In freeing oneself from the limiting and ensnaring effects of ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ such emptiness confronts one with the turbulent and intimidating needs of others against which one seeks to immunize oneself with the reassuring conviction of being a static, isolated self. In meeting another’s gaze, you come to recognize a trembling concentration of contingencies as inconceivably complex and singular as your own. The experience of emptiness affords more than insight into the nature of contingency; it opens the way to an empathetic connection with others beyond the narrow orbit of family, friends, and lovers.
To illustrate how a selfless, contingent reality is also one of empathetic interconnectivity, Shantideva imagines the whole of life to be like a single body in which each creature is a distinct but integral part. He aspires to respond to the plight of others with the same sympathetic empathy that connects different parts of the body. ‘Why does the hand protect the foot,’ he asks, ‘when the pain of the foot is not that of the hand?’ As though in reply, Meister Eckhart says, ‘If the foot could speak, it would say that the eye, though located in the head, is as much its own as if it were located in the foot, and the eye in turn would say the same thing.’ Each part instinctively identifies with other parts of the same whole. ‘When someone steps on another’s foot,’ says Eckhart, ‘it is the tongue that says, “You stepped on me.”’