Madhyamaka also known as Śūnyavāda (the emptiness doctrine) refers to a tradition of Buddhist philosophy.

Rig Veda I.170.1 says

na nūnamasti no śvaḥ kastad veda yadadbhutam | anyasyacittamabhi saṃcareṇyamutādhītaṃ vi naśyati ||

NAUGHT is to-day, to-morrow naught. Who comprehends the mystery? We must address ourselves unto another's thought, and lost is then the hope we formed.

Translation of H.H. Wilson, of Sayana's commentary, is available here (P.90 - 1st mantra in I.23.6)

Can we conclude that Gautama, the Buddha borrowed Śūnyavāda from Rig Veda?

  • No, Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu who preached the heretical doctrine known as Buddhism to deceive the Asuras.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 15:04
  • @Ikshvaku: I had quoted Rig Vedic mantra and Śūnyavāda theory and expressed my doubt. If you have an answer, please post it. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 15:10
  • Don't follow European translations of Vedas.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 15:15
  • OK. You can provide your own or reliable translation, which can be studied Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 15:18
  • If you know Hindi, there are some translations of Sayana's commentary on the Vedas to Hindi.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 15:21

2 Answers 2


Did Gautama, the Buddha borrow Śūnyavāda from Rig Veda?

Gautama Buddha didn't accept the Vedas as an authority, so it would be odd for him to borrow that concept from the Vedas. Moreover, the purpose of the Buddha avatar was to deceive the Asuras and lead them away from the Vedas:

Vishnu Purana:

By such persuasions, and by many specious arguments, did this delusive being [Buddha] mislead the Daityas from the tenets of the Vedas

And this is what they ended up believing:

"The precepts," they cried, "that lead to the injury of animal life (as in sacrifices) are highly reprehensible. To say that casting butter into flame is productive of reward, is mere childishness. If Indra, after having obtained godhead by multiplied rites, is fed upon the wood used as fuel in holy fire, he is lower than a brute, which feeds at least upon leaves. If an animal slaughtered in religious worship is thereby raised to heaven, would it not be expedient for a man who institutes a sacrifice to kill his own father for a victim? If that which is eaten by one at a Śráddha gives satisfaction to another, it must be unnecessary for one who resides at a distance to bring food for presentation in person." "First, then, let it be determined what may be (rationally) believed by mankind, and then," said their preceptor, "you will find that felicity may be expected from my instructions. The words of authority do not, mighty Asuras, fall from heaven: the text that has reason is alone to be acknowledged by me, and by such as you are."

Moreover, the Vedas do not actually teach Shunyavada. Shunyavada, also called Madhyamika, teaches that "everything is void or unreal." This view is non-Vedic and is refuted in Brahma Sutra 2.2.30:

And on account of its being unproved in every way.

And Ramanujacharya's commentary:

Here now come forward the Mâdhyamikas who teach that there is nothing but a universal Void. This theory of a universal Nothing is the real purport of Sugata's [Buddha's] doctrine. The [other] theories of [him such as the] the momentariness of all existence, etc., which imply the acknowledgment of the reality of things, were set forth by him merely as suiting the limited intellectual capacities of his pupils.-- [Buddha's real view is as follows:] Neither cognitions nor external objects have real existence; the Void (the 'Nothing') only constitutes Reality, and final Release means passing over into Non-being. This is the real view of Buddha, and its truth is proved by the following considerations.


To this the Sûtra replies, 'And on account of its being in everyway unproved'--the theory of general Nothingness which you hold cannot stand.

Also, Sayana's translation of the Rig Vedic verse is this:

(Indra speaks): It is not certain what today or tomorrow will yield us. Who comprehends this mystery? Verily the mind of any other being is of an unsteady nature. And even that which has been profoundly studied is in time forgotten.

Indra is just saying he doesn't know what today or tomorrow will yield him. Nothing to do with Shunyavada.

