Explorations in Unificationism edited by Theodore T. Shimmyo and David A. Carlson

Emptiness and Heart: Two Ways of God? By David A. Carlson


It has long been recognized that there exists a distinction between one's personal religious or spiritual experience and the expressed interpretation of that same experience. The different "names" of God or Ultimate Reality that have resulted from such a distinction have appeared in all religious traditions. One need only think of the insightful book by John Hick entitled God Has Many Names1 to be aware of the many issues involved with the distinction and the problems associated with working through it.

For example, Raimundo Panikkar recognizes that there are many "names" of "Christ" (the "link between the finite and the infinite")2 scattered throughout the different traditions. He holds that there is an ultimate religious fact or fundamental religiousness (the Holy) that is common to all religious traditions. In the depth of religious experience one encounters this ultimate religious fact as Mystery. This, of course, can never be fully expressed in words. The capacity of finite human beings to grasp the Mystery is forever limited by their earthly circumstances. Nevertheless, it is human nature to always seek to articulate the religious experience and this gives rise to the various symbols one finds in the different religious traditions. These different symbols all have the same ultimate reference point. This is perhaps parallel to considering the various "god-equivalents" among the different traditions, although the process is taken one step further back. It is difficult enough to undertake inter-religious dialogue at this (mediating) point, dealing with the various symbols; it is even more challenging to carry it out when addressing the ultimate reference point.

Panikkar acknowledges that "when a religious truth is recognized by both parties in a dialogue and thus belongs to both traditions, it will be called in each case by the vocabulary proper to the particular tradition recognizing it."3 Even though the context is different, this should give us hope. On the common basis of a shared truth, dialogue concerning both the shared truth and the different symbols can take place. In the context of such a dialogue there are several possibilities. Both participants might gain a better understanding and appreciation of each other's symbols. Each participant might gain a more profound understanding of the symbols of her/his own tradition. There is a possibility that the symbols themselves might undergo a transformation or re-conception within their respective traditions. Herein lies the great importance of such dialogue.

This paper is very exploratory. It entertains the possibility that all the great world traditions are, ultimately, oriented to (or "centered on") the same Reality. In other words, there is one core Reality in the universe, and not two, three, etc. The fact that this Reality has been experienced as personal by some, and as impersonal by others will be considered more fully later. I shall simply state at this point that the basis of such a difference in experience must certainly exist, at least partly, within the one who "experiences as," and yet it might also be found to exist, perhaps to an even more significant degree, within the very nature of Ultimate Reality itself. I want to suggest that this Reality is "dynamic" in the sense that it can cause itself to be experienced in different ways by different people.

It is well-known that traditions in the East and the West have expressed their experiences of Reality generally in the impersonal and personal ways, respectively. Certainly, the Semitic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have conceptions of God as personal. Eastern faiths such as Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism, although there are sometimes theistic elements in some schools, have a more impersonal view (Tao, Emptiness, Brahman). The Confucian notion of "heaven" may also have both tendencies. I suggest that all of these can potentially be harmoniously integrated or complemented.

The issue of finding a common or generic language which can bridge different traditions is well-known. For this paper I want to consider a bridge for Buddhism and Unificationism. The intra-traditional equivalent that I want to explore is the Unification notion of God as "Heartistic Parent." I contend that this notion, once it is correctly understood, can lend itself to serving as an inter-traditional equivalent. Unificationism does not speak of God alone or in isolation. It speaks of God-in-relation-to-us. That is to say, what we say about God is also true about us in some sense, and vice versa. I am aware of the ambiguity of the phrase "in some sense" and I will seek to remove this ambiguity as I proceed.

I believe that, with the use of the Unification concept of an Heartistic Parent, common ground can be offered for a Buddhist-Unificationist dialogue, especially at the level of discussion of religious experience. More specifically, I believe that the existential experience of Buddhist "sunyata" or "emptiness" is very similar to, if not the same as, the Unificationist experience of "purity of heart." I further believe that these experiences are consistent with a certain view of Reality which I will consider in this paper.

I have chosen Buddhism since it seems to me that Buddhism offers the greatest challenge to the "personalistic faiths" (those which hold to the view that God is personal).

