Thursday, December 12, 2019

Translation of “Sunyata” into “Voidness” in English


About 18 years ago, I was among the first two or three Buddhist practitioners to translate the Sanskrit terms “Sunya” ( Chân Không) and “Sunyata” (Tánh Không) into English as “Void” and “Voidness”. I know, now, most likely, the first one who had also translated Sunyata as Voidness in 1997, is Dr. Harischandra Kaviratna, a Sri Lankan scholar. (1) It is a pleasure to see someone in the Theravada tradition come to the same rendering to mine. At least etymologically. I have checked translations on the Internet in Buddhist literature of very well-known scholars from Sir Monier-Williams (Sanskritist, professor, lexicongrapher), Max Muller (Sanskritist, professor, lexicongrapher), Edward Conze (Sanskritist, scholar, author); T R Murti ( Philosophy professor, Madhyamika scholar), Theodore Stcherbatsky ( Buddhist scholar), R. H. Robinson ( scholar), David Kalupahana ( scholar, author) Naniswar (Bengali author, teacher) to later lesser-known  researchers like Bhikkhu Analayo,  Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Bhikkhu Bohdi , Jay Garfield, and 
others in Mahayana, or Hinayana schools. They have
also joined in to translate it as emptiness.

Only recently, “Void” and Voidness have gained ground, traction within last 5-8 years or so (2)

Cf:  Article in Wikipedia with link below on “Sunyata”, Encyclopaedia Britannica  (3)

“Void”, as a noun, to translate, and write about “Sunya” can be seen here and there, to denote something empty, voided of any substance, component, since it is easy to describe such an unsubstantial entity, being in The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy(4) by Junjiro Takakusu. He did use the term “void” to mention the “sunyata” characteristic.

From the beginning and then after 20 years of studying and practicing Buddhism by 1999, I always felt that the term, the word “Emptiness” { this was used, adopted very much , I believe , due to the influence of the Buddhist scholar Edward Conze, and maybe to a much lesser degree , the Sanskritist Monier-Williams. Ed Conze was an outstanding, splendid scholar; his works on the Large Heart Sutra, on the Diamond Sutra have proven indispensable for at least 3 generations in the West from the latter of 1950s. Conze’s translations of Sanskrit texts have been much appreciated} does not really reveal, show the true essence, the true nature of Sunyata. Here are the whys:

1.   I believe and think: linguistically, it is too mechanistically applied/translated for the sake of finding an equivalence in another language. “Emptiness” is easily an earliest and very strong  “candidate” for translation, especially for the sense, the feeling it provokes in readers. Also in meaning and connotation it does the job well enough to signify, to denote something empty; some space, some feeling; some philosophical concept, some place, some region being taken away with their properties, or existential components.

2.   “Emptiness” always/often gives the sense of disappearance, loss of things that were previously there. As such , it is very “ontical” in its definition, very “physical”, “body-wise”, shape, form defined. Even when the things are gone, the feeling, perception for the loss is very “real”, very ontically-related and structured.

3.   In the mean time, “Voidness” , from its own essence, nature—from the beginning— there is Nothing in it, yes, there is Nothing, I repeat— from the very beginning. And it is ontologically-oriented [ philosophically in the Western philosophical sense]; its essence/nature shows us so, if we meditate, contemplate long enough. Speaking about it philosophically, it is the abstract extract from the real fact of “forming-disforming”

4.   The difference between Emptiness and Voidness is : Emptiness indicates the removal, disapearance of things, originally there in that "space", while Voidness, from the very beginning is “contained” in the very essence of things when they lose their binding components, when they disintegrate.

5. In a more sublime, sophisticated way, Emptiness does not carry what Voidness does, namely to deny the truth of the existence of any inherent characteristics, or features of all things, entities as having selves by their own— this human SElf included. The words Void and Voidness suggest “voidification”, suggest a void-out of any substantiating core, or self-built nucleus existing on its own charateristic , or quality. Logically they suggest the negation that any thing, any event, any fact as having any essence by its own, as not having composites.

