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Emptiness

This article is about emptiness in a general sense. ers have also suggested that people may use a transitory
For details on the concept in Buddhist philosophy, see state of emptiness as a means of liberating themselves for
nyat. For for the concept of empty physical space, personal growth.
see vacuum.
For other uses, see Emptiness (disambiguation).
Emptiness as a human condition is a sense of

1 In Western culture

1.1 Sociology, philosophy, and psychology


In the West, feeling empty is often viewed as a negative
condition. Psychologist Clive Hazell, for example, attributes feelings of emptiness to problematic family backgrounds with abusive relationships and mistreatment.[3]
He claims that some people who are facing a sense of
emptiness try to resolve their painful feelings by becoming addicted to a drug or obsessive activity (be it compulsive sex, gambling or work) or engaging in frenzied
action or violence. In sociology, a sense of emptiness is
associated with social alienation of the individual. This
sense of alienation may be suppressed while working, due
to the routine of work tasks, but during leisure hours or
during the weekend, people may feel a sense of existential vacuum and emptiness.[4]

The emptiness of a subway station, which is lled with a crush of


humanity during rush hours, can symbolize the sense of void and
isolation that a person may feel if he or she is facing depression.

generalized boredom, social alienation and apathy.


Feelings of emptiness often accompany dysthymia,[1]
depression, loneliness, anhedonia, despair, or other
mental/emotional disorders, including schizoid personality disorder, attention decit hyperactivity disorder,
schizotypal personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. A sense of emptiness is also part of a natural process of grief, as resulting of separation, death of
a loved one, or other signicant changes. However, the
particular meanings of emptiness vary with the particular context and the religious or cultural tradition in which
it is used.[2]

In political philosophy, emptiness is associated with


nihilism. Literary critic Georg Lukcs (born in 1885)
argued against the spiritual emptiness and moral inadequacy of capitalism, and argued in favour of communism as an entirely new type of civilization, one that
promised a fresh start and an opportunity to lead a meaningful and purposeful life.[5]
The concept of emptiness was important to a certain
type of existentialist philosophy and some forms of the
Death of God movement.[2] Existentialism, the philosophic movement that gives voice to the sense of alienation and despair, which comes from mans recognition of his fundamental aloneness in an indierent universe. People whose response to the sense of emptiness and aloneness is to give excuses live in bad faith;
people who face the emptiness and accept responsibility aim to live 'authentic' lives.[6] Existentialists argue

While Christianity and Western sociologists and psychologists view a state of emptiness as a negative, unwanted
condition, in some Eastern philosophies such as Buddhist
philosophy and Taoism, emptiness (nyat) is a realized
achievement. Outside of Eastern philosophy, some writ1

2
that man lives in alienation from God, from nature, from
other men, from his own true self. Crowded into cities,
working in mindless jobs, and entertained by light mass
media, we live on the surface of life, so that even people who seemingly have 'everything' feel empty, uneasy,
discontented.[7]
In cultures where a sense of emptiness is seen as a negative psychological condition, it is often associated with
depression. As such, many of the same treatments are
proposed: psychotherapy, group therapy, or other types
of counselling. As well, people who feel empty may be
advised to keep busy and maintain a regular schedule of
work and social activities. Other solutions which have
been proposed to reduce a sense of emptiness are getting
a pet[8][9] or trying Animal-Assisted Therapy; getting involved in spirituality such as meditation or religious rituals and service; volunteering to ll time and bring social contact; doing social interactions, such as community
activities, clubs, or outings; or nding a hobby or recreational activity to regain their interest in life.

1.2 Christianity
In Austrian philosopher/educator Rudolf Steiner's
(18611925) thinking, spiritual emptiness was a major
problem in the educated European middle class. In his
1919 lectures he argued that European culture became
empty of spirit and ignorant of the needs, the conditions, that are essential for the life of the spirit. People
experienced a spiritual emptiness and their thinking
became marked by a lazy passivity due to the absence
of will from the life of thought. In modern Europe,
Steiner claimed that people would allow their thoughts
to take possession of them, and these thoughts were
increasingly lled with abstraction and pure, natural
scientic thinking. The educated middle classes began
to think in a way that was devoid of spirit, with their
minds becoming dimmer and darker, and increasing
empty of spirit.[10]
Louis Dupr, a Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, argues that the spiritual emptiness of our time is a
symptom of its religious poverty. He claims that many
people never experience any emptiness: they are too busy
to feel much absence of any kind extquotedbl; they only
realize their spiritual emptiness if painful personal experiences -- the death of a loved one, the collapse of a marriage, the alienation of a child, the failure of a business
shock them into reassessing their sense of meaning.[11]

