The Pathless Path


Form is emptiness, emptiness is form 

“Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Emptiness does not differ from form, and form does not differ from emptiness. Likewise, feelings, recognitions, volitions, and consciousnesses are empty.” “So, Shariputra, all dharmas are empty, lacking differentiating marks; they are not produced nor stopped, not defiled and not immaculate, not deficient and not complete.” 

“Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form, no feeling, no recognition, no volition, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no visible form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no mental object; no eye-element, and so forth, up to no mind-element; and no mental- consciousness element; no ignorance and no extinction of ignorance, and so on, up to no aging and death and no extinction of aging and death; likewise there is no Suffering, Origin, Cessation or Path, no wisdom knowledge, no attainment and no non-attainment.”

The classic mini-koan, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form”, has left many perplexed throughout the millennium. All too often, particularly these days in Materialistic-Buddhism/Zen, emptiness is simply equated with phenomena: Phenomena is emptiness, emptiness IS (=) Phenomena. This is equivalent to saying that emptiness is dependent upon form. All this does is to castrate the Buddhadharma rendering it merely as an adherent of phenomenal relativism. There are three viewpoints that orbit around emptiness: the views of the “herd-mentality” (puthujjana); the heretical views of those who adhere to lesser-teachings (historically known as the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas); and the Absolute vantage-point of the Bodhisattvas and Tathagatas. It is the latter category alone that discerns the aggregates as being empty of the Substance O’ the Source and are not stand-alone self-existent. The former categories could also be described as bearing the mark of the Icchantikas: those who remain unaware and even stifle the growth of the gotra, or the inner-bodhi-seed (Buddha-nature) bearing the potential of Bodhisattvahood and, in further cultivation, Tathagatahood Itself.

Avalokiteśvara states that the five aggregates (or skandhas) are empty of the Absolute Markless-Mark O’ the Source as well as being inadequate (empty) vehicles in which to nurture the potential-seed of all Buddhas. Another way of expressing this is that the Unborn Face of the Sugata does not recognize Itself in the mirror of phenomena. By the same token, as viewed from the Perfection of Noble Wisdom, emptiness does not negate form’s conventionality; to do so would breed duality—as if formal conventions exist apart from the prior originating and animating Principle. Form is a self-expression of emptiness and emptiness is self-manifested as form.

The commentator Śrīmahājana says:

“Form is emptiness; emptiness is form” is the brief teaching. “Emptiness is not other than form; form is not other than emptiness” is the extensive explanation. Regarding that, some assert that emptiness is the destructionof form. The answer to that is that form is emptiness. It is said that emptiness is not other than form because dependent natures (paratantrasvabhāva), which are wrongly imagined [to be independent], are empty of the nature of duality that is imputed [by ignorance]. The nature of form is the emptiness of duality in the manner of an affirming negative (paryudāsaprati$edha). Some say that form and so forth turn into the nature of the dharmadhātu, like an illusion. In response to that it is said that only emptiness is form. “Form is not other than emptiness” [means] that dependent forms are only emptiness, that is, they have the nature of the dharmadhātu” ….(pg.59, The Heart Sutra Explained, Donald Lopez Jr., editor).

Śrīmahājana’s insight is deeply profound; in a sense he is saying that the Face of Emptiness bears no nose, no ear, no taste, no movement, ect…but is in reality the Absolute Nature of the Dharmadhātu that bears no distinguishing marks in Itself, but is also the animating source from which all manifested forms are dependent on. The following video segment, from Tozen’s Dharmakaya Sutra, succinctly expresses this as the emptiness which cannot be grasped but the form which can be shattered:

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