Some remarks on the Shorter Discourse on Emptiness

Apparently, in the later tradition of Indian logic there are two kinds of negation:

  • paryudāsa - implicational negation
  • prasajyapratiṣedha - nonimplicational negation

I’m guessing the logic used in this sutta would be of the first kind of negation? E.g., “There are no elephants in this room”, implying that there are elephants, there is a room, there just aren’t any elephants in this particular room.

Or could it be of the second kind? E.g. “there are no elephants”, or to make a Matrix reference — “there is no spoon.”


Consider that MN121 talks of release (ie Nirodha):

"He discerns that ‘This theme-less concentration of awareness is fabricated & mentally fashioned.’ And he discerns that ‘Whatever is fabricated & mentally fashioned is inconstant & subject to cessation.’ For him — thus knowing, thus seeing — the mind is released from the effluent of sensuality, the effluent of becoming, the effluent of ignorance. With release, there is the knowledge, ‘Released.’ He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’

"He discerns that ‘Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the effluent of sensuality… the effluent of becoming… the effluent of ignorance, are not present. And there is only this modicum of disturbance: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.’ He discerns that ‘This mode of perception is empty of the effluent of sensuality… becoming… ignorance. And there is just this non-emptiness: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.’ Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there. Whatever remains, he discerns as present: ‘There is this.’ And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, pure — superior & unsurpassed.

Here is the lived experience of cessation, with the rare ‘stone skipping across water’ as the six sense bases are intact. It is the unsurpassed emptiness.

Arising and passing away (Udaya and Vaya -or Udayabbaya?) - normal phenomena

Origination and Non-arising/cessation (Samudaya and Nirodha; 2nd and 3rd Noble Truth) - refers to the Dependant Origination (paticcasamuppada) and phenomena simply not arising. So it is more than just arising and passing away. Cessation is non-arising (ni-udaya) due to ignorance being tackled at the root of the DO.

With metta


I have a hard time seeing what udaya/vaya (which has the general meaning of rising interest - like “bringing (raising) profit” - has to do with the passage you’ve quoted.
So, let’s continue with nirodha, which is what is the proper translation in “subject to cessation”, within this sutta.

So, we have the last stage when the bhikkhus’ mind enters into the signless concentration of mind (animitte cetosamādhimhi cittaṃ) with:

  1. Only the amount of “suffering” (daratha/scattering), that is connected with the six sense bases, that are dependent on his body. And,
  2. the realization that his signless concentration of mind is conditioned and volitionally produced - which is impermanent & subject to cessation. (ayampi kho animitto cetosamādhi abhisaṅkhato abhisañcetayito’. ‘Yaṃ kho pana kiñci abhisaṅkhataṃ abhisañcetayitaṃ tadaniccaṃ nirodhadhamman’ti pajānāti.)

This is the only time in the sutta, when the bhikkhu looks at the phenomena - and gets involved with “impermanence” & “cessation”.
Maybe because he does not have to worry about finding another ekatta (one state). No more nimitta to turn to. Who knows?

On a more serious tone, it is the realization that satta (with its sense bases), is empty and not-self, that brings the realization that there is no more “suffering” (daratha/scattering) in connection with sensual desire, longing for more state of being, and ignorance.
The last ekatta and daratha evaporate with (1) the realization (if not priorly realized), that satta (with its sense bases) is empty (SN 12.37, SN 35.238) - and (2) the realization of the impermanence & cessation of all things (no-self) [when the bhikkhu realizes that his signless concentration of mind is conditioned and volitionally produced].
The loop is closed.

Cessation (nirodha), has only a marginal part to play in this training and realization.

And I’m off with that.

Suññata - MN 121 - Summary

Emptiness takes a lots of meanings in the Early Buddhist Texts.

Emptiness of Man/Satta (SN 12.37, SN 35.238). Or the recurring “empty of self and what pertains to a self”, that has to do with the non-continuity of things/phenomena (dhammas) (SN 35.85). Or again the important sutta MN 151 (SA 236), on how to train daily about emptiness. Or the higher training to reach perfect emptiness (MN 121). Etc.

The higher training here, encompasses all the notions that are encountered in the other suttas. At least most of them.

