Following on from this question...

Is everything (according to Buddhism etc etc) that is empirically adequate a "unique particular".

If we found something "empirically adequate" that could not be expressed in those terms, then would it make Buddhism pure myth etc.?

And if not, we can pick and choose doctrine or at least not always take it on face value, how would you reconcile it with Buddhist doctrine.

I'm not asking about practice, but philosophy :) Thanks !

  • 2
    I've never previously heard the expression "unique particular". Google suggests it's a term Svalakṣaṇa used/defined by Dharmakīrti et. al.
    – ChrisW
    Mar 3, 2015 at 5:21
  • yeah pretty sure i meant it that way. but, it's not unique to that school, the concept I THINK, even if the expression was his coinage
    – user2512
    Mar 3, 2015 at 5:22
  • 1
    You should never take doctrine on face value.
    – user2341
    Mar 4, 2015 at 13:16
  • i'm a bit disappointed / confused as to why this has so many down votes, it totally makes sense
    – user2512
    Jun 7, 2016 at 21:44

2 Answers 2


The problem as I understand it.

This is a question is ultimately about substantiation.

In using the term unique particular, you seem to be referring to the notion that there may be some sort of irreducible particle, a particle that would give objects and phenomena (dharmas) true substance, or something that would be conceptually equivalent to a true ... say "atom" that allows us to build a "true" chair. The issue at hand being, of course, that since objects all are found to be empty upon final examination, that we still have to contend with where apparent "chariness" comes from, and therefore also all such-ness, "that"-ness, and ultimately the phenomenological experience of the apparent self. The existence of such a particular would have far reaching implications and consequences.

This style of inquiry is a search for svabhava, true self-substance. It is looking for the thing that exists from it's own side, a truly independent phenomena, the source of substance in the world. It is equivalent to the search for a substantive true self, and to the search for the god particle. It's hunting the Unicorn. Since we cannot find such a thing in the macroscopic reality, or simply the everyday world of objects and events, the notion that there is a fundamental, unique, and "bare" particular underneath it all, acting as the building block, would seem to solve the dilemma of the inherent uneasiness found in coming to terms with an "appearance only" based reality, particularly for the realists. Here is where the Buddhist "atomists" come from, and consequentially all fundamental materialists.

The logical conclusion of that solution to the problem...

The problem is that such a unique, or bare particular would still be an individual in possession of the characteristics of bareness, uniqueness, and particular-ness as its intrinsic nature, and to find the true individual behind the characteristics, or to find the individual holding that nature, it would have to be stripped back down beyond said qualities that it therefore has, requiring another bare/unique particular behind it to give it substance. We have to follow this chain of inquiry back infinity, never finding a termination point.

This issue is very skillfully dissected in Jan Westerhoff's Nāgārjuna‘s Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction, published by Oxford Press.

"...if it is a bare particular by svabhāva and being a bare particular is therefore its intrinsic nature ... we can ask what the individual is in which being a bare particular inheres, and then we are well on our way to an infinite regress... we have to assume that the individual has some determinate nature due to which it is a bearer of its properties and the difficulty will just reappear with whatever we take such a nature to be."

So, if we have an individual, and that individual has the property of being a bare, or unique particular, then without that property what ground does that individual stand on? It's the same as saying that a chair cannot exist without its characteristics, and the characteristics do not exist as such without the chair. This is, from a Madhamaka point of view, the fundamental meaning of co-dependent origination, so from such a perspective if such a thing were to be found, that that would stand against the core Buddhist doctrine of sunyata.


The bare particular is landed on when examining an absolute creator, an absolute substance, a true, objective reality, the existence of real time, a true (meaning complete and consistent) axiomatic system, etc...

In the specific case of the bare particular it is shown that such a conceptualization is absurd, since we can conceive of a bare particular, but it falls into a co-dependent relationship with itself via its characteristics, and cannot exist outside of, or independent from mental conceptualization. In other words, it is mind dependent, and because of this, and the fact that this is essentially the only way to get at substance, so is every other level of such-ness, regards to the chair, or the self. You see? Without mind, without conceptualization inferring the existence of substance, of chariness, of self, there is no substance to be found, anywhere, with anything, beyond emptiness via dependent origination.

This is vast emptiness. This is the display of the true power of the mind and delusion. Somewhere, it is building the house, and the house has as its nature impermanence and suffering. The logical consequence, and final legitimate course of action is practice. So theory and practice do inform one another.


Such a particular would break causality, as a true existent cannot be altered from its nature, and cannot therefore be interacted with. IN order for something to be causally potent, it has to be empty.

Such a particular would also mean that there is inherency in life, absolute positions, a central way and meaning of life, and therefore true hierarchies of values in terms of absolute right and wrong, etc. It would, as an eventual consequence of this, justify all atrocity.

