Sunyata

Śūnyatā (शून्यता)

Śūnyatā, imperfectly translated into English as emptiness, or voidness, takes fascinating form in Mahayana Buddhism. To wet the appetite, here are a few pickings from big minds on the non-concept:

The dialectic as Sunyata is the removal of the constrictions which our concepts, with their practical or sentimental bias, have put on reality. It is the freeing of reality of the artificial accidental restrictions, and not the denial of reality. Sunyata is negation of negations; it is thus a reaffirmation of the infinite and inexpressibly positive character of the Real.”

– T.R.V. Murti, Central Philosophy of Buddhism, p. 212-214

In sum, the Madhyamika calls the Absolute: Sunyata, Void! Void of things and Void of thoughts. But again, the Void is not mere nothingness, it is not nihilism, it is simply Reality before we slice it up with conceptualism – pure territory beyond any descriptive maps. This is why Buddhism also refers to Reality as tathata, which means ‘suchness’ or ‘thusness’ – the real world as it is, not as it is classified or described.”

– Ken Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness, p. 59

The cultivation of wisdom, understood in Mahayana Buddhism as moving towards the realization and embodiment of Sunyata, leads to the axiom of compassion. Both the Dalai Lama’s understanding of Sunyata as the basis for dependent origination and Thich Nhat Hanh’s mirror-image interpretation, “interbeing”, provide the evolutionary framework to move from contemplating reality, to exhibiting absolute compassion.

I still understand very little about this whole thing, but the idea that there is some view of reality in which there are really only two main components, wisdom and compassion, really tickles my interest.

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