Sixteen kinds of emptiness

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Sixteen kinds of emptiness (Skt. ṣoḍaśa śūnyatā; T. stong nyid bcu drug སྟོང་ཉིད་བཅུ་དྲུག་; C. kong 空) are differentiated in the sutras of the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition.[1]

The Madhyāntavibhāga states:

Although the essence of emptiness (sunyata) cannot be divided, sixteen types of emptiness are taught in consideration of, for example, different subjects, i.e., bases, of emptiness.[2]

These different types of emptiness can be contemplated in order to gradually deepen ones realization of emptiness.

The sixteen types of emptiness (sunyata) are:[2][3][4]

  1. emptiness of the inner (Skt. adhyātma ṡūnyatā; T. ནང་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ nang stong pa nyid) - the six inner sense bases are emptiness
  2. emptiness of the outer (Skt. bahirdhā ṡūnyatā; T. ཕྱི་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་, phyi stong pa nyid) - the six outer sense bases are emptiness
  3. emptiness of the outer and inner (Skt. adhyātma bahirdhā ṡūnyatā; T. ཕྱི་ནང་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་, phyi nang stong pa nyid) - the body, which is the support for the outer and inner, is not established the way that it appears; it's nature is empty.
  4. great emptiness (Skt. mahā ṡūnyatā; T. ཆེན་པོ་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་, chen po stong pa nyid) - the nature of world vessel (bhājanaloka) that encompasses the ten directions is emptiness
    The above distinctions are made on the bases of subject in question.
  5. emptiness of emptiness (Skt. ṡūnyatā ṡūnyatā; T. སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་, stong pa nyid stong pa nyid) - the subjective mind that see the phenomena to be empty is called emptiness
  6. emptiness of the ultimate (Skt. paramārtha ṡūnyatā; T. དོན་དམ་པ་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་, don dam pa stong pa nyid) - the mind that accurately perceives emptiness is said to be "ultimate," because it is unmistaken; this mind is also emptiness.
  7. emptiness of the conditioned (Skt. saṁskṛta ṡūnyatā; T. འདུས་བྱས་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་, dus byas stong pa nyid) - the essence of the conditioned (saṃskṛta) path is emptiness
  8. emptiness of the unconditioned (Skt. asaṁskṛta ṡūnyatā; T. འདུས་མ་བྱས་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ dus ma byas stong pa nyid) - the essence of unconditioned (asaṃskṛta) fruition is emptiness
    It is important to understand the emptiness of the conditioned path and the unconditioned fruition so that one does not become attached to their characteristics.
  9. emptiness of that beyond extremes (Skt. atyanta ṡūnyatā; T. མཐའ་ལས་འདས་པའི་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་, mtha' las 'das pa'i stong pa nyid) - that which transcends the extremes of existence (i.e samsara) and peace (i.e. nirvana) is emptiness
    The transcendence of extremes of existence and peace is the state of perfect and complete buddhahood. Here one takes buddhahood as the subject, and contemplates its empty nature.
  10. emptiness of that without beginning or end (Skt. anavarāgta ṡūnyatā; T. ཐོག་མ་དང་མཐའ་མ་མེད་པའི་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ thog ma dang mtha' ma med pa'i stong pa nyid) - the nature of samsara, which is without beginning or end, is empty
    One contemplates the empty nature of samsara so that one does not see it as faulty and abandon it
  11. emptiness of that which is not to be abandoned (Skt. anavakāra ṡūnyatā; T. དོར་བ་མེད་པའི་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་, dor ba med pa'i stong pa nyid) - “that which is not to be abandoned” are the qualities of enlightenment, which never cease; the nature of these qualities is emptiness.
    "One meditates on the emptiness of the un-eliminated to attain fundamental virtues that are not extinguished, even when there is no remainder of the aggregates. Through the power of this meditation, the stains of apprehended and apprehender are purified and the body of qualities (dharmakaya) is attained."[2]
  12. emptiness of nature (Skt. prakṛti ṡūnyatā; T. རང་བཞིན་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ rang bzhin stong pa nyid) - "nature" refers to the potential for enlightenment, which pervades all sentient beings; this nature or potential understood to be empty
    "One meditates on this emptiness to fully purify the potential itself, because when stains, in the form of a conceptualization of this potential, are purified, the potential will be actualized."[2]
  13. emptiness of specific characteristics (Skt. lakṣaṇa ṡūnyatā; T. མཚན་ཉིད་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ mtshan nyid stong pa nyid) - "specific characteristics" refers to the physical characteristics of a buddha, which include the 32 major marks and 84 minor marks; these physical characteristics are also empty.
  14. emptiness of all dharmas (Skt. sarva dharma ṡūnyatā; T. ཆོས་ཐམས་ཅད་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ chos thams cad stong pa nyid) - dharmas in this context refers to the qualities of the buddhas' mind, which is the dharmakaya
    "The emptiness of all dharmas refers to the emptiness of a Buddha's extraordinary qualities of mind. All dharmas then refer to a Buddha's mind, such as the eighteen qualities of a Buddha, the Buddha's ten powers, the Buddha's four fearlessnesses and the other unusual, extraordinary enlightened qualities of a Buddha's mind." (Thrangu Rinpoche)
  15. emptiness of the non-entities (Skt. anupalambha ṡūnyatā; T. མི་དམིགས་པ་་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ mi dmigs pa stong pa nyid) - the "non-entities" are the two types of self: the self of person and the self of phenomena. These are empty.
  16. emptiness of the essential nature of non-entities (Skt. abhāva svabhāva ṡūnyatā; T. དངོས་པོ་མེད་པའི་ངོ་བོ་ཉིད་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ dngos po med pa'i ngo bo nyid stong pa nyid) - the absence of the two-types of self does exist.
    One meditates on this to dispel the nihilistic view that when something is empty, it does not exist.

See also


  1. Gyurme Dorje, Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg Emptiness, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2007, "The Characteristics of Emptiness".
  3. Internet-icon.svg སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་བཅུ་དྲུག་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  4. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Lists of Lists, "sixteen emptinesses".