the dance of emptiness and form

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[I posted this on Wake Up and Laugh back in May, but it’s also something I’d been intending to post here for quite some time. Apologies to those who have already read it~]

Form here is only emptiness, emptiness only form.

Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form.

-the Heart Sutra

During a trip to Thailand, I bought ‘A Brief History of Time’, by Stephen Hawking. Like the best Dharma books, it was written with the intention of being understood by any common layperson but also must be read several times for it to really sink in. One of the many interesting things I learned is that matter is constantly appearing and disappearing in space, out of apparently nothing. Particles and their corresponding anti-particles, arise for a moment, then, nearly immediately, collide back together into nonbeing.

Although at the time that Stephen Hawking wrote the book, he was only 95% sure that black-holes existed, he supposed that as these particles and antiparticles arose just on the edge of black-holes, one of them would be hauled into the black-hole, allowing the other to continue its existence, becoming the seed of form.

What does this mean for my practice? Well, probably nothing… but it does interest me that an ancient Buddhist text, which reads almost like a dream, would be echoed well over a thousand years later in contemporary theoretical physics.

The appearance of all Buddhas and Patriarchs in this world can be liked to waves arising suddenly on a windless ocean.

-Zen Master So Sahn

Similarly, as the Buddha sat in meditation, he was able to focus his awareness so acutely that he actually experienced his form on a subatomic level. He saw that everything is pulsing, appearing and disappearing countless times each moment. I think this experience helped him realize the extent of our impermanence. Thousands of times a second we regenerate. Thousands of times a second we’re given the chance to start all over. Personally, I find this very encouraging!

Again, this time about twenty-five hundred years later, science and technology caught up to Prajna Wisdom and built a scanning electron microscope that could observe the inside of an atom. Each time they focussed in on a particle, it seemed to melt into pulsing waves of rhythm and revealed an even smaller particle, which in turn, did the same.

Of what is the body made? It is made of emptiness and rhythm. At the ultimate heart of the body, at the heart of the world, there is no solidity. Once again, there is only the dance. At the unimaginable heart of the atom, the compact nucleus, we have found no solid object, but rather a dynamic pattern of tightly confined energy vibrating perhaps 1022 times a second: a dance…

-George Leonard


One response »

  1. Thank you for re-posting this! First because it makes me feel better for not having understood A Brief History- I only read it once, so I feel vindicated- but secondly, it was physics that lead me back to Buddhism a decade after I had dismissed it along with a myriad other religions and philosophies. But this is one of my favourite aspects of Buddhism and it makes me laugh to think that this knowledge has been part of the collective human consciousness for thousands of years but doubting cynics like me refused to accept the instinctual route to understanding reality, insisting instead it be expressed as science rather than spiritualism before accepting it. How utterly presumptuous! And how brilliant that there are so many beautiful ways to describe/experience/express the world we inhabit.

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