In this page we will learn the philosophy of emptiness and how to reach this idea in our daily life.

THE basic idea in philosophic system of Mahayana should contain two categories, one is the vast Heart of Bodhi (Mind of True Awakening), also is the limitlessly and vastly merciful wish of delivering all beings from worldly miseries. The other one is the profound truth of the Prajna, also is the profound truth of “Emptiness and Form are the same” that is built through the “Very truth emptiness” of all things.

THE mind of true awakening is the limitless mercy of sentiment developing to the utmost point or highest degree. The profound truth of Prajna is the vast wisdom of wisdom developing to the farthest point.

THE sentiment is intuitional, subjective, passionate, and persistent. And the wisdom is deliberate, objective, ruthless, and surpassing. These two look like contradictive but complementary mutually in fact.

WHEN the sentiment and wisdom are developing to the highest degree, will be melted together and become the whole (complete combination, the absolute in the relative and vice versa) in Buddhist’s eyes.

FROM the “Chain of cause and effect” point of view, the ideas for all practitioners doing their best to practice the merciful mind in worldly business is automatically to get the wisdom of very truth emptiness eventually. Then the limitless merciful actions will be brought about automatically also after getting the great wisdom.

THE difference between Buddhist doctrine and the other religions is the satisfactory mercy that is built up through the great wisdom of emptiness. The wisdom in Buddhist doctrine, mostly means understanding or perceiving the nature of emptiness. The nature of emptiness is the basic determining factor and the life vein for the Buddhist doctrine.


“Emptiness” is called “Sunyata” in Sanskrit language, Sunyata is a combination of “Sunya” (stem) and “Ta” (participle suffix), “Sunya” means empty and “Ta” means nature, so “Sunyata” means the nature of emptiness. But some scholars or researchers think that the root of the “Sunya” is from “Svi” which means to swell or swollen, so “Sunya” means things which are swollen with solid outside and empty inside. “A swollen head is an empty one” means external appearance looks big and solid with nothing in it.

THE meaning of the “Emptiness” is that the external appearance of all things in phenomenal world or material world look pretty real but are unreal and insubstantial in fact.

IN religious meaning, emptiness means to remove all wishes, desires, unease, fight, and even the impermanence in order to reach the elevation of spirit of “Liberating from worldly cares”. In philosophical meaning, emptiness means the principles of “No real substance of all things”, “No self”, “No original nature”, and even “Very truth emptiness”.

THERE is another meaning for “Sunya” in Sanskrit language, that is “Zero”. The zero itself does not contain anything, but is not unreal absolutely. The zero’s mark is “O”, it does not just represent a mathematical concept, but also it provides very practical function. If there is no “O” mark in today’s modern world, can any activity of business and science carry on?

ZERO represents emptiness, void, blank, and impracticality, but at the same time, represents the possibility of producing all things. Think it deeper, everything starts with zero, including knowledge, business, reputation, wealth, and … so on. Therefore “Sunya” (Zero) does not symbolize the discontinuously deadly void, but symbolize the limitlessly producing latent force of vitality of “can be the world of void and can be the world of senses (Being and non-being)”.

We have never seen the feature of emptiness, never dealt with emptiness, do not have any experience of emptiness. The world we have been experiencing is totally a world of “Being” or a world of senses. Our elevation of spirit is always separated from emptiness. Our feeling, thought, thinking, comprehension, and every action all are established by the foundation of “Being” or “Bhava”. As a matter of fact we even cannot think of emptiness(Non-being), because all the “think of” always belong to “Being”.

Most of us have two kinds of misunderstandings about emptiness, First kind: we acknowledge that emptiness is “Voidness of absence”, Second kind: we acknowledge that emptiness is “Voidness of annihilation”.

WHAT is “Voidness of absence”? For example, somebody says “Hi, look! That house is empty”, or “That is a empty house”, the meaning of his words, is that nothing is in the house or nobody is living in the house, does not mean the house is not existent. When we say “That bookshelf is empty”, it dose not mean the bookshelf itself is not existent, the only meaning of those words is that nothing is on the bookshelf. This is called “Voidness of absence”. This is not the emptiness of Mahayana’s doctrine.

“Voidness of absence”, is a erroneous and false emptiness, does not mean the emptiness of the thing itself. The religious world and the philosophical history are holding the positive way of looking at the “Voidness of absence” very popularly. In India, the Sankara of Advaita-Vedanta is a good sample of “Vodiness of absence”.

SANKARA believed in that all things in material world are empty, are the illusion of projection of the Brahman that is the “real essence of universe” which is given by ignorance of all beings. The phenomena is empty and false, but the “real essence of universe” (Brahman), which is the propor supporting pillar of phenomena, is real and not empty. Not only is real but also is exit forever. The emptiness which Sankara were talking about is just the illusive world of ordinary people. This is what we called “Voidness of absence”.

“Voidness of absence” means some are empty and some are not empty, from this point of view, the Yogacara and Abhidhama also belong to “Voidness of absence”. Denying that all things are very truth emptiness or emptiness also is empty (Sunyata-Sunyata), is the main idea of “Voidness of absence”. This is a misunderstanding for emptiness.

THE second misunderstand is to treat emptiness like annihilation, it means something exist for a period of time but will be vanished eventually. For example, when we say “That street is empty totally”, means there were many houses along the street, now all have been removed because of building road. The death of human being is also a obvious example.

