Emptiness is not other than form, Form is not other than emptiness.

Although this a long clip, stay with it.  Here Ken elicits experiences from his students as he unravels the last two lines of the classic four sentences of the Heart Sutra: Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.Emptiness is not other than form. Form is not other than emptiness.  It is not only Ken's teachings but the students' hesitant and sometimes halting descriptions of their experiences of these last two lines that I appreciated.

Emptiness is not other than form. Form is not other than emptiness. (from HSW03 00:49:17.0 - 01:02:55.)

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Emptiness is form. So whether it's full or empty, it's still an experience. So now this is good, we're all clear here. We have form and we have emptiness.

On this Hakuin says:

Rubbish! A useless collection of junk. Don't be trying to teach apes to climb trees. These goods have been gathering dust on the shelves for two- thousand years.

He goes on:

A bush warbler pipes tentatively in the spring breeze, by the peach tree a thin mist hovers in the warm sun. A group of young girls, cicada heads and mock eyebrows with blossom sprays one over each brocade shoulder.

So we have form which is experience and emptiness which is the space in which experience arises. We can't say what it is, but there's this space in which experience arises.

And when we hear form is emptiness we say, "Okay, form doesn't mean these solid things, it means that what arises in experience arises in this space. And it's there but it's not there at the same time."

And when we hear emptiness is form, we go, "That's fine, there is this space that allows everything to be. Makes it possible."

Emptiness is not other than form. Well we started off with things are not what they seem, which is form is emptiness. Now we come to emptiness is not form, which means emptiness is not what it seems.That is it is actually a fullness rather than an emptiness. But now we get emptiness is not other than form. Well if you've looked at what happened, we started off with thinking that experience was very solid. And then we heard, form is emptiness, so now we think that we've come to see that experience isn't a solid as we thought it was. So we're inclined to think probably that, you know, experience just doesn't really exist. Then we get the next line, emptiness is form, which actually says, "No you really do experience things." And you do experience lots of things. So we're cool, there's emptiness and there's experience. That's nice. We have these two, we're clear about that.

And now we've got this third line, emptiness is not other than form. Well, this is very troubling because now it says that these two things, experience and emptiness, they're really not different. How do you feel about that? Anybody? I mean having experience and emptiness, that's okay, we can sort of play with that. But experience and emptiness, they're really not different, how does that feel? Anybody? Yes?

Student: Well, it seems sort of expansive if you're going from the sense of emptiness is all this fullness.

Ken: Could you hand the microphone, please. Please say that again.

Student: It seems kind of expansive in the...if you're going from the sense that emptiness is a really all this fullness and...well, all right I don't know, now I forgot what I was going. Is it on ?

Ken: Yes.

Student: That then you have this sense that experience is related whatever you said to emptiness. Then it's huge and also chaotic and full and it's really pretty exciting.

Ken: Okay, so it opens up possibilities. Yeah, okay. Right, anybody else? All the way up here.

Student: It feels like another nail in the coffin. [Laughter]

Ken: Yours or mine?

Student: Mine.

Ken: That's fine, I don't worry about that. Say more.

Student: Well, you know the emptiness is form--hello--form is emptiness pulls the rug out for me, the solidity that I assign to my experience of things.

Ken: Okay. Student: Then emptiness is form; what does that do for me? It allows me to relax, it allows me to relax in what it is I am experiencing. And then when it says, form is not other than emptiness, it--

Ken: Actually it's emptiness is not other than form, some dif...

Student: Okay, all right. If ever I thought there was an alternative that I was going to escape from, this whole conversation. It's [quietly] no. [Ken laughs]Student: There's no escape, it's sort of taking my head. I feel a hand taking my head and going, "There."And then I get that, "No, no, no" there.

Ken: So it's pointing you very, very precisely. Okay, so big fullness, many possibilities, pointing right at it. Anybody else?

Student: So it took me a long time to sort get to the point where I could actually say it was a bit of a relief, you know thinking about it at all. Because in the beginning, very honestly it was absolutely terrifying. When I first encountered this emptiness is form, form is emptiness, I just thought "What?" [Ken laughs softly] It undid me completely, it was just like, you know, the Zen koan that stops you dead in your tracks and you don't even know how to think at all. And then it was really rather terrifying. Actually. I mean I worked with it for a very long time and I went--because I have a tendencies of fear and anxiety about my world in general--I went into this completely nihilistic place where my world became undone for me completely, whenever I tried to think about emptiness.

