Shunyata (Tib. stong-pa-nyid, Chin. kung),usually translated as "emptiness",
"voidness", "nothingness", or even "relativity",
is a key technical and philosophical term in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.
This is a difficult term, usually translated as "Void" or "Emptiness",
but sometimes more positively as "Openness". The philosophical nuances
of this term are complex. Emptiness must not be understood as simple nihilism
(the denial that anything exists), much less as referring to some absolute entity
that underlies appearance. Rather, things are "empty" in the sense of
lacking independent, persistent existence.
In the Buddhist scholar H. V. Guenther's words: "the technical term shunya
indicates the "open dimension of being". The customary translations
by "void" or "emptiness", fail to convey the positive content
of the Buddhist idea" .
While according to T. R. V. Murti , the terms shunya and shunyata are used
in two allied meanings.
" (a) All phenomena are shunya (void, empty), as they are relative and so
lack substantiality and independent reality; they are conditioned by and depenedent
on other phenomena (this is the Buddhist theory of Pratitya-samutpanna or "dependent
origination") and hence in themselves ultimately unreal.
" (b) The Absolute Reality is shunya or shunyata, as it is devoid of empirical
forms and thought constructs, no predicate ("is", "not-is",
"is and not-is", neither "is nor not-is") can legitamately
be applied to it.
For an in-depth philosophical discussion, see Francis Streng, Emptiness: A Study
in Religious Meaning (Abingdon Press, 1975) (unfortunately out of print).
Ultimately shunyata is a phenomenological term for the experience of the Absolute
Reality. The Absolute Reality is the experience of total freedom from the distortion
and limitations of conceptual understanding (vikalpa), it is "empty"
or "void" of all such particular characteristics. This Shunyata, according
to the great 2nd Century Buddhist dialectician Nagarjuna, can only be described
in terms of a paradoxical series of negations. So for example in Absolute Reality
(Shunyata) there is neither Movement nor non-Movement nor both Movement and non-Movement
nor something other than Movement and non-Movement. Reality embraces all, includes
all and transcends all.