Form is emptiness, emptiness is form means, “Form is free, and freedom is form.”
All forms are free. These words, our thoughts, people, places, and things. Feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness are free as well. Not only are they free, they’re the appearance of this innate freedom.
Freedom here means a very specific type of freedom, the only actual freedom we’ll find: being free to change from situation to situation. If things weren’t free to change, they couldn’t be, there’d be nothing.
Suffering comes from resisting change, and imagining alternate realities. A reality where things exist unto themselves in a kind of dead stasis, where all desires are met before we can even think them. A reality without cause and effect, where things appear and disappear via intention alone.
That’s why Buddha frequently compared life to a dream or an illusion. Not because it is, but because that life, that impossible world we dream up, can’t exist, and yet we live, die, and kill like it does.
But if we look around without our views, we see that there’s no reason for us to have these expectations. There’s absolutely nothing in our day-to-day experiences that points to that dream world being real.
Where does that notion come from? Same place as anything else—our minds. Denying change and interdependence is a good survival tactic. It allows us to harm others and manipulate our surroundings for the sake of our own life, livelihood, and fleeting satisfaction.
Without unspoken views like, “I’m permanent and independent,” it’d be tough to cultivate the drive to dominate, propagate, and defend. This drive isn’t just present in humans, but in all lifeforms to some degree—all the way down to single-celled organisms. So, “we” have this view of permanence and isolation, because each cell in our body has it too, albeit without being able to think of it as such. We can see it in their behavior.
Awakening is, in a sense, a revolution against evolution. A, “The buck stops here,” approach to life. It’s the realization that there’s no permanent, independent thing to dominate, propagate, and defend. There’s nothing to gain, and nothing to lose. There’s Just This. Even evolution, the force behind all life and death on Earth, is no exception. Evolution is itself only possible because of impermanence and interdependence.
We can only form latent views like, “I’m permanent,” because we’re not permanent, and views aren’t permanent. If views were permanent, we’d still all have the “?????” view that we’re born with.
So, it’s not that life is a dream, it’s that we live a double-life: Life as-envisioned—with its past and future, judgments and preferences—and life as-is. Suffering is the result of those two lives clashing with each other.
Freedom means being free of this limited, baseless, dreamed of version of life. Unleashing this freedom means letting everything be free. Free to change, and free to be dependently arisen.
Freedom means freeing the world of the tyranny of ourselves, of our illusions. If we can let the world be free of stagnancy (nicca) and isolation (atta), free of our stories (papanca), then we can be free as well. Because there’s no separation.
Formless meditations, like mozhao or shikantaza, are really us sitting down and letting everything be free. When we do that, we see our Original Face, and learn our true name: freedom. We see that impermanence is permanent, and that selflessness is the genuine self, and that all suffering is akin to yesterday’s bad dream.