The use and meaning of 空 in the Agamas

Dear all,

I am currently translating various texts from the Chinese buddhist canon into Dutch, as a means of deepening understanding of the dhamma and fuel my own buddhist practice. I am gradually putting them freely online =>

I don’t have a specific project (yet), just translating and reading various texts. I started out with the Heart Sutra, then various poems bij Hanshan and others, various texts from the Samyukta Agama and currently working on The Two Entrances by Bodhidharma. But I am drawn to the Agama’s, so I might continue there.

During translating, I encountered 空 several times. Obviously it is a core teaching of Mahayana, as exemplified in the Heart sutra (amongst others). But I also encountered 空 in the agama’s.

Could someone clarify the difference in use, scope and meaning of Kong as used in (some of) the agama’s versus Mahayana scriptures?

Thank you in advance!


Hi @SvDaele,

Welcome to the D&D forum!

Enjoy the multiple resources here available: may these be of assistance along the path. One of the translators you list on your site is here on this forum!

Should you have any questions about the forum, feel free to contact the @moderators.

With mettā,
On behalf of the moderators


Welcome! We could certainly use more translations of the Samyukta Agama in a European language, or just the Agamas in general. Most people with the language skills go straight to Mahayana texts, so it’s a little lonely for us Agama translators.

As to your question:

“Empty” (S. śūnya) was one of the four marks of dharmas in Sarvastivada sutras along with impermanent, selfless, and painful. This was one of the precedents that existed for early Mahayana thought.

In other contexts, 空 can mean space (like the space inside a bowl) or the sky (S. ākāśa), too. It can be a little confusing at times if there isn’t enough context.


The following book, The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism by Choong Mun-keat, may be useful for your question:

Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism | Mun-keat Choong -

Thank you very much for your precise answer! It sheds light on other questions I was researching as well.

It seems that one of the main differences between the MN and the MA is the fact that emptyness is structurally added to the three characteristics.

Indeed, context is primordial when reading classical Chinese :slight_smile:

Thanks again!

Thank you for the link!

(This book was on my to buy list from Motilal. I will still order it though, it is very interesting.)