the paradoxical nature of true nature, as a coemergence of being and nonbeing, we conceptualize nonbeing as space and being as manifesting forms. Just as our ignorance of the timeless flow and unfoldment of the logos leads to our conceptualizing time to account for the changes brought about by this unfoldment, our ignorance of the spaceless nonbeingness of true nature leads to our conceptualizing space to account for the accommodating openness made possible by the emptiness of the absolute.

Emptiness Reveals the Immateriality of Ego Structures

As you let go of the ego structure, you see that its nature is empty, since it is actually conceptual and not ultimately real. This is when you feel the emptiness; the sense of emptiness is really just the revelation of the structure's immateriality. As you stay with the emptiness, it reveals itself as spaciousness. Then the spaciousness brings out the fullness inherent in it, which is all the holding and lovingness and gentleness. It may seem that you have moved from one place to another, but that is not what happens. If you experience yourself as your real presence, you just see one thing dissolving into another in the middle of your presence. If you are identified with the structure, it will feel as if you are disintegrating, and then there is emptiness, and then presence arises. This impression is only because your attention is focused on a certain part of you, and so you are not experiencing your totality. You do not fall apart or disappear, although it feels that way if your ego is the part of you that you are identified with.

Facets of Unity, pg. 251

Experiencing Hurtful Wounds Allows Healing of Emptiness

At this point the person might go on to experience himself as empty space, devoid of fullness or quality. If he deals with the associations he has to this emptiness - such as those of dependency and need - and the fears produced by them - probably the fears of disintegration, disappearing and so on - then he will remember the old hurt that cut off the Essence. This is another big dark spot. The person will unearth the painful situation or situations that ultimately led to the loss of this particular aspect of Essence. Besides the memories and affects, the individual will experience the emotional hurt as a wound. It will feel physically like a wound in the chest, but it is a wound in the energy system that corresponds to the emotional hurt and the loss of Essence. When one allows oneself quietly to experience the hurtful wound and the memories connected with it, the golden elixir will flow out of it, healing it, and filling the emptiness with the beautiful sweet fullness that will melt the heart, erase the mind, and bring about the contentment that the individual has been thirsting for.

Freedom from Nonconceptual Impressions

At some point, we can recognize that emptiness offers not only freedom from constructs based on memory and concepts, but also freedom from nonconceptual structures. Our sense of self includes structures that are not constructed through conceptualizations, because they developed before we were able to know or to think. The experience of emptiness frees us from conceptual constructs and also from nonconceptual impressions, which are not constructed by the mind but are nevertheless imprinted onto the consciousness. So the consciousness mistakes these nonconceptual impressions as important features of reality and holds on to them as if they are what it is. Understanding these preverbal and nonconceptual structures liberates us more deeply from the sense of self and also moves our realization to deeper and more subtle levels. All of these kinds of constructs and impressions arise in the process of discovering the emptiness of other. The emptiness of self reveals a deeper understanding of spaciousness, one which underlies experience in general. In other words, spaciousness unfolds from one kind to another until it becomes the emptiness of self, which is a manifestation of the other side of Being, also known as nonbeing. The spaciousness becomes so empty and so open that it is no longer spaciousness—it is simply nothing. So knowing the emptiness of self means recognizing not only that the constructs of the individual consciousness are not reality, but also that the individual consciousness itself does not exist.

Investigating Deficient Emptiness

The holes we discuss are not only forms of emptiness, but the emptiness feels specifically like a lack, accompanied with pain about something missing. When we investigate such deficient emptiness, what arises is normally not a longing towards something new, but pain, a wound of loss. Sometimes the emptiness will appear with a longing for what is missing, but when we investigate this longing emptiness it will also lead to the same wound. This wound, instead of reflecting a lack of new development, reveals, upon investigation, a childhood history of loss. Both the emptiness and the pain reveal one's personal history of how the particular aspect became disconnected from one's experience. It is usually when such childhood content is fully understood that the essential aspect emerges in consciousness.

