Absence of Nothing

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Posted by Jim ( on April 13, 2000 at 11:38:11:

We started with (edited somewhat):

Emptiness is the word used to refer to the lack of inherent existence.
The mode of existing inherently (independently, from their own side) is a mode that we mistakenly attribute to phenomena. A phenomena existing in an inherently existent mode cannot be found and it follows that inherent existence is an inexistent mode - an impossible condition. Emptiness, negating the mistaken conception of inherently existing phenomena, then becomes the negation of something that is not. Emptiness (the mere lack of inherent existence), then, is the absence of nothing.

Following that:

We use the word emptiness as a noun, but as a non-affirming (pure) negation, it cannot be said to refer to a thing nor a state of being. As such, to go looking for emptiness as an isolated entity or attribute is quite silly - try to find something that is not. Emptiness refers to the lack or absence of a particular mode of being or existence that we mistakenly attribute to all phenomena - that of existing in and of their own power, independently, self established, identifiable through their own self-contained essence, containing their own uncommon mark that sets them apart from all else and by which we can identify them intrinsically. Emptiness points to the lack of that isolated existence (which is not) and as a pure negation of something that is not, itself is not. It is not something replacing the supposed something that used to be there.

Since we cannot find something that is not, in order to get a sense of it we have to go looking for what IT is not - or what it negates - namely the mistaken idea of inherent existence. Look at a tree, or anything, and plop, there it is - a tree! But how can we pick it out? How do we come to isolate what we call ‘a tree’ and identify it? Where does the tree reside? Generally we feel that there is something that the tree contains that announces ‘tree-ness’ which we pick up and label ‘tree’. Can we find that ‘tree-ness’ and thereby really get down to the bedrock of reality?

We might be tempted (motivated by gross reductionism) to put the tree under a microscope to get to the elemental tree. If we don’t get too carried away, we will avoid that because we know that locating the finest particle of a tree presupposes that we have already identified the tree in order to start searching among its molecules. So we are compelled to deal with our lived process of how we locate a tree.

Pushing along, we will come to say that we distinguish the tree from amongst the background of everything else. We would say that ‘everything else’ is characterized as non-tree and the tree therefore stands out as not non-tree (versus the self declared tree). But these are negative statements so we have to go to ‘everything else’ as not not non-tree, and the tree as not not not non-tree. Whew! But even all that presumes that we ‘have’ the tree to begin with so as to establish the non-tree of ‘everything else! Just when we were getting sophisticated, the initial problem reasserts itself!

But we have established something. In order to have the tree we need everything else (non-tree). But in order to have that ‘everything else’ we need to have the tree (not non-tree). What are we describing? Relatedness, no? Deep inter-relatedness, mutual identifiability, co-emergence versus singular presence. How do we have the tree? By way of everything else. How do we have everything else? By way of the tree! Where can we find a single thing coming from its own side? We can’t. Lack of inherent existence, absence of intrinsic identifiability, vast relativity which cannot be characterized as being nor as non-being.

We might ask "How do we get along?" By way of makeshift, stand-in, overlay, short-hand. We learn to designate some feature or function or attribute or assigned meaning as the ‘tree-ness’ that we then label ‘tree’. Our designating and naming impute things into the overlay reality of our conventions - where essences and entities abound. Forgetting that our language and imputations are thereby proscriptive, we take our conventions to be descriptive of the way things are and overextend our makeshift granularizations into true (inherent) existence.

So we arrive at agreeing with the (formerly) resisted statement that the way anything can be said to exist is through imputation or in dependence upon an imputing consciousness or through name. We might be tempted to hold that the uncommon sign designating ‘tree-ness’ to be the essential tree we were after, the ‘own thing’ of the tree, but we will be reminded that this mark shares the same situation we have found with the tree. We find a series of inter-dependent designations with the series itself thus dependently designated.

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