The Buddha spoke on Emptiness. What on Earth was he talking about?

The Buddha’s teachings on Emptiness challenge the best of minds.

A very committed meditator exploring the depths of calm (samatha) and insight (vipassana) finds it a challenge to understand fully the nature of Emptiness, which make everything possible including liberation.

A psychologist and philosopher may have much knowledge of the mind, thought and views but finds it a challenge to comprehend Emptiness, even at an intellectual level.

An emotionally well-adjusted, well-integrated human being equally finds it challenging to see and know Emptiness

You might find occasional reference to emptiness in a variety of other teachings, including metaphysics/religions/philosophies/psychology.

Most references to such emptiness carries with it a tone of existential detachment, a sense of pointlessness or even a tone of despair. A few sages and mystics include recognition of Emptiness in their message to humanity.

The Buddha has made explicit his teachings and exploration of Emptiness. You know you have realised Emptiness through the liberation that Emptiness reveals. This liberation ends the grasping onto this world and grasping onto the notion of another world. Non-grasping confirms the seeing and knowing the emptiness of grasping.

Here are 12 areas for inquiry into Emptiness. It would be time well spent to devote your mindfulness, concentration and inquiry into the exploration of Emptiness. The realisation of Emptiness wakes up the being, enables a life without fear or virtually without fear. The grasping onto nothing whatsoever allows free movement in the motion of life.

12 Explorations on Emptiness (In alphabetical order).

  1. A human being lacks self-existence. Body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, consciousness mutually depend on each other AND the environment until these supportive faculties break down. A person abides empty of their own existence owing to such conditions for their support.
  2. A person finds himself or herself afflicted. The afflictions come from within and without, internally and externally. The person finds themselves in an empty village. There are no threats hiding in the village. There are no longer perceptions of terror, via any of the senses. Emptiness is the mind empty of perceived threats, of unresolved issues.
  3. An item does not have self-existence. Take a car. The engine is not the car, nor are the wheels, seats and dashboard. The car consists of a forming together of numerous parts. The car is empty of any self-existence. There is no self-existence and there is no separate self-existence, nor oneness of self and other.  The same principle applies to human beings and all else.
  4. Emptiness is a like a large bath of pure water. You put several tablespoons of salt into the bath of water but the pure water does not lose its flavour. An expansive heart and mind may have to deal with salt but its taste and significance fades away. If your put large tablespoons of salt into a glass, you will keep tasting the salt.
  5. Emptiness is like space. You cannot take hold of a box of paints and paint anything, good, bad or indifferent on to space.
  6. Emptiness is the mind Gone Great (mahajatti), such as the mind and heart of expansive love, kindness and friendship (metta) The Great Mind is empty of animosity and revenge.
  7. Emptiness shows that Mindfulness, Concentration and Inquiry abide empty of itself and empty of other.
  8. Emptiness shows the absence of any real identity, core, essence, soul or Self.
  9. Insights and realisations show the insubstantiality and lack of solidity of the body, forms, perceptions, feelings, mental activities and consciousness. Insubstantiality and lack of solidity in the human makeup confirm Emptiness.
  10. The mind/body/environment undergoes adaption, change and impermanence. The so-called world remains subject to causes and conditions. This world abides empty of permanence, eternity and an unchanging nature.
  11. The present is empty of what is not present. Whatever one concentrates on is empty of what is not concentrated on. Whatever is concentrated on is made up of what is not concentrated on.
  12. There is a deep sense of the Boundless (appamana). The Boundless reveals itself in the emptiness of so-called ‘obstructions.’ Obstructions or hindrances have no ‘self’ existence. Emptiness is revealed equally in sentient and insentience, in the heavens and hells of existence.

The teachings of Emptiness do not offer a rosy picture of life. The teachings of Emptiness do not offer a thorny picture of life.

The teachings of Emptiness are very hard to dismiss whether you identify yourself as a theist, atheist, agnostic or none of those.

The inquiry into Emptiness ranks as a precious undertaking. There are no limits to the benefits.



There is no word, such as January in the world.