IN WESTERN CULTURE

Spiritual emptiness has been associated with juvenile violence. In John C. Thomas 1999 book How Juvenile Violence Begins: Spiritual Emptiness, he argues that youth
in impoverished indigenous communities who feel empty
may turn to ghting and aggressive crime to ll their
sense of meaninglessness. In Cornell University professor James Garbarino's 1999 book Lost Boys: Why Our
Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them, he argues that neglect, shame, spiritual emptiness, alienation,
anger and access to guns are a few of the elements common to violent boys. A professor of human development, Garbarino claims that violent boys have an alienation from positive role models and a spiritual emptiness that spawns despair. These youth are seduced by
the violent fantasy of the US gun culture, which provides
negative role models of tough, aggressive men who use
power to get what they want. He claims that boys can be
helped by giving them a sense of purpose and spiritual
anchors that can anchor boys in empathy and socially
engaged moral thinking.[12]
Spiritual emptiness is often connected with addiction, especially by Christian-inuenced addiction organizations
and counsellors. Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics
Anonymous, argued that one of the impacts of alcoholism
was causing a spiritual emptiness in heavy drinkers. In
Abraham J. Twerskis 1997 book Addictive Thinking:
Understanding Self-Deception, he argues that when people feel spiritually empty, they often turn to addictive behaviors to ll the inner void. In contrast to having an
empty stomach, which is a clear feeling, having spiritual emptiness is hard to identify, so it lls humans with
a vague unrest. While people may try to resolve this
emptiness by obsessively having sex, overeating, or taking drugs or alcohol, these addictions only give temporary
satisfaction. When a person facing a crisis due to feeling
spiritually empty is able to stop one addiction, such as
compulsive sex, they often just trade it in for another addictive behaviour, such as gambling or overeating.[13]

1.3

Fiction, lm and design

A number of novelists and lmmakers have depicted


emptiness. The concept of emptiness was important
to a good deal of 19th20th century Western imaginative literature.[2] Novelist Franz Kafka depicted a meaningless bizarre world in The Trial and the existentialist
French authors sketched a world cut o from purpose or
reason in Jean-Paul Sartre's La Nause and Albert Ca-

2.1

Buddhism

mus' L'tranger. Existentialism inuenced 20th century


poet T.S. Eliot, whose poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock describes an anti-hero or alienated soul,
running away from or confronting the emptiness of his or
her existence. Professor Gordon Bigelow argues that the
existentialist theme of spiritual barrenness is commonplace in literature of the 20th century, which in addition
to Eliot includes Ernest Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck
and Anderson.[7]
Film adaptations of a number of existentialist novels capture the bleak sense of emptiness espoused by Sartre and
Camus. This theme of emptiness has also been used in
modern screenplays. Mark Romanek's 1985 lm Static
tells the surreal story of a struggling inventor and crucix
factory worker named Ernie who feels spiritually empty
because he is saddened by his parents death in an accident. Screenwriter Michael Tolkins 1994 lm The New
Age examines cultural hipness and spiritual emptiness,
creating a dark, ambitious, unsettling lm that depicts a
fashionable LA couple who are miserable in the midst of
their sterile plenty, and whose souls are stunted by their
lives of empty sex, consumption, and distractions.[14] The
1999 lm American Beauty examines the spiritual emptiness of life in the US suburbs. In Wes Anderson's 2007
lm The Darjeeling Limited, three brothers who extquotedbl... suer from spiritual emptiness and then selfmedicate themselves through sex, social withdrawal, and
drugs.[15]
Contemporary architecture critic Herbert Muschamp argues that extquotedblhorror vacui extquotedbl (which is
Latin for fear of emptiness) is a key principle of design.
He claims that it has become an obsessive quality that
is the driving force in contemporary American taste.
Muschamp states that along with the commercial interests that exploit this interest, it is the major factor now
shaping attitudes toward public spaces, urban spaces, and
even suburban sprawl.[16]
Films that depict nothingness, shadows and vagueness,
either in a visual sense or a moral sense are appreciated
in genres such as lm noir. As well, travellers and artists
are often intrigued by and attracted to vast empty spaces,
such as open deserts, barren wastelands or salt ats, and
the open sea.

