Source: p 63, Introducing Philosophy for Canadians: A Text with Integrated Readings (2011 1 ed) by Solomon, McDermid

How can 'Emptiness', or nothing, be 'Fullness' or 'Oneness'?

I ask not for an exhaustive answer, but a helpful synopsis, because I would need (but lack the time to) study ancient Indian Vedic literature to comprehend this paradoxical equalisation (of emptiness, to fullness or oneness). The following explanation did not demystify the paradox for me:

[p 61:] The 'seeking' expressed in the early Upanishads centres on 'Brahman', considered the ultimate secret both of ourselves and of the universe. The Upanishadic notion of Brahman is a seeking of a 'Unity' underlying all individual selves and things, So too, the 'Emptiness' and absolutist notions of much of Buddhist thought are concerned with 'the One', this underlying unity. Buddhisms view of the supremely real as 'Emptiness' or 'Openness' developed out of similar notions suggested in the early Upanishads. In these texts, the 'Absolute' is considered to have a peculiar 'logic', or 'nature', unlike that of everyday, finite, physical things. It is important not to think of the 'Emptiness' suggested in the following passages as merely nothing. the absence of all things. Paradoxically, it is rather a 'fullness', but unlike anything in our ordinary experience.

  • 1
    The use of these terms in trying to explain Brahman is misleading. It is not only the early Upanishads, but all the Upanishads that speak of Brahman. The use of the term 'emptiness' is used sometimes by Buddhist commentators, especially the Theravedic school, to explain Ultimate Reality, but it is never used in Upanishads or by any of the major Upanishad commentators. Will put together an answer. Jun 24, 2016 at 5:03
  • If what I heard is true, not only the Upanishads but also modern scientists do not agree with the idea of the existence of void. Even the so-called self-realized 'personalities' if they have realized 'anything', can't be 'nothing'. Though you didn't use the word 'Non-dual', please note, 'Oneness' and 'Non-dual' are not the same.(This I mentioned only because you used the word 'Brahman'). If there is 'emptiness' it will always be an emptiness. So, 'emptiness' and can never be a 'fullness'. If anyone wishes to call it 'fullness' it must be a fullness of emptiness. It is never the oneness Jun 24, 2016 at 15:07
  • For a good explanation on the nature of Brahman, the One without a second, see the attached link pages 293-312. a little background on the source. The Brahma Sutras are one of the three 'legs' that all modern Vedanta rests on (the other two being the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita). The commentary on each verse is Sankara's - the 7th century commentator that all modern Vedantic monists follow. The translator is a highly respected Sanskrit scholar and monk. wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc62753.html Jul 3, 2016 at 8:05
  • you can also look on Hinduism SE and do a search on 'Brahman'. Jul 3, 2016 at 8:07

2 Answers 2


Emptiness or Sunyata, is a key concept in Buddhist rather than Vedantic ontology.

It describes the lack of svabhava, a term whose closest parallel in Western philosophy would be essence.

The term almost explains itself, if you take the components of the term separately: sva, meaning together with, or self and bhava meaning subsistent or being.

Nagurjana is a key thinker in the Mahayana tradition who also expounded upon the emptiness of emptiness.


Oh. That's interesting.

Hegel, in Science of Logic, begins his ontology building with Being,

§ 132

Being, pure being, without any further determination. In its indeterminate immediacy it is equal only to itself. It is also not unequal relatively to an other; it has no diversity within itself nor any with a reference outwards. It would not be held fast in its purity if it contained any determination or content which could be distinguished in it or by which it could be distinguished from an other.

But then comes a surprising reversal that is at the same time an equivalence, Being = Nothing,

There is nothing to be intuited in it, if one can speak here of intuiting; or, it is only this pure intuiting itself. Just as little is anything to be thought in it, or it is equally only this empty thinking. Being, the indeterminate immediate, is in fact nothing, and neither more nor less than nothing

But how can this be? He goes on to explain this almost paradoxical equivocation,

§ 133

Nothing, pure nothing: it is simply equality with itself, complete emptiness, absence of all determination and content — undifferentiatedness in itself. In so far as intuiting or thinking can be mentioned here, it counts as a distinction whether something or nothing is intuited or thought. To intuit or think nothing has, therefore, a meaning; both are distinguished and thus nothing is (exists) in our intuiting or thinking; or rather it is empty intuition and thought itself, and the same empty intuition or thought as pure being. Nothing is, therefore, the same determination, or rather absence of determination, and thus altogether the same as, pure being.

So if you take Nothing as Emptiness, and Being as Fullness or Oneness which isn't too big a stretch of the imagination I would suggest the identifying of Emptiness with Oneness is not unprecedented.

  • It's difficult for me to comprehend, will try rereading it a few times. Thanks for the answer though.
    – user12196
    Jul 1, 2016 at 18:31

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