Physics, labeling, emptiness and essence

Always with respect.

You’re assuming I have not seen it. I have.

It also seems that you assume what I assume. To clear it up, I do not assume you mean “possible in our actual world”. I know you’re wielding formal logic. I am too. It would be logically possible, following your line of reasoning, to utter statements about things and evaluate if such assertions are necessarily true or false, in any world, if such things about which we are making the assertions could be logically and completely defined in any sort of language, which is not possible, or at least not practical for rational purposes. Logical statements about things depend on such things existing in and of themselves. This is why, for Buddhist purposes, logic falls short of direct experience.

I am discussing, which I thought was the spirit here. That there are no things can be directly experienced. Nothing needs to be shown regarding that, it has been done by people wiser than us. No more intellectual somersaults required.

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I don’t understand so much on this opposition from you.

Is it in reaction to the book: Helgoland? That’s just one quantum interpretation. I haven’t read that book yet.

I don’t think I did anything of using science to proof emptiness, if anything it’s just a parallel comparison or applying emptiness to science. Since emptiness should be universally applicable.

How would even disproving emptiness be like? Since philosophically it’s already on solid ground that all conditioned things are empty due to being conditioned and Nibbāna is also empty is from trusting Buddha.

Hi venerable! Apologies for any lack of clarity — I was responding to Yeshe Tenley. I don’t know of you saying that either.

This is a heavy dose @JuanPablo! Am I correct that you are not just denying that things have a self but you are actually denying things here? Are you saying that in order to posit a thing logically we are necessarily making a mistake in that things do not exist in the way logic appears to assume?

Are you again denying things here? No thing has ever been directly experienced? :pray:

Uhm, yes? This is how I understand this particular wrong view. Logic and reason are insufficient for us to make “peaceful” sense of the world because they refer to “things” that do not ever exist as “things”. Conventional truth, ultimate truth, the Middle, and so on. Neither existence nor non existence.

Aspects and moments of seeing aspects have been experienced. No things.

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I did assume that, and the reason I assumed that was because I find the other interpretation of your statement very shocking! To be clear, when you say, “there are no things which have a self” you mean that it is logically impossible for there to be a thing with a self? If so, I think you will need to defend that proposition.

I am not quite sure if I follow here. It seems like you are saying that in order to talk about things we have to use language, but language is fallible?

Respectfully, I did not find your initial statement to me to be much in the spirit of a discussion, it was basically just, “no you’re wrong.” So I assumed that you meant something else, which I learned was not the case! I think that saying, “no things can be directly experienced, nothing needs to be shown regarding this, it has been done by people wiser than us,” is a very strong statement that a lot of people would disagree with. I also think people would disagree that people wiser than us have said this, they would dispute the meaning and larger context of what was actually said.

I agree with this.


A lot of wisdom has been disregarded by the ignorant (using it here in a technical sense).

Let me enumerate some very powerful headings from the Diamond Sutra.

Real Designation is Undesignate.
The Superiority of Unformulated Truth.
Words Cannot Express Truth, That Which Words Express Is Not Truth.
The Unreality of Phenomenal Distinctions.

Recent forays in philosophy have advanced that we never see the world outside the plane, we just see and navigate through the dashboard inside the plane. Perception of things can never prove that these perceived things actually exist.

But yeah, I only recently started studying and this is the way I pick up things (which resonate with the way I’ve lived most of my life). It could be that I’m just an autistic a—ol-. For which I apologize, urging you not to take me seriously. Again, sorry. :pray:

I recognize your language as coming from the grand tradition of the perfection of wisdom sutras and it seems clear, like I said, that you’ve taken a very heavy dose of this medicine. What’s unclear are the particular side effects the medicine might have for you. If any. :joy:

FWIW, I think this medicine is not wrong, but it is possible for it to be misapplied.

I take it you mean distinction cannot ultimately be found.


I don’t think he employed nor spoke of “scientific proof” in the way you seem to be using it. The Teacher understood the lack of essence in things directly; at least that is my hypothesis. He understood it in meditative equipoise in an unmistaken and direct non-conceptual manner. That manner is direct knowledge. Science is not capable of that. Science is a conceptual endeavor using inference and logic. What the Teacher accomplished was beyond all that.

A couple possibilities:

  • The Teacher was wrong and really believed mount Meru and a flat earth
  • The Teacher spoke in a way agreeable with the conventions of the day and did not speak otherwise because it wouldn’t have been conducive to the holy life
  • The Teacher never spoke of a flat earth and mount Meru contrary to the texts that purport otherwise
  • Mount Meru and a flat earth are actually correct and we’re all in danger of falling off it
  • Mount Meru and a flat earth are true from the perspective of certain sentient beings the Teacher wished to free

Many, many, many more are possible. Personally, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it :slight_smile:

Yeah, I don’t assume he knew QM nor assume he knew or spoke about the true existence of mount Meru. Any such assumptions would seem misguided to me.