Some explations/explications :

a)   Void can be seen readily in these examples:
-       Water vaporizes
-       Foods, fruits decompose
-       Chemicals disintegrate
-       Feelings subside and disappear
                 When things disintegrate, void will be more easily  
                 observed; the components, ingredients, elements,
                 attributes etc. subside, disappear

b)  That fact, that experience as we see, feel it can
    happen in a few minutes, a few seconds, an hour,
    or a whole day; a month, or even 10, 20 , 30  years.
   The process is  there and continuously moving,
    changing in all  those times. Therefore, it is said
    in the sastras ( discourses), Void is inherent in
    all things.

c)   In abstraction, Voidness is mentally formed for the sake of explaining in philosophical sense,  after long years of meditation on this essential feature of the forming and disappearing of all things. That’s what has been taught in the Prajna-paramita sutras ( long and fort forms), and enticed Nagarjuna Bodhisattva into writing “Madhyamika Karika”

d)  Therefore, philosophically Vois is abstracted,
“conceptualized” into Voidness for the sake of discussion.

e)   As an innate feature, property, from the very beginning of any forming of anything, physically or mentally, void /voidness is there. That’s the reason I chose to use “Voidness” and “Void” to translate “Sunyata” and “Sunya”. Because of this “beginning-ness”. The whole process will show the same feature. It is just hidden and at times intricate to observe, see.

Even though, it’s just one word, one term—
 “Voidness” for “Sunyata” – I am very glad I have translated into English, my second language, as such to contribute to the English speaking world that term, together with about a dozen of articles I wrote to explain, elucidate this essence, this essential characteristic and meaning of this most magnificent, profound representation of the experience in meditation and contemplation of Sunyata.

Notes :

* New finding by Jan. 2020: The first one to render Suññata (in Pali) { edited, revised by Bhikkhu Bodhi in 1995 } into to English as "Voidness" is Ñanamoli Thera, a monk and rather well-known translator, teacher of dharma, not Dr. Harischandra Kaviratna from Sanskrit.

1. Before 1997, then around 2001, there was no third one, (as I attempted to survey), who translated “Sunyata” as “Voidness” among the well-known authors, scholars, and also the lesser-known ones —as the Internet shows.


4. Takakusu, Junjiro. The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy. Univ. of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1947.

5. Max Muller and T. Stcherbatsky did not translate it, but leave it as “Sunyata”

6. Below, among many, some websites with translation Sunyata as Emptiness, as a continuous  trend in rendering the term as such where choice, meaning, “philosophical significance” have been considered somehow. Also in books, for example, The Logic of Unity: The Discovery of Zero and Emptiness in Prajnaparamita Thought, 1987, by H. Matsuo and K. Inada (trans.)

7. Evidence for who care to inquire  when I translated/used the term “Voidness” for “Sunyata” and “Void” for “Sunya” can be seen on my translation of Most Venerable Thich Tuệ Sỹ’s  book on Sunyavada : Triết Học về Tánh Không, 1970 and convesation messages on VN-buddhism in yahoo group, as pictured and given below

  7a) Translation by me of the first part of “The Philosophy of Voidness” was started in 2001 and sent to Ven. Thich Tuệ Sỹ. The complete introduction was done in 2008 , and the whole introduction  posted on my blogspot in Dec. 2014. So by 2001, I had translated the term Sunyata to Voidness.

  7b) The cause to get the book wholy translated did not get the stimulating element to grow to a full fruition . But it was a nice experience to me to work on it.

 7c) In yahoo group VN-Buddhism , under nickname eludy2001 ( TN= Tâm Nguyên) , I  commented in July 2004 on an article about an itchy monk

8. Translations of Sunyata into “openness”, “spaceness” in some recent books, or articles reflect a very silly translation, repugnant non-understanding of this beautiful, mesmerizing Essence/Nature

9. The Hrdaya Prajnaparamita Sutra ( Heart Sutra) translated from Sanskrit to English by Dr. Harischandra Kaviratna

Tâm Nguyên (CH)
December 2019


Below: from “The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana” by Theodore Stcherbatsky

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Therefore, O Sariputra, in Voidness there is no bodily-form, no feeling...(trilingual)

..., no mental imaging, no consciousness; no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind...

