HHDL, How To See Yourself As You Really Are, Ch. 7 wrote:This experience will cause phenomena to seem ephemeral, like insubstantial drawings, next to nothing. This mistake comes from not distinguishing between the absence of inherent existence and nonexistence. Failure to distinguish these makes it impossible to appreciate the dependent-arising of phenomena, whereas it is crucial to understand that emptiness means dependent-arising, and dependent-arising means emptiness.
So HHDL is saying one needs to understand that there is a great difference between saying a phenomenon (say, a cup) is completely nonexistent and saying that it appears while lacking inherent existence. The first view is nihilism and the second is dependent origination. To get into the dependently originated cup we were discussing a while ago, let me first sum up where we got with it: we determined that there was no inherent cupness in the ceramic having been formed and baked into the shape of a cup. We agreed that if one smashes the cup, no cup can be found in the shards. So, let's look at the emptiness of the ceramic itself. Let's say it's made of clay. In order to become the hardened form of the cup, it has to be formed by a potter into the shape, then baked, then cooled. But even the clay itself is made up of parts like earth and water, so even it is merely a designation we impute onto a particular kind of earth that has come together with water in just the right way, all due to causes and conditions.
We can take this even further and look at what modern science has discovered about matter itself: even the smallest particle of the earth is made up of smaller molecules that sort of hover together closely but don't touch. Those molecules are made up of smaller atoms which hover closely together but don't touch. The atoms are made up of subatomic particles that hover closely together but don't touch. Modern scientists have gotten all the way down to indeterminate energy that appears either like a wave or a particle, dependent on how we look at it, which means that it is not changeless or immutable, so it is not truly existing as any particular form; it is empty. Water can be broken down in the same way. So, where's the water, where's the clay, where's the ceramic, and where's the cup? Where's the matter itself, which is pervaded by space?
The answer is that these things aren't truly nonexistent
because, when present and in plain view, they always appear to healthy senses and reliably perform their functions for all who encounter them. But they are not truly existent
either because they are dependent on their parts and causes and conditions. Thus the saying "nonexistent yet clearly appearing." This is the middle way beyond extremes. The personal self is the same way. Upon analysis aimed at the ultimate, no single, immutable phenomenon fitting the description self can be found, but it still clearly appears to exist. Seizing upon that notion of true existence binds us to samsara, while being truly freed of that ignorance means we experience nirvana instead. Samsara and nirvana are the same; it is our perception that makes a difference.