emptiness

Sanskrit: Sunyata. A word signifying that nothing exists in itself or by itself. Obvious enough at some levels. Whatever appears, is interdependent with everything else, ultimately inseparable from the infinite field of relations within which all events and entities occur/transpire. Everything arises in an ocean of prior causes and conditions. One of the key concepts in Buddhism. Emptiness is not an entity or a space, but a useful abstraction representing the truth of no-self, impermanence, the principles of unreality, instability, transience and relativity which pervade the nature of all existence.

The doctrine states that phenomena and self have no absolute reality, but are compounded,composed of the skandhas or psycho-physical elements, which when conditions ripen, will aggregate for a time and then disintegrate. Everything is in flow and only relatively invariable. All is unstable in this way, possessing no eternal self-essence or permanent self-nature, i.e. the reality of any apparent self existence is dependent or causally inseparable from roots and supportive conditions which are themselves compounded and impermanent.

Emptiness is not nothing or a lack of anything, but indicates the true mode of existence for all and everything. As such, it permeates phenomena. Emptiness is the central theme of Prajnaparamita texts and Madhyamaka philosophy, commonly associated with descriptions of Enlightenment.

To the western mind, this is often difficult to understand, leading to the idea that emptiness is a big intellectual “nothing,” and therefore quite unattractive and pointless. Two ideas may help correct this view.

  1. First, “emptiness”can be understood as the Buddhist way of saying that UltimateReality is incapable of being indicated through symbols such aswords,
  2. Second, “emptiness” should not be thought of as another place. Instead, what is being referred to as empty of inherent existence is identical to the world or universe which humans and other sentientbeings experience in this very life. In this way, it has something in common with the Hindu notion that this world is simply maya (illusion), the veil of appearances which prevents humans from seeing the true unity of the cosmos (which in Hinduism means the identity of Atman and Brahman). Thus emptiness and the true nature of all interdependent phenomena of this world are the samething, or as the Heart Sutra says, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”
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