The 7th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Emptiness (Skt. śūnyatā; Tib. སྟོང་པོ་ཉིད་, tongpa nyi; Wyl. stong pa nyid) — the absence of inherent existence in all phenomena, which was explained by the Buddha in the sutras of the second turning of the Wheel of Dharma, and further elaborated upon by masters such as Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. emptiness (shunyata, kongxing, tong pa nyi): Lack of inherent existence of one’s own nature or the nature of any phenomena or person. The six great elements are intrinsically empty. They are not real. The past, present, and future cannot be held or possessed. Hence, the elements are empty. What happened in the past is not real since it has already passed. The present is also false because as soon as it appears, it becomes the past. The future has not even come yet, so it, too, is empty. See also “three entities.”
Sogyal Rinpoche says:
- "Unfortunately, the word ‘emptiness’, which is used to translate the Sanskrit term shunyata, carries a connotation of a nothing-ness, or a void. Happily, there is a wonderful definition in Tibetan that captures its true meaning: Tib. རྟག་ཆད་དང་བྲལ་བ་, tak ché dang dralwa, which translates as: ‘free from permanence and non-existence'.
- Generally, all philosophies tend to fall into one of two extremes: ‘eternalism‘: believing in the existence or permanence of something, or ‘nihilism‘: believing in non-existence. Shunyata goes beyond both of these extremes, because it is neither permanent nor non-existing, and that is, ultimately, how things are."
Shunyata is often compared to space, which is defined in Buddhism as the complete openness, or 'unobstructedness', which allows anything to occur. Likewise, because reality is 'empty' and not fixed in any way, it is said that anything is possible. As Nagarjuna said:
- To whomever emptiness is possible,
- All things are possible.
- The victorious ones say that emptiness
- Undermines all dogmatic views,
- Those who take a dogmatic view of emptiness
- Are said to be incurable.
- I prostrate to Gautama,
- Who, out of compassion,
- Taught the sacred Dharma
- That leads to the relinquishing of all views
Oral Teachings Given to the Rigpa Sanhga
Edited Teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche
- Rigpalink January 2010, 'The View of Shunyata - part 2', Lerab Ling, 26 September 2008; Barcelona 10 & 11 October 2009 (available in English, French, German and Spanish, ordernumber 731)
- Rigpalink December 2009, 'The View of Shunyata - part 1', Lerab Ling, 13 August 2009; Barcelona, 10 October 2009 (available in English, French, German and Spanish, ordernumber 730)
- Rigpalink June 2000, 'Shunyata – The Nature of Reality', Paris, 19 April 2000 (available in English, French, German, ordernumber 321)
- A Treasury of Dharma, aka The Mengak Study Pack (Lodève: The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2005), pages 68-74.
- Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness (Auckland: Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Publications, 2001).
The dharma of non-attachment relates to the concept of emptiness and impermanence, since if all things are impermanent and are always changing, what is there to be attached to? Being free of attachments is the true state of emptiness.
The river does not stay the same and neither do you.”
“Where is the baby in your baby picture?”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama refers to sunyata as “the knowledge of the ultimate reality of all objects, material and phenomenal.” Sunyata explains that everything is interrelated, interdependent and is without substance or soul.
Each of us is made of stardust, and even the stars are the result of something else.
How far back can we go in naming our ancestors?
The reason for the Buddhist teaching of emptiness is to loosen all attachments to views, stories and assumptions, leaving the mind empty of all greed, anger, and delusion; therefore empty of suffering of stress, anxiety, frustration and unsatisfactoriness.
It is the supreme Mantra. The expression originates from the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, commonly known as The Heart Sutra, which contains the philosophical essence of about six hundred scrolls making up the Maha Prajna Paramita.
The Heart Sutra.
Translation by Edward Conze
Here, Sariputra, Form is emptiness and the very emptiness is Form; emptiness does not differ from Form, Form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is Form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is Form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and Consciousness.
Therefore, Sariputra, in emptiness there is no Form, nor Feeling, nor Perception, nor impulse, nor Consciousness; No Eye, ear, nose, tongue, Body, Mind; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of Mind; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to: No Mind-Consciousness element;
Therefore, Sariputra, it is because of his non-attainment that a Bodhisattva, through having relied on the Perfection of Wisdom, dwells without Thought-coverings. In the absence of Thought-coverings he has not been made to tremble, he has overcome what can upset, and in the end he attains to Nirvana.
