Inviting Contributions for the Creative Project on "Emptiness"- Gita Viswanath
" In the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo".
What better words than these from T S Eliot’s "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" to encapsulate the emptiness of an entire century?
Emptiness – that word which means “the state of containing nothing,” is paradoxically so full a word. A word that is commonly (mis)understood to connote, apart from empty containers and spaces, a state of being itself. Loneliness, meaninglessness, desolation – these are some of the states of emptiness. How does one extricate oneself from a state such as this? Even if a passing phase, it is one that is fraught with complex emotional upheavals.
The last year and a half have particularly been tough for most of us. The raging pandemic world over has only exacerbated the state of emptiness that we have experienced in deeply subjective as well as collective ways. The sudden and unexpected loss of loved ones, the isolation enforced upon us, and entirely new ways of communicating, combined with the ineptitude of political powers, have all added up to reinforce a sense of vacuity and hopelessness to the extent of making emptiness an embodied experience.
The modernist angst associated with emptiness is upended by the valorisation of emptiness in various philosophical traditions. For instance, the concepts of hsü in Taoism, Shunyata in Mahāyāna Buddhism, and En Sof in Jewish mysticism. In Buddhism, the lack of independent existence is characterised as emptiness. As Carl Sagan famously said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” However, the lack of an inherent and completely independent self, does not necessarily and automatically translating into lack of existence or meaning.
How does one channelise one’s energies to come out of this feeling of hollowness and inanition or does one simply embrace the lows, if emptiness is indeed interpreted as such? Do we need to always characterise emptiness as something that pulls us down or can we rise and soar high in bliss in a state of emptiness? Gay Watson in her famous book, A Philosophy of Emptiness demonstrates through her exegesis of the doctrines of Taoism, Buddhism, and Hellenistic philosophy, how emptiness can actually be liberating and empowering.