Dogzen Email Newsletter 

Reprints of the Dogzen Email Newsletters

Number 7 - January, 2005

7th Email Newsletter - On Emptiness From the Start

Let's look again at the inherent emptiness of awareness (see the Dogzen Email Newsletter Number 3).

[Note that this newsletter about emptiness isn't promoting a philosophy or belief system. It's just an attempt to communicate about the experience of pure awareness.]

First, remember that the idea of emptiness and the actual experience of emptiness are different. Having an idea of emptiness can't create an experience of emptiness. It fills awareness with the idea of emptiness. Any idea is a "something" that can fill awareness. To experience emptiness itself, you must take a moment to relax, suspend overlays, let go of the 6th consciousness, and just rest in awareness itself. If you do this, awareness is in its base state, which is empty. At the base, awareness is just aware. We also call this pure awareness or naked awareness.

Awareness is empty from the start. It begins empty. In other words, that is its native state. This means that before you think of anything or experience anything, awareness is but has nothing in it. It is naturally empty of any views, memories, decisons, preferences and so forth. As you begin to perceive, think and feel, awareness fills and attention goes on those things that fill it. Emptiness is always the starting point. It's the base of experience.

Thoughts don't think other thoughts, so there is no inherent connection between one thought and another (even though sometimes it seems that way). Even when there is a flow of connected thoughts, each thought comes into existence independently. They arise from the empty base. It is an illusion that thoughts have causative power over other thoughts. You can at any time drop a train of thought and be at original emptiness again. It is a choice we always have but rarely exercise.

[An aside: we usually don't consider our thoughts in the abstract way that I'm talking about. Most of the time, our thoughts (and feelings) ARE the reality we live in, as if the world and our internal representations of it are inseparably fused together. We often fail to notice that we are directly experiencing internal representations, and we completely believe them to be the inherent qualities of an external reality. This makes them quite compelling at times!]

Having a view, opinion, attitude, or decision about anything (including emptiness) isn't what we are after. Emptiness is a primordial, original source state. You don't have to create anything to experience this emptiness because it is already that way (empty) from the start. In fact, if you think any thoughts or create anything in your mind to understand this, you move away from the direct experience of emptiness. The thoughts just fill the emptiness with mindstuff and that is where your attention goes.

Note that the original emptiness is not harmed by what fills it (perceptions, thoughts, and feelings). It is completely untouched because awareness is just the potential for new experiences and that does not cease. The emptiness always is, allowing for continuous new experience. For most of us, awareness just stays filled up with stuff so we don't experience it in its native state very often.

Check this out: see if the perception of "becoming from emptiness" is available to you in your own experience. Ponder the "emptiness from the start" and see if you can catch the primordial emptiness that lies at the origin of all experience. See for yourself what that is like.

You don't have to hold your mind blank or anything like that. (That's really hard to do!) By being directly aware of awareness, you can be aware of the emptiness that is always there. You will see through the stuff in your mind that overlays the underlying emptiness. Then you will notice how all experience originates from that emptiness.

Bonus: every event or meaning that is becoming in this moment appears fresh with novelty when experienced from a clear and empty state. In our Dogzen groups and in the writings, we've called this "ingression of novelty*." It is an experience that you can get when awareness rests in emptiness and then you perceive something. The vivid novelty of the moment derives from this emptiness at the start, as things "become from emptiness". Freshness of the now is one of the rewards for experiencing from this base of emptiness.

To summarize:

Fond regards, and I hope to see you at an Evening Practice,

* a term coined by the late Terrence McKenna.