eng Cao combines the two methods of ‘esoteric studies’ and the ‘study of Prajna.’ Based on his main idea of the unity of substance and function, he discusses topics such as existence and non-existence, movement and stillness, awareness and nonawareness. In the Treatise on Non-True Emptiness, which expounds the Buddhist perspective on the universe, Seng Cao explains the concept ‘study of Prajna’ as meaning “all dharmas (phenomena) are empty and false. This is why they are called non-true and empty.”
According to this definition of non-existence, emptiness means that one’s mind is not confused by external phenomena. This, however, doesn’t mean that external phenomena don’t exist. ‘Form’ refers to phenomena that are produced from the concepts concerning these phenomena in our minds. “Although there is form, actually there is no form.” Phenomena are not phenomena—just this is emptiness.
Another definition of non-existence states that existence comes from non-existence, and that precisely this transition from non-existence to existence is emptiness. But existence doesn’t imply that there is anything that exists independently or inherently. The myriad phenomena are produced from causes and conditions, but by and of themselves they are without self-nature. They are only called by arbitrary names. When we speak of non-existence we don’t mean absolute voidness, or the view that there is nothing whatsoever, that is, nihilism. Take for instance the illusory appearance of this human body: It’s not the case that the person does not exist—just that this person is not real. Seng Cao claims that non-existence and emptiness do not exist apart from things. Non-existence and emptiness aren’t used to negate the myriad things. Rather one should understand that “where there are things, there is emptiness.” Emptiness is right within the myriad things, never apart from them. This is the meaning of emptiness as expressed in the study of Prajna.
Seng Cao states, “Awareness is derived from the mark of production and extinction.” Awareness comes into being because there is the distinction between production and extinction. With the wisdom of Prajna one should recognize the truth that reflects the reality of things. “Truth has no mark of its own.” This shows that true awareness is produced from nonawareness. If there is awareness, there must also be something one is not aware of. Only if one is aware of nothing, can one be aware of everything.
In Buddhist doctrine emptiness is a fundamental concept that is used to express non-existence. In fact, Buddhist doctrine is based on emptiness. When we consider objects, emptiness can be divided into ‘emptiness of self’ and ‘emptiness of dharmas’. Emptiness of self means that all sentient beings are formed from a combination of various elements. The process of production and extinction is ceaseless, and there is no self that is the master behind this process. That is the viewpoint of Theravada Buddhism. The ‘emptiness of dharmas’ means that the existence of all things is based on certain causes and conditions. In themselves, things are not bound by any inherent laws. And yet dharmas are not non-existent. Truly this reality is indescribable—that’s why it’s called ‘wonderful existence’. This is the viewpoint expounded by the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism.
Emptiness can be analyzed in two different ways: (1) emptiness of components, and (2) emptiness of substance. From the fact of production and extinction, Theravada Buddhism has adapted the first method to prove the unreal and non-existent nature of things. Emptiness of substance means that there is no need to dissect things; one can reach an understanding just by using the principle of emptiness in observing phenomena. That is the method used in Mahayana Buddhism.
From the viewpoint of ultimate truth, Mahayana Buddhism divides emptiness into: (1) only non-existence, and (2) not only the void. If one takes emptiness as absolute voidness, one consequently fails to recognize that emptiness is actually a form of existence. Only non-existence is wonderful existence. One should realize that even though the myriad things are characterized by emptiness, emptiness does not eliminate the possibility of existence. Within emptiness there is existence, and within existence there is emptiness. (There are so many levels and differences, ranging from as big as the universe to as small as our minds. The principles and doctrines are so profound that they contain everything. Unless you carefully contemplate their subtleties, they will remain difficult to understand.)
→To be continued