Dhamma for you.
By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
A moment ago we mentioned the word "emptiness" (sunnata). Let us now have a closer look at it. Sunnata is a Pali word. Sunna means "void" or "empty," and "-ta" is the equivalent of "-ness". Sunnata is emptiness or voidness. In the everyday language of people who have not seen or penetrated to the truth, emptiness means simply the absence of any content whatsoever, a physical void, a vacuum, a useless nothingness. This is emptiness in everyday language. Emptiness or sunnata in Dhamma language is quite different. Here everything of every kind and variety may be present in any quantity - everything, that is, with the single exception of the ideas of "me" and "mine". Everything may be present, everything of every sort and kind you can think of, the entire lot of both physical and mental phenomena, with just this one exception - there is no idea of "me" and "mine". No "I," no "my," - that is emptiness as it is understood in Dhamma language, the language of the Buddha.
The world is empty. Empty of what? Empty of self and anything belonging to self. With this single exception, everything may be present, as long as nothing is regarded as "me" or "mine". This is the emptiness of Dhamma language. When the Buddha spoke of emptiness, he was speaking Dhamma language. Foolish people understand this as everyday language and take it that there is nothing i the world at all, just a vacuum! If the word "emptiness" is misinterpreted like this in term of everyday language, the Buddha's teaching of emptiness becomes meaningless. Those foolish people come out with many strange assertions that have nothing whatever to do with emptiness as taught by the Buddha.
I hope you will take an interest in this and bear it well in mind. This word "empty" applied to physical things naturally means absence of any content, but in the metaphysical context, it means that though every sort of thing may be present, there is utter absence of "I-ness" and "my-ness." In the physical world, the mental world, or anywhere at all, there is no such thing as "me" or "mine". The conditions of "I-ness" and "my-ness" just do not exist. They are unreal, mere illusions, hence the world is described as empty. It is not that the world is devoid of all content. Everything is there, and it can be made use of with discernment. Go ahead and make use of it! Just one thing though - don't go producing the ideas of "me" and "mine"!
Thus, in Dhamma language, empty does not mean "devoid of all content." Anyone who takes it as meaning this is ignorant of Dhamma and ignorant of the language of Dhamma. Such a person is speaking only everyday language. If we go forcing this everyday meaning into the context of Dhamma language, how can we ever make any sense of Dhamma? Do make a special effort to understand this word. It has these two quite distinct meanings.
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