Because of Emptiness, Midterms are Possible

Today as I was walking to the paint store through my Los Angeles neighborhood, I saw a car with a sticker on the window that read: "With God, all things are possible." I am not a Christian and I am not a theist, but those words made sense to me.

"With God, all things are possible" is the exact same meaning as "because of emptiness, all things are possible."

The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism defines emptiness, or śūnyatā (空) as "Vacuity, insubstantiality. In its most common usage, it is the distinctive Mahāyāna Buddhist view of the character of all existence, wherein all phenomena are understood to arise in dependence upon each other, and thus there is no phenomenon that has independent, determinable, or permanent existence; nor do any phenomena possess any sort of unchanging inner nature."

Different schools of Buddhism have articulated emptiness differently. As the DDB explains, "In mind-only doctrinal systems such as Yogacara and Tathagatagarbha the basic Buddhist teaching of emptiness is the negation of the two mistaken views of the acceptance of the real existence of a self, and the understanding of an eternal nature of compositional elements that make of the world or the self." In other worlds, emptiness means that there is no unchanging self, but it does not mean that there is no self. Instead, our sense of self and the world around us is conditioned by all phenomena. Emptiness gives rise to ourself and to the world.

When you start to view emptiness this way, it becomes clear that emptiness is not "nothing," but rather, the conditions due to which all things exist. Because of emptiness, all things are possible.

The last month has been a very dark time for me. Since the news broke that Trump's administration is separating children at the border, and that Justice Kennedy was retiring from the Supreme Court, I've found myself plunged again into despair and hopelessness. I know I am not alone in this, but it can feel that way. I scroll through facebook and cry. I read the news and cry. I donate money to aid organizations, then cry. I go to protests and nothings changes.

But although things have been particularly bleak, today I feel more hopeful then ever. A big reason for this is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year old Democratic Socialist who won the New York primary. She is a candidate running without any donations from lobbyists, on a campaign that includes, among other things, universal health care and free public college tuition. Watching interviews with her, she describes how she "hustled" to get over 5,000 signatures to put her name on the ballot. She and her supporters hung out in subways, talking to people, getting the word out. Many of the people who voted for her were youth and people of color. Her victory highlights that amazing things are possible with enough organization and effort. She says, "I know my community. I live here, and I know that all of these narratives that people talk about with non-voters are wrong. I know that it's not that people don't vote because they're uneducated, or uninformed or don't understand. People aren't voting because no one is speaking to them. So we decided 'Ya know what? It's gotta end.'"

They talked to people. They hustled.

After the victory of Ocasio-Cortez, I also read a very useful article published by the organization Indivisible, which organizes grassroots political campaigning. It highlighted the importance of retaking the Senate, and winning elections in Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas, and Tennessee. The article acknowledges that this will be challenging. "Are these tough? Yes. Are they impossible? No-- we've got a chance. We just need 2 of them. If we do the work now- if we phone bank, knock on doors, and send texts to voters- we can retake the Senate and stop confirmations of bad judges for the rest of Trump's term."

I signed up to get involved with a local organization that does grassroots campaigning. I think we can do this. For some reason, I have hope.

We got this. Sí se puede. Or not. Maybe we'll lose. Probably we'll lose. It really could go either way. Because of emptiness, all things are possible.


  1. Joan Sutherland. The Myth We're In.

  2. "I've found myself plunged again into despair and hopelessness. I know I am not alone in this, but it can feel that way." Yes, you are not alone in this. At the age of 60 I'm now receiving emotional backlash from my childhood trauma. I take meds and it's still not enough. The Buddha stated
    "There are two conditions for the arising of right understanding: the voice of another and wise attention." An inkling tells me that your attention on politics is not so wise. "Politics is everyone's business" to be sure. But shouldn't our First Things be the old metaphor of putting the oxygen mask first on ourselves and then our (apparently) helpless passenger? Peace.


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