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Cula-suññata Sutta

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Cula-suññata Sutta
Answer
2/21/08 12:20 AM
Author: marigpa
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

I am interested in determining the provenance of this sutta, and and the date of the earliest written record of it in Pali. Can anyone help?
Also, the Pali word written here as "suññata" -- does it have the same meaning as "s(h)unyata" i.e. the sunyata/emptiness as used, for example, in the Prasangika Madhyamaka school?

RE: Cula-suññata Sutta
Answer
2/21/08 1:56 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Hi Marigpa,
it's found in the Majjhima Nikaya collection (Middle Length Discourses) of the Sutta-pitaka in the Pali Canon, under number 121. The title translation by Bhikkhus Nanamoli and Bodhi is "The Shorter Discourse on Voidness". Summary: The Buddha instructs Ananda on the "genuine, undistorted, pure descent into voidness".

You can read it on the web in translation by Thanissaro here:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.121.than.html

Yes the word is etimologically the same as Sanskrit "shunyata", but there is some difference in the way it is understood in Theravada, some of which may be apparent from the text itself. Technically, Theravada doctrine prefers "anatta", and does not refer strictly to the emptiness of phenomena. Maybe Daniel would have more on the conceptual subtleties.

As to the earliest record of it in Pali, this is a complex issue. The oldest strata is found in the texts like Dhammapada, Itivuttaka, Udana and Sutta-nipata, featuring collections of verses, or extremely pithy teachings. Though some believe the suttas were recited by Ananda shortly after Buddha's parinibbana in the same form as we find them recorded in writen form much later, modern research does not support such opinions. The writen forms evolved probably around first two centuries B.C. and became established until 1st or 2nd century AD. Whatever be the case, emptiness is already mentioned in Dhammapada and Suttanipata, but far from being so prominent or elaborate as in Madhyamaka or Yogacara. I hope this helps somewhat.

RE: Cula-suññata Sutta
Answer
2/21/08 7:08 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
While I prefer to use the teachings by figuring out how they tie into practice - and noticing emptiness is about as basic as it gets with regards to practice - I do find questions about origins and evolution of the teachings fascinating .

Here is a take (from a Theravada perspective) on the whole issue:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/authenticity.html

And here is a recording of a day-long workshop ( by the same author, on the subject of emptiness and the evolution of the idea in several schools (from a Theravada perspective).

http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/ThanissaroBhikkhu.html

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Cula-suññata Sutta
Answer
2/21/08 7:38 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Just another note on "suññata" in Pali. The term appears in an important doctrine of three doors of liberation: the signless (animitta), the wishless (appanihita), and emptiness (suññata).

See here an article by Bhikkhu Bodhi that puts it in the context of transcendental arising
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel277.html

RE: Cula-suññata Sutta
Answer
2/22/08 4:07 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: marigpa

Hokai, Florian, thank you so much, I found your posts extremely helpful.

My query stemmed from reading an exchange between a couple of people on another forum, where whether the Buddha had taught Emptiness seemed to be in dispute. One person (A) cited "The Shorter Discourse on Emptiness" to demonstrate that the Buddha had indeed taught on Emptiness -- but it transpired that the other person (emoticon had really been referring to Emptiness as explained in the Heart Sutra, seeming to be of the opinion that Nagarjuna rather than the Buddha may have been the originator of the Sunyata doctrine, and then went on to chastise person A for his style of posting, not demonstrating the provenance of what he was citing etc. So I was intrigued, and thought I'd ask the scholars on this forum!

Florian, I found listening to Thanissaro Bikkhu very helpful -- I listened to his "Emptiness Revisited" talk and got clear (at least at the time!) on what was empty of what, if you see what I mean. I liked the way he talked about refining the perception further and further to be able to perceive subtler and subtler disturbances. And the first part of his "When you know for yourselves ... " gets to the heart of the issue of provenance and authenticity, so thanks for providing a link to that.

Hokai, thanks for the links you provided. I had already skimmed through Thanissaro Bikkhu's translation of "The Shorter Discourse ...", but hadn't really picked up on the way suññata is understood differently in Theravada, as opposed to the sunyata of Madhyamaka. After reading you saying that differences ".. may be apparent from the text itself.", a closer reading brought that home to me, and Thanissaro Bikkhu's talk further clarified that. The other article re. Transcendental Arising will have to wait probably until Sunday when I'll have some more time.

Once again, thanks to you both.

RE: Cula-suññata Sutta
Answer
7/10/15 7:21 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Wet Paint:
Author: marigpa
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

I am interested in determining the provenance of this sutta, and and the date of the earliest written record of it in Pali. Can anyone help?
Also, the Pali word written here as "suññata" -- does it have the same meaning as "s(h)unyata" i.e. the sunyata/emptiness as used, for example, in the Prasangika Madhyamaka school?

I accidently came across this thread by pressing the 'last' button. 'Sunnata' is defined as 'empty of self & anything belonging to self'. To quote:

~~And what is the emptiness liberation of mind? There is the case where a monk, having gone into the wilderness, to the root of a tree, or into an empty dwelling, considers this: 'This is empty of self or of anything pertaining to self.' This is called the emptiness liberation of mind.

MN 43

~~Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, "It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty, lord. 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, Ananda, that the world is empty.

~~SN 35.85

Thus all sense objects, all five aggregates (including materiality) and all phenomena, including Nibbana, are sunnata.

As for Cula-suññata Sutta MN 121, it is unusual since it departs from the above definition and refers to state of mind that is empty of sensuality, empty of becoming ('selfing') and empty of ignorance.

Imo, it is difficult to judge whether MN 121 is genuine or not since, althought it departs from the standard defintion of sunnata, it does provide a 'gradual' teaching, which is characteristic of a Buddha.

As for the Prasangika Madhyamaka school, it is often wrong about emptiness because it uses the principle of cause & effect to justify emptiness. This is wrong because: (i) discerning causes & effect is not required to disern the emptiness of phenomena. For example, if we simpply pick up a rock & examine it, we can see no 'self' in the rock; (ii) Nibbana is not subject to cause & effect yet Nibbana is empty; and (iii) Prasangika Madhyamaka negates the existence of things which is contrary to what the Buddha taught. The Buddha did not deny the temporary existence of things.

emoticon
~~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.

~~Kaccayanagotta Sutta