Does The Teaching Of Emptiness ‘Condemn’ Forms?

Question: Does the Buddhist teaching of ‘form is emptiness’ (空即是色) ‘condemn’ or ‘negate’ one another’s personal identities?

Answer: There need not be any sense of ‘condemnation’ of anyone’s identity. We must function at the level of relative forms and names now, as we have not realised forms to be emptiness yet. As the Heart Sūtra (心经) teaches, the ‘reverse’ truth says ’emptiness is form’ (空即是色) too. Thus, what the sutra teaches is a subtle Middle Path (中道) to tread – that does not slant towards ‘formalism’ (偏色) or emptiness (偏空).

This Middle Path is the Perfection Of Wisdom (Prajñā Pāramitā: 般若波罗蜜). However, as it is hard to realise in this lifetime, we should practise to reach Pure Land (净土), where it will be realised, easily and fully. This leaves us now with the need to have proper care of relative forms, with interpersonal relationships and such. As Great Master Yìnguāng, the 13th Patriarch of the Pure Land Tradition (净土宗十三祖印光大师) taught, we must fulfil our worldly responsibilities as members of our families and society. Only in this way can there be harmony, even as we aspire to reach Pure Land.

Note too that Pure Land is with pure forms too. These forms are those essential, as skilful means that point us to the Middle Path. Also to note is that it is dangerous to be attached to emptiness (执空), as pointed out by this famous saying: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2015/04/sumeru-vs-seed. Thus, it is dangerous to cling to seeing only ‘form is emptiness’: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2017/08/how-to-see-emptiness-of-forms

We are not supposed to keep toggling between the two truths of ‘form is emptiness’ and ’emptiness is form’, as they point us to the Middle Path: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/04/the-middle-path-between-relative-absolute-truths. However, again, since this is difficult, we should pay more attention to relating to forms well first.

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