All those who appear as Buddhas in the three periods of time fully awake to the utmost, right and perfect Enlightenment because they have relied on the Perfection of Wisdom.Therefore one should know the Prajnaparamita as the great spell, the spell of great Knowledge, the utmost spell, the unequalled spell, allayer of all Suffering, in Truth - for what could go wrong? By the Prajnaparamita has this spell been delivered. It runs like this:
Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an Awakening, all-hail!
Translations and commentary.
paramita = that which has reached the other shore
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara represents the idea of perfect universal Wisdom, while Sariputra is regarded as one of The Buddha's closest and brightest disciples. The dialogue takes place at the Vulture Peak near the ancient city of Rajgaya where The Buddha and his community of Monks stayed. Sariputra requests Avalokiteshvara to instruct him on the practice of the perfection of Wisdom, which means Prajnaparamita in Sanskrit.
Sariputra answers with the pr ofound words,
"Emptiness is Form;
Form is emptiness,"
Unfortunately, 19th century Western philosophy has contributed much to this misconstruction.
While nihilism concludes that reality is unknowable, that nothing exists, that nothing meaningful can be communicated about the World, the Buddhist notion of emptiness arrives at just the opposite, namely that ultimate reality is knowable, that there is a clear-cut ontological basis for Phenomena, and that we can communicate and derive useful Knowledge from it about the World.
What is emptiness then?
This is the ordinary meaning of emptiness.
What is meant with non-inherent existence? Is this to say that the cup does not ultimately exist? - Not quite. - The cup exists, but like everything in this World, its existence depends on other Phenomena.
Properties such as being hollow, spherical, cylindrical, or leak-proof are not intrinsic to cups.
Other objects which are not cups have similar properties, as for example vases and glasses.
The cup's properties and components are neither cups themselves nor do they imply cupness on their own.
The material is not the cup.
The shape is not the cup. The function is not the cup.
Only all these aspects together make up the cup.
Hence, we can say that for an object to be a cup we require a collection of specific conditions to exist. It depends on the combination of function, use, shape, base material, and the cup's other aspects.
If one condition ceases to exist, for instance, if the cup's shape is altered by breaking it, the cup forfeits some or all of its cupness, because the object's function, its shape, as well as the imputation of cupness through Perception is disrupted.
The cup's existence thus depends on external circumstances.
A car, for example, needs a motor, wheels, axles, gears, and many other things to work. Perhaps we should consider the difference between man-made objects, such as cups, and natural Phenomena, such as Earth, plants, Animals, and human beings. One may argue that lack of inherent existence of objects does not imply the same for natural Phenomena and beings.
In case of a human being, there is a Body, a Mind, a character, a history of actions, habits, behaviour, and other things we can draw upon to describe a person. We can even divide these characteristics further into more fundamental properties.
What is observed is the observer.
First, let's look at experience.
First, we think "apple".
This is identification.
We must conclude that none of the Skandhas is fundamental.
The percept is the Mental impression, the subject is the owner of it, the thinker, and the object is that which causes the Mental impression. This threefold division seems so natural to us that it is reflected in the grammar of most human languages.
Surprisingly, this entity remains completely undetectable.
Body, Feeling, Perception, and Mental formations are not the self. Consciousness is not the self either, otherwise it would follow that the self temporarily ceases to exist during Unconscious states, for example during deep sleep.
Is it possible for the self to exist in a Mental vacuum, a World devoid of sense impressions, Thought, and Mental images? Would the self not literally run out of fuel if it lacked thoughts and contents to identify itself with or to set itself apart from? It seems there is no basis an independent entity.
The ancient Greeks believed that matter is composed of indivisible small elements with certain characteristics, such as the characteristics of Earth, water, air, and Fire. They called these elements atoms and they held that atoms were solid and fundamental, like microscopic billiard balls.
Not long after Rutherford's discovery, physicists found out that the nucleus of an atom likewise has an internal structure and that the protons and neutrons making up the nucleus are composed of even smaller particles, which they named quarks after a poem of James Joyce.
