Everything that exists is empty because there is no essence to anything and nothing has ever existed in its own quality – nothing is permanent and unchanging. All objects exist conditionally without an eternal essence. They only exist in relation to each other as appearances that in turn vary as per the perceptions of the beholders.
Energy is the underlying element for all existence and it is dependent on conditional phenomenon. And phenomenon is thing that appears to or is perceived by senses and therefore, it is empty as well. At the end of the day, we could summarise that emptiness is the beginning for all existence. Every existence is empty and emptiness is in every existence.
From direct experience, we know that humans and things cause pleasure and pain, and that they can help and harm. Therefore, phenomena certainly do exist but the question is how? They do not exist in their own quality but only have an existence dependent upon many factors, including a consciousness that conceptualises them.
But in what way is consciousness mistaken? Because all phenomena appear to exist in their own quality, all of our ordinary perceptions are mistaken. We have taken in a wrong sense that living beings, things and phenomena appear to exist in and of themselves. It seems that phenomena could be established in their own right or quality, and from the object’s side upon conceptualising our consciousness. Unfortunately, with this false mode, we are hindering ourselves from recognising the discrepancy between appearance and reality.
Nevertheless, one could train oneself to develop wisdom and eliminate one’s ignorance on the ultimate truth. Upon seeking through in-depth analysis, one could find inherent existence of whatever object one is considering — oneself, another person, one’s body, one’s mind, or anything else is completely lacking.
For example, when you examine an object such as car, its inherent existence is negated, but what is left is a body dependent on an engine, seats, lamps, window glasses, tires, gases, etc. In other words, what is left after the analysis is a dependently existent phenomenon.
Thus it is not that you come to understand that the object or phenomenon does not exist but rather, you find that its inherent existence is unfounded. This is the ultimate discovery about the orientation of the nature. Nature is a system of existence fully occupied with factors that rise and fall dependently in continuum.
At the end of the day, dualism of the subject and object, and the appearance of multiplicity arises out of our ignorance on the true nature would vanish once emptiness appears. We could then differentiate the way things are perceived to exist and the way things really exist.
Why is there an existence at all? Why not nothingness?
Emptiness is a necessary pre-requisite for any object to exist; without it, the object would be impossible. Upon in-depth analysis, we
could discover that emptiness corresponds to two distinct scenarios:
1. It corresponds to the inherent existence (due to unchanging nature) that all conventional phenomena lack.
2. It corresponds to dependent arising (a conditional phenomenon) i.e. subject to the same lack of inherent existence as every other object or phenomenon. This is referred to as the emptiness of emptiness.
The above is a rather strange paradox but still logical because emptiness is a universal or infinite phenomenon. Therefore, it is evident that object could arise out of emptiness due to the 2nd scenario clarified as above and it is the ambience for the origination of istence.
As a summary, the emptiness of phenomena is both the cause and consequence of the dependent nature of phenomena. It is comparable to scientific term of a singularity and also the inherent quality of existence. Emptiness is considered the ultimate truth because it inherently exists exactly as it is perceived when it is perceived directly by an enlightened mind. And discovering the ultimate truth is the key to overcoming the ignorant state of mind.
Perception of Phenomena & Existence
Phenomena appear to arise or are perceived by our senses to arise in and of themselves; but they are not. All phenomena, including emptiness, are dependent-arising. Emptiness, however, did correspond to both inherent existence and dependent arising due to its universal qualities. Thus, phenomena do not exist inherently as this or that from their own sides, unrelated to the consciousness that perceives them. Phenomena exist as this or that - are dependent on the observers.
Now, we need to look at the definition of existence. What exists is defined as that which can be known. If it cannot be known, then it does not exist (please do not confuse with can be known and to be known). The fact is that things do not exist in the ways that concepts and language imply they do. Therefore, we shall realise that the deepest fact about things does exist. It is beyond mind and beyond concepts and words in the sense that it is beyond our usual ways of perceiving things.
Language and conception only imply that things exist in distinct manners i.e. wise person, dumb person, saint, devil, etc. - in such well-defined and independent categories. Thus, when we say that the deepest fact about things is that they exist in a way that is beyond mind and beyond words, we are referring to the fact that things do not exist in the ways that concepts and language imply they do. Perceiving reality is seeing that things do not exist in these fantasised, impossible ways, in black and white categories.
Reflection of Emptiness
Emptiness can be realised into stages as below: -
Stage 1 Elementary Realisation
• All things and phenomena are lack of core essence.
• Nothing is unchanging and permanent.
• Everything is inter-related.
Stage 2 Intermediary Realisation
• Ability to differentiate the way things are perceived to exist and the way things really exist.
• Only seeing without believing.
Stage 3 Advance Realisation
• No dualism of the subject and object, and no appearance of multiplicity.
• All things and phenomena rise and fall within a singular condition.
• Only uniformity exists.
Stage 4 Ultimate Realisation
• All dependent arising are completely blown off or extinguished.
• No string attached, and nothing is left remaining.
• Infinite, unchanging, permanent, and unconditional.
• Exists beyond all phenomena.
