Tag Archives: śūnya

Five common realities – facts and logic 4

“May I come back to our discussion of last night before you will tell us more about organized chaos and the mind of the warrior?”, asks Man to Carla.

“All right, it’s better to finish a topic before starting a new subject”, says Carla.

“Last night I read in a book with Buddhist questions (a recent copy of the bundle that Narrator received from his American friend as farewell gift) the passage “All sentient beings just have active consciousness, boundless and unclear with no foundation to rely on“. As example is given:

When a monk passes and he is addressed with “Hey, you”, then right away this monk will turn his head towards the caller. When this monk hesitates upon the second question “Who are you?”, then this monk has an active consciousness, boundless and unclear without foundation to rely on”.

This fundamental affliction of ignorance in itself is – according to this question – the immutable knowledge of all Buddha’s. The verse accompanying this question is:

One call and one turns her/his head –Do you know the self/Self or not?

Vaguely, like the moon [1] through ivy, a crescent at that.

The child of riches, as soon as she/he falls

On the boundless road of destitution, has many sorrows. [2]

feiten en logica 41.jpg[3]

Upon reading this question and verse, I thought of our last discussion about God as “another, a stranger”, who is separated from “the Unspeakable”, ” the Supreme Astonishment”, “the ultimate question that exceeds words”. Before the separation [4] were God, the people and everything around us in this fundamental affliction of ignorance, as a healthy human body without ailments also forms a coherent entity without separate parts? Had they a foundation to rely upon and what foundation was it, or was the lack of a foundation the source of an active consciousness, boundless and unclear? I don’t know the answer to these questions. And – after the fall, after the separation – wherefrom arrives the boundless road of destitution with many sorrows? Heschel continues his essay “Man is not alone” [5] with the topics: “faith”, “one God”, “beyond faith”, “strive for oneness”, and “common actions are adventures”. Would Heschel have seen “One call” and “One turns her/his head” in the category “common actions are adventures”? I think so; but would he finally have seen “One call” and “One turns her/his head” as “one” or as “separate”? I see it vaguely as a crescent Moon through ivy”, says Man.   

“At the strophe “boundless and vague without foundation to rely upon” from the Buddhist question, I was reminded of “śūnya” – meaning “empty” – from the Heart Sūtra [6] in which “form is emptiness as emptiness is equal to form”; in emptiness is no Dharma – or world order or duty. Now I invite you to visit the Cappelle Medicee [7] in the Basilica of San Lorenzo [8]. This Chapel – located behind the Basilica – is a symbolic mausoleum of the family De Medici. This family was a “child of riches in the Renaissance that has known many sorrows once it had fallen on the boundless road of destitutions“. In my opinion the mausoleum superbly shows the immensity of the sorrows and the coldness of the destitution of this family”, says Narrator.

Carla, Man and Narrator visit the Cappelle Medicee.

feiten en logica 42.png[9]

They continue their discussion outside seated on a bench in the Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini.

“Everything in the Cappelle Medicee aims to create distance to the spectator. I expect that in the past visits to this mausoleum were only allowed on invitation by the family. I think this mausoleum sought to remind the descendants of the Medici wherefrom they owed their wealth and to show visitors which “children of wealth” were commemorated here. At each grave in the mausoleum, I wondered “Who are you?” and “Do you know the self/self or not?”. I think “Vaguely, like the moon through the ivy”, but the abundance of the many types of “Ivy” will not be helpful to see the Moon”, says Man.

“May we visit the Basilica of San Lorenzo now? This building is austere outside, but the Basilica will show its beauty inside”, says Narrator.

feiten en logica 43[10]

feiten en logica 44[11]

“I am pleased that we have continued the discussion, as this – and certainly the visit to the Basilica – creates a nice stepping stone to the separation between science and religion in the Renaissance. The transition in style of the choir dome toward the ceiling of the main and side aisles nicely showed the wish to change science – emerged from the Medieval Scholasticism – toward an orderly science that explains everything in case we know and apply the basics. May I continue on this subject the next time, because now I need to rest?”, says Carla.

feiten en logica 45[12]

“Please do”, says Man.

