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Sunyata

To: soc.religion.eastern
From: unknown
Subj: Sunyata (9206.sunyata.unk)
Date: 499206xx

Quoting: >Wong Weng Fai

First, regarding the translation of "sunyata" as "emptiness". You say:

   >The single most important definition introduced by Nagarjuna is that of 
   >SUNYATA. This term has been the source of numerous confusions (esp. 
   >for me). The problem is its translation into Chinese and English (the two 
   >languages accessible to me) as EMPTINESS or VOIDNESS. T.S. 
   >criticized this translation. The correct translation, according to him,
   >should be RELATIVITY. This is made very clear by what Nagarjuna himself 
   >defined SUNYATA to be -
   >"What is dependent co-arising (pratitya-samutpada), that we
   >designate SUNYATA".

  I submit that this makes it very far from clear that "relativity" is a
better translation of "sunyata" than "emptiness" is. Since I am no sort of
scholar in these matters, I quote from Edward Conze's commentary on the Heart
Sutra:

      And these dharmas Avalokita then saw as *empty*. I have written
      elsewhere about the etymological derivation of the word "sunyata"
      from the root "swell", and about its meaning. There is no need to
      repeat all this here. It will be sufficient to briefly define
      "emptiness" from three points of view:

      1. *Etymologically*, sunya conveys the idea that something, which
      looks like something much, is really nothing. From outside there
      appears to be a lot, but there is really nothing behind. A "swelled"
      head, as we know, is an "empty" head.

      2. As a *spiritual* term, emptiness denotes the complete denial of,
      the complete liberation from, the world around us in all its
      aspects and along its entire breadth.

      3. As a *technical* term it denotes in Buddhism the absence of any
      kind of self. First of all, all dharmas are "empty" in the sense that
      in their reality no "self" can be found, nothing that owns, nothing
      that belongs. Secondly, all dharmas are empty in the sense that each
      one depends so much on others that it is nothing by or in itself. In
      the ultimate sense, dharmas do therefore not exist as separate
      entities. If taken quite by itself, as unconditioned, a dharma is
      the Void, and its own-being is emptiness.


  Now I submit that this quotation suffices to show that the translation of
"sunyata" as "emptiness" is far from arbitrary, but is made by many Buddhist
scholars in full knowledge of Nagarjuna's definition as well as other aspects
of the use and history of the term.

  My second comment concerns the invocation of "modern logic" to illuminate
the arguments of Nagarjuna. I'm skeptical of this. Take the following:


   >But wait ... the above can be transformed to (using standard logic)
   >Forall(x, y).xRy -> ~~(x=y) .and. ~(x=y)
   >=>  Forall(x, y).xRy -> (x=y) .and. ~(x=y)
   >=>  Forall(x, y).xRy -> FALSE
   >By the definition of '->', this means that xRy == FALSE ! What can this 
   >mean ? H.N. then postulate that SUNYATA == FALSE. (Note that this 
   >'FALSE' is strictly a logical quantity and readers should not give it the 
   >usual connotation associated with 'falsehood'. The actual term used in 
   >H.N. is '0'.)

  What is "==" supposed to mean here? Using standard logic, it can only mean
"<->", and "FALSE" will then mean "falsum" in the logical sense, i.e. an
atomic logically false formula. But then it is on the face of it nonsense
to warn against "giving it the usual connotation associated with 'falsehood'".
The further comment

   >He concludes this section by noting that if his postulate is 
   >correct, i.e. SUNYATA = 0, then there is a big problem in that in modern 
   >two-value logic, '0' does not correspond to anything existent and in fact 
   >expresses falsehood.

fails to clarify the matter, for it makes no obvious sense to say that
"falsum" does not correspond to anything existent. In short, I doubt that
the author's insights into "modern logic" are at all comparable to his insights
into the history and philosophy of Buddhism, or that "modern logic" has been
shown to illuminate Nagarjuna's thinking in any way.

[unsigned]

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