Again, I don’t think the lack of essence of things can only be known through QM or even that this is the best way of knowing about the lack of essence in things. QM I think can only serve as a limited approximation for what the Teacher discovered.

I am certainly not waiting on it. My hypothesis is this will not happen and again I don’t think science is the best way to understand the lack of essence in things. It may be that in the future science makes it easier for others to progress beyond science with the correct view, but I wouldn’t assume it to be the case.


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I do not believe the peace and joy it has brought me can be considered a misapplication. But yes, for each being, its own medicine. I’m happy with the (cray cray) side effects.

Much peace to you all as well. :pray:

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But is it theoretically logically possible?

Such a thing sounds outside the scope of knowledge and hence existence. It would not just be unscientific (not amenable to scientific investigation) but also unknowitific (outside the scope of any knowledge whatsoever) :joy:

Glad you appreciate the biting of the bullet :slight_smile:

Yes, I think lacking essence is a necessary truth and that it is possible to arrive at the doorstep of this truth via logic, but it might be the case that logic is not able to crossover the threshold much like @JuanPablo might be thinking.

You are familiar with constructive logic. In order to arrive at a proof you must construct the program demonstrating it. In order to construct it you must rely upon some axioms or other type introductions or primitives. Pretty hard when there are no introduction rules. What can be done is arrival at refutation by contradiction. Take the posited assumptions and show they lead to contradiction.


Yes, I think we agree. :slight_smile: I don’t think you are saying otherwise. But I read it as almost implicit in the idea that physics could somehow disprove emptiness with its methodology. If we accept that premise, then it says something about how someone would or could arrive at knowing emptiness. And I think that if we follow that to its logical conclusions, we get some problems.

Here is another way of framing what I am talking about:
I think that when the Teacher spoke of emptiness, he was generally speaking of the emptiness of sense experience. By emptiness of sense experience, I think that he was claiming that sense experience arises dependent on other things, and that it is impermanent. I believe that he claimed these were empirical observations that he had made which had psychological and philosophical implications.

Say we are investigating an instance of matter—say, a pebble. We could call that pebble a “basis of consciousness.” Meaning it is the basis for the arising of sense consciousness at the various sense doors, without which there would be a shift in conditions and a ceasing of that corresponding consciousness. There, we can refer to a dependent structure for the arising of experience, as well as impermanence.

No experience of pebble → Conditions shift → Conditions arise where the pebble is a condition for the arising of eye consciousness dependent on functioning faculty of vision → Sense contact with the experience of a pebble → Conditions shift → No sense contact with the experience of the pebble.

Suppose that during this process, the perceiver decides to investigate the matter of the pebble. Trying to reduce it to fundamental components that may be present in the pebble. In this case, they are investigating the basis of consciousness.

While I think it is interesting and not unrelated to find that there might not be a kind of irreducible particle or wave or something in the pebble, it really has no bearing on the fact that every instance of investigation itself involves the arising and ceasing and shifting of dependent conditions for more consciousness to arise with different bases and impermanent events. No matter what they found there, it would really have no bearing on that structure of consciousness and its arising. Because in order to even do the investigation in the first place, this kind of structure had to be operational in this way. No ontological assumptions should be made about a kind of external substance based on the investigation either, even if they did seem to find an irreducible particle. Such ontological assumptions would be unwarranted. There are a series of other things, such as proving its eternality, that would be needed to approach it being a fundamental essence, I’d say.

Moreover, variety in the quality and persistence of sense faculties can be clearly observed. Some people lose their vision. Sometimes vision is inoperative. Sometimes the qualtiy of vision changes, diminishes, etc. Similarly with the other senses. So despite the basis of particular conscious experience, the faculties that the consciousness is dependent clearly do change. Of course, I am speaking conventionally here, not of some kind of faculty or consciousness thing which has the property of change.

I agree those and likely others are all reasonable possibilities :slight_smile: This is a mere example of one of the questions that I think should be addressed if someone were to seriously relate Buddhism to Physics beyond the level of curiosity. Because it doesn’t take a genius to observe the stars and see that the movement of the sun and moon cannot be because they move behind one side of a large mountain at the center of a flat earth, as some Buddhsit texts claim (though I don’t know if this is stated directly in any āgama texts).

(Aside for what it’s worth: I think the descriptions of Mt. Meru and so on are meaningful, and I don’t think the only meaningful way to relate to cosmology is in terms of sheer observational accuracy for humans. Also, it may not take a genius, but I am not a non-genius enough to know how astronomy works to even disprove that the Sun moves behind a mountain! :laughing: )

All the best!

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I don’t think our descriptions of the phenomenal world in terms of the three characteristics can be used to describe those same characteristics. The descriptions are of a “higher order” than the phenomena themselves, and for that reason not necessarily subject to the same descriptions. What I am trying to say is that impermanence itself is not necessarily impermanent, etc. In fact, the suttas describe impermanence as an ever-present reality. In the same way, I am not sure @Erika_ODonnell is necessarily wrong with her description of classification is “inherently arbitrary”.