The ascent to emptiness must be understood as a process, which end is genuine emptiness.
The (seven) intermediate steps are:
(1) The one-state dependent on the perception of the community of monks;
(2) The one-state dependent on the perception of the forest;
(3) The one-state dependent on the perception of earth;
(4) The one-state dependent on the perception of the support (base) of infinite space;
(5) The one-state dependent on the perception of the support of infinite consciousness;
(6) The one-state dependent on the perception of the support of nothingness; and
(7) The one-state dependent on the perception of the support of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.

Lets take the first two.

An ascetic monk that decides to retire to the forest, will focus on the forest as, what is called, a “one state” (ekatta).
The ekatta of the monk is this “one state”, that is the forest. Its only attribute (nimitta) of interest.
Yet, he will have also to consider the previous voidness (emptiness-suññata) of the community of monks he was living in.

This is the pattern throughout the seven steps of the training of an ascetic - That is to say:
A new (non-void), ekatta in which to dwell in; and the previous ekatta, as the voidness to consider.
In other words, when the monk is in the forest, the community of monks is not there any more. Only the forest is here.
Yet the bhikkhu has to realize both the voidness of the community of monks, in which he was dwelling, and that is not there any more - as well as the (painful-daratha) non-voidness of the ekatta of the forest in which he dwells now.

Why is this painful (daratha)?
Indeed, daratha means “scattering”. So what is painful (also called “disturbance”,) is the fact that there is not really a genuine emptiness in the process; but always the presence of the ekatta (the “one state” in which the bikkhu is dwelling).
Therefore the bhikkhu feels a bit “scattered”. The experience is not the experience of an entire and genuine Emptiness.

Let’s resume:
In this training that is set about, to reach true Emptiness, the somewhat “emptiness” (of the intermediary stages,) encompasses two things:

  • the realization that something, (one was dwelling in,) is not there any more - and
  • in the 7 intermediate stages in MN 121, the realization that there is still this “disturbance” (daratha) of the present ekatta.
    These are the two components of the training in “emptiness”, when one attempts to reach genuine Emptiness.

Now there is an eighth and last stage called the signless concentration of mind (animitte cetosamādhimhi cittaṃ).
Signless here, means that there is nothing else to take as an attribute of the ekatta (no more new “one-state” to consider). And mind here, is the Indian mind/heart (viz. the mental locus of feeling and perception), a.k.a. “Citta”.
So there should be no more ekatta for the “mind/citta” to concentrate on. And this is called the liberation of mind.

Indeed, we are going a bit too fast here. For there is a last ekatta to be gotten rid of.

In fact, when the ascetic has reached the ekatta (“one-state”) of the perception of the support of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, he realizes then that what’s left (as a somewhat new ekatta) is the presence of the amount of disturbance, connected with the six sense bases (eye, ear, nose, mouth, touch, & mind,) that are dependent on his body and conditioned by life (that is to say, necessary for life).

We have seen at the beginning of this note, that there are other suttas on emptiness.
SN 12.37 & SN 35.238 are concerned with the emptiness of Man/Satta, namely the emptiness of the body.
An ascetic who has understood the Dhamma/Teaching, knows that the body is just an empty thing that is just made to “be felt”.

Moreover, these things made to “be felt” are impermanent. So there is no continuity in them. And the idea of a “self” in Indian philosophy is all about this continuity - (which is not something we are going to develop here).
To make it short, there no more continuity in me (death), than there is continuity in the things made to be felt by me (thaey all arise & fade).
Therefore no self in me, or in the rest, whatsoever.

But what imports here is emptiness. And having understood the emptiness of this body, ends up the training.
For the loop is closed.
Emptiness is realized thoroughly.
No more ekatta, no more daratha.

The mind is liberated.
Liberated from the taint of sensual desire, from the taint of being, and from the taint of ignorance.

1 Like

From a practice perspective I prefer ‘unitary’ which is not say it’s the best translation in all respects but it defnitley works better for me.


Less metaphysically nuanced hence better I think. I think the aim would be to arrive at the Buddha’s meaning rather than suggesting the Brahmanical one.

With metta

1 Like

If “Unitary” is taken as “aiming toward unity” (which is one of its primary meaning) - then “Unitary” looks fine to me.

