The Value of a Cup is in its Emptiness

August 6, 2015 § 2 Comments

Form is Emptiness

A couple of years ago I had the bathroom redone. Part of the refit included a plastic liner placed around the walls of the bathtub that had an “L” shaped section for soap. As I looked at this the other day I was struck by how elegantly this shape demonstrated the Buddha’s words spoken to his disciple, Shariputra,

Form does not differ from emptiness,

Emptiness does not differ from form.

When I looked at the soap tray before I saw only the L-shape. But then it occurred to me that this form was not all that was there. Inseparable from it was the emptiness where the soap went. The L-shaped piece was giving the emptiness a form. Like the Yin Yang symbol that has two curved sections, one black, the other white, this “L” form was caressing and molding the emptiness into something I could use. It was as the Buddha said as he continued to instruct Shariputra,

Form itself is emptiness,

Emptiness itself is form.

Looking next at a chair I saw how it shaped the empty space of the room into an area in which I could sit. (Reminiscent of how a star curves the space about it, as described by Einstein.) Without the chair the empty space could not be used. And without the emptiness there would be no place to put the chair. The form and the emptiness were again seen to be inseparable.

I then applied this to the house. Where there was once just an empty lot the builders had placed a form turning the space into one where I could live and carry out my daily activities. I was, in fact, living in empty space as much as a house. This brought to mind Lao Tsu’s words,

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes that make it useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there,

Usefulness from what is not there.

Tao Te Ching. Chapter Eleven.

It is this same chapter in which Lao Tsu writes,

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.

which inspired the title of this post, a Buddhist proverb that reads, “The value of a cup is in its emptiness.”

It is now even more apparent to me that “form is emptiness and emptiness is form” but not in some way remote except to the enlightened few. The unity of form and emptiness is something that is evident and before me right now in my everyday experience.

Someone took clay to make a teacup and in so doing gave empty space a form I could use to drink tea. Someone else shaped wood that turned empty space into a place where I could live and sit. There is no way to separate these forms from the emptiness or the emptiness from these forms.

Buddha went on to tell Shariputra that this is the same for feelings, cognition and the sense of self. Where these are, emptiness is also, co-existing and inseparable. The thoughts and ideas that appear before us are forms that are giving shape to emptiness on a moment-to-moment basis.

Realizing this I asked myself, “If I can see the emptiness of the L-shaped soap tray, why do I not also see the emptiness of thought? Why do I not recognize the no self of the self?”


Stopping along the Way.

January 7, 2014 § Leave a comment


Waterfall 0096A

Many come to meditation to calm the emotions and control unruly thoughts.  If the practice is allowed to deepen the realization dawns that the tide of emotions and the waves of thought never cease.  The waves still lap upon the beach and the tides still cover the sand, even if there are fewer storms.

Peace of mind may then be sought through an attempt to calm the subconscious roots of the storms.  Introspection and psychology then become the focus of study.  For some this may be a necessary step but as the practice again deepens there comes a sense that the tree is only being pruned, leaving the roots of dissatisfaction untouched.

At this point there may be an intense study of literature that speaks of higher mind, true nature and meditation.  The mind, still addicted to thinking, seeks some subtle as yet undiscovered key that will unlock the door.  This may go on for years and some may die while still in the search.

One day the writing of a Sage may be found that says, “Stop the search!  There is nothing to be attained.”  Interestingly.  This may arouse many more years of puzzling out as some other meaning is sought before the true meaning is comprehended, that there really is nothing to attain and nothing to find.

(This is actually a good thing for whatever can be attained can be lost.)

If the Sage’s words are truly understood the Seeker is faced with a dilemma.   How does the search stop?  And what is it that stops?

At some point another realization may dawn that from the first the Seeker was always told the search was hopeless.  It was in part because of this that Siddhārtha Gautama upon becoming the Buddha, debated whether he should teach the Dharma.  At about the same time Lao Tsu wrote in his Tao Te Ching that the Tao is beyond form, beyond sound and intangible.  Lao Tsu therefore wrote that if you look for it, it cannot be seen.  If you listen, it cannot be heard.  And if you try to grasp, it cannot be held.

Though they both knew few would understand the Way both Buddha and Lao Tsu did leave a record for the Seeker to follow.  Since then, others have done the same.  Dogen said, “Just sit and do nothing.”  Hakuin gave koans to occupy the searching mind knowing full well there was no answer to them.