Hello Venerable @Brahmali,

Hmm. I think - and I think Venerable @Vaddha might agree - that impermanence is empty of essence. Impermanence is a dependent phenomena. Impermanence can only be posited dependent upon a thing existing which can be labeled as impermanent. Were impermanence to have an essence, that essence could not be dependent. It would exist as you say, as an ever present reality, regardless if there was a phenomena that could be so described.

I’m not sure which sutta you’re quoting for this ever present reality and the interpretation thereof, but personally speaking I cannot understand how impermanence can be posited without depending upon a thing that is so described.

BTW, it occurs to me that “characteristic”, “describe”, “mark”, “quality”, “label” may all be poor words to designate impermanence, non-self, and dukkha. Why? Because all of these words have a connotation of distinguishing or differentiation. That is when we say something has a characteristic it is meant to differentiate in some way between what does and does not have such a characteristic, but the three seals are not used in this way. We do not differentiate between conditioned phenomena by pointing out which ones have the “characteristics” of impermanence, non-self, and dukkha and which do not, right? Unfortunately, I don’t have a better word at the moment.


PS: Interestingly, the EA agama has (like some Mahayana sutras) one extra “characteristic” - that Nibbana is peace. This fourth one is clearly not a “characteristic” which for me reinforces that the three so called in the Pali canon are not meant to imply characterization either.

PSS: There is a sutta in the Pali canon (AN 3.47) (and a related parallel in EA) that does describe proper characteristics and it gives three: arising, cessation and change while persisting. These three do distinguish conditioned phenomena from the unconditioned and as such are proper characteristics.

I believe this may be related to AN 3.136

[W]hether Realized Ones arise or not, this law of nature persists, this regularity of natural principles, this invariance of natural principles: all conditions are impermanent.
AN 3.136

Or the related, relatively well known in the Buddhist schools, SN 12.20

Whether Realized Ones arise or not, this law of nature persists, this regularity of natural principles, this invariance of natural principles, specific conditionality.
SN 12.20

Not sure these are what the Venerable is referring to. But they may be related to the discussion. :slight_smile:

If you can accept this, then it’s no issue to accept that the conditioned phenomena are also dukkha due to the impermanence.

Venerable @NgXinZhao, I do accept dukkha as a distinguishing characteristic of conditioned phenomena, but again I accept it as dependent upon the perception and desires of the perceiver. It not only distinguishes between the conditioned and unconditioned, but distinguishes between experiences of the conditioned as well. :pray:

Venerable @Vaddha,

Ah! Yes, it could be that this is what Venerable @Brahmali is referring to. However, I don’t think that sutta can justify a view that impermanence has an essence or that not-self has an essence or that dukkha has an essence. All three are dependent in order to be posited or known just as you identified lack of essence to be dependent.

I think it can fairly be said that impermanence and not-self (aka lack of essence) are unconditioned in that they are not caused; they do not arise, cease and change while persisting, but they are dependent, right?

Dukkha on the other hand seems to me to be caused. It arises, changes while persists and ceases, right?

All three are dependent however and therefore lack essence to my limited mind. :pray:

Yes, I would agree. I’m not sure if others would though, and they may reference such a passage as support of a view that these are independent.

Dukkha as a characteristic is known as ‘dukkhatā.’ Or dukkha-ness. I don’t think dukkhatā arises or ceases any more than anicca or anattā arise and cease. But I agree it is dependent for designation. ‘Dukkha’ as a noun meaning ‘conditioned phenomena which is characterized by dukkhata, anicca, and anatta’ of course does arise, change, and cease. That usage of ‘dukkha’ basically means any conditioned thing. Similarly, a ‘thing which is impermanent’ arises and ceases, but not ‘impermanence.’

But if you think the dukkha characteristic is uniquely different and more subjective than the other two, I don’t agree that this is a correct interpretation. Most sentient beings perceive things as their self and to be truly existent; that doesn’t mean ‘non-self’ is only true of those things if perceived as such and not desired otherwise.


This places dukkha as part of the unconditioned/unconstructed. It is not subject to being caused and as such does not arise and cease. I think this is in contradiction to the four noble truths to my mind. There is the origin/arising of dukkha. There is the cessation of dukkha.

Here is how I would break it down in a way that I don’t think involves contradiction with the four noble truths:

  • Impermance is dependent, but unconditioned. It does not arise and cease due to a cause. It characterizes the conditioned in relation to the unconditioned. (AN 3.47)
  • Not self (lack of essence) is dependent, but unconditioned. It does not arise and cease due to a cause. It does not characterize anything in relation to anything else.
  • Dukkha is dependent and conditioned. It arises due to cause and ceases due to cause. It doesn’t really characterize as it depends upon desire and the perceiver.

Something like that. :pray:

Yes, this is what I was referring to. I took “inherent” merely as signifying a reliable and ever-present law of nature. My guess is that @Erika_ODonnell was doing the same.