Sunnatta vs. anatta

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby Jack » Wed Feb 03, 2010 4:16 pm

In your own words, what is the difference between anatta (void of self) and sunnata (emptiness?

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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Feb 03, 2010 6:08 pm

Jack wrote:In your own words, what is the difference between anatta (void of self) and sunnata (emptiness?

Jack


In Theravada teaching the two terms are generally considered synonymous.

However for me personally the term sunnatta speaks of not only the emptiness of self, but also the emptiness of the ability to satisfy, and the emptiness of permanent existence. It reminds me that three characteristics are not separate and distinct but a pervasive whole.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby Adrien » Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:19 pm

I didn't really study that question, but my guess would be that anatta means "void of self" and sunnata "void of substance". Therefore, anatta only applys to beings while sunnata applys to anything. But that has to be confirmed...
Please don't hesitate to correct my english if you feel to
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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:06 pm

Greetings Jack,

I see sunnata to be representative of the combination of anatta and anicca.

When topics such as this arise, I always lay that understanding out on the table... and it never seems to be deemed controversial by anyone. If anyone wishes to challenge it though, I'd be keen to test my understanding.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby meindzai » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:36 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Jack,

I see sunnata to be representative of the combination of anatta and anicca.

When topics such as this arise, I always lay that understanding out on the table... and it never seems to be deemed controversial by anyone. If anyone wishes to challenge it though, I'd be keen to test my understanding.

Metta,
Retro. :)


But..but..but...

Well I tried to disagree, but I can't. :tongue:

Also to add that in Theravada, emptiness can also mean other things, like a particular approach to meditation. But as a characteristic of phenomenah in general I'd agree with Retro. He's just so darn agreeable.

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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:48 pm

Perhaps this helps a little. It agrees with Retro and Meindzai...

Ven Nyanatiloka's definition:
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... dic3_s.htm
Suñña: adj., [b]Suññatā: noun: void ness, empty emptiness. As a doctrinal term it refers, in Theravāda, exclusively to the anattā doctrine,.i.e. the unsubstantiality of all phenomena:;Void is the world... because it is void of a self and anything belonging to a self; suññam attena vā attaniyena vā S. XXXV, 85; also stated of the 5 groups of existence khandha in the same text. See also M. 43, M. 106. - In CNidd. quoted in Vis.M XXI, 55, it is said:,Eye... mind, visual objects... mental-objects, visual consciousness... mind-consciousness, materiality... consciousness, etc., are void of self and anything belonging to a self; void of permanency and of anything lasting, eternal or immutable.. They are coreless: without a core of permanency, or core of happiness or core of self.; - In M. 121, the voiding of the mind of the fermentations, in the attainment of Arahatship, is regarded as the;fully purified and incomparably highest concept of voidness. - See Sn. v. 1119; M. 121; M. 122 WHEEL 87; Pts.M. II: Suñña-kathā; Vis.M XXI, 53ff.

Suññatānupassanā
: 'contemplation of emptiness' see: prec., is one of the 18 chief kinds of insight vipassanā. Cf. Vis.M XXI.[/b]

Some Theravada Suttas on suññata:
MN 121 Cula-suññata Sutta: The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
MN 122 Maha-suññata Sutta: The Greater Discourse on Emptiness http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
SN 35.85 Suñña Sutta: Empty http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, "It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty, lord. In what respect is it said that the world is empty?"

"Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ananda, that the world is empty. And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self? The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms... Eye-consciousness... Eye-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.
"The ear is empty...
"The nose is empty...
"The tongue is empty...
"The body is empty...
"The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas... Intellect-consciousness... Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Thus it is said that the world is empty."


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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Feb 04, 2010 8:30 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Jack,

I see sunnata to be representative of the combination of anatta and anicca.

When topics such as this arise, I always lay that understanding out on the table... and it never seems to be deemed controversial by anyone. If anyone wishes to challenge it though, I'd be keen to test my understanding.

Metta,
Retro. :)

Nicely put I'd say.
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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby Paññāsikhara » Thu Feb 04, 2010 8:58 am

Hi

Although sunnata is often glossed as anatta, it is not quite such a simple relation.
The term sunnata is more general, and can refer to the absence of other things, too, and not just the absence of atta.

It can refer to an "empty place", devoid of people and distractions for meditation.
It can refer to "not self".
It can refer to the "four immeasurables", whereby each of them taken to their fullest, are "devoid of defilements".

There are other usages too, if we consider some other terms which are basically synonyms in many contexts, such as the "immovable".
If one is willing to look at other early Agama material besides the Pali alone, there are even more interesting things, too.

But for strict Theravadins, please at least read the Patisambhidamagga to get another take on "sunnata". Some very interesting passages in the sunnata-katha. This sure isn't "not self" alone.

P
~ who is writing a PhD on some particular areas of the teaching of sunyata. ;)
Last edited by Paññāsikhara on Thu Feb 04, 2010 9:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby Paññāsikhara » Thu Feb 04, 2010 9:00 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Some Theravada Suttas on suññata:
MN 121 Cula-suññata Sutta: The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


A quick look will soon reveal that the usage of the term "sunnata" in this text is not like the idea of "not self" at all. It's the absence of particular perceptions of various phenomena, from coarse to subtle.
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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby Paññāsikhara » Thu Feb 04, 2010 9:02 am

Adrien wrote:I didn't really study that question, but my guess would be that anatta means "void of self" and sunnata "void of substance". Therefore, anatta only applys to beings while sunnata applys to anything. But that has to be confirmed...


This is similar to the Sarvastivada idea that "anatman" refers to absence of self (atman), whereas "sunyata" refers to absence of what pertains to self (atmaniya). In their system, the latter is basically dharmas (~~ "anything").
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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Feb 04, 2010 9:09 am

Hi Venerable,
Paññāsikhara wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Some Theravada Suttas on suññata:
MN 121 Cula-suññata Sutta: The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

A quick look will soon reveal that the usage of the term "sunnata" in this text is not like the idea of "not self" at all. It's the absence of particular perceptions of various phenomena, from coarse to subtle.

Yes, good point. I guess it's always a little dangerous to pick particular Pali terms which are sometimes used in reference to something in particular and assume that they always refer to that. So there are certainly references to "empty of self" but "empty" can refer to other things too. [Another example is nimitta, which is a "sign" of many things, not just meditative absorption...]

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Re: Sunnatta vs. anatta

Postby Paññāsikhara » Thu Feb 04, 2010 9:24 am

mikenz66 wrote:I guess it's always a little dangerous to pick particular Pali terms which are sometimes used in reference to something in particular and assume that they always refer to that.


This is an excellent caveat statement for any sort of Dhamma study. :anjali:
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