Here is a teaching from the Dalai Lama: “Be careful not to mistake emptiness to be nothing ness.” He gives this to aspirants at the stage of their spiritual evolution when all partial identifications diminish and end. It is a dangerous stage in all people’s practice and just happens in life anyway. To be relieved of all conventional personal identity such as “I am the body, I am the car I drive, I am my family, nation, race, or religion etc,” can be entirely freeing yet also profoundly disturbing as the life we thought we had dissolves. The Dalai Lama is asking that we understand the emptiness of the Buddhists to be the absolute condition of reality, the condition of all conditions, or the power of the cosmos that is arising as every “thing.” The Hindus would call it fullness but the Buddhist are happy to describe it as emptiness because it is felt when all lesser identifications fall away. My Guru U. G. was fond of saying “The only hope is hopelessness.” In other words when all our strategies to “be somebody” have fallen through and are found to be hopeless then we can settle in to who we really are, the force of consciousness, reality itself. So don’t mistake emptiness, your life falling apart to be nothingness. It is the beginning of perfect freedom. These lesser identifications are sometimes described as the ego that must be destroyed. But it is good to understand that the ego is not a “something” to be destroyed. It is simply the minds association, called “asmita” in yoga. I am my body, my car etc. When these associations or identifications dissolve there is no ego, just realty itself arising as everything. Gloriously then we return to lesser identifications without problem. I am the body, car, career no longer a limit on reality that is pumping through us. These words say it, “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.” An ancient Zen statement and Donovan song!
To be clear the first mountain is of course absolutely fine. Growing up in a conditional world and taking it on successfully or unsuccessfully. But there is a warning implied that if you get a sense of an all encompassing power, absolute reality, or heart, your conditional reality or association with “things” as your personal identity will loose their interest and attraction as you become absorbed in reality itself. That is why the early Buddhist would say, “best not to start on the path, but once having done so, best to get it over with as soon as possible.” In all of this there is never an actual dissociation from anything. The embrace of all objects in the natural world is how we transcend them and is the means by which we know them and therefore know ourselves, consciousness or the One reality in which every “thing” is appearing. Its a good deal and can happen very quickly.