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Lions Roar : May 2006
zokeTsU noRman fischeR on Emptiness F ROM THE FIRST TIME I encountered the word in Eng- lish, I liked the sound of it: emptiness. Some would find it chillingly abstract, even scary. But I took to it imme- diately. I chanted the Heart Sutra (“form is emptiness, emptiness form ...”) alone and with sangha every day for years before I ever bothered to find out what the great teachers of the past meant by emptiness. It didn’t matter to me what they meant. I knew what emptiness was. Of course I had no clue. But intuitively I knew. I remember once, at the beginning of my practice, wandering in the woods during a blizzard, drifting snow piled two feet high, chanting the Heart Sutra over and over again. In the snow, with trees, bushes, and ground covered in white, white, white, and the sky white with whiteness falling down, the sutra’s meaning was perfectly clear. It wasn’t until much later that I plunged into the vast philosophi- cal edifice of Mahayana Buddhism, from the Diamond Sutra and Beautiful Snowflakes Emptiness has been called Buddhism’s signature doctrine, what distinguishes it from all other religions. Intellectually, it’s simple enough: that everything is transitory and without solid iden- tity or essence. But it can be a long journey to really accepting that nothing is “real” in the way we normally think it is. Emptiness cuts all the ground out from under us, but as poet and Zen teacher NORMAN FISCHER says, there is joy and freedom in realizing that we and our world are as passing, and beautiful, as falling snowflakes. ILLUSTRATIONS BY MICHELLE LAPORTE SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 54