On Buddhism and Unificationism

I am not the first to notice the similarity between the experiences of emptiness as found in Buddhism, and of purity of heart as found in Christianity, and in Unificationism.

In one of Merton's earliest writings about Zen -- an exchange of essays with D.T. Suzuki -- he roughly equates the term "purity of heart," as found in the teachings of the Desert Fathers, with the term "emptiness," as used by Dr. Suzuki. Both terms are taken to refer to a certain inner state -- a state of consciousness -- in which a man is "free of alien thoughts and desires... all images and concepts which disturb and occupy the soul."4


Another example of nothingness is found in the Epistle to the Philippians where Paul speaks of the "kenosis" or self-emptying of Jesus... All this may seem a thousand miles away from Oriental nothingness. Yet I have heard of a Zen master who, on reading this passage from Philippians, nodded his head and said: "St. Paul really understood mu!".5

Mu, of course, is another word for "emptiness." Jesus would be considered, especially by a Christian, as a man who possessed a "purity of heart," and there seems to me to be some area of common ground when a Zen Buddhist can see something there which she or he can identify with.

Unificationism teaches that God is fundamentally a God of heart or Shim Jung and, since Shim Jung is so central in Unification beliefs, I believe that it is worthwhile to pursue this way of thinking to see if a bridge, or a stronger bridge, or more bridges can be constructed between Buddhism and Unificationism. The notion of an heartistic or Shim Jung dimension in the universe, moreover, may serve as a powerful "inter-traditional equivalent" (here, between Buddhism and Unificationism) at the level of Ultimate Reality, in a way similar to that by which Panikkar's sense of the word "Christ" has been a powerful symbol at the level of the different mediating (between finite and infinite) symbols of the various traditions.

The Unification Notion of "Purity of Shim Jung (Heart)

Jesus speaks in the Beatitudes saying, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matt 5:8) This infers that the person who is pure in Shim Jung has some way to connect with God in contradistinction to one whose Shim Jung is not pure, and thus does not know (nor can he or she "see") God. Purity in this sense, I contend has a moral quality to it. Jesus was surely a person whose heart was pure. He also was one who "emptied" himself (Phil. 2:7), which might be interpreted in different ways. One way in which it might be interpreted is that he thus laid aside his "privileges." I would, however, like to interpret it much more pointedly and say that he laid aside everything that was of his own, personal mental makeup. He thought only of his Father, and nothing of himself or his comforts, thoughts, desires, hopes, etc. However, I contend that because he did possess purity of heart his thoughts, desires and hopes were completely resonant with those of his Father. An analogy for such a situation would be that of two tuning forks which vibrate at precisely the same frequency. The people around Jesus would have been of quite another quality. Even the disciples struggled with evil thoughts, tendencies and motives. In this case, the tuning forks are at different frequencies, and thus there is less resonance. Thus, Jesus was an individual human being, a man like ourselves, and yet he was in perfect "frequency" with God. Jesus' purity of Shim Jung and his emptiness were closely associated.

In relating this line of thinking to Buddhism, I would say, first of all, that Jesus' thoughts were not "worldly," in a Buddhist sense. His thoughts were sublime and directed only to goodness. They were pure as was his Shim Jung. Compare such a quality of mind with that expressed in a well-known verse from the Buddhist Dhammapada:

What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart. What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind joy follows him as his own shadow.6

Unificationism would hold that a pure Shim Jung is fundamental to a pure mind, and that one's mind is pure to the extent that his or her Shim Jung is pure. This is similar, I think, to what Buddhism teaches and this is the kind of person Jesus was.

Another way in which to understand Jesus as having possessed a purity of heart is to say that he possessed a parental heart. Few would deny the purity of heart of a parent who expresses unconditional love for their child. Unificationism holds that the relationship between God and human beings is, in fact, a Parent-child relationship. This has important implications which I will discuss later in this paper when I consider this notion of a Parental God. I want to note again, here, that by understanding Jesus in such a manner, one also comes to understand something about God (John 14:9).

