In the West today, emptiness is bemoaned as an existential lack, a void requiring a something–meaning, sense, value, a vacation, the newest iPhone–to be replenished. A person who habitually experiences emptiness is in need of psychological or even psychiatric intervention. Whatever it takes, emptiness must be remedied.
The view from Mount Buddhism could not be more different. Buddhism conceives of emptiness (śūnyatā) as the very condition for existence. More, emptiness is what enables meaning, value, and fullness. Because emptiness lies at the heart of all things, from a subatomic particle to the cosmos itself, seeing into it, knowing, experiencing, being it, is tantamount to “awakening.”
But wait! The Buddhist discourse on emptiness is suffused with danger. “Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end,” says Nagarjuna.
We will take hold of the poisonous snake of emptiness by studying a classical text called, “Like a Ball of Foam” (Phenapindupamasutta). In this text, emptiness is approached as both an ontological feature of reality (i.e. a quality of beings) and a cognitive perspective. We will discuss the implications and uses of the concept for everyday life.
Facilitator: Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University. He is the author of several books, including Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice and Basic Teachings of the Buddha as well as numerous articles, chapters, and essays on various aspects of Buddhism and Western Buddhism in contemporary society. His more recent work, A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real, employs the “non-philosophical” approach of François Laruelle. Wallis has taught at Brown University, Bowdoin College, and was tenured at the University of Georgia. He is the founder of the blog Speculative Non-Buddhism and Incite Seminars. His most recent books are An Anarchist’s Manifesto and Non-Buddhist Mysticism: Performing Irreducible and Primitive Presence.