“During dinner?”, says Narrator.

“That’s fine”, says Carla.

[1] See also: Drift, Carla, Man Leben – One Life, A Biography. Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2012, p. 71 – 72

[2] Free rendering of a part of the Zen dialogue “Guishan’s Active Consiousness” from: Cleary, Thomas, Book of Serenity – One Hundred Zen Dialogues. Bosten: Shambhala, 1998 p. 163 – 166.

[3] Source image: http://www.shambhala.com/book-of-serenity.html

[4] See also: The parable of Adam en Eve expelled from paradise after the fall in Chapter 3 of Genesis in the Old Testament.

[5] See: Heschel, Abraham Joshua, Man is not alone – A Philosophy of Religion. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951. See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Joshua_Heschel. In “The Long Discourses of the Buddha. Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications, 1995 p. 38-39”, 32 abodes are mentioned for sentient beings; including 22 abodes for Gods. Are Gods also “children of riches” within this frame of mind?

[6] See: Leben, Man, Narrator – One Way. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2013, p. 110 – 112

[7] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medici_Chapel

[8] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_San_Lorenzo,_Florence

[9] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medici_Chapel

[10] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_San_Lorenzo,_Florence

[11] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_San_Lorenzo,_Florence

[12] Source image: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_di_San_Lorenzo_di_Firenze


Narrator – gate in the north 2

Life with my beloved in Stockholm – who had evaded his military service in the U.S. Army during the war in Vietnam and still stayed in Europe although he might return to the United States after the general pardon of president Carter in 1977 [1] – was as familiar as in Amsterdam and at the same time it was different in all respects.

In addition to the golden house in the old town, he also had a beautiful country house in the Stockholm archipelago. In the weekends and during holidays we stayed in this wooden house on a small island. We enjoyed the beautiful skies and during night we slept outside if the weather permitted. I was amazed about the long days.


Several friends of my lover played in jazz ensembles. Through them I learned to appreciate the music of the giants in jazz; my favourites were the Miles Davis Quintet [3] and John Coltrane [4] with his quartet; I learned his records of “Joy”, and “A Love Surpreme” – composed during the struggle for equal rights in America wherein John Coltrane wanted to create a spiritual unity with this music in order to influence a social change [5] – by heart.


During several practice sessions with a jazz ensemble I played on percussion; the members were so impressed that I could join playing at the Stockholm Jazz Festival [7] that summer. Afterwards I regularly performed with varying musicians in Stockholm and later in Copenhagen.

My beloved practised and studied Buddhism and meditation in Stockholm in order to give meaning to his life. Under his influence, I slowly engaged in the Buddhist and Taoist side of Oriental wisdom.  He could use some help with comprehending the source texts written in Sanskrit. Together we followed this way of living in Stockholm: he studied the content and I supported at the form.

Friday and Saturday before the last week in June, I celebrated Midsummer in Scandinavia for the first time. In Stockholm the night lasted only a few hours and that Saturday and Sunday the entire public life was closed. We stayed at friends for participating in this traditional celebration.

A few days after midsummer my lover and I began our holiday trip to the North Cape in the Goddess. By an almost deserted landscape of Northern Sweden – where your neighbour is your best friend, because there is no one else in the vicinity – we drove in eternal light.


Just before the border with Norway we saw Lapporten. My beloved named it the Empty Gate [9]. He asked me what “empty” is in Sanskrit. Hereupon I replied “śūnya” [10] that is akin to the English word “shunt” [11] where a low parallel resistor causes a parallel circuit within an electric circuit. He began  to chant a part of the Heart Sutra:

The Heart Sutra can be listened at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0jcx9fnoWc

A free rendering in English:

Form is equal to emptiness as emptiness is equal to form;

Form itself is empty and emptiness is form;

So also feeling, knowledge, formation and consciousness.

Thus Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty of characteristics.

They are not made, nor destroyed, nor defiled and they are not pure;

And they neither increase nor diminish.

There is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness;

no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind;

no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or Dharmas;

I said that the Empty Gate may give access to the Nirvana [12]. He replied that the Empty Gate was also empty of Nirvana and he shone [13] as a god. My beloved remained perfectly shining well beyond the North Cape.


