Emptiness - Preface
If everything is empty, then what ceases in Nirvana and is born in rebirth? Guy Armstrong tackles this question and more in this richly informed, practical guide to emptiness for the meditator.
The world is full of obvious things which nobody by chance ever observes. —Sherlock Holmes Truth lives all around me but it’s just beyond my grasp. —Country Joe McDonald I’VE ALWAYS LIKED A GOOD MYSTERY. From Sherlock Holmes to John le Carré, I’ve been fascinated by the idea that there’s more going on than meets the eye. In college I majored in physics, because I loved the way science reveals things that are hidden from ordinary view. In grad school I studied computers to find out how machines could do such amazing things. Psychology was always an interest, because the mind, too, is a vast, unknown land. In all these disciplines, I discovered that close observation, pointed questions, and sustained reflection were the keys to unlock the gates. When I stumbled onto Buddhism, I was delighted to find a whole new set of mysteries to explore. From the age of twenty-eight, I began to dedicate my life to learning what I could from teachers and meditation, including a year in Asia as a Buddhist monk. Many of the teachings I encountered made good common sense, and I was grateful for their emphasis on wise choices in speech and action. Meditation was a marvel that brought me a measure of calm, but my conceptual mind was most intrigued by things I couldn’t quite understand, like not-self, enlightenment, nirvana, and emptiness. It seemed that comprehending these subjects must be necessary to realize the path of transformation and freedom, but however much I thought about them in the beginning, I couldn’t penetrate them. Still, the glimmerings of these mysteries inspired me, and I was determined to explore them further. After some years, I began to teach what I had learned, primarily through leading silent retreats in the Insight meditation tradition. The word mysteries has long had religious connotations. In both ancient and modern cultures, there have always been priests and priestesses, nuns, monks, and shamans seeking to learn from the mysteries and thereby shift their relationship to themselves and others, to life and to death. This book is intended for those today who are drawn to these subtle realms. Emptiness is the theme, as it is a core teaching closely connected to the other mysteries. For the truth of emptiness to reveal itself fully in our hearts and minds will require inquiry and reflection, as well as a deep intuition born from meditation, which is is simply another name we give to close observation. In truth the keys that unlock the mysteries of science also unlock the mysteries of spirit. For two and a half millennia, Buddhist practitioners have explored emptiness and found the highest levels of happiness and freedom. This book is offered in the hope that it might encourage a few more people to take a few more steps along this sacred path.