Vipassana Meditation – Emptiness
One of the great insights from regular, long-term vipassana practice is the experience of emptiness. The actual knowing of it by the experience of it. This is not your typical conceptual emptiness of the West; it is not total void, negative beings, or nihilistic pit, or suffering in endlessness. It is a more positive emptiness. This experience is a sense of being in ultimate
boundlessness, where nothing concrete exists – not even impermanence, not even dependent origination, not even no-self – just being in endless space (as some interpret it). This experience is without egocentric and samsaric-conditioned mind filters. No desire for positive sense-door experiences over negative experiences. Again, emptiness experiences may not be good for people suffering from serious mental health of addictions problems. Like no-self, perhaps you would be better off letting this one go. Here is our guided vipassana-like meditation on emptiness.
- Begin by settling into your cushion for chair. Take a few deep, slow, calm breaths and notice the emptiness that exists at the end of the in-breath and at the end of the out-breath. There is a feeling of nothing there. Continue to breathe and noticing. Focus stronger and stronger concentration on the experience being experienced without evaluations.
- Ancient, sacred people practiced approaching absolute truth, one aspect of which is emptiness. This comes after you let go of self and conceptual perceptions. No self-narratives; no self-referencing, no self grasping. Do your best to let go of all experience-conditioned ego. Just be. If you are fortunate you may already obtain a small glimpse of emptiness. Meditate on this!
- Continue to meditate with an intention to come face-to-face with
emptiness. If you reach even a glimpse of it, you may experience luminosity in the present moment. Perhaps your personal experience by now begins to enter a state of subtle boundlessness. Meditate on this! Use more mental energy to concentrate on the experience at hand.
- In the mind-only school and aspects of shambhala, the experience of being in emptiness is an experience of perceiving no space, no difference between the entity that perceives and the object/experience being perceived. This is quite “heady” stuff. Meditate with an expectation to experience an ultimate holism between subjects and object, between perceiver and that being perceived (emptiness). Meditate of this! Again, strengthen your meditative energy via concentrating.
- In the middle way or madyamaka view, emptiness may be understood as the dearth of isolation between events/experiences. All experience and all phenomena are totally inter-dependent in nature. Our wholesomeness affects others in a strongly karmic manner. Everything is connected to everything, thus there is no one thing that exists independently – a form of emptiness in experience. So be certain to “let go” of conceptual awareness and expectancies. Meditate deeply on this!
- Remain open as much as possible and “let go” of self-cherishing and fixations of self-desires. No more craving; no more clinging; no more attachment. Just be and do not avoid emotional realities involved in your personal experience of emptiness. Avoid what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called “shunyata poisonng.” Do not be cognitively analytic or deeply interested in your desire for a new self-narrative or positive/negative realities in relationships. Just be with the emptiness; just be the emptiness. Meditate deeply on this!
- Sit there an enjoy any glimpse of emptiness you may have within this present moment. Enjoy, but do not analyze, the bliss you may experience.
- William James noted that true mystical experience via spiritual practice is beyond verbal and conceptual definition. This illuminated experience may imply a “superior power,” depending on your own views of spiritual experience. When Walt Whitman discussed the universe of souls, he along with James may have implied that such experiences come with both blessings and burdens. Now that we know a more true reality via personal experience, what good will be do with this knowledge and new being? What about the suffering of others as well as our own?
- Now take a few breaths and prepare to return your experience back to this room. Prepare to rise, paying attention to the feelings in your legs and feet. Move slowly.
For more information refer to Nichtern, E. (2015). The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path. New York: North Point Press, pp. 138-146. See also James, W. The Varieties of Religious Experience. In William James: Writings 1902-1910. New York: Library of America, 1987, pp. 343-344.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness