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Ivan Frimmel presents

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What is Sunyavada in
Buddhism?

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Buddhism is…
 a religion, philosophy, soteriology and
way of life that was developed in North-
Eastern India from the teachings of a man
called Siddartha Gautama, born about 624
BCE as a prince in a Hindu royal family
called Sakyamuni, who after his
enlightenment became known as Buddha,
the Enlightened One.

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The Main Schools of Buddhism
 Theravada

 Mahayana
 Pure Land
 Ch’an / Zen

 Vajrayana / Tibetan

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Various Dictionary Definitions of Reality
re·al·i·ty (rê-àl-î-tê) noun, plural re·al·i·ties
 1. The quality or state of being actual or true.

 2. One, such as a person, an entity, or an event, that is actual.

 3. The totality of all things possessing actuality, existence, or essence.

 4. That which exists objectively and in fact: Your observations do not


seem to be about reality.

 5. In Western philosophy: That which has necessary existence and not


contingent existence. Absoluteness of Being. That Which Is.

 6. In Buddhism: the word reality can refer to


 the eternal, unchanging, all-embracing truth, which is no other than Suchness,
Dharmadathu, or the Dharma-body;
 and often to the paradoxical view called Sunyavada in Mahayana Buddhism:
i.e. the view that the Ultimate Reality is void or unreal (Sunya).

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What verbal symbol do you think best
expresses THIS Reality?

Reality, Ultimate Reality, It, This, That,


Thusness, Suchness, One, Mind, One Mind,
Buddha Mind, I, I am, Self, God, Spirit, Tao,
Brahman, Jahweh, Allah, Infinity, Infinite
Intelligence, Absolute, Energy, Universe,
Presence, Omnipresence, Absence, Void,
Sunyata, Emptiness, Nothing, Aum,
Silence…?

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What numerical symbol do you think best
expresses THIS Reality?

0 – Zero?
 1 – One?
 2 – Two?
 3 – Three?
 ? – Many? If many, how many?
 ∞ – Infinity / Eternity?
 Infinitely large or small space / or Time?
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And what pictorial symbol do you think best
expresses THIS Reality?
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0

1 6

2 etc.

4 ∞
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Any Other Symbol?

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Enso – the Zen Symbol
 At first glance the Enso
- an ancient Zen symbol -
may appear to be nothing
more than a circle. Yet when
painted by a skilled artist, it
becomes much more than
that: representing the mystery
and oneness of life, the
beginning and end (or
emptiness?) of all things and
the inter-connectedness and
infinity of all existence.

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What is Sunyavada? (1)
 Sunyavada is a Mahayana Buddhist theory (vada) of negation, holding that
the world, reality to be empty, void (sunya), or unreal.

 Sunyavada is also known as Madhyamika (“The Middle Way” School of


Buddhism). The Madhyamika method does not deal with dualities by
attempting to arrive at a compromise between the two sides or by formulating
a position that lies between the two. Rather, it attempts to supersede the sphere
of conceptual thinking and its dualistic modes.

 Sunyavada was founded by an Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (150 –


250 CE) and based on the Prajnaparamita Sutras, expounding the philosophy
of emptiness, voidness (sunyata), which later also influenced Ch’an in China
and Zen in Japan.

 Sunyavada (Nagarjuna) recognizes two forms of Truth, the relative that can
be spoken about and discusssed (Samvriti), and the Absolute (Paramartha) –
Sunyata, or the Voidness of all things, particulars, phenomena – of which
nothing can be said: Sunyata is neither relative nor absolute, neither existent
nor non-existent…

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What is Sunyavada? (2)
According to Sunyavada
 the phenomenal world is said to have no reality; yet the
world “underlying” it (Noumenon?) defies all description,
because of our inability to see, grasp, comprehend “the-
thing-itself ” (svabhava);

 all we can see and know is “dependent origination” and


impermanence;

 so, if nothing is permanent and real, reality (including the


seeming reality of I, me) is empty (sunya) of any substance.

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What is Sunyavada? (3)
 Sunyavada is in many ways similar to
 Plotinus’1 negative characterization of the One

 the Neti- Neti approach of the Uphanishads & Advaita Vedanta

 Via Negativa in Christian Mysticism

 the Zero-Point Energy theory in modern science.

 Sunyavada is not a view or thesis to uphold, its reality is beyond any


affirmation or negation, beyond any words.

 Sunyavada is the best “criticism” of all theories and speculations


(including the theory of Nihilism) - and is best “expressed” in Silence.

1
Plotinus (205-270 AD) - Egyptian-born Roman philosopher who founded Neo-Platonism.

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A Scriptural Prophecy Regarding Nagarjuna
 As is written in the Manjusrimulakalpa, the Acarya
Nagarjuna lived for a total of 600 years:

After I, the Tathagata, have passed away


And 400 years have elapsed,
A bhiksu, "The Naga", shall appear, of
Great faith and benefit to the teaching.
He shall achieve the stage of Great Joy
And for 600 years remain living.

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Some Criticism of Sunyavada
 Classical Hindu and some Buddhist thinkers dismissed Nagarjuna's
extreme use of the Via Negativa as self-condemned:
 the negation of everything is inconceivable without implying an
affirmation, a positive ground to negate;
 nothing can be proved false if nothing is taken as true;

 therefore:

 the ultimate truth cannot be negative;

 absolute negation is impossible.

