Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

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Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby clw_uk » Tue Jan 13, 2009 7:22 pm

Is there a doctrinal difference between mahayana and theravada on emptiness? Is emptiness tied in with buddha nature or not?
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby stuka » Tue Jan 13, 2009 7:37 pm

clw_uk wrote:Is there a doctrinal difference between mahayana and theravada on emptiness? Is emptiness tied in with buddha nature or not?



Theravada: "Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya": Nothing whatever should be grasped at and clung to as "me" or "mine". The world is real, but we "see it" (experience it) through the distorted lens of our "own eyes".

Mahayana: "Everything is not inherently real". The world is a figment of your imagination.

Theravada does not postulate a "buddha nature".
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jan 13, 2009 10:39 pm

Greetings clw_uk,

I find that the following sutta explains the Theravada position well.

SN 12.15 - Kaccayanagotta Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Dwelling at Savatthi... Then Ven. Kaccayana Gotta approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "Lord, 'Right view, right view,' it is said. To what extent is there right view?"

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one.

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings (sustenances), & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on 'my self.' He has no uncertainty or doubt that just stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It's to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.

"'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

"Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering."

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)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby jcsuperstar » Tue Jan 13, 2009 11:11 pm

comming from a zen background, i never saw much of a difference in the two kinds of emptiness, i think internet mahayanists just want to push it to a weird extream to say their emptiness is more empty, but really how does that help anyone? we've still gotta work and live in this world, we cant just lay down on train tracks and think the train wont kill us cause its empty or what not...

i got into this discussion with a kung fu buddhist (yeah) and my posistion was "yeah that chair over there is empty , it doesnt exist as anything other than the coming together of causes and conditions, its an event, and it will be over when the causes and conditions for it's arising are over. but if i pick it up and hit you with it, it wont feel empty will it?"
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby Jason » Wed Jan 14, 2009 2:02 am

clw_uk,

clw_uk wrote:Is there a doctrinal difference between mahayana and theravada on emptiness? Is emptiness tied in with buddha nature or not?


In regard emptiness (adj. sunna, noun sunnata), my personal opinion is that the teachings on emptiness in the Pali Canon are often taken out of context, and coincidentally, far removed from their intended purpose. The view of emptiness that things have no inherent existence, while philosophically complex and seemingly implicit in the teachings on dependent co-arising, actually developed over time (possibly beginning with Nagarjuna, who I believe was attempting to deconstruct all of the prevalent philosophical views of the time by using a combination of logical analysis and slight of hand in order to show how these views were ultmately illogical from the standpoint of emptiness, especially in regard to the Abhidhammika's idea that things exist by way of intrinsic characteristics). As Thanissaro Bhikkhu explains, "emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience" (Emptiness). Moreover, "... the idea of emptiness as lack of inherent existence has very little to do with what the Buddha himself said about emptiness. His teachings on emptiness — as reported in the earliest Buddhist texts, the Pali Canon — deal directly with actions and their results, with issues of pleasure and pain" (The Integrity of Emptiness). As a doctrinal term, emptiness in and of itself is used in a couple of different but related ways in the Pali Canon. In one context, as Thanissaro notes, emptiness is used as a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience that is utilized in meditation (e.g., MN 121, MN 122). In another context, emptiness refers to the unsubstantiality of the five clinging-aggregates (khandhas) and the six sense media (ayatanas) (e.g., SN 2295, SN 35.85). In this sense, it is synonymous with not-self (anatta).

Jason
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby Element » Wed Jan 14, 2009 4:03 am

clw_uk wrote:Is there a doctrinal difference between mahayana and theravada on emptiness? Is emptiness tied in with buddha nature or not?


The impression I gain of Mahayana emptiness is it tends towards nothingness.

I posted a quote from Buddhadasa on the Annihilism thread that makes clear distinctions between emptiness & nothingness.

However, for me, the proof of the pudding is in our application.

In Theravada emptiness, phenomena still exist. If we lose touch with the existence of phenomena, we lose empathy.

Buddha did not deny existence. In fact, Buddha said to deny existence is to not see the arising of things and to hold to existence is to not see the cessation of things.

Thus, to discern to arise & cessation of things (impermanence) is most important.

It is important to balance emptiness & form.

Even the learned Mahayanas say this.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby Individual » Wed Jan 14, 2009 4:55 am

retrofuturist wrote:"'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle...

