Are awareness and nothingness the same thing?
Have you heard of Emptiness teachings? Basically the concept is Buddhist and says that phenomena have no intrinsic or inherent existence and therefore are empty of inherent power to exist. I am trying to understand this in terms of ‘presence’, which some may call God. In Advaita teachings there seems to be the posit of a God or presence (using your word), and I have often read that when you go deeply into meditation there is nothing to be seen. Are awareness and emptiness the same thing, and would that also be presence?
Phenomena, such as thoughts or physical objects, are said to be ‘empty’ in the sense that they have no inherent, independent substance or existence of their own. In other words, they are not made out of something called ‘mind’ or ‘matter’ that exists in their own right independent of awareness.
The essential substance or reality of all experience is what is sometimes referred to as awareness, God, presence or ‘I’, and the apparent reality of the mind, body and world could be said to be modulations of this one essential substance or reality.
For instance, in a movie the characters, houses, fields, trees and sky are not made out of flesh, bones, bricks, soil, wood and air. They are made of the screen. Their essential substance or reality is the screen.
The characters, houses, fields, trees and sky are not real as objects – as objects they are empty, void, nothing (not-a-thing) – but as screen they are real. In fact, the characters, houses, fields, trees and sky are not real as screen but rather only the screen is real. There is only the screen. The characters, houses, fields, trees and sky only appear to be real from the illusory point of view of one of the characters.
Likewise, in experience only awareness is real. The apparent reality of the mind, body and world is imagined with the thought that thinks it. In other words, the constructs of thought, that is, the beliefs we have about the mind, body and world – are only real for thought itself.
So if we believe in the reality of objects, we may say as a half-way stage that these so called objects are empty, nothing, not-a-thing, not made out of something solid or real such as matter. However, the word ‘emptiness’ is said only in reference to the belief in the absolute reality of matter. In that sense objects are said to be empty or void of matter, that is, empty of any substance or reality other than awareness.
However, experience (of apparent objects) is not nothing. Even the experience of ‘nothing’ requires awareness and is, therefore, not ‘nothing’. Whatever it is that is present during the experience of apparent objects or during their absence is known as presence or awareness because it is both present and aware.
So the true no-thingness or emptiness of an apparent object is made only of the fullness of presence. In this sense emptiness and presence are one. However, even to call it presence is not quite right, for by giving it a name we are qualifying it in some way, albeit very subtle. However, the mind cannot go further than this.