The Buddhist concept of “emptiness” is one of the most misunderstood by Westerners. Perhaps some of its true meaning is lost in the translation to English, or perhaps some of the confusion is due to the Buddhist tendency to choose terms that are least likely to be clung to as another attachment.

However, while the traditional English definition of “emptiness” relates to nothingness, a void, or even an emotional lack, the Buddhist definition refers to an emptiness that has the potential to be anything.

Forms and Emptiness

One of the most famous Buddhist phrases, “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form,” gets at the heart of the meaning of emptiness. While the forms of this realm seem to be distinct, separate and often very different from one another, at their essential core, they share the same energy field — the Oneness.

Quantum physics calls our common fabric The Higgs Field, and the recent discovery of the Higgs-Boson (sometimes called The God Particle) is helping scientists to delve into what happens as forms emerge and take shape out of this field of Oneness. No matter how diverse the forms of this Universe, they share the same Source and always return to it. Even while manifest, they are also still this field, winking in and out of existence at the subatomic level.

The Observer Effect

Another facet of emptiness relates to the fact that for anything to “exist,” there must be an observer perceiving it. All is pure potential until observed. At an elemental level, if a physicist expects to see waves, there are waves; if particles are expected, then particles are seen.

All forms are subject to a range of potential interpretations. For example, a plate of pasta might be the best meal on earth to one person and unappealing to another. Others might have a reaction somewhere in between. So, what is the “meaning” of a plate of pasta? It has no inherent meaning; it is empty.

The same is true of every other form. While this realization can be unsettling at first, ultimately it is empowering. We are creating “reality” as much as we are experiencing it; this is a participatory Universe. When we start to understand the Buddhist concept of emptiness, we are less drawn in by any form. We come to know that whatever meaning we’ve assigned — good or bad — is subjective. This realization can help us to be less swayed and caught up by either aversion or desire.

What is Real?

The atom is so small, there are literally billions of them in just one grain of sand. There is also a tremendous amount of space between each atom. What appears to be solid physical matter all around us is actually well over 99 percent empty space.

As Neo learned in the movie The Matrix, “There is no spoon.” However, far from being devoid or lacking, Buddhist emptiness puts us at the nexus point of all possible outcomes. Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. Allow this awareness to empower you to help create a world of love, compassion and Enlightenment for all.