From the different answers that I have received on various questions that I've asked, I have come to the following ideas:
According to Mahayana Madhyamaka emptiness (shunyata), all phenomena is empty of intrinsic essence (svabhava), and even this emptiness itself is empty of intrinsic essence. However, this intrinsic essence appears to be the essence given to phenomena by reification or objectification-classification (papanca). So this means that my mental idea of how some phenomena is, is not how it actually is.
Now, Nirvana is not a sankhara (conditioned and/or compounded thing) but it is also empty, in the sense that it is empty of the essence given to it by reification. So this means that my mental idea of how Nirvana is, is not how it actually is.
Even "emptiness is empty" means that my mental idea of how Mahayana emptiness is, is not how it actually is.
This is interesting, because it does not mean that a chair, a dog and Nirvana are mind-independently unreal or non-existent according to Madhyamaka. Rather, the mental idea that I have of a chair, a dog and Nirvana is unreal or non-existent.
Now in Theravada, all suffering is related to clinging. Clinging is always related to the self, as seen in this answer. According to Sutta Nipata 4.14 (below), the root of all reification or objectification-classification (papañca) is "I am the thinker".
Seeing in what way is a monk unbound, clinging to nothing in the world?"
"He should put an entire stop to the root of objectification-classifications (papañca):
'I am the thinker.'
The perception, "I am the thinker" lies at the root of these classifications in that it reads into the immediate present a set of distinctions — I/not-I; being/not-being; thinker/thought; identity/non-identity — that then can proliferate into mental and physical conflict. The conceit inherent in this perception thus forms a fetter on the mind. To become unbound, one must learn to examine these distinctions — which we all take for granted — to see that they are simply assumptions that are not inherent in experience, and that we would be better off to be able to drop them.
Also from MN 1 (below), an arahant who is fully liberated from suffering would see phenomena as they truly are, without reification where his mental idea of phenomena associates it with his self (of persons). This is apparently also known as tathata.
“Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu who is an arahant with taints destroyed, who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached his own goal, destroyed the fetters of being, and is completely liberated through final knowledge, he too directly knows earth as earth. Having directly known earth as earth, he does not conceive himself as earth, he does not conceive himself in earth, he does not conceive himself apart from earth, he does not conceive earth to be ‘mine,’ he does not delight in earth. Why is that? Because he has fully understood it, I say.
According to the Suñña Sutta, the five aggregates are empty of a self (of persons), including that they have no association with self (of persons). All reified mental ideas are mental fabrications (sankhara), so they too are empty of a self (of persons).
So, linking the Mahayana Madhyamaka emptiness to the Theravada emptiness, I can say that all phenomena is empty of a mentally reified intrinsic essence, where this reification or objectification-classification is rooted in "I am the thinker". Thanissaro Bhikkhu explains this as "the perception, 'I am the thinker' lies at the root of these classifications in that it reads into the immediate present a set of distinctions — I/not-I; being/not-being; thinker/thought; identity/non-identity — that then can proliferate into mental and physical conflict." I take it here that "I am the thinker" creates a duality between self (of persons) and non-self (of persons) that creates mental and physical conflict.
So, since Mahayana emptiness says that all phenomena is empty of mentally reified essence, and since all reification is rooted in a self (of persons), and Theravada emptiness states that all phenomena is empty of a self (of persons), then these two definitions of emptiness could be logically linked in this way.
Furthermore, the enlightened one who sees the Theravada emptiness of all phenomena through wisdom, will also simultaneously see the Mahayana emptiness of all phenomena, due to having his reification (papanca) ended, due to having his fetters concerning a self (of persons) uprooted. So, the enlightened one sees things as they truly are, which apparently is called tathata.
Both these emptiness seem to be connected together in Bahiya Sutta (Udana 1.10):
"Then, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress."
I believe my description of the Theravada doctrine above is correct, but I am not sure if my description of the Mahayana Madhyamaka doctrine above is correct or not.
So, my questions are:
Is the Mahayana Madhyamaka doctrine described above correct?
Would this linking of Mahayana Madhyamaka emptiness to Theravada emptiness according to the description above make sense to you, as a Mahayana or Theravada Buddhist? Or am I missing something?