Maybe a strange question, but I wonder if emptiness (sunyatta) is also a characteristic of the state of nirvana?

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    – Hrafn
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 20:31

6 Answers 6


Yes, but if you look around nirvana is right here, right now. Nirvana is simply heaven on earth.

You might read The Heart Sutra Explained by Donald S. Lopez. It explains the fullness and emptiness of shunyata.



Emptiness characterizes everything, including Nirvana and even emptiness itself.

Have you read the Heart Sutra? I highly recommend that for an example of the all-permeating nature of emptiness.


Actually, Nirvana... is something beyond emptiness. Emptiness (sunyata) is the stopping phase of cultivation. Nirvana is the "seeing" phase, where you transcend even that stopping, which is a type of total non-existence, still dual.

Nirvana is beyond all dualism. It is not existence nor non-existence. Heart sutra is reccommended.

Nirvana is a synonym for the enlightened state. The Enlightened state is beyond non-existence ("emptiness") and existence (experiencing the skandhas) and is capable of existing and exercising its function anywhere, no matter what, be it in hell or heaven. N onetheless, we must experience both sides fully, existence and non-existence before we can enter into the non-dual, indescribeable, open awareness of Nirvana.

Note: despite this, emptiness is still the first step, especially in this age where everyone is obsessed with materialism and existence. Finding emptiness IS the first step. You must make your mind empty and clear and must discover and BECOME emptiness, particularly through attainment of samadhi before you can truly succeed on the vipassana path. Of course, others have differing perspectives saying that "dry insight" is enough to get to Nirvana but I don't think it's that easy or even reliable as a path.

Calm your mind (emptiness, samatha practice, focus your mind on clarity), and see (Nirvana, vipassana, let go of everything and just witness).

  • Good answer, @Ahmed. (Also love your Cundi profile picture. )
    – Methexis
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 18:42
  • 1
    @Methexis thank you! hail mommy buddha accepting of all as-is, can be chanted anywhere :)
    – Ahmed
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 21:04

I think not: because "empty" is a characteristic of 'conditioned' phenomena, but nirvana is unconditioned.


Yes. Nirvana is empty in two ways.

Firstly, Nirvana is empty of a self. This is covered by "all phenomena are not self" (sabbe dhamma anatta from Dhp 279) and the Suñña Sutta.

Secondly, Nirvana is empty of the essence given to it by mental conceptualization / objectification-classification/ reification/ papanca. Please see this question for details.

MN 1 covers both, making the former a specialized case of the latter.


I have some analogies

  • A statement [expression] is eg 'xyz' and it is in & by itself empty of context other that what we give it for context and whatever context there may be, that context is empty of the expression. The expression is not context and context is not he expression.

  • A person's name or the name of a thing, is in & by itself empty of meaning. If we say a word in a foreign language it lacks a linguistic context and is meaningless. Meaning is not the same as the word.

  • Thinking in & by itself is empty, void and is without context [linguistic structure], as one can be thinking about anything, it is not thought of as being that which is thought about and is that word which is said to entertain the object [theme] of ideation.

That which is thought of as 'that which perceives', 'the perceived' & 'contact' are thought of as the context in which that which is thought about is thought to occur.

It is said 'delusion is making of limits' one needs a context for an expression and context limits it, it collapses the probablity function and it becomes 'a special case' of expression contextualized.

Nibbana can be spoken of in several ways;

  • as to it being approached
  • as to the effect of approaching
  • as the principle which is seen by approaching
  • as the principle upon which one is said to become absorbed
  • as to emerging from said absorbtion
  • as being a destruction of delusion
  • as a removal of delusion which is a narrative & a making of limits
  • as that which is void of delusion, void of limits, void of objects & objectifiction; one can speak like this in a qualified & definitive sense.
  • as the unobjectified, unborn, unspecified, uncollapsed, as being empty of this or that, as a freedom, as unrestricted, unrestricted as potential, as emptiness, as empty of change, empty of elements & variables.

therefore the categorical answer depends on the exact referent. EG

"Bhikkhus, there are these two Nibbana-elements. What are the two? The Nibbana-element with residue left and the Nibbana-element with no residue left.

"What, bhikkhus, is the Nibbana-element with residue left? Here a bhikkhu is an arahant, one whose taints are destroyed, the holy life fulfilled, who has done what had to be done, laid down the burden, attained the goal, destroyed the fetters of being, completely released through final knowledge. However, his five sense faculties remain unimpaired, by which he still experiences what is agreeable and disagreeable and feels pleasure and pain. It is the extinction of attachment, hate, and delusion in him that is called the Nibbana-element with residue left.

"Now what, bhikkhus, is the Nibbana-element with no residue left? Here a bhikkhu is an arahant... completely released through final knowledge. For him, here in this very life, all that is experienced, not being delighted in, will be extinguished. That, bhikkhus, is called the Nibbana-element with no residue left.

"These, bhikkhus, are the two Nibbana-elements."

These two Nibbana-elements were made known By the Seeing One, stable and unattached: One is the element seen here and now With residue, but with the cord of being destroyed; The other, having no residue for the future, Is that wherein all modes of being utterly cease.

Having understood the unconditioned state, Released in mind with the cord of being destroyed, They have attained to the Dhamma-essence. Delighting in the destruction (of craving), Those stable ones have abandoned all being.
Iti 44

When one speaks about the mind of the Arahant, it is void of delusion in a qualified sense but it is not the extinguishment principle which is a truth & reality by seeing which defilements come to an end and the attainment of final extinguishment which is an abandonment of all modes of being, context & expression. The mind of the Arahant is contextualized and is not thought of as not being a part of the story of the Arahant, contact and feelings which can be grasped with wrong view to be personal for the Arahant.

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