Under the rose-apple tree

Under the rose-apple tree

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Emptiness of Dependent Arising (4): Preamble

In the second discourse, the Buddha taught the group-of-five not to identify with the five body-skandhas as if they were the self. On receiving this teaching all five became arhats, underlining how essential this teaching of emptiness is. 

In the second discourse as preserved in the Anattalakkhaṇasuttaṁ, it is not stated explicitly that the five skandhas are empty of self. Rather than saying that the five skandhas were empty of self, the Buddha is recorded as describing the skandhas as anāttā, “not self” or “without self.”

But in Samyutta Nikāya 35.85...
where the Glorious One was, in that direction Venerable Ānanda approached. On arrival, having made respectful salutations, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Glorious One, "It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty. In what respect is it said that the world is empty?" "Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ānanda, that the world is empty...”
Again, Aśvaghoṣa confirms in SN17.20 that when Nanda saw that this world was empty, he saw that there was no doer or knower – in other words, no separately existing self:

yataś ca saṁskāra-gataṁ viviktaṁ na kārakaḥ kaś-cana vedako vā /
samagryataḥ saṁbhavati pravṛttiḥ śūnyaṁ tato lokam imaṁ dadarśa // 17.20 //

And insofar as separateness comes from doings, there being no doer or knower, / And the activity done arises out of a totality, he realised, on that account, that this world is empty.// 17.20 //

In the third discourse, the Instruction about Burning, the Buddha praises the condition which is free of passion (virāga). Again, the Pali does not record the Buddha specifically describing this freedom as a condition which is empty of passion. But that the Buddha did indeed identify emptiness with the dispassion of just sitting – without greed, without fear, without being unduly disturbed by any idea – is confirmed by later suttas such as the Lesser and Greater Discourses on Emptiness.

The connection between emptiness and the main teaching of the fourth discourse – dependent arising – is less immediately apparent. But we will see in translating MMK that, for Nāgārjuna, emptiness and dependent arising were very definitely two names for one teaching.  Hence: 

yaḥ pratītya-samutpādaḥ śūnyatāṁ tāṁ pracakṣmahe |
sā prajñaptir upādāya pratipat saiva madhyamā ||MMK24.18||
Whatever dependent arising there is, we call that emptiness. This teaching, when put into practice, is the middle path itself.

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