Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Element

Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Element »

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
Element

Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Element »

retrofuturist wrote:AN 10.58: Mula Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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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Anders
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Anders »

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

Post by retrofuturist »

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. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
Element

Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Element »

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
Individual
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Individual »

Anders Honore wrote: 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.
I agree with this and a while ago, I compiled a short list of quotes on emptiness from the suttas to establish this point.

Phena Sutta
Form is like a glob of foam;
feeling, a bubble;
perception, a mirage;
fabrications, a banana tree;
consciousness, a magic trick —
this has been taught
by the Kinsman of the Sun.
However you observe them,
appropriately examine them,
they're empty, void
to whoever sees them
appropriately.
Sunna Sutta
"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."
Mogharaja-manava-puccha Sutta
View the world, Mogharaja,
as empty —
always mindful
to have removed any view
about self.

This way one is above & beyond death.
This is how one views the world
so as not to be seen
by Death's king.
Cula-suññata Sutta
"He discerns that 'Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of village are not present. Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of human being are not present. There is only this modicum of disturbance: the singleness based on the perception of wilderness.' He discerns that 'This mode of perception is empty of the perception of village. This mode of perception is empty of the perception of human being. There is only this non-emptiness: the singleness based on the perception of wilderness.' 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.
Maha-suññata Sutta
"But there is this (mental) dwelling discovered by the Tathagata where, not attending to any themes, he enters & remains in internal emptiness. If, while he is dwelling there by means of this dwelling, he is visited by monks, nuns, lay men, lay women, kings, royal ministers, sectarians & their disciples, then — with his mind bent on seclusion, tending toward seclusion, inclined toward seclusion, aiming at seclusion, relishing renunciation, having destroyed those qualities that are the basis for mental fermentation — he converses with them only as much is necessary for them to take their leave.
Notice the interpretation "mental" imposed on the text by the Theravadin translator.
"He attends to internal & external emptiness...
But it's not just mental, else the idea of "external emptiness" is pretty incoherent, plus obviously incorrect given the other quotes above where there isn't the explicit description that it's a strictly mental act. On the contrary, the Buddha describes reality itself as actual being empty, as emptiness being in accordance with "actuality".

So, as a very wise person and experienced meditator once said:
Element wrote: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.
And as the Heart Sutra says:
form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra
Element

Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Element »

Individual wrote:form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.
:goodpost:
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Karma Dondrup Tashi
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi »

stuka wrote: Mahayana: "Everything is not inherently real". The world is a figment of your imagination.
I don't think this is accurate. According to Gelug negation of inherent existence is merely conceptual emptiness. Real emptiness is beyond the four extremes hence there is no "your" or "imagination". I.e. samsara is not an 'illusion' which dissolves when 'reality' appears. The illusion/reality duality ultimately doesn't apply.
It has been the misfortune (not, as these gentlemen think it, the glory) of this age that everything is to be discussed. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Karunika »

Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:
stuka wrote: Mahayana: "Everything is not inherently real". The world is a figment of your imagination.
I don't think this is accurate. According to Gelug negation of inherent existence is merely conceptual emptiness. Real emptiness is beyond the four extremes hence there is no "your" or "imagination". I.e. samsara is not an 'illusion' which dissolves when 'reality' appears. The illusion/reality duality ultimately doesn't apply.
When discussing 'Mahayana,' it is good for everyone to remember that there are a variety of traditions and beliefs that fall within that label. It is often not accurate to sum up one belief as being 'Mahayana.' Even within Tibetan Buddhism, which is part of Mahayana, there are many different beliefs and interpretations of emptiness (among other things). Stuka's statement probably better reflects the mind-only school, but not being a student of that tradition, don't hold me to that.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by stuka »

Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:
stuka wrote: Mahayana: "Everything is not inherently real". The world is a figment of your imagination.
I don't think this is accurate. According to Gelug negation of inherent existence is merely conceptual emptiness. Real emptiness is beyond the four extremes hence there is no "your" or "imagination". I.e. samsara is not an 'illusion' which dissolves when 'reality' appears. The illusion/reality duality ultimately doesn't apply.
Again, that is just an extension or exaggeration of the same thing. "Negation of inherent existence" is annihiliationism. The problem we see here is that the Buddha's phenomenological teaching of emptiness, which analyzes the way we perceive the world in order to understand the misconceptions and subsequent misery that arise through ignorance, has been misapprehended by the Mahayanists and the tibetan religions to be an existential declaration of the nature of the world itself. Unfortunately for them, such declarations, whether they claim to be on a "mundane" or an "ultimate" level, are inextricably mired in speculative view. Calling the world "samsara" as if "samsara" were a "thing", and the entire issue or question of a "illusion/reality duality", is a part of this misapprehension as well, irrelevant to what the Buddha was addressing, which was the causes and remedies for the problem of suffering.