That seems to also be a good summary of the Madhyamaka school of thought of Mahayana as well. :)

I think the main distinction is the mode of explanation. Theravada Buddhists tend to explain emptiness from an internal\subjective perspective, by relating it to the cessation of one's own delusions (deluded projections of a person self). Mahayana Buddhists tend to explain emptiness from an external\objective perspective, by relating it to the knowledge of reality as it is (independent of descriptions of identity). However, at times, I have seen Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists both use the same modes of explanation, so this is only an overall difference and it really depends more on each teacher.

Of course, some Mahayana Buddhists are nihilists certainly, based on a deluded view of emptiness meaning "Everything is nothing," or simply "Everything is an illusion." But on the other hand, some Theravada Buddhists also seem to be realists and materialists -- the traditional Theravadins can be realists by clinging to the Five Aggregates as the fundamental explanation of ultimate reality, and the modern Theravadins can be even be worse, being both realists and materialists, by seeing the Five Aggregates as merely a useful but limited classification while clinging to materialistic western science as an explanation for the way the world really is.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:08 am

Greetings Individual,

the modern Theravadins can be even be worse, being both realists and materialists, by seeing the Five Aggregates as merely a useful but limited classification while clinging to materialistic western science as an explanation for the way the world really is.


Now there's a papanca-laden strawman!

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)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby Individual » Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:13 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Individual,

the modern Theravadins can be even be worse, being both realists and materialists, by seeing the Five Aggregates as merely a useful but limited classification while clinging to materialistic western science as an explanation for the way the world really is.


Now there's a papanca-laden strawman!

Metta,
Retro. :)

Maybe, maybe not. I had considered deleting it initially, along with all negative sectarian descriptions, but I thought that some of the meaning might be lost (actually deleting it, then re-typing it). So, I at least put considerable thought into whether that might be papanca or not.

It might be better, though, to just ignore that part, yes. And I hope it doesn't cause anyone to be angry. :smile:
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby stuka » Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:15 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Individual,

the modern Theravadins can be even be worse, being both realists and materialists, by seeing the Five Aggregates as merely a useful but limited classification while clinging to materialistic western science as an explanation for the way the world really is.


Now there's a papanca-laden strawman!

Metta,
Retro. :)



NAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH -- you give way too little credit where credit is due -- the above is a veritable Mighty Mother-of-All-Armies of Straw Men!
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:17 am

Greetings Individual,

As someone whom you might label a "modern Theravadin", my take on whether things exists is exactly as per SN 12.15 as referred to previously. Anything beyond that (i.e. what science thinks) is likely to get the "leaves on the floor of the simsapa forest" treatment.

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)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby Individual » Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:18 am

Also, Retrofuturist: A strawman is when you're in a debate and you attack an argument that your opponent isn't making. In this case, there are no "opponents" here and my statement there was a remark not directly related to what you said, certainly not a direct attack on anything you said or didn't say. I'm not even sure I would consider you a "modern Theravada," Buddhist since, although that generally seemed true for a long time, recently you mentioned that you do have confidence in the possibility of siddhis. So, you seem to be more of a good Theravada Buddhist, who follows "Middle Way" Theravada Buddhism, devoid of unnecessary speculation, unnecessary opposition to speculation, dogmatism, and sectarianism.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby stuka » Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:27 am

Individual wrote:Also, Retrofuturist: A strawman is when you're in a debate and you attack an argument that your opponent isn't making. In this case, there are no "opponents" here and my statement there was a remark not directly related to what you said, certainly not a direct attack on anything you said or didn't say. I'm not even sure I would consider you a "modern Theravada," Buddhist since, although that generally seemed true for a long time, recently you mentioned that you do have confidence in the possibility of siddhis.


It doesn't matter whether you are in direct debate with another, a strawman is a deliberate misrepresentation by exaggeration.

So, you seem to be more of a good Theravada Buddhist, who follows "Middle Way" Theravada Buddhism, devoid of unnecessary speculation, unnecessary opposition to speculation, dogmatism, and sectarianism.


No True Scot Fallacy: ImageA "Good Theravadan" believes what you want him to believe. I note your continued peurile trolling and making-up as you go along.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby stuka » Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:44 am

Individual wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:"'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle...

