Emptiness & Nihilism

Reply Sun 19 Dec, 2010 07:35 pm
Within the tradition of Eastern thought there is the doctrine of emptiness. It is suffice to know that emptiness is the idea of the interdepency of all knowable things and hence the absence of any absolutes or essences.

This is often interpreted as meaning that the nailing down of absolutes into some kind of Logos, Self, Ego, Soul, God, or what have you, was and has always been a futile project. Ultimate truths, ultimate values etc are not this, not that, not both, nor not either.

Emptiness, this lack of any essential meaning to all things, is often expressed in our tradition as some form of nihilism, from which folk succumb to the idea that life is - in the ultimate analysis - without any objective meaning, purpose or intrinsic value. Such considerations promise sentiments of anomie, alienation, existential crisis, post-modern moods of despondency and so on.

Leonid Andreyev, for example, wrote about Lazurus, the fellow Jesus raised from the dead. The Biblical story is one of a miracle but doesn't really go into details, so Andreyev tries to set the record straight. For the Russian writer, Lazurus rises and people cannot help but look into his eyes and they see the dreadful infinite, the emptiness within them, and they succumb to feelings of nihilism and despondency. Seeing the affect Lazurus is having on his subjects, the king puts out his eyes and Lazurus wanders into the desert never to be seen again.

Satre writes The Wall, in which the message is that the end result of our human captivity is the promise of meaninglessness, absurdity, an abismal darkness of despair which ends only in death. "It is the lack of meaning and lack of worth in anything..." (Satre). Curiously, a typical and interesting feature of western nihilism is cynism.

Marx also noted a feature of nihilism in the condition of alienation, that "all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind" essentially, "no other nexus between man and man other than naked self interest..."

Be it Nietzsche, Satre, Marx, Andreyev et al, all occidental nihilism in one fashion or another focuses on an ending, a termination, a death of some sort, be this physical, emotional, sprititual or societal and this orientation too often triggers existential alienation and sentiments of nihilism.

For the Eastern tradition, on the other hand, this kind of occidental sentiment is one that is still trapped in Samsara - a psychological world of profound aggression, anger, frustration, ignorance, competitiveness, jealousy, and so on.

For example, the ignorance of nihilism is that it is not the doctrine of emptiness, for it is still full of self, of one's own ego, desires, aggressions and anger. It is a kind of child like frustration in which the all too masculine individual hasn't got what he wants and so starts to feel useless, helpless, apathetic, morose and cynical.

This anger is turned outwards in order to blame others, or inwards from which the western tradition has inevitably set up mind therapies such as psychoanlysis, cognitivist therapy, drugs to address hormonal inbalances, all to deal with these child-like states of anger, depression and despondency.

For the eastern tradition, then, the occidentals try to hide from the void either by entering fleeting states of happiness, distraction, avoidance, illusions and forgetfulness or to go down the road of some kind of despair or nihilism. Either way, one is still failing. Existential despair, for example, is just another banal state of the conceptual mind of samsara - it is wise to the extent that it understands the doctrine of emptiness (sunyata) but it is trapped in this realm of samsara for there is still someone or something to blame, be this on curious notions of some kind of fixed self, ego, nature, mind or soul, some kind of fixed Other, or society itself.

So, the cosmos doesn't give a ****, there is no essential, fixed forever essence, meaning, or absolute in life. God, no doubt is dead. So what do we do?

One avenue, we could argue, is to lament and weep and moan and groan like lost children in the wilderness, and at best succumb to jobbing sloth and take wonder-drugs like dope and TV. On the other hand, we could adopt the advice given to us from the eastern tradition - don't get caught in that dawnward spiral, don’t sweat the small stuff, don’t get fixed on your self, some absolute mind or soul, some god or doctrine, they too are empty.

Instead, uncoil and reveal your flowers, whatever they may be, to the empty skies above.

Happy Christmas
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Reply Sun 19 Dec, 2010 08:17 pm

or just believe in your own being , Human Being

which really eliminates any sense of emptiness any have
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