Anatta and sunyata

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zenman
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Anatta and sunyata

Post by zenman »

Are anatta/selflessness and sunyata/emptiness the same or do they have differing meanings?

Thank you.

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Dan74
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by Dan74 »

Hi zenman,

Have you read any Nagarjuna? Like this, for instance:

http://aaari.info/notes/03-06-06Tam2.pdf

Nagarjuna was the prime exponent of Emptiness in Mahayana which in a way elaborates the Buddha's teachings on anatta, dependent origination and emptiness as recorded in the Pali Canon. There are certainly teachings on emptiness in the Pali Canon, some of which appear to be far-reaching and radical, but Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka teachings (Middle Way) are probably the clearest exposition of this insight.

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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by zenman »

Thank you Dan. I haven't read Nagarjuna in a long while. The last time I tried, gave me a headache, haha. Thanks for this, a wonderful hint that I didn't come think of, though for a non-native English speaker this is quite difficult to follow.

You say that Buddha's teaching of non-self/anatta is clearer and elaborated in Mahayana. I wonder why it is so...

But do they still mean the same thing? Is it just explained better by Nagarjuna and other mahayanists in comparison to Pali canon?

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srivijaya
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by srivijaya »

zenman wrote:Are anatta/selflessness and sunyata/emptiness the same or do they have differing meanings?

Thank you.
I think it depends on how you approach the question and which school's take on it you want to explore. I would say that on one level they amount to the same thing but they can of course be treated very differently.

I've always found the treatment on emptiness in the Pali suttas an interesting one. It seems that even here Buddha uses it in slightly different ways at different times.
In this sutta:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Buddha describes emptiness in terms of what has been abandoned - absence of village etc. and concludes "And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, & pure."

A slightly different usage here:
"The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas... Intellect-consciousness... Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Thus it is said that the world is empty."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

It can also be used practically as an awareness release within meditation, so it has many facets, which do overlap with annata.

The proposition of the Mahayana schools is that they apply emptiness to both self and other (rather than just self). Here there is no doubt that emptiness is applied to self. The formulation 'form is empty, emptiness is form etc. etc.' means that emptiness is not an abstract idealistic ultimate void, rather that it is integral to the things which are realised to be empty.

Another interesting angle on your question is to ask whether anatta/emptiness equates to non-duality.
:namaste:

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Matt J
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by Matt J »

The three characteristics (anicca, dukkha, anatta), in my mind, are the seeds for emptiness --- they are different dimensions of emptiness. In Theravada, they tend to teach that things are made of partless particles, or dharmas, and that things are constructed. Emptiness goes further and shows that even particles have no true existence. However, I found it easier to start with the 3 characteristics.

Actually, emptiness, once you get into it, is something like a virus. Once it gets going, you can't really turn it off.
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

The best simple explanatiom I know of is:

Anatta is the lack of inherent existence of a personal self, sunyata is the lack of inherent existence in all phenomena. The first can be found in Pali teachings, the second is a Mahayana doctrine, found especially in the Prajnaparamita sutras etc.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low

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Karma Dondrup Tashi
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi »

zenman wrote:Are anatta/selflessness and sunyata/emptiness the same or do they have differing meanings?

Thank you.
Emptiness is one of the four Dharma seals and so is a characteristic of higher Dharma. It's also one of the three marks of existence so in that form it's a component of suffering in transmigrators. In either case in Mahayana it's a synonym of twofold egolessness, that is, both self and phenomena are empty. "Non-self" can be made to refer either to the egolessness of self or emptiness generally.

Edit: apologies JD basically said the same thing first.

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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by zenman »

Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:
zenman wrote:Are anatta/selflessness and sunyata/emptiness the same or do they have differing meanings?

Thank you.
Emptiness is one of the four Dharma seals and so is a characteristic of higher Dharma. It's also one of the three marks of existence so in that form it's a component of suffering in transmigrators. In either case in Mahayana it's a synonym of twofold egolessness, that is, both self and phenomena are empty. "Non-self" can be made to refer either to the egolessness of self or emptiness generally.

