Thursday, February 23, 2012

Critical Zero Revisited III

Scott Bradley


Emptiness, as I have been using the term in this series, is the human experience of insufficiency. It is no great mystery in terms of discovery; it is always there ready to hand. "Man is the god that shits", as Becker put it, sums it up well. It is fundamental to the human experience that we require eternal sureties which are simply not part of what it is to be human. The experience of self-aware contingent existence is essentially one of insufficiency.

Christianity has called this emptiness the "god-shaped vacuum", suggesting that there is a god to fill it. It is the function of every religion to attempt to do so by one means or another. In the end, the same might truly be said for every human activity. Most, if not all, human endeavor is a futile attempt to fill this void.

The spiritual enterprise is similarly just such an endeavor. Writing this post is just such an endeavor. But if emptiness is fundamental to the human, then so also is the attempt to fill it. The realization of the futility of the project does not have to negate the project itself. Only, should we become aware of that futility, we must allow that awareness to inform our activities. Though beauty may be only skin deep, it would be pathological to allow that realization to render one incapable of seeing and being attracted to beauty. On the other hand, that realization might help one avoid the complementary pathology of fixation.

Enjoy life, but don't take it too seriously. Take life seriously, but enjoy doing so. These might be proposed as balanced applications of the awareness of the fundamental emptiness at the core of the human experience and the ceaseless endeavor to fill it. Enjoyment requires awareness; the more awareness, the more enjoyment.

None of this is a statement of metaphysical truth. These are statements about the human experience, not about the 'true', eternal disposition of the human. To that, I am unqualified to speak. (Yet I assume that, being human, I am qualified to speak of that experience, though I realize in generalizing my experience to include all humans, I presume my experience to be normal. Perhaps it is abnormal, though the testimony of others seems to indicate otherwise.)

If emptiness is a fundamental reality at the core of the human experience, then it invites our human response. Typically, we try and fill it, futile though that exercise might be. Alternatively, we might embrace and be it. This, I believe, is the Taoist project. Yet, in as much as it is also fundamental to the human to seek substantiality, we must disallow that the exercise of being empty become yet another expression of the desire for substantiality. At the same time, however, we must remember that emptiness is also fullness. Far from being a negation of life, it is the condition for the fullest expression of life and its fullest enjoyment.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. A friend of mind, an author, in response to the notion of a "god-shaped vacuum", has suggested that Taoism fills it with a hole-shaped god.

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