August 2017

The Fallacy of Negative Emptiness
Rev. Master Koshin Schomberg

1. Ailment and Cure

All beings wish for happiness and security. But there are limits to the happiness and security that any being can experience. We experience many forms of pain and loss: pain of illness and injury; pain of unsatisfied longing; loss of health; loss of wealth; loss of good reputation; loss of those one loves; one day the loss of one's own life. Manifestly, the belief that any being can enjoy enduring happiness and security due to a fortuitous arrangement of external conditions is fallacious.

It is not difficult to see why we might be tempted to swing from hope to despair: life is transitory and painful—perhaps it is ultimately futile and meaningless. To draw such a conclusion, however, just immerses us in another—and a very dark—fallacy. This is the fallacy of negative emptiness.

When we teeter on the edge of the fallacy of negative emptiness, a dark shroud envelops our spirit. If this shroud is not lifted, we become spiritually sick. Fortunately, there is a cure for this sickness.

There is more to life than either effervescent happiness and security or loss and pain: every living being has a pure intuition of this truth. Because of this intuition, we one day turn within and look to Something that is both greater than and within our own being for the answers that we have previously sought in external things. In other words, we begin to do real meditation.

The world to which we open ourselves through real meditation is greater than the world of longing and aversion, hope and despair, happiness and suffering. It is a world of a Love that does not arise and pass, and that is never hateful or mean-spirited.

If we give in to despair, we blind ourselves to the Love of the Eternal. When we find that our minds are sinking into spiritual darkness, we need to compose ourselves, draw within, and cease to worry about external things. (And it is vitally important to remember that “cease to worry” includes “cease to complain!”) We can entrust all our cares into the hands of that Love that is not born and does not die. It will show us the way through the darkness. Thus the Love that is the eternal Reality of our own being provides the cure for spiritual sickness.

2. This Too is Buddha

We can come to experience the Love of the Eternal by relying upon It in pure meditation. And we can come to experience the Love of the Eternal by doing that which needs to be done in our daily lives. The former route to Love is the route of inner offering; the latter is the route of outer offering. In Zen training, we use both routes: “Go in and out.”

Whenever we make offerings without the slightest concern for personal gain, the Love of the Eternal manifests naturally within our actions. Then the simplest offering is a benediction originating in Great Compassion. What words can describe the profundity and purity of this benediction?—These words come as close as any: “This too is Buddha.”

The fallacy of negative emptiness is a fallacy not because one sees suffering and impermanence, but because one does not see the Buddha within suffering and impermanence. Such a view is like that of a person in a dungeon who sees the world through a tiny, barred window, and whose perception is always warped by the consciousness of being trapped.

Imagine the relief that such a prisoner would experience if he were suddenly to find himself freed from the dungeon and transported to a beautiful green meadow on a sunny day. That is like the relief experienced by the heart that has been weighed down by grief and despair when it discovers that this too—this very activity, this very offering, this very moment, this very being, this very need—is Buddha.

The transitory life of our body and mind is of the Eternal. Every life, every form of existence, is precious because all are part of It. The Love of the Eternal is infinitely greater than you and me, yet It is never separate from us even for an instant. So the world of that Love is not separate from the world of impermanence and pain.

And what of the fallacy of negative emptiness?—It is a delusion, but it is not the enemy of wisdom. It is the gateway to deeper spirituality. Within its fearsome darkness lies the potential for Great Enlightenment . Thus the fallacy of negative emptiness one day transforms into recognition of the Immaculacy of Emptiness:

This too is Buddha.


North Cascades Buddhist Priory

The Priory held a work day July 15. Congregation members assisted the monastic community with temple cleaning, trimming back vegetation along one of our forest roads, and work in the garden. We are grateful for this help at a time of year when there is always a great deal to do!

Rev. Master Mokushin led a retreat at the home of Craig and Linda Pitts near Sandpoint, Idaho, July 21-23.