To start, emptiness is not complete nothingness. Emptiness in Buddhism does not also mean that nothing exists. Many people are said to say that if you understand the concept of nothingness the wrong way in Buddhism it can be counterproductive. Just like in recovery, we are not just about complete abstinences from drugs or alcohol. We are searching for a greater purpose of lifestyle and way to live without the pain of what life brings us. So, to understand the concept of emptiness we must first understand why the Buddha was so set on achieving this with Nirvana to relate this ethic to why recovery is not just about the absence of drugs, but the bringing of a holier and healthier self as well.
In the Buddha’s early life, he was rich, lavished, and well-to-do with money, food, and women. This also can relate to the current state of the heroin epidemic as the story progresses, while our new aged typical user is a suburban upper class white American youth.
But with the Buddha, one thing he lacked was a sense of the true nastiness that culture had in store for him in the real world. His father covered his eyes towards ignorance in efforts to keep him benevolent inside the palace forever. Just like our youth is to what a true style of “growing up” may entail to see the pitfalls of life, as well as the glory…
As the Buddha left the Palace he was cooped up in and saw the true nature of humans he saw daily attachments that were down right disgusting. Just like adults know life is truly full of horror and despair, too. The Buddha needed these sights to shed his ignorance, just like our youth today or blinded by the light of worldly materialism and attachments, as well.
The Buddha saw pain, death, and illness all associated to attachment. So, for the Buddha to be truly free, he must leave all his lavished lifestyle, family, and original destiny behind to find out how we could reach a higher sense of being, with simply nothing versus everything. This was a turning point towards his sense of stagnation and old addicted lifestyle—or rather lifestyle of being blinded by attachments to devilish things—and towards a path of emptiness, but not just abstinence from the greed the world provided. He wanted to find a way to end his feelings of suffering and pain, but he didn’t need just emptiness, he needed Nirvana where the spirit and soul could be free of a constant struggle, and that internal hurt. Just like those with addiction look to seek every day; freedom.
So, if we can take anything away from the early years of the Buddha and him renouncing attachments as they are what hold people in pain and misery, he must have wanted to seek a higher truth (in fact 4 of them) to be ridden, free, empty and enlightened towards a happier path (eight-fold path). While then the goal would be Nirvana, a sense of ridding all Earthly attachments. Just like an addict would try to rid ourselves of drugs, we are seeking greater freedoms in life by bettering ourselves from those old Earthly attachments towards more than pure abstinence, but a freedom and better way to live that we never knew how unless we teach ourselves things like the promises recovery grants; or in Buddhism known as the 4 noble truths as granted by living amongst the eight-fold-path.
As emptiness pertains to Buddhanature it gives the person a sense of characteristics that are to awaken their mind with wisdom, bliss, compassion, empathy, clear-mindedness, bravery/courage, truth. And then going off as emptiness pertains to no-self we can say that this is an emptiness of no intrinsic nature by yourself. Or better yet, freedom from addiction and working towards a better piece of mind we call serenity…
Now the only way to truly live within a full realm of emptiness is to have the convergence of both essences of emptiness. The emptiness of no-self and the emptiness of Buddhanature must be intertwined for true enlightenment to be reached emotionally, ethically, and virtuously.
In Theravada religion emptiness is viewed as a point of releasing one’s self, or even a liberation. And better yet in addiction, quitting and abstaining from drugs. It’s shown in Theravada religion that the two primary sutras are aimed towards that emptiness they are trying to achieve. But, contrary to Mahayana Buddhism, emptiness is not taught as much in Theravada. But as our readings of Buddhism show it is not taught as much due to a sense of one needing to find it in an AHA moment for liberation rather than a teaching, like a philosophical standpoint that needs to be enriched into the students’ daily teachings and it is ultimately something that they are pushing for rather than it just happening. We can view this AHA moment, through addiction or alcoholism as one’s true rock bottom. Then, and only then are we ready to convert from Earthly pain into a sense of self enlightenment and richer way of living through soul practices that Buddhism grants one in peace of mind and serenity.
Now, when it comes to Zen Buddhism and things like Zen meditation or Zazen there is to go without saying a connection to emptiness through the state of mind one will be going into. The mindset is an essential practice of Zen meditation. It’s also important to note that in Zen meditation there are things that will arise that bother the mind and the key with it—just like forming a sense of emptiness—is to not attach to them. You are ridding yourself of the need of those daily attachments or even moment by moment attachments so that the mind is free, and clear, and empty. And in addiction, one may “work a fourth step” or “make amends” or have a new set of daily affirmations one may be working on to better themselves, just like we would be gaining from mindfulness in Zazen.
A practice of Gelugpa Buddhism that relates to emptiness is Vinaya because of its strict teachings in ethics, tantras, and its trace back to Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Gelugpa stresses the importance of observation as this was what set the original Buddha off on his path while roaming the streets to find his need for emptiness in the beginning of his life. You are also to have a strong Sutric background to study the tantras in Gelugpa, which means great practice. And this goes without saying that with “great practice” being stressed, just like you need to practice Buddhism each moment of your new life, addiction is something that takes a complete lifestyle change and is something that we either fully commit to, or may on the other hand, never reach true enlightenment; Nirvana.
So be committed to whatever lifestyle you choose to use in ending the pain and suffering life may bring, whether it be addiction or not. But just know, it is a complete lifestyle change, and whether it is substance abuse, gambling, or sex addiction, the truth of it is that behind the practices we see in Buddhism we now know that recovery holds true to all lifestyles and is unequivocally a complete lifestyle change!