The Great Emptiness Debate

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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The Great Emptiness Debate

Postby Kingdubrock » Fri Aug 23, 2013 5:50 am

I was looking around the forum for discussions about this and found a couple but they seemed to revolve around the possible strawman that Theravadins hold dhammas to have their own-own nature or whatever. Whenever that discussion comes up the quotes from crusty commentaries and sub commentaries to dispel the myth just go right by me. My eyes glaze over. But in short, it seems to me that there is some way of explaining away this common misperception in "relational" terms. Great.

However, I was just reading this article from Thanissaro: ... iness.html

..and I was somewhat surprised at his characterization of the (presumably) Mahayana treatment of the emptiness of all phenomena internal and external etc etc as mere mataphysical wizzardry of no value to the Buddhas very practical concerns of liberation from suffering. While such a perception is understandable, especially if one has the stamina to read Tibetan texts, commentaries and debates about logic and Madhyamaka etc, it is also somethngof a strawman if one minimizes its practical import in Mahayana teachings.
The way it's always come across to me in my Tibetan and Zen training - at least in the practical sense Thanissaro is talking about - is largely in perceptual and situational terms. For example seeing situations and people from a limited, close minded and problematic perspective. Sure, in many cases this can still be reduced to, or subsumed by or thought about in terms of anatta, craving and "I" etc. But in many others it's not, really. It can also come down to views, opinions, misreading the nature of a situation - financial, seeing neutral scenarios as threatening or dangerous or vice versa - not just to an "I" but "externally" as well, culturally, financially, issues of "social justice and so on. It also becomes about more than metaphysics in the context of say, the Bodhisattva vow. Not in the cliched sense of "no beings to save" or whatever, but more in the sense of how the kinds of perceptual and situational concerns I mentioned can actually screw other peoples lives up. The "road to hell" and all that.
Its an interesting article in that it nicely expands on how emptiness is treated in the Pali Canon, so I still like the article.


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Re: The Great Emptiness Debate

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Aug 23, 2013 5:53 am


My thoughts are that you would enjoy the writings of Venerable Nanananda... his Nibbana Sermons are available online and he has a couple of books published at a reasonable price through the Buddhist Publication Society. Actually, even search his name here and you'll find references to stuff.


Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: The Great Emptiness Debate

Postby Kingdubrock » Fri Aug 23, 2013 6:11 am

Hey, yeah, you're right. Just a very brief skim through "Concept and Reality" and I can see why you mentioned him. Thanks for the tip. Will look into him with interest!

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Re: The Great Emptiness Debate

Postby Aloka » Fri Aug 23, 2013 7:32 am

Hi Kingdubrock,

The section called "Emptiness" from Ajahn Buddhadasa's "Heartwood from the Bo Tree" might be of interest to you:

With kind wishes,


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Re: The Great Emptiness Debate

Postby pegembara » Fri Aug 23, 2013 11:44 am

And here is Ajahn Chah's take on the subject:

Appearances are determined into existence. Why must we determine them? Because they don't intrinsically exist. ... cle/480/P4
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

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