THE meaning of “Voidness of annihilation” is that something exist in the first place, but vanish later, the emptiness of from being to non-being. This kind of emptiness is easy to understand and can be seen. Most of people treat the emptiness of Buddhist doctrine like this kind of emptiness “Voidness of annihilation”, but this is a terribly mistake.

THE emptiness is definitely not any kind of annihilation. Buddha was asked a question “Are the enlightened sages existent when they die?” (Is there a body or mind enjoying the nirvana?) But Buddha gave no answer determinedly. This prove clearly that nirvana is not annihilated.

WHEN we describe a thing, usually nothing more than three kinds:
First is the way of paraphrasing, second is the way of using an analogy, third is the way of presenting facts straight.

THE way of paraphrasing: U.S.A. means the United States of America. In this sentence of paraphrasing, there is no concept or data or material added to describe the U.S.A. but just give it a phraseological or literal meaning.

THE way of using an analogy: “Human is kind of animal who can cry, can smile, and is rational.” In this sentence, it is using some other notions to describe human, such as “cry” “smile” “rational” and “animal”, at the same time joining all the notions up and making them related to become a structure. Therefore we can understand the meaning of “human” from the reflection of this structure. Using structure of relation of all kinds notions to describe a thing, we call it “The way of using an analogy”.

THE way of presenting facts straight: A student asks his philosophical teacher “What is table?” the teacher does not answer with customary explanation “Table is furniture with four legs and a piece of board on the top.” Instead the teacher use the way of presenting facts straight, he punches the table beside him with his fist and point at the table with a great cry “Look! This is the table”. The way of presenting facts straight does not use any words, notions, and thinking.

IF “The way of presenting facts straight” could give rise to results, the beneficiaries will understand or comprehend right away, the degree of accuracy is far more than the other two. Most of Buddhist scholars admit that the best way to describe the nature of emptiness is “The way of presenting facts straight”. But “The way of presenting facts straight” in Buddhist doctrine, only the enlightened people know “How to practice it,” and in present time almost cannot find one.

THEREFORE the only way we can use to describe the Buddhist doctrine is “The way of using an analogy”, but it is not the best way to describe the nature of emptiness because it is constrained limitatively by the thinking of human concept.

WE try to describe the nature of emptiness through the Heart Sutra:
Heart of the Prajna-Paramita Sutra, also called Heart Sutra, is the shortest and the most popular sutra in Buddhism. If the six hundred volumes of the Maha Projna Sutra can be summarized by the Diamond Sutra in around five thousand words, then the Diamond Sutra can be summarized by the Heart Sutra in around two hundred and fifty words. The Heart Sutra is regarded as the summation of the wisdom of Buddha. It explains perfectly the teaching of non-attachment, which is basically the doctrine of emptiness.

THE Heart Sutra says: {When Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is practicing the profound Prajna-paramita(Truth wisdom), He contemplates, sees, and illuminates to the emptiness of the five skandhas(the five fundamental conditions of passions and delusions), and thus attains deliverance from all suffering.}

[Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is not only the name of Bodhisattva but also means the attainment of the bodhisattva stage and the cause-ground for practicing Dharma, and also means the symbol of mercy and wisdom of all Buddhas.]

THE most important word in this paragraph is “Illuminates”(pas’yati). When Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is in profound meditation of Prajna-paramita, he illuminates with presenting facts, that all things including material and non-material are empty. This means that the surpassing Prajna wisdom cannot be reached through comparison, languages, words, and thinking, should be reached through the intuitional wisdom of presenting facts as it is.

BUT if we want to describe the elevation of spirit of Praja wisdom, we have to use languages and concepts (These are the only tools we can think of). Describing the Praja wisdom by putting in words in the first place then overcoming these words, meaning we address teachings first and then overcome these teachings. We will destroy the persistent nature and reach the surpassing by practicing this step.

LANGUAGES and words are the function of marks, the reason for human can be better than other animals is that human know how to develop intellectual ability and expand the elevation of spirit through languages and marks.

LANGUAGES and marks are not the best mediacy for reaching emptiness, because they are comparative, reflective, and indirect; not like the sense of vision, sense of hearing, and sense of touching of presenting facts which are direct and accurate.

“Attains deliverance from all suffering”, gives us an idea that the only way of liberating from suffering of all living being is to reach the elevation of spirit of emptiness ourselves. It emphasizes to reach the liberation and elevation of spirit of “Completion and Perfection”, the special kindness of supernatural beings is not enough, the most important condition is that we have to come to realize the truth of “All things are empty” first.

THE Sutra says: {Sariputra, Matter (Form) is not different from emptiness, and emptiness is not different from matter (form). Matter (Form) is emptiness and emptiness is matter (form).} This is the cream part of whole Heart Sutra.

“Form is emptiness and emptiness is form”, in fine means from “Being is non-being and non-being is being”, “Differences is similarities and similarities is differences”, “Activity is passivity and passivity is activity”, to everything of antithesis (which we think) are all equal totally.

“Form is not different from emptiness and emptiness is not different from form” means we should not think that form and emptiness or being and non-being are two different things. The common sense tells us that form and emptiness or being and non-being are two different things but the principle of Prajna wisdom is try to describe that form and emptiness or being and non-being are not the two difference things (the same).

WE should understand that the emptiness is neither voidness of absence nor voidness of annihilation, because like we mentioned above the meaning of voidness of absence is “No emptiness here but emptiness there”, and the meaning of voidness of annihilation is “No emptiness first but emptiness later”. If form and emptiness are not two different things, where can we find the voidness of absence and voidness of annihilation?