Edit: apologies JD basically said the same thing first.
Johnny Dangerous wrote:The best simple explanatiom I know of is:

Anatta is the lack of inherent existence of a personal self, sunyata is the lack of inherent existence in all phenomena. The first can be found in Pali teachings, the second is a Mahayana doctrine, found especially in the Prajnaparamita sutras etc.
The Four Noble Truths deal with suffering and removal of it. I suppose that is the basic purpose of buddha dharma, the removal. How does what you have said above translate to man's mind? If we realise our self, our me-ness as non-self, that there is no me, no subject, then would that be a fulfillment of anatman? And further would it be still be termed anatman or emptiness, if we managed to realise that everything else, all other phenomena of the mind, emotions, impulses and whatever are also in nature the same selfless nature? Am I getting this at all right?

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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi »

zenman wrote:The Four Noble Truths deal with suffering and removal of it. I suppose that is the basic purpose of buddha dharma, the removal. How does what you have said above translate to man's mind? If we realise our self, our me-ness as non-self, that there is no me, no subject, then would that be a fulfillment of anatman? And further would it be still be termed anatman or emptiness, if we managed to realise that everything else, all other phenomena of the mind, emotions, impulses and whatever are also in nature the same selfless nature? Am I getting this at all right?
I think you could be on to something ...

And theoretically, if I clearly see that things are of the nature of twofold egolessness, I might begin to suspect there isn't much point in getting addicted to them.

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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

No, perceiving the emptiness or openness of all phenomena is AFAIK properly termed perceiving sunyata, not anatta only.

As to relevancy, the Mahayana teaches that sravakas have realized the emptiness of self, and destroyed the kleshas, but remain in the state of nirvana (which is not full Buddhahood) due to their knowledge obscurations..I.e. not perceiving emptiness - which is the true nature.of phenomena.

IME Sunyata is the more profound, definitive teaching..of course, if someone practices Thervada, maybe they think otherwise
If you haven't spent much time with Prajnaparamita sutras, it's worth it, the Heart and Diamond sutras are my personal.faves.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low

zenman
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by zenman »

I'm trying to understand this in the light of ending the suffering which takes place in the human mind stream, our psyche.

All phenomena or all things (that are devoid of self by nature) are the various elements of the mind, right? This doctrine primarily points to the human psyche, not external things whatever they may be, although those are not exluded either.

I suppose it could be said that both self and all mind phenomena are both selfless as well as empty by nature. Would that be OK and correct?

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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by LastLegend »

zenman wrote:I'm trying to understand this in the light of ending the suffering which takes place in the human mind stream, our psyche.
Emptiness of self means there is no definite reference point we can call "self" because all things are dependent. For example, where is the reference point for "I?" We can point to this physical body, but which is conditioned by food, air, water, and temperature. Is "I" the air, food, water, or temperature? So thing does not exist in itself because it's made up of other things. Names and forms, and forms are temporary establishments. But we still beg the question, "what is "I?" In my understanding, "I" is a conceptual name mistakenly arisen and referring to the physical body. If we think of name and form, name is basically language which is letters and words. So we name it "table" or "I." So name is language, and form is appearance (physical objects). So all language are referring to appearance, and there isn't one that's not referring to appearance. For example, "beautiful" is referring to certain characteristics of a physical object, so a "beautiful table." Becoming attached to language is becoming attached to appearance which we know is not a thing of itself, emptiness of self. Everything is like that, empty of self. If "I" is a false identification, what's there? Our aware nature.
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by joy&peace »

yes, that is how I see it, zm.
Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate bodhi svaha

zenman
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by zenman »

joy&peace wrote:yes, that is how I see it, zm.
Cool.

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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by zenman »

So.... Does the attainment of twofold emptiness (self and all things) equate with full buddhahood?

