Why is emptiness important to buddhism

In the Mahayana schools, such as Zen, emptiness, or the realization of emptiness seems to be an important part of the path, less so in the Theravada tradition, am I mistaken? And having trained in both traditions how do you reconcile the two? Emptiness is as important in the Theravada tradition as it is in the Mahayana.

From the earliest times, Theravada Buddhism has viewed emptiness as one of the important doors to liberation. Ignoring the opening and closing, he was happy with the emptiness teaching in the core of the text. He gave a profound dharma talk on the Heart Sutra, saying that this insight is what Vipassana practice aims at.

Over the centuries, emptiness came to have a range of meanings within Buddhism. The greatest change in meaning was in the Mahayana tradition where some quite diverse teachings on emptiness emerged. Even so, the great Indian philosophers of the Mahayana wrote that the standard understanding of emptiness within the Mahayana and within the earlier Buddhist traditions is the same. It is not emptiness which differentiates these traditions.

Though emptiness is important in the Theravada tradition, it is usually not taught as often as in the Mahayana.

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This might lead some to assume it is absent in the Theravada. One reason it is not taught as often is that emptiness is seen as a liberating insight rather then a philosophical view one needs to understand intellectually. Emptiness is sometimes not taught until the student is ready for it. The frequency with which the Mahayana talks about emptiness is probably matched by the frequency with which the Theravada teaches impermanence and not-self; in practice, both traditions are often pointing to the same thing in these teachings.

A final reason may be that the goal of Theravada practice is not emptiness. The goal is liberation. Emptiness is a means to liberation. While liberation comes with a deep understanding of emptiness, emptiness is secondary to Awakening. Toggle navigation Insight Meditation Center. Through Tricycle Magazine someone asked Gil Fronsdal: In the Mahayana schools, such as Zen, emptiness, or the realization of emptiness seems to be an important part of the path, less so in the Theravada tradition, am I mistaken?If we are ever to embrace Buddhism properly into the West, we need to be clear about emptiness, since a wrong understanding of its meaning can be confusing, even harmful.

The third century Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna taught, "Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end. Emptiness is not complete nothingness; it doesn't mean that nothing exists at all. This would be a nihilistic view contrary to common sense. What it does mean is that things do not exist the way our grasping self supposes they do.

In his book on the Heart Sutra the Dalai Lama calls emptiness "the true nature of things and events," but in the same passage he warns us "to avoid the misapprehension that emptiness is an absolute reality or an independent truth.

The Heart Sutra says, "all phenomena in their own-being are empty. The passage means that nothing we see or hear or are stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless, ever-changing landscape. So though no individual person or thing has any permanent, fixed identity, everything taken together is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls "interbeing. Think of the Dalai Lama himself and the kind of person he is -- generous, humble, smiling and laughing -- and we can see that a mere intellectual reading of emptiness fails to get at its practical joyous quality in spiritual life.

So emptiness has two aspects, one negative and the other quite positive. Ari Goldfielda Buddhist teacher at Wisdom Sun and translator of Stars of Wisdomsummarizes these two aspects as follows:.

why is emptiness important to buddhism

The first meaning of emptiness is called "emptiness of essence," which means that phenomena [that we experience] have no inherent nature by themselves. Ultimate reality is the union of both emptinesses.

Emptiness in Theravada Buddhism

With all of this in mind, I would like to highlight three common misunderstandings of emptiness: emotional, ethical and meditative. When we say "I feel empty," we mean we are feeling sad or depressed. Emotionally speaking, "emptiness" is not a happy word in English, and no matter how often we remind ourselves that Buddhist emptiness does not mean loneliness or separateness, that emotional undertow remains. At various times I have looked for a substitute translation for the Sanskrit sunyata -- I have tried "fullness," "spaciousness," "connectedness," and "boundlessness" -- but as Ari Goldfield points out, "emptiness" is the most exact translation.

Once, speaking of emptiness he said, "I do not mean voidness. There is something, but that something is something which is always prepared for taking some particular form. Some Buddhist students rationalize or excuse bad behavior of their teacher by asserting that through his understanding of emptiness the teacher is exempt from the usual rules of conduct.

One student said, "Roshi lives in the absolute so his behavior can't be judged by ordinary standards. No behavior that causes harm is acceptable for a Buddhist practitioner, teacher or otherwise. Some Buddhist students think that a meditative state without thought or activity is the realization of emptiness. While such a state is well described in Buddhist meditation texts, it is treated like all mental states -- temporary and not ultimately conducive to liberation.

why is emptiness important to buddhism

Actually emptiness is not a state of mind at all; it is, as the Dalai Lama says, simply "the true nature of things and events. Whether the mind of the meditator is full of thoughts or empty of them, this true nature holds.