Unity occurs as Ekodi (eka-udi).

In the case of MN 121, the bhikkhu ekaggachati(zes), to udeti(ze) the ekatta and the remnant.

Eka & √ gam


√ गम् gam

  • to cause to go to any condition , cause to become TS. ŚBr.
  • to go with the mind , observe RV.
  • to go to any state or condition , undergo , partake of , participate in , receive , obtain RV. AV.
  • to strive to obtain ŚBr. ChUp.
  • to wish to bring ( to light) TS.
  • to go , move , go away , set out , come Lit. RV.
  • to go to or towards , approach RV.
  • to cause to go or come, lead or conduct towards , send to AV. - bring to a place RV.
  • to impart , grant MBh.
  • to cause to understand , make clear or intelligible , explain MBh. VarBṛS.
  • to visit RV.
  • to approach carnally , have sexual intercourse with ĀśvGṛ.


See also गत gata - noun.

Gacchati = third present of gam.

As in ekaggatā > eka + gata = arrived at one - directed to one.

Gata,[pp.of gacchati ] gone (away),arrived at,directed to. [PTS]


एक Eka:

  • One RV.
  • the same , one and the same , identical ŚBr. KātyŚr.
  • one of two or many, the one - the other, some, some - others ŚBr. KātyŚr. MBh.
  • alone , solitary , single , happening only once , that one only RV.

“Eka-g-gachati” in sanskrit, would then take the somewhat meaning of: “he strives with the mind, to cause to become one and the same”.
Trying to get to Eka-Udi

Eka+udi (transcend - escape)
उदि udi [ ud-√ i ]
See उद् Ud: (var. uc, uj, un, ut) - particle and prefix to verbs and nouns. (As implying superiority in place , rank , station , or power) up , upwards upon , on over , above. - and √ इ i : appear (BṛĀrUp.), arise from (ChUp.), escape (RV. AV. ŚBr.)

  • to come out or arise from RV. AV. ŚBr.
  • to escape ChUp.
  • to go up to , proceed or move up , proceed RV. AV. VS.
  • to rise (as the sun or a star ) RV. VS. ŚBr. ChUp. VarBṛS.
  • rise up against , march off AV. MBh.


Eka: [PTS]

  1. “one” as number,either with or without contrast to two or more; often also “single” nānā various,many.
  2. one,by oneself,one only,alone,solitary.
    3.a certain one,some one,some.

Udi (or udī) - artificial adj.form. fr.udeti,meaning “rising,excelling”.

Also, ekatta cannot be equated with the Vedic ekatā.

एकता ekatā: oneness , unity , union , coincidence , identity ŚBr.(BṛĀrUp.) ChUp. MBh.

In BṛĀrUp. 1.5.17, the dying father tells his son that he is the Brahman, the sacrifice and the world:

yad vai kiñcānūktaṃ tasya sarvasya brahmety ekatā |
ye vai ke ca yajñās teṣāṃ sarveṣāṃ yajña ity ekatā |
ye vai ke ca lokās teṣāṃ sarveṣāṃ loka ity ekatā |
All the vedic learning that has been acquired is subsumed under “brahman”;
all the sacrifices are subsumed under “sacrifice”;
and all the worlds are subsumed under “world.”

In ChUP 6.9.1, bees make honey by collecting juices from different trees, and reduce them into one essence (a homogenous whole).
(yathā somya madhu madhukṛto nistiṣṭhanti nānātyayānāṃ vṛkṣāṇāmrasānsamavahāramekatāmrasaṃ gamayanti.)

We have ekatā as the unification, (as the perfect unity,) that represent the doctrine of the Upanishads. That is to say, the final coalescence of everything into a unified whole.
Man is the god, man is the world - and also the sacrifice. The honey is the result of the union of diverse juices.

But this unification, this onenes is not Buddha’s conception of oneness.
Apart from the fact that sacrifice is banned from Buddhism, and that there is no Self/self (Brahman) in man; nor does this “I” is the world. In Buddhism, ekatta is not unity (oneness) per se. In Buddhism, unity is transcendence (ekodi). Ekatta is just a means to attain ekodi.
In Buddhism, it is not about conflating many into a whole. In Buddhism, it is about neither, nor. About transcendence.

