... Nagarjuna presents 'emptiness' as equivalent to that fundamental teaching of the Buddha, 'dependent arising', and, as such, as articulating the 'middle' between the extremes of eternalism and annihilationis. If something arises in dependence upon some other thing, as a dharma is supposed to, then how, Nagarjuna asks, can it be defined in the manner of certain Abhidharma theorists want, as that which exists of and in itself, as that which possesses its own existence (sabhava). For if something is sufficient to explain its own existence, the it must exist as itself for ever, and could never be affected by anything else... And if things cannot truly change, the the whole of Buddhism is undermined, for Buddhism claims that suffering arises because of causes and conditions and by gradually eliminating unwholesome conditions and cultivating wholesome conditions we can change from being unawakened to being awakened. Thus one who claims that dharmas exist in themselves must either fall into the trap of eternalism by denying the possibility of real change, or, if he nevertheless insists that change is possible, fall into the trap of annihilationism since, in changing, what existed has gone out of existence. Therefore, concludes Nagarjuna, the teaching of the Buddha s that everything is empty of its own inherent existence.
But Nagarjuna was quick to point out that we should not conclude that emptiness itself is equivalent to the view that nothing exists; in fact those who see emptiness as some kind of annihilationism have a faulty view of emptiness and 'when t is wrongly seen, emptiness destroys the dull-witted, like a snake that is wrongly grasped or a magical spell that is wrongly cast'. It is not that nothing exists but that nothing exists as an individual essence possessed of its own inherent existence. In particular, to see 'emptiness' as undermining the teaching of the Buddha is to fail to take proper account of the basic Abhidharma distinction between conventional and ultimate truth. The point is that, for Nagarjuna, the Abhidharma account of the world in terms of dharmas cannot be the ultimate description of the way things are; rather, it still falls within the compass of conventional truth. The ultimate truth about the way things are is emptiness, but conventional truth is still truth
, not conventional falsehood, and without it the Buddha's teaching is hopeless:
The buddhas' teaching of Dharma depends equally on the two truths: ordinary conventional truth and truth from the point of view of the ultimate; those who do not perceive the difference between these two truths do not perceive the deep 'reality' (tattva) in the teaching of the buddhas. Without resorting to ordinary conventions, what is ultimate cannot be taught; without recourse to what is ultimate, nirvana is not attained.
But nirvana is not some 'Absolute Reality' existing beyond the phenomenal conditioned world, behind a veil of conventional truth, for again this would commit us to eternalism. Emptiness is the ultimate truth of the reality of nirvana---it too is empty of its own existence, it is not an existent. It follows that nirvana cannot e understood as some thing
, some existent, which is other than the conditioned round of existence, samsara.
There is nothing that distinguishes samsara from nirvana; there is nothing that distinguishes nirvana from samsara; and the furthest limit of nirvana is also the fullest limit of samsara; not even the subtlest difference between the two is found.
In emptiness, then, Nagarjuna attempts to articulate very precisely what he sees as the Buddha's teaching of dependent arising and the middle way between annihilationism and eternalism: emptiness is not a 'nothing', it is not nihilism, but equally it is not a 'something', it is not some absolute reality; it is the absolute truth about the way things are but it is not the
absolute. Nothingness is precisely to turn emptiness into a view of either of either eternalism or annihilationism. But in fact the Buddha taught Dharma for the abandoning of all views and emptiness is precisely the letting go of al lviews, while those for whom emptiness is a view are 'incurable'