Saying that one's thoughts are "worldly" means that they are contrasted with non-worldly (sublime or elevated) thoughts. As in the quote above, such thoughts, in the Buddhist sense, lead to joy, whereas worldly thoughts lead to suffering. Now, in the Unification view "worldly" thoughts are considered to be related to the non-principled realm whereas more elevated thoughts might be considered as more principled:

Buddhism conceives of all phenomena as nothingness, which motivates man to true enlightenment. From the Unification Thought point of view, original phenomena which have nothing to do with the Fall of man are principled while phenomena derived from the Fall of man are non-principled. Accordingly, only the non-principled phenomena derived from the Fall must be denied.7

Many thoughts that a person in the world has are, indeed, connected to the non-principled realm and, as Buddhism emphasizes, should be denied. In this sense, Buddhism is absolutely correct. At the same time, there is no need to deny those thoughts which are principled.

The Buddhist Notion of "Emptiness"

When speaking about the concept, and even more about the experience, of Buddhist emptiness, I am on much less confident ground, since I am not a Buddhist. Emptiness, as I understand it, refers primarily to a serene state of mind, one transcending all subject-object dichotomies of conceptual thought. This state of mind is attained through a kind of denial, and one experiences a mode of pure consciousness beyond the usual activity of conceptual thinking. One must empty one's mind of all discursive thought and realize the state of pure consciousness prior to any cognitive, rational state of activity. Compare this with the following:

One who desires to reach the absolute unique subject must fulfill the condition of absolute denial in relation to everything in one's environment. For this absolute denial is required. Then at what place does restoration through indemnity become fulfilled? Even one iota of a condition for self-affirmation cannot remain. It must be completely in the realm of the denial. The condition of indemnity is paid by fulfilling the condition of absolute denial.8

This seems to me to be a very Buddhistic statement, or at least one that is compatible with Buddhist thought. The primary point of it, stated differently, is that the goal is emptiness and this is a state achieved through denial. Buddhism teaches non-attachment (i.e., denial). As mentioned, the things "of this world" are "impure" and thus should rightfully be denied. In this, Buddhism is absolutely correct.

In a recent book on the Buddhist-Christian dialogue it is stated: "God is not an intellectual problem, but rather a given that reveals itself in the depths of the 'heart and mind,' where all talk is surpassed."9 Also, "Christianity deals with the relationship of 'God' and 'man,' and thus is based on God and takes God as its starting point; while Nishida makes the 'relation' of God and man his foundation."10 These comments have relevance to what I am arguing for in this paper and it seems to me to be not completely erroneous to the Buddhist mentality to say that in "emptiness" the quality of such a relationship might, indeed, be experienced in the depth of a person's heart and mind, more so than might the "God pole" as such. This seems to me to also hold true to some extent in the experience of Unificationists.

I want to touch briefly on a few other themes before I proceed to try and integrate them together in a certain view of Reality. One theme is the connection between emptiness and compassion. I address this because compassion has to do with feeling or sympathy in some sense and will be relevant to what I argue below. In its final degree of perfection, "compassion operates within one vast field of Emptiness... a Bodhisattva's compassion springs from the depths of his heart."" In other words, emptiness is far from being "empty"! It also seems that one "cannot... conceive of superiority or inferiority in emptiness."12 Finally, connecting again with the notion of purity:

If we want to return to our original state of purity, we must first regenerate ourselves by developing five cardinal virtues, of which wisdom is the last and most important. After these virtues have sufficiently matured, we can slowly attempt a break-through to the Unconditioned, which, through the three doors of deliverance, i.e., Emptiness, the Signless, and the Wishless, leads to Nirvana.13

At the risk of doing a certain injustice to what I feel is a profound concept (and experience!) I want to continue with some interim remarks before my main argument.