In MN 121, ekatta is not unity. It still has to deal with daratha (scattering). It is just a “state of oneness,” but not perfect Oneness. It is a transitional “state of oneness,” towards a stark and accomplished Unity of transcendence.

Based on the definition of “satta” in the suttas (specifically SN 23.2; SN 5.10 is also helpful), how can a “satta” be “empty” when a “satta” is a state of attachment?

MN 121 appears to state a “kaya” (“collection of aggregates”) remains after the realisation of emptiness rather than a “satta”.

If a “satta” is “becoming”, as described in SN 23.2, how can a satta remain when ending of the fermentation (asava) of becoming has occurred, as described in MN 121? :seedling:

Your reasoning looks to me like asking medecine to be an exact science.
Such a hard framing of concepts, is the sure way to beat around the issue endlessly.

@Deeele says:
MN 121 appears to state a “kaya” (“collection of aggregates”) remains after the realisation of emptiness rather than a “satta”.

If we start to play with concepts (like the encompassing “kaya”), we have at least, to relativize the use of it in its context.
Kaya is as much the immaterial (cosmic) kaya at the beginning of paṭiccasamuppāda, than the restricted body support (ajjhatika ayatana) of touch/phoṭṭhabba (bāhira ayatana).

At the end of MN 121, we are mainly concerned with the six bases of senses that are dependent on the body (kaya).
Do we have then to confine kaya to this restricted support of touch? - No!. No more than we have to consider kaya as the “cosmic” kaya in this instance.

What we have to do here, is to circumscribe the concept of kaya to the context of (the end of) MN 121. That is to say the six bases that are dependent on the body (kāyaṃ paṭicca saḷāyatanikaṃ). And consequently their outcomes (sense-consciousness, contact, clinging khandhas, etc.)
That is to say to the sentient & rational beiṅg, that is satta.

Bhikkhus, this body is not yours, nor does it belong to others (nāyaṃ, bhikkhave, kāyo tumhākaṃ napi aññesaṃ). It is old kamma, to be seen as generated and fashioned by volition, as something to be felt.
SN 12.37

Here kaya is seen as its satta subset; namely the (empty) sentient being, that is to be filled as follows:

The empty village’: this is a designation for the six internal sense bases. If, bhikkhus, a wise, competent, intelligent person examines them by way of the eye, they appear to be void, hollow, empty. If he examines them by way of the ear… by way of the mind, they appear to be void, hollow, empty.
“‘Village-attacking dacoits’: this is a designation for the six external sense bases. The eye, bhikkhus, is attacked by agreeable and disagreeable forms. The ear … The nose … The tongue … The body … The mind is attacked by agreeable and disagreeable mental phenomena.
SN 35.238

So, this kind of fuzzy reasoning around kaya & satta, would just lead us to beat around the issue endlessly - and this nitpicking usually don’t settle understanding. It is often just the preliminary to a chase after an abyssal knowledge, with no solid ground.
This reasoning is on for perplexing, not for clarifying.
I’ll pass.

Visual aid.


Olivelle, in his “Early Upaniṣads,” equate (in one of his notes,) sattva with the physical being of a person. From this extract:

When one’s food is pure, one’s being becomes pure; when one’s being is pure, one’s memory be comes strong.
vimśatirāhāraśuddhau sattvaśuddhau dhruvā smṛtiḥ
ChUP 7.26.2

The same applies earlier to Puruṣa in CU 6.7.1-5. Where man (puruṣa) eats and his memory improves.

Note also that in the same Chandogya, Satta is seen as the cosmic Satta.
Aruni said, ‘But now, indeed, dear boy, could it be so ? How could Being arise from Non-being ? In truth, dear boy, in the beginning (before creation), there was Being alone, one only, without a second.
kutastu khalu somyaivamsyāditi hovāca kathamasataḥ sajjāyeteti। sattveva somyedamagra āsīdekamevādvitīyam

There is always the cosmic and the sentient physical kaya, satta, puruṣa (the range is wide.). With their variances along the differents Ṛṣis’ interpretations, and even along different shakhas.

