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DK re nihilistic quetism and emptiness Master: I believe that I may be falling into what is called "nihilistic quietism" and

I do not know how to stop. Do you have some recommendations for me? From California, U.S.A.

My Dear Friend: I am familiar with what is termed "nihilistic quietism," and I do have some thoughts that you may find helpful. In the first place, one must note that nihilism itself is the belief that nothing exists. I have observed numbers of students (from various traditions) become confused when trying to understand the notion of emptiness - that is, that physical phenomena actually have no inherent reality in and of themselves. One of the branches of thought that sprung from this idea resulted in nihilism, and it is often confused as being an appropriate understanding or definition of emptiness. However, saying something is empty of any nature of its own is quite different than saying that the "thing" does not exist. An understanding of emptiness might hold that no thing exists as it is perceived by the human mind, but this is quite different from categorically saying nothing exists at all. For many, nihilism attempts to shortcut the process of experiencing emptiness directly by simply denouncing what is conventionally held as "real." This is not the same thing as seeing through what is conventionally held. The difference is in the experience. When one experiences emptiness directly, it is as if one's whole world becomes "turned up side down." One has a very clear experience that things are not at all as they were previously perceived, but this one also recognizes that something is really there, it is just not what one previously thought, or perhaps, designated it. To the nihilist, however, absolutely nothing is there to perceive. In both points of view, there is agreement that what is perceived by the physical senses is not what really is. This is true for relational interactions, processes, encounters, etc., as well as for everything that appears in the phenomenal world. Both nihilists and "emptyists" (if I may coin a term) hold that the phenomenal world arises as a result of the mind's continuous stream of projections. Both allow that the projections come about as a result of karmic imprints from prior experiences and beliefs. Beyond that, nihilism often arises from engaging the mental body to the exclusion of direct experience. Thus, we could say that nihilism is a designation of "reality" that is based on logic rather than direct experience. As is the case for the proponents of other logic-based designations of "reality," proponents of nihilism often find they end up in a state of chronic depression. This is because with nihilism, there is nothing to experience. Yet all sentient beings are experience-based. One's karmic imprints all came from experience - even if in lifetimes far removed from what one may designate "the present." One's understanding of life at every level comes from experience. In truth, it is impossible to go even five minutes without having some kind of experience. When a doctrine or philosophy arises that disavows experience, there is nowhere for the mind to explore beyond the basic position of either accepting the doctrine/philosophy or rejecting it. Hence, depression must arise - it's the only creative option for a mind trying to cope with its own aliveness. The quietism part often refers to a type of disempowerment that is felt by proponents of nihilism. The logic of the nihilist goes something like this: "Since there is no phenomenal world; since my body doesn't exist, nor my mind, I (although I do not exist) am therefore powerless to effect any change in my condition or status." Of course, the perception of condition and status are artifacts of experiencing. Herein lies a problem: if one's very existence is denied, then one's experiences must also be denied - even though one is continually experiencing. The inability to reconcile the purely logical stance with undeniable (although denied) experiencing cannot help but throw the thinking mind into depression. Many emptyists would hold that embracing nihilism is actually nothing more than what today might be called a "cop-out." They would argue that by simply holding a belief that there is nothing to experience is but a ploy to avoid the feelings of failure for not having had the real experience, i.e., that of directly encountering emptiness. (Of course, taking an adamant position in this vein could be a revelation that the emptyist so posturing perhaps does not yet fully understand emptiness.) To give you my perspective, logic devoid of experience runs counter to the creative process. Yet, upon scrutiny of those who have achieved enlightenment, you will discover that the intuitive flash that arises in the moment of recognizing one's enlightenment is a highly creative experience. What I would suggest for any and all of you who find yourself in this predicament is a heightening of your creative expression in any form that suits you. For those who enjoy it, go write poetry. For others, start painting or sculpting. For those who are able, compose some music. Let yourself fully experience the power of creative expression moving through you. (Oh, yes; we will here admit that the designation of a "self" is dubious, at best,

but it does serve us in the process of communication, doesn't it?) If you are honest, you with discover that you cannot really say it is coming from you. Creative expression arises in the phenomenal world because it emanates from a Source that while not a "self," has the ability to borrow the selves (or at least consciousness factor that/who so self-designates) who populate the realm of sentient beings. Additionally, pay very mindful attention to all types of experiences you have. Delve deeply into the mystery of experiencing. Notice the strata of experience, paying particular attention to how the levels overlay one another and superimpose upon one another: from direct experience to projected experience to remembered experience to fantasized experience. Perhaps you will discover whole realms of experiential strata. After all, even the staunchest of nihilists will grant that everyone experiences the process of experiencing. There is no particular need to change your mind (assuming you have one to change) at this point; simply become an expert experiencer. Life, as magnificent as it is, will open before you, and in some precious moment, you will gain the direct experience of seeing the true nature of everything.