"Emptiness" and "Purity of Shim Jung (Heart)"

I have been very free in my usage of ideas but this essay is exploratory, written in search of a "god-equivalent" to bridge the Buddhist and Unificationist experiences and so I feel somewhat justified. Obviously, what I have been saying so far needs considerable qualification. For example, I have been speaking about God, whereas Buddhism is nontheistic. I do not find this to be an insurmountable problem. I think that the Buddha rightly rejected the idea of gods (and rituals) prevalent in his time, because he experienced poignantly the need for an immediate solution to the suffering of human life, as we read in the famous anecdote of the arrow which inflicts a mortal wound, and because those ideas and rituals may have lost some of their original depth of meaning. Buddha focused on what would be considered the way of salvation/liberation. He saw no need for the theories then in fashion about a Creator God or god/s. Others have argued that Buddhism is not necessarily non-theistic.14 In this essay it is more than a little relevant to be justified in associating Buddhism with some notion of a God.

Another comment I feel important is to note the dramatic complementarity of: 1) the "East's" (i.e., Buddhism's) emphasis on internal introspection and personal mental purification and 2) the "West's" (i.e., Christianity's or Unificationism's) emphasis on external social activism, seeking the ideal world, or a world of true love. Buddhism has made tremendous strides in purifying and cleansing the mind, removing the attachments, the impediments and the distractions which hinder our spiritual journey. In some ways it has outdone the West in this respect.

A God of Shim Jung (Heart)

At this point I want to describe the Unification idea of Reality, for the eventual purpose of suggesting it as useful in the Buddhist-Unification dialogue. The Unification idea is a God of Shim Jung or heart. The theistic character of Unificationism is not insurmountable to a Buddhist. I contend, and my past conversations with various Buddhists have tentatively confirmed this, that a Buddhist can find considerable affinity with the thrust of Unification ontology.

Unificationism teaches that a God of Shim Jung (heart) is seeking to "restore all things," through the agency of human beings. Jesus was one person whom God used in a direct and powerful way, and the Buddha was another. The purpose for which the Buddha appeared on earth was, however, different from that for which Jesus appeared. A God of Shim Jung (heart) acts in such a way that whatever is necessary for a culture or civilization to make progress toward a return to the "ideal," that is the way in which God will work. In the case of India I contend that there was necessary a strong push in the direction of internal insight and purification, a deep insight into the human mind and its purification. I want to suggest the possibility that this is what happened in the form of Buddhism. To speculate, it was not necessary for God (a Parental God) to reveal Him/Herself as "God" to the Buddha. What was necessary was that the Buddha arrive at certain inner realizations (aided by the silent impress of the Divine) and this is exactly what happened in the case of the Buddha. In this sense, what the Buddha deeply realized was sufficient unto itself. The central spiritual impulse of Buddhism was correct and necessary; it complements what was achieved in the West. It was, to speak in more Unificationist terms, the providential responsibility of Buddhism to focus on internal development, and to understand ultimate reality as an impersonal reality (i.e., pratityasamutpada, Buddha nature, etc.). It is now necessary for East and West to cooperate for the sake of the world. It is as important for the West to turn to the East as it is for the East to turn to the West. The greatest love and the deepest compassion can only emerge from a mind and heart that have been cleansed of "worldly" thoughts and ideas. The Unification notion of "purity of heart" and the Buddhist notion of "emptiness" in some sense converge at this point.

I might note that the Buddha's insight into "dependent co-origination," that everything is causally connected, thus arising dependently, has similarities to the Unification ontological notion of "connected bodies," every "thing" in the universe being relative, mutually connected and mutually-conditioning.

Now, the God I want to suggest as being compatible with Buddhism is, as mentioned, a Parental God of heart. This is a God Who would be sensitive to the spiritual needs of India at that time vis-a-vis a global spirituality, and Who would raise up the Buddha (on the foundation of Gautama's own effort in seeking enlightenment), giving (or allowing, or enabling) the grace for him to achieve the inspiration and the insight necessary for him to realize things as he did. It was not necessary for God to reveal Him/Herself as a personal, Creator God. To do so may have even been detrimental to the fact of the Buddha's enlightenment. I suggest that whatever it was that actually, historically took place, in regard to the Buddha's enlightenment, was exactly what should have taken place, was the most propitious turn of events that could have taken place. In other words, the wisdom inherent in the experience of "emptiness" is, in a certain sense, a result of the interface between the Buddha's sincere and insistent search for enlightenment (the Truth) and the impact upon him psychologically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually, of God's parental understanding and wisdom of the needs of the people, centering on the Buddha, in that part of the world, at that particular time. In no other individual could that particular divine-human interface have been substantiated. The Buddha was a unique and uniquely qualified individual.