Good luck trying to pinpoint an all encompassing definition of these concepts - that should fit all contexts right.

This Early Upaniṣads sounds the same as the view of Mara.

Best wishes. :seedling:

Mara. Why now do you assume ‘a being’?
Is that your speculative view?
This is a heap of sheer formations:
Here no being is found.

“Just as, with an assemblage of parts,
The word ‘chariot’ is used,
So, when the aggregates exist,
There is the convention ‘a being.’

It’s only suffering that comes to be,
Suffering that stands and falls away.
Nothing but suffering comes to be,
Nothing but suffering ceases.

SN 5.10


Are you hinting on some kind of blasphemy on my part here?. Are you suggesting that I sympathize with the doctrine of Upaniṣads?
Because I am definitely not.
No need to resort to allusive “Bible belt” kind of imprecations, for that matter.

Self, puruṣa, satta, kaya, name it… - as continuous, etc. - are Mara’s view in this world (or more precisely in paṭiccasamupāda) for sure.

Yet, Buddha did use the word atta all the time … as a paradox.
It’s a paradox - a paradox - a paradox - a paradox - a paradox…
A paradox!

Didn’t I say before that satta is empty?
You said that it wasn’t!?!? - Seems like you’re just bitting your tail here.

The all paṭiccasamupāda is empty of self, it’s empty of satta, it’s empty of puruṣa, it’s empty of kaya.
It’s empty! and it’s a paradox that we have to refer to them!.
To believe that they are us, ours, full and continuous is just ignorance.

Buddha uses paradoxically the term satta [or kaya] (in the case of MN 121) as the physical part of our yet “empty” being. Just because one needs to express Ignorance. And it is just ignorance that is expressed in paṭiccasamupāda.

The main thing is not to lose sight of the point which is that perception is everything.


I could not find the term ‘satta’ in MN 121. Asserting satta is a synonym for kaya is the “blasphemy” I was hinting. The word ‘satta’ appears to include the meaning ‘to cling’.

Satta1 [pp. of sañj: sajjati] hanging, clinging or attached to Vin i.185; D ii.246; Nd1 23, 24; Dh 342; J i.376. Cp. āsatta1 & byāsatta.

MN 121 ends with:

there is just this non-emptiness: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.’

I think to say a ‘kaya’ (body; group) with purified sense spheres is a ‘satta’ contradicts SN 23.2 & SN 5.10, as I previously posted.

‘A being,’ lord. ‘A being,’ it’s said. To what extent is one said to be ‘a being’?

Any desire, passion, delight or craving…when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be ‘a being.’

Kind regards :buddha:


Then what to do for instance with MN 12, when Buddha considers himself as follows:

‘A being not subject to delusion has appeared in the world for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans’
‘asammohadhammo satto loke uppanno bahujanahitāya bahujanasukhāya lokānukampāya atthāya hitāya sukhāya devamanussānan’”ti

Do you think Buddha was “delusory clinging”? - No! - But he considered himself a satta.

You have to be a little less picky. Ranges are wide. The truth is not in details. We know what dwells in details.

It seems the sutta describes quite literally what I’m doing. The first steps at least… I’m not doing much sitting, and I should practise more seriously… but I walk every day when I’m home and it doesn’t rain:

I leave the village behind and the mental proliferations and enter my forest path. After preparatory focus on the walking, posture and breath I sense the unity of the forest ecosystem, trying “unitary perception” (Analayo’s transl. from chin. parallel) of something (forest) which is not a thing really. Smelling the soil etc., hearing the birds etc., seeing the forest for the trees, me being part of all that, walking. There I am. Then I enlargen the perception to unitary perception of planet Earth, gently rolling away under my feet. Forests connected by clouds breathing in and breathing out, the interdependent self-sustaining globulal web of Life, with a walker being part of it. (Or a sitter in the meditation hall of Scheibbs or Beatenberg, windows open.) Usually I don’t get substantially farther (snails on the path). Then, no, no unitary perception of the Cosmos. The cosmos is irrelevant distracting papanca. Instead, unitary perception of being organism (not a thing), being part of Earth organism (not a thing), being brain organism. Being a la Heidegger perhaps. Then, further, I can’t really tell, but you might imagine.


