Mystery, Words, and Las Vegas

The fundamental mystery of the universe cannot be reduced to words. Mystery is like that. In Buddhist teachings we come across a mysterious word: emptiness. In the Sanskrit language the word is Śūnyatā. Śūnya means “voidness” or “hollow”. Tā is a suffix, “-ness.” So, in English, we might express emptiness as a kind of “hollowness” or “ungraspable space.”

Now that we have assigned a word to something ungraspable, we see the mystery has already diminished and the conceptual mind is happy. We can mull over the idea and measure against what we think we know and see where it fits. But where can we place something we cannot hold physically or conceptually?

The recent event in Las Vegas is a mystery. We cannot, at this point, make any sense of it. There seems to be no discernible motive—it doesn’t fit anywhere. A lot of people lost their lives or were wounded. All of our words of condolence seem hollow. Nothing we think can bring peace right away. This will take time for everyone.

If we are a Buddhist practitioner, we recognize such atrocious things simply happen in samsara. Samsara literally means, “wandering through, flowing on”, or a sense of “aimless and directionless wandering.” The shooter was certainly wandering and made this choice to feel some kind of resolve in his life journey—just as we all want to find some kind of purposeful direction. But the word samsara does nothing to resolve the mystery.

Samsara is driven by unresolved afflictive emotions. If we can overcome the tendency to act on negative emotional thoughts in response to anything, we have the opportunity to express great compassion. How does this happen? If we settle our mind and cease grasping after thoughts and emotions, love seems to flow spontaneously. But it remains a mystery as to why this happens. In Las Vegas, everyone’s mind was shocked into stillness for a moment—followed by a vast outpouring of love and compassionate action.

Perhaps compassion in the face of unspeakable acts of violence, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. is a testament to the ungraspable nature of love—free from the game of words, always available, and never contrived. This is the greatest mystery of all.

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