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Is the emptiness of persons an emptiness of their essence, which (I think) would be a defining characteristic, like how "fire" is always "hot", or just substance?

Do any Buddhist texts say no?

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In the Pali suttas, 'emptiness' ('sunnata') refers to emptiness of 'persons' or 'self' rather than emptiness of defining characteristics, which is why the Pali suttas state the five aggregates are empty, or the sense spheres are empty, or the elements (dhatu) are empty.

'Consciousness' does lose its defining characteristic of 'cognition'; the earth element does not lose its defining characteristic of solidity; the fire element does not lose its defining characteristic of heat; the Nibbana element does not lose its defining characteristic of peacefulness.

Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ananda, that the world is empty. And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self?

The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms... Eye-consciousness... Eye-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.

The ear is empty...

The nose is empty...

The tongue is empty...

The body is empty...

The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas... Intellect-consciousness... Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Thus it is said that the world is empty.

SN 35.85


And why, bhikkhus, do you call it form? ‘It is deformed,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called form. Deformed by what? Deformed by cold, deformed by heat, deformed by hunger, deformed by thirst, deformed by contact with flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and serpents. ‘It is deformed,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called form.

And why, bhikkhus, do you call it feeling? ‘It feels,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called feeling. And what does it feel? It feels pleasure, it feels pain, it feels neither-pain-nor-pleasure. ‘It feels,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called feeling.

And why, bhikkhus, do you call it perception? ‘It perceives,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called perception. And what does it perceive? It perceives blue, it perceives yellow, it perceives red, it perceives white. ‘It perceives,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called perception.

And why, bhikkhus, do you call them formations? ‘They construct the conditioned,’ bhikkhus, therefore they are called formations. And what is the conditioned that they construct? They construct conditioned form as form; they construct conditioned feeling as feeling; they construct conditioned perception as perception; they construct conditioned formations as formations; they construct conditioned consciousness as consciousness. ‘They construct the conditioned,’ bhikkhus, therefore they are called formations.

And why, bhikkhus, do you call it consciousness? ‘It cognizes, ’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called consciousness. And what does it cognize? It cognizes sour, it cognizes bitter, it cognizes pungent, it cognizes sweet, it cognizes sharp, it cognizes mild, it cognizes salty, it cognizes bland. ‘It cognizes,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called consciousness.

Therefore, bhikkhus, any kind of form whatsoever … Any kind of feeling whatsoever … Any kind of perception whatsoever … Any kind of formations whatsoever … Any kind of consciousness whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’

SN 22.79


And what is the earth property? The earth property can be either internal or external. What is the internal earth property? Anything internal, within oneself, that's hard, solid, & sustained [by nutriment]: head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, membranes, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, contents of the stomach, feces, or anything else internal, within oneself, that's hard, solid, and sustained: This is called the internal earth property. Now both the internal earth property & the external earth property are simply earth property. And that should be seen as it actually is present with right discernment: 'This is not mine, this is not me, this is not my self.'

MN 62

  • in what way if any are the five aggregates a self, one without substance i mean – sorta_buddhist Jan 22 '17 at 2:56
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    'self' is an idea or thought concept. refer to accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.081.than.html – Dhammadhatu Jan 22 '17 at 3:49
  • hmm thanks. what does it refer to, everything about the world?? – sorta_buddhist Jan 22 '17 at 4:57
  • 'self' is a personal pronoun. it does not related to things, like 'clouds', 'sky', 'earth', 'consciousness', etc. 'self' is the sense of 'me', 'mine', 'I', 'you', 'them', 'us', 'ours', etc. these personal references or beliefs cause suffering. but the 'sky' or a 'cloud' does not cause suffering, until it becomes "my cloud". regards – Dhammadhatu Jan 22 '17 at 6:18
  • so what does it refer it ? – sorta_buddhist Jan 22 '17 at 6:24
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Sabbo pajjalito loko, sabbo loko pakampito, pakampito

The entire world is burning, the entire world is vibrating, vibrating.

Source: Sīsūpa­cālā­therī­gāthā, Upacālāsutta

The entire physical structure and entire mental structure is is just wavelets of vibration and heat. There is not solidity are where, thus can be considered empty.

Also see: Closing Talk by S.N. Goenka (and Presentation of the First Volumes of Tipitaka in Devanagari script)

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