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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by Provider »

Might be useful: The Concept of Emptiness in Pali Literature (Download)
[url=http://sangham.net/index.php/topic,157.msg367.html#msg367]Medawachchiye Dhammajothi Thero[/url] (Transcription of the book may be found if logged in) wrote:This Study on Sunnata (Skt. Sunyata) is mainly based on the Pali text. However, is is known that suyata came into prominence only with the rise of Madhyamaka philosophy of Acarya Nagarjuna. Therfore, no study of Sunnata is complete, without any reference to Sunyata as presented in Madhyamaka philosophy.

This study was done also with the objective of clarifying certain widely presented views regarding Sunyata. One of them is that this doctrine was not known to early Buddhism, or in other words, not a doctrine taught by the Buddha. This view gained so much of popularity, that scholars of the caliber of Stcherbatsky, followed by T.R.V. Murti boldly claimed this to be an innovation of Acarya Nagarjuna. Murti even went into the extent of comparing Acarya Nagajuna’s teaching an Sunyata as a ‘Copernican revolution’ in Buddhist tought. Therefore, besides explaining Sunna as found in the Suttas, an attempt has been made in this thesis also to show that this doctrine was well known to early Buddhism.

Thus, two whole chapter of this has been denoted to examine use of Sunna and other related terms in the suttas and in Post – canonical Pali literature. By enumerating and explaining such usage it has been possible to establish that this Sunna idea is not unknown to either the Buddha or to the disciples. However, the study shows that the terms Sunna/Sunnata are not of common occurrence as the term Anatta. It also came to light that even the disciples, though they knew what Sunna/Sunnata meant were far more familiar with the Anatta doctrine.
An attempt was made to examine how Sunya/Sunyata came into prominence overshadowing Anatta doctrine. In the present researchers view it is the early Madhyamaka texts like “Astasahasrikaprjnaparamita” etc., that contributed to the early popularity of these terms as a religious technical term.

These early Mahayana texts were in response to the non-Mahayana Buddhist schools that upheld the existence of some sorts of metaphysical entity that lay as the essence in everything. Of these schools the most prominent was the Sarvastivada school, and this belonged to the Therevada (=Hinayana tradition). This school in its attempt to explain reality, put forward a novel view which said that there is a self—nature (Sva-bhava) in everything, and that this Svabhava exists in all three periods of time namely, past present and future. The earliest criticism against this and other substantialist and essentialist views was by Mahayanists. In counter-arguing this view these early Mahayana texts highlighted the emptiness, voidness (Sunyata) of everything. It is, however, Nagajuna that made this his central thesis in presenting the Madhyamaka philosophy of his.

In this book an attempt has been made to show that Anatta and Sunya/Sunyata are not two different concepts. The present researcher is in agreement with the view that these two concepts cover the same range in their philosophical application; and that the preference for this term Sunya/Sunyata over Anatta only a shift of emphasis. The present researcher attempted to establish this point, citing textual and circumstantial evidence.

In doing this it has been attempted to demonstrate that the Buddh, too, used the term Sunna, and that he did so, not to bring out a new perspective but to further emphasize the absence of a self or anything connected with the self as the noumenon behind the phenomenon. In support of this textual evidence has been cited. It has also been shown that “Anatta” as used in early Suttas, did not merely mean the absence of an individual soul, but meant also the absence of any entity in both compounded (Samkhata/Samskrta) elements as well as in uncompounded (Asamkhata, Asamskrta) elements, that is Nibbana. Thus, it has been clearly shown that anatta means “emptiness” of everything, including Nibbana (Nirnvana).
Modern scholarship has attempted to sow that Acarya Nagarjuna gave a new interpretation to the Pratityasamutpada doctrine, and it is Acaeya nagarjuna that presented it as the central philosophy of Buddhism. It is true, according to the teachings of the present researcher, that Acarya Nagarjuny lays mere stress on the relativity aspect of Pratityasamutpada, while the early sutta forces more on its dependent origination aspect. Once again these are only different angles or perspectives from which the same doctrine is viewed. Paticca-samuppada/Pratitya-samutpada emphasis, both interdependence and relativity. In the final analysis these two aspects cannot be separated.

