Buddhism and Nothingness

by Dr. Parviz Dehghani

According to Buddha this world or the whole universe for that matter is impermanent. In other words, whatever is, is and whatever is not is in the process of change and becoming. Put in another way, ‘Is’ and ‘Becoming’ need each other so both would make sense. Unless something were stationary, motion would not have any meaning. So opposites define one another. Our own ‘self’, which is composed of five aggregates: body, feelings, disposition, perception, and consciousness, is also changing. Being also inseparable from the world, the unchangeable atman or the individual self must also change, it is nothing or it is an illusion (Maya in Hinduism).When we introspect or look into ourselves we see nothing in us that is permanent. All of the five aggregates which make up the individual self, as we mentioned before, are also changing. However, the main questions here are: “Don’t we need a permanent reality to measure that which is impermanent? Or “Can there be permanence without its opposite? Was Buddha aware of these complicated philosophical questions? The answer does not seem to be very simple. Nevertheless, we can at least make an attempt to see how Buddha would have addressed these questions. Let us not forget the fact that he had answers for different audiences. For the majority of the people he used the everyday common sense language in order to explain his teachings. For the selected few, however, he must have had different answers to these thought provoking issues. He agreed with those who argued that we can never step in the same river twice. It is true that this world is like a river and everything is in motion. However, this world of becoming in a real sense simply ‘is not’. In other words, we cannot step in it at all, not even once. Why? Because there is nothing to step in. it is an abyss (in Greek, bottomless) of nothingness or an immeasurable void (Shunya). Either something is or is not. If it really is not, then it is becoming. If it is becoming, then it is nothing but an illusion (Maya). Therefore, since we’re in constant change and becoming, we’re also nothing. However, to experience this nothingness, we should practice meditation otherwise we’ll be left with only these concepts. Although we may know so much about a particular perfume, we’re yet to smell it to find out for ourselves about its reality. However, the most important question here is: “Is this Shunya or void what Buddha would have mean