Recent exchange here got me thinking. Nagarjuna's karika, 1.3 (Batchelor)

Na hi svabhāvo bhāvānāṃ pratyayādiṣu vidyate

Avidyamāne svabhāve parabhāvo na vidyate

The essence of things does not exist in conditions and so on.

If an own thing does not exist, an other thing does not exist.

There is a venerable tradition of different interpretations of Nagarjuna, based on "the two truths".

Can that phrase be read to mean emptiness does not exist in non-emptiness: if and only if an own thing does not exist in non-emptiness then an other thing does not exist in emptiness

So the first phrase says that emptiness is empty in the sense that the absence of svabhava does not exist in things. After that, that whenever a self caused thing cannot be found, then there is no other empty thing.

I don't think it's a normal interpretation?

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For the purposes of my philosophical question elsewhere (a neat argument for karma and rebirth) I have rendered 'empty' to mean 'analytic' and 'non-empty' to mean empirical.

Definition of analytic. Of or relating to analysis or analytics especially : separating something into component parts or constituent elements.

Definition of empirical. Based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

  • 1
    I cannot understand the question. You ask some good ones but often they take some untangling. Perhaps others will know what you mean.
    – user14119
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 11:58
  • 1
    The linked question on philosophy stack exchange is helpful in untangling it. I think I understand the arguments in the linked scholarship, but still have not understood the leap from that to this particular verse and the connection to karma and rebirth. Will answer if/when I do.
    – user13375
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 12:23
  • i very much look forward to your reply @YesheTenley
    – user2512
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 12:24
  • What are things empty of? What is the actual object of negation? In my understanding, this is very clear and has a definite answer. It is a very specific thing that Nagarjuna and Buddha has in mind when they says things are empty of it. Emptiness is not to be interpreted as a general sort of emptiness. Is that the way you also see it?
    – user13375
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 20:58
  • clearer now @YesheTenley
    – user2512
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 2:24

6 Answers 6


Subtleties... The concept of emptiness is a mental object that is predicated on other things. We only get to the concept of emptiness by seeing through and negating the fullness (meaningfulness) of other concepts.

The experience of emptiness in not predicated on the concept of it. To experience emptiness is to see that 'emptiness' is no more real than 'fullness'.

If one holds the concept of a thing-in-its-own-right (an 'own thing'), one must hold the concept of its negation (that which is 'not-such'). If one holds the concept of a negation, one must hold a concept of that which has been negated (a thing-in-its-own-right). So what lies beneath those concepts?


I've asked a question about philosophical reasoning from this phrase. Suffice to say I was wondering if it can be read as an argument for a karmically conditioned rebirth

Its the opposite. When there is no essence of things nor in conditions, there can be no "rebirth".

  • that's nihilism -1
    – user2512
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 2:31
  • i mean it's not an awful reply, i'm being dogmatic really. but yeah
    – user2512
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 6:27
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    its not nihilism. you do not know what annihilationism means in Buddhism Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 8:00
  • Ajita Kesakambala followed Gosāla as the third teacher mentioned by Ajatashatru. Kesakambala followed "ucchedaditthi" (often translated as nihilism or annihilationism) and is frequently understood to be a materialist. Kesakambala held that all in existence was merely the process of natural phenomena and vehemently denied the existence of any life after death; "A man is built up of the four elements', when he dies, earth returns to the aggregate of earth, water to water, fire to fire, air to air, and the senses vanish into space."
    – user2512
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 11:04

don't think too much :).

The essence of things does not exist in conditions and so on.

It simply means "there is no self or eternal-self within and behind causes & conditions".

For eg. sometimes when a meditator sees everything with non-existence(wave nature) eye, perception of there is nothing occurs but the seer itself is having a materialistic aspect also, so meditator might develop an essence of eternalism or self as view.

Another simple eg. Considering buddha to be as immortal_existing_being as god; considering dhamma to be immortal_existing_being as child of god.

  • nice idea ha... sorry i didn't upvote
    – user2512
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 7:14

I presume you equate emptiness with analysis because on analysis things are empty, and non-emptiness with 'empirical' because to our senses things are non-empty. Is that it?

Thus our senses lead us into naive realism, while analysis leads us out again.

The complication would be experience, which some folk classify as 'empirical' and some don't. Thus we could say emptiness is an empirical discovery.

You ask - Can that phrase be read to mean emptiness does not exist in non-emptiness: if and only if an own thing does not exist in non-emptiness then an other thing does not exist in emptiness

Nagarjuna is clear. Nothing really exists. The words after the colon here seem a muddle to me. Emptiness is not a thing that exists.

The discussion is tricky because emptiness may be an ontological term applied to phenomena or meditative states, or in Theravada may be a term for non-self.

In Mahayana it is the idea that all things are empty of intrinsic existence, or it may refer to the emptiness of original awareness. For the former it may be helpful to consider Kant's 'thing-in-itself', and this may be the 'emptiness of analysis' you speak of. By analysis Kant concluded things are empty of inherent existence and consist only of perceived attributes. I see him as providing a bridge between 'Western' and 'Eastern' or 'non-dual' thinking in this respect.

I'm just pondering the issues generally because I still cannot quite understand what's being asked. I wonder if the question is assuming emptiness is a phenomena.

  • ok. that's a shame, because to me my language is clearer than nagarjuna's and garfield's. i guess that's normal
    – user2512
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 11:24
  • I find Garfield unsatisfactory and much too wordy. I would recommend 'The Sun of Wisdom: Teachings on Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way' by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamptso. It's short and clear.
    – user14119
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 10:32
  • On the contrary: "To think ‘it is,’ is eternalism, To think ‘it is not,’ is nihilism: Being and non-being, The wise cling not to either." Nagarjuna rejects positive and negative assertions about whether things exist.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 12:26

The argument -- for karma -- is that causes have essences in the exact same way as they bring about their effects

The essence of things does not exist in conditions and so on... Since there is no effect, what could [be its] non-conditions or conditions?

One answer -- to the rhetorical question -- is that the essence of things is their conditions and so on. The essence of things do not exist in conditions, fire is not fire because it burns leaves, but are those conditions (what births another thing): fire is fire because it burns -- leaves in the same way as itself.

I don't think that's anti-Buddhist. As long as we're clear that's only conventionally, and ultimately there is no causation and I am not the same thing before and after I am reborn.


That is a highly eccentric use of analytic and empirical, that can only cause confusion. Analytic truth typically means truth by definition, or from definition. Empirical, from observation, or events. Both depend on causes and conditions, and their results lack inherent nature.

"To think ‘it is,’ is eternalism,

To think ‘it is not,’ is nihilism:

Being and non-being,

The wise cling not to either."

-Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 15:10

Emptiness is, of inherent nature. Nagarjuna is refuting metaphysical speculation about identity and essences, using the four corners of the catuskoti. This is pointing at the insufficiency of our intuitions, of our terminology, such as to 'not even be wrong'. Another term for emptiness is inter-being. And a powerful metaphor is Indra's Net.

This article draws comparison between what Nagarjuna is doing & other philosophers, which I think helps clarify how he is 'using words to escape words'. What Dogen drew attention to in the Shobogenzo fascicle 'On the Vines That Entangle: the Vines That Embrace' (available here), as words and thinking not as arguments to create a 'thicket of views', but as a practice: dedicated to awakening.

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