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ākāśa (T. nam mkha'; C. xukong 虛空) translates as space or sky. It is also called ākāśadhātu (space element).

Ākāśa has two main connotations:[1]

  • an absence which delimits forms, such as the hole in a nose, or the space inside a doorframe[1][2]
  • the emptiness of space[1], or absolute space[2] - an absence of obstruction that serves at the support for the four primary elements (mahābhūta).

In some texts, it is identified as one of five primary elements (mahābhūta).

Sanskrit tradition

In the Sanskrit tradition, ākāśa is identified as an unconditioned thing (asaṃskṛta). For example, ākāśa is identified as one of the three unconditioned factors within the seventy-five dharmas of the Abhidharma-kosha. It is also identified as a type of mental object (manoviṣaya) within the scheme of the six sense objects.

The Khenjuk states:

Space is not capable of being a physical form. It accommodates all activities and it does not obstruct.[3]

Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics (Vol 1) states:

Vaibhāṣikas define space as “that which is free of obstruction and accommodates physical phenomena.” They assert space to be a permanent substance that does not obstruct physical phenomena and in turn is not obstructed by physical phenomena. However, they assert the space element, which is part of the six elements, to be a visible form having the nature of either light or darkness. Other Buddhist schools, beginning with the Sautrāntika school, define what is referred to as space in terms of a nonimplicative negation, which is the mere absence of obstructive contact.[4]

Pali tradition

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma states:

Space, as understood in the Abhidhamma, is not bare geometric extension but the void region that delimits and separates objects and groups of material phenomena, enabling them to be perceived as distinct. The space element has the characteristic of delimiting matter. Its function is to display the boundaries of matter. It is manifested as the confines of matter, or as the state of gaps and apertures. Its proximate cause is the matter delimited.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. ākāśa.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg nam_mkha', Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
  3. Mipham Rinpoche 2004, s.v. Verse 2.8.
  4. Thupten Jinpa 2017, s.v. Chapter 12.
  5. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. The space element.


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