Some emptiness just hurts more than others

Big Heart on an unconditional level, in other words where there are no boundaries, it’s also not going to be stressful, if we’re really there.  When we’re in the ‘conditional Big Heart,’ and it’s dependent on conditions – which is not truly Big Heart, but our heart is open – that can be stressful of course.  Any time we put boundaries or limits and conditions, of course stress can come up.  And there’s nothing wrong – I mean, stress of course is a huge problem – but there’s nothing wrong with conditional love, or conditional Big Heart.  It’s the other side of the triangle, and from that comes empathy, love, caring, all of that, because it’s more or less dualistic rather than non-dual.  So you’re going to feel a certain amount of pain and suffering, but to me that’s what it means to be a human being — a Bodhisattva rather than a Buddha.

One of the things I think all our listeners know is that Buddha was said to have been a Bodhisattva for many lifetimes before he became the Awakened One, the Buddha.  And then giving up that need or desire or wish to attain complete and full realization or enlightenment and be free from suffering, one chooses to be a Bodhisattva for the sake of all beings and to bring them all to awakening.  That’s the difference.  So we could say one moves from the left hand corner of the triangle as a human being to the right hand corner of the triangle as a Buddha being, and then back again to the left hand, picking up the human side and the suffering and the samsara, and moving then to the apex as a Bodhisattva, one who embraces their humanness, with all the limitations and difficulties and suffering on the human level, and still sees them all as empty – and yet not.

We can’t forget that ‘and yet not.’  They’re all empty, and yet they’re not.  They’re form, and some form hurts more than others.  I remember that one great master who was crying, and the monk came to him and said, “Why are you crying master?”  He said, “I just got word my mother died.”  “Well why are you crying?  You teach us that it’s all empty.”  He says, “Yeah, but some emptiness hurts more than others.”

We have koans about that, like “Hand me the incense, the powder made of sunyata, of emptiness.”  Well, you don’t just hand an empty hand, you hand the incense, or the powder.   “Hand me a rake, or use a rake, or a hoe that’s made of emptiness.”  You pick up a rake, you pick up a hoe.  The form itself is empty, it’s not like it’s void of form.  The emptiness is the form, the form is exactly the emptiness.  And some emptiness just hurts more than others.

You get hit by certain emptiness, and it just whacks you, right in the head.  There’s that koan of the monk coming to the various masters, and he gets to Rinzai and he says, “Why did Bodhidharma come to the West?”  And Rinzai picks up a zafu, a cushion, and hits him over the head.  Some emptiness just hurts more than others.

This is an excerpt from the teleconference of August 17, 2013.  A recording of the full 90 minutes with Genpo Roshi can be ordered through the Big Mind website.  Participation in these live question-and-answer calls is open to all. Recordings are available free to those who register for the call.  These teleconferences are scheduled throughout the year.  Click here for more information.

6 thoughts on “Some emptiness just hurts more than others”

  1. It’s early in the morning.
    I’m a bit slow! I’m looking out at a new London landmark building, the Glass Shard pyramid. Tallest building in Europe. Over 87 floors/levels/stories.
    Which links to my trying to understand The Apex and Triangle concept a little better.

    I got a 3D image of The Triangle as having the 3 main positions at the base.
    With possibly of a tetrahedron (a Pyramid) shape –
    where the overall awareness, Original mind, the point, if you like, or the locus or focus of attention.which spreads out into the 3 main positions of the base (in reality I guess it’s 1.000s of possibles like The Shard at each different floor) including all.
    Is that how it can be empty, not empty and the transcendent all at once –
    Or all 3 positions on any Apex and base,
    without actually being one of them at a time? Sort of Interdependent but distinct.
    Daniel T

  2. This Zen tradition or practice allows me to the ability to get unstuck. Of course I want to get immediately stuck again but eventually I want to get unstuck again also. Zen is a very strange practice or process. I’ll leave it to the Masters to come up with the precise descriptions but it’s the most frustrating and painful practice I’ve ever tried but also the most illuminating and liberating. Part of me yearns for the freedom it brings but part of me holds back and is scared and to attached to want it. I’m not yet able to hold these two opposites in unison for any longer than a second in my mind. Probably more practice would help and taking responsibility and owning my life.

  3. For some reason this makes me cry. I’m not sure why, but it describes exactly where I am. I feel the suffering, not only of myself and others, but of all living things, nations, continents, and the earth itself. I know that form is emptiness and emptiness is form, but the suffering still touches me. The more I love what is, the more I deeply I feel both suffering and joy.

  4. It occurs to me that a discussion of Emptiness may no longer be conducive to the understanding of Big Mind. As a primary observation or sudden insight, Emptiness as discussed by teachers in the Vedas and early Buddhist writings may be more akin to our contemporary understanding of Physics and mass-energy. So, while a physics-oriented observation from antiquity is certainly profound and perhaps replicable as an Insight Experience, such insight may not be especially fruitful unless you are currently working in Particle Physics on Higgs boson.
    If sudden insight is to be productive, it must reveal Big Mind itself and not get stuck on a scientific revelation. In my opinion, Genpo’s use of Voice Dialogue has the potential to bring deep realizations and perhaps a primary experience of the Non-Dual Mind. The practice is well suited to students in the 21st century and readily lifts them from the mire of arcane myths, metaphors and idioms ancient times. Speaking as one who has learned in multiple cultural venues and with a degree and Philosophy and Religion as well, I am confident that Genpo’s Big Mind Process is of greater relevance and is far more germane to the contemporary world. Deep bow to you Genpo. In a couple of hours you teach students what taken years in study and zazen to learn.


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