“… Everything is said to be empty, even emptiness …” ~ Greg Goode

emptiness enso

In this Part 4, Greg continues his overview of emptiness … and explores The Dialectical Approach and The Buddhist perspective … and, here’s Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

The Dialectical Approach

The Consequentialists do not argue for substantive positions, but proceed dialectically. They argue by drawing out the unwanted and unexpected logical consequences entailed by their interlocutors’ positions. The Consequentialist style of refutation is as follows: while in debate over metaphysical issues with an interlocutor, the Consequentialist refutes the interlocutor not by negating the interlocutor’s statement with a counter-statement (e.g., that matter exists, not Mind), but by finding an inconsistency or incoherent assumption buried amidst the interlocutor’s statements. This allows Consequentialism to be positionless with respect to issues, most notably on questions of existence and non-existence.

Imagine a philosopher coming up to a man who is sitting quietly against a tree, and telling the man that the tree truly exists because it is truly independent of the mind that cognizes it. Our sitting man is a consequentialist. He doesn’t have an opinion on the existence or non-existence of the tree, and doesn’t wish to convince the philosopher of a contrary position; he’s just sitting there. So he won’t offer a counter-claim or argue that the tree really doesn’t exist independently of cognition. Instead, he will draw out more statements from the philosopher until the philosopher is obviously involved in a contradiction or other difficulty. Or he might show that the philosopher’s assumptions entail an absurd, unwanted conclusion. Then he’ll go back to sitting against the tree.

his holiness the dalai lamaThe Consequentialist school is the most thoroughgoing of the Mahayana schools in its rejection of any kind of intrinsic nature. Even though it is the school of His Holiness the current Dalai Lama, most of the Dalai Lama’s public teachings are about other topics of wider interest. Emptiness teachings can get abstract and subtle, and not everyone is interested in them. But if you do find books in English on emptiness, most of them are likely to be written from the Consequentialist standpoint. You will find a list of these books in the References below.

The Buddhist World

buddhismAccording to the Buddhist emptiness teachings, the world is made up only of things that are “selfless” or empty. Even non-existents are empty. Non-existents would include round squares, the hairs of a turtle, etc., as well as inherent existence. Existents are divided into two classes, compounded things and non-compounded things.

Compounded things are said to disintegrate moment-to-moment, in a way analogous to aging. They are impermanent in this sense. Compounded things have pieces or parts and are produced from combinations of other factors. Compounded things include physical objects, colors, shapes, powers, sensations, thoughts, intentions, feelings, persons, collections and states of being. These various things fall under the categories of Form, Consciousness and Compositional Factors. Form includes components of the physical world, the body, the physical sense organs, and colors and shapes. Consciousness includes mental phenomena, sensory functions and thinking processes. Compositional factors include volition, decision, intention, thoughts, ideas and opinions. It also functions as a catch-all category that includes “everything else that exists but is not permanent” (see Translating Buddhism from Tibetan, Joe B. Wilson, p. 147).

Non-compounded things do not disintegrate moment-to-moment. In this sense, they are said to be “permanent.” There are two kinds of “permanent” existent. There are “occasional permanents,” which come into existence and go out of existence. These include, for example, the space inside the cup and the emptiness of the cup. Even though the cup is compounded and consists of parts (such as the rim, the handle, the walls, etc.), the space inside the cup and the emptiness of the cup are not compounded and do not consist of parts. Also, the emptiness of the cup and the space inside the cup stop existing when the cup stops existing. There are also “non-occasional permanents,” such as emptiness in general and space in general. These are the referents of general concepts, and exist as long as any objects or relations exist.

For the student of emptiness, it is not important to remember or utilize this scheme or employ these categories in one’s day-to-day use. What is important is to learn the lessons taught by this scheme:

  • Everything is said to be empty, even emptiness
  • For each thing, there is also the corresponding emptiness of that thing, because to exist is to be empty
  • Inherent existence falls under the category of non-existent things

This last point is especially important when it comes to meditating on emptiness. When you meditate on emptiness, what you actually look for is inherent existence. Instead of finding inherent existence, you will find the lack of inherent existence. This lack itself is emptiness.

— — —

In Part 5 of this 10-part series …  Greg will cover “Emptiness and Dependent Arising,” “Conventional Existence,” and “Emptiness Itself is Empty” … so stay tuned …

Click here for Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of this series.


Conze, Edward, (Translator). The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines & Its Verse Summary. San Francisco, California. Four Season Foundation, 1995 (c1973).

