Wisdom-based Buddhist-derived practices (BDPs) are concerned with transmuting suffering by cultivating insight into the ultimate nature of both the self and reality. Arguably the most important wisdom-based BDP is emptiness (Sanskrit: śūnyatā) that implies that although phenomena are perceptible to the human mind, they do not intrinsically exist. Despite its significance in Buddhism, emptiness has received little empirical attention. Advancing scientific understanding of emptiness is important as it may yield novel insights not only into the nature of mind and reality, but also in terms of helping human beings realise more of their capacity for wisdom and wellbeing. This study recruited 25 advanced Buddhist meditators and compared emptiness meditation against a mindfulness meditation control condition within the same group of participants. Qualitative analytical techniques were also employed to investigate meditators' experiences of emptiness. Compared to the mindfulness control condition, emptiness meditation resulted in significantly greater improvements in non-attachment to self and environment, mystical experiences, compassion, positive affect, and negative affect. No significant relationship was observed between duration of emptiness meditation and any of the aforementioned outcome measures. Qualitative outcomes demonstrated that participants (i) combined concentrative and investigative meditation techniques to induce emptiness, (ii) elicited spiritually meaningful insights both during and following the meditation on emptiness, and (iii) retained volitional control over the content and duration of the emptiness meditation. Cultivating emptiness appears to be a means of reconnecting advanced Buddhist meditators to what they deem to be the innermost nature of their minds and phenomena.
Keywords: Buddhism; Emptiness; Meditation; Non-attachment; Non-self; Spirituality.
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