[1] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War

[2] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_archipelago

[3] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miles_Davis_Quintet

[4] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Coltrane

[5] Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Supreme

[6] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Supreme

[7] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_Jazz_Festival

[8] Source image: http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalovardo

[9] The Mumonkan – in English often translated in Gateless Gate – is a collection of 48 Zen Koans compiled by the Zen monk Mumon in the 13th century after Christ.

The character 無 () has a fairly straightforward meaning: no, not, or without. However, within Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, the term 無 () is often a synonym for 空 (sunyata). This implies that the 無 () rather than negating the gate (as in “gateless”) is specifying it, and hence refers to the “Gate of Emptiness”. This is consistent with the Chinese Buddhist notion that the “Gate of Emptiness” 空門 is basically a synonym for Buddhism, or Buddhist practice. 門 (mén) is a very common character meaning door or gate. However, in the Buddhist sense, the term is often used to refer to a particular “aspect” or “method” of the Dharma teachings. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gateless_Gate

There are four well known versions in English:

Aitken, Robert, The Gateless Barrier, The Wu-men Kuan (Mumonkan). New York: North Point Press, 2000

Sekida, Katsuki, Two Zen Classics – Mumonkan & Hekiganroku. New York:Weatherhill, 1977

Shibayama, Zenkei, The Gateless Barrier, Zen Comments on the Mumonkan. Boston: Shambhala, 1974

Yamada Kôun Roshi, Gateless Gate (Mumonkan). Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1990

[10] “Empty, void” according to: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[11] According to Shorter Oxford English Dictionary a natural or artificial blood vessel to divert the blood stream.

[12] “Land without forest” according to: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[13] The word Deva whereof Deus in Latin, Zeus in Greec and Dieu in French arose, is Sanskrit connected with the verb root “Div” meaning amongst others “to shine, to play, to increase”.

[14] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapland_(Zweeds_landschap)

Intermezzo: Why Sanskrit?

Your Narrator has asked the second main character why he is studying Sanskrit. His answer is that it has happened naturally. In examining Buddhist texts he has noticed that a number of concepts are easy to follow in Sanskrit. For example the sound “âtman” is similar to our word “breath”. It also turns out that some writers on Buddhism [1], philosophy [2] and the origins of words [3] have studied Sanskrit.

The second main character is interested in the origins of our language as a form of archaeology to the origin of our consciousness or “man[4]-child”. At the start of the study it appeared that for lay people the origin of the Indo-European is not easy accessible: there are only a few standard studies available [5]. On the other hand, Sanskrit – one of our older sister languages – is already in a very early stage extensively documented and fixed. This fact has caused that Sanskrit first became an artificial language and later a dead language. On the other hand, by the artificiality Sanskrit received a high status. The comprehensive, logical and sophisticated grammar is documented by Pāṇini [6] and his contemporaries in the fourth century BC. Our alphabet has an incoherent order; the alphabet in Sanskrit is logically built up according to the way people express vowels and consonants from the inside out. There are also very comprehensive dictionaries Sanskrit – English available. An introduction to Sanskrit [7] can be studied with some perseverance. Sanskrit has provided a good opportunity for the second main character to study the origin of language and thus the interpretation/expression of our consciousness.


During the study of Sanskrit, the second main character has noticed that many names and places in Indian and Buddhist texts have a meaning. For example, Buddha [9] means “placing a bud of a flower” and Ānanda means “bliss and joy”. The Buddhist words and concepts get a larger depth with knowledge of Sanskrit.

During his recovery period, the second main character has read the book “Empires of the Word – A Language History of the World [10]“.