Indra would also not be advocating Shunyavada in that verse because he knows that the Shunyavada doctrine is a false doctrine because it was propounded by Vishnu to deceive the Asuras, and it was the Devas themselves who requested Vishnu to deprive the Asuras of power:

Upon the conclusion of their prayers, the gods beheld the sovereign deity Hari.... Prostrating themselves before him, they addressed him, and said, "Have compassion upon us, O lord, and protect us, who have come to thee for succour from the Daityas. They have seized upon the three worlds, and appropriated the offerings which are our portion, taking care not to transgress the precepts of the Veda...Do you, whose wisdom is immeasurable, instruct us in some device by which we may be able to exterminate the enemies of the gods."

When the mighty Vishńu heard their request, he emitted from his body an illusory form, which he gave to the gods, and thus spake This deceptive vision shall wholly beguile the Daityas, so that, being led astray from the path of the Vedas, they may be put to death

  • It is good to read a Vaishnavaite's perspective on Shunyavada @Ikshvaku Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 16:07
  • 1
    @srimannarayanakv Vaishnava or not, the Vedas do not actually teach Shunyavada. Shankaracharya says the same thing for that Brahma Sutra: "The third variety of Bauddha doctrine, viz. that everything is empty (i. e. that absolutely nothing exists), is contradicted by all means of right knowledge, and therefore requires no special refutation." | sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe34/sbe34207.htm
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 16:11
  • 1
    It's incorrect to categorically say that the Vedas do not teach Shunyavada or that the Buddha rejected the Vedas. Ramanuja himself in the Vedarthasangraha accepts that both duality and nonduality are potential (albeit limited) interpretations. As is with every school "founder", subsequent generations impose their own opinions/interpretations and pass it off as the opinions of the founder. Much of early Buddhism seems very Upanishadic. See Swami Vishwananda's answer here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/17256/10413
    – hashable
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 7:43

OP: Madhyamaka also known as Śūnyavāda (the emptiness doctrine) refers to a tradition of Buddhist philosophy.

Madhyamaka is a Mahayana Buddhist school of philosophy that teaches Śūnyavāda.

But the question is:

OP: Can we conclude that Gautama, the Buddha borrowed Śūnyavāda from Rig Veda?

The foundational text of Madhyamaka is Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, written by Indian Mahayana philosopher Nagarjuna (c. 150 to 250 CE). On the other hand, Gautama Buddha lived c. 563 to 483 BCE. Nagarjuna founded Madhyamaka around 650 - 700 years after Gautama Buddha.

Gautama Buddha did not teach the Śūnyavāda of Madhyamaka. That was founded by Nagarjuna.

The Śūnyavāda as taught by Gautama Buddha can be found in the Suñña Sutta:

Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, "It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty, lord. In what respect is it said that the world is empty?"

"Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ananda, that the world is empty. And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self? The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms... Eye-consciousness... Eye-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.

"The ear is empty...

"The nose is empty...

"The tongue is empty...

"The body is empty...

"The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas... Intellect-consciousness... Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Thus it is said that the world is empty."

Gautama Buddha's Śūnyavāda is about everything being empty of a self. Self is atta in Pali and ātmā in Sanskrit.

What do the Vedas say?

From Rig Veda I.115.1, with the Vedic Sanskrit verse taken from this answer and the English translation taken from here:

RV I.115.1 THE brilliant presence of the Gods hath risen, the eye of Mitra, Varuṇa and Agni. The soul of all that moveth not or moveth, the Sun hath filled the air and earth and heaven.

RV I.115.1 citraṃ devānāmudagādanīkaṃ cakṣurmitrasya varuṇasyāgneḥ ।
āprā dyāvāpṛthivī antarikṣaṃ sūrya ātmā jagatastasthuṣaśca॥1॥

So Gautama Buddha said the world is empty of ātmā, while the Rig Veda says that the world is filled with ātmā. It's totally opposite.

OP: Can we conclude that Gautama, the Buddha borrowed Śūnyavāda from Rig Veda?

The answer is therefore, NO.

  • I referred Rig Veda I.170.1 in the question, whereas you had referred to RV I.115.1. please check Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 16:13

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