Our Constructed Images and Concepts are Empty of Reality

We begin to see that what we take ourselves to be is composed of constructed images and concepts that are remembered and organized. Over time, these accumulated constructs become lenses through which we view ourselves and reality. When we see through and understand these constructs, we recognize that they are not true and not real. We become empty of them and also can recognize their inherent emptiness. In other words, as we become free from the accumulated constructs, they reveal their emptiness; they reveal that they are empty of reality. Taken far enough, the emptiness of other begins to reveal the emptiness of self—that we are empty not only of the contents of self, but also of what we have taken to be the very nature of self. As we recognize that our usual sense of self is an image that we are holding on to, we see that it doesn’t exist in a real way. Our usual sense of self is an ephemeral memory, an illusory concept of self. Seeing through our various images of self often reveals the spaciousness and emptiness of true nature. The spaciousness that arises as we investigate the self has many degrees and many kinds, including ones that are clear and light and others that are deep and black.

Resistance against Emptiness may Underlie Our Doing

The inherent awareness and insight of this condition of nondoing discerns when there is doing. When we see the doing happening, we can recognize the attitude and assumptions that make it happen. This insight helps us to disengage from that activity by revealing what is responsible for the doing. We might see that a certain self-identification or a fear of aloneness or a resistance against emptiness underlies our basic experience of doing. But we don’t only see what our particular issues and obstructions are. The discerning intelligence, in an effortless way, also fills the condition of samadhi with clear understanding and recognition of the condition of samadhi itself. We can’t help but see the characteristics of whatever presence or awareness or realization is happening.

Seeing that Being is the Radiance of Emptiness

But fully understanding emptiness reveals not only that everything, including the individual soul, is a manifestation of Being, but also that it is simultaneously empty of self, which means it doesn’t have the kind of existence that we ordinarily attribute to it. That is to say, Being as a whole is always in complete yab-yum with nonbeing, complete eternal and inseparable embrace with its partner. When we see this, we are recognizing the emptiness of self. When we perceive that everything is empty of self, then the beingness recognizes that the world is not only a manifestation of Being, but also a manifestation of emptiness. We discover that in fact Being is the radiance of emptiness, a radiance that has variegated colors and multifaceted forms that we experience as the world and all the content of our experience. Understanding emptiness through the thorough investigation of the self liberates us both from our accumulated constructs and from our belief in existence. The concept of existence is the foundation for the scaffolding of the self—it underlies and supports all of our accumulated ideas and impressions. So by seeing the emptiness of self, by seeing Being free from the idea of existence, we pull the rug out from under all of our constructs. Recognizing the emptiness of self makes it more difficult to continue the process of construction and the process of believing in the constructions.

Space and Deficient Emptiness Feel Different

More accurately, we can say that the subjective experience of space is felt as completely different from that of the experience of deficient emptiness, although both experiences have in common the sense of the voidness.

The Void, pg. 119

The Completely Empty Heart

The way of poverty is for us to be so empty, not possessing anything, that the ultimate truth, the inner Beloved will find us worthy of beholding it. The inner Beloved is a jealous beloved. It won’t show itself unless there are no other lovers in our heart. When our heart is completely empty, then will it reveal itself as the mystery underlying all of reality. And the way to such inner emptiness is that of poverty, specifically the poverty of spirit.

The Emptiness of Self Does Not Lead to the Disappearance of the Individual Soul

Whereas the emptiness of other leads to the disappearance of the other—the evaporation of the constructs, the beliefs, and the ideas that are not intrinsic to the self—the emptiness of self does not lead to the disappearance of the individual soul. Rather, we recognize that the individual consciousness doesn’t exist in the way that we usually think it does. Its Beingness is totally wedded to its nonbeingness. Furthermore, it becomes clear that emptiness of self is true not only about the individual self, but also about the perceptions of the individual self. In other words, it is not only the individual self that is empty. Nonbeingness is fundamental to the truth of the individual self and also to the truth of all that it perceives. So everything that we perceive can be liberated as it becomes empty of other and empty of self. I’ve been using the individual soul as an example of how we can understand emptiness of other and emptiness of self, but these kinds of emptiness are also true of everything else.

The Greatest Challenge to Our Sense of Self

In our work, as in some other teachings, thoroughly understanding the self in its values, structures, and dynamics is not separate from thoroughly understanding our true nature—the purity at the heart of Living Being. As we explore our true nature in its qualities and dimensions, we find that we also gain greater freedom from the self and the conventional view. The more we understand the nature and dimensions of Being, particularly the emptiness of Being, the more we see through the view of the conventional self. The greatest challenge to our sense of self comes from experiencing and understanding the emptiness of true nature, the emptiness of experience. That is why in exploring the self, we can’t help but encounter and work with emptiness, of one kind or another, as we have throughout this path.

