From Nagarjuna's Treatise
on the Great Perfection of Wisdom
As for the entryway of emptiness, it refers to the emptiness of beings and the emptiness of dharmas. Take for example The Sutra on the Encounter with King Bimbasaara wherein it states: "The Buddha told the great king, 'When form is produced, it is only emptiness which is being produced. When form is destroyed, it is only emptiness which is being destroyed. When compositional factors (sa.mskaara) are produced, it is only emptiness which is being produced. When they are destroyed, it is only emptiness which is being destroyed. There is herein no self, no person, and no soul. There is no person who goes from this life on into the later life aside from a conjunction of causes and effects, a being consisting of only names and such. The foolish common person pursues reality by chasing after names.'" In sutras such as these, the Buddha spoke of the emptiness of beings.
As for the emptiness of dharmas, take for example The Sutra on the Buddha's Discussion of Great Emptiness, wherein he stated, "Within the twelve causes and conditions, from ignorance on through to old age and death, if there is a person who says that there is an old age or a death, or if he says that there is someone who grows old or who dies, in every such instance these are erroneous views. The same is true for such statements regarding birth, existence, grasping, craving, feeling, contact, the six sense entrances, name-and-form, consciousness, compositional factors, and ignorance. If there is a person who says that the body is identical with the soul or if there is someone who says that the body is different from the soul, although these two are different they are identical in that they both represent erroneous views."
The Buddha said, "To say that the body is just the soul--anyone who makes erroneous views such as these is not my disciple. To say that the body is different from the soul is also an erroneous view. Anyone making such claims is not my disciple." In this Sutra passage, the Buddha was speaking of the emptiness of dharmas. When he said, "If there is a person who says that there is someone who grows old or who dies," one should know that this fallacy was brought up in reference to the emptiness of beings. Where he said, "If there is a person who says that there is an old age or a death," one should know that this fallacy was brought up in reference to the emptiness of dharmas. This is also the case with the other references up to and including the reference to "ignorance."
Additionally, the Buddha discussed the sixty-two views in The Brahma's Net Sutra, saying, "If there is a person who claims that the soul is permanent and that the world is permanent, these are erroneous views. If one claims that the soul is impermanent and that the world is impermanent, these too are erroneous views. To claim that the soul and the world are both permanent and impermanent or to claim that the soul and the world are neither permanent nor impermanent is in each case an erroneous view. Therefore one should know that all dharmas are empty. This is what is actually the case."
Question: If one says that the soul is permanent this ought to be an erroneous view. Why? Because a "soul" has no [self-existent] nature. If one claims that the world is permanent, this too ought to be a false view. Why? The world is actually entirely impermanent. It is on account of an inverted view that one speaks of the world as permanent. If one says that the soul is impermanent, this too ought to be an erroneous view. Why? Because the soul has no [self-existent] nature. [Since it doesn't even exist], one should not declare that it is impermanent. If one says that the world is impermanent, it should not be that this is an erroneous view. Why? It is the nature of all conditioned dharmas that they are in fact impermanent.
Response: If it is actually the case that all dharmas are impermanent, why did the Buddha declare, "To say that the world is impermanent is an erroneous view"? Therefore, one can know that it is not actually the case that it is impermanent.
Question: In place after place, the Buddha instructed one to contemplate conditioned dharmas as impermanent, suffering, empty, and devoid of a self, and so caused people to gain the Way. How can you say that to claim impermanence is to fall into an erroneous view?
Response: In place after place, the Buddha spoke of impermanence and in place after place, he spoke of "not being destroyed." Take for instance when the Shakyan King, Mahaanaaman came to where the Buddha dwelt and addressed the Buddha, saying, "The population of Kapilavastu is huge. Sometimes, when I encounter a speeding chariot, a runaway horse, a crazed elephant, or battling people, I lose track of the thought which is mindful of the Buddha. At these times I think to myself, "If I died now, where would I be reborn?"
The Buddha told Mahaanaaman, "You should not be frightened. Do not fear. At such a time, you will not be born in one of the wretched destinies. You will certainly go to a good place. This is analogous to a tree which has always leaned well over toward the east. If there is someone who cuts it down, it will certainly fall toward the east. It is just like this for a person who is good. When the body deteriorates and one dies, because throughout the long night [of time],the mental consciousness of the wholesome mind has imbued the mind with faith, moral virtue, learning, giving, and wisdom, one will certainly gain the benefit of it and then be reborn in the heavens."
If it was the case that all dharmas are impermanent by virtue of being produced and destroyed in every thought moment, why did the Buddha say that, because all of the meritorious qualities permeate the mind, one will certainly gain a superior rebirth? Based on this, one should know that [dharmas] are not impermanent by nature.
Question: If impermanence is not actually the case, why did the Buddha speak of impermanence?
Response: The Buddha accorded with what was appropriate for particular beings and so spoke the Dharma for their sakes. It was in order to refute the inverted view which imagines permanence that he spoke of impermanence. In the opposite case, because people were unaware of or did not believe in later existences, he spoke of the mind going on into a later existence and being reborn in the heavens, explaining that the karmic causes and conditions of offenses and merit are not lost even in a million kalpas. These are instances of the counteractive siddhaanta. They do not represent the supreme meaning siddhaanta. The ultimate reality aspect of all dharmas is neither permanent nor impermanent. Then too, the Buddha spoke in place after place of the emptiness of dharmas. In the sphere of the emptiness of dharmas, impermanence [itself] is nonexistent. Therefore, to declare that the world is impermanent is an erroneous view. Hence one refers to the emptiness of dharmas.
Furthermore, there is the case of a brahmacaarin from Vai'saalii known as "Power of Debate." The Liccavis had given him many precious things to obtain his services. Thus he was caused to go forth and debate the Buddha. The night after he had entered their employ, he thought over and selected five hundred debate topics and, early the next morning, went with the Liccavis to the place where the Buddha dwelt. He then asked the Buddha, "Is there one ultimate path or are there many ultimate paths?"
The Buddha replied, "There is one ultimate path. There are not many."
The Brahmacaarin said, "The Buddha claims that there is one way. All of the non-Buddhist masters each have an ultimate way. These constitute many, not one."
The Buddha said, "Although each has his own, and there are many of them, in every case they are not the actual Way. Why? It is because all of them are attached to erroneous views that they do not constitute ultimate ways." The Buddha asked the Brahmaacarin, "Has Deer Head Brahmacaarin gained the Way or not?"
He replied, "Among all who have gained the way, this one is the foremost."
At this time the senior bhikshu, Deer Head Brahmacaarin, stood right behind the Buddha, fanning the Buddha. The Buddha asked the Brahmacaarin, "Do you recognize this bhikshu or not?" The Brahmacaarin then recognized him and, struck with shame, lowered his head. At this time, the Buddha spoke this verse from The Categories of Meaning (Arthavarga):
Everyone is of the opinion
that he embodies the ultimate,
And so each is affectionately self-attached.
Each sees himself as right and attributes fault to others.
These in every case are not the ultimate.
These people enter into
the assembly of debate.
When they engage in making clear distinctions among meanings and principles,
Each speaks of the rights and wrongs of the other.
The victor and the defeated experience distress and delight.
The victor falls into
the pit of arrogance.
The loser falls into the hell of distress.
Therefore, where there is one who is wise,
He does not follow along with these two dharmas.
"Power of Debate",
you ought to know,
Among my disciples and my Dharma,
There is nothing false nor anything real.
What is it then that you seek?
If you are wishing to
demolish my doctrine,
This would never be possible.
It's hard to vanquish all-encompassing wisdom
The attempt would amount to a self-refutation.
In place after place within the scriptures of the Hearers, there are discussions such as this about the emptiness of all dharmas. As for the Mahaayaana emptiness gateway, all dharmas, by their very nature, are eternally and inherently empty. It is not through a contemplation based on wisdom-related expedients that they are perceived to be empty. This is exemplified by the Buddha's explanation to Subhuti about form: "Form is inherently empty. Feeling, perception, compositional factors, and each of the consciousnesses are inherently empty. The twelve sense fields, the eighteen realms, the twelve causes and conditions, the thirty-seven wings, the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, the eighteen exclusive dharmas, the great loving-kindness, the great compassion, sarvaj and so forth, until we come to anuttarasamyaksa.mbodhi--they are all entirely inherently empty.
Question: If one claims that all dharmas, by their very nature, are eternally and inherently empty,--if one claims that they are truly empty and that nothing whatsoever exists, how does this not amount to falling into an erroneous view? By "erroneous view," I refer to the belief that there is neither offense nor merit and that there is no present life or later life. Such beliefs are no different from this claim you make.
Response: A person who claims that there is no offense nor merit does not claim that there is no present lifetime. He only claims that there are no later lifetimes and that people are like such things as grasses and trees which are naturally born and which naturally die. He claims that a certain person is born and then a certain person is killed and that it all ceases with the present, beyond which there is no additional later lifetime in which one is reborn. But they do not know to contemplate everything to do with the person, both internally and externally, and then realize that in every case it is all empty of inherently existent characteristics. It is this which constitutes the difference.
Additionally, people who hold to erroneous views mostly engage in manifold evils and cut off all wholesome endeavors. People who contemplate emptiness do not even wish to engage in the activity involved in wholesome dharmas, how much the less do they wish to engage in doing evil deeds.
Question: There are two types of erroneous views. There are those who attempt to refute "cause" and also to refute "effect" and then there are those who attempt to refute effect but who do not attempt to refute cause. Someone corresponding to your description refutes effect and does not refute cause.
As for one who refutes effect and also refutes cause, if one claims that there are no causes, no conditions, no offenses and no merit, it is this which constitutes refutation of cause. If one claims that there are no retributions associated with offenses and merit in either present or later lives, it is this which constitutes refutation of effect. The person who contemplates emptiness says that in every case they are all empty. If this is actually the case, then offenses and merit as well as cause and effect are all entirely nonexistent. So what actual difference is there between these cases?