The Concept of Emptiness in Buddhism
The concept of Śūnyatā (emptiness) in Buddhism has always been the main subject of confusion among the followers. Now, let us analyse this. We need to understand that long before the rising of Buddha Dhamma 2,600 years ago, the realm of existence already running its course as according to the natural bounding law. The wise Buddha has seen through the reality of it, recommended with permanent remedies to liberate one from the natural bounding law.
So, what is the so-called natural bounding law? It is the law of balancing that dictates the circumstances of equilibrium in nature. Nature in itself is full with wonders and has reached a saturated level of complexity that encompasses all sorts of activities or processes such as aggregation, segregation, evolution, mutation, assimilation, etc. In other words, all of these activities or processes have had happened in a manner long before we have the slightest opportunity to realise it. This scenario is the rising of ignorant aspect in the realm of existence.
As a consequence, we always tend to make observation or take view on events in the context of result perspective or the ignorant point of view. There are plenty of examples for observation or view on events derived from this conventional perspective i.e. formation, suffering, disease, sickness, terrorism, calamity, existence, etc.
Nevertheless, the wise Buddha has realised these circumstances and recommended with a paradigm shift to it i.e. for one to make observation or take view on events from the context of cause perspective or the awaken point of view instead. And it is from this new-found perspective could one liberate from the cyclic influence of conditional phenomena. One of the good examples is the introduction of the cardinal doctrine of dependent origination.
As mentioned earlier, nature has already reached a saturated level of complexity and this circumstance has created difficulties for one to observe events free from defilements. If we could unwind all events that have taken place in the nature, we could realise the origin of it i.e. all activities, events or processes would evolve around the orientation of energy or matter in a plane called space at all times.
At the end of the day, we could see and know that every existence (sentient, non-sentient, or any material things) is nothing but merely basic elements (energy, matter and space) that would orientate as according to the conditional phenomena. This is the correct understanding on the concept of emptiness in Buddhism. In other words, we could mention that form entity in itself is delusive in nature that is generated out of the ignorant point of view or from the context of result perspective.
We could not view form as an entity because it is an appearance, though not illusive, but devoid of inherent existence and varies under the influence of phenomenal conditions. Rightly, the Buddha recommended one to see all things as they truly are (not as they delusively are). And it is through the philosophy of emptiness could one begin to experience the cleansing of ignorant aspect. Once the ignorant aspect has been extinguished or neutralised, the awaken aspect would arise concurrently.
An act of emptying = an act of extinguishing = an act of neutralising ≠ an act of annihilating.
The principle in effect: -
Seeing Dhamma is seeing Buddha;
Seeing Buddha is seeing Dhamma.
Seeing Buddha is seeing Nibbana;
Seeing Nibbana is seeing Buddha.
Seeing Emptiness is seeing Form;
Seeing Form is seeing Emptiness.
Seeing Energy is seeing Matter;
Seeing Matter is seeing Energy.
Seeing Cause is seeing Effect;
Seeing Effect is seeing Cause.
Seeing Action is seeing Reaction;
Seeing Reaction is seeing Action.
Form is Empty, Empty is Form
Why do we always hear Buddhists saying, ‘Form is Empty, Empty is Form’? What is actually form? We can actually see form as appearance but why do we say it is empty? Isn’t it strange, right? Well, for common people, form is viewed as an ‘entity’. Entity means thing which exists as a separate unit. So, is it true to say that form does exist as a separate unit that is permanent or unchanging as what our ordinary mind perceived? Let us make a simple illustration now.
Supposedly, you stand in front of a large mirror looking at yourself – what you could see is the appearance of your own physical body. Now, if you continue to see inside yourself, search deeper and deeper within yourself, what do you see? You would probably see various internal organs, blood veins, nerves, fluids, unit cells, etc. At the end of the day, can you describe what is the inner most section of your physical body? After the single unit cell, what do you see further inside? Can you find any core essence that is eternal or non-changing further within it? You can’t find anything inside further, right? When one can’t find anything inside further, how does one translates it into? It is EMPTY, right? So, can we say that form is ultimately empty in the real sense? This is the clarification on ‘Form is Empty, Empty is Form’.
But one should not confuse empty with nothing. Empty cannot be literally translated as nothing. While we say form is empty, there are still basic elements remaining. Just like, when we do declare a vessel is empty, it does not literally mean ‘nothing’ inside the vessel – there could still be air, radiation, dust, viruses, etc. that cannot be discerned by our naked eyes.
At the end of the day, we could declare that form is empty in the real sense because there is no core essence within it except for the basic elements i.e. energy, matter and space that orientate and evolve constantly based on subjected conditions. What our naked eyes view as form is actually the matter and it is also known as concerted, aggregated or concentrated or wrapped energy. Since we can’t see energy with our naked eyes, we would say that the inner most of form is empty in the real sense.
In other words, everything that exists is empty because there is no essence to anything and nothing has ever existed in its own quality – nothing is permanent and unchanging. All objects exist conditionally without an eternal essence. They only exist in relation to each other as appearances that in turn vary as per the perceptions of the beholders. Energy is the underlying element for all existence and it is dependent on conditional phenomenon.
~ Ignorance triumphs when wise men do nothing ~