In Chapter 5 of this book, Sanskrit is addressed under the heading “Charming like a Creeper – the cultured Career of Sanskrit”. With surprise and recognition, the second main character has read how Sanskrit established itself in India and how it is spread with Buddhism across Southeast Asia, Tibet, China and Japan by trading caravans and via freight boats. In addition to the Chinese characters, the Japanese alphabet is modelled according to the alphabet in Sanskrit. A professor has said to the second main character that a language is the speech impediment of the ruler. Sanskrit is distributed in a large area in a relative nonviolent manner. By the religions that are linked to the Sanskrit – Hinduism and Buddhism – this language has had a great influence in this area. The easiness  and naturalness of this spread has surprised Nicholas Ostler [12]: he has discussed this fact with several friends from India. These friends have pointed out to Nicholas Ostler how little believers must give up for Buddhism and Hinduism: old religions do not have to be rejected. Other beliefs require far more from its believers. The second main character does not agree with these friends. By their nature, Hinduism and Mahāyāna Buddhism [13] require everything from its believers including their original religions.

Over time, Sanskrit is first expelled by Islam from parts of India and Indonesia and afterwards it is banished from China with Buddhism. But, the remains of Sanskrit – like Hebrew – can be seen everywhere for a specialist.

Also many words in German, English and Dutch have a richer meaning with knowledge of Sanskrit. During his recovery period, once the second main character strolled around. He overheard a small group of women talk to each other twittering like birds. When he walked along, one of the women said: “What that concerns [14], I say so, I say nothing”. Then the women continued their conversation. The second main character thought: “Tathāgata [15], evam [16], śūnya [17]” or “what the world of forms concerns, thus, void”. These three words summarize in one sentence the following stage during our Odyssey with the addition: “What comes from the power of the wind in the end becomes brooken and crumbled [18].

This additions reminds of a free rendering of a pop-song by Neil Young [18]:

“Life is like a flower.

It only grows on the vine.

Handful of thorns and you know you missed it.

And you lose it when you call it Mine, Mine, Mine”.

[1] For example: Sheng Yen, Footprints in the Snow – the Autobiography of a Chinese Buddhist Monk. New York: Doubleday, 2008

[2] For example: Pirsig, Robert M., Lila, an Inquiry in Morals. London: Bantam Press, 1991

[3] For example: Ayto, John, Word Origins – The hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z. London: A & C Black Publishers, 2008

[4] “man” means in Sanskrit “think/consider/observe”.

[5] For example: Fortson, Benjamin W., Indo-European Language and Culture – an Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004; Mallory, J.P. & Adams, D.Q., The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007; Mallory, J.P., In Search of the Indo-Europeans. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2005

[6] See as introduction: http://en.wikipedia.org/ under “Pāṇini”

[7] For example: Egenes, Thomas, Introduction to Sanskrit part 1 & 2. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2003 – 2005

[8] Source image: http://www.amazon.com

[9] In Sankrit the name Buddha consists of the noun “bud” meaning “bud or knop” as “bud” in rosebud in the film “Citizen Kane” directed by Orson Wells – and the root “dha” meaning “place, grant, bestow”. Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[10] See: Ostler, Nicholas, Empires of the Word – A Language History of the World. New York: Harper Collins, 2005

[11] Source image: http://www.amazon.co.uk

[12] See:  Ostler, Nicholas, Empires of the Word – A Language History of the World. New York: Harper Collins, 2005 p. 217

[13] Mahāyāna literally means “big vessel”. All and everyone is present in this big vessel, no particle is excluded.

[14]The original in Dutch sounds “What Tathāgata” meaning “What that concerns”

[15] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tath%C4%81gata. The word “tathāgata” consist of “tathā” meaning “thus” and “gata” or “āgata” meaning going or coming. In Mahāyāna Buddhism the word “tathāgata” has two meanings: on the one hand “the complete arising and vanishing Self” or “Buddha or Self” and on the other hand “the myriad forms as they are”.

[16] In Sanskrit the word “Evam” consists of the verb root “e” meaning “approach, arrive” and the noun “va” meaning “wind, ocean, water, stream, going”. Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[17] In Sanskrit “śūnya” means zero of void. The word “śūnya” consists of “śūna” meaning “swollen state of empty” and “ya” meaning “mover, traveller or wind”.

[18] Source: Wick, Gerry Shishin, The Book of Equanimity – Illuminating Classic Zen Koans. Somerville MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005 p. 51 casus 16.

[19] See: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/neilyoung/loveisarose.html