Emptiness

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Emptiness

Postby ashtanga » Thu May 06, 2010 10:16 am

Hi all,

Cacn someone explain how Theravadin meditation practices - following the breath, vipassana etc... - can bring about an experience of Emptiness. I see how the Tibetans do it, via nalytical thought, but I can't see how the same outcome would happen through methods like Vipassana?

Thanks in advance!

Tony...
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Re: Emptiness

Postby m0rl0ck » Thu May 06, 2010 1:48 pm

I dont really understand the theravadan concept of emptiness as much as i would like to. I just interjected to post a link:

Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there. Whatever remains, he discerns as present: 'There is this.' And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, pure — superior & unsurpassed.


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"Even if you've read the whole Canon and can remember lots of teachings; even if you can explain them in poignant ways, with lots of people to respect you; even if you build a lot of monastery buildings, or can explain inconstancy, stress, and not-self in the most detailed fashion ... The only thing that serves your own true purpose is release from suffering.

"And you'll be able to gain release from suffering only when you know the one mind."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: Emptiness

Postby PeterB » Thu May 06, 2010 1:57 pm

I think that there may be a difference between the Theravada view of phenomena being empty of permanence and the Tibetan, or other Mahayana view, of Emptiness...
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Alexei » Thu May 06, 2010 2:26 pm

Hi ashtanga,

There is couple of useful articles by Thanissaro Bhikkhu about emptiness:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... iness.html
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... iness.html
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Re: Emptiness

Postby m0rl0ck » Thu May 06, 2010 4:58 pm

Since somebody else started the thread, this qoute from the Cula-suññata Sutta really got my attention when i read it:
Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there. Whatever remains, he discerns as present: 'There is this.' And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, pure — superior & unsurpassed.


When the identity of compound things is realized as impermanent and void of own-being and they are seen as "empty of whatever is not there", what remains?

For one thing what remains is the relatednes and infinite interconnectedness of it all. This sounds alot like mahayana emptiness to me. Am i off base here?
"Even if you've read the whole Canon and can remember lots of teachings; even if you can explain them in poignant ways, with lots of people to respect you; even if you build a lot of monastery buildings, or can explain inconstancy, stress, and not-self in the most detailed fashion ... The only thing that serves your own true purpose is release from suffering.

"And you'll be able to gain release from suffering only when you know the one mind."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Chloe9 » Thu May 06, 2010 8:00 pm

ashtanga wrote:Hi all,

Cacn someone explain how Theravadin meditation practices - following the breath, vipassana etc... - can bring about an experience of Emptiness. I see how the Tibetans do it, via nalytical thought, but I can't see how the same outcome would happen through methods like Vipassana?

Thanks in advance!

Tony...


"Emptiness" is soo Zen :)

And "Void" is very Chan.

Those Northern Buddhists get carried away with their metaphysics sometimes. I actually like Zen/Chan though, but I try to keep the Northern stuff apart from Southern Buddhist stuff.

In Pali, Rupa and Arupa aren't as mysical and metaphysical as the Notherners make it. When "Arupa" is metaphysically and magically turned into things like Emptiness and Nothingness, it generates misconceptions about Nibbana/Nirvana: making it seem as if the self is annihilated into nothingness.

Rupa may be dead as a Pali word, but it's still an everyday word in Khmer, which we pronounce as "Rup" [Roobp]. Rup means "Shape," "Form," "Figure," "Body," and so on. A Rup Chalak is a statue. Chalak meaning something chiseled. A Rup Taut is a photograph of a person's Rup. Taut means to take a picture.

A-Rupa thus just means "UN-Form[ed]," "Without physical Form of Shape." It doesn't suggest "emptiness."

In Theravada it's easy to experience Formless things in the forest with Vipassana.

This one time I was hiking up in Big Bear and I found myself a big rock to sit on. Then I went into this deep reflective state of mind. My point of concentration fell on a big pine by the lake. After awhile of refection, I soon came to realize that I was seeing or experiencing 2 separate yet interconnected phenomena: 1) the Rupa of the Tree, and 2) the Arupa of the air or space around the tree. Interconnected because one cannot be observed without the other, meaning that each serves as a reference point for the other. The space/air around the tree helps define the shape/form/rupa of the tree. The rupa of the tree helps define the space around it.

Like being in a vast empty field, or inside the ocean, or in deep space. One does not notice the vastness of the medium until a bird, or a fish, or an asteroid comes by.

But I further realized that the formation of the tree and the formless space around it that I was seeing was not actually in front of me. They were actually inside my own mind. So I drew my awareness inside my mind to contemplate on the image/rupa of the tree I had in my mind's Eye.

Which was when I realized that even when the image/rupa of the tree was in my Mind, that the interdependent phenomena of rupa and arupa were present. The Mind is Arupa. It is formless, but it gives form/rupa to the tree in my mind's Eye.