THE emptiness in Mahayana Buddhistic doctrine is not isolated, intransigent, obstruct. It can be being and non-being at the same time, very much active, very much flexible.

“Form is not different from emptiness and emptiness is not different from form” obviously express that form and emptiness are exactly the same, and mutually approach. This is totally different from the doctrine of Advaita-Vedanta of Hindu, whose ideas is that you have to get rid of illusions before reaching the deliverance or liberation. But in Prajna wisdom we do not have to get rid of illusions, if we can reach the step which illusion and emptiness or emptiness and illusion are not the two things, then we are already in the elevation of spirit of liberation.

The idea of “Form is emptiness” is easy to describe and accept, but “Emptiness is form” is very hard to describe, understand, and accept. We have been in a world of “Being” ever since the beginninglessness, when talking about “from being to non-being” maybe easier to understand and accept, because at least there is a starting point of “Being” which we have confidence in dealing with it.

BUT the starting point of “Emptiness is form” is “Non-being”, nobody has an idea about non-being, nobody has an experience of non-being, therefore we have no confidence in dealing with it. It is doubly hard to use the reason of things to describe “Emptiness is form” or “Non-being is being”.

“Emptiness is form” should be an elevation of spirit of enlightenment of presenting facts straight, cannot be reached through thinking and comparison. In the “Material form and material form are not hindered one another” of Hua Yen School we can get more ideas about the “Emptiness is form”. .

THERE are three demonstrations or proofs in Mahayana’s doctrines:

FIRST, All things in phenomenal or material world are constantly changed, therefore we conclude that “All things are empty”.

SECOND, All things are interdependent and subject to change, therefore there is no nature of things, all things are empty. We can also express this way, when we observe all things, we discover that they have no solid or fixed nature or content, the form of all things are subject to change according to the difference of standpoint and structure. Therefore, conclude that “All things have no self, are empty after all”.

THIRD, All things of the universe of many universes arise from the projection of “The accumulation of activities of past” of hundreds of millions beings. And these are also all kinds of illusions of projections of collective minds. These illusions change constantly and have no substance, therefore are all empty.

This demonstration is accepted by all Buddhist sects and is the main reason for describing “No Self” and “All things are empty”. No doubt, when we observe all things at every moment, we notice that all things are changed always and never stopped. Furthermore, all things are changed not just at every moment but in the twinkling of an eye, therefore there is no duration for all things in the material world, but arising first minute and vanishing next minute like a flash.

FROM common sense point of view, the things we see everyday, seem all can keep their entity and have duration. As a matter of fact this is a kind of illusion, just like the things on movie screen, look like they have duration and can keep their characteristic consistently. But when we observe it deeper, we will discover that these things on the screen are not just a single piece, but are a whole series of many single pieces, when acting continuously will give us illusion continuously too.

ALL things in material world are the same thing like in the movie, are a whole series of many different momentary single pieces, when acting and acting will build a illusion continuously.

[The momentary thing represents its own annihilation] is a ancient Indian Buddhist master’s words. This means if things change momentarily, then cannot remain. If there is no-duration, then no substance of things can get. Because of changing momentarily, therefore they can be arising first minute and vanishing next minute, even arising and vanishing at the same time. The point here is to convince us that all things are arising and vanishing momentarily are empty.

THINK it deeper, if there is no duration for a thing, how can we say that it is existent. If there is no duration, then the substance or identity of the thing cannot get, how can we say that it is existent.

IN the Diamond Sutra, Buddha says: {Subhuti, past thought cannot be got at, present thought cannot be got at, and future thought cannot be got at}. This means that any thing cannot escape from time must be empty, because if any thing is within time, then cannot be found no matter in the past, present, and future time.

WEI MO Bodhisattva says: {All things are not arising and vanishing totally is the meaning of impermanence}. Usually we think that the meaning of impermanence is changing constantly, so how we are going to accept this “not arising and vanishing totally” is the meaning of impermanence. Here we try to explain it through six steps.

FIRST step, Impermanence means things change in form or character, and the meaning of “Change” is “Never stop, not even one moment”, also meaning no remaining at every moment.

SECOND step, No remaining does not mean only within a specific moment, but must be no remaining always. Because we cannot say that the thing is remaining at first moment and no remaining at next moment, if anything at any moment become remaining, then how it happen from no remaining to remaining?

IF something is remaining at a specific moment, then it should be like that always, in this case all things become static or motionless, and impetus of retribution (Chain of cause and effect) become impossible, the change and historical development of all things become impossible also.

THIRD step, The concept of “Being” or “Existence” and “Remaining” or “Stay” are not separated, “Being” must be “Remaining”, and because of “Remaining”, then can be “Being”. Because when we say that something is existent or “Being”, then something should have duration or some degree of “Remaining” or “Stay”. If there is no “Remaining” there is no “Existence”, therefore if things are changed or vanished momentarily, then must be “Non-being” or “Empty”.

FOURTH step, The fact or reality of things arising in material world is that the moment of so-called “Remaining” is also the moment of “No-remaining” at the same time. And only like that, the “Vanishing” becomes possible. Only all things have “Vanishing”, then all continuously rising which comes in crowds become possible.

FIFTH step, “Remaining of no remaining” (Remaining is No remaining), is just like “Appearance is No Appearance”, is the “Real inner self” or “Beyond material reality” of impermanence. Also meaning “Arising” first second and “Vanishing next second” or “Arising” and “Vanishing” at the same time.

SIX step, According to the conclusion of above five steps, we should understand the words of Wei Mo Bodhisattva: {All things are not arising and vanishing totally is the meaning of impermanence}. This means that the change of impermanence is according to “Arising” and “Vanishing”, “Arising” and “Vanishing” are originally same time, “Arising” equals “Not Vanishing”, “Vanishing” equals “Not Arising”. “Not Vanishing Not Arising” or “Not Arising Not Vanishing” means “Arising” and “Vanishing” are at the same time, only because “Arising” and “Vanishing” can be at the same time, then the “Impermanence” become possible.

[All things are interdependent and subject to change, there is no original nature of things, therefore all things are empty]. These words are the most principal, erudite, and restrained in the philosophy of emptiness. These words represent the basic idea in “Middle Way” philosophic system and the essence of “Arising depending conditions” and “The original nature is empty”.

THERE are two main thoughts in this demonstration:
FIRST, Since all things are arising because of conditions gathering together, therefore all things do not have self-being or self nature, all things are existent interdependently.

SECOND, When we look at surrounding things, will understand that any of them has a self-being and original nature, the reason they are like that, not because they are originally like that, it because all things have some kind of relative structure with their surrounding, then become like that.

A is A does not mean A itself is A. A is A should mean from the certain standpoint of view, then A becomes A. Or we can say that A is A, is to some kind of relative structure, then A becomes A. Therefore when we change the standpoint or the relative structure, things will be changed or vanished.

THE conclusion here, there is no even one thing whose self or nature can be existent (Do not have any self or nature) in the world. It also very clearly express “This is so, only in relation to so and so, not is it by itself so”.

Original nature means a entity which is independent, self-sufficient, self-existent, decided, and cannot be separated. There is no such entity in Buddhist doctrine. The Buddhism deny “Original Nature” or “Self” meaning deny that things have these features of “Self-existence” in material world.

WHEN we study the meaning of all things have no original nature of Mahayana Prajna’s emptiness , we have to track back to the though of “No-Self” of early Buddhism. Because “All things have no original nature” as a matter of fact is the prolongation and development of “All thing have no self” of original Buddhist’s thought.

ACCORDING to the comparison, we discover that the meaning of “Original nature is empty” of the Prajna and the Middle Way nothing more than the development of original Buddhist thought of “No Self”. When we expand the thought of “No Self” thoroughly to all things of universes then become the “Emptiness of nature”.

“No Self” fixes attention on “No entity” of “Self” of personal character or the emptiness of human beings. It thinks greatly of inside value. But the idea “No entity” of “Nature emptiness” is about all being. The difference between these two is width, there is no difference between them in principal point.

THE BASIC IDEA in philosophic system of EMPTINESS:
Since all things are arising depending on conditions, their existence are only relative. Therefore there is no original nature, and because of that, we call it emptiness.

THE Prajna and Middle Way did not say all on their mind about the principle of dependent-arising, as a matter of fact, the dependent-arising has profound meaning and its involvement and influence are very weighty and important.

HERE we take marriage as a sample and try to get more idea about dependent-arising. Marriage is a kind of relationship, and it needs two people to make it happened, therefore marriage is a kind of dependent-arising. The marriage itself is a structure of some kind of relative relationship, and not any one side can make it happened. It also is a kind of complicated operational complex.

TO reason by analogy, things in this world are all dependent-arising, there is no entity which is alone self-sufficient, independent, and cannot be separated. So-call “Self” as a matter of fact is just a complicated operational complex of some kind of relative relationship.

SO-called “Single entity” or “Alone entity”, such as a car, a person, a house, a table … and so on, because of the convenience of practical use, for the time being we give everything a single name, make them look like they all have a entity of “Self-existence”. As a matter of fact, these “a car” “a person” “a house” “a table” are all just a complicated operational complex of different kind of relative relationship. Therefore originally there are no all kinds of entities which are existent absolutely, only momentarily changing things which are existent relatively.

WHEN we observe things surrounding us, will discover that they are all arising depending on conditions; a bicycle, a watch, a house, a tree … and so on. And this is the explanation for the other principle of the “Depending-Arising” that is [A is A, not because A has original nature, contrariwise, but because B, C, D, E and the other ingredients (Conditions) match together then produce A.]

WHEN we look at worldly things closely we will discover that the natural sciences and the social sciences all extol and propagate the theory of “Depending-arising”. Such as the competitive ability of business, the fighting strength of military, the economic power of country … and so on.

THESE is another way to describe the emptiness, that is to point out all things have no determinateness. If something has no determinateness then we cannot say it is existent. Because “No determinateness” makes entity or identity become impossible. Also the “No determinateness” negates the basic conception of “Being” or “Existence”.

“No determinateness” means no original nature, also is the principle of emptiness of Prajna wisdom and Middle Way. If we can approve that all things have no determinateness, also approve that all things have no their original nature.

OBSERVING “No determinateness” of things is very easy. For example, can be anything, if we observe it from different angle, then it becomes all kinds of shapes.

ONE at the same time can be hated by one’s enemies, loved by one’s family, respected by one’s children, concerned about by one’s friends.
IN physical phenomena of sub-atomic, there is so-called “Indeterminacy principle”, says that one thing can be shape of wave and particle at the same time.
ONE stone weighs nine pounds on the ground, will be like a piece of paper in space shuttle.
MAYBE we could get some ideas about “No determinateness” through these examples.

