Fullness Emptiness

Fullness and Emptiness

Andrew Cohen Read

Shortly before I met my Guru back in 1986 I was burning with unanswered existential spiritual questions. At that time I felt like my life, my entire destiny, depended upon finding the answers I was yearning for.

The most important question I was struggling with was “what is the ultimate nature of reality?”.

As I described in Falling out of Heaven, at 16 years old I experienced a dramatic breakthrough to a completely different experience of reality. A pervading sense of limitation was replaced by the revelation of no limit whatsoever.

In what seemed like an instant, a deadness and dryness at the level of my soul was replaced by the overwhelming presence of love. I thought that if the intensity didn’t recede, it might actually kill me.

The fundamental realization was that this vast evolving universe is not made up of merely dead matter and energy. At the deepest level it is alive. It vibrates with a love and bliss that is immortal, indestructible and infinite.

In that breakthrough experience I saw directly that the ultimate nature of reality was fullness. Reality was vibrating with an inexpressible, transrational love. This was something of a shock; as a postmodern secular Jew, I discovered that God did in fact exist.

I became a full-time seeker when I was 22, inspired by that initial experience of fullness, and the incredible, liberating love and freedom I found there. I wanted more than anything else to rediscover it.

Back in those days it seemed that everyone was experimenting with Transcendental Meditation. The beatific face of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi appeared on posters everywhere. Whatever enlightenment or God-realization was, he seemed to have it. His irrepressible smile seemed to indicate that he was resting in the same state of unimaginable happiness that I had briefly known.

Soon I discovered another Indian Guru who had the very same smile and spiritual self-confidence. When lecturing about the yogic path he taught, Hariharananda would constantly exclaim “My mango is very sweet!”. That smile, and the sparkle in his eye, was irresistible.

I spent several years as his student and during that period I had many powerful experiences of fullness in the form of bliss, love and joy. I became friends with one of his more advanced students who told me about his experience of going on extended Buddhist meditation retreats. I was captivated by this opportunity, and soon I was doing as many of them as I could.

We would sit in meditation for up to 16 hours a day. Sometimes it was incredibly hard to be still for such long periods, but I had never developed such deep concentration in my life. Often the profound stillness we all were engulfed in was infinitely compelling. It seemed to hold the presence of the ultimate mystery that lies beyond life and death.

The most important thing I learned on those retreats was that the ultimate nature of reality, beyond all appearances, is emptiness. According to Buddhist doctrine, everything that appears to be solid or real is empty of substance – from rocks and trees, to our bodies, and all the way to the more subtle domain of thoughts, dreams and feelings.

The ultimate nature of everything, from the gross to the subtle, is only emptiness. The world around us and within us only appears to be real. As I fell ever deeper into meditative concentration, this liberating truth became more and more palpable. Enlightenment was the profound awakening to this absolute metaphysical reality.

Everything both inner and outer is empty. Beyond superficial appearances there is only vast clear open infinite emptiness. Nothing to hold on to, nothing to grasp, no one to be and nothing to do. In this there is total and unconditional freedom.

The more we allow this deep metaphysical insight to overwhelm us, the easier it is for us to let go of our blind, unconscious and conditioned belief that we are solid, real, independent unique individuals.

This liberating insight into the ultimate nature of reality, both inner and outer, promised ultimate release from attachment to and identification with the conditioned mind and ego – the small self.

Over time, these profound experiences of “fullness” and “emptiness” gave rise to a deep confusion as to what the ultimate truth actually was. What was the true nature of God, or the Absolute? Was it fullness or emptiness?

To be honest, this started to drive me a little crazy. There was a period when it felt like my life depended upon finding the answer. I needed to be sure I was on the right track going to the right destination. I needed to make a deeper commitment to a path that was going to take me all the way.

I was also troubled by the serious and uninspiring frowns I saw on the faces of the Eastern Buddhist masters on display in the retreat center. I couldn’t get how or why these supposedly enlightened masters of meditation did not appear to be more full of joy and happiness. Was the human face of God really so stern?

On the other hand, as happy and blissful as the Hindu yogis seemed to be, I had to admit they looked a little silly at times.

I became more and more troubled by all this; who had it right and what was the truth? When I finally arrived at the Master’s door in March 1986, I was obsessed with finding the answer.

The role of the true Guru is to remove all doubts, and that’s what happened when I brought them to Master Poonjaji. One by one, my existential doubts gave way to an abiding depth and clarity.

I asked him about the ultimate nature of reality. Was it fullness or was it emptiness? He stretched out his open hand and began to turn it up and down, over and over again to make his point. “That’s simple,” he said; “they are two sides of the same coin!”

Fullness and emptiness are not separate. Both are the nature of the God or Ultimate reality. In that instant all my doubts evaporated. God or the Absolute was One, both full and empty at the same time!

I was so grateful. This metaphysical truth, the nature of which had eluded me for so long, was suddenly obvious, simple and clear.

But the knowing of emptiness and the experience of fullness as manifestations of enlightened awareness also have very different expressions. That’s why the Buddhist Masters looked so different from the Hindu Gurus I was interested in all those years ago.

This is not merely a difference in the cultural interpretation of enlightened awareness; it’s a clear reflection of the particular dimension of the absolute that one happens to be focused upon.

The liberating presence of fullness as bliss is the experience of a seemingly infinite source of inspiration and power. Bliss conquers fear and destroys doubt. Bliss not only inspires and catalyzes change and growth, it’s also the most profound and subtle experience of happiness. Bliss awakens the courage to live a big life for the biggest of reasons.

The liberating knowledge of emptiness opens our vision and makes life transparent to clear perception. Penetrating clarity sees through falsehood, delusion, pride, arrogance and ego. It liberates consciousness in the most profound way. Focused awareness that is free from greed, attachment and lust is like a laser beam that sees through absolutely everything.

The cultivation of an enlightened awareness that is balanced between fullness and emptiness, ecstatic love and penetrating clarity is what I strive for.

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