the emptiness of emptiness

Discussion in 'Buddhism' started by fractalated, May 11, 2004.

  1. fractalated

    fractalated Member

    ok I have been reading Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way and various other Buddhist texts and I feel like I am only getting a glimpse of what they are saying, and as soon as I try to focus on their conclusions they vanish into paradox.

    I understand that the doctrine of emptiness teaches us that all phenomenon are empty and selfless, indeed this follows from the recognition that our (human) reality is a conventional construct - as all our conepts are interdependent hence all entities come about through dependent origination. But I don't get how emptiness is self-referential, and how this leads us back "through the looking glass". I am stuck viewing this as a paradox - the attempt to say that "the ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth"

    if the doctrine of emptiness is itself empty then surely this merely renders it meaningless, and gives it no ontological significance. it is as if to say "the world is the world" - and i'm sure it is not this trivial.

    the following koan springs to mind: "before enlightenment trees and river are trees and rivers. at the moment of enlightenment trees and rivers are no longer trees and rivers. after enlightenment trees and rivers are trees and rivers"

    any thoughts?
  2. mahasattva

    mahasattva Member

    The concept of shunyata (Sanskrit), or ku (Japanese) has been variously translated as latency, non-substantiality, emptiness and void and in which first detailed articulations of this idea from the Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna who believed that the state of "neither existence nor nonexistence" described in this concept expressed the true nature of all things. The paradoxical nature of this idea, however, makes it somewhat foreign to Western dualistic logic, and has helped contribute to a stereotype of Buddhism as a detached, mystical philosophy that sees the world as a grand illusion. The implications of ku, however, are much more down-to-earth, and are in fact consistent with the findings of contemporary science.

    Modern physics, in attempting to discover the essence of matter, has arrived at a description of the world that is very close to that of Nagarjuna. What scientists have discovered is that there is no actual, easily identifiable "thing" at the basis of matter. Subatomic particles, the building blocks of the physical world that we inhabit, appear to oscillate between states of being and nonbeing. Instead of a fixed "thing" in a particular place, we find only shifting waves of probability. At this level, the world is actually a highly fluid and unpredictable place, essentially without substance. It is this non-substantial nature of reality that the concept of ku describes.

    Ku also elucidates the latent potential inherent in life. Consider how, when we are in the grip of a powerful emotion, such as anger, this expresses itself in our entire being--our glaring expression, raised voice, tensed body and so on. When our temper cools, the anger disappears. What has happened to it? We know anger still exists somewhere within us, but until something causes us to feel angry again, we can find no evidence of its existence. To all intents and purposes, it has ceased to exist. Memories are another example; we are unaware of their existence until they suddenly rise into our consciousness. The rest of the time, as with our anger, they are in a state of latency, or ku: they exist and yet they do not.

    In the same way, life (in all its manifestations) contains vast potentials and possibilities that are not always apparent or obvious, but which, given the right circumstances, can become manifest. This infinite potential is, in fact, the very nature of life.

    An understanding of ku, therefore, helps us to see that, despite how we may see them, things--people, situations, relationships, our own lives--are not fixed, but dynamic, constantly changing and evolving. They are filled with latent potential which can become manifest at any time. Even the most seemingly hopeless situation has within it astoundingly positive possibilities.

    It is very natural for us to apply various types of definitions to people, situations and ourselves, in order to make sense of the world. Unless we are careful about the nature of our thoughts and opinions, however, we can easily become trapped in narrow and often negative views: "He's not a very nice person," "I'm no good at relationships," "There will never be peace in the Middle East." As soon as we make up our minds about something in this way, we impose a limitation on it, shutting out the possibilities of positive growth and development.

    When we choose to view things in term of their infinite positive potential, however, our thoughts and actions become a constructive influence, helping create the conditions for that potential to become a reality.

    Because of the intimate interconnectedness of all things, each of us, at each moment, has a profound impact on the shared reality of life. The way we see things has a definite, defining effect on reality. Realizing this enables us to act with the confidence that we can shape reality toward positive outcomes.

    The most positive and constructive view is to believe in the unbounded positive potential inherent in all life. Buddhism terms this potential--the real nature of life--"Buddhahood"-which is the source of cosmic life embedded with compassion and wisdom.

    In addition,“All existence is suffering and change.” This is the first of Shakyamuni’s “four noble truths.” The second is, “Suffering is caused by craving.” But why do we selfishly crave? Why are we so foolish? The answer given by Buddhism is that our minds are filled with illusion, fictions that we embrace as true. The aim of Buddhist practice, therefore, is to enable us to see through these illusions, to arrive at a correct understanding of the way things are and free ourselves from selfish craving and, hence, from suffering.