Response: Those who hold to erroneous views resort to annihilationism to arrive at the emptiness of all dharmas. A proponent of the Mahaayaana is aware that all dharmas are truly empty but does not engage in any refutation of them or in any attempts to demolish [associated causality].
Question: These erroneous views are of three types: The first is characterized by refutation of any retribution for offenses and merit but no refutation of the offensive or meritorious deeds themselves, by refutation of any retribution associated with causes and conditions but no refutation of the causes or conditions themselves, and by refutation of future lives but no refutation of the present life.
The second is characterized by refutation of retribution for offenses and merit as well as refutation of the offensive and meritorious deeds themselves, by refutation of any retribution associated with causes and conditions as well as refutation of the causes and conditions themselves, and by refutation of both later lives and the present life. However, this does not involve a comprehensive refutation of all dharmas.
The third is characterized by a comprehensive refutation of all dharmas wherein they are all claimed to be entirely nonexistent. The person who contemplates emptiness also speaks of true emptiness and holds that there is nothing whatsoever which exists. What difference is there between this and the third type of erroneous view?
Response: The one who holds to erroneous views arrives at his "emptiness" through the refutation of all dharmas whereas the person who contemplates emptiness is aware that all dharmas are truly empty but does not engage in any refutation of them or in any attempts to demolish [associated causality].
Moreover, the person who holds to erroneous views claims that all dharmas are entirely empty, that nothing whatsoever exists, then, seizing upon all dharmas' characteristic of being empty, engages in frivolous debate on the topic. The person who contemplates emptiness knows that all dharmas are empty but does not seize upon that characteristic or engage in frivolous debate about it.
Furthermore, although those who hold to erroneous views claim that everything is empty, still, where one might be prone to desire, they give rise to desire. Where one might be prone to hatefulness, they become hateful. Where one might be prone to arrogance, they become arrogant. And where one might be prone to delusion, they become deluded. They each deceive themselves. As for those disciples of the Buddha who possess a genuine awareness of emptiness, their minds do not move at all. In all of the places where one might be prone to the arisal of the fetters, they do not ever again give rise to them. They are like empty space which even a smoky fire is unable to stain and which even a great rain is unable to drench. In the case of one who contemplates emptiness in this way, all of the various sorts of afflictions are no longer able to attach to one's mind.
Additionally, people who hold to erroneous views claim that there is nothing whatsoever which exists and yet they still haven't freed themselves from the causes and conditions of desire. True emptiness consists in being a mere product of the causes and conditions of desire. This constitutes the difference.
One does not actively apply true emptiness, wisdom and such even in the case of the pure dharmas of the four immeasurable minds. This is because the object of one's actions therein are not real. How much the less would one employ these erroneous views.
Also, views such as these are known as erroneous views. Views based on true emptiness are known as right views. Those who put erroneous views into action are base and evil people in the present lifetime and then become bound to fall into the hells in later lifetimes. One whose actions are based on true emptiness and wisdom gains a good reputation in the present life and then, in later lives, succeeds in becoming a Buddha. The difference is like that between water and fire. It is also like the difference between sweet dew and lethal poison. To even compare the two is like trying to compare stinking feces to the sudhaa (nectar) of the gods.
Moreover, within true emptiness there is the "emptiness of emptiness" samaadhi. In the case of emptiness based on erroneous views, although there is an emptiness, still there is no "emptiness-of-emptiness" samaadhi.
Furthermore, a person who contemplates true emptiness has first gone through an incalculable amount of giving, upholding of precepts, and dhyaana absorption. His mind is soft and pliant and his fetters are but scant. Afterwards, he gains the realization of true emptiness. In the case of one who holds to erroneous views, there have been none of these endeavors. He simply wishes to seize upon emptiness by resorting to erroneous thoughts associated with speculation and discrimination. This is comparable to the man of rural origins who, having never seen salt before, observed a patrician flavoring meat and vegetables with salt before eating them. He asked, "Why do you do that?"
The reply: "It is because this salt is able to make everything taste delectable."
This man then thought, "If this salt is able to make everything taste delectable, then of course one will certainly want more flavor yet." He then foolishly scooped up salt until he had filled his mouth, and then ate it. The intensity of the saltiness injured his mouth, after which he asked, "Why did you claim that salt makes for delectability?"
The patrician replied, "You fool. With something like this, you must carefully measure how much to mix in order to make things delicious. How could you just eat salt by itself?"
One who is wanting in wisdom hears of the emptiness entryway to liberation but fails to cultivate all manner of meritorious qualities. He wishes only to gain emptiness. This amounts to using erroneous views to cut off all roots of goodness.
Principles such as these illustrate what is meant by the entryway of emptiness. If one enters into these three entryways, then he knows that the meanings contained in the Dharma of the Buddha are not mutually contradictory. The means by which one knows this matter is just the power of prajnaa-paaramitaa. One has no hangups or obstructions with respect to any dharma. If one does not succeed in gaining the dharma of the praj~naa-paaramitaa, on entering the Abhidharma entryway, one falls into a belief in existence. Upon entering into the entryway of emptiness, one falls into a belief in nonexistence. And if one enters into the Pi.taka entryway, one falls into a belief in both existence and nonexistence.