One: The Question of Nothing Awakening to the basic question
According to the Song dynasty Chan teacher Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163), there are two kinds of awareness: (1) direct awareness of the “beginningless present,” which “flows out point by point from within your own heart to cover heaven and earth”; and (2) the comparative awareness that is “gained from external refinements,” discerning, fixing, and fixating names and categories.15 The intrinsic inappropriateness of comparative thought is not an ideal starting point for addressing the nothing in Heidegger’s works in relation to emptiness (either in the “not” [wu and the Chinese term for sunyatd [kong 2]). Comparison is inevitably external and reifying, and the “not” of the incomparable does not appear to permit much to be said.
Heidegger began his 1928/29 lecture course Introduction to Philosophy by reflecting on the question of how “we” can begin to enter into philosophy, concluding that this is a false problem as we are already within philosophy the moment the question is posed.16 This “we” is already within philosophy in myriad ways with varying degrees of wakefulness. Philosophy cannot begin from historical or systematic analysis or comparisons, as these lead astray from rather than awakening to philosophizing.17 Philosophy does not transpire as long as one remains external to it in talking about it as an object. It happens in its enactment through “bringing philosophizing underway” and letting its matter and question become “free in us in this situation”18 The question is philosophical in striking back at the one who poses it. In asking, the questioner is placed in question, and the self is exposed to the question of its own existence.19
The need for self-knowledge, to know oneself, finds no response in our everyday ontic concepts and categories. This absence is intensified in the happening of philosophy in which “the complete nothingness of human essence” (“die totale Nichtigkeit menschlichen Wesens”) is exposed.20 This nothingness, which here signifies non-essence, is neither merely negative in the sense of negation nor external to human existence. It is identified later in the same 1928/29 lecture-course with a radical absence of ground and abyss that provokes human existence into recognizing its essential lack of essence, bearing, and orientation (Haltlosigkeit).2' Even keeping silent cannot evade this situation, as silence cannot escape but presupposes and relates to being and nothing inevitably in one way or another.22 As human existence cannot even be secure in refusal and silence, speaking must take up and attempt to clarify this risky lack of bearing as its point of departure, and nowhere more so than in attempting to speak about the incommunicable, non-relational, and uncanny nothing.