Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Plenty of Nothin'

Plenty of Nothin'

Dear All,

First of all, no group on Tuesday, July 30th. Our next meeting is Tuesday, August 6.

This non-meeting on the 30th is because I'll be away on vacation, in Maine. Maine is the only one-syllable State. Any further North and any starker and there would be a State without a single syllable.

This brings us to our theme, nothing, which will turn out to be important for the greater theme of ecology, but in a roundabout way that will only emerge over a couple of weeks.

For now, I offer you a bouquet of nothings, all of different hues and aromas:

from the Heart Sutra, approximately 2nd Century:

Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form,
no sensation, no perception, no memory, and no consciousness,
no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body and no mind, no shape, no sound, no smell, no taste, no feeling and no thought....

from Corinthians 2:9:

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
[The Greek here manages without any substantive word like "things."]

from As You Like It:

Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

from The Tempest:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

from The Blue Cliff Record (Chinese, Zen, 8-12 Century):

Emperor Wu: What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?
Bodhidharma: Empty, no holiness.
Emperor Wu: Who are you?
Bodhidharma: Don't know.

from "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," Wallace Stevens:


I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The blackbird whistling

Or just after.

Ralph Waldo Emerson:

I like the silent church before the service begins
better than any preaching.

from "Be ahead of all parting," Rilke:

Be, and know also
the precondition of non-being:
that endless ground of your inner oscillation.

So there is a silence before, and a silence after, and a silence during, and a not-knowing or unknowing that causes and results from all these. An emptiness, a nothing, but not quite nothing. Recall that Sunyata, the emptiness or nothingness in Hindu texts, originally meant womb, the empty possibility, the "something ever more about to be" of Wordsworth.

It is not that there is no world, or that all is illusion. There is a world, and it is something, and it is real. Rather, if the world is more clearly seen it turns out there is actually nothing there for me as a separatist ego, and the deeper aliveness of the world is not a thing outside me, existing as I imagine the physical world to exist (outside and meaningless) -- so in that sense it is a no-thing or nothing. No object for this separatist to enjoy or abuse.

This matters to an inner ecological activism because our best ecological move may be to symphonize with the inner beings and meanings of the universe -- whether this produces a cooler world or a continued world of apparent objects or not.

Consider (for two weeks from now) the following story (thanks for sharing this, Chris!) from Dogen's Mana Shobogenzo:

Fayan of Quinglian Monastery had a profound experience and gave up worldly affairs. He assembled a group of people and traveled away from the lake region. On their way they were caught by a rainstorm, and the valley stream swelled up, so they temporarily stayed at Dizang Monastery. While there, Fayan asked Abbot Dizang Guichen for instructions.
Dizang said, "Where are you going, Reverend?"
Fayan said, "I am wandering on pilgrimage."
Dizang said, "What is the purpose of your pilgrimage?"
Fayan said, "I don't know."
Dizang said, "Ah! Not knowing is most intimate."
Straightway, Fayan had a great realization.

May our diligent absence of effort result in a perilous unknowing and so deliver us, trembling, to what is most intimate.