Ken: Okay.

Student: I really went down to a terrifying space where the world dissolved and I couldn't have a sense of matter, at all. Myself or the validity of anything else. And it became a very painful space. It's taken a very long time where I have now gotten to the place where the two...the possibility of, that word emptiness really bothers me. I don't know there has to be a different word, translation for the word, shunyata than emptiness because the word implying less than something took, was where I went. And as I said I have this tendency to fall into nihilism and it was very frightening and I got very depressed and really freaked out. And it took a bit a very long time to come up to a warmer space where I just threw the word emptiness out all together. To the point of the possibilities of it being something else other than what I thought it was.

Ken: Okay.

Student: And that was very meaningful for me and I didn't even want to share that because I know that , he didn't even come today there was a friend of mine who was gonna come today who went down into that fairly recently and I told him it was long process but it was worth working with, because its one of those practitioner's down falls that happens to some people, depending on the type of your mind. And that you know you can get to this possibility where the fullness that it has these incredible possibilities that it wasn't meaning what my interpretation of the word emptiness meant at all. And then I felt like I was that ll these possibilities came up and it was really very, you know very. I feel like I can work with something and I got more stable. [Laughs]

Ken: Okay. So emptiness is form or emptiness is not other than form. We have these two opposites, seeming opposites, emptiness and experience. A lot of people take issue with the word emptiness. It's actually the right translation, in both Sanskrit and Tibetan. Tibetan is stong-pa-nyid. If you have an empty box you say gong-stong-pa-nyid. Same in Sanskrit, I don't know Sanskrit but it's wonderful whoever came up with the word was also a genius. I like him, or her or whoever it was.

And it teaches in a strange way the value of nothing. Nothing is what makes everything possible. You can't fill a glass that is already full. So if it's already full you can't use it.

So we have this emptiness and this experience and it seems that we have these two poles but now we have this emptiness is not other than form, that says these two poles are not two poles they're one and the same. In other words this opposition we thought was there isn't what it seems. And as someone said earlier, when you allow the experience and the no thingness of experience just to be there, then all kinds of possibilities open up. Don't have to make things one way or the other. Okay, that seems like a very good place to stop at this point. But Avalokiteshvara doesn't shut up at this point. He says, "Form is not other than emptiness." Now what happens? What's your experience when you hear those lines? My sense is that something in you goes, tilt!

It's just like what? Or huh? Anybody have that experience? Yeah. And this is exactly what those lines are designed to do. They lead you through this process. Things are not what they seem, okay we can live with that? Emptiness is not what it seems. Well that's good because I didn't really like that anyway. Opposition is not what it seems, hmm okay, that's all right. Nothing is not what it seems and now there is nothing left to stand on. Nothing to hold on to. That's why I think these lines are so brilliant because they leave you with absolutely nothing to hold on to. How is that for you? Yes?

Student: It feels like I have no feet.

Ken: Exactly, no feet, no ground, nothing. Yes?

Student: It's like walking through a doorway that's dark on the other side.

Ken: Doorway that's dark on the other side. Hmm for you it's walking

Student: I mean I don't even know if there is a floor.

Ken: You don't even know if there is a floor. Yes, I've been in rooms like that. Anybody else? It kind of stops everything doesn't it? And that's really the point of these lines. It doesn't matter if hear them for the first time or the thousandth time. They always stop the mind. And open the possibility of just experiencing what's there, which is the point of practice? Hakuin has this to say about it. (page 59)

A nice hot kettle of stew.
He ruins it by dropping a couple of rat turds in.
(The rat turds are form and emptiness.)
It's no good pushing delicacies at a man with a full belly.
Striking aside waves to look for water when the waves are water.
Forms don't hinder emptiness, emptiness is the tissue of form.
Emptiness isn't the destruction of form.
Form is the flesh of emptiness.
Inside the Dharma gates where form and emptiness are not two.
A lone turtle with painted eyebrows stands in the evening breeze.

Yeah it's typical Zen.