View Full Version : Emptiness and the ultimate state in Shaivism and other systems

21 April 2008, 08:06 AM
Hari Om

Namaste Arjuna ( et al.)
Hope its okay to jon in the conversation...
This emptiness you are discussing - are you referring to sūnya ( sUnya)? Some like to call this void and hence emptiness.

We have talked a bit on this ( via several BobG posts , as part of Buddhism). It is through my studies and opinion that there is no doubt this sūnya exists, but should net be confused with Ultimate Reality. Does this viewpoint make sūnya any less attractive or real? Not in my assessment.

There is a reasonable conversation in the Spanda-kārikās, chapt 1.12 and 1.13 discusses this matter.

Perhaps if we wish to discuss this, we can begin a new thread.


Following yajvan's suggestion, I thought it may be beneficial to open a discussion on what various schools consider to be the highest teachings. I feel that this should be broad enough to encompass such terminology as emptiness, nirvana, turiya and so on. I don't wish to engage in one-upmanship or deride any school, merely to share knowledge in what is a 'difficult' area.
Perhaps this is too ambitious but one never knows until one tries.

My own experience (and the reason I am drawn to Shaivism) is drawn from two Buddhist schools, the Tibetan (Gelug) and Theravadan.
My first experience was within the Tibetan system where a solid understanding of emptiness is considered a prerequisite for enlightenment. But what exactly did Buddha mean with emptiness? This is debated through the tenets system starting with philosophers who posit a real unchanging basis for existence with 'partless particles'. These 'Hinayanists' are refuted by subsequent systems until one arrives at the Prasangika exposition of emptiness and the two truths (conventional and ultimate) - rather like the Advitins I feel.
The ultimate state is, thus said to be, an indivisible mix of bliss and emptiness.
I rejected this (quite independently) for the same reason I subsequently found in the Spanda teachings, namely that emptiness must also be an object of an awareness and, therefore, itself not an ultimate state. Also, a directly realised state of emptiness can have nothing in common with any discursive intellectual theory (no matter how sublime).

This 'awareness' is wrongly equated with the ego in the Tibetan system in so much as a 'person' is sought amongst the parts of the body and mind and is not found. It is, therefore, taught that the Hindus equate the Atman with some kind of independently existing soul which exists apart from the aggregates. This is a crass misrepresentation of what I have found within the monist Shaivite teachings but it is the sort of thing that Buddhist students get taught alas.

There is far less metaphysical speculation within the Pali suttas and one is closer to the teachings Buddha delivered. The emphasis is more on anatta, rather than a philosophically upheld view of emptiness. Not-self (anatta) is a wonderful meditation tool, as it allows a contemplative to not cling to anything and using anapanasati I have been able to experience the Jhanas and the formless samhadi, as taught by Buddha.

Where it fails in my opinion, is in regarding anatta, as a statement of ultimate reality. With anatta we can clearly see that the ego is a construct of the mind and nothing more. Unfortunately some Theravadans conclude that Nirvana is, therefore, the complete extinguishment of 'being'. They regard it as both insentient and un-cognizant (in other words complete and total death as understood in a Western materialist sense). This is their 'liberation' - complete extinguishment.

Again I find this view rather bizarre as it raises the question "what witnesses not-self"? In other words I arrive back at the spanda teachings I have previously mentioned and to which yajvan alluded:

12 & 13. The experience of void does not prove that there is no Experient, for without the Experient, even the experience of void would not be possible. This Experient is the Spanda principle.

This is just a very brief outline of some of my thoughts. I could go into much more detail but I would welcome any comments on the above or just thoughts on related matters.


24 April 2008, 04:59 AM
At a crucial point in my debate with other Buddhists, I came across this quote by Ksemaraja which made perfect sense:
"If the supreme light were devoid of this free and spontaneous self-referential capacity, it would be powerless and inert".

To not accept this IMHO, is to slip into nihilism.

When I raised this point with some Theravadans I was told that the doctrine is not nihilistic as that which has never been (ie. the self) can not be annihilated.

This answer just dodges the issue of intrinsic non-dual awareness by mixing it up with the notion of an independent self (which nobody posits anyway).
We don't find a 'person', 'self' or 'soul' amongst the aggregates but this discovery itself is still the object of an undifferentiated awareness.

The Arhat "knows" he has attained liberation!

I know it's unhelpful to put around ideas of a 'permanent' "thing" to which we cling and designate as 'us', as this results in an incomplete surrender of self. But to, therefore, deny the "self-referential capacity" of the "supreme light" seems to push it too far the other way.

Any thoughts?