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Śūnyatā usually emphasis on non-existence of Supreme reality, assertion of no-self and that all things are empty and devoid of intrinsic nature (svabhāva). On the other hand, Liṅgāyats are theists and strictly believe in the permanence in the absolute Self - Parabrahman Sadāśiva. Kashmir Śaivism has its own concept of śūnyatā which doesn't appear to be the same as Buddhist concept of the same name.

So, I would like to know what are the difference between the concepts of Śūnyavāda/śūnyatā in some Śaivite traditions and Buddhist Śūnyatā?

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  • the Śaivite śūnya isn't exactly sūnya, it is a quality of non-dualism which serves as a way to explain Brāhmaṇa (Śiva in this case), and the ultimate reality, which is pure consciousness. This is unlike śūnyatā in Buddhism, which is characterized by absolute emptiness.
    – Bingming
    Dec 25, 2022 at 23:50

1 Answer 1

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I will talk śūnyatā from the perspective of Kashmir Śaivism. The view of śūnyatā from the Kashmir Śaivism perspective requires some more context. So, I will lay that out that and then offer a brief view of śūnya in that doctrine, and then briefly compare it with Buddhist viewpoint. I presume, you are already somewhat familiar with Advaita Vedānta and Nāgārjuna's Mādhyamaka.

Śaiva takes a different approach than Advaita Vedāntin in establishing absoluteness of the absolute. The Advaitin seeks to understand the nature of the absolute by excluding (niṣedha) every element of experience which does not confirm to the criterion of absoluteness, until all that remains is the unqualified Brahman. The Śaiva approach is that of affirmation unlike the Vedāntin's approach of negation. Avidyā in the Śaiva sense is failure to experience directly the intimate connection (saṁbandha) b/w the infinite and finite, thus justifying an active participation of the infinite-finite continuum. Here finite to the infinite doesn't require to postulate an ontological distinction b/w them. The finite is a symbol of the infinite. The infinite stamps its seal (mudrā) onto its own natue replete with all possible forms of finite. Reality isn't the negation of finite, but the state of eternal emergence (satatodita) of the finite from infinite and vice-versa. So, apparent opposites, normally contrasted with one another, such as subject or object, unity and diversity, absolute and relative, are aspects of the one reality.

Śaiva defends the absolute status of Self by ensuring that it's self-subsistent (svatantra) and all-embracing (pūrṇa). The integral nature of the absolute allows for the existence of the world of objectively perceivable phenomena along with pure subjectivity of consciousness. The two representing opposite polarities of a single reality. Objectivity being insignificant (tuccha) w.r.t the ultimacy (parmārthatva) of the subject. In the sphere of negation, objectivity presents itself as a void (śūnya) in relation to the fullness of the subject. Thus, objectivity isn't false, but that nothing can exist apart from the absolute, and this nothing is itself a manifestation of the absolute.

Śakti represents the all-encompassing fullness (pūrṇatā) of the absolute, the ever shifting power of awareness actively manifesting as the viśvacakra. Śiva is the void (śūnyatā) of absolute consciousness- it's supportless (nirālamba) and thought free (nirvikalpa). Integral and free, Śiva, the abode of the Void, dissolves everything into Himself and brings all things into being. Fullness pours into emptiness and emptiness pervades fullness. The śūnyatā actively assimilates all diversity. In the pure subject the flux of objective perceptions dissolves away. The extenal personality merges in the supreme object and the seed of all future diversification is destroyed, thereby freeing the yogi of saṁsāra.

The absolute oscillates between rāga (passion) and virāga (dispassion) from the created, this is called spanda of the absolute. Through spanda, the absolute transforms itself into all things and then returns back into emptiness (śūnya) of its undifferentiated nature. The śūnyata of the vibrating power (spanda) of consciousness, manifest when all diversity disappears, should not be confused with empty 'nothing', as in nihilism. The universe of diversity is not annihilated, but recognised to be one. It is śūnyatā in the sense that it is universally manifest and hence has no distinguishing features. Eternal and free of the contraries, it cannot be contrasted with anything else. It is never known objectively and hence is essentially undefinable. Although it is said to be the destruction of objectivity, śūnyatā is not a state of abhāva. Bhāva and abhāva are merely conceived distinctions, superimposed on that which is presented directly to consciousness.

Thus, Kashmir Śaivism affirms the value of the phenomenal, empirical world as the positive play of Śiva (the Absolute Consciousness), in contrast to the negative notions of "illusion" (mayāvāda) in Advaita Vedanta or śūnyatā in Mādhyamaka. Also, by the theory of projection (ābhāsavāda) wherein the contents of ordinary experience, though finally subsumed under Śiva, are also given a provisional positive status as creative manifestations both ontologically (in terms of their relative existence) and axiologically (in terms of their positive value) in contrast to the "theory of appearance" (vivartavāda) of the Advaita Vedanta or the notion of śūnyatā of the Madhyamika Buddhist. The Spanda teachings only agree with the Buddhist doctrine of momentariness only insofar it applies to outer objectivity.

The Buddhist conception of śūnyatā is based on anātman (no-self) and no absolute consciousness (such as Śiva or Brahman) at all. Furthermore, there being absolute emptiness of svabhāva in śūnyatā, according to the Mādhyamika. Although the non-dualist Śaiva, agress with the Buddhist and maintains that the true nature of things is essentially unspecifiable (anirdeśya), he/she doesn't agree that all determination of the emptiness of ultimate reality is an error. Here, the highest level of śūnyatā is the emptiness of reflective awareness, the pure undifferentiated pulsation of the power of consciousness, grounded in the consciousness and bliss of the Self- parameśvara.

References & Further Reading

  • Dyczkowski, M.S.G. (1989). The Integral Monism of Kashmiri Shaivism. In The Doctrine of Vibration- An Analysis of the Doctrines and Practices of Kashmiri Shaivism (pp.33-58). Motilal Banarsidass
  • Dyczkowski, M.S.G. (1989). Śakti Cakra: The Wheel of Energies. In The Doctrine of Vibration- An Analysis of the Doctrines and Practices of Kashmiri Shaivism (pp.117-138). Motilal Banarsidass
  • Larson, G. J. (1997). [Review of Kashmir Śaivism: The Central Philosophy of Tantrism, by K. Mishra]. Philosophy East and West, 47(2), 259–263. https://doi.org/10.2307/1399878
  • Mishra, K. (2011). Kashmir Śaivism: the Central Philosophy of Tantrism. Indica Books.
  • Muller-Ortega, P. E. (1988). The Triadic Heart of Śiva : Kaula tantricism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-Dual Shaivism of Kashmir. State University of New York Press.

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