The Void of Self-Nature

I was looking at a Chinese text in the Taishō Canon (I won’t say which for certain reasons) and I encountered a phrase that I read as “the void of self-nature” because an uncommon rendering for “emptiness” was used.

If you were told, “Self-nature is a great void,” would that be the same to you as the phrase “The nature of the self is empty (of natures)?”

Are “The nature of the self is empty (of all)” and “(All) natures are without selfhood” equivalent or divergent phrases for you?


They are equivalent divergences not leading to peace without wishes:

DN33:1.11.162: Four kinds of grasping: grasping at sensual pleasures, views, precepts and observances, and theories of a self



Does this refer to (an)atta?

To say self is a void (sunyataa?) is not the same as atta is empty (ie anatta) or atta is devoid of characteristics.

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“Self-nature” was likely the word “svābhāva.”

I guess that’s the issue, yes. Is “self is void” and “self is empty” the same thing?

I think they are, and that this is an issue of connotation/denotation. But I’m open to being wrong.

Is that the self is empty a theory of self, though? It gets tricky. Certainly, in a handful of tricky places, “there is no self,” as a view, is polemicized against.


I think the minefield extends into all concepts about “self is X” or “self is not X”. Theories are just elaborate concepts.

The escape is a robust negation, ‘THIS is not mine, I am not THIS, THIS is not my self.’ :man_shrugging:

After reading DN1, I realized that people way smarter and skilled than I have vastly more experience with views about self. Yet the Buddha rejects all such views as hindrances on the path.


“This is not me, thus is not mine…” is applied to the aggregates.
But in the suttas there is nothing “outside” or “beneath” the aggregates, so isn’t this still a view or position about self? The view that there isn’t one?

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I’m not sure, to be quite honest. “The self is empty” is a view, but oftentimes “is empty” gets a special Buddhist exception to normal rules and procedures about the thicket of views.

For instance, “all phenomena are empty” is a view concerning “all phenomena” and “emptiness,” and “the aggregates are not the self” is a view about both the aggregates and the self. Tricky tricky.

The question “Empty or void of what?” is perhaps worth asking. Presumably empty of own-nature, or independent existence?

Probably a self, one supposes.

Likely empty or void of the same thing that all phenomena are empty/void of, which is to say: a poorly established “something.” The Buddhist MacGuffin to Bodhi.

For some answers, SuttaCentral (this one describes a few ways in which “the world is empty”). This one, SuttaCentral, claims to expound a definitive meaning for the notion of “emptiness” in general. A heavy feat.


Actually, the practice of “this is not mine…” doesn’t assert any particular view of self:

  • It can be used by those who firmly believe in self (e.g., “that’s your car not my car”).
  • It can be used by those who firmly deny self (e.g., “of course that’s not the self because there is no self”)
  • It can be used by those without wishes (e.g., “that is not my hunger”)

In other words, we can ALL look at some things and say, “This is not mine.”
The Buddha simply suggests that we make it our practice to do so. It’s a practice that sidesteps all views.


I think we need to remember that in the suttas this formula is always applied to the aggregates. So the aggregates are not self, ie the aggregates are not me or mine.
But in the suttas there is nothing but the aggregates, nothing to which not-self isn’t applied. For that reason I don’t agree this formula is sidestepping a view of self. On the contrary, I think its taking a position.
The opposite position here would be to say that the aggregates are me and mine, to say they are self.
Alternatively to add a caveat, to say the aggregates are not self, but there is something “outside” the aggregates which could be self. But the suttas don’t include that caveat.

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I actually couldn’t find that particular assertion verbatim when I looked (can you help me?). I understand that our experiences are all through the sense fields, but that is different than asserting that there is nothing else.

However, I did find something related in DN1, which discusses views of the self and not-self (I.e. cosmos). So the cosmos in DN1 is basically “all that out there”. In DN1, the Buddha doesn’t actually affirm or deny views about the cosmos, he just calls them traps. So, yes, it’s definitely taking a position. That position taken neither asserts nor denies self or cosmos. Those views are detailed in DN1 as traps. Avoiding the traps we have:

DN1:3.73.1: The Realized One’s body remains, but his attachment to rebirth has been cut off.

For me this entire thread has been an eerie echo of DN1. :thinking:

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SN35.85 unambiguously says that world is empty of a self. Which means The All is empty of a self (see the Sabba Sutta).

This looks very much like a position, or view, or theory. It’s asserting an absence.

I’m not sure I see the relevance of DN1 here.


Very cool. Thanks!

Both SN35.85 and DN1 use loka for “world/cosmos”. Studying SN35.85 and DN1 together seems quite interesting. I’ll go ponder some more. Thanks for the link. I have to chase a neutral feeling!

DN1:3.36.1: Tatra, bhikkhave, ye te samaṇabrāhmaṇā adhiccasamuppannikā adhiccasamuppannaṃ attānañca lokañca paññapenti dvīhi vatthūhi, tadapi tesaṃ bhavataṃ samaṇabrāhmaṇānaṃ ajānataṃ apassataṃ vedayitaṃ taṇhāgatānaṃ paritassitavipphanditameva.
DN1:3.36.1: or they assert that the self and the cosmos arose by chance on two grounds …


The self-view contains the two extremes: “everything exists” (sabbam atthiiti) and “everything does not exist” (sabbam natthiiti), according to SN 22.90 and SN 12.15. So, each of the sense spheres (i.e. the world) is empty of self (SN 35. 85) also means it is empty of the two extremes: “existence” and “non-existence”, “eternalism” and “nihilism”.

But the texts, SN 22.90 and SN 12.15, centre mainly on practice and experience for individuals in a practical sense rather than on idealistic and systematic theory.

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Is “you” the general reader or translation experts?

Answering as someone who just knows English well, I would accept all of these as rough/sufficient equivalents.

[Written >24hrs ago, got queued in the crash.]


Anyone, anyone at all!


Working with the English provided:


Roughly equivalent.


For me, the above all are ingredients in impermanence soup.