Emptiness is our true state of being, for we are not the content of our lives, but the container. The container might contain a house, a hut, a minivan, a mule, education, wealth, poverty, American or Swahili. All those contents are interchangeable, temporary, and disposable. Therefore they cannot be us, for who we are – our consciousness – does not change. We are the container that cannot change, regardless of what it contains.
The word “emptiness” is considered bad when we believe that we must fill our lives with content. Not that content is bad. Content can be good, but if we believe that it is essential, then we suffer when we do not get it.
If we define ourselves by our contents, we limit ourselves. If we define ourselves as a member of a particular political party or religion, we must go along with its precepts even if they seem implausible or absurd to us. If we define ourselves as a fan of a particular sports team, we feel compelled to cheer them on and maybe feel helpless or depressed when they lose. The only way to be who we are and feel peaceful doing so is to recognize that we are a container, and that no content can ever change or define us.
The “normal” way of living is to always “fill” our container with stuff. We cut in front of other motorists in order to get somewhere a few seconds sooner. We steal or gamble in order to get more money. We act, talk, or dress to impress others. We compete in various types of competitions. Our efforts might enable us to achieve our selfish, short-term goals, but look at the costs. There is the stress of striving and worrying about not succeeding. There is the possibility of getting in a car accident, or getting a ticket, or being caught and punished for stealing, or losing in the Stock Market or casino. We might be haunted by the thought that others would not like us if we did not put on an act (and therefore they don’t really like us). We might get beaten in a competition and subsequently feel inferior. Even if we succeed, there is a certain hollowness because we realize that the “victory” is only temporary, and we acted selfishly (possibly making enemies along the way).
Our “victories” don’t bring us any lasting peace or happiness. What happens after we get in front of another motorist, or gain money, or impress others, or win a competition? Do we live happily ever after with our gain? No. We then have to cut off another motorist, gain more money, impress other people (or the same people again), or win another competition. No matter how much we accomplish, we are constantly unsatisfied because we are living from a sense of lack. It is a psychological black hole that eats everything we throw at it and hungers for more. Whether we feed it or not, the sense of incompleteness remains, so all our efforts to achieve happiness are fruitless.
This mindset makes us unable to accept the Now. We are always unfulfilled, not because we don’t have certain things, but because we tell ourselves that we cannot be happy without them. It is a big lie.
When we find ourselves as the container and not the content, we are always fulfilled. There is a natural sense of well-being that accompanies the true self. The container is the only thing that lasts, which is why it is the only thing that can bring lasting well-being. Contents are temporary, which is why all they can bring is temporary relief or ego gratification. When we stop believing that we need contents in order to feel good, we will get the peace we want without even trying.
Does this mean that we can feel good with absolutely nothing? Well, perhaps no one can feel good in a sensory deprivation chamber, so we do need some form of content, but life will always provide that. Even monastic life offers its own content, such as prayer, chanting, meals, etc. So when we find our true selves, it’s not that we don’t need content, it’s that we don’t need particular content. We can appreciate and feel peaceful with whatever our content is, because enjoyment comes not so much from content as from our state of being. This is why two people with the same content can have very different levels of happiness and peace. If our ego tells us that we must have a particular thing, then we will feel miserable no matter what other content we get. But if we live from our true self, our ego won’t fabricate and dictate particular conditions under which we can be happy, so we will be at peace and enjoy whatever comes along.