THE reason that A is A, it is because through some kind of standpoint or dimension. When leaving the certain standpoint or dimension, A will not be A. “No determinateness” is so-called “Relative nature”. “Relative nature” means A is X, only in relation to B.C.D. under certain conditions.

SOMETHING we should understand here that all things have no determinateness in Buddhist doctrine, is not from the common sense standpoint of view, but from the observation of surpassing or higher dimension standpoint of view.

WE do not deny that H2 and O1 constitute water, Henry Ford was a rich man, or the Sun rises from the east and so on. But these things all belong to the fact of common sense world, of course they have their conventional value of practical use.

IF we are not restricted by the world of elementary knowledge and local customs, and try to see things from the standpoint of surpassing human’s narrow-minded feeling and comparison, from the standpoint of higher degree, more objective feeling. Then the facts in common sense world will no longer be the same facts.

BECAUSE when observing things from the standpoint of higher degree, all around, or no limitation of certain dimension, then we will see more appearance or no determinateness of things.

FOR this reason, Buddhist doctrine emphasizes that the original nature of all things is empty, why? It because there is no determinateness of all things. Perhaps readers have question like this “What is the standpoint of higher degree?” The standpoint of higher degree means things are not limited by certain or special standpoint or dimension, also means a standpoint which is surpassing, all around, organic, limitless, not persistent, and totalistic.

HOW about this contrariwise question like this “If there is no emptiness, or all things have their original nature, then what is going to happen?” Like we mentioned above, the definition of “One’s original nature” and the definition of “Change (vicissitudes)” and “Impermanence” are exactly opposite, therefore if all things have their original nature, then arising, vanishing, and changing become impossible. The universe will become a statically died thing. If we admit the “One’s original nature” means we deny the material world, also means we deny all the possibility of changing and improving.

ONLY because there is no such “One’s original nature”, then any changing become possible and the retribution (The chain of cause and effect) become possible, religious and moral conduct such as reward, punishment, and liberation become possible.

IF we think this way, “Emptiness” is just like “Zero”, like we mentioned “Zero” does not contain anything, but do instruct, represent, or include all things. All marks are used by human, “Zero” has the most flexibility or elasticity and is the mark that has no “Original nature” at all. Because “Zero” represents “Non-being”, therefore it has the possibility to develop all “Being”.

IN a word, the “Emptiness” which the Prajna wisdom talking about, does not damage the “Being”, contrariwise, the “Emptiness” always build and maintain all things in some way.

The way of human’s thinking is some kind of original nature way thinking. The obvious feature of original nature way thinking is to mistake entity for event (thing), mistake substance for action.

FOR example: A question “When I stretch open my fingers, what’s going to happen to my fist?” This question points out obviously that we mistake a substantive-fist (entity) for “Fist”. As a matter of fact, fist is not a entity, also is not a real object, we shouldn’t use substantive to present it. Fist is not a very evident hidden-action, means when bending five fingers, then giving some degree of pressure to the palm, therefore making the joints and muscles become a special action of mutual-structure relation only. Because fist is not a entity, so when we stretch open our fingers, of course fist will not be existent. This does not mean the action destroy the entity, but only the B action (stretch open fingers) takes over the A action (closing fist).

IN a word, human’s original nature way thinking is kind of thinking that is independent, unitary, entity, substance, static, fixed, bound, definitively-restricted, clinging and attachment, being, and thatness, but the Parjna wisdom’s Non-original nature way thinking is kind of thinking that is interdependent, structural, events, action, dynamic, fluid, free, infinite-possibilities, release and detachment, non-being, and whatness.

All things of the universe of many universes arise from the projection of “The accumulation of activities of past” of hundreds of millions beings. And these are also all kinds of illusions of projections of collective minds. These illusions change constantly and have no substance, therefore all things are empty.

THIS demonstration is the best reason for the Yogacara school of thought when talking about the emptiness of surroundings. The Yogacara believes that material worlds are not real, but “Like surrounding” of the projections. From the common sense point of view, this might be improper and hard to accept.

BUT the judgements of common sense are not always right. Often the views of common sense are wrong if looking at things from higher standpoint or angle. Buddhist doctrine tells us only the enlightened people can approve that surroundings are virtual image (unreal), but the projections of mind and no entity.

ALL the surroundings which are the projections of accumulations of thoughts and actions of collective minds, since the qualities of collective mind are different, of course the surroundings of projections are also different, therefore all surroundings have no entity, and their original nature are empty.

FOR sample, same water to human and fish, the way of seeing it, touching it, and smelling it are totally different. Water to human is some kind of hindrance but to fish is nothing just like air to human. It is because that the accumulations of thoughts and actions of collective minds of human and fish are different, the surroundings of projections also are different.

THE traditional Buddhist doctrine has more factual and clear explanation about this: Same water in a pond, to human is water, to fish does not feel that it exist, to angels is sweet dew, to ghost is bloody pus, to the beings in hell is poisoned fluid and hot fire. Why in same place, the same item has different results to different objects? It is because that all things are from the projections of different quality of accumulations of thoughts and actions of collective minds. From this point of view we should understand that all things have no entity and no their original nature.

ANOTHER way of looking at it, also because all things have no their original nature, therefore all kinds of different elevation of spirit could arise at the same time without hindering one another.

Absolute emptiness is one of the most important part of the Prajna widsom. When reaching the absolute emptiness, then the real difference of emptiness between the Prajna wisdom and the others can be shown out.