    Nagarjuna developed the concept of “non-substantiality” in connection with those of dependent origination and the nonexistence of self-nature. Because phenomena arise only by virtue of their relationship with other phenomena, they have no distinct nature or existence of their own; and there is no independent entity that exists alone, apart from other phenomena. Nagarjuna described a Middle Way that regards the categories of existence and nonexistence as extremes and aims to transcend them. The practical purpose behind the teaching of non-substantiality lies in eliminating attachments to transient phenomena and to the ego, or the perception of self as an independent and fixed identity.

    The Great Teacher Tientai or Chih-i(538–597), Buddhist scholar and founder Tientai sect, a major school in China within the Mahayana tradition, asserted that the Buddha nature was possessed by both sentient and non-sentient beings. Thus every individual fully possesses the ultimate truth of the Buddha nature and is interconnected with all of existence. Furthermore, anyone has the potential to discover this reality at any time. This school emphasized doctrinal studies amd meditative practices based on the Lotus Sutra. It also taught the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, the unification of the three truths and the six stages of practice.

    According to Chih-i’s interpretation, the Lotus Sutra proclaims the Buddha nature to be inherent in all human beings. This provided the theoretical basis for Nichiren's, 13th-century Japanese Buddhist reformer, asertion that all people can attain Buddhahood as they are and within the context of the phenomenal world. He taught that everyone has the potential to attain Buddhahood “in this lifetime” and “in one’s present form” without going through countless lifetimes of Buddhist austerities. Nichiren was among the first to embrace the idea that Buddhahood is a real, rather than theoretical, possibility for all human beings and, within the context of feudal Japan, asserted the revolutionary view of the equality of men and women.

    The continuity of this thought is evident in Nichiren’s explication of the Middle Way. Working within the framework established by Nagarjuna and reprised by Chih-i as the doctrine of the “three truths,” Nichiren stated that: “Life is indeed an elusive reality that transcends both the words and concepts of existence and nonexistence. It is neither existence nor nonexistence, yet exhibits the qualities of both. It is the mystic entity of the Middle Way that is the ultimate reality.” In describing the Middle Way in this fashion, Nichiren emphatically affirms that the Buddha nature is the fundamental reality of our lives and of the world in which we live.

    It is not necessary to flee from the everyday world or eliminate all desires in order to perceive this reality and attain enlightenment. In place of the very complex and primarily linguistic and philosophical formulations that had developed over the centuries and effectively excluded the general populace from enlightenment—either because they focused on a monastic vocation or simply because they offered no accessible means to achieve this end— Nichiren offered a strikingly new method of self-awakening. Indeed, he sought to demonstrate that all people—female or male, upper class or lower, intellectual or not—can attain enlightenment in this life as they are.

    This is possible, according to Nichiren, because a correct understanding of the Middle Way reveals that although a person’s life manifests both impermanence and non-substantiality, it equally manifests the unchanging reality of all existence. Thus it is the fundamental reality of all human existence and in NO way the exclusive possession of a select few; bestowing some kind of "special power" or through "special transmission".

  3. darrellkitchen

    darrellkitchen Lifetime Supporter

    You can change the name, but you can't change the person.

    From the looks of the lengthyness of the post, I'm 99% certain that MahaSattva is Maha_Bodhi from the old Hip Forums ... Right?

    I take disappointments well, so if I'm wrong, then ... Let Me Have It!!! But I doubt I am wrong ... cause ...
    It's got Maha_Bodhi written all over it!

    In Metta,

  4. Sebbi

    Sebbi Senior Member

    My interpretation of Shunyata-Shunyata is this (as put by a very famous Buddhist...):

    "It is better to become attached to desire and all worldy goods than to become attached to Shunyata"

    What I'm trying to say is, in Shunyata everything dissolves because there are no conditions to sustain them, this includes attachment. Imagine someone becomes attached to the idea of Shunyata, it wouldn't even be that surprising. This is were the teaching of Shunyata-Shunyata comes in. It is to dissolve the attachment to Shunyata, in Shunyata. Now if someone gets attached to Shunyata-Shunyata, then there is always Shunyata-Shunyata-Shunyata. I hope you see what I'm getting at.

    I advise you stop trying to make sense of the whole: ""the ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth" paradox. It will only give you a headache, and since thinking is very often a prevention from experiencing something I suggest you don't try to make sense of it. Just meditate on it, apply some of the princibles, see if you can experience Shunyata, including the Shunyata-Shunyata aspect of it.


  5. Nosmo King

    Nosmo King Member

    Hi, Its MeAgain posting in his dual nature!

    Onward Ho!!!

    "First there is a mountain,
    Then there is no mountain.
    Then there is"


    When we are using ordinary thought we see a mountain.
    Then, we study the tenets of Buddhism and we see the interpendant nature of the mountain.
    The mountain can not exist without the valley, the sky, dirt, rocks, the earth, atoms...etc.
    So we see that the mountain is only a part of reality that we have chosen to dwell on.