Cozort, Daniel. Unique Tenets of the Middle Way Consequence School. Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion Publications, 1998.

Garfield, Jay. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Na-ga-rjuna’s Mu-lamadhyamakaka-rika. Translation and commentary on Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Middle Way. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Garfield, Jay. Empty Words – Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Gergen, Kenneth. Invitation to Social Construction, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd., 2009.

Goode, Greg. Another Kind of Self-Inquiry: Chandrakirti’s Sevenfold Reasoning on Selflessness. Web page on Jerry Katz’s Nonduality.Com website.

H.H. the Dalai Lama. Transcendent Wisdom: A commentary on the Ninth Chapter of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life.Translated and edited by Wallace, B. Alan. Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion Publications, 1988.

H.H. the Dalai Lama. The Meaning of Life: Buddhist Perspectives on Cause and Effect.   Translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins. Somerville, Massachusetts. Wisdom Publications, 2000.

Hopkins, Jeffrey. Emptiness Yoga. Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion Publications, 1995.

Hopkins, Jeffrey. Meditation on Emptiness. Boston, Massachusetts. Wisdom Publications, Revised ed. 1996.

Huntington, C.W., Jr. The Emptiness of Emptiness: An Introduction to Early Indian Madhyamika. With Geshe Namgyal Wangchen. Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press, 1989.

Jarratt, Susan C. Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.

Kensur Yeshey Tupden. Path to the Middle: Oral Madhyamika Philosophy, edited and translated Anne Carolyn Klein: Albany, New York: State University of New York, 1994.

Kerferd, G.B. The Sophistic Movement, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Klein, Anne. Knowledge & Liberation: Tibetan Buddhist Epistemology in Support of Transformative Religious Experience. Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion Publications, 1986.

Klein, Anne. Knowing, Naming & Negation: A Sourcebook on Tibetan Sautrantika. With commentary by Drakba, Geshe Belden, Denma Locho-Rinpochay, and Tupden, Kensur Yeshay. Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion Publications, 1991.

Lati, Rinbochay. Mind in Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion Publications, 1981.

Magee, William. The Nature of Things: Emptiness and Essence in the Geluk World. Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion Publications, 1999.

Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland: Buddhist Advice for Living and Liberation. Translated with an Introduction by Hopkins, Jeffrey. Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion Publications, 1998.

Napper, Elizabeth. Dependent-Arising and Emptiness: A Tibetan Buddhist Interpretation of Madhyamika. Boston, Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications, 1989.

Newland, Guy. Appearance & Reality: The Two Truths in the Four Buddhist Tenet Systems. Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion Publications, 1999.

Pabongka, Kyabje. Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand: A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightment. Edited by Trijang Rinpoche and Richards, Michael. Somerville, Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications, 1997 (c1991).

Rabten, Geshe. The Mind and Its Functions. Edited by Batchelor, Stephen. Le Mont P`elerin, Switzerland. Editions Rabten Choeling, 1992 (c1978).

Robinson, Richard H. Early Madhyamika in India and China. Madison, Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press, 1967.

Siderits, Mark. Personal Identity and Buddhist Philosophy: Empty Persons. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2003.

Tsongkapa. The Principal Teachings of Buddhism, with a Commentary by Pabongka Rinpoche. Translated by Tharchin, Geshe Lobsong, and Roach, Michael. Howell, New Jersey: Paljor Publications, 1998.

Wilson, Joe. Chandrakirti’s Sevenfold Reasoning: Meditation on the Selflessness of Persons. Dharmasala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1980.

Wilson,Joe B. Translating Buddhism from Tibetan, Shambala, 1992.

Zilioli, Ugo. Protagoras and the Challenge of Relativism. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007.

We are honored to publish this guest post series authored by Greg Goode and is sourced from his website. Greg is one of the teachers in Stillness Speaks library so please visit his teacher’s page for comprehensive information about his work.

Images: (all edited and logo added) 1) Zen Circle on Brown Background – purchased from dreamstime for use only at this website (this image is not permitted to be shared separate from this post), 2) The Dalai Lama at the Vancouver Peace Summit, CC BY-SA 2.0, 3) Dharma Wheel by Shazz, CC BY-SA 3.0.



We also want to send our latest articles, videos, and podcasts via email once per week. As a thank you for signing up, you'll receive a video we produced that is unavailable anywhere else on the Internet.

Thank you! Please check your email for a welcome message and a link to the video.