ABSOLUTE emptiness is the emptiness of nature that deny thoroughly all existence, even deny the emptiness itself, sweep away everything, then is the real emptiness. Therefore absolute emptiness also can be called (Sunyata-Sunyata) “Emptiness of emptiness”. If we affirm the emptiness and give it some kind of form of existence, then we could say that emptiness has its original nature. This is against the Buddhist doctrine.

THE absolute emptiness is trying to point out remotely the absolutely ultimate transcendency in a helpless situation. The ultimate transcendency means liberating from worldly cares thoroughly which surpasses all things, all concepts, all being and non-being, all good and bad, high and low … and so on. And this ultimate transcendency is the real meaning of Paramita which is to reach “The other shore of salvation”.

THE meaning of absolute is not like the meaning of “Firmly decided” “Authority” “Cannot be changed” “Has to be like this”, but “Absolutely free from”. The word “Absolute” from the Latin “Absolvere”, and the original meaning of absolvere is “To set free” “To release”, also means making something escaped from something, or making something became no meaning. Such as “To set him free from this bad habit” or “To release him from this bondage”. Therefore the absolute emptiness means the emptiness which can make human escaped from persist and bondage.

THE essential points of “Absolute Emptiness” is described in third paragraph of Heart Sutra:
{Sariputra, the emptiness character of all things, neither arises nor ceases, is neither pure nor impure, and neither increases nor decreases. Therefore, in the emptiness character, there is nothing obtainable. Therefore, in emptiness: there is no matter, no sensation, recognition, volition or consciousness, no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind, no sight, sound, scent, taste, tangibles, or things, no field of the eye up to no field of mental consciousness, no ignorance or the ending of ignorance up to no ageing and death or the ending of ageing and death, no suffering, no cause of suffering, no ending of suffering, and no path, no wisdom and also no attainment.}

THE world we live in is a world of “Being”, filled up with all kinds of relative phenomena that is arises and cease, pure and impure, increases and decreases. In order to overcome the prejudices of persisting in “Being”, the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva try to describe here the other side of the emptiness that is neither arises nor ceases, neither pure nor impure, and neither increases nor decreases. All conditioned beings have the appearance of arising and ceasing, but emptiness surpasses this level, therefore is neither arises nor ceases

THE Buddhist doctrine thinks that eternal cycle of birth and death or transmigration of souls is impure, nirvana and relief from senses is pure, but the emptiness surpass this level, therefore is neither pure nor impure. The Bodhisattva’s wisdom and contribution to general welfare are expanding widely at the same time their material worries and the burden of sin (which is obstacle to one’s life) are decreasing sharply, but the emptiness surpasses this level, therefore is neither increases nor decreases.

TO liberate us from all kinds of relative appearance such as birth and death, pure and impure, arises and ceases, motion and static, high and low, same and different, being and non-being … and so on, is the principle points of absolute emptiness.

The difference between Buddhism and Hinduism in emptiness in the principle meaning of emptiness.

THE exceptional quality of emptiness, which the Upanisads of Hinduism does not have it, is the spiritual part of surpassing thoroughly that is to deny thoroughly all things including emptiness itself. The emptiness itself has to be empty, no original nature, otherwise is not real emptiness.

BUT the Upanisads persists from the beginning to end in the sacred “Universal ground” which is the foundation of all things. This universal ground is called Brahman, ultimate, pure existence or Being of beings.

THE most solicitous question for the Upanisads’s philosophers is: “Where is the origins of this wood block? From which wood block or tree that they carve the model of heaven and earth?” meaning: “By what kind of material that the supernatural beings create this universe?” The answer is “The root of this world is established in Brahman, the supernatural beings carve the model of universe in the tree of Brahman.”

THE Brahman is like gold, craftsmen produce all kinds of gold products such as gold chains, gold rings by using gold material. The shape and purpose of expenditure maybe different, but they are all gold, all produced by same material.

LIKE the Upanisads says: “Yes, dear, if we know a piece of gold, then we know all the gold personal ornaments, tools. So called gold bowls, gold chains, gold necklaces are just the explanation of language which are given by human, as a matter of fact they are only gold.”

THE Brahman is the foundation or material to all things is just like gold to all the gold products. The Brahman is the essence of all things, the only common substance of all things. The appearances and functions of gold are the difference between gold products, but the substance is not different, same gold. The appearances and functions of things are different, but the substance of all things is the same Brahman.

WHEN melting all products of gold, we only see gold. When melting all appearances and functions of things, we only see the Brahman. If we go step further and ask “What is the real material substance or basic essence of all things?” This answer is: “The pure Being, or pure Existence.” Although all things have all kinds of different appearances and functions, but they all belong to “The pure Being”, “All are existent” are the same.

IN the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads, it says: “Where is the foundation of food? It is in water. Where is the foundation of water? It is in fire. Where is the foundation of fire? It is in “Being”. Yes, dear, the foundation of all things is in “Being”, they live in “Being”, they will die in “Being” at last.

FROM the quotations mentioned above, we should understand the great difference between the Buddhism and the Hinduism. The spiritual part of Buddhism is to concentrate on “Non-being”, and the Upanishads is on “Being”.

THE Upanishads’s surpassing of Brahman and the Prajna’s surpassing of emptiness are mixed up very easily. These two all surpass words, languages, marks, thoughts, and all relativity, but this does mean that these two are exactly the same.

