sunyata sho͞on´yətə [key] [Skt.,=emptiness], one of the main tenets of Mahayana Buddhism , first presented by the Perfection of Wisdom ( Prajna-paramita ) scriptures (1st cent. BC on) and later systematized by the Madhyamika school. Early Buddhist schools of Abhidharma , or scholastic metaphysics, analyzed reality into ultimate entities, or dharmas , arising and ceasing in irreducible moments in time. The Mahayanists reacted against this realistic pluralism by stating that all dharmas are empty, without self-nature ( svabhava ) or essence. This was a radical restatement of the central Buddhist teaching of non-self ( anatman ). It was declared that not only ordinary objects, but the Buddha, nirvana , and also emptiness itself are all empty. The teaching attempts to eradicate mental attachment and the perception of duality, which, since it is a basis for aversion to bondage in birth-and-death ( samsara ) and desire for nirvana, may obstruct the bodhisattva's compassionate vow to save all beings before entering nirvana himself. Wisdom ( prajna ), or direct insight into emptiness, is the sixth perfection ( paramita ) of a bodhisattva. It is stressed by both Buddhist writers and Western scholars that emptiness is not an entity nor a metaphysical or cosmological absolute, nor is it nothingness or annihilation. Empty things are neither existent nor nonexistent, and their true nature is thus called not only emptiness but also suchness ( tathata ).

See E. Conze, Buddhist Wisdom Books (1958). F. J. Streng, Emptiness (1967).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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