Joe312
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Could someone who understands Buddhism check that I'm getting what emptiness means. Here is the explanation I've written:


Emptiness is the idea that nothing has any intrinsic identity. When we observe reality and our own minds, our perception is organised into various categories. We see forms of tables and trees, or when looking inward we see emotions and memories. Emptiness is the idea that our minds have constructed all of these categories and so they do not actually exist objectively. All these categories are ‘empty’.

Our mind categorizes things in a certain way based on their usefulness to us. We see a table and a tree because those objects have certain uses to us. However, a thing’s usefulness to us depends on our craving those uses. Imagine someone from an extremely primitive tribal society came to a major city and looked at an ice cream. They might not even notice it, because they have not spent their life being conditioned into associating that mental formation with the craving for ice cream. This means that craving and attachment is built into the perception we have of the world. If we truly want to be rid of craving, we have to develop the wisdom to understand that what we perceive is only a relative truth. It is relative to the way our mind happens to have associated desire and form. It is not the ultimate truth, which is that form is empty. This is why understanding emptiness is important for achieving nirvana.
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gjd800
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Identity and existence. It is an ontological principle likely in response to the Sarvastivada Abhdharma which posited that reality was constructed from atomic 'dharmas', each of which possessed svabhava, or intrinsic existence, essence, 'self' (bit awkward, but helps drive home the point that emptiness is is anatman taken to its fullest extent). It is epistemological insofar as it denies that there are any self-sustaining truths, identities etc, which Nagarjuna intended to link to dependent origination. Everything is 'empty' of svabhava, which means that the entire cosmos is without self and is thus not self-sustaining, but is dependent on innumerable other causes and conditions (hetupratyaya), all of which are themselves empty of svabhava..

The last bit is controversial. some Buddhists think that emptiness constitutes an ultimate truth, but Nagarjuna almost certainly thought that to elevate it to an ultimate truth was a reification. For him, there is no such thing as an ultimate truth, and the concept of paramarthasatya is mere upaya, a useful teaching strategy used to dichotomise for illustrative purposes to those unwise minds. It is eventually to be abandoned by the wise.
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gjd800
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I should add that the reason that Nagarjuna did not think that ultimate truths were possible was because he did not think that ultimacy per se was possible: for somehting to be 'ultimate', it needs to be changeless and basic, whether that is an object, place, or truth. If something is changeless, it has a characteristic dangerously close to that of svabhava, which he had already shown to be impossible throughout the MMK.

Edit: he also showed at length in the VV that establishing anything as ultimate was not possible.
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Joe312
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(Original post by gjd800)
I should add that the reason that Nagarjuna did not think that ultimate truths were possible was because he did not think that ultimacy per se was possible: for somehting to be 'ultimate', it needs to be changeless and basic, whether that is an object, place, or truth. If something is changeless, it has a characteristic dangerously close to that of svabhava, which he had already shown to be impossible throughout the MMK.

Edit: he also showed at length in the VV that establishing anything as ultimate was not possible.
That makes sense, is this why there is so much emphasis on this seemingly strange style of writing when talking about emptiness, where there is this focus on somehow 'cancelling out' everything, including the canceling out of the canceling out..? Emptiness itself is empty, there is no distinction between the reality of distinction and the reality of non-distinction? Is such language trying to show the idea that we shouldn't make the mistake of just taking the space where our mistaken concept of svabhava is and replacing it with the concept of emptiness, when really there should just be nothing there? Saying 'there is no svabhava, there is emptiness' - would be an error?

I guess that's actually more in line with the historical Buddha's 'noble silence' than I thought?

It reminds me a bit of Wittgenstein's ending to the Tractatus, where he says his book is like a latter used to climb and see new heights but then from those heights you should see that the ladder you used to get there is nonsense and should be discarded, and then there's just the recommendation of silence for what we can't understand. A bit like the Buddha's raft analogy too.

I would love to know if what I said about craving was correct; that because our categorization of form depends on our craving for certain forms, craving is built into our perception of the world and thus we need to perfect the wisdom of emptiness to be free from that craving.
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gjd800
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(Original post by Joe312)
That makes sense, is this why there is so much emphasis on this seemingly strange style of writing when talking about emptiness, where there is this focus on somehow 'cancelling out' everything, including the canceling out of the canceling out..? Emptiness itself is empty, there is no distinction between the reality of distinction and the reality of non-distinction? Is such language trying to show the idea that we shouldn't make the mistake of just taking the space where our mistaken concept of svabhava is and replacing it with the concept of emptiness, when really there should just be nothing there? Saying 'there is no svabhava, there is emptiness' - would be an error?

I guess that's actually more in line with the historical Buddha's 'noble silence' than I thought?

It reminds me a bit of Wittgenstein's ending to the Tractatus, where he says his book is like a latter used to climb and see new heights but then from those heights you should see that the ladder you used to get there is nonsense and should be discarded, and then there's just the recommendation of silence for what we can't understand. A bit like the Buddha's raft analogy too.

I would love to know if what I said about craving was correct; that because our categorization of form depends on our craving for certain forms, craving is built into our perception of the world and thus we need to perfect the wisdom of emptiness to be free from that craving.
Exactly right re replacing essences with emptiness. He said that people that take emptiness to be a metaphysical reality are 'incurable', so it is a given that this isn't what he was going for

Yeah, pretty much re craving. There is a bit of debate around exactly how it works, but not sure how relevant it is outside of professional nitpicking.

Attachment to your fave xbox game works on multiple levels: the feeling the game brings about, the game itself, the ability to feel the satisfaction, which is reified into the 'self' getting the satisfaction. The flipside is associated dissatisfactuon: completing the game and getting bored, the savefile corrupting, your xbox breaking and so being unable to play the game, etc.

The question is how effective understanding emptiness really is in quelling these sorts of attachments and desires. Knowing that something has no intrinsic nature doesn't necessarily stop you being pissed off when it breaks, dies, doesn't work. But it might be able to help people stop reifications, which then becomes habitual and changes your outlook and way of interacting with the world, and for Nagarjuna, this is probably what liberation looks like. Interaction without clinging, living without grasping etc.
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