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(1) According to Rob Burbea in Seeing That Frees, "both the neither-one-nor-many reasoning and the sevenfold reasoning are among the practices capable of revealing the emptiness of matter even at the most basic levels."

Regarding the neither-one-nor-many practice, he goes on to say: "Even if we imagine down to the level of subatomic particles, these will necessarily have parts facing in different directions, or interacting with other particles in this or that direction. Anything that occupies space must have parts.

Postulating the existence of a partless particle that would be truly singular will not work. It would be impossible to arrange or amass such particles in order to form any thing from them. Having no differentiable sides, other particles could not be arranged either side of it. Such a particle would not be able to bond or interact with other particles in any direction. All the surrounding particles would contact the central particle at the same point, and all effectively occupy the same space. Nothing with any extension could ever come to be."

When I imagine a partless particle, I simply think of a sphere. I can't see how the reasons he states refute that possibility. He seems to think that a partless particle could not possess mass, or would just be an infinitely small point. Why could it not just be a sphere that can't be divided any further?

(2) Two of the quotations he uses:

"The element of earth has no nature of its own." (Prajnaparamita Sutra)

"Matter itself is void. Voidness does not result from the destruction of matter, but the nature of matter is itself voidness." (Vimalkirtinirdesa Sutra)

What are the other "practices capable of revealing the emptiness of matter even at the most basic levels?" Specifically this belief in the inherent existence of the "element of earth", i.e. sub-atomic particles.

  • I am mostly here to learn and don't have a major background, so I won't put this in an answer, but I think your first thought is missing the other half of what he says - that even if it can't break down further, it has to connect to something else, and when it does, it then has variation where it does. – Radhil Jan 9 '15 at 1:10
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    I simply think of a sphere I think he's claiming that because a sphere has sides (e.g. top, bottom, left, right, front, back) then each such 'side' is a different 'part'. He's also claiming that a 'partless' i.e. dimensionless point particle which occupies no space could not be aggregated with other such particles to form a space-occupying aggregate. – ChrisW Jan 9 '15 at 1:40
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    Actually, I think this is off topic. I know there are books that try to say subatomic physics supports Buddhism or Taoism or whatever and I think they are a special sort of bunk. If you think you understand, you don't understand quantum physics : en.wikiquote.org/wiki/… Ditto on if Buddhism supports or refutes the efficacy of antibiotics, the boiling point of water, the nature of black holes, etc. – MatthewMartin Jan 11 '15 at 3:08
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In this paragraph:

Postulating the existence of a partless particle that would be truly singular will not work. It would be impossible to ... Having no differentiable sides, ... Such a particle would not be able to ... All the surrounding particles would ... Nothing with any extension could ever come to be.

The author is, in my estimation (I have no familiarity with the book or the author), doing one of two things:

  1. Confusing Buddhism with Physics. Whether this particle is this or that particle is that, it won't help you become a better person and understand your mental reality any better. Although the above quoted paragraph would make an interesting question on physics.stackexchange.com.

  2. Speaking poetically in order to help the reader become absorbed with the idea. Perhaps this is the case.

During an course I attended under the name "Introduction to Asian Philosophy", my professor explained emptiness as a flashy way of reminding us that we only define things in relation to what they are not. Nirvana is defined as everything Samsara is not, therefore Nirvana is "empty of essential qualities". Similarly, Samsara is meaningless without a Nirvana to compare it to. This logic can be extended to all entities and concepts: Without night there can be no day, without a whole there can't be parts, etc.

You may or may or not you agree with this reasoning, but for me it's a practical interpretation of the doctrine of emptiness that helps us to not cling to our perceptions of what things are.

In other words, as R. Barzell says in the comment below, Is emptiness ontology, or a way of seeing to free us from the bondage of concepts? Is treating emptiness as ontology missing the point?

Lastly,

What are the other "practices capable of revealing the emptiness of matter even at the most basic levels?" Specifically this belief in the inherent existence of the "element of earth", i.e. sub-atomic particles.

Meditation will probably help, as it gradually helps the practitioner become free from the limitations of language, thoughts, and concepts. The better we understand the way our minds work, the less we can be obstructed by our minds.

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    Great answer! Is the original question a case of emptiness run amok? Is emptiness ontology, or a way of seeing to free us from the bondage of concepts? Is treating emptiness as ontology missing the point? Is our view of subatomic particles relevant to our suffering? On the other hand, if our problem is an all-encompassing conceptualization, then is an all-encompassing emptiness the solution? Is there such a thing as a harmless concept? – R. Barzell Jan 10 '15 at 2:10
  • Thanks. It looks like you're summarizing my answer; I might try to incorporate it. – Anthony Jan 10 '15 at 2:31
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    I think you're saying that the author isn't very helpful. I wonder whether there's any more helpful explanation in the (or of the) original Prajnaparamita Sutra and/or Vimalkirtinirdesa Sutra which the author used as a basis/reference ... do these contain better explanations of (or 'practices capable of revealing') emptiness? – ChrisW Jan 10 '15 at 8:58
  • Well, my ignorance of Mahayana may be showing. I'm only versed in Theravada concepts. The professor showed us the mula-madhyamaka-karika, IIRC. – Anthony Jan 10 '15 at 15:16
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Kalapas are sub atomic particles in Buddhism. Also there is a space element between the particles.

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