Since all Sages know there is nothing to attain, they also know no method could help attain it.  Still.  They had faith that some would recognize the essence of “nothing to attain”.  So they did their best to point the way.

If the Sages of old have done anything it was to tell the Seeker what not to do.  Do not sit in meditation looking for something.  Thoughts and feelings will arise but do not grasp onto them no matter how profound they may seem.  Cease any effort to understand, conceptualize or feel your way through it.  Ignore visions and miraculous works.  Do not even hold your own self dearly but be ready to drop off mind and body.

If you let go of everything and hold onto nothing the search will stop.  You will discover that all along there was nothing to attain.

Black Tea.

August 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

Black Tea

I’m hanging out this Monday listening to music by Marina Kanavaki.  I’ve been moody all morning from mourning all night. Sunday’s left me dry trying to figure out what’s forever undefined.  Time for some black tea, I think.

I walk the floor and pour water into the pot.  Seems all I do is pour but this empty vessel is never filled up.  Plugging in the kettle I reach into the pantry and take out some baked clay someone formed into a cup.  It is the space within that makes it useful, said Lao Tsu.  Into that space I place the tea bag and wait.

How slow the moments go as I wait for the kettle to boil.

Ready at last I pour, better stop short than fill it to the brim.  Add honey and let the tea steep… something mysteriously formed.

As the steam rises I wonder which has the form.  Is it the tea, or is it the cup alone?

I take a sip.  It doesn’t feel “cuplike” on my lips.  Is the tea beyond form?  Or is this what Hakuin meant when he wrote, “Form, is the form of emptiness.”

I drink my tea, savoring every drop until the cup sits empty.  Lao Tsu’s words rise up in my thoughts again, “Though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.”

Now’s Power.

April 20, 2013 § Leave a comment


Eckhart Tolle writes of the power of now, but what is now?  What is this immediate moment in which we live our lives and from which we never part?

I say “moment” in the sense of the intimate present, not in the sense of a short period of time.  A short period of time can be divided into a past and a future but “now” has no length.  Now does not exist in the past or the future.

Now is like the mathematician’s point that is a reference to a location in space but in itself it has no properties of width, length or height.  The mathematician’s point is a space of zero dimensions, however contradictory that may sound.  Similarly, “now” is a point in time that has no temporal length.  It is the immediate moment of no, or zero, dimensions.

It is important to note that anything found through the senses must have a dimensional quality.  A rose by any other name would still be a rose, but a rose that has no depth, height or width simply does not exist.  Such a “rose” would be a word that has no referent even though one could, as in this writing, use it to suggest a meaning.  Similarly, “now” is a word that has no referent but nonetheless has meaning, even if no one can properly define that meaning.

Having no dimension “now” is empty.  Think about that.  The present moment that is inseparable from all you know and your very being is empty.

To say the present is empty seems to contradict our experience, which is filled with objects both gross and subtle.  Nevertheless, if “now” has no length or dimension it cannot be said to contain anything, so must be considered empty.

The present moment is known only through the power of awareness.  This awareness does not extend into the past or into the future, so can also be said to have no length and therefore zero dimensions.  In fact, it is impossible to separate consciousness from the immediate moment, which means that consciousness is also be empty.  Yet out of this emptiness arises a universe of forms that seemingly flows in time.  Is it any wonder then that Lao Tsu wrote that the Tao is “an empty vessel that is used, but never filled”?

Consciousness and now are the same rose given different names.  Referents that cannot be located in space or time yet comprehend both.  And that is why Eckhart Tolle speaks of the power of now.  Because NOW and Consciousness are identical!

Dogen wrote,

“Firewood becomes ash.  Ash cannot become firewood again.  However, we should not view ash as after and firewood as before.  We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and has it’s own before and after.  Although before and after exist, past and future are cut off.  Ash stays in the position of ash, with it’s own before and after.”

We should not view now as coming after something or as before something yet to come.  We should know that we dwell in the dharma position of now.  Although before and after exist, past and future are cut off.  Now stays in it’s own position of timelessness.  When we sit in the moment, let go of past and future.  We are not that person who was angry or upset earlier in the day.  We are not “still a child” or going to be a Buddha.  We are not our stories or self-image.  Forget self.  Sit right here.  Sit right now.


September 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

September.  For some, it’s the time to get back to school.  For me, time to get back to work.  The month of august meditations has ended.