                                                              * *

The most difficult part, like hitting your head at a stone wall, to break through and grasp understanding of the core teaching in the Heart Sutra ( Hrdaya Prajnaparamita Sutra), I believe, is this :

There is no form (rupa), no feeling(vedana) , nor perception (samjna) , nor impulse (samskara) , nor consioucness (vijnana)

To perceive, “absorb” this Real-i-ty[ the REAL of this entity], to touch it, taste it; and truly “understand” as one understand a feeling, an emotion, a perception [ physically, or mentally] requires a lot of meditative practice , i.e. vipassana meditation on the body, feeling, consciousness and things ( dharmas) as well deep contemplation on them. Not as concepts, thoughts, thought experiments, theories in a theoretical, philosophical way whereby the major source of searching, investigating, thinking is the sixth sense ( the manovijñāna) when one learns a new subject; logic, chemistry, grammar, biology, or does mathematics, physics, or writes essays, compositions.

To be sure, analytical, meditative-contemplative thoughts can help later in the process of REALizing the truths about these five No’s; but first of all one has to realize them by perceving, “seeing” how they appear, form, stay a while , then disappear in one’s mind-body complex, or the Consciousness of of one’s mind-and-body. That means, one has to practice meditation. Meditation on the Breath, on feelings of body, of emotion and of things— mentally, conceptually and their related components.

Inquiring the way Western philosophy reserchers, philosophers use, direct their methods: research, compare, correlate, hypothesize, analyze and conclude do not help much. That’s why L. Wittgenstein emphasized the the importance of the act of “Observe” { “Don’t think, but observe}, and to some extent, E. Husserl also recommended persistent observation before forming any theory, rationalization.

Back to our “Five No’s”:

It maybe easier to realize the later four No’s. But it is extremely hard to “SEE” the truth of the First one: No Form, meaning , the No of the bodily “I”, this I , this Self of all kinds of feelings, emotions and all the “crabs” intermingling, interacting, interfacing, interbeing, inter-absorbing in It.

How can we deny, refute the existence of this Self— this body with the other aggregates, especially thus physical body ? It’s there; we see , feel, touch, smell it every momentt of the day. It’s constantly there, continuously there, repeatedly everyday— it’s in the mirror, it hears music, birds sing, it smells cơm khê ( half-burned rice); it eats, it takes showers, brushes teeth; it works,  studies, plays in the garden, types these words— how and we refute its existence, or deny It ? Must be crazy, or delusional, or schizophrenia-influenced to say that (1).

Yes, with all those belonging-acts, functions, those attributes, features, characteristics, it seems only the wackoes, the lunatics may deny It, but in fact, it is a MOST PROFOUND, INCREDIBLE, PENETRATING, BARRIER-IMPLODING-DESTROYING Discovery in Truth for the Selves for all of us. Started by the Buddha Gotama, from the Khastrya clan of old India.

Studies, researches, thinking, analyzation, leaning from the sutras and sastras, contemplation etc. in the West philosophical way as said earlier, in 5-7 years, can only understand a little, or somewhat the “skin” part of it, as often repeated in Zen literature. To go further requires continuous learning, practicing meditation and diving deep into the mind-body complex to cultivate the bhàvana to gradually peel off thousands of “incorrect”, naive, or depthless layers of  perception, thinking, framing, realizing, and conception to discover this about the Voidness of this body, of the Self.

Note :

