Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Tommy Toys, modified 6 Months ago.

Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 26 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
 During practices, one thing quite bothering me is various explanations from diff teachers on emptiness logically disturbing...

Usually, it goes like this - the flower before you seems real. Now get closer, you no longer see flower, but just leaves, stem. Even closer, you "see" atoms, electrons, etc. See? the flower is "empty" of inherent existence. The same goes for "self". Try search for the "self" in your thoughts, arm, leg, etc. and you would find nothing.

Of coz I could appreciate this mentally helps in someway in practice. But sth. falls short.

First, it feels "outdated" to me, in a post-calculus world, that it denies the validity of an aggregate object, by pointing towards an infinitesimally small part of it. Buddhist Zeno paradox?

Secondly, the requirement of "look closer" (or farther) in the example, seem to assert the perceiver model. So if we apply inverse logic - in order to make sth. truly existent A, that thing needs to be A in all perceivable cases. That would make any usual object fall short. Therefore A would only be possible as some kind of "totality", or awareness itself (in subjective view). But at this point it felt like a semantics game, and makes me hard to "contemplate" emptiness of mind.


​​​​​​​I'm sure there're better ways to explain the Buddhist emptiness logic in a more modern compatible way. Please enlighten me.Thanks! 
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Stefan R, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 176 Join Date: 3/28/21 Recent Posts
Ah, I see the confusion if you're going for it metaphysically. Try taking an epistemological view. 

Think about it this way; without the mind, what would see the flower? That is no inherent existence. All existence is predicated on relationships. i.e. there is no inherent existence must mean, in some way, there is only extrinsic existence. Of course, this is just a way of looking at it, but it's a good jumping-off point, a disposable foundation if you will. 

Break it down to a very simple thing. You and everything else. The "you" exists in opposition to everything else and vice versa. To distinguish one is to distinguish the other's existence. And so you now see that these two things lack inherent existence, as they are defined by one another. 

Secondly, the requirement of "look closer" (or farther) in the example, seem to assert the perceiver model. So if we apply inverse logic - in order to make sth. truly existent A, that thing needs to be A in all perceivable cases. That would make any usual object fall short. Therefore A would only be possible as some kind of "totality", or awareness itself. But at this point it felt like a semantics game, and makes me hard to "contemplate" emptiness of mind.

This is a better way of looking at it. Drop the concern with semantics; because that IS the name of the game. Semantics is how words relate to their referent, which in essence, is the mind relating to an object, which is the name of the game! emoticon You're pretty close. The semantics thing is the juice. Keep going further. 
Tommy Toys, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 26 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
As I read through your reply a few times, I think something really important clicked, experientially / conceptually.  Felt like I'm just a step away from sth. more profound. Perhaps you could "point out" sth. further.

Could we thus say that - at least subjectively viewed -  emptiness could be equated with (or experientially proved by)  the absence of totality in any "thing" imaginable? Here - I loosely define totality - as something that is such (e.g. "is a banana") from any possible vantage point / at any level.  At least I could not think of anything in my head right now that meet this criteria. The only "thing" that felt experientially "as such" is every experience by itself without conceptualizing them.

Stefan R
Ah, I see the confusion if you're going for it metaphysically. Try taking an epistemological view. 

Think about it this way; without the mind, what would see the flower? That is no inherent existence. All existence is predicated on relationships. i.e. there is no inherent existence must mean, in some way, there is only extrinsic existence. Of course, this is just a way of looking at it, but it's a good jumping-off point, a disposable foundation if you will. 
Break it down to a very simple thing. You and everything else. The "you" exists in opposition to everything else and vice versa. To distinguish one is to distinguish the other's existence. And so you now see that these two things lack inherent existence, as they are defined by one another. 
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Stefan R, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 176 Join Date: 3/28/21 Recent Posts
As I read through your reply a few times, I think something really important clicked, experientially / conceptually.  Felt like I'm just a step away from sth. more profound. Perhaps you could "point out" sth. further.

Try this: next time you're sitting and you feel a certain emotion, hold onto it for a bit. Now try and see what sensations make up that emotion, either mental ones or bodily ones. Just for e.g. let's use happiness. Notice the sensations that make it up. Are the sensations that make up happiness, happy in and of themselves?
Could we thus say that - at least subjectively viewed -  emptiness could be equated with (or experientially proved by)  the absence of totality in any "thing" imaginable? Here - I loosely define totality - as something that is such (e.g. "is a banana") from any possible vantage point / at any level.  At least I could not think of anything in my head right now that meet this criteria.

This seems like you're basically saying that emptiness is trying to reconcile subjectivity with our desire for objectivity. I'm not sure how productive that view is in meditation, however, I can see it being useful philosophically, or analytically, if you're so inclined. 

The only "thing" that felt experientially "as such" is every experience by itself without conceptualizing them.

