The concept of Sunyata is central to Buddhism. As we know, it is usually translated as ‘emptiness’. It seems a problematic enough translation, suggesting a kind of nihilism that is very far from the heart of the teaching. I’ve also seen it translated as ‘voidness’, which is worse. Does anyone have a better translation out there?
Part of the complexity of the idea is that ‘emptiness’ can mean a lack of substance (insubstantiality), but it also indicates conditioned existence: that everything is made of bits and pieces of other stuff … thus the interrelated nature of reality …which leads to the ethical precepts of Buddhism.
I wonder if these two concepts are in fact one concept? I suppose, modern science has shown us that everything else is made of smaller bits and pieces of something else. So, indeed all existence is conditioned.
But does our inquiry lead us down and down into the sub-atomic realm until there is … emptiness? Is that emptiness indeed the void mentioned above? That is the mystery…
It seems like I need ‘wisdom beyond wisdom’ to deal with this one!
Better sit more Zazen.
Any thoughts anyone?
Gotama came up with a few basic concepts like conditioned arising, suffering, stopping of suffering, and doing all the right actions. But I think the most important of his teachings is just sitting. So you already answered your question.
Buddhist teachers are constantly explaining that "emptiness" is not nihilism -- so it does seem there is a translation problem, as you say. Alternatives get proposed from time to time (Thich Nhat Hanh's "interbeing" comes to mind).
I wonder if there's a better solution, though -- why don't we just use the term sunyata, without translation? We already do that with various other terms, including buddha, bodhisattva, dukkha, karma, paramita. This approach invites exploration, rather than simply filling in some concept that we already "know".
I've heard it translated more throughly as "emptiness of inherent existence" which suggests something exists but at the same time does not exist at once. Any intellectual grasping at it will probably lead to more confusion for both parties involved though :idea: Taste the empty ice cream yourself!
P.s. One theory of physics I've read suggests that we are, on the fundamental level, just light moving at difference speeds. No more, no less.
To keep it in Sanskrit wouldn't solve the problem, I'm afraid -- the word ??nyat? means "emptiness" when translated. Something that is empty. The sanskrit word does not however explain what this emptiness is all about; what kind of emptiness one is referring to, etc.
Originally Posted by robert
So, the word ??nyat? would still have to be explained, because it could just as easily be referred to as being nihilist.
The problem is, I think, that we're trying to grasp an entire concept with just one snappy word. It can't be done, I fear.
Still, it is as you say, if we use the word ??nyat?, it would perhaps invite to some exploration.
Emptiness spoken is but a word,
emptiness lived is it.
Countless threads on Sunyata on Treeleaf, all empty and full
Treeleaf Founder and Priest
How 'bout we try .... 'The Dance' ... 'The Dancing' ... just 'Dancing' ?
Universes of dancers (including you and me) danced up in this dance ... each dancer seemingly standing apart on her own two feet ... yet each dancer simultaneously seen as just the dance-dancing-the-dance (for what would we think a 'dancer' without a dance to dance her and her to dance? There is no dancer apart from her dance.) There is nothing but the dance and the motion, the separation lost in a lively, enlivening, living blur ...
The whole universe dancing ... whole universes dancing with universes ...
All of reality swirling and twirling in partnership with all of reality, constantly changing partners, such that nothing and nobody is truly sitting still ... such that all is caught up and spun up by all ... such that there is nobody and nothing remaining but the dance ... this Ballet of Inter-being ...
The dancers each are there seemingly as individuals, yet swept up in the dance ... moving, ever changing ... the separate dancers may be forgotten such that only the dancing remains. Soon in the spin and twirling, the individuality of the dancers can barely be seen ... there yet not ...
Can we truly say that there are dancers, so encompassing is that dance? And endless dances are going on within each dancer, each cell and each atom just dancing, ultimately beyond that ... just dancing inside dancing ...
That is why I am turning more and more to the "Dance" image for some feeling of "Emptiness" ... all of reality engaged and engaging in one great jazzy, creative, non-stop, powerful dance ... dancers and all reality absolutely absorbed in the constant motion of the Dance --- no distinction of dancers and dance remains.
Yet it is not chaos (though we sometimes trip and fall or bang into each other ... yet that too becomes just part of the life of the dance!). Something wonderful is created from it all, which we call this world ... which we call this world and all it contains ... which we call you and me ...
Each Sentient Being 'loses herself' in the power of dance ... truly loses her little self as the dance ... thus to find herself again ... to find their True Self as The Dance itself, as the Dancing itself ... as a unique and precious Dancer ...
You are just a dancer, a lonely dancer. You are just the whole start to finish dance. Both ways of experiencing the dance, and your life as a dancer, are precious and vital.
But where is "it", this thing you call a "dance"? It is just an ongoing swirl ... just dance-dancing-the-dance ... nothing to "nail down" ... There is not a "thing" there, only the constant swirling and twirling and naked interconnected motion and expression .. all fully exerting ...
Dancers dancing each for themselves, sometimes bumping into other dancers, tripping on their own feet ... yet sometimes able to see beyond themselves to the great harmony of the total Dance ... such grace is there, such balance ... this dance has gone on and on for all time ... timeless dance ...
We feel as dancers in a dance, across a stage we run,
each dancer dancing solo, our connection nearly none.
But when our steps are flowing, as leaves in wind a’frenzy spun,
it’s not hard to see that dancers, stage and dance are truly one.
It is free, yet it is not chaos. It is not nothing, not a vacuum or meaningless vibration. There may be some rules to the dance, some choreography ... but much of it seems up to us, free will, how we choose to go with each step. LIFE DANCE! It all changes and turns with your every chosen step and gesture.
Lose your self in that, lose your "self" in that great Dancing which is your Self Dancing. It's going is your going.
Anyway ... something like that.
Don't just understand the concept of this dance intellectually. Instead, truly feel what it is to be swept up in this dance. Truly lose and find yourself in this very step-step-stepping now.
Where this dance has come from, where it is going ... we may not know be fully informed. No matter, for the dancing is not there but only here. It has always been right here. The dance is ever right underfoot ... so just dance, right here and now, without thought of any other place to go or which you can go.
A Zendo is a kind of dance school ... and our task to be graceful dancers (even when we fall). Our way is to go with the flow of the dance, and just let the dance ... its up and it downs ... just be the dancing.
... something like that.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
[From Among School Children, by WB Yeats]
Both from the Pali Canon and its teachings, and the Mahayana with shunyata, it seems pretty clear that emptiness is "empty of a separate self" or "empty of independent existence". Thich talking of interbeing fits in with this without issue. I don't see the problem. Even on a mundane level it seems pretty self-evident, but perhaps I'm misisng something.
Have a great weekend all