The ancient wisdom of emptiness (also known as nothingness (no-thingness)) lies at the heart of the Buddhist wisdom tradition, but unfortunately it is for the most part either unknown or misunderstood by the modern spiritual audience. Yet emptiness is incredibly important because it can free us from subtle identities beyond the familiar understanding of the ego that stand in the way of awakening.

Emptiness also resolves problems that the current Conscious Universe-New Thought paradigm cannot by explaining why reality is the way it is – rather than just what it is – thus redefining our understanding of how we co-create reality and how energy, intention, karma, love and presence work together.

However, emptiness does this by challenging some of our fundamental beliefs about Oneness and Wholeness, so its deeper implications can be unsettling for some people. Yet emptiness is not an alternative to Oneness – contrary to what the Hindu-Buddhist schism leads us to believe! It was devised to remedy certain problems with Oneness; particularly world-duality rejecting forms of experiential Oneness that are often mistaken for liberation when in fact they are the unconscious attachment to formless bliss.

Definition of Emptiness: Emptiness describes the non-inherent existence of something. Something is said to be empty if it cannot be found to exist independent of its component/composite parts, contributory factors and our awareness of it.

If that sounds a bit technical then let me put it another way, emptiness means everything exists interdependently such that everything co-creates everything else – no independent “thing” really exists, hence the name nothingness (no-thingness). Thus, nothingness/emptiness is completely different from non-existence and should never be confused with it.

The Emptiness of Duality: Since hot corresponds with cold, tall with short, front with back, right with left, etc. each pair is a mutuality dependent unity. They are not one in a literal sense but they are not really dualistic either since they arise together by defining one another, e.g. you cannot have ‘longness’ without ‘shortness.’ Although both are real (in that they exist), neither is inherently real or self-existent since each depends on the other. This relationship is described as empty.

The Emptiness of Interdependence: Of course, emptiness does not just apply to mutually dependent pairs; it applies to all interdependent systems from the human body to ecosystems to the Universe as a whole. For example, your body does not have an inherent existence. It has component parts like head, torso, arms and legs but none of those alone constitute a human body.

Although we can recognize them as being part of the body, they, in and of themselves, are not the body. Likewise, the face is not the body nor is a photograph of the body the actual body. The body and its parts are not the same but they are not separate either. This mutuality is even more apparent when we explore the ‘body’ and the ‘person.’

What’s more, each body part mentioned above in turn has component parts, e.g. a head has eyes, ears, a nose, a mouth, etc. All of these component parts come together to form a body and any individual part is found to be made up of other parts all the way down to cells, molecules, atoms and beyond.

Your body also depends on a whole host of contributory factors to sustain it like air, water, food, the environment, other humans (parents, mate and community), etc. So, your body is real, but it is not self-existent. That much is straight forward, right? It is pretty much the same view of Holism… except that emptiness goes a whole lot deeper – pardon the pun.

The Emptiness of Awareness: If we return to the human body, “human-ness” is just a concept. We humans do not see it as such because we relate directly to other humans so we take human-ness to be self-evident. Of course, this is not the case, since an ant climbing up your leg does not see you as a “human.”

It probably does not even recognize your body as a “body” since its body is very different and the scale is beyond its reference frame – we barely fit into the ant worldview and they barely fit into ours. Human and ant worldviews are incredibly different, although, in saying that, they do share the same basic biological drives and ecological conditions common to most land-based life forms.

Likewise, this page you are reading is empty of self-existence. Not only does it depend on the internet, computers, networks, electricity and so on, the page itself relies on words, which in turn depend on language, writing, syntax, grammar, etc. It also depends on you recognizing it as a page of writing. If someone from an illiterate culture saw it they may think the words are an art form or patterned design and not a form of communication. In the ant’s worldview this page would just be a glowing plane of light and dark to walk across.

This is why something is said to be empty if it cannot be found to exist independent of its component/composite parts, contributory factors AND our awareness of it. So, emptiness is more than the usual understanding of Holism. Maybe it is best to say that emptiness takes Holism to a deeper level.

The Emptiness of Existence: Emptiness really makes sense when we view reality as an ocean of conscious energy as in the Holographic Universe paradigm or as conscious information as in the Consciousness Computer paradigm. For example, random data becomes information when apprehended by consciousness yet consciousness depends on information in order to function. They are mutually dependent, i.e. empty. The same can be said about the relationship between energy-frequency and consciousness. Consciousness gives both information and energy their context and vice versa.

What’s more, all information can be reduced to 1s and 0s and all energy to the plus and minus of a wave. These are not actual things in themselves yet they are capable of describing every “thing.” Yet 0 and 1 co-create one another, as do plus and minus, such that they have no inherent existence either. This does not undermine the existence of things. In fact, it enables reality to be what it is.

Relating is Empty: At this deeper level, emptiness can be seen to lie at the heart of relating since everything exists in relationship and things can only relate because they are empty, i.e. if things were inherently real they could not interact, change, grow or evolve. If relationships are the glue of life, then emptiness is what animates life. As J. Krishnamurti observed, “Life is relationship. To be is to be in relationship, and without relationship there is no life.”

The Middle Way: So, the unity of existence is the Oneness of nothingness or the emptiness of Wholeness rather than Wholeness or Oneness, per se. This is why emptiness is also known as the Middle Way, which is short for the middle way between the belief that things are inherently real or that they exist merely as illusory projections of consciousness.

Spiritual Implications: Therefore, the implications of emptiness and the Middle Way are not just philosophical – they are deeply spiritual. Emptiness is one of the most powerful tools to challenge our sense of “I” because it shows us how it is merely a psycho-physical quality with no inherent existence and also how to overcome our misidentification with it through the Middle Way.

In this regard, emptiness can free us from subtle identities beyond the familiar understanding of the ego, and in so doing, challenges some of our most fundamental beliefs about Oneness, Wholeness, non-duality and awakening. I will explain more about this in my next article The Emptiness of Wholeness.

Author's Bio: 

Mark Kelly has spent several years on a spiritual odyssey traveling the world learning from traditional wisdom keepers and modern spiritual innovators. He is dedicated to bringing the best of the ancient wisdom traditions to the modern world because the survival of both depends upon them coming together in this time of great change. He is now writing and speaking about what he has learned, in particular about emptiness and the Middle Way.