I recently read Dalai Lama's "The way to a meaningful life" and after I finished the chapter about "emptiness", I tried to come up with a way how to imagine this:

[A]n object is "empty" is synonymous with saying that it is dependently originated. So I tried to get rid of all dependencies.

  1. Think of yourself, after an accident. You're totally senseless, so you can't see, hear, feel,...
  2. Further you lost all your memories and with that, all your emotions.
  3. You can only think, but you think in a certain language, which was created by others, so it is dependant. So we take away language.
  4. Let's say there is only logical operations, like a computer. These operations follow some rules, which might be dependant, so let's take them away.

  5. When there is no operations on a computer we can switch it off as well.

So, is emptiness comparable to a switched off computer?

  • 3
    Even a switched off computer is full of the same electrons and quarks and stuff that a switched on computer is made up of. The distinction is that when the computer is switched on, the electrons in its circuits are in a high state of coherence. You're not distinguishing between something and nothing; but only between coherence and decoherence. But I believe the physicists say the same thing these days about the universe.
    – user4894
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 20:26
  • @user4894 the computer was just used as a comparison, no real PC involved. I thought about the state how the computer would feel when it is switched off...
    – draks ...
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 20:29
  • But the computer doesn't feel anything when it's switched on either. It is not self-aware. And you are the one who used the word computer. Isn't the burden on you to precisely define the word, if by "computer" you mean something other than a computer?
    – user4894
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 21:11
  • @user4894 when you lost all your emotions (3.) and can only perform logical operations (4.), what you are then? A computer.
    – draks ...
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 21:18

2 Answers 2


Trying to understand Buddhist concepts by analogy is an interesting proposition but one doomed to failure in my experience. On the face of it you might be onto something - is emptiness (sunyata) the same as switching a computer off. A translation of nirvana (a related concept) is 'blowing out' which seems to point at the same thing. However the Dhammapada, a good candidate for the original words of the Buddha, doesn't talk about emptiness at all. One of the analogies the Dhammapada uses for the enlightenment experience uses is 'the deathless' which seems very different to switching something off.

Though it is tempting to understand these concepts by really mentally drilling into them, they really are provisional. Traditionally they are seen as fingers pointing at the moon. One shouldn't obesses about the finger at the expense of understanding the moon. We are invited to test these ideas in the crucible of our own experience (e.g. by Buddhist practice) rather than just by reasoning.

Hope that helps some.

  • I'll just footnote my own answer. This seems like more of an answer from a religious perspective and I guess it is. But i do think the logical reasoning of these kind of things doesn't really go anywhere - to what is essentially an experiential issue. Since the site is essentially about logical reasoning maybe this doesn't belong here but until Buddhism SE comes to live maybe this still is the best place of this kind of question. Cheers Commented May 13, 2014 at 7:34

Sunyata is usually translated as nothingness, and is a key part of the Mahayana Buddhism, and was theorised by Nagurjuna. It has got very little to do with 'Nothing' as understood in Western Metaphysics - ie the Void of Parmenides. In fact, nothing at all.

What it is doing, is denying the Being of Being; or of Being qua Being. This pretty much axiomatic in Western Metaphysics since Aristotles time. And was further picked up by Hegel, Heidegger & Whitehead in different Philosophies about change, that is impermanance or transience; Hegel named it the Dialectic, Heidegger Being-in-the-World and Whitehead Process.

(One might align it with the Heraclitean philosophy of change in Hellenic Antiquity; but it also seems that a secret influence was Buddhism itself through Hume & Leibniz; and one might suppose the secret essence of the revival of Hericleitan over the Parmenidian philosophy. The opening of one of Hegels books is for example reminiscent of the opening of the Tao).

The thrust & point of Sunyata is not Nothingness as such, but interdepedence. This is what is roughly meant by dependent arising. There is no fixed Archimedean point, no static Form in a Platonic Heaven; everything, everywhere is changing, and arising, and ceasing - ceaselessly.

One should think of the eternal flux, the flowing of a river, Pollacks late paintings of Spring & November; and a never-ending fugue by Bach in polyphonic, multiphonic & variphonic voices.

  • +1 nice concluding examples. Would the flowing of a ceased river be another examples?
    – draks ...
    Commented May 17, 2014 at 6:12

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