Buddhism and Emptiness
It is either an ontological feature of realitya meditative state, or a phenomenological analysis of experience. In MahayanaSunyata refers to the tenet that "all things are empty of intrinsic existence and nature svabhava ,"   but may also refer to the Buddha-nature teachings and primordial or empty awareness, as in DzogchenShentongor Zen. The concept of Sunyata as "emptiness", states Sue Hamilton, is related to the concept of anatta in early Buddhism.
The Pali canon uses the term emptiness in three ways: " 1 as a meditative dwelling, 2 as an attribute of objects, and 3 as a type of awareness-release. It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty, lord. In what respect is it said that the world is empty? According to the American monastic Thanissaro Bhikku :. Emptiness as a quality of dharmasin the early canons, means simply that one cannot identify them as one's own self or having anything pertaining to one's own self Emptiness as a mental state, in the early canons, means a mode of perception in which one neither adds anything to nor takes anything away from what is present, noting simply, "There is this.
When he emerges from this state, he recounts three types of "contact" phasso :. The meaning of emptiness as contemplated here is explained at M I. The texts refer to each state's emptiness of the one below. These sutras have no parallel Pali suttas. The sutra on great emptiness states:. The phrase "when this exists II The Visuddhimagga c.
They are mere states dhamma occurring due to conditions and void. In this way the characteristic of not-self becomes more evident. The modern Thai teacher Buddhadasa referred to emptiness as the "innermost heart" of the Buddhist teachings and the cure for the disease of suffering.
He stated that emptiness, as it relates to the practice of Dhamma, can be seen both "as the absence of Dukkha and the defilements that are the cause of Dukkha and as the absence of the feeling that there is a self or that there are things which are the possessions of a self.
According to Thanissaro Bhikkuemptiness is not so much a metaphysical view, as it is a strategic mode of acting and of seeing the world which leads to liberation: . Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to and takes nothing away from the raw data of physical and mental events. You look at events in the mind and the senses with no thought of whether there's anything lying behind them.
This mode is called emptiness because it's empty of the presuppositions we usually add to experience to make sense of it: the stories and world-views we fashion to explain who we are and the world we live in.If we are ever to embrace Buddhism properly into the West, we need to be clear about emptiness, since a wrong understanding of its meaning can be confusing, even harmful.
The third century Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna taught, "Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end. Emptiness is not complete nothingness; it doesn't mean that nothing exists at all. This would be a nihilistic view contrary to common sense. What it does mean is that things do not exist the way our grasping self supposes they do.
In his book on the Heart Sutra the Dalai Lama calls emptiness "the true nature of things and events," but in the same passage he warns us "to avoid the misapprehension that emptiness is an absolute reality or an independent truth.
The Heart Sutra says, "all phenomena in their own-being are empty. The passage means that nothing we see or hear or are stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless, ever-changing landscape.
So though no individual person or thing has any permanent, fixed identity, everything taken together is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls "interbeing. Think of the Dalai Lama himself and the kind of person he is -- generous, humble, smiling and laughing -- and we can see that a mere intellectual reading of emptiness fails to get at its practical joyous quality in spiritual life.
So emptiness has two aspects, one negative and the other quite positive. Ari Goldfielda Buddhist teacher at Wisdom Sun and translator of Stars of Wisdomsummarizes these two aspects as follows:. The first meaning of emptiness is called "emptiness of essence," which means that phenomena [that we experience] have no inherent nature by themselves.
Ultimate reality is the union of both emptinesses. With all of this in mind, I would like to highlight three common misunderstandings of emptiness: emotional, ethical and meditative. When we say "I feel empty," we mean we are feeling sad or depressed.
Emotionally speaking, "emptiness" is not a happy word in English, and no matter how often we remind ourselves that Buddhist emptiness does not mean loneliness or separateness, that emotional undertow remains. At various times I have looked for a substitute translation for the Sanskrit sunyata -- I have tried "fullness," "spaciousness," "connectedness," and "boundlessness" -- but as Ari Goldfield points out, "emptiness" is the most exact translation.
Once, speaking of emptiness he said, "I do not mean voidness. There is something, but that something is something which is always prepared for taking some particular form.Where Science and Buddhism Meet PART 1
Some Buddhist students rationalize or excuse bad behavior of their teacher by asserting that through his understanding of emptiness the teacher is exempt from the usual rules of conduct. One student said, "Roshi lives in the absolute so his behavior can't be judged by ordinary standards.
No behavior that causes harm is acceptable for a Buddhist practitioner, teacher or otherwise. Some Buddhist students think that a meditative state without thought or activity is the realization of emptiness.What does emptiness mean in modern Buddhism? The term is both more complex and more illusory than it may seem at first glance. Emptiness, or Sunyatadoes not refer to a simple state of nothingness.