Right, but you're still seeing something? So are you really not conceptualizing? Look deeper into self-imposed limitations on your mind. You're still looking for a resting point, a vantage point, a fixed perspective to make sense of it all. Embrace the confusion, and work on seeing the inter-relatedness of things experientially. I'd highly recommend getting "Seeing That Frees" by Rob Burbea . It's fantastic and really eases one into seeing emptiness. If you're in a rush check this e-book out, it has some decent explanations on emptiness/non-duality. The biggest tip I can give you is to simply lean into the confusion and chaos, embrace it, and let answers reveal themselves. Obviously, you can feed the mind ideas via books and talks. But let experience refine the view and enjoy the voiceless thoughts that guide the wisdom in discovering emptiness emoticon
Tommy Toys, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 26 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
Stefan R
Try this: next time you're sitting and you feel a certain emotion, hold onto it for a bit. Now try and see what sensations make up that emotion, either mental ones or bodily ones. Just for e.g. let's use happiness. Notice the sensations that make it up. Are the sensations that make up happiness, happy in and of themselves?

So for me, sensations are relatively quite easy to disgard as "empty" (esp after good amount of noting practice). The particular harder bits to dissolve are:
 - ideas/concepts/mathematical objects - they seem to have some sort of absoluteness to it. They feels "right" and has clarity / purity. (at least from that certain observation point)
- Sense of self is also uniquely challenging because of sense of agency - like "I" am controlling my eyes, my arms, legs, etc.


This seems like you're basically saying that emptiness is trying to reconcile subjectivity with our desire for objectivity. I'm not sure how productive that view is in meditation, however, I can see it being useful philosophically, or analytically, if you're so inclined. 
....
Right, but you're still seeing something? So are you really not conceptualizing? Look deeper into self-imposed limitations on your mind. You're still looking for a resting point, a vantage point, a fixed perspective to make sense of it all. Embrace the confusion, and work on seeing the inter-relatedness of things experientially. I'd highly recommend getting "Seeing That Frees" by Rob Burbea . It's fantastic and really eases one into seeing emptiness. If you're in a rush check this e-book out, it has some decent explanations on emptiness/non-duality. The biggest tip I can give you is to simply lean into the confusion and chaos, embrace it, and let answers reveal themselves. Obviously, you can feed the mind ideas via books and talks. But let experience refine the view and enjoy the voiceless thoughts that guide the wisdom in discovering emptiness emoticon
You're absolutely right about the fixed perspective am taking. I'm about half way with the book ... 

When you say "embrace the confusion" - how does that translate to exercise/practice? eg if I see a chair as solid, if I think of a concept as solid, what do I do with it?
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Stefan R, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 176 Join Date: 3/28/21 Recent Posts
ideas/concepts/mathematical objects - they seem to have some sort of absoluteness to it. They feels "right" and has clarity / purity. (at least from that certain observation point)
You're burying the lede..!
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Maths is cool, but have you encountered any of its paradoxes? Cantor's paradox is a good one!Goedel's incompleteness theorem has some practical usage here, and has some direct applicability to what we're talking about; there is no solid resting point. Even a fully complete logical language will have unprovable/untestable axioms within its own system. Think about that. Having "all the answers", but not being able to verify how you got there... It's almost as if... there's no real stable unchanging starting point, even in math... Sounding familiar, no?

This isn't really saying that maths isn't real. But there is a delusion that there is going to be one objective perspective that is right in all instances, and which can cover all the bases. The bases covered are defined by the logic/language itself, which in turn, limits the nunber of existant bases which it says it can cover in the first place. emoticon
Sense of self is also uniquely challenging because of sense of agency - like "I" am controlling my eyes, my arms, legs, etc.
This is a tough one, and something I'm working on myself. I think the best way to cultivate this is to really relax and just let the mind do its thing. You'll start seeing how it has a mind of its own emoticon This has a lot to do with open, expansive, and all-pervading awareness, and situating the mind within it. After a while, awareness is just naturally in the place its meant to be. Each sensation is self-known, self-perceived, self-relating, and self-emerging. Awareness kind of melds into and melds out of the sensation itself. Cognition is simple another sensation in the field of awareness. 

The control issue is kinda the same thing. I'll look at the sensation, and how action emerges from it. It's fairly spontaneous. But this is something that I'm only getting to grips with, and something that being mindful/noting/maintaining open awareness helps with in daily activity. Yesterday I was hanging out the washing. And the awareness naturally abided in the touch, the thought, etc. and action naturally emerged from the interaction of sensations. Actions ceased when the corresponding sensations ceased. Cause and effect. 
When you say "embrace the confusion" - how does that translate to exercise/practice? eg if I see a chair as solid, if I think of a concept as solid, what do I do with it?

