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Shunyata or Śūnyatā ( Sanskrit , f., शून्यता; Pali : suññatā; Chinese   , Pinyin kōng , W.-G. k'ung ; Korean ; Japanese , , Tibetan : stong pa nyid ) is a central Buddhist term and means that everything is empty and free from permanence and everything is mutually dependent.

Concept of emptiness

The term Shunyata is derived directly from the Buddhist doctrine of not-self . He refers to the insubstantiality of all phenomena as a result of their dependence on conditioning factors, their conditioned origin (Sanskrit: pratityasamutpada , Pali: paticca samuppada ). “Voidness” is a paraphrase for the lack of a constant being, an intrinsic nature and a constant self in the constant change of existence. In their emptiness, the appearances are without their own characteristics, without inherent properties and thus no more than nominalistic concepts of a non-essential world. The world is not a world of being , but of constant becoming , in which there are no solid substances and no irreversible realities.

Historical development of the concept of emptiness

Pali canon

The concept of emptiness has been handed down in several places in the Pali Canon . However, it is mostly used adjectivally . A quote from the Samyutta Nikaya (a dialogue between the historical Buddha and his cousin and disciple Ananda ) underscores this:

“The world is empty, the world is empty, Lord, they say. But to what extent is it said that the world is empty? ”-“ What is there, Anando, empty of I and belonging to the I, to that, Anando, it is said: 'The world is empty'. But what is empty of ego or belonging to ego? The six inner and outer areas, the six types of consciousness, the six touches, the eighteen feelings. That is empty of the ego and belonging to the ego. "

- Samyutta Nikaya 35.85

In two suttas of the Majjhima Nikaya ( Mahasunnata Sutta and Culasunnata Sutta ), however , the substantiated form later used in Mahayana appears, for example in the connection suññatāvakkanti bhavati . In a quote from the Culasunnata Sutta , the different states of immersion in Samatha meditation are explained:

“... Then, Anando, the monk has dismissed the thought 'Unlimited Sphere of Consciousness', the thought 'Non-Existence'; He takes up the idea of ​​the 'borderline of possible perception' as the only object. In the thought of the 'borderline of possible perception', his heart rises, cheers, calms down, calms down. So he recognizes: 'Divisions that arise from the thought' Unlimited Sphere of Consciousness' do not exist there, divisions that arise from the thought of 'Non-Existence' do not exist; and only one cleavage remains, namely the thought of 'the boundary between possible perception' as the only object. ' He knows: 'This way of thinking about the thought' Unlimited Sphere of Consciousness 'has become less, knows:' This way of thinking about the thought 'Non-existence sphere' has become less; and it shows only one richness in the thought of the 'borderline of possible perception' as the only object. ' So what is less there, that is why he looks at it less; and what is left, he knows: 'If this remains, that remains.' Well, Anando, this true, inviolable, thoroughly pure emptiness descends on him.

Then, Anando, the monk dismissed the thought of 'non-existence sphere', dismissed the thought of 'borderline of possible perception'; He assumes spiritual unity without representation as the only object. In spiritual unity without imagination, his heart rises, cheers, calms down, calms down. ... "

- Majjhima Nikaya 121

In the early Buddhist context, the predicate "empty" still refers exclusively to egotism and not to an assumed ultimate existence of the factors of existence (Sanskrit: dharmas , Pali: dhammas ), in particular the five skandhas in their dependent emergence, which according to early Buddhist teachings the entire world of experience make up a person. That changes later in some schools of Hinayana , especially in the schools of Sarvastivada and Sautrantika , which, based on the system of Abhidharma , discuss whether the factors of existence have a permanent existence of their own (svabhava) or whether they only flash momentarily to the same Instantly to extinguish completely.

The four arūpajjhāna of Anupada Sutta form the basis of cosmic emptiness meditations in Nirodha Samapatti the Arhat culminate: "Again, you bhikkhus , by completely surmounting the base of neither perception nor non-perception (saññāvedayitanirodham) entered Sariputta in the extinction of perception and sensation and lingered in it ”.

Prajnaparamita literature

In the Prajnaparamita scriptures of the Mahayana (e.g. in the Heart Sutra ), the time of which was written around the 1st century BC. BC, the concept of emptiness finds its place in the substantiated form. There is a change in meaning. The factors of existence that constitute the entire world of experience of the person are not only empty of a self, but also of any self-existence. All beings, whether blinded or enlightened, are therefore inseparably interwoven in the universal conditional context of the pratityasamutpada and, in their emptiness, which results from it, are ultimately not separated from one another and indifferent. There is a universalization of the voidness aspect. At the peak of knowledge ( prajna ) no distinction is made between samsara and nirvana , “conditioned” and “unconditional”, “existent” and “nonexistent”, “same” and “different”. These are dualistic concepts which, because they are related to one another, are devoid of their own essence and do not apply to reality as it truly presents itself. It shows the increasingly important redeeming role in Mahayana of cognition (prajna) and knowledge (jnana), since all beings in their emptiness are already potentially redeemed and this fact only needs to be recognized.


