Something or nothing?

If we can say and think the word ‘nothingness’ then the implication is that ‘nothingness’ must exist. But is it nothing? Or something?

In The Monastery of Nothingness, we often state that “Nothingness is our goal.” Over many centuries, the term ‘nothingness’ has been repeatedly referred to by sages and teachers. For example, Taoism and Zen both refer to the specific term ‘nothingness’ as a mindset or as something for the student to discover and connect with. The term or its equivalents exist in many cultures and in many spiritual teachings.

Nothingness has come to be known by many names: mushin or empty mind, the Tao, Zen, the void, no mind, abiding, being in-the-moment, in the groove, bathing in the essence, channeling the everything, the Inward Teacher, the still small voice, conducting the universal flow, or what some people call a deeper inner connection to the Higher Self.

I believe this inner connection improves our relationship to ourselves and the people in our lives, and also improves our relationship to our personal goals and objectives, and the situations we find ourselves in.

I believe in practical approaches to both everyday life and to experiencing what some refer to as ‘living in the moment’. I personally promote universal principles as both ‘a way’ to improve ourselves, and as a set of signposts to help guide us along the path of discovering improved consciousness and awareness. Universal principles, in my opinion, help us to both better navigate the unknown, and to take us deeper and deeper down the trail. They are the absolutes that counterbalance the constant flux of nature’s movement, flexibility, growth and relativity.

Implications of the terminology

Suggesting, as I do, that the Nothingness has been called many things may seem to imply that each of the terms I use are synonyms for Nothingness. Well, it all depends on how we view it. Because each of them are actually something.

I have experienced the Nothingness something like this - there is a vast, dark sea of stillness - darkness, yet inexplicably full of light. Out of that vastness, that darkness, that stillness… something emerges. The vastness, the darkness, the stillness is what gives birth to intention. This, while my opinion, is based in my own personal experience. The basis for my statements are not based on faith, are not based on the sayings or writings or teaching of others. Although they may be in agreement with others, any agreement is simply because I have seen and experienced it - and it happens to agree with what others have said or written. In other words, I am not saying it because I want to be agreeable.

So, this is one of the things I have experienced and realized: that before thought is intention. But before intention is what? Before intention is the vast stillness, the darkness, the potential. Everything, in my experience, arises out of the darkness, the living stillness, the Nothingness.

I am not claiming I have a deep understanding of all of this. I am not claiming that my realizations are final destinations. Far from it, they seem to be merely stepping stones in the unknown. I am simply stating what I have seen and experienced, and I’m bringing that information back to the trailhead to share around the campfire with fellow travelers.

Nothingness is, to me, simply a term to denote a state of mind, a state of being, to express a condition, etc. So, we can say that nothingness is the absence of something, yes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the absence of something is negative. If there is no air in a room, is that negative? Not if it is a scientific vacuum test chamber. Just because I have nothing to say, does that mean that nothing is there?

I do not view ‘nothingness’ as something that is abstract. I view it is as real and substantial, based on personal experience. But its attributes are difficult to describe.


In the martial arts the term ‘mushin’ denotes:

Mushin (無心; Japanese mushin; English translation “no mind”) is a mental state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat.They also practice this mental state during everyday activities. The term is shortened from mushin no shin (無心の心), a Zen expression meaning the mind without mind and is also referred to as the state of “no-mindness”. That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything. It is somewhat analogous to flow experienced by artists deeply in a creative process. [Source: Wikipedia]

The expression ‘no mind’ is not implicitly negative or positive. It is an expression. And it is relative.

Similarly, the state of ‘mind without mind’ is a description of yet another state of being. These terms, similar to nothingness, are terms that describe a condition, and are not necessarily easy to describe.

There is nothing but Nothingness, nothingness in the triple sense: nothingness because the little self has to go, and one has to become nothing; nothingness because the higher states of consciousness represent nothingness to the mind, for it cannot reach there. These states are completely beyond its range of perception. Complete comprehension on the level of the mind is not possible, so one is faced with nothingness. And in the last, most sublime sense, it is to merge into the luminous Ocean of the Infinite. – Irina Tweedie, Sufi teacher

Use of the term

I did not select the term based on historic usage by any spiritual or similar path. And even though I have a lengthy background in the martial arts, it is certainly not a term that is prevalent, or even used in modern day martial arts. I have, however, tried to use the term to convey as a placeholder of sorts, describing something that is very difficult to describe. It seems clear that in many cases, historically, it has been used in a similar manner, regardless of any distortions that have occurred along the way.

I selected the word because it is the best word I have found to describe my own personal experiences in an aspect of the indescribable. And I have been deliberate in not stopping with the term itself, as though using the word ‘nothingness’ would be sufficient. Instead, I have devoted a great deal of thought to attempt, in my own small way, to impart a clearer sense of its meaning.

Being able to experience something doesn't necessarily mean it is comprehensible or conveyable. So, for me anyway, selecting this term is a little bit of picking a word that makes no sense, but does make sense, but doesn’t. No sense, but not nonsense, but sensible… with some explanation… at least to a relative point.

Expressing the inexpressible

Of course, there are circumstances and experiences that bring us to a point where words fail. Inexpressible horror or grief come to mind. In such cases, the selection of any single word or group of words to describe what can’t be described will inevitably fall short. So it is with this particular term.

A commenter on the term I choose, nothingness, suggested that, “there is no sense claiming that which you cannot demonstrate. To do so is to rely on belief when reason is sufficient to discover the truth.”

In response, I am grateful to address the issue of belief versus reason. In my own case, and I suspect it is true of all of us, I doubt it is possible to entirely rid ourselves of belief that is independent of reason. But credits to the man or woman who attempts to do so. In my own life, I base my opinions on ‘nothingness’ on personal experience, not on the words or beliefs of others. Whatever faith is still involved (relative to my personal beliefs in this matter) has far more to do with faith in my own reasoning and experiences than faith in the statements and beliefs of others. I strongly agree with those, past and present, who promote the notion that each of us should listen to our own inner compass, our own inner voice, first and foremost.

And, while I agree it is far better to be able to demonstrate claims, not everything is readily demonstrable. Let’s consider that: just because something can’t be demonstrated does not invalidate its existence. Sometimes the failure to demonstrate lies in the demonstrator and his/her lack of skills. Sometimes the witness to the demonstration is incapable of seeing, hearing, understanding or comprehending, for some reason or another. Sometimes it is because the object to be demonstrated is very difficult to demonstrate or prove. Or all of the above.

Interestingly, these inexplicable things and (personal) experiences are, it seems to me, describable. But only, it seems, to those who have been down that part of the trail. When talking with certain people, admittedly few, there is a somewhat shared and unspoken common language, that words hint at, and that the other person sometimes immediately grasps. It is clear that there exists a vocabulary that lies between words. Lovers, best friends, business partners, grandparents, parents and children can often relate to this.

Widening the Path

I am not suggesting that the totality of the unknown and inexplicable are within our grasp. Our minds don’t seem to be in any condition to do that. But I do believe there are stepping stones along the path of the unknown, and that if we work together we can gradually find ways to convey the seemingly inexplicable.

The inner path is a ‘path’ because it not frequented. Get more people on it and pretty soon it stops being a path, now that it’s been widened and paved. History repeatedly demonstrates things that were once unknown and then eventually became commonplace. What was once a mystery becomes an everyday commodity.

These are the kinds of goals we need to be striving for, both individually and collectively — a mutual, group dilation of a small portal, converting it into a hyperspace jump into the infinite.