So when I meditated on the formlessness/arupa of my mind and the formness/rupa of the tree in my mind. I remember the phenomenon of dreams. When I dream the rupa of myself, everyone I interact with, and the entire dreamscape is that arupa/formlessness of Mind coalesced into images/rupa.

This thought lead me to contemplate on the Nature of the Cosmos: It's vast, infinite formlessness, and the forms that exists inside it.

So there I sat, a little person in the vastness of the Cosmos, contemplating on the Cosmos. And I asked myself if my point of view: that of a little person observing the Cosmos was true. In the same sense that I would ask myself that while I am inside a dream, is my point of view of the dreamscape true? Am I the dream-self experiencing the dream, or the silent dreamer beyond that dream-self, which is not even real?

Am I a little person sitting on a rock observing the cosmos? Do I stop where my skin starts? Or is this little person not even real [Anatta] and could it be that the "I-ness" of me being bound in a bag of skin an illusion? And what if I am the unseen silent arupa in which form/rupa exists?

Words like emptiness, void, and nothingness makes it seem like what is arupa does not exist, and we are misled into thinking that things magically arise from Nothing. This idea defies many points the Buddha tried to express. 1: such as Causality [kamma & vipaka] meaning that germ-cause or seed-cause [kamma] unfolds and germinates into fruit [vipaka]; & 2) Codependent Origination, meaning that everything originates from something else. And that "first something" cannot be a nothing, because nothing is the absents of kamma [seed-cause].

Emptiness makes it seem as though everything we know and experience Causally came from Nothing. Which is slightly irrational and magical. Not even the Mind is a nothing. It is formless and shapeless [arupa] but it is not nothing. The Mind is a something. And that something [Mind] needs other somethings to observe as reference points to be conscious and aware of itself.

What do I mean by that? I mean that one's Mind becomes conscious and aware when it is observing or experiences objects in itself. Put yourself in a sensory deprivation chamber and the Mind will strive to flood itself with forms and images [hallucinations]. Why? What do you call that state of Mind where none of your senses are working, where the sense of body is shut off, and when no images and thoughts are experienced? It's called being Unconscious and Unaware. We spend most of our night in such a state of unconsciousness.

This thought I had in my mind, about the formless mind depending on form to be aware of itself, led to to wonder if the formless Cosmos is like my own mind? Why does form exist in the Cosmos? But I stopped my insight meditation there because I was wondering into "heretical" territory :)

Of course this is just my own experience, and perspective. It is not truth. What I experienced and learned from my insight meditation [as I was taught how to do it] gives birth to Insights that may only be meaningful to me and my own path to sambuddhi [Self-Enlightenment]. Thus, it could be meaningless to everybody here :)

Vipassana - all of its many techniques and forms - along with Vibhajjavada, and the Forest/Nature, are the 3 "Golden Tools" of sambuddhi, which many Buddhists often disregard for books, texts, and the opinions and interpolations of monks. It's sad. many never ask themselves by what means did the Buddha achieve sambodhi? By reading and studying the Tipitakas? No, it had not yet been written. By asking for the opinions of a Bhikkhu? No, otherwise he would not have been called the SELF-enlghtened one. By going to other Buddhists for answers to his pressing questions? No, there were no Buddhist yet. The Buddha only had three basic tools, or four actually: 1) His own mind; 2) Vibhajjavada [his own experiences]; 3) Vipassana; and 4) Nature. And with those basic tools he achieved sambuddhi. If each Theravadin is thus on a quest for Self-Awkening, we will never achieve it with our minds buried in texts, books, interpretations, interpolations, extrapolations, traditions, schools of thought, sects, debates, arguments, intellectualizations, philosophications, chest beating contests, etc.

All you need is what the Buddha had to work with. Everything else is just a guide.
“Do not believe in anything because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observing and analysis, when you find anything that agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all then accept it and live up to it.” – Buddha (Anguttara Nikaya, Vol1, 188-193)
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Re: Emptiness

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri May 07, 2010 12:11 pm

Chloe9 wrote:
"Emptiness" is soo Zen :)

And "Void" is very Chan.

Those Northern Buddhists get carried away with their metaphysics sometimes. I actually like Zen/Chan though, but I try to keep the Northern stuff apart from Southern Buddhist stuff.

In Pali, Rupa and Arupa aren't as mysical and metaphysical as the Notherners make it. When "Arupa" is metaphysically and magically turned into things like Emptiness and Nothingness, it generates misconceptions about Nibbana/Nirvana: making it seem as if the self is annihilated into nothingness.




Thats a fairly naive and elementary understanding of the concept of emptiness in the mahayana and in zen. Which has more to do with interrelatedness than nothingness. For those interested, here is a good resource:

http://www.everydayzen.org/index.php?op ... &Itemid=27

I recommend the "The Heart Sutra and Emptiness" talks.
"Even if you've read the whole Canon and can remember lots of teachings; even if you can explain them in poignant ways, with lots of people to respect you; even if you build a lot of monastery buildings, or can explain inconstancy, stress, and not-self in the most detailed fashion ... The only thing that serves your own true purpose is release from suffering.

