Among the cognoscenti of ontology, the saying is often heard, “Context determines meaning.” And indeed, the context in which something is held often determines how well we understand something—or even whether we can understand it at all. So it behooves us to realize that the ultimate context of everything is nothing.
Nothingness, or no-thing-ness, is a state where no process of becoming is possible. Thus it is completely empty of things—up to and including space, dimension, time, energy etc.—what to speak of ordinary stuff.
When meditating according to the Buddha’s teaching, we first pass through the four material Jhanas. Then we encounter the immaterial Jhanas: unlimited space, unlimited consciousness, nothingness and neither-perception-nor-non-perception. From there it is but a short step to full enlightenment.
Unlimited space implies unlimited time. As we explore this state, the entire universal manifestation shrinks to an insignificant dot—and then it disappears. From that standpoint we can see the entire evolution and devolution of the cosmos. There is so much more nothing than something!
Thus nothing is not only the context of all being and becoming, it is also the ultimate context of all meaning. In other words, the ultimate meaning is no-meaning.
So existence comes into being in a context of nothingness, and meaning comes into being in a context of no-meaning. This is starting to sound kind of Zen, isn’t it?
Once you realize this, complete enlightenment is not far away. You don’t need books anymore; the Dhamma is plainly visible. At this point, you could recreate the entire teaching of the Buddha by intuition alone. And you can also point it out to others.
Nothingness is absolutely necessary, because for anything to exist, there has to an Absolute. Existence is always relative because becoming requires time and change. Thus anything that has a beginning also has to end.
When we desire something, we want it to come into existence. But that very process of becoming also dooms what we desire to disappear. This is the existential ambiguity. The only way to have something free from change and death is to desire nothing at all.