THE spiritual part of Upanishads is to affirm the ultimate substratum and the big one, Brahman. And the Buddhist doctrine is to promote wholeheartedly the absolute emptiness, not to persist in any original nature or entity. When Upanishads talking about the Brahman of beyond material reality (niguna Brahman), it seems only say that the Brahman is “Neither this nor that” (na iti na iti) and does not say that the Brahman’s original nature is also empty. Therefore the Brahman of beyond material reality is just a kind of emptiness of “it is not” but not a kind of emptiness of “there is not”, is voidness of absence and not emptiness of original nature.

THE Buddhist Prajna is furnished with “it is not” and “there is not” two kinds of qualities. “it is not” means Prajan’s incomprehensible “neither this nor that”, and “there is not” means Prajna itself also is empty and has no original nature. The absolute emptiness in one way is “neither this nor that”, in another is at the same time “neither here nor there”, there is no self, no others, and anything else.

The world we live is full of all kinds of relative (two extremities) things. Such as bright and dark, happy and sorry, abstract and real, forward and backward, birth and death … and so on. The foundation of these relative two extremities is duality. The absolute emptiness not just surpass the Brahman but also surpass all relative and dualistic things.

{Sariputra, the emptiness character of all things, neither arises nor ceases, is neither pure nor impure, and neither increases nor decreases. Therefore, in the emptiness character, there is nothing obtainable. Therefore, in emptiness: there is no matter, no sensation, recognition, volition or consciousness, no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind, no sight, sound, scent, taste, tangibles, or things, no field of the eye up to no field of mental consciousness, no ignorance or the ending of ignorance up to no ageing and death or the ending of ageing and death, no suffering, no cause of suffering, no ending of suffering, and no path, no wisdom and also no attainment.}

IN this paragraph of Heart Sutra, we learn that there is no existence of the five skandhas, the twelve bases, or the eighteen fields, no existence of the forward and backward cycles of the twelve links of dependent origination, no existence of the four noble truths, no existence of wisdom or attainment. There is not a thing obtainable.

There are all kinds of nihilism, but all of them admit positively that they deny some thing or some thought, meaning that they affirm the non-existence of some thing or some principle. Gorgias of Greek Sophist said: “ There is nothing in this world can be existent”, but when you ask him if the words he said “There is nothing in this world can be existent” is existent or means truth, his answer must be affirmative. No matter what kind of Nihilism have to admit the standpoint that they deny something or they do not deny the words they say.

BUT the absolute emptiness is not like that. The absolute emptiness also is called “Empty emptiness”, means deny thoroughly all the affirmative notions or positive explanation of absolute emptiness. The emptiness itself is also empty, no its original nature. All the words and languages of explaining emptiness are just fingers of pointing out the moon, the moon is also empty.

SAYS “Empty emptiness” or “Absolute emptiness” is just a kind of expedient, is the tools which can sweep away the persisting of desire and destroy the original nature. Therefore “Empty emptiness” or “Absolute emptiness” is not philosophical thought, is a expedient of liberating and a therapeutic devise.

IF we have to give the absolute emptiness a title, it should not be like nihilism, should be “The Absolute Transcendentalism”. So called “Absolute transcendence” means “neither being nor non-being” “incomprehensible” “describe by words” “cannot be reach by words, languages, concepts, and thought”.

IF we can reach this kind of elevation of spirit, then really can say anything. That is why Wei Mo Bodhisattva did not answer anything when he was asking “What is the only correct approach to the elevation of spirit of Buddha?”

IN a word, the Emptiness should not be considered to be a something which somehow exists some where.

In ancient China, once a monk asked Master Zhau Zhou: “If someone has already seen that everything is empty, then what one should do?” (Are there any next step?), Master Zhau Zhou answered: “Ai! Let go” (Let the emptiness go), the monk asked: “I don’t have anything, let what go?” Master Zhau Zhou answered: “Then, you just carry it and go.” When the monk heard these words, got enlightened right away.

THE monk persisted in emptiness, and because of this reason, still he was hindrance to worldly things (There are obstacles in his mind), Master Zhau Zhou gave him some idea and try to let him jump out of the circle of persisting in emptiness.

THIS was a very good discussed issue in Chinese Buddhist history. The best words for this discussed issue is the last answer “Then, you just carry it and go”, because it will make people leave the attachment of persisting in emptiness, then will reach the elevation of spirit of “free of delusion”.

THE ancient practitioners always give advice repeatedly to the followers “We have to remove everything in order to reach the emptiness, thereafter we in addition have to pass through the emptiness, then we will get the chance to reach the elevation of spirit of “free of delusion”. The Heart Sutra says: “Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form”, there is no difference between form and emptiness. If this is the case , how can we say that “Absolute emptiness” is “Nihilism”.

IF there is no “Emptiness” then nothing could be created or formed. The flexibility and function side of the emptiness is just like the “Emptiness is form” of the Heart Sutra. Finally we should understand one important thing that “Absolute Emptiness” and “Emptiness of One’s original nature” are not two different things. We think maybe easier for us to describe them separately for a theory of one coin with two sides.

Absolute emptiness means surpassing which is neither persisting in “Being” nor persisting in “Non-being”. In the Buddhist doctrine, there are few examples to describe the emptiness.