No discrepancies between the predictions of QED and experimental observation have ever been found. According to QED, subatomic particles are indistinguishable from fields, whereas fields are basically properties of space.
For example, there are interactions between free electrons by means of photons that result in an observed repelling force.
There are also interactions between the quarks of a nucleon by means of mesons, interactions between the neighbouring neutrons or protons, interactions between nucleus and electrons, and interactions between the atoms of molecules.
The Phenomena themselves -the nucleon, the nucleus, the atom, the molecule- are sufficiently described by these interactions, meaning by the respective equations, which implies that interactions and Phenomena are interchangeable terms. Interestingly, the interrelations of quantum physics do not describe actual existence.
Instead they predict the potential for existence.
The concept of zero was discovered in India prior to the sixth century A.D. The "Arabic" number system we use today is neither Arabic nor Greek in origin. In fact, the digits 0123456789 go back to India where they were first created.
Interestingly, the number zero did not exist in Greek mathematics, because the Greeks were essentially geometricians and had no use for the mathematical concept of a non-entity, neither did it exist in Egyptian mathematics.
The Arabs, who encountered the Indian number system during their early conquests in India, found it superior to their own traditional system which used letters, and thus adapted it to develop Islamic mathematics.
The Arabic word for zero is "sifr", meaning "empty." In the 12th century, the Italian mathematician Leonardo Pisano Fibonacci studied Arabian algebra and introduced the Hindu-Arabic numerals to Europe.
Zero is that which contains all possible polarised pairs such as (+1, -1), (+2, -2), etc. It is the collection of all mutually cancelling pairs of forward and backward movements.
Put it another way, zero is fundamental to all existence. Because of it, everything is possible.
Zero is the additive identity, the focal point of all numbers; without it, numbers cannot be created.
Following the introduction of the Hindu-Arabic numerals into Western culture, zero became a number that was used in calculations like any other number. Consequently, it lost some part of its original meaning, namely the part that suggests potentiality.
is a collection that contains nothing and has the cardinality 0. The mathematician John von Neumann (1923) invented a method, known as von Neumann hierarchy, which can be employed to generate the natural numbers from the empty set as follows:
This sequence is obtained by iterating a functor that creates a new set from the union of the preceding two sets, thus generating sets with the cardinalities 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, ad infinitum.
Through the act of observing we create an entity containing emptiness (step 1).
Interestingly, if we define suitable operations on the obtained sets based on union and intersection, the cardinalities of the resulting sets behave just like natural numbers being added and subtracted. The sequence is therefore isomorphic to the natural numbers - a stunningly beautiful example of something from nothing.
In The Art of Living (2001) the 14th Dalai Lama says, "As your Insight into the ultimate nature of reality is deepened and enhanced, you will develop a Perception of reality from which you will perceive Phenomena and events as sort of illusory, Illusion-like, and this mode of perceiving reality will permeate all your interactions with reality. [...] Even emptiness itself, which is seen as the ultimate nature of reality, is not absolute, nor does it exist independently.
It is crucial to understand that the term, Emptiness, does not mean Nothing.
Saraha: "The root of everything in existence and beyond is, oh yes it is, it is Mind"
Maitripa: "All phenomena are one's own mind.
Seeing external objects is the deluded mind.
They are empty of essence, like a dream."
Orgyenpa: "All phenomena are like reflections.
To think that they are real is missing the point
All of existence is mind's dance and play
To turn it into objects is uncool
Every single thing is a magic illusion
To think there's something there is being a fool!"
Alan Wallace: ". . . phenomena are dreamlike; there is no substantial reality that accords with appearances. We observe phenomena as being far more concrete and tangible than in fact they are, and this is misleading. It occurs because of the mental process of reification.
How it is that we get the impression the world and everything in (and outside it) is Real is debatable, however. There are a number of interesting and convincing Buddhist philosophical views. They can be classified into four main categories: Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Yogachara, and Madhyamika. One System, Four Stages
The notion of doing it this way is reinforced by the Hevajra Tantra which explicitly advises one to progress in this fashion."
