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I am trying to understand emptiness (Buddhism). As I understand it, nothing that can be changed, or broken down into smaller parts is inherently real. If my worldly perceptions of emptiness are not inherently real, but created out of some interaction between emptiness and my own mind, how does that explain that so many perceptions are shared?

For example, I walk out my front door and notice a brand new red car is parked on the street. I have never seen this car before and was not expecting it to materialize from emptiness, but there it is. Later, my neighbor might ask me if I got a new car. So, independently of my own situation she has also perceived the same thing.

If there is nothing but the emptiness of possibility, how does that explain perceptions of things that survive over time or across people?

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You know its a red car because you know what is red and what is a car, you've had these sub-perceptions before and have acknowledged them (so does your neighbor). If you focus on these sub-perceptions, they'll too branch of into smaller, basic ones. –  user2411 Oct 28 '12 at 17:33
How do you come to know "common perceptions" or that they exist? Did you not perceive your neighbor as well as the words she spoke? –  danielm Nov 15 '12 at 14:42

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As I understand it, nothing that can be changed, or broken down into smaller parts is inherently real.

That's not inaccurate, but it is a dangerous way to put it, if we don't qualify the terms.

"Inherently real" here has a specific meaning--it means "existing from its own side" (as the Tibetans put it), or, in Western terminology, a substance. As Spinoza put it, "By 'Substance', I understand that which exists in itself, and is conceived by itself, i.e., that which does not need the conception of any other thing in order to be conceived."

So, a substance inherently exists in that its existence is not dependent upon any other thing.

So, the cup on my desk does not inherently exists, as its existence was dependent upon a factory making it, etc.

If my worldly perceptions of emptiness are not inherently real, but created out of some interaction between emptiness and my own mind, how does that explain that so many perceptions are shared?

First off, let's be careful not to reify "emptiness"; emptiness is itself empty. So, my worldly perception of the cup is not the effect of the interaction between my mind and "emptiness" per se, but between my mind (which is empty) and the cup, (which is empty).

No one is saying the that cup isn't there, or that I am imagining it, or anything like that. Solipsism doesn't raise its head. The point is that the cup is not existing in and of itself, partaking of an eternal Platonic essence of cupness, without dependence upon any other object.

There are a number of good English-language books on Madhyamaka which are aimed at readers with a background in Western philosophy; I'd particularly recommend Jan Westerhoff's "Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka", Jay Garfield's "The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way" (which is a translation with commentary of the MMK), and Mark Siderits's "Buddhism As Philosophy" (which is an overview of Buddhist philosophy tout court, but has a chapter on Madhyamaka and emptiness.)

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Common perceptions are usually explained through correlation of our karma (i.e. actions). The more correlated our karma, more common perceptions we have. We have very many similar karma, that we have born in the same human world. But, still we can perceive things differently. For example, you may perceive same car as 'beautiful', and another person could perceive it as 'dangerous dirty object'.

And definitely, red car from your example is appeared "from emptiness". Because the Buddhist concept of "emptiness" mean "from its conditions", in contrast to "from its own self-like [eternal] element".

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According to the Mahayanna tradition 'emptiness' refers to the conditioned inherently not-self nature of things. The Buddha himself never used the term 'emptiness' in this context but the underlying idea (anicca, anatta, [dukkha]) is consistent across all Buddhist traditions. It may be useful to realise that when the Buddha refers to 'the all' (sabba) he is referring to only what you can perceive. When he refers to 'being' and 'existence', he is not just describing conditioned but also an identified/personified/unified/own-created delusion (sankhara) that supports our consciousness (vinnana) and maintains our false sense of self (an/atta).

So there may be a car in front of you. You may perceive it as red. Your neighbour may say it is red. But what do you really know? You perceive the colour through your eyes and you hear your neighbour through your ears and you interpret the meaning with your mind. Let's say the car exists (the Buddha discouraged and was himself careful not to engage in speculative discussion of whether there 'really' is a car or not, he stuck with what you can know, test, and what is conducive to liberation). You experience a red car and you experience a neighbour confirming its redness. That is really it, the all, sabba, the whole shabang.

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'I repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." (Sabbe sutta, translated from the pali by Thanissaro Bikkhu)

What the later tradition is emphasising with the term 'emptiness' is that what is perceived should not be personified, there is no thing there that is the self, neither the perceived nor the perceiver. It is not the car that is necessarily an illusion or unreal, but your sense of self and ownership. Yourself, your neighbour, your admiration of a car; these are the conditioned, own-created, identified concepts that are inherently unreal, that are impermanent and lead to pain.