In the early literature of Mahayana there is also the approach for Nagarjuna , on whose work the school of the Middle Way ( Madhyamaka ) goes back. Nagarjuna consistently pursued the course taken in the Prajnaparamita scriptures and also referred to the traditional statements of the Buddha in his argumentation. The discussion that flared up in the Buddhist schools about the degree of reality and ontological status of the factors of existence led him to further elaborate the concept of voidness. He used it as a didactic tool, with the help of which he rejected unwholesome extreme views such as “being” (bhava) or “non-being” (abhava). For Nagarjuna, emptiness was neither an absolute nor a vacuum opposed to the variety of phenomena . He used the term to refer to the lack of self-existence (svabhava) of everything compound and dependently arisen and repeatedly pointed out not to make the mistake of confusing emptiness with a “reality” or a view that lies behind the world represents. Nagarjuna declares even emptiness to be empty of inherent reality. It cannot be expressed without contradictions, since every reference always reflects a veiled truth (samvrtti satya). The truth in the highest sense (paramartha satya) is reflected in the non-verbal knowledge (prajna) than emptiness. His method of introducing practitioners to emptiness was therefore deconstructive: he tried to prevent any clinging to a certain view by means of strict negation and thus to remove the ground from "grasping" ( Upadana ) from the outset.


In the school of Yogacara , on the other hand, attempts were made to formulate emptiness in a positive way. In the course of this, terms were developed such as “womb of the Tathagata ” (tathagatagharba), “soness” ( tathata ), “thatness” (tattva) or “kingdom of all dharmas” (dharmadhatu), which heralds the name Buddha, later common in non-Indian Buddhism -Nature are to be seen. In Yogacara, the mind functions as the basis of samsara and nirvana: it is important to recognize it through training ( meditation ) and ultimately to fully realize it.

The emptiness in other systems

The controversial concept of emptiness, by which Buddhism differs from broad areas of Hinduism that know a mental emptiness in the realm of Antahkarana , is one of many. Thus, according to Shaivism , emptiness arises with the extinction of knowledge. It is explained in the Svacchanda Tantra , which teaches six contemplations of emptiness in Chapter IV.288-290, and in the Vijnanabhairava Tantra. The Madhyadhama (central channel) is also referred to here as sunya or sunyatisunya (absolute emptiness). In the Radhasoami such a void exists as Maha Sunna (Bhavsaagar) on similarly high levels, but above it, as Abhinavagupta teaches, there are other levels. In the Kabbalah there is such a void as Belima (What-going on) together with Reschit .

Differentiation from western ideas

Contrary to the Western idea of ​​nothing (in the sense of a physical vacuum or an absence), the term Shunyata also contains the potential for phenomena to arise ("Form is nothing more than emptiness, and emptiness is nothing other than form", Heart Sutra ) . This core statement of the Mahayana aims at the fact that it is impossible to fathom the true nature of the mind (and thus of all appearances) through the two extreme worldviews of the doctrine of annihilation (ucchedavada) and eternalism ( Sasatavada ); just the "middle way" (hence Middle Way , Sanskrit: madhyamapratipad ) eventually leads to the knowledge of Prajnaparamita - the final (English ultimate ) wisdom with which nothing but Shunyata is meant.

See also


  • The fifth Dalai Lama: Practice of Emptiness. The Perfection of Wisdom Chapter of the Fifth Dalai Lama's "Sacred Word of Manjushri". Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala 1974.
  • Nishitani Keiji : What is Religion? German transmission by Dora Fischer-Barnicol, Frankfurt am Main 1982.
  • Nishitani, Keiji: Religion and Nothingness . The University of California Press, Berkeley 1982, ISBN 0-520-04946-2 .
  • Christian Thomas Kohl: [1] (PDF; 83 kB) on:
  • Bernhard Weber-Brosamer, Dieter M. Back: The philosophy of the void. Nāgārjunas Mulamadhyamaka-Karikas . 2nd Edition. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-447-05250-3 . (Translation of the Buddhist basic text with commentary introductions)
  • Kalupahana, David (1991). Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 812080774X

Web links

  • Empty rywiki
  • Bhikkhu, Thanissaro (trans.) (1997), Cula-suñña Sutta , Majjhima Nikaya 121, The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness
  • Bhikkhu, Thanissaro (trans.) (1997), Maha-suññata Sutta , Majjhima Nikaya 122, The Greater Discourse on Emptiness
  • Bhikkhu, Thanissaro (trans.) (1997), Phena Sutta , Samyutta Nikaya XXII.95, Foam
  • Bhikkhu, Thanissaro (trans.) (1997), SN 35.85, Suñña Sutta

Individual evidence

  1. Monier-Williams, Sir Monier (2nd edn, 1899) A Sanskrit-English Dictionary . Reprinted Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1986: p.1085. Digitized
  2. Sri Yuktesvar Giri: The Sacred Science. Barth, Weilheim 1949. (New edition: 2000, ISBN 0-87612-057-5 )
  3. Emptiness in the Shivasutra ( Memento of the original from June 8, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. Swacchanda Tantra
  5. Mahasunna on p. 13
  6. Belima ( Memento of the original from July 10, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. Ernst Müller: The Zohar and its teaching. Introduction to the world of thought of Kabbalah. 1920.