I thank those who choose to follow August Meditations and those who like and re-blog my photos.  I will continue to put my thoughts down as I can, when I can, but not daily as I have been this past month.  Work and family obligations will prevent that.

Although I have not (yet) gone through the Door, August Meditations has helped me and I hope has been of some aid to you and any future reader who has time for my, admittedly, rather lengthy entries.

So. Until my next entry, here’s one more pic for you and a bit of the Tao Te Ching.

“It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful…

Usefulness from what is not there.”

Happy Labour Day.  Happy September.

There is no Eden

August 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

There is no Eden without being cast out of paradise.  There is no Fountain of Youth without aging.  There is no Nirvana without Samsara.

It is understandable to seek relief from pain and suffering, to desire peace when confronted with chaos.  But Nirvana is not a state you enter where suffering no longer exists.  It is not an Eden you can go to and forget your problems.  To consider it so is just another concept that creates more difficulties and more suffering in your life.  To consider it so fosters more ignorance and further dualistic thinking that keeps you from knowing true nature.

If Nirvana is not the end of suffering then you may ask what benefit there is to realizing it.  But this question reflects a basic misunderstanding that Nirvana, or your true nature, exists apart from Samsara and the world of becoming.  In truth, all opposites arise together, complement each other, contrast each other and rest upon each other.  Nirvana and Samsara are not different.  And just as you know beauty within the context of ugliness so, too, can you know non-suffering within suffering.  So the real question to ask is, “How do I approach suffering in my life?”

It may seem paradoxical but the answer to that question is, “When suffering arises, do nothing”.

To do nothing means to stop avoiding suffering when it arises.  It means to stop trying to possess it by calling it “my suffering”.  It means to stop telling stories about it such as who is to blame for it.  It means not to dwell on how big (or small) it is or do any of the hundred other things we do to avoid suffering.

In its essence to do nothing means to just “be aware”.

Just being aware is to “just practice”.

To just practice means there are no goals to obtain, no future where there is no pain, no time when you’re better.  “Just practice” means to open up to whatever is facing you in the immediate moment.  It is mindfulness without purpose or goal, for these only separate you from what is.

Of course, it is difficult to give up the desire to end suffering.  So let me add that when you open to suffering you’ll likely find some fear behind it that you’ve been avoiding.  When encountering this fear do not run from it or try to suppress it.  Instead do nothing, meaning do not resist it.  When you stop resisting you’ll come to know the fear for what it is.  Energy.  Vastness.  The Cloud of Unknowing.

It’s this Vastness you’ve been afraid of all along; that you’ve been avoiding and resisting.  But this Vastness is really just you, your true nature.  In just being aware you come to know your true nature.

Having said this, throw it away and just practice.

A Hawk Hovers With Open Talons

August 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ego is a collection of thoughts we identify as “me” and thoughts we identify as “not me”.  A healthy ego is one that neither clings to “me” nor “not me” thoughts.  An unhealthy ego clings to “me” thoughts and fears the “not me”.

We cling to thoughts that are clear and bright, to the idea that we are sharp and clever.  We are averse to being dim and weak, dull and stupid.  We desire to be purposeful and happy and abhor the aimless and depressed.  But no one is always ahead.  No one is always up.  Our lives are not always easy.  We are all stupid in some area.  To believe otherwise is to cling to a lie.  He who is attached to a lie will suffer much.

If there is fear without physical danger ask if the danger is not to your ego. When there is unnecessary suffering ask how this comes about.  If you go deep into the suffering you will find it arises from a resistance to a “not me” thought. You will find the fear arises from trying to escape and deny a thought.  But it is possible to know the white but keep the black by neither accepting nor rejecting concepts of self.  This is why it is said, “Because the sage always confronts difficulties, he never experiences them”.

The thought that you resist will typically be found to be one buried in stories of why you are this and not that.  But when these stories are stripped away you will find that it is a thought that negates a “me” thought and so, at a deeper level, it represents a fear of your own death.  But as this fear is based upon a lie of who and what you truly are, it, too, is a lie.

When we pretend to be this and not that, we fear the nothingness that reveals itself when these two meet and cancel each other out.  Yet the emptiness that remains is our true nature.  It is for these reasons Sages of old tell us we gain by losing and lose by gaining.  That “He who grasps loses.”


The hawk hovers over the ocean with open talons.
Grasping at nothing, being open to all things.
Alert and watchful.
Remaining still until the moment of action
Nothing is left undone.
This is the way of heaven.

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