Another Book of Nothing
© Patrick Lewis 2007/Revised 2021-2
Why ‘Another’ Book of Nothing?
Well, firstly, I wanted to call it 'The Book of Nothing', but when I did a cursory search on the internet, I found that there already exist a few ‘Books of Nothing’. The oldest and most significant of these is otherwise known as the Hsin-Hsin Ming, or ‘Verses on the Perfect Mind’ by Seng-ts’an, or Sosan, the Third Patriarch of Zen, every word of which is pure gold, including these:
With a single stroke we are freed from bondage;
nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.
All is empty, clear, self-illuminating,
with no exertion of the mind's power.
HSIN HSIN MING - Verses on the Faith Mind (or The Book of Nothing) by The 3rd Zen Patriarch, Sengstau
Secondly then, regarding 'nothing' as the subject matter, does anything have any ultimately enduring value or existence here? Doesn’t it all come down to nothing in the end? Of all the events and happenings, thoughts and feelings and experiences in all the seconds, minutes, hours, days and years of our lifetimes - and of course, our bodies themselves – what really endures and what finally remains? Indeed how can anything retain any ultimate significance or meaning in this realm of time - this constant flow of ever-changing matter and thoughts which, like drops of water become indistinguishable in the unstoppable torrent of a great river?
Third and finally, there is the nothing that is pure emptiness – the essential backdrop to the perception of anything, even perception itself – as utter stillness is to motion or time, silence to sound, no taste to taste, and the emptiness of the screen or page where you see these words and which makes their appearance possible. All our ever-passing thoughts display themselves, our senses and their objects both become apparent, and even the essential consciousness of existing itself is evident - all in an otherwise utterly empty mind. No matter how many zillions of thoughts, feelings and memories appear 'in' this mind, it never gets full, and while allowing for the existence, and appearing to take the form of, both a perceiver and that which is perceived, it never, ever, in reality, becomes them, nor is it in fact affected or defined by either - like water or a mirror, regardless of the ephemeral reflections that appear on their surface. Being aware of the presence of such reflections - which include our very sense of 'self' - we are in fact seeing only the untainted surface of the water or mirror itself. In the final analysis therefore, there remains nothing as such that can conclusively verify whether anything really in fact exists or not, including the very notion of existence itself - except perhaps, for an undeniable sense of presence, uncontrived and completely devoid of any concept whatsoever, including even that of nothingness itself, right here and now.
Within the expanse of spontaneous presence is the ground for all that arises.
Empty in essence, continuous by nature, it has never existed as anything whatsoever,
yet arises as anything at all.
Longchen Rabjam, The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena
Simply put then, behind every perception, thought and feeling, and every moment of our existence, the abiding reality is pure emptiness. Mechanically speaking, we are just like characters in a movie which, together with the whole drama of the manifest universe, time and space, exist on an otherwise empty screen - a screen having the capacity for an infinity of such displays which nevertheless have no actual reality other than the screen itself.
It is useful to note, when diving into this subject, that this eternal and timeless 'space', while being completely impossible to be fully describe, is that which is referred to by many labels, for example, all the different names and epithets given by the different religions throughout the world to denote the idea, concept and reality of 'God'. Then, there are words that attempt to convey this in terms of philosophy or human experience such as Awareness, Mind, Mind-as-such, Awakened or Opened Mind, Suchness, Emptiness, Basic Space, Spontaneous Presence, Atman, Buddhahood, Supreme Truth, Reality, Being, Spirit or Soul, Void or Higher Self etc. either singly or in combination - according to the preferences of different schools of cultural, religious or philosophical thought - all of which, to a reasonably intelligent mind, are obviously talking about the same 'thing'.
The quest to know, experience and real-ise the actuality of this no-thing - this 'basic space' or emptiness, this non-dimensional 'screen' by whatever name, as the ultimate reality of all - such is the basis of the musings that follow as 'Another Book of Nothing'.