I'd first just accept that confusion is natural, and be grateful that you are confused. I mean, confusion only arises when one is asking very good questions. So be gentle with yourself. It's all part of the process. The way I practice it is when I start getting all tangled looking for answers, I'll slow down and just say, "the mind is confused, and that's OK. Confusion is fine". If you see the chair as solid, you're seeing it as solid, no shame in that emoticon the point is to note how your very perception of things makes the chair appear before you. 
George S, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 2064 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Emptiness doesn't deny the validity of the aggregate object! Heart Sutra - emptiness is not other than form. Or Nagarjuna - emptiness isn't a separate thing, it's just another property of conventional reality.

​​​​​​​Nagarjuna, Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Root Vereses on the Middle Way), tr. Jay Garfield

All things lack entitihood,
Since change is perceived.
There is nothing without entity
Because all things have emptiness.

If there is no entitihood,
What changes?
If there were entity,
How could it be correct that something changes? 
...
If there were even a trifle nonempty,
Emptiness itself would be but a trifle.
But not even a trifle is nonempty.
How could emptiness be an entity?

The victorious ones have said
That emptiness is the relinquishing of all views. For whomever emptiness is a view,
That one will accomplish nothing.
​​​​​​​...
By a misperception of emptiness
A person of little intelligence is destroyed.
Like a snake incorrectly seized
Or like a spell incorrectly cast.

For that reason-that the Dharma is
Deep and difficult to understand and to learn-
The Buddha's mind despaired of
​​​​​​​Being able to teach it.
...
​​​​​​​For him to whom emptiness is clear,
Everything becomes clear.
For him to whom emptiness is not clear,
​​​​​​​Nothing becomes clear.
...
Whatever is dependently co-arisen
That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.

Something that is not dependently arisen,
Such a thing does not exist.
Therefore a nonempty thing
Does not exist. 

Or you could just go back to the source code :-)


Kaccayanagotta Sutta (SN 12.15), tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu​​​​​​​

Dwelling at Savatthi... Then Ven. Kaccayana Gotta approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "Lord, 'Right view, right view,' it is said. To what extent is there right view?"

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one.

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings (sustenances), & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on 'my self.' He has no uncertainty or doubt that just stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It's to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.

"'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

"Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering."
Sam Gentile, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 1345 Join Date: 5/4/20 Recent Posts
Its too long to explain but have you tried the excellent Rob Burbea book Seeing That Fress, that presents emptiness from a meditative perspective and differnt ways of "looking"? If not, this is the book for you.
Martin, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 296 Join Date: 4/25/20 Recent Posts
If you can see flaws in the logic of emptiness, you are in a good place. At least for us unenlightened folks, the point is not to arrive at a final understanding that is without flaws, but to see that any way of apprehending the world involves flaws. You have a way of thinking about an aggregate as an entity, and you have a way of thinking about it as parts. It is at least possible for a reasonable person to see either or both as flawed. If you practice moving back and forth between the two ways of thinking, even applying them to the same subject in the same circumstances, at different times, you may find that there is more ease in your relationship to both views. That's a nice thing. 
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Jim Smith, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 1014 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
Tommy Toys
 

​​​​​​​I'm sure there're better ways to explain the Buddhist emptiness logic in a more modern compatible way. Please enlighten me.Thanks! 


Emptiness is not a logical proposition that is true or false. It is a feeling. You either feel it or you don't. People try to communicate the feeling using words and that creates the impression that is is something that is true or false. But even if you feel it, you can still think it is just a feeling and not the way things really are. Awakening has to do with feelings (suffering) not logic. They are different networks in the brain.
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Ni Nurta, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 774 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
Jim Smith
Emptiness is not a logical proposition that is true or false. It is a feeling. You either feel it or you don't. People try to communicate the feeling using words and that creates the impression that is is something that is true or false. But even if you feel it, you can still think it is just a feeling and not the way things really are. Awakening has to do with feelings (suffering) not logic. They are different networks in the brain.

Completely opposite!
Emptiness itself is absolutely not important at all and the only reason it has been taught (and teachings of "anatta" as well!) is to break identification with objects as it is identification which causes chain of events which causes chain of suffering. Noticing objects do not exist (or directly that they are not you in anatta) helps break this identification. It is both gross and subtle identification. More obvious for gross objects like for example "sense of self" which is directly takes as is as us but until really un-rooted happens to varying degree to many other objects. For example the way objects present itself can be identified with or just existence of certain objects in mind It itself can be thought as an object identifying to which mind likes doing.

Then you have all the feelings and other experiences that practicing emptiness and anatta brings, any of which by itself can be thought as a kind of object and identified with. This one is much more subtle nd/or tricky because of tendency of mind to cling to this idea of completing some kind of task bringing liberation. So it seems to mind that once it somehow finish this whole "emptiness" and get this nice liberating feeling of emptiness then this is it, emptiness is this! Nothing more wrong, it is a fallacy and while it feels nice it like everything else it will inevitably cause chain of events which will cause dukkha just like any other feeling, experience, "persistent perception change" and other things people first want to attain and then strongly believe that this is it, they have done it and somehow seen through what was to be seen.