    It does not really exist, we have constructed it out of what is presented to us by the ultimate reality of nature.

    Then we study some more and we see that all of reality is constructed in the same way. Even this body. Even this thought. Even this which thinks this thought.

    All interdependant.
    Where does it begin, when does it end?

    Then we study still further and realize that because of this interdependancy, everything exists. Nothing can exist on its own.

    Because it is interdependant, the mountain exists.

    ....the following koan springs to mind: "before enlightenment trees and river are trees and rivers. at the moment of enlightenment trees and rivers are no longer trees and rivers. after enlightenment trees and rivers are trees and rivers"
  6. mahasattva

    mahasattva Member

    :p You got it Darrell. No doubt; its very obvious.

  7. darrellkitchen

    darrellkitchen Lifetime Supporter

    I think I'm going to have to believe in God now. A miracle has happened ... MahaSattva (Bodhi) actually said something in less than one sentence. Barring the quote, less than 10 words no doubt.

    I tell you, there must be a God now.

    ... not ...

    Just kidding.


  8. nephthys

    nephthys Member

    I take it you do not believe in god; if so then what do you mean when you say god?
  9. darrellkitchen

    darrellkitchen Lifetime Supporter

    I use the word to represent the diety that others worship in the manner in which they can comprehend their object of worship. While Buddhism mentions other gods and dieties, these beings are for those who need religion in order to validate their existence.

    While I do not believe in a God, god or other dieties, be it god-beings, hell-beings, Dakinis, Naga's, smoke eaters, and the such, I hold these beliefs as being empty ... creations of our own minds. I also believe that Omniscent Wisdom is and can be had by all who wish freedom from ignorance, freedom from suffering, attachment and suchness.

    Just because you (might) believe in god, or a God, does not mean that I feel or think you are wrong in your belief, and will not tell you so because I have no place in doing so. You need to do what you need to do in order to find your own path.

    So, to those that believe in God ... I say ... more power to you, and I am happy that they have strength in their beliefs.

    Much Metta,

  10. Brocktoon

    Brocktoon Banned


    Hold on.. Im confused (or not)?

    You are convinced there is no God - yet - you wish to encourage people to believe in something that is false?

    Please clarify that for me, Im baffled as to why you would do such a thing?
  11. nephthys

    nephthys Member

    I am not still overly clear as to your definition. Would the Dao or the Atman in Daoism and Hindusim, respectively be considered "gods"? Essentially they are not to be worshipped but they are to be reached through meditation. To use a Buddhist term they are extremely similar to the concept of Dharmakaya; but I take it you would not consider that "god"? In most eastern mystical traditions, everything is just a set of relationships so god doesn't have to be a force but rather an experience. Interestingly even modern physics has finally understood that the two are the same...

    As to whether I believe in god, it all depends on the way it is defined, and that is not a simple matter as you can see.
  12. darrellkitchen

    darrellkitchen Lifetime Supporter

    Before I answer your question, perhaps you can answer mine.

    If given the opportunity to tell someone that the God they have been worshiping all their years does not really exist, that they are the ones who have this omniscient wisdom they ascribe to some external entity, what kind of reaction do you suppose would occur?

    I find myself thinking that several situations would happen. Knowing how some (not all or most) Christians feel and think, I would probably be killed. I was literally threatened to be killed by a Christian all over a game once where I choose the name God as one of the playing characters. Some would go into an utter state of confusion. Some would think I was kookoo and not take anything I said (or say) with seriousness.

    All in all, I would be doing more harm and damage telling people that than good. "It's for your own good" is not a defence. Yes, I encourage people to believe in whatever it takes to make their life solid or real to them, especially if it helps bring them closer to a path that will allow them to see the truth eventually.

    Lying is never good. Its false speech, and misleading. However, in an instance regarding the masses, if it will avert harm then lying is, or could be considered necessary.

    Besides, it's not so much that I encourage people to believe in what I don't believe in. I am just one individual in an endless ocean of sentient beings. What I believe as false, is not necessarly what another believes as false. And what others believe as false, I may not believe as false. To deny another individual their belief is worse than lying to them.


  13. nephthys

    nephthys Member

    I don't want to seem impolite but since we will probably be interacting more in this forum, I appreciate if you could consider the points about god I made in the last post and how you would interpret such difficulties.
  14. darrellkitchen

    darrellkitchen Lifetime Supporter

    Interestingly enough, I have no idea what (who) Dao is. Atman in Buddhism refers to "self," but I do not know what it refers to in Daoism or Hinduism. Ultimately there is no self, as there is nothing that is inherently dependent on its own self for existence. If that were the case, we (or the Self) would be eternally existent and we would not suffer change, birth or death. If Dao is a existing being or diety, then who am I to refute what others believe? In refuting them I set into motion causes and conditions which may (or may not) give rise to anger, hate, irratation, and other negative suchness. In increasing the suffering of other sentient beings, I am going against the very essence of Buddhism which is "Help whenever possible, and when not then do no harm."