Another aspect of Buddhism which I think it is important to say something about is the idea of anatta (no-self). In terms of Unificationism I again do not find this to be a major difficulty. This statement needs some qualification, but first note what Hans Waldenfels has stated about the Buddhist idea of "no-self."

The Buddhist pattern... has been to adjure all conceptual selfhood whatsoever as intrinsically evil, and to glory in its precise opposite -- the destruction of the sense of self-hood the denial of the reality of the self, the illusory quality of self-consciousness, and so on... But we may ask, which self (or self in what context) does Buddhism desire to rid humanity of? For the non-self language of Buddhism should not blind any one, either non-Buddhist or Buddhist, to overwhelming existential vitality of some sort of selfness in Buddhism... Indeed throughout the Buddhist spiritual discipline in all its varieties and history, a persistent feature strikes the attention: The increasingly "non-selfed" or "de-selfed" self acts increasingly like what the West has sought to designate by its terms autonomous, integrated, liberated, spontaneous, enlarged, or redeemed self, i.e., the achievement of genuine self-controlled, acting-from-within selfhood -- though it may be argued that Buddhism achieves a deeper level of subjective spontaneity and integration.15

His comment reinforces what I would say about the Unification position on the self.

As mentioned previously, Buddhism and Unificationism agree in their emphasis on the denial of "phenomena" of this world. But Unificationism makes a distinction between phenomena derived from the Fall (unprincipled) and original phenomena which have nothing to do with the Fall (principled). Only the non-principled phenomena derived from the Fall must be denied. As it turns out, however, the overwhelming majority of phenomena with which human beings in this world are familiar are those deriving from the Fall. That is to say, there have been few phenomena, in human experience, which are not connected with the Fall. And this is where the Buddha, and Buddhism, have been brilliant. Deriving from the Buddha's germinal enlightenment experience, Buddhists through the ages have learned through long and arduous training and discipline to virtually cleanse the mind of non-principled phenomena. I suggest that Buddhism might have taken a further step and considered the possibility that there might be other phenomena (principled phenomena) to take the place of what it correctly denied. Unificationism speaks of one's "original mind" in much the same manner as Buddhism often speaks of one's "Buddha nature." At the point of one's realization of emptiness, one "sees" one's Buddha nature (or true nature). In Unificationism, once one purifies one's heart, one "sees" one's original human nature. It is only from such a purified heart and mind only from such an empty heart and mind that true love can emerge. In other words, through "denial" we can efface those aspects of our fallen mind but at this point what "comes forth" is our true mind, or original mind, our Buddha mind. It is a mind characterized by purity and by emptiness, because it is a plenum; and it certainly has a vitality, as Waldenfels correctly noted. I might add that Unificationism defines heart as the ground of our being, an irrepressible impulse, an emotional impulse to give love and receive joy, and holds that it is infinite in all directions. This compares with a comment from the Kyoto School: "'Sunyata' as the nonobjectifiable ground of our existence 'expands endlessly into all directions'."16

Now, the Unification notion of heart holds that it is the core or ground of the human intellect, emotion and will. In fact, it is that which "causes" these mental functions to operate. It is because the human heart has been "separated from God," in Unification terminology, that our intellect, emotion and will have not performed properly. A "purity of heart" brings about a mental equilibrium. Jesus was certainly a man of extraordinary mental balance. But the Buddha, no less so, was a man of extraordinary stability:

Let us consider the holy men of history, such as Jesus, or Buddha, or Confucius. What kind of personalities did they have? These people had a certain stability of mind and body, while ordinary people were always divided.17

At the basis of intellect, emotion and will, the heart (Shim Jung) also, in one sense, transcends the subject-object dichotomy, as is emphasized in Buddhist emptiness.

