Home Psychology Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in early Twentieth-Century German Thought
The self-destructuring of emptiness
What is [is] what is not; what is not [is] what is.146
Chan emptiness and Heidegger’s nothingness approach each other in emphasizing the originary groundlessness and temporal impermanence of human existence while articulating different and incompatible philosophical intentions and forms of emancipation as is clear from the analysis of Heidegger’s thinking in previous chapters. Heidegger’s nothingness is not negative, as we have seen; it is the condition for the negativity that makes human thought and practices possible. Buddhist emptiness is not pure negativity. It is not a mere abstract void, as it is comparable to the infinite openness of space and sky and is the condition of the fecund multiplicity of things and their encounters. Emptiness is accordingly not nothing, nor the threat or realization of annihilation; it is the openness of liberation itself.147
Emptiness goes beyond the doctrinal affirmation and reification of difference and the other in embracing the multiplicity of the myriad or 10,000 things, each of which is a great teacher and expresses truth.148 Against the affirmation of the trace, Linji—or his radicalized Song redescription—would leave without a trace; the trace is never found and none is left behind. What Dale Wright has described as a “spontaneous responsiveness without end” is achieved in Chan by the emptying of fixed characteristics and the rejection of a self-subsistent pure mind or self-nature (zixing § Й).149
Expressions such as “Buddha nature” (foxing "ШЙ) and “original mind” (benxin might appear more metaphysical than deconstructive. Youru
Wang has portrayed how Huineng challenges Shenxiu’s reification of the originary mind through emphasizing the free-flowing happening ofthoughts and things. Huineng playfully opens up zixing (self-nature) in order to undermine the possibility of fixing it such that his no-thought resists being reduced to either the presence or absence of thought or mind. Hongzhou Chan’s relational and pragmatic deployment of apophatic and kataphatic language deconstructs Shenxiu’s reification so as to responsively be attuned with the spontaneous and immanent movement of things (renyun Th®). The self-destructuring of the awakening mind is illustrated in Mazu’s “neither mind nor Buddha” (wuxin wufo ^;t'^"№); Huangbo’s articulation of the fluid play and mutuality of originary and ordinary mind; and Linji’s ironic self-erasure of the primary terms of his discourse such as the authentic person without rank, the mind, and extending to the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas.150
Buddhist emptiness enacts non-intentional—that is, purposive without a purpose—responsiveness toward things in their spontaneous naturalness and unexpectedness rather than the reiterated belief in arbitrary human will and power seen in the various forms of constructivism of Western thought.151 Perhaps the responsiveness promised in Heidegger’s Gelassenheit and in Levinas’s “ethics of the other” approximates this comportment, even though their accounts of letting releasement and ethical recognition do not extend to the limitless responsive generosity and compassion toward beings, human and nonhuman, of the Bodhisattva.
Linji is said to claim that the great universal wisdom of the Buddha “refers to you yourselves who, wherever you are, understand that the ten thousand things have no innate nature and no characteristics.”152 The great issue or matter then is not nothing. Apophatic language concerning nothingness and emptiness should not be reified anymore than being or mind. It is not about nothing as nothing (annihilation) and not about nothing as some thing or entity (another being or thing)—both miss the point insofar as eliminating phenomena creates a reified absolute. The amoral and nihilistic interpretations ignore the multiple critiques of the “fault of annihilation” in paradigmatic Zen texts and fail to address the worldly and ethical aspects of Chan awakening.153
Emptiness is compared to space cleared of objects or the sky of clouds and solar phenomena, allowing things to be seen clearly.154 Emptiness in this sense can be linked to what the early Heidegger called formal indication (formale Anzeige). According to the method—an opening method with the task of overcoming the limitations of method—of formal indication, the more empty the concept, the more open it can be to the concreteness and richness of the phenomena, as long as formalization remains tied to encountering—yet not absorbed in—facticity and its variations.155 This emptying does not signify a retreat from phenomena for Heidegger, as it is deformalized into individual and concrete ways of understanding.156 Dasein’s realization of its non-absorbed distance from things allows it to listen and respond to them.157
Facticity refers to that which disturbs human comportment and responsiveness. It is the rejection and pain that confound the emotions, the resistance that humbles the will, the remains and historical ruins of the world that cannot be integrated into the present, and the breakdowns throwing utility and pragmatic usefulness into doubt. Purposive behavior is challenged by the non-purposeful and intractable. Meaning is conditioned by non-meaning, by experiences of the lack, disruption, and failure of meaning. This occurs at fundamentally different levels from the faulty hammer to the closure of Dasein’s own most possibilities in the common life of das Man (i.e., the sociality of the “they” or the “one” who is anyone and no one in particular), from Dasein’s relation to being as the radical lack of ground to the “nothing” which resists being ordered into and disturbs systems of concepts and propositions. The confrontation with death in the anticipation of one’s own death enables human existence as Dasein to differentiate and individuate itself. Resoluteness, however, means to remain within this determinate-indeterminate nearing of death. In this movement toward authenticity, Dasein cannot step out of the finitude, pain, and suffering that is the condition of its existence as being-there in the world amid things with others. Facticity intimates the problematic nature of assumptions about intelligibility, meaningfulness and teleological purposiveness, and the emptying involved in formalizing is the most appropriate response.
Emptiness is formally indicative rather than explanatory of or referential to the concrete in Heidegger. The destructuring movement from the “false concreteness” of the indifferent absorption in the phenomenon to letting beings occur is for Heidegger a free engaging and encountering of beings.158 Heidegger contrasted responsive letting, which heeds the incalculable, with calculation and compulsion.159 This letting-be-encountered is made possible by the primordial activity of the being-there of Dasein, already described in 1928/1929 as the openness of letting beings be (Seinlassen des Seienden) and as the releasement into beings of Gelassenheit.160 Formal indication, as emptying and distancing in order to open up and let beings be, provides another point of access to the distancing from absorption in things that is the openness of phenomena.
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