That seems to also be a good summary of the Madhyamaka school of thought of Mahayana as well. :)

I think the main distinction is the mode of explanation. Theravada Buddhists tend to explain emptiness from an internal\subjective perspective, by relating it to the cessation of one's own delusions (deluded projections of a person self). Mahayana Buddhists tend to explain emptiness from an external\objective perspective, by relating it to the knowledge of reality as it is (independent of descriptions of identity). However, at times, I have seen Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists both use the same modes of explanation, so this is only an overall difference and it really depends more on each teacher.

Of course, some Mahayana Buddhists are nihilists certainly, based on a deluded view of emptiness meaning "Everything is nothing," or simply "Everything is an illusion." But on the other hand, some Theravada Buddhists also seem to be realists and materialists -- the traditional Theravadins can be realists by clinging to the Five Aggregates as the fundamental explanation of ultimate reality, and the modern Theravadins can be even be worse, being both realists and materialists, by seeing the Five Aggregates as merely a useful but limited classification while clinging to materialistic western science as an explanation for the way the world really is.


Individual.

You are again making up as you go along. Dhamma talks here. Papanca walks.
Last edited by stuka on Wed Jan 14, 2009 6:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 14, 2009 8:54 am

Greetings,

AN 10.58: Mula Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

"Monks, if those who have gone forth in other sects ask you, 'In what are all phenomena rooted? What is their coming into play? What is their origination? What is their meeting place? What is their presiding state? What is their governing principle? What is their surpassing state? What is their heartwood? Where do they gain a footing? What is their final end?': On being asked this by those who have gone forth in other sects, how would you answer?"

"For us, lord, the teachings have the Blessed One as their root, their guide, & their arbitrator. It would be good if the Blessed One himself would explicate the meaning of this statement. Having heard it from the Blessed One, the monks will remember it."

"In that case, monks, listen & pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "Monks, if those who have gone forth in other sects ask you, 'In what are all phenomena rooted? What is their coming into play? What is their origination? What is their meeting place? What is their presiding state? What is their governing principle? What is their surpassing state? What is their heartwood? Where do they gain a footing? What is their final end?': On being asked this by those who have gone forth in other sects, this is how you should answer them:

"'All phenomena are rooted in desire.

"'All phenomena come into play through attention.

"'All phenomena have contact as their origination.

"'All phenomena have feeling as their meeting place.

"'All phenomena have concentration as their presiding state.

"'All phenomena have mindfulness as their governing principle.

"'All phenomena have discernment as their surpassing state.

"'All phenomena have release as their heartwood.

"'All phenomena gain their footing in the deathless.

"'All phenomena have Unbinding as their final end.'

"On being asked this by those who have gone forth in other sects, this is how you should answer."


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)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby Element » Wed Jan 14, 2009 10:18 am

Individual wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:"'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle...


That seems to also be a good summary of the Madhyamaka school of thought of Mahayana as well. :)

Dear Individual,

In fact, this is the Buddha's view. It is not a Second Turning of the Wheel, as the Mahayanas assert. I received a book by the Dalai Lama for Xmas, in which he stated this very dhamma was something not taught by the Buddha but taught by the Mahayana.

However, it is important to not just leave the quote truncated as above. The Buddha emphasised in this teaching the arising & cessation of things. The Buddha said, when things arise they exist; when they cease, they cease to exist. Thus, we should not regard them as inherently existing or non-existing.

Individual wrote:But on the other hand, some Theravada Buddhists also seem to be realists and materialists -- the traditional Theravadins can be realists by clinging to the Five Aggregates as the fundamental explanation of ultimate reality, and the modern Theravadins can be even be worse, being both realists and materialists, by seeing the Five Aggregates as merely a useful but limited classification while clinging to materialistic western science as an explanation for the way the world really is.

To regard reality as merely the five aggregates is sufficent for liberation. This is why the Buddha taught extensively on the elements. The point of Buddha-Dhamma is liberation from dukkha via emptiness of self. Whether things are regarded as impermanent, whether they are regarded as aggregates, elements or formations or whether they are regarded as empty of inherent existence, each of these manners of regarding and seeing is empty of self.

Thus form is voidness & voidness is form. If form is regarded as 'voidness', it is void. If form is regarded as 'form', merely form, it is also void. If it is void, it is free from dukkha. The efficacy of this we must understand through practise or experience. These realisations are one and the same.