Nothingness is a state we can easily imagine. Emptiness cannot be imagined and has no origin, which creates the linguistic paradox that the word " emptiness " cannot ever be attached directly to its referent, but rather points beyond that to which it refers. The fullest expression of the doctrine of emptiness is found in the The Heart Sutra and is central to Buddhist practice around the world. In term of doctrine, emptiness can be a feature of reality, a meditative state, or a phenomenological analysis of experience.
Buddhism teaches that the world of forms is illusory. Beyond the world of forms and within it, reality is emptiness, which cannot be understood as a concept, nor can it be described in words. Emptiness is beyond human cognitive understanding but accessible sometimes during meditation or awakening. Sometimes described as a shining Void, emptiness is not the origin of reality, but part of the fundamental structure of reality.
In his book The Snow Leopard Peter Matthiessen describes sitting on hard rocks in the Himalayas and experiencing an emptiness or Void at the heart of phenomenal existence:. Although Matthiessen seems here to define emptiness as "blue-black space contained in everything", the quote points beyond this to his understanding through experience, not cognition, of the meaning of Heart Sutra's claim that "form is emptiness and emptiness is form.
In other words, emptiness can be accessed through the experience of awakening, but can never be conceptualized. The lotus symbolically illustrates the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness as an analysis of experience. Floating between air and reflective water, the many-petaled blossom symbolizes the interconnected nature of all forms in the material world.
Imagine clouds floating in the air reflected in shining water and the flower floating between. This is the " jewel in the lotus ," the meditative experience of both form and emptiness contained in one another. The verbal express of this symbol in chant is Om Mani Padme Hum. Om represents the Hindu sound of the Universe. Mani means jewel. Padme means flower. And Hum is Enlightenment. The Buddhist doctrine of emptiness invites us to move our practice beyond concepts and intellectual discussions into a deep quiet, into our own still waters which can then awaken in each of us a realization of emptiness in all things.
How is emptiness informing your practice today? Is emptiness a word bouncing around a head full of concepts? Or is it a shining jewel of indescribable beauty?
Echoes of VoidnessGeshe Rabten, Wisdom, You must be logged in to post a comment. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. Buddhism and Emptiness Buddhist MeditationFeatured. Emptiness as a Feature of Reality Buddhism teaches that the world of forms is illusory.
Emptiness as a Meditative State In his book The Snow Leopard Peter Matthiessen describes sitting on hard rocks in the Himalayas and experiencing an emptiness or Void at the heart of phenomenal existence: "These hard rocks instruct my bones in what my brain could never grasp in the Heart Sutra, that 'form is emptiness and emptiness is form' — the Void, the emptiness of blue-black space, contained in everything.
Emptiness as a Phenomenological Analysis of Experience The lotus symbolically illustrates the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness as an analysis of experience. Tags buddhism buddhist meditation emptiness Meditation Modern Buddhism. Related articles. Leave a reply Cancel reply You must be logged in to post a comment.Advanced Search. Search in Features Section:. North America. Art and Archaeology.
Books and Literature. Environment and Wildlife. Exhibitions and Conferences. Festivals and Teachings. Health and Well-being. Long Reads. People and Personalities. Philosophy and Buddhist Studies. Science and Technology. Social Engagement. Travel and Pilgrimage. Academic Reflections. Ancient Dances.
Nagarjuna's karika, 1. There is a venerable tradition of different interpretations of Nagarjuna, based on "the two truths". Can that phrase be read to mean emptiness does not exist in non-emptiness: if and only if an own thing does not exist in non-emptiness then an other thing does not exist in emptiness. So the first phrase says that emptiness is empty in the sense that the absence of svabhava does not exist in things. After that, that whenever a self caused thing cannot be found, then there is no other empty thing.
For the purposes of my philosophical question elsewhere a neat argument for karma and rebirth I have rendered 'empty' to mean 'analytic' and 'non-empty' to mean empirical. Definition of analytic. Of or relating to analysis or analytics especially : separating something into component parts or constituent elements.
Definition of empirical. Based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic. I've asked a question about philosophical reasoning from this phrase. Suffice to say I was wondering if it can be read as an argument for a karmically conditioned rebirth. Its the opposite. When there is no essence of things nor in conditions, there can be no "rebirth".
For eg. Another simple eg.I have not, I will not have. This frightens all children, And kills fear in the wise. Although Albert Einstein was certainly not a Buddhist, these statements sound much like it: "A human being is part of a whole, called by us the 'universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affectation for a few people near us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Conventional wisdom relates to understanding the conventional world, or the world as we know it. Traditionally it refers to understanding the way in which karma functions; to understand which actions bring us happiness and which bring us suffering.
Conventional wisdom covers all understanding of the world as it functions, including science, with the exception of ultimate wisdom. The direct experience of ultimate truthselflessness or emptiness is beyond duality. It is important to remember that emptiness here does not refer to nothingness or some kind of nihilistic view. Emptiness refers to the fact that ultimately, our day-to-day experience and perception of reality is wrong, and reality is sctually 'empty' of many qualities that we normally assign to it.