The Subjective Feeling of Emptiness

The existentialist interest in emptiness as a fundamental condition of man might not be of much concern to most individuals; however, the subjective experience of emptiness is something that is commonly and frequently experienced and acknowledged. It is usually felt in a very general and vague way. An individual might feel, “My life is empty, I don’t feel any richness in it.” Another might experience it more inwardly: “I feel dry, empty. I am not interested or enthusiastic about anything.” Sometimes the feeling becomes more philosophical: “What is the meaning of life? I don’t see the point of everything.” This condition of emptiness, seen as depletion, alienation, and meaninglessness, is painfully apparent to the psychological or psychiatric helper who is treating patients suffering from the so called severe pathologies. In fact, emptiness in the deficient sense is taken by many as one of the signs or symptoms of such disturbances as psychoses, borderline conditions, narcissistic disorders, character disorders, and schizoid phenomena. We encounter in these mental disorders experiences of, or fears of, experiencing emptiness, nothingness, hollowness, disintegration, fragmentation, dissolution, disappearing, annihilation and so on. These states are not always vague and in the background.

The Void, pg. 113

The Wisdom of Emptiness or Nonbeing is an Attempt to Understand the Final Ontological Mode of Things

The experience of true nature as nonbeing or emptiness does not mean that there is no reality, no soul or manifestation. This is a nihilistic perspective that experience and understanding do not support. The wisdom of emptiness or nonbeing is an attempt to understand the final ontological mode of things. We normally believe that things exist when we perceive them. This belief is accompanied by a subtle underlying feeling or sense of what existence is. Things feel real in a substantial way. We consciously or unconsciously feel that the existence of things is a substantial solid quality. Existence becomes the existence of substance and solidity, which becomes opaqueness if we continue in this direction. In other words, we not only perceive that things appear to our perception, and not only believe that this appearance is objective and independent of our imagination and mental construction, but feel at the same time a sense of substance to this appearance, a sense of solidity. Existence for us then is not only the true appearance of things in perception but the imbuing of what appears with a quality we call Being.

Two Ways of Thinking about Emptiness

We can think of emptiness in two ways—emptiness of other and emptiness of self—each of which has many degrees. In order for anything to be liberated, including the individual consciousness, it must be empty both of other and of self. By “other” I don’t mean other people, but anything that is extrinsic to our basic nature. For the individual consciousness to be empty of other means for it not to be patterned by extrinsic factors, factors that are not inherent to it. So when we are limited or defined by elements that are not fundamental to us, not inherent, not ontologically primordial, then we are not empty of other. Emptiness of self is a matter of recognizing that apart from freedom from other, the individual self, the individual soul, does not have its own ultimate existence. So when I say that realizing human freedom requires a thoroughgoing understanding of the self, I mean on both of these levels. We need to investigate deeply both emptiness of other and emptiness of self. These two kinds of emptiness are connected and, as we will see, they can merge at some point.

Types of Emptiness

We see then that there are two experiences of emptiness: One spacious and liberating and the other deficient and oppressive. The subjective experience is definitely different and distinct for each of these kinds of emptiness.

The Void, pg. 118

When We are Disconnected from Our Nature

What is that emptiness? It is a way of experiencing the lack of connection to our true nature. In our natural condition, when we are connected we are open and available to the presence of Being and the pure openness of the void, the two sides of our true nature. The void side of true nature is not lacking in any way. It is the simple, clear purity of openness itself, without which true selfless love is not possible. From the inherent potential in this openness can arise a love that is a giving, loving fullness. However, when the presence of our nature is missing and we feel the disconnection, we feel emptiness. This emptiness is not spacious, open, clear, and bright. No, this is a deficient emptiness, which is more a dull, murky darkness accompanied by the specific sense of lack. “I don’t have love; I don’t have sufficiency; something is missing . . .” This territory is difficult for us because we sense that if we really feel the desire and need, it will take us into that deficient emptiness—and it can! The two go hand in hand: The need and the emptiness are two sides of the same thing. So we desire something to fill the emptiness, and we become focused on having to get something that will do that. But if we actually feel the need and desire, and we follow them to the underlying energetic presence, we find that it is much more than we originally felt it to be. Just as it is with love, following our feelings invites the emptiness to open up, and this emptiness then can become the conduit for change because it is the beginning of the appearance of the spaciousness of our true nature.

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