There are no numbers in the world such as 1st (January) 2017.

The world is empty of words, numbers and ‘things.’

Emptiness is also Empty. There are other ‘languages’, too.

Happy Emptiness.

May all beings wake up from a coma

May all beings realise that Emptiness makes everything possible

May all beings enjoy a liberated life



6 thoughts on “The Buddha spoke on Emptiness. What on Earth was he talking about?”

  1. Pingback: Is there compassion for the self? Go deep. Is there compassion for the end of self? - Sangha Live

  2. Dear Christopher, Your article has once more made clear to me that the buddha used
    words replacable with similar ones so that we listeners of his/universal teachings get
    a better understanding of the meaning. It also avoids giving substance to a word and
    makes possible to see and understand things from a little different angle.
    In that context emptiness can get replaced by freedom or by being free from.
    It can so help us to get an understanding of the dharma through words, allthough
    it is actually beyond words.

  3. I realise I can’t learn about Emptiness in the normal way, like its maths or history or something, which is lucky for me. haha
    It’s a different kind of learning, more like an instinct, a resonance, a recognition.
    I love these 12 Explorations into Emptiness. They are like poem chants. I’m going to play them on my analogue synth, and attempt to echo the resonance, which could be a strange, but interesting experiment.
    I think I’ve often feared the lack of self existence, as if Emptiness was some kind of nihilism, or a spooky void or black hole, a science fiction nothingness.
    But I can still board the bus with my stash of personal absurdities, and chat to the lady next to me about how my left knee has gone wonky, or the price of apples, and she can tell me about her life. I love that, peoples’ stories. To me that’s interdependence, lack of self existence, even though we exist as two separate people. Hah! Yes! the paradox.
    I’d like to be someone who changes the world, but hey. haha. Perhaps I’ll be a Buddhist scholar sometime in the next million years.
    I think I’m still a bit spooked about Karma. It’s a Sanskrit? word from another culture and I don’t understand it out of context.
    Also this dodgy fellow once pointed the word at me like a machine gun and attempted to despatch me to some kind of Hell realm.
    I think it’s maybe not to do with Hell realms and punishment. i think it might be something to do with understanding cause and effect and doing something about it, like taking a risk, a leap out of the loop, a change of direction, to free oneself from endless cycles of negativity, despair, revenge and all the rest of it.
    And just when I thought I knew where I was…
    The world is empty of words, numbers and ‘things.’
    Emptiness is also Empty. There are other ‘languages’, too….
    To quote the above article.
    What??? I do love a mystery. Just as well. What’s the other languages then?
    Happy Emptiness to you too, Sir.

  4. Thomas Schorr-kon

    The emptiness is like the quality of the mirror, able to reflect all phenomena, yet remaining unchanged.
    We only see the reflection and do not perceive the emptiness or space, only by doing nothing can we perceive the emptiness.

  5. Well, for a learner like me, this is right into the heart of the matter, eh? heheh. Straight in at the deep end.
    I’ve always wondered what the Buddha meant by Emptiness, but I need really simple language if I’m to get it at all, so this is good.
    I love it. I’ll check these 12 explorations. Not saying I’ll get it in ten minutes but its somehow a poetry that speaks to my heart.
    I’ve thought a lot of about Self and Not Self over the years, because the beauty of understanding these concepts speaks to my heart.
    Because I go on about myself and my tiny concerns, in a petty domestic way, all the time, and I don’t intend to stop, haha, I went through a period when I beat up Self, because I feared this word karma that people used.
    Now, I’ve come to terms with Self, Self is Self, no more, no less, in my case an actor, an illusionist, a holy fool who makes me laugh when there’s nothing much to laugh about, and who teases me about my absurd insignificance, and then writes out the shopping list.
    And Not Self is … erm… well I think I’ll go to the 12 explorations now.
    I once sat on a bench in Athens, Greece, for about 5 hours, waiting for a bus. I somehow flipped totally into the moment, and thought I was somehow dead yet alive at the same time. I thought later it was some kind of Buddhist experience but now I realise it was probably sunstroke.
    Emptiness!! I must learn.

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