In early Sutta Paticca-sumppada was presented to explain causality, and in doing so the Buddha had to show that the then prevalent theories namly, self-creation, (Saya katam) external creation (Param katam) both self-creation and external creation, and also no causation or accidental causation (=Ahetu-appaccaya, Adhicca-samuppanna or yadrcchavada) are wrong. His explanation of Patucca-samuppada was focused on the rejection of these other causal theories.

Madhyamaka, however, emphasis the reality aspect of Pratityasamutpada and us it as a counter argument to nullify the Svadhava theory. Because of this Pratityasamutpada was considered more as an explaination of the voidness of everything. The two explanations namely, that of the Theravada Buddhist school and the Mahayana philosophy of the Pratitya-samutpada formula is not different in spirit thought the emphasis is different. And, of course, it has to be admitted that emphasis could vary according to the circumstance in which and the objective for which the formula is used.

Though some scholars attempt to show that it is Acarya Nagarjuna that raised Pratityasamutpada to the status of th central philosophy of Buddhism. The present researcher has attempted to show that early Buddhism to considered it to be so. For example, the content of enlightenment is often described as the knowledge regarding Pratityasamutpada. All other doctrines are based on and explained according to Pratityasamutpada. Beside, the “Kaccanagotta Sutta” very clearly calls it the preaching by the middle (Majjhena dhamma) which means it is the most-important central teaching. It should also be remembered that in the “Mahahatthipadopama Sutta”, Paticcasamuppada is equated with the Dhamma, which means it is the essence, the crux of the Buddha’s teaching. However it has to be noted, that it is Acarya Nagarjuna who made it prominent as the central philosophy of Buddhism without limiting in the explanation of Dukkha as it was in early Buddhism.

Beside, one should acknowledge also the fact that in early Buddhist Suttas Patipada is used in the sense of the way, the path or the practice and ‘Majjhima patipada’ is identical with the Noble Eightfold Path. But it is Acarya Nagarjuna who brought into light that that it is Pratitymutapada, which is the most fundamental of the Buddha’s Teaching, that even it provides the philosophical basis for the practice. The credit for highlighting the true spirit of the Buddha’s teaching is solely due to Acarya Nagarjuna.

A chapter was denoted to the study of various meditational practices recommended in early Buddhism, that lead to the realization of Sunna. Special focus was laid on two suttas namely Cula-Sunnata and Maha-sunnata both of the Majjhimanikaya. These while showing that the Buddha emphasized internalization of the understanding of the voidness of everything describes also how this could be done. This chapter will be of interest to those who wish it understand how meditative practice could be utilized to personally experience the voidness of all phenomena.

A chapter was devoted to show that it is not only the canonical Sutta that speaks of Sunna/Sunnata, but there is ample reference to it is post-canonical texts such as the Visuddhimagga. This chapter also brings to light that the Pali tradition was not unaware about the development of the sunya concept that was taking place in other non-Theravada traditions.
The present researcher’s study made it clear that the concept of Nibbana/Nirvana both in early Buddhism and Madhyamaka are similar; both advocate that Nibbana/Nirvana can be realized by correcting the distorted vision, driving out all “views” (drsti) that distort the proper understanding of reality. Both teachings hold that the final knowledge refers to the understanding of the true nature of things. To proper understanding in early Buddhism, is to see things as Anicca (impermanent) Dukkha (non-satisfactory/suffering), and Anatta (no-soul, no substance or essence). According to Madhyamaka this knowledge consists of seeing everything as empty, void (Sunya) of a Sva-dhava (self-nature). From this it is clear that thought there is a difference in terminology , in spirit both early Buddhism and Madhyamaka, advocate the same thing. This is further established by the fact that the Buddha also on an occasions advices that, one in order to escape this cycle of birth and death should see everything as empty (Sunnato lokam avekkhassu).

