List of Suttas on Emptiness

Hello everyone

I’m Thomas, newly following Buddhism and happy to have found this place. My home is in continental Europe on the other side of the planet. I am unfortunarely not a native speaker of English (and so will have to ask you to bear with me).

Since the late great Buddhadasa Bikkhu suggested that lay people first and foremost study every snippet of Sutta on the concept of Emptiness, I was wondering if somebody maybe had a list with all the Suttas in the Nikayas where this concept is mentioned?

Also, I was wondering if somebody else noticed the similarities between the Buddhadasa’s teachings and those of ancient Gnosticism (admittedly it may just be me).

Thank you !

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The main sutta on emptiness is Majjhima Nikaya 121. Note that even in the beginning stages, such as meditation on wilderness, it is an entry into emptiness.


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There’s not a lot. Here is what I’ve come across so far:

emptiness (suññatā)

  • abiding in/meditating on MN121, MN151
  • by not focusing on any signs MN122
  • how to practice meditation on MN151

empty (suñña)

You might want to search for those Pali words or even just “empty” in the regular SuttaCentral search. At the moment it returns lots of non-Pali texts, so just be aware.


Also MN43 and SN35.85
SN22.59 doesn’t specifically mention “suññata” but directly teaches about the emptiness of any inherent self.


The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism by Choong Mun-keat:

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Here are the suttas I’ve tagged with “emptiness”


I think it’s true regarding the gnostics in the sense that all wisdom traditions are aware that there is a Citta an intelligence (language may differ) at work here. Not in a speculative philosophy sense but in a profound bhāvanānuyoga sense. It may be possible to find many similarities.

PS: But a Buddhist might say, true but their knowledge of Citta and so forth is not complete in all respects, hence Asesavirāga is not possible.

PPS: I think, when it is said that at a later time Bhikkhus will not be pleased with suttas dealings with emptiness that are deep and profound, emptiness here is equivalent to Anatta.

PPPS: there is also this, 'suññā parappavādā samaṇehi aññehī’ (AN4.241, MN11, DN16)

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Layman, as I am studying Buddhadasa I am asking myself if, when speaking of dependent origination and matching it with empiricism, he did this only exoterically to reach as many people as possible, or if this was really his stance. If so, then his teachings were clearly metaphysical. Especially ascerting that mind is only a physical reality is a clear metaphysical position.

Of course the Gnostic position would be such as well, when saying that the first origin is somehow inherently bad. Such a position would also entail that enlightenment, or Nibbana, could only be reached temporarily, since nobody can ever completely escape the grip of nature. For example, just the need for human beings to go to the bathroom seems to me to speak clearly against the Buddhadasa’s oppinion that Dukkha can be beaten once and for all.

I am always under the impression when reading the Nikayas that the Buddha explicitly wanted to transcend all metaphysical positions, had what we would today call a “phenomenological” approach. However in other Suttas, he clearly speaks of a beyond. I wonder if that was because, just like the Christian Paul, he adapted to the ideas of whoever he was talking to to get his message across, hence referring to rebirth whenever speaking to the Brahmans.

And the Nikayas may have been edited over and over again over the course of the centuries. Just as with Paul it may be impossible to know what the historical Buddha really thought and taught. To make matters worse, it was pretty common for ancient teachers to have an exoterical as well as an esoterical teaching. I don’t know if this was also the case in India at the time of the Buddha, but in any case it strikes me how many times the words “light” and “enlightment” occur in the texts, and things like “he who has an eye will see”. The Silas might just have been his exoterical teaching, and then “enlightened” and “unenlightended” scribes could each have concocted all the elements of his teachings in the Nikayas.

But in the end, does it really matter? If these teachings can give you something today, and you can come to a position that holds up philosophically, I think this is all that I personally can ask for.

I am struggling with my non existent skills of English a bit here, so I hope this makes sense.


Hi Thomas,

I am sorry if I gave the impression , Blessed one taught that Mind is the only reality. Let me say it like this, all traditions that have a ‘sit there and meditate’ component are much more keenly aware of the reality of mind and higher mental states as opposed to the ‘sit there and think’ types.

PS: I am not that familiar with modern western philosophy.

Buddhadasa’s suggestion came from SN 55.53. The irony here is the laypeople in SN 55.53 were not able to understand Emptiness.

Your post is so loaded with Western philosophical doctrines it is impossible for me to understand what you are asking. I will say:

  1. Dependent origination as taught by the Buddha includes physical realities, such as ‘kayasankhara’, ‘rupa’ & ‘sense organs’, which are included to point out how ignorance & defilement affects the physical component of life. Plus the physical aggregate is included in the conditions of ‘birth’ & ‘aging-death’. Some Buddhists assert birth & death refer to physical birth & death. Other Buddhists assert birth & death refer to self-identification towards the five aggregates, which includes the physical aggregate. Regardless of interpretation, birth & death includes a physical component, such as when the SN 12.2 refers to the greying of the hair, the wrinkling of the skin, the laying down of the corpse.

  2. The term ‘beyond’ used by the Buddha in the word ‘lokuttara’ (often translated as ‘transcendent’ or ‘supramundane’) is not physical. It is something mental. Buddhadasa discussed this word ‘lokuttara’ a lot. Simply google it. :slightly_smiling_face:

Is dependent origination neutral or inherently flawed? Was it really the oppinion of Buddhadasa that if once the Khandas are beaten everything is honky-dory? Or was this just his outside teaching for the lay people?

How can that be if according to “not-self”, mind is just concocted elements? There seems to be a contradiction there. You can either say that mind is just part of dependent origination or you assert the existence of an independent mind-world (with all that follows). It seems to me that the two don’t go together.

Dependent origination is reality; a law of nature (SN 12.20). What is flawed is people in general not comprehending it (SN 12.60). As for Buddhadasa, I am not sure he ever taught the khandhas are explicitly a problem but, rather, it was/is attachment (upadana) to the khandhas that is the problem.

When we don’t grasp and cling, there is no way suffering can arise. One who sees all things as empty is quite unmoved when people call him good or bad, happy or miserable, or anything. This is the fruit of knowledge, understanding, and clear insight into the true nature of the five aggregates which makes it possible to give up completely those four kinds of unskillful clinging. In summary, everything in the whole world is included within the five aggregates, namely matter, feeling, perception, thinking and consciousness. Each of these groups is a deception, each is quite devoid of selfhood, but has the seductive power to induce grasping and clinging. As a result, the ordinary person desires to possess, desires to be, desires not to possess, desires not to be, all of which only serves to produce suffering, suffering which is not obvious, but concealed. It behooves every one to utilize the threefold training in morality, concentration and insight, and eliminate delusion with respect to the five aggregates completely and utterly. A person who has done this will not fall under the power of the five aggregates and will be free of suffering. For him life will be unblemished bliss. His mind will be above all things for as long as he lives. This is the fruit of clear and perfect insight into the five aggregates.

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu - THE THINGS WE CLING TO

The word “beyond the world” (“lokuttara”) just means the mind not having attachment to the world. Buddhadasa said:

Lokuttara means ‘to be above the world.’ It is beyond the power and influence of the world. It can be translated ‘transcendent’ or ‘supramundane.’… Lokuttara means ‘unstuck, released from the world.’ It is spiritual freedom.

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Except the khandhas, being impermanent, are intrinsically dukkha even without clinging:

SN22.15 - “What’s impermanent is suffering.”
SN12.125: “Whatever arises and ceases is only dukkha arising and ceasing.”

For an arahant, free of clinging, there is only the residual dukkha from the presence of the khandhas. This ends with final nibbāna.

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