How Do You Grasp Emptiness?

色即是空;空即是色;– 心经 (观世音菩萨)

Form is not different from emptiness;
emptiness is not different from form;
form is the same as emptiness;
emptiness is the same as form.

– Heart Sutra (Guanshiyin Bodhisattva)

Chan Master Shigong: How can you get a grip of emptiness?
(Chan Master Xitang made a snatching gesture in the air.)
Shigong: If you do it that way, you really won’t be able to grasp emptiness.
Xitang: Then, how would you actually do it?
(Shigong forcefully twisted Xitang’s nose, who cried out in pain.)
Shigong: That’s the only way to grip emptiness.– Compendium Of Five Lamps

In this koan, when Xitang gestured in the air, it was to regard emptiness as nothing, thereby falling into a pool of [spiritually] stagnant water. Chan [Zen] says, ‘Dead water holds no dragons.’ No sentient life exists in stagnant water. This sort of ’emptiness’ is called ‘utter emptiness’, the emptiness of [stubborn] stupidity, the emptiness of annihilation, the emptiness of mortal extinction. In Chan, this is the ’emptiness’ which is most opposed, to be avoided.

Shigong tweaked Xitang’s nose in order to correct his misunderstanding. There are two layers of meaning here: one was to alter the erroneous direction of his misunderstanding, the other was to cause him to feel pain, to feel that although form is emptiness, emptiness is also form, and that this emptiness is not empty but is form – the existence of his nose. [In fact, ’emptiness is the same as form.’]

Chinese Zen: A Path To Peace And Happiness
Wu Yansheng (Translated By Tony Blishen)

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Danger Of Clinging To Emptiness
How To See Emptiness Of Forms

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