Shunyata or Śūnyatā (Sanskrit, f, शून्यता; Pali: suññatā ;空Chinese, Pinyin Kong, W.-G. k'ung; japanese空, kū, Tibetan: stong pa nyi ) is a central Buddhist term meaning, that everything is empty and free of durability.

Emptiness term

The concept of Shunyata is directly derived from the Buddhist doctrine of " non-self " from. He refers to the insubstantiality of all phenomena as a result of its dependence on conditioning factors: its contingent emergence ( Sanskrit: pratityasamutpada, Pali: paticca samuppada ). " Emptiness " is thus a term used to describe the absence of a constant being, a self-nature and a stable ego in constant change of existence. The appearances are in their emptiness without own mark without inherent properties and thus no more than nominalist terms of a non- intrinsic world. The world is not a world of being, but of constant becoming, in which there is no solid substances and no hard realities.

Historical development of the concept of emptiness

Pali Canon

The emptiness term is handed down in several places of the Pali canon. However, it is mostly used in its adjectival form. To this end, a quote from the Samyutta Nikaya ( a dialogue between the Buddha and his cousin and disciple Ananda ), which underlines this:

" Empty is the world empty is the world, O Lord, they say. But to what extent is said that the world is empty "-" What then, Ananda, empty of self and what belongs to the ego is to the, Ananda, it is said: ' Space is the world '. But what is empty of self or what belongs to self? The 6 indoor and outdoor areas, the 6 kinds of consciousness, the 6 touches, the 18 emotions. This is empty of self and what belongs to the ego. "

In two Suttas of the Majjhima Nikaya ( Sutta Mahasunnata and Culasunnata Sutta ) but also appears later in the Mahayana usual, nominalized form, for example in the link ' suññatāvakkanti bhavati '. To this end, a quote from the " Culasunnata Sutta ", in which the various states of the sinking of Samatha meditation are explained below:

" ... Next then, Ananda, the monk has the idea of ​​' consciousness Unlimited sphere ' dismissed the idea of ​​' non-existence sphere ' dismissed; the idea of ​​' boundary line of possible perception ' he takes on as a single object. In Thought ' boundary line of possible perception ' rises his heart, exhilarated to be appeased, calmed down. So he recognizes: ' divisions, from the idea of ​​' consciousness Unlimited sphere ' entständen that is not there, divisions, from the thought ' entständen Not sphere of existence ' that is not there; and only a split is left, namely the idea of ​​' boundary line of possible perception ' as a single object. ' He knows ' has become less this way of thinking about the idea ' Unlimited consciousness sphere ' white ' has become less this way of thinking about the thought ' Not sphere of existence '; and only a wealth she has the thought ' boundary line of possible perception ' as a single object. ' To what is less so because there has become any less he sees it; and what is there still remained, of which he knows: ' If this remains undone. ' But thus, Ananda, this true, steadfast, quite pure emptiness descends upon him.

Next then, Ananda, the monk has the idea of ​​' non-existence sphere ' dismissed the idea of ​​' boundary line of possible perception ' dismissed; spiritual unity with no idea he takes on as a single object. In spiritual unity without idea rises his heart, exhilarated to be appeased, calmed down. ... "

The predicate " empty " refers to the early Buddhist context, nor exclusively on the egolessness and not on an assumed " ultimate " existence, the factors of existence ( Sanskrit: dharma, Pali: dhamma ), in particular the five skandhas in their dependent arising, which after frühbuddhistischer teaching entire world of experience a person make. This changes later in some schools of Hinayana, especially in the schools of Sarvastivada and Sautrantika that, starting from the system of the Abhidharma, discuss whether the factors of being on a permanent self- existence ( svabhava ) have or just flash moment liable to the same moment to completely go off.