Beyond Tradition to the God of Shim Jung

I have been focusing on emptiness, as found in Buddhism, and on purity of Shim Jung (heart), as found in Unificationism. But it should be realized that other traditions, as well, could be brought into the discussion, some much more readily than Buddhism. I chose Buddhism because it seems to me to be the greater challenge. The Semitic faiths would be very conversant, and other Easter faiths, I feel, would not be too difficult to engage. There are many ideas in this essay which require further elaboration.

I am suggesting that one's experience of purity of Shim Jung (heart) as found in Unificationism, and one's experience of emptiness, as found in Buddhism are indicative of a certain elevated state of mind in human beings. I suggest further that these are a state of being reflective of God. I suggest a Parental God of heart (Shim Jung) as an inter-traditional God-equivalent, one which Buddhists and Unificationists alike can find common ground with, because it is compatible with both a personalistic and an impersonalistic view of Reality. A Parental God of Shim Jung could reveal Her/Himself in the context of some faiths as a personal, creator God (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Unificationism), and yet, the same God could impact upon other faiths in an impersonal manner (Buddhism, Taoism, etc.), depending on where a person, a culture, a civilization stands as to what their spiritual needs are at any given point in history. I contend that a Parental God of Shim Jung, Who cares for Her/His children as a Parent would, through Parental compassion, readily "reveal" Him/Herself as the impersonal Tao, as Nirguna Brahman, as "Heaven" (Tien), etc., because this is what the culture's spiritual needs happened to be. It may also be that, due to hindrances of one sort or another in the specific situation, this may have been the greatest possible extent of human appropriation of the impact of the Divine Reality. But this is a topic for another essay.

It strikes me as interesting that, as a religious tradition develops historically, later phases or schools often become more theistic in orientation, and come to embody definite elements of compassion. Pure Land Buddhism and Bhakti Hinduism are two examples which readily come to mind. The Bhagavad Gita states: "But even dearer to me are those who have faith and love, and who have me as their End Supreme."18 In the Pure Land tradition of Buddhism, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Kuan Yin) is said to be the very embodiment of compassion. Consider the following:

We may, for the moment, put aside the question of Kuan Yin's reality; the sheer beauty of the concept of an exquisitely lovely being whose chief attribute is pure, unwavering compassion is in itself appealing enough to claim our admiration.19

It might be argued that from whatever point in history a tradition begins, it historically comes to the point where a god or goddess of love or compassion is recognized, and revered. I think it is arguable that even this process of arriving at such a point is a process nurtured ever so carefully by a Parental God of Shim Jung (heart).


1. John Hick, God Has Many Names (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1982).

2. Raimundo Panikkar, The Trinity and the Religious Experience of Man (New York: Orbis Books, 1973), 53.

3. Raimundo Panikkar, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism, rev. ed. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1981), 7.

4. Jacob Needleman, Lost Christianity (Garden City. NY: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1980), 120.

5. William Johnston, The Inner Eve of Love (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), 117-18.

6. The Dhammapada, trans, by Juan Mascara (New York: Penguin Books, 1973), 35.

7. Sang Hun Lee, The New Cultural Revolution and Unification Thought (Japan: Unification Thought Institute, 1987), 30.

8. Sun Myung Moon, God's Will and the World (New York: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1985), 592.

9. Hans Waldenfels, Absolute Nothingness: Foundations for a Buddhist-Christian Dialogue, Trans, by J.W. Heisig (New York: Paulist Press, 1976), 45.

10. Ibid., quoted from S. Ueda, "Nishida Kitaro and Some Aspects of his Philosophical Thought," 114.

11. Edward Conze, Thirty Years of Buddhist Studies (Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1967), 66.

12. Ibid., 195.

13. Ibid., 211.

14. See, for example, John Bowker, The Religious Imagination and the Sense of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 245f.

15. Waldenfels, Absolute Nothingness, 13. Quoted from "East-West Religious Communication," 109f.

16. Masao Abe, "God, Emptiness, and the True Self," in Frederick Franck, ed., The Buddha Eye (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 72-3.

17. Moon, 634.

18. The Bhagavad Gita, trans, by Juan Mascaro (New York: Penguin Books, 1962), 98.

19. John Blofeld, Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin (Boulder: Shambhala, 1978), 23-4. 

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