The Mahayana dharma that stresses not 'imputing' or non 'imputation' is the teaching of nothingness. There is imputation that leads to dukkha and imputation that does not lead to dukkha. Nibbana is not 'non-thought'. Nibbana is emptiness of self (and other defilements).

Without cognising the arising & cessation of things, our mind will lack empathy.

With metta,

Element
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby Element » Wed Jan 14, 2009 11:00 am

retrofuturist wrote:AN 10.58: Mula Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Greetings Retro,

Many are drawn to the inspiring nature of the above sutta. However, in my opinion, the translation here by Thanissaro & similarly by Bhikkhu Bodhi misses the meaning. The word 'dhamma' can mean 'phenomena', 'truth', 'practices' or 'fruits of practise'. Thus, the word dhamma in the Mula Sutta means 'skilful practises', such as in the verse:
"O Bhikkhus. The footprints of all land-bound creatures fit within the footprint of the elephant; the elephant's footprint is said to be the supreme footprint in terms of size. Similarly all skilful dhammas have heedfulness as their base, converge within the bounds of heedfulness. Heedfulness may be said to be supreme amongst those dhammas." [S.V.43]

For example, let us consider the first line. Nibbana is a dhamma yet Nibbana is not rooted in chanda. A rock is a dhamma yet a rock does not have mindfulness as its governing principal.

In my personal opinion (no other source), this is translatable as follows:
Mūlakasuttaṃ: The Discourse on the Roots

chandamūlakā sabbe dhammā

All skilful practises have chanda or zeal as their root.

Note: Chanda is the first iddhipada. The four iddhipada are one set in the thirty-seven bodhipacciyadhammas, namely, the four satipatthana, the four right efforts, the four iddhipada (roads to success or power), the five faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment and the noble eightfold path.

manasikārasambhavā sabbe dhammā

All skilful practises come to actual existence through attention.

phassasamudayā sabbe dhammā

All skilful practises arise from contact

vedanāsamosaraṇā sabbe dhammā

All skilful practises converge on feelings.

Note: all skilful dhamma practises are about having mindfulness & wisdom at feelings so craving does not arise to concoct dukkha

samādhippamukhā sabbe dhammā

All skilful practises concentration is the foremost

satādhipateyyā sabbe dhammā

All skilful practises are governed by mindfulness

paññuttarā sabbe dhammā

Of all skilful dhammas, wisdom is the supreme

vimuttisārā sabbe dhammā

The essential purpose of all skilful practises is liberation

amatogadhā sabbe dhammā

All skilful practises merge in the Deathless

nibbānapariyosānā sabbe dhammā’ti.

All skilful practises have Nibbana as their culmination or fulfilment.

With metta,

Element
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby Anders » Wed Jan 14, 2009 4:29 pm

clw_uk wrote:Is there a doctrinal difference between mahayana and theravada on emptiness? Is emptiness tied in with buddha nature or not?


That really depends which theravadins you ask and which mahayanins.

For the madhyamikas (and those relying primarily on the prajnaparamita sutras) who are wellknown for expounding emptiness as the definitive teaching of the Buddha, buddha-nature is at best glossed over, at worst rejected. So for them, emptiness was not tied to it. On the other hand, the teachings that do include buddhanature also teach that the dharmakaya (that is to say, the fully realised body of the Buddhas. When not realised this is what is called 'buddhanature') is no different from emptiness and vice versa. So for them, it was rather tied into buddha-nature.

As for the Theravadin view, I don't think there's any inherent contradiction between the early sutras (that Theravada is based on) and the Mahayana view of emptiness. Nagarjuna for example, extrapolated his view of emptiness and the middle way purely from the early sutras. That said, some Theravadins might understand emptiness as taught in the early sutras quite differently.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 14, 2009 8:40 pm

Greetings Element,

Essentially I agree with you... it's simply the Buddha pointing towards what is relevant in a phenomenological sense. That which is relevant isn't necessary a direct answer to the question provided, even if it may be a better or more accurate or more relevant answer than the questioner was expecting. Such is often the case in the suttas.

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)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Postby Element » Wed Jan 14, 2009 10:10 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Essentially I agree with you... it's simply the Buddha pointing towards what is relevant in a phenomenological sense. That which is relevant isn't necessary a direct answer to the question provided, even if it may be a better or more accurate or more relevant answer than the questioner was expecting. Such is often the case in the suttas.

Papanca. Monkey-chatter. Keep off the grass. :D
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