Prajnaparamita literature

In the Prajnaparamita scriptures of Mahayana (eg in the Heart Sutra ), the origin of time is to be settled around the 1st century BC, the emptiness term is in the form substantivized its place. This results in a change of meaning. The existence of factors that constitute the whole world of experience of the person are not only empty of a self, but empty of any inherent existence. All beings, whether deluded or enlightened, therefore, are in the context of the universal condition in its emptiness that results from not ultimately separate and distinction. Pratityasamutpada inextricably interwoven and There is a universalization of the emptiness aspect. On the summit of knowledge ( prajna ) is no more distinction made ​​between samsara and nirvana, "conditional" and " not related", " existent" and " non-existent ", "same" and "different". These are dualistic terms that are due to their succession - relatedness empty of its own essence and not applicable to the reality as it presents itself truly. It shows here the increasingly important redemptive role played in the Mahayana of knowledge ( prajna ) and knowledge ( jnana ), since all beings are already redeemed potentially in their emptiness and it is important to recognize this reality just yet.


In the early literature of the Mahayana is found back the approach for Nagarjuna, on whose work the School of the Middle Way ( Madhyamaka ). Nagarjuna pursued its chosen in the Prajnaparamita writings course consistently and also relied in his argument on the traditional statements of the Buddha. The flared in the Buddhist schools debate over the degree of reality and ontological status of the factors of existence led him to further elaborate the emptiness term. He put it as a didactic tool by means of which he unwholesome extreme views as those of "being" ( bhava ) or " non-being " ( abhava ) rejected. Emptiness was for Nagarjuna thus neither an absolute nor a diversity of phenomena faced vacuum. He referred to the term on the lack of self- existence ( svabhava ) everything Composite and depending architecture generated and made it more than once pointed out, not to make the mistake of confusing the emptiness with a behind the world " reality " or a view that this reality represents. Even the emptiness explains Nagarjuna for empty of inherent reality. You can not be expressed without contradiction, since every statement a veiled manner always truth ( satya samvrtti ) reproduces. The truth in the highest sense ( paramartha satya ) can show as emptiness only in the non-verbal knowledge ( prajna ). His methodology to introduce practitioners to the emptiness was therefore deconstructive: he tried to avoid on the path of strict negation any attachment to a particular view, and thus to eliminate the culture of the "Grab " ( Upadana ) from the outset.


In the school of Yogacara was, however, tried the emptiness to formulate positive. As part of its terms have been developed such as " womb of the Tathagata " ( tathagatagharba ), " suchness " ( tathata ), " Dasheit " ( tattva ) or " kingdom of all dharmas " ( dharmadhatu ), as harbingers of the later common in non- Indian Buddhism label " Buddha nature " are to be considered. In Yogacara now functions of the mind as the basis of samsara and nirvana: it applies it to recognize by training the mind ( meditation) and finally fully realized.

The emptiness in other systems

However, the controversial concept of the ultimate great void through which Buddhism from Hinduism who knows only a mental void in the area of ​​Anthakarana, seemingly different, is by no means unique. Even the Drikung Kayue teaches that the emptiness is imbued with the spirit and above is the spirit spark. In Radhasoami but there is such a void ' Maha Sunna ( Bhavsaagar ) ' at similarly high levels, about further levels. In Kabbalah, such a void exists as Belima ( ' What - going ') together with ' Reshit '. In Shaivism void created with the extinction of knowledge.

Demarcation to Western ideas

In contrast to the Western idea of "nothing" (in the sense of a physical vacuum), the term includes Shunyata thus simultaneously the potential of the appearance of a phenomenon ( " emptiness is form, form is no other than emptiness ," Heart Sutra ). This core statement of Mahayana aims that it is impossible by the two extreme ideologies of annihilation doctrine ( ucchedavada ) and eternalism ( sassvatavada ) to discover the true nature of mind (and thus of all phenomena ); just the "middle " (hence: Middle way, Sanskrit: madhyamapratipad ) finally leads to the knowledge of Prajnaparamita - the final (german ultimate ) wisdom, with nothing more than Shunyata is meant.