Empty Nature

I read a lot of people speak of empty nature, but I think that it needs to be explained clearly and concisely.

Empty nature (Sunnatta or Sunyata) does not mean “nothing nature” where nothing exists, but “no permanent nature” (Svabaava or Svabhāva). Things do exists. There are elements of matter and they collect into aggregate forms which we interact with.

Understanding empty nature is understanding that we are all like sandcastles. We are formed and appear to be an object, real and definable. The reality is that we are still just sand. We are still just part of the beach. We are all interconnected and impermanent: subject to atrophy and erosion back into the universe to be formed again. The moisture that holds us together evaporates and becomes the ocean again. Nothing of the sandcastle remains and yet new sandcastles arise and fade away again. We cannot find the sandcastles that have passed nor can we expect the creations of the future. Thus the form we see and define as a sandcastle isn’t truly able to be defined. It is in a continue process of creation and destruction, it came from nowhere and returns to nowhere. It has no “castle nature” but it is empty.

This is what we call the realization of “conditioned reality.” That the sandcastle itself is not permanent. The definition is created by us, because a fish certainly would not call it a sandcastle, a bird would not, a child who has never seen a castle would not. Its very existence as a castle is constructed in our minds just as a child forms the shapes in a bucket with sand and water.

Through the practice of Buddhism, we can see the truth of this. We can then engage in the world with an unconditioned nature. We can make judgments of our actions without attachment to that which is not permanent or conditioned for response. We can accept the world as it is, and be in the moment.


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Categories: Buddha, Dharma, Four Noble Truths, Kharma, Mahayana, New Age, Noble Eightfold Path, Philosophy, Theravada, Tibet


Born Joshua Hudson, Reverend Sumitta (his ordained name) finished a twenty-year career as a military photo-journalist, and became a Licensed Social Worker with continuing studies in Mental Health, Healthcare Advocate, and Buddhist Minister. Currently, he works as the Director of Psychological Health and Primary Prevention of Violence for the U.S. Air Force. Previously, he served as the healthcare patient advocate for the Veterans Healthcare Administration, and is a License Clinical Social Worker, with a Master’s in Clinical Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, working as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor, public speaker, trainer and personal/family advisor. His dharma name "Sumitta," which translates to "Good Friend" in Pali.


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