If instead person is mindful and thorough then that person does not get tricked by by any feelings and experiences to be emptiness or anatta and is wary of issues that identifying brings and that it can be very subtle, more subtle than limits of immediate cognition and thus just continues practice of seeing actually what Buddha meant by teachings of emptiness/anatta and not what they feel those terms mean and with that they see their feelings and emptiness as itself being empty and not them and thus avoid identifying with those feelings and experiences and avoid chain of events which lead to chain of dukkha.

So no, any fancy feeling and experiences experienced due to practicing emptiness is not emptiness but a kind of trap that mind slowly and methodically sets for itself and often being mesmerized by how nice these feeling and experiences feel falls in to this trap and being comfortable with these feelings and experiences stop being mindful. This in turn slowly but surely gives rise to conditions where they will be subjected to dukkha. It happens for everyone who have made it and while still I would not say anyone who actually went to level of Arhat can experience any significant amounts of dukkha (too much intuition and skill to let dukkha persist - Arhat has too much experience and knows a lot of tricks to just cause its cessation quickly and swiftly) this whole thing as a whole is not as clear cut as emptiness being a feeling/experience and it should be not forgotten what it is. Namely emptiness is an analysis method which whole purpose is to break identification. It has clear logical purpose and its purpose is not to finish it but to be practiced any time it is necessary. For it to be bulletproof mind has to break everything including own impressions of mind states caused by seeing all objects as parts and which are inherently empty.

And while at it if the idea that there is no end to having to practically use teachings of emptiness/anatta causes distress then I would suggest to be more mindful of idea of relief/liberation itself because if that happens then obviously there is an identification going on. It might be very subtle and not immediately obvious it requires immediate attention and there might be impression that there can't exist any benefit from investigating it. Such impressions are false. Heck, stopping at this point is like traveling long way to foreign land and stopping at inn at outskirts of port city thinking this is it, that you have seen whole world and further travel is not necessary.
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Not two, not one, modified 6 Months ago.

RE: Logic of Emptiness seem "flawed" to me. Please help explain.

Posts: 941 Join Date: 7/13/17 Recent Posts
 Lots of interesting and worthwhile replies.  I will add my two cents worth ... 

It is hard to provide a 'logic' of emptiness, as formal logic and language is too simplistic to deal with all the co-dependent  non-linear relationships that make up the underlying causes and conditions of the arising and passing away of the various experiences involved in emptiness and non-duality.  So instead, the path seeks to prepare people to have the direct insight into emptiness, to experience it, to be purified by it, and to go beyond it.  None of those stages is 'woo', but each requires long explanation.  I wll attempt a partial 'logical' explanation ... 

To a large extent, you can understand emptiness as the non-application of concepts. That is, the mind no longer automatically applies labels to clusters of perceptions, which previously led to contact and triggering of sankharas related to those concepts.  As Uncle Sid said (something like) - just as there are no elephants in this house, and no chariots, the house is also empty of people. So everything is still 'there', dependently arising and passing away, but we no longer shoehorn it into our preconceived concepts and perceive it as enduring separate object.

Emptiness is closely related to but not the same as non-duality.  Non-duality is the relinquishment of divided knowing (vijnana, or knowlege of this and that), whereas emptiness is the relinquishment of name and form (namarupa, or conceptual overlays on perception).  Obviously there is some processing still going on in the sense data to organise perceptions into something other than white noise, and to place them in some spatial and temporal relationship to one another, but a whole huge layer of top-level processing is just blown away.  The result is access to highly pleasurable states (if those are thought to be important) and a substantial reduction in stress and negative reactions. 

So that is a 'logical' explanation.  But to access emptiness (or non-duality) you need not only the 'logic', but also purify all the contractions that twist you into the dualistic non-empty state. These include the inability to control attention, lack of notice or control over daily reactions, contractions in the autonomic nervous system that prevent full mental relaxation, unskilful tendencies programmed in by past experiences, autonomic pre-processing of perceptions into concepts, and ignorant dualistic notions of the world.  Often (but not always) emptiness emerges weakly at first, or in strong but temporary flashes.  I think of this as the subconsious trying out new ways of perception, or the perceptual systems (including the relevant cortexes) cracking off the rust and starting to realign.  Making emptiness more accessible takes practice. And relinquishment.  And then finally ... 

Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing:
There the stars do not shine,
    the sun is not visible,
    the moon does not appear,
    darkness is not found.
And when a sage,
    a brahman through sagacity,
    has known [this] for himself,
then from form & formless,
    from bliss & pain,
        he is freed.

​​​​​​​ 


 

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