The major difference the present researcher sees between early Buddhism and Madhyamaka in their approach to Sunya is that the former lay more emphasis on personal experians in realizing the emptiness (Sunnata) of all phenomena, while the later emphasizes on logic and reasoning leading to an intellectual comprehension of it. However, that does not mean that Madhyamaka is not stressing the importance of internalizing this knowledge. The present research is of the view that Acarya Nagarjuna’s use of logic and reason is due to circumstance of the time, and the purpose for which his work Mulamadhyamakakarika was composed. It was composed not as a guide to practice but as acritical response for realists and substantialists. Hence, the preponderance of logic and reason.

Through this the present researcher found more tangible evidence to agree with the view of that Acaraya Nagajuna was not trying to present any new teaching but was making a concerted effort to remind the scholarship of the time that it is deviating from the teaching of the Buddha. The two stanzas of salutation for the Buddha, at the beginning and the end of this book, (Mulamadhyamakakarika) very clearly shows that Acarya Nagarjuna was a great follower and admire of the Buddha, and that he was attempting to highlight the true teachings (Saddharma) of the Buddha.
same, same

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Karma Dondrup Tashi
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi »

zenman wrote:So.... Does the attainment of twofold emptiness (self and all things) equate with full buddhahood?
There now follows the higher dharma of the greater understanding of turnips according to Geshe Known-Discovered-Turnip Rinpoche. [of Kham].

Ahem.

...

Henceforth a turnip, whether such turnip appears to be inside or outside of "you", shall be referred to as a "combination".

The first characteristic of what it means to exist is that all combinations are impermanent.

The second characteristic of what it means to exist follows from the first: all combinations are stressful.

The reason the second characteristic follows from the first is because we are addicted to the idea that combinations can be permanent.

The reason we are addicted to the idea that combinations can be permanent is because we are ignorant of what will make us happy.

The reason we are ignorant of what will make us happy is because we refuse to know that the third characteristic of what it means to exist will make us happy.

The third characteristic of what it means to exist is that all things, whether combined or not, are empty.

If we come to know that the third characteristic of what it means to exist will make us happy, the stressfulness of all combinations will cease without remainder.

In order to come to know the third characteristic of what it means to exist, we must meditate upon it.

In order to meditate upon it with right concentration, right mindfulness and right effort, we must commit to extend such meditation into all aspects of our living.

This extension into all aspects of our living, is otherwise known as ethics, that is, the possession of right livelihood, right action and right speech.

In order for us to know how to be ethical, we must be wise.

In order for us to be wise, we must possess right intention and right view.

If we are wise and ethical and thus are able to meditate upon the third characteristic of what it means to exist, we will come to know it, and thereby come to know that it is what makes us happy.

If we attempt to come to know it, we will, gradually, experience, in the following order, pleasant sensations, joy, contentment, utter peacefulness, a state of infinite space, a state of infinite consciousness, a state of nothingness and a state which is neither perception nor non-perception.

However, in fact, none of these states is the knowledge of the third characteristic of what it means to exist.

Only once we experience the cessation of perceptions and feelings, have we (perhaps) come to know the third characteristic of what it means to exist.

Once we come to know the third characteristic of what it means to exist, we are no longer addicted to the idea that combinations can be permanent.

Once we are no longer addicted to the idea that combinations can be permanent, no combinations are stressful.



However ...

All of the foregoing itself possesses, by definition, the third characteristic of what it means to exist.

Consequently, all of the foregoing is, unfortunately, invalid, and merely a provisional outline of the higher dharma of the greater understanding of turnips prior to the discovery of the definitive higher dharma of the greater understanding of turnips.

Henceforth, as to turnips, you are therefore, in this matter, on your own.



:spy:

zenman
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Re: Anatta and sunyata

Post by zenman »

Forgot to say thanks for pitching in.

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