Sabbe sankhara dukkha. Sabbe sankhara anicca. Sabbe dhamma anatta

All conditioned-own-made is painful. All conditioned-own-made is impermanent. All things are not self

(Everything is not self, Nothing is self)

As I understand it, (nothing) that (can be changed, or broken down into smaller parts) is (inherently real).

(Everything) that is (own-created and thus conditioned) (is painful). (Everything) that is (own-created and thus conditioned) (can be changed, or broken down into smaller parts). (Everything) that is (everything is not self).

That is what the Buddha taught.

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If there is nothing but the emptiness of possibility, how does that explain perceptions of things that survive over time or across people?

it's always difficult to make generalisations about 'Buddhism in general', but one thing most traditions share is the notion that levels of realisation within Maya and Samsara are at base determined Karmically by actions in present and past lives. Individuated entities according to Buddhism are products of dependant origination and devoid of inherent reality, but the obfuscating force of Maya imposes itself in such a way as to produce a subjective sense of their separation. It's not an entry level text but for this I would recommend The Changeless Nature (the mahayanottaratantrasastra) by Arya Maitreya and Acarya Asanga.

also +1 to you, and welcome :)

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One possible explanation: Perceiving consciousness is not something personal (besides, there is no self as separate entity).

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Our interactions are merely depends on where we put our perception. If we put our perception on material level *using our five senses), then we are stuck within our body and interact at this level (level of duality). But if we put our perception on different situation where we may call "emptiness" (our awareness are working outside of our five senses), then our awareness act as it should be on different situation, which is emptiness. Where our body (by our subconsciousness) are still following the law of physics, and where our awareness (our consciousness) follows another different law of nature (law of emptiness or etc).

Law of emptiness, it's when our awareness are stretched closer to everything. It's like when the ice (our awareness) are melt within water but still maintain the temperature of the ice different to the temperature of the water (enough to keep our awareness). At this level, we perceive closer to the characteristic of water, and when we back from emptiness, we will understand closer to the characteristic of the water and we can apply it to everyday life with better chances than before (since we "CLOSER TO" know how the water works).

  • Yes, OUR AWARENESS can live within emptiness, and also there is duality at the same time FOR OUR BODY. Now it's up to us to put our awareness at "specific level of perceptions (level of realities)".

  • There is no contradiction here. Both are living at different law.

Please, don't judge easily, "this is real", "that is not real" related to reality as it is. Rather than distinguishing this or that is real, we better assert, there is different level of reality. Why? Because if our consciousness can be trapped within something, then something maybe considered as real. Unless we are saying "this not real" that has relation with lying.

Please refer to the link provided from iphigenie for further understanding.

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Law of emptiness? Maybe you would get less of your answers downvoted if you provided at least some kind of sources. All I see is vague, undocumented and unexplained terms. –  iphigenie Oct 7 '12 at 17:22
Thank you for telling your objection. You already provided the source, thank you. Additional assertion already added. But when we were talking at different level of perception we might get an obstacles on our understanding. But. Still i will try to give additional assertion. Hope i can clarify yours. –  Seremonia Oct 8 '12 at 1:30
As long as we are confident with our knowledge, it is not actually a problem for downvotes, because over time, what we believe to be so (if true) will heal itself. If we have confidence in our own knowledge like this, then the communication can be done only for the correction of understanding, not correcting the essence of consistency of our knowledge. But it would be better if downvoting done after asking to clarify. Please feel free to downvote if you are still unsatisfied with our clarification. That's fair enough :) –  Seremonia Oct 8 '12 at 1:30
Downvoting is not disliking. But as long as all of your answers rely only on these spiritualists (who, excuse me for being polemic, believe that orbs of soul energy appear in their fotos and as long as you do not give any explanations on what you are talking about but keep using weird spriritualistic vocabulary, you will keep getting downvotes. This is not philosophy, and your methods are not in the least scientific. Please do not mistake this for personal criticism. –  iphigenie Oct 8 '12 at 7:16
Please understand that I am not criticising the content of your post, but formal criteria. No, I don't have a better way. I am just asking for justification, explanation and disclosure of terms, sources and connections. You aren't demonstrating, you're just asserting uncompelling theses, and this I called non-scientific. –  iphigenie Oct 8 '12 at 15:05

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