Imo, context. I think it does not abide well with emptiness (MN 121) to regard mere kaya & ayatana as a “being”. The very statement: “body with sense spheres” itself exhibits emptiness (sunnata).

Keep in mind the stock definition of ‘emptiness’ is ‘empty of self & anything related to self’.

Where as in MN 12, a “being” can be a convention, as regarded by the conventional world at large, who honor the virtue of the Lord Buddha, who perceive the Lord Buddha as a “being”.

Kind regards :deciduous_tree:

Hi Deeele

Just out of curiosity, where can I find the above?

We were discussing this:

imameva kāyaṃ paṭicca saḷāyatanikaṃ jīvitapaccayā

that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.

MN 121

Since you are here, @Sylvester, can you offer your knowledge to this thread if you can.

Thank you :deciduous_tree:

1 Like

I have the Wisdom publication of Majjhima Nikaya with Bhikkhu Bodhi’s revision and will look at it with regard to your comments, Venerable. I can assure AnagarikMichael he is not alone with this struggle, yet, as most will attest, it belongs to the very essence of what the Buddha’s teaching is intended to impart (if that’s not too bold a statement).

As a further contribution, unless everyone has moved on (and please excuse these comments if I have made them in another context) I recall two cautionary remarks the HOS made years ago at the commencement of Studies in Religion at UNE in which she said that whatever our beliefs were, or lack of them, those views or their lack would be challenged during the course of our studies…so be prepared. That helped all of us and it has stayed with me ever since. Most importantly, though, she said that we always look (and cannot help but do so) at a text from a past time and place from the prism of our own time and place. I know it reads like a statement of the bleedin’ obvious but it means for me that whenever I ponder a debate such as this (and I am no linguist) I make reference to the work of translators who have gone before us. History was my other major so the two, for me, are inseparable. T. W. and Caroline Rhys Davids, for example, could not have done other than interpret the Pali texts from the limitations of their Victorian experience, as remarkable as those interpretations and translations were at the time. Just as Kipling, for all his intimate knowledge of India, could not help but see it other than as part of the Empire, the Rhys Davids were both Victorian and Christian and brought these perspectives to much of their interpretation. The same would need to be said for Eugene Burnouf (although he detested much of the church of his time). In his remarkable Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism (virtually ignored today), he goes to great lengths in his Preliminary Observations, to attempt an understanding of the term Nirvana, quoting many contemporaries. This is not to suggest that any of the past interpretations and translations are wrong, simply that they derive from the perspective of their time.

This process of interpretation and translation continues apace, as this current debate testifies. Earlier in the essay, Bhante Sujato raises some issues with certain of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s renderings of certain terms from MN121 and is right to do so. In part, at least, it has as much to do with the changing nuances of our own language, with subtle shifts that occur even over a few years let alone over a century and more since Burnouf and Rhys Davids time.

As a committed Buddhist and a fortunate student of a teacher whose scholarship leaves me driving home each week with my mind spinning, I commend the debates on Suttacentral and thank all of you for your contribution to this discussion, most expecially.


1: This thread appears under “Latest topics” today (Dec 24, 2017), with “Activity” noting “1d”; but the contents show 42 posts dated from May 4 to May 14. If activity in the last day, why doesn’t something show up dated December 23 or 24?

2: Anyway, I was introduced to this sutta (MN 121) almost 10 years ago, near the beginning of my study of Buddhism, through an all-day talk by one Santikaro. It was strikingly memorable, as a technique for putting the present moment in perspective of the lack of presence of the preceding phenomena, inducing reflection, a quite solid realization, so to speak, of anicca.

I recall Santikaro also used material from MN 111 in parallel; at least I recall mention of the idea there in the concluding passage of all stages but the last: “There is an escape beyond…” (using B. Bodhi’s translation); and then with “cessation”, “There is no escape beyond…”.

The discussion above as to some sense of suffering present with each (at least 'til the end) stage in MN 121 reminded me of using this awareness that there’s still some further work to go through.

1 Like

Wow… I confess I am confused with the meaning of oneness. I always heard that this concept contradicts Buddhism, since oneness seems to mean a metaphisical final Unity of all things.