Emptiness and Joyful Freedom by GREG GOODE and TOMAS SANDER

The pinnacle of Buddhism’s understanding of reality is the emptiness of all things. Exploring reality towards the realization of emptiness is shockingly radical. It uncovers an exhilarating freedom with nowhere to stand, while engendering a loving joy that engages the world.

This path-breaking book employs the emptiness teachings in a fresh, innovative way. Goode and Sander don’t rely solely on historical models and meditations. Instead, they have created over eighty original meditations on the emptiness of the self, issues in everyday life, and spiritual paths. These meditations are guided both by Buddhist insights and cutting-edge Western tools of inquiry, such as positive psychology, neuroscience, linguistic philosophy, deconstruction, and scepticism. The result is a set of liberating and usable tools for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

The goal of this book is to introduce the reader to “emptiness,” which is the pinnacle of Buddhist understanding of reality. To realize something as empty means to realize that it does not exist in the solid, self-contained way that we attribute to it. This insight about how things exist often seems abstract or inconsequential at first, but it is surprisingly profound. It can entirely transform how we experience ourselves and our place in the world.

I liked this book that provides a no-nonsense approach to the teaching of Buddhism in the 21st century. The reasoning and the goals are presented just as the book starts, telling you what you will be getting out of reading the 300 pages that follow.

First, you’ll receive several intuitive, no-nonsense ways to think about yourself and life that can help reduce suffering. The reduction of suffering applies to everything – from everyday office politics all the way to the existential anxieties surrounding our certain death. Experiencing your own self in a less exaggerated, distorted way will help you feel a joy that can’t be found in the luxury stores on Fifth Avenue. This joy is a precious jewel that can’t be purchased at Tiffany’s. You’ll be able to learn something genuinely new from these teachings which can dramatically enrich your life experience.

Another benefit from understanding the emptiness of the self is freedom. When you understand yourself as empty, you don’t feel as though you have a fixed nature. You are freed up for the infinite possibilities of personal exploration, growth and transformation. This may sound paradoxical. “So, how can I grow if I am an illusion?” What is an illusion is the self as we usually conceive it. The illusion is the self as a unique, solid, substantive entity. This self does not exist. By doing the meditations in this book you will experience this with the same clarity you see now that the sun doesn’t truly “rise.”

While I was captivated in the first chapter, my enthusiasm began to fade to not necessarily zero but to “empty”. The Western and Eastern philosophies get analysed and compared and while no official winner is out, the audience still feels like they know a little bit more about Buddhist mantras and approaches.

The thinkers drawn on include Sextus Empiricus, Heidegger, Quine, Wittgenstein and Derrida. Their use here might well help to break down barriers for those without any philosophical background, and help them recognise some of the ways that these philosophers do actually address practical issues.

At time this book feels like a self-help book, far too often offering bland and repetitious assurances that practising emptiness teachings will make you feel good and help you live your life happily. In my opinion, their discourse that emptiness is not nihilistic fell on deaf ears and it felt that I was reading the script to BoJack Horseman. Nothing really matters, nothing is really of essence, all passes.

All in all, I was happy to put the book down and I don’t think I will pick it up again. It might be more helpful for my fellow philosophers.


GREG GOODE is a long-time student of Advaita-Vedanta, Buddhism and the Direct Path. He is the author of many articles on these topics, as well as the books entitled Nondualism in Western Philosophy, Standing As Awareness, and The Direct Path: A User Guide. Greg holds a doctorate in philosophy, and serves on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed journal Practical Philosophy: Journal of the American Practical Philosophers Association.

TOMAS SANDER is a spiritual practitioner and teacher in New York. He has studied in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and his approach is also influenced by the insights of positive psychology. Tomas grew up in Germany, holds a doctorate in mathematics and works as a research scientist at a computer company. He has published articles in the areas of mathematics, computer science and positive psychology.

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