What is Sunyata (emptiness)?

Sunyata is a term in Buddhism that some people seem to struggle with. It’s often translated as Emptiness. Sometimes it’s translated as openness or voidness. Emptiness is sometimes misinterpreted as nihilism. It is the concept that nothing has inherent existence. Everything in the universe, including you, is dependent upon everything else. Everything is just a collection of things that are influencing other things.

If we really think about this, we know it’s true. Of course everything is interdependent. But, we tend to not live our lives with this understanding in mind. We tend to think of the world as separate from ourselves, and that can lead us to all kinds of trouble. Selfishness and greed come from not recognizing that we are simply part of a whole.

So much of the way we view the world is predicated on the labels and constructs that we put on everything. But these labels and constructs are empty. They don’t have any real, intrinsic existence. That’s why we say that all thought and matter are essentially empty.

We put labels on the world around us and then pretend that those labels are real.

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City with two kids and two cats. He runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. Daniel has a BA in English from KU and he works for the federal government. Once a Novice Monk in the Rinzai Tradition, he dropped out of monk school to become a regular person. He has taken his inspiration mainly from Zen renegades and madmen like Ikkyu and Han Shan. Daniel has taken Bodhisattva Vows in both the Nagarjuna and Asanga lineages. He is a frequent guest teacher on Daily Dharma Gathering.

3 Responses

  1. joeythebuddhist

    Hey! I do a blog for Canadian buddhists and sometimes I write about things like this. If you ever need material feel free to enjoy 🙂

    The one thing I wish you had of stressed on Sunyata is the experiential aspect. Zen and buddhism in particular I feel is more a experiential undertaking then a conceptual or ideological one. Would love to see you do a post about an experience you have had of sunyata as I alwys love reading those!

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