1) “Emptiness” means “no hindrance”, like space, although space is all over but does not hinder anything (things and events).
2) “Emptiness” means “all around”, like space, is all over, reaches everywhere, touches everywhere.
3) “Emptiness” means “equality”, like space, never has any choice, treat everything equally.
4) “Emptiness” means “vastitude”, like space, is spacious, limitless, infinite, endless, huge.
5) “Emptiness” means “no appearance”, like space, does not have any shape, form, appearance.
6) “Emptiness” means “purity”, like space, is not bothered by material concerns, always pure, does not have any desire.
7) “Emptiness” means “no movement”, like space, enduringly silent, leave all the appearances of birth, death, achievements, and destruction.
8) “Emptiness” means “negative absolutely”, exterminate or remove totally all things and events.
9) “Emptiness” means “empty emptiness”, totally negate all original nature and destroy all “persisting in emptiness”.
10) “Emptiness” means “cannot obtain”, like space, cannot be obtained, cannot be held, cannot be touched.

ALTHOUGH the word “Emptiness” cannot describe the absolute surpassing totally, but we cannot find any words better than “Emptiness” in human’s language to describe the Prajna of “Leaving appearance” (Do not persist in the appearance of things of material world).

From the religious standpoint of view, there is nothing more important than emptiness in Buddhist doctrine.

THE fourth paragraph of Heart Sutra says: {….. Because there is nothing obtainable, Bodhisattvas through the reliance on Prajna-paramita have no attachment and hindrance in their minds. Because there is no more attachment and hindrance, there is no more fear, and far away from erroneous views and wishful-thinking, ultimately : The Final Nirvana.}

IN this paragraph, we should understand that the mind of the practitioners (bodhisattvas) will reach the elevation of spirit of non-hindrance by depending on the emptiness of Prajna, all the material worries of greed, hate, ignorance, proud, and the persisting in one’s original nature will be removed, and no more hindrance.

BECAUSE the immediate perception of emptiness, the root of holding to the concept of the ego or self will be removed. And because of the removing of ego or self, all terrors and confusions that are from the erroneous doctrine that the ego or self, will be destroyed. Therefore we can reach the deliverance and attain the utmost nirvana.

NOW we should understand that Prajna Paramita not only is a philosophical conception but also has its religious meaning and function that are more important. Because there is no all-powerful God who can give special kindness to people and save people in Buddhism, we must experientially entry into emptiness in order to reach the eternal deliverance in Buddhism.

THEREFORE Prajna emptiness is not only a kind of metaphysical truth but also is religious soteriological instrument. Prajna Paramita is also called Prajna-Paramita mother or begetter of all Buddhas. All Buddhas of past, present, and future must depend on Prajna in order to attain the buddhahood.

ANOTHER important meaning of emptiness we mentioned that it denies totally one’s original nature (own nature) and the thinking of own nature. When we remove the persisting in own nature, not only help us in philosophical thinking but also benefit us when doing religious practice of mind.

IF we can put our mind in Prajna emptiness always, then our mind will be wide, not hindered, merciful, and active. When removing the clinging to self and own nature as real, then the brightness of spiritual and all things of physical universes will be developed gradually. Therefore the Mahayana Buddhist always say that the Prajna Paramita is the most important doctrine in Buddhism.

BODHISATTVA without Prajna is just like fish without water, although practicing hardly in almsgiving, keeping the commandments, patience, and meditation, still cannot reach the yonder shore. From the Buddhist standpoint of view, almsgiving, keeping the rules, patience, and meditation although are the good behavior that can build merit, but if there is no Prajna wisdom as guidance, bodhisattvas still cannot understand fully the truth and surpass the self in order to reach the elevation of spirit of limitlessness.

FROM the Mahayana’s standpoint of view, the only way to melt all the relative, opposite, or dualistic things is through the fire of Prajna wisdom. The cult of the monistic doctrine (The immediacy of entering into the truth)(No second way) of The Vimalakirti-nirdesa Sutra (Wei Mo Sutra) is to instruct the way of “How to surpass all the dualistic things”. And “To pass through the emptiness” is only way to reach this “Immediacy of entering into the truth”.

IF there is no emptiness, then, it is impossible for “form and emptiness” become one (No difference), it is impossible for “Being and non-being” become one, it is impossible for “Transmigrations and nirvana” become one, it is impossible for “Mutual entering, touching, containing of things of all dimensions” become one.

IN Mahayana’s sutras instruct us again and again that if there is no direct examining and understanding of emptiness, then the great limitless pitying or mercy vows and actions of bodhisattvas to save all beings cannot be come true.

Hank Fu


No Inner Core
The Nature of Buddha
Emptiness and Form
How to Integrate Emptiness into Everyday Life
What is the use of Knowledge of Impermanence
Teaching on the Heart Sutra
All phenomena are empty
Being Consciousness and Everything
Buddhism without beliefs
Buddhist Philosophy
Emptiness is your friend
Absolute Reality
Emptiness in Buddhist Philosophy
Mathematics mind ontology and the origins of number
Empty your cup
Existence and Nonexistence
Commentary on a lamp for a path to enlightenment
Listening to Teachings
Ground Path and Fruition
Harmony as transcendence
How to be free
What is Real?
Form and Emptiness
Interdependence and the concept of Shunyata
Mahayana idea of emptiness
Manjushri - Prince of Wisdom
Nagarjuna Dialectic : a logic analysis
On suffering and collective responsibility
Heart Sutra
Listening to the mind
Skillful way of thinking
Stephen Batchelor on Emptiness
Sunyata - Emptiness
The benefits of saving the lives of other living beings
The concept of Shunyata
Self or Emptiness
The two truths
Transform into an enlightened being
The impurity of purity
The notion of Emptiness
The philosophy of emptiness
The sharp sword of Prajna
The Six Paramitas
Transmuting anger
Warm heart open mind
What is Enlightenment?