 One could also say that the act of negation itself requires the existence
of the negator.

 Total skepticism is a figment, since such skepticism implies the


acceptance of the validity of the skeptic's judgment.

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Sunyavada as Prajnaparamita
 The Sunyavada School considers all philosophy as prajna-
paramita = the supreme non-conceptual intellectual intuitive
awareness and wisdom.

 According to Sunyavada
 Prajna is the supreme, immediate, sudden, non-
progressive attainment of non-dualistic Knowledge
(known as Jnana in Sanskrit), through Enlightenment;

 Ultimate or Absolute Reality can be known only by


the removal of all views about It.

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Sunyavada as Absolutism & Nondualism
 Sunyavada teaches that
 The only absolute being is self-evident and real, here & now;

 The Absolute is transcendent AND immanent, being the reality of


(and not behind) the appearances;

 There is no difference between infinite and finite, between samsara


and nirvana; reality and illusion, etc;

 The duality of phenomenal and noumenal (absolute), as all


dualistic views, is ignorance (avidya);

 There are two truths: the illusory (dualistic) truth of the empirical
standpoint and the Ultimate (Nondual) Truth of the Absolute,
which cannot be expressed in any words or symbols.

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Sunyavada is not Nihilism
 It does not teach that there is no reality, but
that there can be no doctrine or views about
reality.

 Sunya is not the negation of the Absolute,


but the affirmation of its indescribability.

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Sunyata and Wu-Wei, Wu Hsin & Wu-Nien
 Sunyata or wu (kokoro or mu in Japanese)
= absolute emptiness, voidness

 Wu-wei = non-action

 Wu-hsin = no-mind

 Wu-nien = no-thought

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,


Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.
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Sunyata – the “element” beyond all elements

 Sunyata is not a material / form element (matter)


 Sunyata is not an immaterial / formless element (energy, spirit, earth,
water, fire, wind, consciousness, or empty space)

 Sunyata is not a changing element


 Sunnyata is not an unchanging element

 Buddha called “it”


 the “element” beyond all elements

 the “coolness” or “quenching” or “deathless” element

 the state free of “I” and “mine”

 the state of “renunciation”, or “non-grasping”:

 renunciation of materiality and sensuality

 renunciation of immateriality

• …and finally: - the renunciation of renunciation.

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Two “kinds” of Sunyata, Voidness Buddha Taught

 Voidness (insubstantiality) of all things


 material, physical
 immaterial, non-physical, mental, spiritual

 Voidness (insubstantiality) of self - annata


 absence of “I” & “mine”
 total quenching of ego and egoism.

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Sunyata and Awareness
 If the mind has lust, know that the mind has lust
 If the mind has hatred, know that the mind has hatred
 If the mind has compassion, know that the mind has compassion
 If the mind is deluded, confused, depressed… know that the mind is deluded,
confused, depressed…
 If the mind is not liberated or void, know that the mind is not liberated or void
 If the mind is liberated or void, know that the mind is liberated and void

 If the mind is liberated, it is void, empty:


 empty of clinging to any thought or concept

 including the thought “I” and “mine”

If the mind is liberated & empty, it is totally in the present,


here & now, empty & marvelous…

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Levels of Sunyata, Voidness

Supreme, unsurpassable voidness, nirvana


Experience that is neither experience nor non-experience

Experience of infinite nothingness


Experience of infinite consciousness & bliss

Experience of infinite space & timelessness

Experience of “just earth”

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Living with Sunyata
 We realize = we realize sunyata
 We see clearly = we see sunyata clearly
 We know = we know sunyata
 We live with = we live with sunyata

 We are void, empty = we are voidness itself:


 not holding-on to any “thing”

 not holding-on to any “no-thing” or concept,


not even the concept of sunyata, emptiness…

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Quote about Striving to Get to Where You Already Are

Even if you go through all the stages of a Boddhisattva’s


progress towards Buddhahood, one by one, when at last,
in a single flash you attain a full realization, you will only
be realizing the Buddha-Nature which has been with you
all the time – and by all the foregoing stages you will have
added to it NOTHING AT ALL.

You will come to look upon all those aeons of work and
achievement as no better than unreal actions performed in
a dream. - Huang Po

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Quotes about Emptiness
 If you want to get the plain truth,
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind. - Seng-ts’an

 Even to say that the ultimate truth or reality of Buddhism is


“nothingness” or “sunyata” is besides the point, for isn’t
this also and idea or viewpoint? – and Sunyavada will have
none of it!

 If you run away from the Void, you can be never free from it;
if you search for the Void, you can never reach it.
- Niu-tou Fa-yung

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Some Final Quotes
 The deepest truth cannot, like other objects of
study, be put into words: from long intercourse
and close intimacy with the facts, it comes
suddenly into existence… – Plato.
 Be still, and know that I am God. – Psalms.
 Those who know don’t speak – those who speak
don’t know. – Zen.

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Thank You

Ivan Frimmel
Cell: 082-454-0311

E-mail: ivan.frimmel@nanhua.co.za

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