These first two schools consider that there are two kinds of interactors: Physical aspects, ie. skandhas of which one, rupa comprises the traditional elements, and the Mental aspects including consciousness (vijnana), sensation (vedana) which contributes to pain/pleasure, cognition (sanjna) and the impressions derived from experience
Chittamatra is often given as the 3rd, and a variant of it is:
It has also been called Subjective Realism, acknowledging that individual factors including karma contribute to an experience of reality that must be different for everyone. It mentions the idea of "Buddha nature." Vasubandhu and Asanga finally adopted this position.
4. Madhyamika basically holds that there is no ultimate reality in the sense that something exists apart from the experiencer, but that does not mean there is nothing at all. It turns around the definition of Shunyata and therefore has been called Sunyatavada or "voidism."
In any case, the Madhya- or Middle Approach has given rise to the two main interpretations:
Many would say that they are different modes of the same thing but from different perspectives -- different circumstances and usages. Dudjom Rinpoche explained the usage of the two positions like this:
It should indeed be expressed by those who profess well-informed intelligence during debates with extremist Outsiders, during the composition of great treatises, and while establishing texts which concern supreme reasoning.
A Variation on the Classification
"There are four schools of Buddhist philosophy—Vaibashika (che-tra-mra-wa), Sautrantika (do-de-pa), Cittamatra (sem-tsam) and Madhyamika (u-ma-pa). The fourth of these is the Middle Way school and is divided into two: Svatantrika (rang-gyu-pa) and Prasangika (thal-gyur-wa).
According to the Prasangika school, the object of refutation (or negation, gag-cha) is an extremely subtle object that is ever so slightly more than—a little over and above—what is merely labeled by the mind. The object of refutation is what appears to us; it is that in which we believe. " The Two Truths
Genuine truth is described as being simply the authentic object of the noble ones' original wisdom that sees what is authentic and true; there is no identity actually established there for conceptual mind to find.
~ The Moon of Wisdom: Chapter Six of Chandrakirti's 'Entering the Middle Way' with Commentary from the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje's 'Chariot of the Dagpo Kagyu Siddhas.' trans. Ari Goldfield, Jules Levinson, Jim Scott & Birgit Scott, guided by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche (Snow Lion Publications, 2006.)
This does not mean that there is no phenomenon apart from the name, imputation, or label, but rather that if we analyze and search objectively for the essence of any phenomenon, it will be un-findable.
Because the proponents of the Yogacara philosophical system assert that things cannot exist other than as projections of one's own mind, they also maintain that there is no atomically structured external physical reality independent of mind.
The 16th-century Bengali scholar, Taranatha (so-named after his devotion to Tara,) was not only a great historian and practitioner who in later life traveled to teach in Mongolia, but was one of the foremost proponents of a view associated with the now absorbed Jonang school of Himalayan Buddhism.
Shen-tong asserts that Emptiness, "in dispelling the illusive relative truths of the world, reveals an ineffable transcendental reality with positive attributes." Rang-tong holds that Emptiness is "merely the elimination of falsely imagined projections upon the relative truths of the world and does not imply anything else." Stephen Batchelor says further that "While such distinctions may strike us today as theological hairsplitting, in Tibet they became (and still are) crucial articles of faith."
Indian Philosophy: the context for Buddhist views
On the originality of Madhyamika philosophy: somewhat technical.
The Gelugpas (or, Kadmapas) maintain this approach.
Buddha Heart, Buddha Mind gives the Dalai Lama's opinion on questions concerning this, the orthodox or Gelugpa (Rangtong) perspective, and related topics.
Shentong or Rangtong?
Object of Refutation: one possible technique for searching for truth is to employ the process of elimination, and see what is left. Therefore, the principle or topic under consideration may be called the object of refutation which helps keep in our mind the notion that the thing is not to be assumed to exist. It is merely a target, so to speak.
Karl Popper (1902-1994) the foremost western philosopher in the field of knowledge was a proponent of this method, especially with regard to scientific research. He held that the more severe the test to which a theory can be subjected, and by means of which it is then either found to be false or to be true, is all-important to the [strength of the] truth discovered.
like sprouts: Things which are a stage in development on the way to something that may seem to be wholly other. A traditional example, like the mango tree that is huge and bears fruit, but it is the issue of (in a relatively small seemingly-inert nut or seed.
See also: Śūnyatā