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Body and Emptiness

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

Chinese text of the Heart Sūtra by Yuan dynasty artist and calligrapher Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322 CE)

When I was 14, I was attracted by a sentence in the Chinese text of Heart Sūtra, which was the statement of the relationship between body and emptiness.

“Listen Sariputra, this Body itself is Emptiness and Emptiness itself is this Body. This Body is not other than Emptiness and Emptiness is not other than this Body."

Translated by Thich Nhat Hanh

I questioned myself, "why does the body and emptiness are same but also differing from each other?" One day, somehow I used the Yin and Yang in Tai-Chi diagram to compare with body and emptiness, it gave me a new idea. In the Tai-Chi, Yin and Yang are the two opposite element but also contains a part of another one. This was a rather similar part as the doctrine of buddhism. I thought that if the Yin and Yang are replaced by body and emptiness, it may presents the meaning. Influenced by this diagram, from the Taoist aspect, I regarded the body and the emptiness as two element that were interchanging all the time.

Although I did not formally consider to do a work about it, this idea was always staying in my mind at that time. However, this idea was barely an ambiguous flash in my mind. I had not possessed a mature idea and known how to do a further research yet. What I could do is drawing the vague thing in my mind down.

In 6th June, 2015, I illustrated a Tai-Chi diagram because I realised the contrast of form and formless. Therefore, in the outside of the circle, I drew a few thin lines on the top and solid thick lines on the bottom. The thin lines are representing the formlessness, something that could not be defined and perceived.

In 27th June, 2015, I used the only drawing software that I knew at that time, which was the Microsoft's drawing, to draw a really simple pattern. I used my favourite yellow to represent the light and black for eye pupil. Then, I put it on my blog and wrote with, "There is light in eyes, there is a world." I think at that time, I realised that that physical world that I could see is built on the biological function of the eyes and brain.

For my spiritual world, the imagination also needed the enlightenment from the external world. Meanwhile, I was curious on how the pitch dark eye pupils could absorb the manifold lights. Somehow, inspired by the Tai-Chi diagram, I wondered that there was an attraction between two opposite things which can substitute Yin and Yang and make sense based on the diagram.

In 27th September, 2015, that day was the Mid Autumn Festival in China. The full moon at that day was really light, so I went out with my parents and took some pictures of the moon. Then I also put on my blog again.

Approximately two years later, at the beginning of 2017, one day I was looking back to my photo album again, one of the photo of moon attracted me again. At that time, I knew how to adjust the contrast and lightness of the picture. Therefore, I tried to modify one of them and the effect was unexpected. On account of the mobile phone that I used to take the picture did not has a high resolution, so the picture contained a kind of granular feeling which was further accentuated after turning up the contrast. Suddenly, there was an idea flashed into my mind. Without thinking too much, I reversed the colour of the entire picture.

Form and Formlessness

These two pictures reminded me the idea of Tai-Chi as well as the sentence in the Heart Sutra. The circles in the middle of these pictures just like two holes that connecting with the opposite side. They demonstrated the movement, the interchange between them. So was that something similar with the Heart Sutra wanted to express? "This Body is not other than Emptiness and Emptiness is not other than this Body", so did the body and emptiness are the two sides that linking together. I attempted to use a linear space to view them, there was a movement existing. If you are completely in the "body", which we can regard it as the black part, the white part would be an utmost small point that nearly invisible. When your focus was continuously moving down the line, the white part would ceaselessly zoom up and continue this loop. I thought that either body or emptiness were depended on how we use our heart to view one thing. Everything was existing this loop, so everything had the property of emptiness. To detect emptiness of this world (form) was the ultimate aim of Buddhism, so perhaps the so-called Buddha should be the sage that can thoroughly view the world from the completely empty point of view.


This work was done when I had not fostered the awareness of research or any other more professional step. Hence, the good thing was I could purely express what just I wanted to say at that moment. Everything was natural. Nevertheless, as for as its maturity, it was lack of some points, such as the deep study of the development of Tai-Chi and the theories about it. As a result, I will continue to work on this topic and improve the completeness.


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