When Buddhists speak of a
thing or person being `empty' we really mean empty of inherent existence'.
So what is this`inherent existence' that it is so important to
I've been trying to get my empty head around
what an inherently existing object would be like. Here's a few ideas:
(1) An inherently existing entity exists in splendid isolation without the need to
reference any other entity. It is completely defined by its own nature.
(2) An inherently existing entity is uncaused.
(3) It is indestructible.
(4) It is eternal.
(5) It is unchanging when viewed externally.
(6) It cannot undergo any internal changes of state.
(7) It either has no constituent parts, or if it has parts those parts are inseparable.
(8) Consequently, nothing can be ejected or removed from it.
(9) Nothing can be added to it (this would change its definition).
(10) No change in external conditions (up to and including the destruction of the entire
universe) can affect it.
Inherent existence of mathematics
I used to think that mathematics might be inherently existent, but from my
limited knowledge of Goedel's theorem, I understand that no system of mathematics can be
completely self-defined, and must always reference something external to itself.
Inherent existence of God
God might be another candidate for an inherently existing entity, but if he were
truly inherently-existent he could never undergo a change of state in response to external
conditions (eg become angry at sinners/infidels and send plagues, pestilences, shaheeds
etc to destroy them). Neither would it matter to him whether he was worshipped or not, for
no external factor could in the slightest degree affect him.
Also, if God is omnipotent, he has the power to destroy everything, including himself. So
even God must be empty of inherent existence because his continued existence is contingent
on his not committing suicide.
Invisibility of an inherently existent object
Returning to point (5), a physical, inherently existing object probably couldn't
be viewed because the physics of viewing requires the electrons in the object to interact
with the photons of light, which would require a rearrangement of the 'parts' of the
object. Hence the object would be altered by external conditions.
Also, all physical objects are composed of particles of various sorts, and all particles
are changed by being known (Heisenberg, dual wave/particle nature, entanglement etc.) So
no physical object could ever be inherently existent, as it is composed entirely of parts
which are dependently-related to the knower ( and some very weird things happen when you
try to find the 'true nature' of fundamental particles.)
Possibly a more abstract object could be known without viewing, in the same way that a
mathematical entity such as 'Pi' can be known without being physically viewed.
Not that Pi or any other mathematical function is inherently existent. Pi depends upon the
circumference and diameter of a circle. All mathematical entities are imperfect,
incomplete and make Goedelian 'external references'.