Finally, since emptiness seems so difficult to understand, why did the Buddha teach it at all? It is because of his profound insight into why we suffer. Ultimately we suffer because we grasp after things thinking they are fixed, substantial, real and capable of being possessed by ego. It is only when we can see through this illusion and open ourselves, in Ari Goldfield's words, "to the reality of flux and fluidity that is ultimately ungraspable and inconceivable" that we can relax into clarity, compassion and courage.

That lofty goal is what makes the effort to understand emptiness so worthwhile. US Edition U. Coronavirus News U. HuffPost Personal Video Horoscopes. Newsletters Coupons. Terms Privacy Policy. Part of HuffPost Religion. All rights reserved.Advanced Search. Search in Features Section:. North America. Art and Archaeology. Books and Literature. Environment and Wildlife. Exhibitions and Conferences.

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Buddhism in America. Buddhism in Japan.It is a basic concept in Buddhism and is stressed especially in some schools of Mahayana Buddhism, including Zen.

Emptiness teaches the lack of substantiality or independence of things, and stresses the idea of no independent origination, that the present state of all things is the result of a previous state. Emptiness includes the teaching of impermanence; everything is always in a state of change.

In other words, everything, including every sentient being, is an ever-changing process. The dharma of non-attachment relates to the concept of emptiness and impermanence, since if all things are impermanent and are always changing, what is there to be attached to?

Being free of attachments is the true state of emptiness. The Buddha taught that this is like this, because that is like that. Because you and the river are constantly changing. The river does not stay the same and neither do you. Sunyata or emptiness does not mean that there is no existence of matter. It does not mean that there is no existence of feelings, perceptions or ideas. The five aggregates that comprise a sentient being, i. Forms or material things are compounded, the result of something else, the effect of a cause, and are therefore impermanent and empty.

Each of us is made of stardust, and even the stars are the result of something else. Can you imagine there being a beginning of anything and there being an ending? Name something that was not the result of something else and the cause of something else.

How far back can we go in naming our ancestors? The human brain has a difficult time coping with the idea that there either is a beginning and an end, or that there is not. The reason for the Buddhist teaching of emptiness is to loosen all attachments to views, stories and assumptions, leaving the mind empty of all greed, anger, and delusion; therefore empty of suffering of stress, anxiety, frustration and unsatisfactoriness.

Buddhism Teacher "A Buddhist is primarily a person in search of a satisfying life while pursuing enlightenment and practicing compassion and loving kindness". Amazon Store books, videos, audios Printfection Store t-shirts. Sign-up to receive the newsletter s Help support this web site through your donation.

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AllbuddhaBound Veteran Veteran. January edited January in Buddhism Basics. The whole concept of emptiness is one that I struggle with from time to time. When we think about emptiness, I tend to begin wondering if it is all worthwhile. Rather than help me adjust to my environment, it instills a feeling of hopelessness in me. I'm sure this is because I don't fully understand. What are the mechanics behind emptiness and the belief that everything is an illusion?

Where is it taking us? Why do we need to believe in it in order to be happy? And if we don't believe in it, doesn't that stop us from developing awareness?Is it that somebody created it? Did it come because Adam and Eve ate a forbidden apple from a tree or In Buddhism, we say that unawareness has no beginning.

It appears to me, for instance, that I am the center of the universe and to everybody else it appears that they themselves are the center.

Yet, when we believe that the world actually does exist in that mistaken way, we create all our problems, both for ourselves and for others. The way things appear in our everyday experience is incorrect, even for animals.

It is possible, however, to get rid of the confusion and ignorance that is the cause of our problems, if you think about it. Not knowing how things exist, or having an incorrect understanding of it, cannot exist in our minds at the same time as a totally correct understanding.

When we think like that, we become convinced that it is possible to actually get rid of our problems. Otherwise, why are we trying? To eliminate this confusion, we need to have some clear understanding of the five aggregate factors of experience — the so-called five aggregates.

why is emptiness important to buddhism

Our experience is made up of many parts, which are all continuously changing. If we have a headache, it seems as though nothing else is happening except for the headache. This is another example of how the way things appear are not the way things exist. We need to understand all the things that make up our experience — the five aggregates. Buddhist philosophy differentiates between things that exist and things that do not exist. What exists can be validly known.

What does not exist cannot be validly known. Chicken lips do not exist. We can imagine human lips on a chicken, but we cannot imagine chicken lips on a chicken because there is no such thing. The difference is in whether or not a thing changes while it exists.

It could exist for a short period of time or forever.Nonetheless, here goes. Emptiness is the central insight of Buddhism, and what makes it unique among religions.

According to Buddhism, neither we, nor other beings, nor any phenomenon in the universe, has a permanent, separate, and independent core, soul, or identity. Another way to look at it is interdependence: all relative phenomena are purely the product of external causes. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, the entire universe is present in a single flower, except for one thing—a self.

There are some traditional contemplations you can do to investigate this. Choose any object, say a chair, and see if you can find the one essential thing that makes it a chair. Our aspiration is to keep LionsRoar. Do you share our aspiration?

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