2.1 Buddhism
Main article: nyat
The Buddhist term emptiness (Skt. nyat) refers specifically to the fact that everything is dependently originated,
including the causes and conditions themselves, and even
the principle of causality itself. It is not nihilism, nor is
it meditating on nothingness.[17]
In an interview, the Dalai Lama stated that tantric meditiation can be used for heightening your own realization
of emptiness or mind of enlightenment extquotedbl.[18] In
Buddhist philosophy, attaining a realization of emptiness
of inherent existence is key to the permanent cessation of
suering, i.e. liberation.
The Dalai Lama argues that tantric yoga trainees needs
to realize the emptiness of inherent existence before they
can go on to the highest yoga tantra initiation extquotedbl; realizing the emptiness of inherent existence of
the mind is the fundamental innate mind of clear light,
which is the subtlest level of the mind, where all energy
and mental processes are withdrawn or dissolved, so that
all that appears to the mind is pure emptiness. As well,
emptiness is linked to the creative Void, meaning that
it is a state of complete receptivity and perfect enlightenment, the merging of the ego with its own essence,
which Buddhists call the clear light.[20]
In Ven.
Thubten Chodrons 2005 interview with
Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the lama noted that we extquotedbl...ordinary beings who havent realized emptiness
dont see things as similar to illusions, and we do not
realize that things are merely labeled by mind and exist
by mere name.[17] He argues that when we meditate on
emptiness, we drop an atom bomb on this [sense of a]
truly existent I and we realize that what appears true...
isnt true. By this, the lama is claiming that what we
think is real our thoughts and feelings about people and
things exists by being merely labeled. He argues that
meditators who attain knowledge of a state of emptiness
are able to realize that their thoughts are merely illusions
from labelling by the mind.[17]

2.2 Taoism

In Eastern cultures

In Taoism, attaining a state of emptiness is viewed as


a state of stillness and placidity which is the mirror of
the universe and the pure mind.[21] The Tao Te Ching

FURTHER READING

claims that emptiness is related to the Tao, the Great [9] Mar. 27, 1997-Vol28n25: Research provides further evidence that pets, music eective at reducing stress
Principle, the Creator and Sustainer of everything in the
universe. It is argued that it is the state of mind of the
[10] Lecture: Spiritual Emptiness and Social Life. FreTaoist disciple who follows the Tao, who has successmont, Michigan: Wn.rsarchive.org. 1919-04-13. Refully emptied the mind of all wishes and ideas not tted
trieved 2012-06-23.
with the Taos Movement. For a person who attains a
state of emptiness, the still mind of the sage is the mir- [11] SPIRITUAL LIFE AND THE SURVIVAL OF
CHRISTIANITY:
REFLECTIONS
AT
THE
ror of heaven and earth, the glass of all things, a state
END OF THE MILLENNIUM by Louis Dupr
of vacancy, stillness, placidity, tastelessness, quietude,
http://www.crosscurrents.org/dupre.htm.
silence, and non-action which is the perfection of the
Tao and its characteristics, the mirror of the universe [12] Cornell News: Lost Boys about teen violence.
and the pure mind.[21]
News.cornell.edu. 1999-04-23. Retrieved 2012-06-23.
[13] Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception By
Abraham J. Twerski Published by Hazelden, 1997 ISBN
1-56838-138-7, ISBN 978-1-56838-138-1. Page 113 and
114

3 See also
Empty nest syndrome

[14] Lisa Schwarzbaum (1994-09-30). The New Age Review. EW.com. Retrieved 2012-06-23.

Boredom
Physiology

[15] Dibben, Chance (2007-11-01).


Movie review.
Kansan.com. Retrieved 2012-06-23.

Soul

[16] ArtLexs Ho-Hz page. Artlex.com. Retrieved 2012-0623.

Nihilism

[17] Interview on Emptiness by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Available at: http://www.lamayeshe.com/lamazopa/interview.


shtml

4 References
[1] Downs, A. The Half-Empty Heart: A supportive guide to
breaking free from chronic discontent. (2004)

[18] A Survey of the Paths of Tibetan Buddhism with His


Holiness the Dalai Lama. Available at: http://www.
lamayeshe.com/otherteachers/hhdl/survey.shtml

[2] emptiness (mysticism) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Britannica.com. Retrieved 2012-06-23.

[19] translation in Ocean of Nectar, pp. 151, 153

[3] Paul L. Adams, Ivan Fras, Beginning Child Psychiatry,


page 208. Brunner Routledge (UK), 1988.

[20] About Spiritual Emptiness or the Void. Plotinus.com.


Retrieved 2012-06-23.

[4] Existentialism A Brief Overview. Mind NC. 2012-0216.

[21] Taoism - Wu - Emptiness. Taopage.org. Retrieved


2012-06-23.

[5] We Didn't Start the Fire:


Capitalism and Its
Critics, Then and Now.
By Sheri Berman,
http://www.foreignaffairs.
in Foreign Aairs.
org/20030701fareviewessay15413/sheri-berman/
Moss, Robert. Understanding Emptiness: The
we-didn-t-start-the-fire-capitalism-and-its-critics-then-and-now.
html
Think/Feel Conict. R. A. Moss, 1993. ISBN 0-

5 Further reading

[6] Existentialism. Personal.georgiasouthern.edu.


trieved 2012-06-23.

Re-

[7] A Primer of Existentialism. iClass Zone.


[8] Petnet - Responsible Ownership in Australia - And then
there were two!

9638848-0-8
Sanders, Catherine. How to Survive the Loss of a
Child: Filling the Emptiness and Rebuilding Your
Life. Three Rivers Press, 1998. ISBN 0-76151289-6

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