Shunyata, Running on Empty Part II….

Shunyata, Running on Empty Part II….

“The object is an object for the subject,

The Subject is a subject for the object,

Know the relativity of the two rests ultimately on one Emptiness.

In one Emptiness the two are not distinguished, and each contains in itself

all the ten thousand things.”

Zen Master Dogen


“Ordinarily we assume that our “self” is only this small individual “self” and remain unable to imagine that our Self is the very life that pervades all things.”

Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama


In Asian literature when they refer to “the ten thousand things” they mean everything or all phenomena. In the quotes above it is clear that our view of the “self” is flawed and based on our dualistic view of “self” and other.  But both Master Dogen and Uchiyama point to the fact that there is something bigger than the small “self”.  I think that it is very common that whenever someone starts looking into religion they are searching for something bigger than themselves.  Zen Master Dogen points this out again with characteristic Zen humor.


“One in all,

all in one

If only this is realized

No more worry about your not being perfect!”

Zen Master Dogen


What I believe they are trying to point to is the inter-dependent nature of all things.  All things are under constant change (Impermanence) and there isn’t a abiding and permanent self (not-self).  According to the Buddhist teaching of Dependent Origination (Pratitya-Samutpada) all things are conditioned.  This means all things come into being because something else was.  All phenomena arise in dependence on causes and conditions and lack intrinsic being.  When this exist, that arises. There isn’t anything that just becomes out of nothing.   One of the most recited an important Mahayana sutras (I will cover all these Yanna’s in a future blog) is The Heart Sutra (in Sanskrit, Prajna Paramita Hrdaya).  This sutra covers the topic of Emptiness and expounds the fact that all phenomena are empty.


The Heart Sutra

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva,

when deeply practicing prajna-paramita,

clearly saw that the five skandhas are all empty,

and was saved from all suffering and distress.


form is no different to emptiness,

emptiness no different to form.


That which is form is emptiness,

that which is emptiness, form.


Sensations, perceptions, impressions, and consciousness

are also like this.



all things and phenomena are marked by emptiness;

they are neither appearing nor disappearing,

neither impure nor pure,

neither increasing nor decreasing.


Therefore, in emptiness,

no forms, no sensations, perceptions, impressions, or consciousness;

no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind;


no sights, sounds, odors, tastes, objects of touch, objects of mind;

no realm of sight up to no realm of consciousness;


no ignorance and no end of ignorance,

up to no aging and death,

and no end of aging and death;


no suffering, accumulation, cessation, or path;

no wisdom and no attainment.


With nothing to attain,


rely on prajna-paramita,

and their minds are without hindrance.


They are without hindrance,

and thus without fear.


Far apart from all confused dreams,

they dwell in nirvana.


All buddhas of the past, present and future

rely on prajna-paramita,

and attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.


Therefore, know that prajna-paramita

is the great transcendent mantra,

the great bright mantra,

the supreme mantra,

the unequalled balanced mantra,

that can eliminate all suffering,

and is real, not false.


So proclaim the prajna-paramita mantra,

proclaim the mantra that says:


gate, gate,



bodhi, svaha!



Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is also form.  So to answer the initial question at the beginning of part 1, all things are Empty of what?  A individual, independent existence!  But we are full of everything else!  We exist because of a infinite number of things existing before us.  Remember the Six Level Pagoda?  All phenomena are made up of the 5 elements plus consciousness.   All of the elements and the consciousness existed before we came into being and will still exist after we no longer exist. We are not separate from everything else, we are part of everything else and everything else is a part of us.  So to find that something we long for that is bigger than us all we have to do is………………..forget ourselves!


“To study the Buddha way is to study the self.

To study the self is to forget the self

To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas.”

Zen Master Dogen


Well at least realize our true nature and understand that our current belief of what we are is just an illusion or a false notion. The sutra says:

“They are without hindrance,

and thus without fear.”

What people fear the most is death.  When you realize that death is also an illusion (because we were here before we were “born” and will still be here after we “die”) there isn’t any fear!  If we all only treated all other beings as ourselves what a wonderful world it would really be. Above my alter at home  I have a scroll that in Japanese says “Shin ku myo u” – “From true emptiness a wondrous being appears”.

A wonderous being indeed!

I will end this with a poem written by Kobodaishi (Kukai).


Singing image of a shadow in a mirror

A shadow in the round mirror in the tower of a millionaire

or a silhouette in the square mirror in the palace of the emperor of Chin.

Who knows where they have come from?

They are temporary figures made from the chain of causation.

They are neither existing nor nothing and are detached from any theory.

They are unreachable by human thought.

Do not speak of self-cause, cause by self and other, cause by other.

People of false doctrines are entangled in fantasies.

Buddha in the mind is not the same as we, nor is it different from us.

For he comes out of the chain of causation like echoes from a voice.

Illusions diminish by meditating in a quiet room

or chanting sutras and burning incense in a temple.

The Three Mysteries become as calm as the ashes of the dead

and Buddhas come at once to answer prayers.

Do not be joyful or angry, this is the World of Truth.

The World of Truth and Mind Only are not separate.

Shingon Master Kukai



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