There is joy in nothing.

That is not to say “there is no joy,” or “nothing is joyful,” but literally there is a joy in nothing…in nothingness. It’s a weird transmission that Buddhist dharma tapped into 2500 years ago—everything is transient, everything arises from and passes away back to nothingness. Be glad of it.

While Buddhist dogma can get a little esoteric and complicated, this is, more or less, the crux of a philosophical notion like “sunyata,” the Buddhist concept of nothingness. This transience, it says, this destiny for the conditions of a dependent existence to ultimately fall away, is should actually be a point the engenders contentment and unity. Rather than a nihilistic outlook which seeks to create nothingness, to destroy, Buddhism simply argues for a state of equanimity—everything is ALREADY nothingness. There is no such thing as independent existence, there is nothing eternal. Instead, temporary conditions arise that make something’s to be true, but this truth is as fleeting as the next infinitely small moment of time that passes. The world is birthed and dies an infinite number of times in that infinitely small fraction of a millisecond.

This, keep in mind, is a brutal paraphrasing of Buddhist philosophy in general, and a poor rejiggering of a number of its splintered shards of philosophy at that, but gets to a kind of truth of it. Buddhist philosophy, when it comes to existence tells us that we, and everything, is united in that it will soon pass away and be forgotten…might as well be happy about it.

St. Terrible, a Boise, Idaho-based self-dubbed “freak folk” artist, has been, knowingly or not, spreading his own Gospel of Nothingness that not only taps into these Buddhist themes, but celebrates them with a jubilance. Mixing the joyfulness of a sermon, religious iconography, and a transgressive approach to performance itself which seeks too subvert the performer vs. audience dynamic, St. Terrible and the Gospel of Nothingness have created an expansive and embracing experience that is vital and vibrant.

From the opening chords of “Cosmic Nothings” an awareness of sunyata is at play. We’re all, St. Terrible tells us through a self-oriented realization, on the grand universe-spanning scheme of things ultimately empty – “I’m just future dust,” St. Terrible rejoins. It’s a fact of existence that very few people confront on a daily basis, and why some western Buddhists take a kind of delight in wearing t-shirts with monikers like “worm food” or “this body will decay.” Confronting your own mortality, your own cosmic nothingness, can break a couple of ways, but St. Terrible and the Gospel of Nothingness sneak in these mortal concepts through some of the most vibrant folk and indie since the sweeping epicness of bands like The Shins.

A couple songs later in “Violence,” St. Terrible touches on the violence inherent in life—the violence we are necessarily born with. Much like the Buddhist concept of suffering, a main pillar of the philosophy itself which states that to live is to experience suffering, St. Terrible seems to be forwarding violence as a necessary act of existence- Yet here again this topic is dealt with a lightness, an undeniable joy. To live is to suffer, yet so too to suffer is to live. The two are bound together in a nigh-inescapable trap with only one way out, of course; nirvana. Yet even nirvana is only achieved through the realization of the persistence of suffering and realizing the only way out is itself…it all gets sorta complicated but for a layman that’s a good enough summary.

This flirting with Buddhist philosophy and dogma keeps up throughout the record, cropping up again in “Dirty Talking with the Spirits.” This one is going to take a bit of a set up but bear with me here. St. Terrible makes numerous references, both in song and within branding to “horny ghosts”—sometimes referring to fans as such, sometimes themselves. Now, hungry ghosts are seen as one of the 7…modes of existence for lack of a better term which form a gradient of existence. Karma and samsara (the endless cycle of rebirth that is only escaped through enlightenment) being what they are, this means that these modes of existence are mostly there for punishment, reward, or a chance to achieve nirvana, humans being the center lynchpin (middle path ahaaaaa…) and only way to achieve nirvana. This means the other six comprise half punishment and half reward.

Hungry Ghosts are one of the purgatorial modes, situated between hell beings and animals. Hungry Ghosts wander the earth unseen, their rampant desires and clinging displayed in their last human term accruing a kind of Karma-debt are made manifest. In Buddhist iconography and art, hungry ghosts are often emaciated forms with needle-thin necks or mouths, unable to consume food or drink, or their hands two small to pick it up, teeth been backwards so that swallowing causes pain…each punishment curated as both a punitive and didactic tool. “Horny ghosts” or “Talking Dirty with the Spirits” takes on a new light in view of these Buddhist leanings—suddenly that lust is made unbearable by the incorporeal nature of a ghost and talking dirty with one becomes an exercise in longing, clinging, desire, and ultimate dissatisfaction. Yet always that deftness of tone and execution, St. Terrible manages to take this all in with a shrug of the shoulders, chin up, and a kind of unbridled excitement. This life as a horny (or hungry) ghost may be punishment, but what’s next?

“Shadows (Mouthless Yelling from the Void)” makes the Buddhist connection a little more explicit—borrowing throat singing, often used in Tibetan Vipassana Buddhist meditation and ritual, for the sake of folk. It’s a clever adoption that is unique for pop music and sets the music of The Gospel of Nothingness apart while making some of those world influences more known.

Finally, St. Terrible takes some of these realizations and ideas head-on. “I’m just a nihilist with some big ideas,” he says. Without a lyrics sheet its tough to know whether this is self-deprecating or from an outsiders perspective, but it brings these concepts to a human level, St. Terrible acknowledging their own imperfect transmission of the message itself, yet still hopeful. Its tough, too, to tell if nothingness or the optimistic spirit win in this confrontation, but judging simply by the music its tough to see the optimistic spirit going down without a fight, but even if it did, perhaps that’s a reason to be joyful, too.

We’re all just future dust, after all. Might as well dance in the meantime.