Also, the atom is a great example because it breaks down into these sub-atomic particles that blink in and out of existence, exiting as wave/particle "things" with only probable substance, and no absolute essence beyond, or apart from, the probable.

Your question

Since empirically adequate simply means that a statement is such "if and only if everything that it says about observable entities is true", we have to ask, "what makes a true entity?" If we are going to ask that, we fall back on looking for the bare particular. In co-dependent origination we cannot find any true entities, so it becomes non-codependent non-origination from a certain light. So there is nothing "true" in an absolute sense to observe, just samsara. Because of this, every so called empirically adequate statement we could make about the observable universe would be a relative, conventional truth only. So, no. Empirically adequate does not, indeed cannot equate to unique particular, since it is a referent to conventional reality only, and therefore dependent.

The result of this is that we can regard all dharmas as dreams, and people have spent a great deal of their practice hours studying this approach. It is, as I understand this, the heart of such things as the Diamond Cutter.

TL;DR An empirically adequate statement can only refer to conventional reality, and as such, is a convectional truth and conventional designation itself, dependent on phenomena for existence, and therefore no... it is not a bare particular, or "true existent", or unique particular, or absolute truth as you posit. Such a thing cannot exist to begin with.This is a core fundamental of Buddhist thought, at least beginning with folks like Nagarjuna. We could assume all dharma's to be, in this way, empirically adequate, ultimately empty themselves. This is what makes Buddhist thought so sublime, and keeps the system legitimate. It is, in my understanding, the philosophical perfection in the system, and an important component of what makes it rise above "mere philosophy."

  • If I understand your last paragraph properly, Buddhism says: "If you are looking for the Truth, you will not find it here!" This is what makes Buddhism worth learning. "If it were not to be laughed at, it would not be sufficient to be The Tao."
    – user2341
    Mar 4, 2015 at 13:33
  • I think it is more to the point to say that if you are looking for a final truth, then that truth is emptiness via dependent origination, no matter where you look. It is that empirically adequate statements can only be adequate in terms of conveying conventional truths, not absolute truth. The absolute or final truth about any phenomena is emptiness, or lack of inherent substance. So, contrary to your point, there is truth everywhere, if you know how to you look. Buddhism is more of a dialogue, or an instruction in how to look and see clearly. Also, Tao is Taoism, and is not found in Buddhism.
    – Joshp.23
    Mar 5, 2015 at 17:00
  • If only we would teach people this before they begin school, the world would be a better place. There is an idea in science that you can only explain things in terms of what they are not. This makes all knowledge ultimately - not circular - but broken. I know the Tao reference was not exactly on-topic, I was trying to bring in what I thought was a similar concept.
    – user2341
    Mar 5, 2015 at 23:18
  • Teaching interdependence as a core part of a primary education would be great. Instructing our children in how to pay attention to the quality of their relationship with the world, how to listen to themselves and allow themselves to change, as opposed to clinging to self construct and all that feeds it, this would have a profound effect on society. The idea that we define things by what they are not (interdependence) is a complimentary truth, not necessarily implying that all is knowledge broken, just not absolute. We only need to acknowledge the two truths, that conventional truths are empty.
    – Joshp.23
    Mar 5, 2015 at 23:48
  • Adding in this as a separate comment, If you are interested in comparing emptiness in Taoism to emptiness in Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor explores this in his "Verses from the Center" which is an exploration of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, which is the book, that Jay Westerhoff was working with in my quote above. I highly recommend exploring it, but strongly suggest doing so with guidance.
    – Joshp.23
    Mar 5, 2015 at 23:57

Wow, lots of thought devoted to an experiential reality. I am tempted to say that you can't think your way to understanding, but I like your question, and the fullness of the answer so far. Good effort.

I recently read a book By Ellen Birx, who is a recognized Buddhist teacher (the book is called Selfless Love). I am not a Buddhist, and not Zen in particular, but I find much accord with my personal experience there. So, in one chapter she talks about "Particularity", which I think is the opposite of what you mean by "unique particular". I would urge you to turn you idea around and see that absolutely all that we experience is unique, arising only once, with nothing whatsoever to back it up or that it springs from, depends on, was born of, dies back in to... There is no "there" there. There is only Experience (and the Void, of course). If you see a unique thing, event, person... it is a particular in the infinite flow of what is. It cannot help but be a unique, singular, once-ever-happening thing, because that is what Reality IS. A flow of this this this this with no organizing principle or framework behind it AT ALL.

Stop looking behind the rainbow to see what it is made of. See it.

  • I liked in the movie "Lucy" where she said, "We never really die." So beautiful!
    – user2341
    Mar 4, 2015 at 13:26
  • From "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" by Gary Zukav: "If you are a happy person, then that is what you perfectly are—a happy person. If you are an unhappy person, then that is what you perfectly are—an unhappy person. ... That which is is that which is. That which is not is that which is."
    – user2341
    Mar 6, 2015 at 1:02

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