    Not knowing who or what Dao is, I cannot appropriately answer your question here. And it would be inappropriate for me to do so.

    Dharmakaya is more than mere descriptions. It has been said to be the "Truth Body" of a Buddha, something which all living beings possess or are, but are obscured by their own thoughts and consciousness. Dharmakaya is also said to be the "Body of Great Order," again something all living beings possess. Dharmakaya can be realized through meditation, and can even be experienced. However, again, I have never experienced it myself, consciously in this life-time.

    According to Buddhist beliefe, from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, on entering the Bardo Dharmata, one experiences and actualizes Dharmakaya immediately and becomes an Omniscient being. But because of the karmic effects of their previous lives are immediately reborn into Samsara, and depending on the deeds of their previous lives are reborn into one of the realms conducive to the nature of karma they accumulated.

    Personally, I have found that Physics and Buddhist philosophy share the same mindstream. They both parallel each other in their concepts and modes of thinking, however where one requires mentation in the form of using the objects of senses to perform calculations, the other uses calm abiding meditation with analytical meditation. Calm abiding must be practiced in order to maintain focus on the object of analysis until no further analysis of the object of mediatation can be made. If ones mind wanders, then they are no longer focused on the object of analysis, but are instead wandering about here and there within their own minds.

    There are two truths to reality ... Conventional Reality and Ultimate Reality. Conventional Reality exists as well as Ultimate Reality, yet depending on ones views Conventional Reality is empty of inherent existence. Not saying it does not exist, as you can plainly see that it does.


  15. nephthys

    nephthys Member

    "Atman in Buddhism refers to "self," but I do not know what it refers to in Daoism or Hinduism. Ultimately there is no self, as there is nothing that is inherently dependent on its own self for existence."

    Buddhist Atman evolves from Hindu Atman but in Hinduism it is the Absolute Reality, wheras in Buddhism it is only relative reality. This is one of the greatest differences between the two religions. Atman in Hinduism is "equivalent" to Brahman which would be the self of the universe generally speaking. And the purpose is to realize your self and therefore be one with the Brahman.

    "There are two truths to reality ... Conventional Reality and Ultimate Reality. Conventional Reality exists as well as Ultimate Reality"

    I see your point, but isn't Dharmakaya beyond the conventional reality? Does it not exist on its own?

    "Personally, I have found that Physics and Buddhist philosophy share the same mindstream."

    Yes with relativistic and quantum physics, science seems to also agree with many of the cosmic ideas of eastern mystic traditions.
  16. Chodpa

    Chodpa -=Chop_Chop=-

    I can't read scholarly expositions on shunyata because no thought explains the reality of the concept. Shunyata is not the abscence of everything as in a nihilistic state. It is merely the absence of any substancial thing, as in, not material in any way or form. Even when experiencing shunyata directly through yoga the mind seeks to understand it, but there can be no intellectual understanding, as the intellect is a tool and not the experiencer. Meditation shows us that we are not mere bodies but a whole collection of things capped off with a universal and cosmic mind of all sorts of immaterial things. These things are the three Buddha bodies of the later two turnings of the wheel. The Sambogakaya body contains all the heavens, and the dharmakaya is the Absolute. I have heard a Tibetan khenpo also call it Vishnu or God. However, Buddhists don't get attached to that concept or it's called reification of the mental obscurations. To be an instrument of the Dharmakaya one must be as a mirror of that state, and acting from any specific thought of what that state is is a partial view. Buddhists as seekers and practitioners of nondualism do not get caught up in reifying concepts, just as wise people don't stand and pose in mirrors. They know that they cannot hold that pose all day and night.
  17. Bikshu

    Bikshu Member

    He does not mean that a god is a false way to practice. The use of god as an image for real things is quite a powerful one and a valid stepping stone to other ideas. The use of god in practice can help deepen faith and understanding of the qualities a god represents.
  18. Zion

    Zion Member

    When it is yourself that you enjoy, You need nothing else. Thus Full of emptiness. Or Satisfied

    As for GOD, When we are satisfied with what we have been given we truly accept GOD.

    Empty your eyes of all , and oNly GOD will inevitibly stand.

    This is allowing the self to become one again. Nirvana. True Appreciation
  19. Chodpa

    Chodpa -=Chop_Chop=-

    It's not difficult to understand. The mind is shapeless, or formless, or one could call it void. When the mind arises in thoughts and feelings and perceptions it identifies with those things, and yet it remains separate, as if merely the base for those experiences. When those things pass then the formless mind also is still there. The mind when empty of content is emptiness, and yet it also is not empty, it still is the mind.

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