Describing this non-dual experience in words is not really possible, as language is based on duality and contrasts. Trying to explain this experience - which contradicts our normal perception - is a bit like explaining colors to someone who is born blind; difficult to say the least I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed If emptiness can not really be explained in words, why bother?
According to the Buddha, as long as we do not realise emptiness directly - especially of our idea of how our "I" or 'self' exists - we do not properly understand what we are or how we function in the world, and we will continue to create causes for our own misery.
Merely starting to doubt our perception of the world is invaluable if we ever hope to break the bondage to uncontrolled cyclic existence and suffering. In order to familiarise ourselves with this all-important experience, we can try to familiarise ourselves with it on an intellectual level.
When we would experience emptiness, we would then be able to recognise it.
Subscribe to RSS
Instead of believing we have suddenly gone mad, recognition would encourage us to enhance the experience and achieve liberation from suffering. We cannot get rid of suffering by saying, "I will not suffer.
The Buddha taught that to eliminate these states, which are really the results of the primary confusion of our belief in a personal self, we must get rid of the fundamental cause.To generate the type of love and compassion that motivates you to seek buddhahood, not for yourself but for the sake of others, first you must confront suffering by identifying its types.
This is the first noble truth. From the time we are born to the time we die we suffer mental and physical pain, the suffering of change, and pervasive suffering of uncontrolled conditioning. The second and third noble truths lead us to understand the causes of suffering and whether or not those causes can be removed.
The fundamental cause of suffering is ignorance—the mistaken apprehension that living beings and objects inherently exist. Under the sway of this delusion, we view the self as existing under its own power, established by way of its own nature, able to set itself up. However, if there were such a separate I—self-established and existing in its own right—it should become clearer and clearer under the light of competent analysis as to whether it exists as either mind or body, or the collection of mind and body, or different from mind and body.
In fact, the closer you look, the more it is not found. This turns out to be the case for everything, for all phenomena. The fact that you cannot find them means that those phenomena do not exist under their own power; they are not self-established.
Sometime during the early sixties when I was reflecting on a passage by Tsongkhapa [founder of the Gelugpa school to which the Dalai Lama belongs] about unfindability and the fact that phenomena are dependent on conceptuality, it was as if lightning coursed within my chest.
Here is the passage:. Therefore, that snake is merely set up by conceptuality. Get even more Buddhist wisdom delivered straight to your inbox! That experience, which was like lightning in my heart, was most likely at a level below completely valid and incontrovertible realization. This is when my understanding of the cessation of the afflictive emotions as a true possibility became real.
But still I cannot claim full understanding of emptiness. A consciousness that conceives of inherent existence does not have a valid foundation. A wise consciousness, grounded in reality, understands that living beings and other phenomena—minds, bodies, buildings, and so forth—do not inherently exist.
This is the wisdom of emptiness. Understanding reality exactly opposite to the misconception of inherent existence, wisdom gradually overcomes ignorance.
Remove the ignorance that misconceives phenomena to inherently exist and you prevent the generation of afflictive emotions like lust and hatred. Thus, in turn, suffering can also be removed. In addition, the wisdom of emptiness must be accompanied by a motivation of deep concern for others and by the compassionate deeds it inspires before it can remove the obstructions to omniscience, which are the predispositions for the false appearance of phenomena—even to sense consciousness—as if they inherently exist.
Therefore, full spiritual practice calls for cultivating wisdom in conjunction with great compassion and the intention to become enlightened in which others are valued more than yourself. Only then may your consciousness be transformed into the omniscience of a Buddha. Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists practice meditation to achieve pleasure and get rid of pain, and in both Buddhist and non-Buddhist systems the self is a central object of scrutiny. Certain non-Buddhists who accept rebirth accept the transitory nature of mind and body, but they believe in a self that is permanent, changeless and unitary.
Although Buddhist schools accept rebirth, they hold that there is no such solid self. For Buddhists, the main topic of the training in wisdom is emptiness, or selflessness, which means the absence of a permanent, unitary and independent self or, more subtly, the absence of inherent existence either in living beings or in other phenomena.
To understand selflessness, you need to understand that everything that exists is contained in two groups called the two truths: conventional and ultimate.
The phenomena that we see and observe around us can go from good to bad, or bad to good, depending on various causes and conditions.
Many phenomena cannot be said to be inherently good or bad; they are better or worse, tall or short, beautiful or ugly, only by comparison, not by way of their own nature. Their value is relative. From this you can see that there is a discrepancy between the way things appear and how they actually are. For instance, something may—in terms of how it appears—look good, but, due to its inner nature being different, it can turn bad once it is affected by conditions.
Food that looks so good in a restaurant may not sit so well in your stomach. This is a clear sign of a discrepancy between appearance and reality. These phenomena themselves are called conventional truths: they are known by consciousness that goes no further than appearances.