In the diagram above, non-duality and spaciousness and the overlap between the two, can be applied to physical matter. But nebulosity cannot. Emptiness is the crossover between all three, therefore it exists within the nebulosity circle so it can’t be applied to physical matter.
An example of this, is the classic example of the cart to depict emptiness – that a cart does not exist in its parts and when dismantled it stops being a cart.
This may be true but those parts don’t disappear – the wheels, for example, are still there in the world, they just aren’t part of a cart anymore. It is their meaning that has changed, not their physical presence.
Definition of Form
Form is another word that is not very specific. There are many ways to define and understand it and this one word ends up including a huge range of ideas in people’s minds.
There is one specific way of defining form, where the heart sutra does make sense:
Form – the outline and structure of a thing as opposed to its substance
This clearly distinguishes that it is the concept or subjective experience of the thing, rather than the physical thing itself that is the form.
In order to avoid the obvious pitfalls of getting sucked into other ideas that are associated with the word form, I prefer my friend Joost’s way of putting it:
‘Concepts are empty. Emptiness is a concept.’
This distinction may sound trivial and esoteric but this fundamental change of perception changes everything once it is embodied and embraced.
Climate change, trauma, suffering, happiness are all grounded in the state of our physical bodies and shared world.
In order to show up to our lives and be present with what is really there we need to validate that our experience is built on a physical presence that is really here and that shapes our experience.
A spirituality that does not include this can come to the conclusion that checking out from society and detaching from our bodies is a healthy and useful response.
This is bullshit. We need to show up and be present with what is there, which includes listening to the signals that our bodies and our planet are giving us.
It also incorporates the basic reality that to create change that supports wellness and reduces suffering takes energy, time, money and resources to make it happen. It’s not just our individual mind states that we need to change.
It’s also important to be specific and clear about the truth of reality because mistruths muddy the waters, which makes it easier for unhelpful power structures to be upheld.
When vague terms are accepted, it is the people who are best at bullshitting that become the most powerful. If things are specific and clear, it empowers people to feel and speak the truth in their own experience.
When This is Useful
If we apply this more specific understanding of this idea (‘concepts are empty, emptiness is a concept’) to our lives, it can create a huge sense of liberation.
While our physical bodies, emotions and desires are all very much physical realities in this moment, the way that we perceive those things can be incredibly malleable.
What we think of ourselves and others is just a concept. We can play with this by looking at things in radically different ways to how we normally look at things.
When we combine the understanding of spaciousness, non-duality and nebulosity it creates a huge amount of freedom in our experience.
Through spaciousness we can create space for things, like the full range of emotions to express themselves.
Through non-duality we can understand that our experience is not separate to the rest of the Universe, it is connected to the greater whole and even when it is hard it could be in service of something bigger than us.
Through nebulosity we can see that the meaning of things is continually shifting and moving, so we don’t need to get hung up on what something says about us in this moment.
‘Emptiness is form, form is emptiness’ suggests that matter is empty, which dismisses or undermines our felt experience and encourages us to check out from engaging with it.
‘Concepts are empty, emptiness is a concept’ demonstrates that it is our conceptual ideas of what is really happening that are empty, which encourages us to show up for our experience and to embrace and embody the felt sense of what is going on for us because this is the only place that truth can be found.
This realisation and clarity came out of my experience of taking the aspect of experience that is karma or the soul, to its ultimate conclusion.
In the same way that you can perceive that everything is happening by itself, you can also get a felt intuitive sense of this. Non-duality with all of karma is a strange experience, it’s like looking back at yourself through the eyes of the cosmos and seeing your life as a story that is playing out by itself.
Breaking through into this took months and months of spending every moment of every day dismantling fixed perceptions and contractions around things, which involved deep psychosis and processing the entirety of human trauma and collective karma through my body.
While there was a huge amount of spaciousness, non-duality and nebulosity in my experience, i.e. a deeply embodied sense of emptiness, throughout the whole process, this wasn’t some calm realisation. It was a terrifying and physically painful ordeal that involved a lot of blood, sweat and tears and that I barely scraped through alive.
Some of the things this involved includes experiencing hundreds of hours of rape visualisations that were processing how the feminine energy in the Universe is oppressed, processing all the human trauma that is held in our interconnected subconscious world, like the bits where we fancy our parents, and believing literally thousands of insane concepts and ideas like enlightened beings could embody other people’s bodies and other animal’s bodies. I actually had a bunch of intense and magical interactions with various beings in this way that made total sense within my subjective experience and lead to deep insights.
The concept of people being able to embody other beings’ bodies sounds ridiculous, but if emptiness was actually form and form was actually emptiness (in the common way that this phrase is understood) this would be entirely possible.
The reality is that matter behaves in deeply synchronistic way, it is like a continually unfolding fractal, that can make it seem like it is empty, but it is actually just the meaning of what we are seeing that is empty.
It is through examining what was really going on and reality testing every aspect of experience that I was able to reach the conclusion that form is absolutely not emptiness. Any experience that matter is empty, is very much a subjective experience, not a shared reality or truth.