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What is emptiness according to Buddhism?

Emptiness is also sometimes called selflessness, and it refers to the ultimate nature of how all things, including people, exist in this world.  Normally we think of ourselves as existing independently from anything else.  But when you examine what existing is really carefully, you might realize that whatever it is that you call “I” or “me” isn’t easy to define at all.  Is your “self” in your head? You my say “this is my hand”, but who is the owner of that hand?  Is it that thing we call a spirit?  You were once a little kid who believed in Santa Claus.  Is that you? If you had an operation or an accident which caused you to lose your memory, would you still be you? You might be able to answer some of these sorts of questions with confidence, but as you delve deeper and deeper into the question of where and what your ’self’ is, it becomes less and less clear.  In fact, what we think of as our ‘self’ doesn’t exist at all.  Its just a construct of our minds that makes us able to function in the conventional world.  In fact, the true nature of reality is called “dependent origination”.  Without an observer, the observed doesn’t exist, and without an object to be observed, the observer doesn’t exist.  That is what is meant by emptiness: the true nature of reality is that objects including people, are empty of inherent existence.  It’s a very subtle distinction, which takes lots of meditation and practice to really understand.

 

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4 responses to “What is emptiness according to Buddhism?

  1. “Without an observer, the observed doesn’t exist, and without an object to be observed, the observer doesn’t exist.”

    Fascinating. Of course, because we observe ourselves, we ‘exist’… we see ourselves existing, so we must be. When we stop observing ourselves being, then we just be and there is no one to observe the self being.

    Self, of course, depends on Dependent Origination.

  2. waywardvoice ⋅

    A very calming thought, essentially in the end life can have no true worry. Though it does beg the question of why are there are the observer and the observed existing at all. Also the childhood belief example calls up. Now that there are observers and the observed, now that the state has changed (been hidden if you will), is the earlier state relevant? If we blur the identity of self (something that is perfectly reasonable), all identity in the end has to blur. Which takes us to emptiness. Obviously the emptiness is no longer perfectly empty (illusion being “something,” regardless of it substance), where does the state of “empty of inherent existence” end and illusory existence begin?

  3. me

    Waywardvoice: Language is a barrier here. The words “emptiness” and “selflessness” are but vague approximations of the meaning, as are the equivilent words in Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan or any other language, including visual lanaguage. And the word/concept/picture of “illusion” is also an approximation. All of these words I type, all that I think is around me now is an illusion. Logic is an illusion. Not that illusion is a bad thing. We need it to walk around, to feed ourselves so we can stay alive and meander down the path to enlightenment, but don’t confuse the words or even the concepts with something that must be experienced. Its like describing the color green to a blind person. Or a semi-blind person, or a color-blind person. Is that perfectly opaque now? Oh, by the way, I’m full of it.

  4. Yet Li ⋅

    Emptiness:
    I don’t exist, but I do exist.
    I exist because of “cause and effect”.
    I don’t exist on my own, I exist because of other existence. I am just the mixture of many different compounds. I am not I, I am also I.

    Who am I? That is the answer.

    Everything happens because of cause and effect and everything is empty because it doesn’t have it’s own form, but just mixture of many different forms into one form and that is the form.

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