Buddha, Buddhism, emptiness, empty, Enlightenment, Happiness, illusion, master, Meditation, Mind, One, Practice, root, true self, Truth, Uncategorized, Zen

Q206. Isn’t Zen meditation nihilistic?

A. People might think that Zen meditation leads people to nihilism, or pessimism because it says that everything is empty. However, when Zen says that everything is empty, it doesn’t mean that everything is useless like rubbish and that you should throw it away, but it means that the illusions of everything, which are its names and images, are empty. Zen helps you to realise the truth that we are more than what we think we are, that is, we are perfection itself, eternity itself, beauty itself, happiness itself and holiness itself. Also, Zen meditation leads you to see the essence of everything, not mere illusions of it, which allows you to realise and enjoy the real value of all that you have overlooked so far.

Let me take a metaphor of a child who is playing with two golden toys: One of them is a very ugly devil-shaped monster and the other is a very handsome, brave-looking lion. The child is attracted only by the form of the handsome lion, without realising the value of the gold of which the lion is made. Likewise, he, if not disliking the monster, is apt to like it less than the lion since he is ignorant of the real value of it and the fact that both are the same in essence. All he knows about the toys is that they are a handsome brave looking lion and an ugly, cruel-looking monster. When he regards the names and the images of the toys as their totality, without realising the value of gold, he is said to be trapped in illusions of them.



When I say that everything is empty, I mean that the illusions of everything are empty. When saying that the lion is empty, I mean that the illusions of the toy lion are empty. We, grown-ups, cherish the toys more than the child does because we know the essence of them behind their illusions, such as their names and images, that is, we realise that they are made of gold. Also, we don’t value the monster less than the lion since we know both of them are the same in essence. When I, saying that everything is empty, tell you to remove illusions, I am encouraging you to see the gold, not the images of the toys.

However, I don’t mean that we should not pay any attention to the names and the images which are called illusions. They are very important and indispensable to maintain our reality of life. In fact, to remember as many of them as exactly as possible and apply them well to each situation of our lives, might be essential elements for successful living. I mean that you should realise that the names and the images of a thing are not the unchangeable essence of it, but mere illusions that can change anytime. I encourage you to see the essence of all things, including yourself.

Then, you can realise the truth that an illusion is the truth itself and an illusion is not separate and different from the truth, just as the toy lion is not separate and different from gold. Afterwards, all things in your life look more important and more beautiful than they used to. In the end, your life becomes happier and more meaningful than before.


King: (Showing an apple and a tomato to a master) “Sir, why do they

have different names from each other even though they are the

same size and colour?”

Master: “Your Majesty, it’s like you wear official robes during your office

hours and change into everyday garments after work.”



©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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