Doctrines and rituals

Emptiness (Skt. shunyata, Chin. kong, Jap. ku) is a key concept in Mahayana Buddhism. It maintains that all things are in essence ‘empty’, that is, without ‘being’, ‘self-nature’, or substance. However, this does not mean that things do not exist. Rather, it points to the notion that nothing grows from itself and that nothing remains the same forever. All things are temporary phenomena that only arise and pass in conjunction with other phenomena.


«Buddha himself taught different levels of emptiness. But generally, emptiness means the lack of true existence of the ‘object of negation.’ –[…] Now, according to ‘Madhyamika’ [the philosophy of the ‘middle way’], generally, emptiness is the absence of independent existence. So, this means that ‘something’ exists, and emptiness is one of the qualifications and characteristics of that which exists. […] Now, let us take the example of the tape recorder, and investigate: what is the actual nature of the tape recorder? If you look at the shape, material and color of the tape recorder separately, there is no longer the existence of ‘tape recorder.’ – So, you see, although there ‘is’ a tape recorder, if we investigate its individual qualities and characteristics, we can’t find it. Then you can see that ‘tape recorder’ is a mere designation.»1

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, 2013


1 Amy Edelstein, Interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 3 August 2013,, last accessed 24. 09. 2018.