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Emptiness in buddhism

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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 We don't have to be Buddhists to use or practice some of Buddha's teachings to make our lives richer and be more compassionate towards the sufferings of other people. In this regard, Buddhist meditation is an ideal way to improve our health, to improve our concentration, to reduce our lusts, to appreciate others, to share with people our thoughts and feelings, and to lead a more tranquil and satisfied life, especially when the present day world is full of hatred, revenges, dissatisfaction and aggression.

The following two articles are on the key concept in Buddhism, ‘Emptiness' :

===On Emptiness of Buddhism===

By Yiu Yan Nang

The term emptiness in Buddhism is often not properly understood by those who are not familiar with Buddhism largely due to language problem. It is the translation of the Sanskrit, "Śūnyatā". The adjective is "śūnya" which can mean, empty, void, unreal, and non-existent.

However, none of these translations is entirely satisfactory. The teaching on the emptiness of all phenomena is a core basis of Buddhist philosophy. Therefore it is important to know what it means exactly. Unfortunately language can only scratch the surface.

The attainment of super wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñāpāramitā; 般若波罗蜜多 or 超智慧的完成) is necessary to experience its true meaning.

To attain this state of mind is the ultimate aim of a practicing Buddhist. An enlightened Buddhist cannot find the exact words to explain his experience. Even so Buddhism still has to rely on language to spread its teachings.

Emptiness is the main theme of the Heart Sutra. The following quote from the Heart Sutra can explain emptiness in application: “

When the bodhisattva, Avalokiteśvara was exercising his super wisdom he saw the five components of life ( form i.e. body, feeling, perception, action and consciousness) are all empty. 观自在菩萨行深般若波罗蜜多 时照见五蕴(-色、受、想、行、识) 皆空。

Emptiness in this context means no permanent and unchangeable existence.

The body is formed by many contributing factors which in turn were formed by many factors and so the processes can be traced back indefinitely. These factors are interdependent. The formation of the body is interdependent origination, 因缘所生的事物.

Like any phenomenon the body is changing continuously every moment.

It has no permanent, unchangeable and independent existence. In this sense the body is empty of independent existence.

This is the truth of nature which is a continuous process. We cannot imagine when the body suddenly stop changing – the billions of elements that make up the body go on strike. Unfortunately, people, particularly skeptics and opponents of Buddhism, often wrongly liken emptiness in Buddhism to nihilism. the other four components of life and to all other phenomena are also empty. The understanding of the true meaning of emptiness enables one to understand Buddhist philosophy better and to benefit from it.

5th Sept 2011

I am not sure if my explanations are accurate enough as I am not familiar with the terms in English as I have in Chinese. I have used some expressions from Wikipedia under the topic “Emptiness”. Any reader who wants to know more can go to it online.
A Few Words on the Concept of Emptiness in Buddhism By Anthony Tang

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss about the concept of emptiness in Buddhism, which you highlighted from the most popular and well known Mahayana Buddhist scripture- The Heart Sutra.

This is a very basic and key concept in Mahayana, and without the comprehension of which, Buddhists would find it difficult to achieve the stage of Enlightenment.

This concept, being introduced from India about two thousand years ago, was translated from Sanskrit language into Classical Chinese and was further blended with traditional Chinese culture such as Taoism, may have already been different from the original text, but the gist and the essence possibly remain unchanged.

In the Heart Sutra, the concept of emptiness is much more profound than the phenomena of non-existence, including sentient beings, animated and non-animated things.

It embraces the non-existence of one’s own ego-selfness, the ego-selfness of another, selfness as divided into an infinite number of living and dying beings, or selfness as unified into one Universal Self existing eternally.

In the circumstance, everything, including human or non-human is equal without discriminations, mutually co-exist tranquilly and peacefully without threats and worries. There is no distinction of personal identify, fame and wealth.

In Mahayana Buddhism, emptiness does not mean void or non-existence in its straight sense.

It likens cosmos or universe, which embraces the immensity of wholeness.

It is neither decreasing nor increasing in quantity, but abiding in perfect unity and purity.

It possesses immense potentiality because it is the fountain of all dharmas, of all natures and merits, even to infinities of infinity.

It also has the immensity of manifesting activities, giving rise to all manner of good causes and effects belong both to this terrestrial world and to the mind world leading to the perfect purity and freedom of eternity.

Emptiness has been translated in Chinese as universe, or 虚空 which is endlessly far and wide beyond the sight of human eyes.

Yet, it embraces innumerable and uncountable matters in the cosmos which one knows that there is something but it appears there is nothing. This is described in Buddhism as (空中妙有)。

There are two other terms in Buddhism which is also related to ‘condition’ and emptiness.

One is “Matters that Arise with Causes are Empty in Mind-essence” (缘起性空), and the other is “Matters that Arise with Causes are without Mind-essence”(缘起无自性).

Since sentient beings are, under conditions and given space, formed by earth, water, fire and wind, and are subject to the process of formation, development, decay and demolition.

Within the fluid, ever changing, impermanent process, there is not an individuality of ego-selfness and in this regard, it is as if there is not an element of Mind-essence (自性).

However, in Buddhism, there is no absolute emptiness because sentient beings have to take on physical forms without which one could not achieve Buddhahood and Enlightenment through delivering the sufferings of the mass and through the practice of Buddhism.

In the Sutra Spoken by the Sixth Patriarch (六祖坛经),the Sixth Patriarch, when he became enlightened the night when he met the Fifth Patriarch, explained of his realization that ‘’ all things in the universe are Mind–essence” (一 切万法,不离自性).

His famous remarks are, “Who could have conceived that Mind-essence is intrinsically pure! Who could have conceived that Mind-essence is intrinsically free from becoming and annihilation! That Mind-essence is intrinsically self- sufficient, and free from change! Who could have conceived that all things are manifestations of Mind-essence!” 何其自性,本是清静,何其自性,本不生灭,何其自性,本自具足,何其 自性

In “Matters Arise with Causes have no Mind-essence” (缘起无自性),it means that everyone when comes to this world should possess with Mind-essence, which should be self- sufficient without discriminations, and should have the capacity to achieve enlightenment.

The reason why many of them could not do it is because in the beginning less of time, the Mind-essence is clouded by Ignorance resulted from the misdeeds or karma committed in one’s previous lives. In this regard, one has to pay for the price of one’s previous debts through charitable deeds so that one would eventually find one’s Mind-essence.

In “Matters Arise with Causes with Empty Mind-essence” (缘起性空), it does not mean lacking in, or depriving of Mind-essence, or with empty Mind-essence.

It tells the significance of Mind-essence which is omniscient. When one practises Buddhism, one is practising one’s Mind-essence to be free from all pre- conceived concepts, free from discriminative thoughts, free from all attachments, and free from all disturbances and entanglements. In the end, one would feel the sensation of ‘emptiness’, which is the sensation of ‘fullness’ (圆满实性)。

11th Sept 2011