"And you'll be able to gain release from suffering only when you know the one mind."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Shonin » Fri May 07, 2010 12:34 pm

Emptiness (Sunyata) refers to the lack (or sometimes the perception of this in some uses) of an atman or permanent essential identity in phenomena. There are two aspects to emptiness:

the lack of essential identity in external phenomena
the lack of essential identity of oneself

Emptiness certainly isn't about nothingness, it refers specifically to there being no findable ultimate nature to things. It is because things lack an essential nature that they are in a continuous state of transformation: birth, growth, ageing, sickness and death are all emptiness. If they had an essential identity, change would be impossible.

Another way of talking about emptiness is to say that all phenomena arise conditionally or dependently on other phenomena.
It is also very closely related to (or the same as) impermanence. It is the Anatta-nature of all phenomena.
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Ben » Fri May 07, 2010 1:02 pm

Shonin wrote:Emptiness (Sunyata) refers to...
...the Anatta-nature of all phenomena.

That about sums it up for me.

With relation to the OPs question, the realization of anatta arises from the contemplation of the anicca characteristic of phenomena. The realization of anatta occurs incrementally as one progresses on the path.
kind regards

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Re: Emptiness

Postby Shonin » Fri May 07, 2010 1:20 pm

Also, although the concept was highly developed by Nagarjuna, emptiness is by no means an exclusively Mahayana idea. For example:

    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."
    SN 35.85, Cula-suññata Sutta: The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness

The Pali word translated as 'empty' is Suñña, the adjective is Suññatā. The Sanskrit is Śūnya, the adjective being Śūnyatā.
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Re: Emptiness

Postby PeterB » Fri May 07, 2010 1:30 pm

" Highly developed" by Nagarjuna ? Or the subject of proliferation by Nagarjuna ? Did it need developing ?
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Shonin » Fri May 07, 2010 1:39 pm

Well I can see you have an opinion about that Peter, although a substantial discussion would take us well off-topic. For our purposes you can read 'developed' however you like. The Buddha himself developed and proliferated many concepts and taught the same principles in many different ways at different times to different audiences.
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Re: Emptiness

Postby PeterB » Fri May 07, 2010 1:51 pm

My opinion doesnt really matter. I think what matters is trying to ascertain what the Buddha said.
He certainly did develop his Dhamma, or at least he developed his expression of it.
He of course was a Sammasambuddha.
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Shonin » Fri May 07, 2010 2:05 pm

If awakening was limited to Gautama Buddha then his descendants have been wasting their time. If not, then surely we can learn from the insight of other awakened beings. Wisdom can be spoken by others too. Anyway, I don't see Nagarjuna as contradicting or being inconsistent with anything Buddha said. If you disagree, I'd be interested to hear more.
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Re: Emptiness

Postby PeterB » Fri May 07, 2010 2:15 pm

Of course Awakening is open to others as a result of The Buddha turning the Wheel Of Dhamma.
I think that perhaps the General Theravada Forum is not the place to discuss Nagarjuna as I understand the guidelines.
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Shonin » Fri May 07, 2010 2:32 pm

Indeed.
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Aloka » Fri May 07, 2010 9:42 pm

SN 22.95 Phena Sutta: Foam, is one of my favorites.


"On one occasion the Blessed One was staying among the Ayojjhans on the banks of the Ganges River. There he addressed the monks: "Monks, suppose that a large glob of foam were floating down this Ganges River, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a glob of foam?
In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any form that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in form?"

Continued ... http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.095.than.html


.
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Shonin » Sat May 08, 2010 1:43 pm

I wonder what the Pali is for 'glob'...
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Chloe9 » Sat May 08, 2010 4:21 pm

Shonin wrote:I wonder what the Pali is for 'glob'...


It's "Gul," or "Gula." :)

Source: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philol ... splay=utf8

[Quote Pali Dictionary]

Guḷa : (page 253)

guṇikā tumour; to *gleu to make into a ball, to conglomerate. Cp. Sk. glauḥ ball; Gr. glouto/s; Ohg. chliuwa; Ger. kugel, kloss; E. clot, cleat; also *gel with same meaning: Sk. gulma tumour, gilāyu glandular swelling; cp. Lat. glomus, globus; Ger. klamm; E. clamp, clump. A root guḷ is given by Dhtp 576,77 in meaning of "mokkha"] a ball, in cpds. sutta˚ a ball of string (=Ohg. chliuwa) D i.54=; M iii.95; PvA 145; ayo˚ an iron globe Dh 308; DA i.84; loha˚ of copper Dh 371; sela˚

[End Quote]
“Do not believe in anything because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observing and analysis, when you find anything that agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all then accept it and live up to it.” – Buddha (Anguttara Nikaya, Vol1, 188-193)
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Re: Emptiness

Postby Shonin » Sat May 08, 2010 7:34 pm

Thanks - good to have so many knowledgeable people around. :)
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