The Pain of Nothing

The Pain of Nothing February 6, 2016
Statue of the Buddha, Photograph by Henry Karlson
Statue of the Buddha, Photograph by Henry Karlson

A Buddhist monk and his disciple came together to talk about life, the universe and everything. The disciple, having read and many important Buddhist texts, such as the Heart Sutra which told him, “Form is emptiness,” ended up taking a nihilistic view towards the universe. If emptiness is form, and form is emptiness, would it not be best to help the world achieve its proper form and empty it of all its illusions, and so eliminate its apparent content?

The monk understood how his disciple could come to such an erroneous conclusion. He also knew he had to do something but it. Nihilism was, after all, one of the two great errors, and it was one very common with beginners exploring Buddhist thought as they over-literalized the words of the Buddha. But how was he to show his disciple the error of his ways? How was he to show that the emptiness of the world did not destroy the forms found in the world but was the foundation for their conventional existence? How was he to show his disciple this nothingness had form, and that in and with such form, great harm could and would be done if such an erroneous interpretation was upheld?

The answer came to him.

“Disciple,” the monk said.


“Come here and sit and mediate.”

The disciple came and sat down, properly in full lotus position, in front of his master, and meditated.

After ten minutes, the monk was ready.

“You believe the world and everything around it is nothing?”

“Yes, master. It is as the Buddha said.”

“But what is this nothing?”

“It is the emptiness of being.“

“And how is this emptiness to be understood?”

“Through the elimination of all apparent things.”

“But don’t you think that will hurt?”

“No, master. How can nothing hurt?”

“True. True. How can it?”

The master became silent for several minutes.


“Yes, master?”

“Can you grab a hold of this nothing?”

“No, master. Nothing can’t be held.”

“But it can! I can grab a little of it, and in doing so, show you nothing can hurt a great deal!”

“How, master?”

The monk looked down at his disciple, and then reached out and grabbed him by the nose, pulling it very hard.

“Ouch!” the disciple said. “Why did you do that?”

“To show you how much pain you can find in a little bit of nothing!”

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