Of course, you are always welcome to demonstrate the mundane and ultimate truth of your speculative view by banging your "non-existent" hand with a "non-existent" hammer until you and I both are convinced that there is no you, there is no hand, and there is no hammer.

I'll be sure to wear a bio-suit...
Last edited by stuka on Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:16 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by stuka »

Karunika wrote:
Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:
stuka wrote: Mahayana: "Everything is not inherently real". The world is a figment of your imagination.
I don't think this is accurate. According to Gelug negation of inherent existence is merely conceptual emptiness. Real emptiness is beyond the four extremes hence there is no "your" or "imagination". I.e. samsara is not an 'illusion' which dissolves when 'reality' appears. The illusion/reality duality ultimately doesn't apply.
When discussing 'Mahayana,' it is good for everyone to remember that there are a variety of traditions and beliefs that fall within that label. It is often not accurate to sum up one belief as being 'Mahayana.' Even within Tibetan Buddhism, which is part of Mahayana, there are many different beliefs and interpretations of emptiness (among other things). Stuka's statement probably better reflects the mind-only school, but not being a student of that tradition, don't hold me to that.
That there are many different beliefs and interpretations of sunnata in the tibetan religions clearly illustrates the fact that they are existential speculative views, rather than true understanding of the Buddha's empirical phenomenological analysis of the way we perceive (and interpret or mis-interpret) the world.

The Buddha negated such existential arguments over 2500 years ago. One has to wonder why such arguments and speculative views persist in religions that claim to be based in His teachings.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi »

stuka wrote: "Negation of inherent existence" is annihiliationism.
Tsongkapa would say no, because conventional existence is not negated. Which is why it hurts plenty when I hit my hand with a hammer. And which is also why negation of inherent existence is merely conceptual emptiness. But ultimately there is nothing to affirm or negate.
It has been the misfortune (not, as these gentlemen think it, the glory) of this age that everything is to be discussed. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.
Element

Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Element »

Theravada teaching on emptiness is straightforward & unconvoluted, which is why it comes from a perfectly fully enlightened Buddha.
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stuka
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by stuka »

Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:
stuka wrote: "Negation of inherent existence" is annihiliationism.
Tsongkapa would say no, because conventional existence is not negated. Which is why it hurts plenty when I hit my hand with a hammer. And which is also why negation of inherent existence is merely conceptual emptiness. But ultimately there is nothing to affirm or negate.
Tsonghapa would be resorting to convoluted double-talk in order to prop up his, again, speculative (and mis-appropriated) existential view.

Watching Mahayanists and adherents of the tibetan religions discuss existential-based speculative views of 'emptiness" is like watching people argue over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Or whether the flat earth goes on forever, or ends in a giant waterfall. All three are equally useless and irrelevant to addressing the problem of suffering.
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Re: Emptiness - mahayana and theravada

Post by Individual »

stuka wrote:
Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:
stuka wrote: "Negation of inherent existence" is annihiliationism.
Tsongkapa would say no, because conventional existence is not negated. Which is why it hurts plenty when I hit my hand with a hammer. And which is also why negation of inherent existence is merely conceptual emptiness. But ultimately there is nothing to affirm or negate.
Tsonghapa would be resorting to convoluted double-talk in order to prop up his, again, speculative (and mis-appropriated) existential view.

Watching Mahayanists and adherents of the tibetan religions discuss existential-based speculative views of 'emptiness" is like watching people argue over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Or whether the flat earth goes on forever, or ends in a giant waterfall. All three are equally useless and irrelevant to addressing the problem of suffering.
Papanca over sunatta is neither greater than nor lesser than papanca over the Five Skandhas, nor aversion to the previous two. :smile:
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra
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