The Western mind focuses on substance; the Eastern mind focuses on the interrelationship between everything. Nothing has independant being in of itself. That’s the basic insight of sunyata, whereas in Western mysticism, nothingness is still the ultimate essence. It may be pure Divine being, but it is also something. The East would criticize even this ultimate substance or essence and try to see through the illusion that there is any existent thing in and of itself.
You could say that there are two ways of describing an underlying reality that, presumably, is one and the same. But whereas sunyata is central to Buddhism, most Jews have never heard of Ayin. Even in Kabbalah, it’s talked about very rarely. In Hasidism, it’s further developed, but of all the Hasidic teachers, maybe one percent is devoted to ayin.
Yet, ayin is central because it represents the moment of transition from infinity (Ein Sof) to the sefirot. Ayin is how God unfolds. Creation is rooted in nothingness. There are roots for this postive sense of nothingness within Judaism. The Talmud, for example states, “The words of Torah do not become real except for one who makes himself as if he is not.” Job asked rhetorically, “Where is wisdom to be found?” The word ayin in this verse is in question: “where?” But already in the Talmud, ayin is interpreted as a noun: “Wisdom is found in nothingness.” In Kabbalah, it becomes Divine nothingness. Its roots lie in rabbinical literature, but Kabbalah expands this.
–“Why meditate?” by Daniel C Matt
In all change and growth, say the masters, the mysterious ayin is present. There is an ungraspable instant in the midst of all transformation when that which is about to be transformed is no longer that which it had been until that moment, but has not yet emerged as its transformed self; that moment belongs to the ayin within God. Since change and transformation are constant, however, in fact all moments are moments of contact with the ayin, a contact that man is usually too blind to acknowledge. The height of contemplative prayer is seen as such a transforming moment, but one that is marked by awareness. The worshiper is no longer himself, for he is fully absorbed, in that moment, in the Nothingness of divinity. In that moment of absorption the worshiper is transformed: as he continues his verbal prayer, it is no longer he who speaks, but rather the Presence who speaks through him. In that prayerful return to the source, the human being has reached his highest state, becoming nought but the passive instrument for the ever self-proclaiming praise of God. Through his lips the divine word is spoken.
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, “inter-be.” If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. The logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist. Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is part of our perception. Your mind is here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here–time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists within this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word “inter-be” should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.
Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing else can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper” elements. And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without non-paper elements–like mind, logger, sunshine and so on–there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.
–Thich Nhat Hanh, Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life