Emptiness

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A master was addressing a group of young monks.  He asked, “can any one of you demonstrate to the group how emptiness can be grasped from the air?”  A single monk raised his hand.  “OK”, said the master, “come out here and show us how to grasp emptiness.”  The monk made a grabbing action in the air and then stood with his fist clenched.  “Have you grasped emptiness”, said the master.  “Yes”, replied the monk.  “Show us then”, said the master, and the young monk opened his fist and stood with his palm facing upwards.  “Where is it?”  The master asked, “I can’t see it; can anyone else see it?”.  The master looked at the monk and asked, “emptiness doesn’t appear to be there, no one here can see it, would you like me to show you how it’s done?”

The young monk, looking rather embarrassed, replied, “yes master.”  There followed uproarious laughter in the hall as the master grabbed hold of the young monk’s nose and gave it a very hard yank.  “You may sit down now”, he said!

This rather amusing Zen parable covers a range of spiritual topics that I’ve written about quite often in the past.  But, I wanted to share it with my readers, not only because of the humour, but because it is so typically Zen in its subtlety and depth of meaning.

Firstly, the young monk should have known better, and realised that the master had something up his sleeve.  But, ego got the better of him and he wanted to demonstrate to all present that he could indeed grasp emptiness from the air, and hopefully impress the master in the process.  Then we have the humiliation, which is nothing more than the master giving the monk the direct experience of his ego.  Finally, there is the reminder that all is emptiness (consciousness); that all form is an appearance within consciousness; that our true nature is not that of the bodily form, but the vast emptiness of consciousness.