1.   This is also warned, talked of in the Heart Sutra

Chân Huyền


Tiếng Việt
Phần khó khăn nhất, như đập đầu vào đá, trong Tâm Kinh Bát Nhã là ở câu này :
“Thị cố không trung , vô Sắc, Thọ Tưởng , Hành Thức”
Để có thể thực sự Hiểu, Thâm nhập vào nó, thâm nhập vào Thực tính của nó; để chạm vào nó, nếm nó; và thực sự là người hiểu nó như ta hiểu một cảm giác, một cảm xúc, một nhận thức [về vật chất hoặc tinh thần] đòi hỏi rất nhiều thực hành thiền định, tức là thiền vipassana trên cơ thể, cảm giác, ý thức và các pháp (dharmas) cũng như chiêm nghiệm sâu sắc về chúng . Không phải như với khái niệm, suy nghĩ, thí nghiệm tư tưởng, lý thuyết theo cách tìm hiểu trong lý thuyết, triết học, theo đó nguồn tìm kiếm, điều tra, tư duy chính là giác quan thứ sáu (manovijñāna) khi người ta học một môn học mới, thí dụ: logic, hóa học, ngữ pháp, sinh học, hoặc khi làm toán học, vật lý, hoặc viết tiểu luận, sáng tác.C
Chắc chắn là những suy nghĩ phân tích, suy ngẫm có thể giúp vào-- sau này-- trong quá trình Nhận chân được những sự thật về năm cái Không này; nhưng trước hết người ta phải nhận ra chúng bằng cách nhận thức được chúng, “thấy” được cách thức chúng xuất hiện, hình thành, tồn tại một lúc, sau đó biến mất trong thân- tâm, hay Tâm thức . Có nghĩa là, người ta phải thực hành thiền định. Thiền về hơi thở, cảm giác về cơ thể, cảm xúc và những thứ khác— trong tư tưởng, khái niệm và thứ liên quan.
Suy tư theo cách các triết gia phương Tây tư duy qua khái niệm để khảo sát, so sánh, phân tích , lập giả thuyết v.v. không giúp gì được nhiều. Quan sát, quán sát là quan trọng.
Làm thếnào chúng ta có thể phủ nhận, bác bỏ sự tồn tại của Bản thân này— với ngũ uẩn như sờ sờ ra đó, đặc biệt là cơ thể vật lý này? Nó ở đó; chúng ta thấy nó , cảm nhận, chạm vào nó, ngửi nó mọi khoảnh khắc trong ngày. Nó liên tục hiện diện, liên tục ở đây , ở đó, lặp đi lặp lại hàng ngày. Nó trong gương, nó nghe nhạc, chim hót; nó ngửi thấy mùi cơm khê; nó ăn, tắm, đánh răng; nó hoạt động, nghiên cứu; chơi trong vườn, gõ những từ này; làm sao chúng ta có thể bác bỏ sự tồn tại của nó, hay phủ nhận nó? Phải là kẻ điên rồ, hoặc ảo tưởng, hoặc bị tâm thần phân liệt để phát biểu như thế. Thế nhưng điều này cũng đã được Tâm Kinh Bát Nhã căn dặn : Bồ đề tát đỏa y BNBLMĐa cố , tâm vô quái ngại,vô quái ngại cố, vô hữu khủng bố...Hãy tin tưởng , đừng sợ hãi, dù mới nghe hay “nghe” nhiều lần rồi mà chưa thấu lý , thì cũng đừng sợ , hãy học hỏi, nghiên cứu, hành tập thêm.
Với những đặc điểm, tính chất , cơ năng như vậy, thì thường chỉ những kẻ điên rồ mới chối bỏ một cái Sắc, cái Thân như thế, phải chăng ? Tuy nhiên, Thấy được và từ chối nhìn nhận Sắc, Thân này ( cũng như Thọ , Tưởng, Hành , Thức) là một Khám phá TUYỆT DIỆU, KHÓ TƯỞNG, THÔNG THẤU SUỐT Nhất về một Sự Thật cho tất cà các cái ngã của chúng ta. Đìều đã được Đức Phật Cồ Đàm, từ dòng Sát đế lợi Ấn độ cũ khởi đi.
Học hỏi kinh luận, nghiên cứu, suy nghĩ, phân tích, trầm tư trong cách thái truy lùng kiểu triết lý phương Tậy trong 5-7 năm đầu chỉ có thể thâm nhâp vào đạo pháp phần nhỏ nào. Để tiến xa hơn cần phải tiếp tục học hỏi , tập thiền, và đào sâu vào cơ cấu Thân-Tâm để luyện tập, trau dồi Giải thoát tri kiến để dần bóc hết các mê lầm nhân thức, tri giác, các ảo kiến ( thường được gọi là kiên cố vọng tưởng) về Sắc thân để Thấy được, Khám phá được Sắc thân này Ngã này “đầy tinh thể” Tánh Không.
La parte más difícil, como golpear tu cabeza contra una pared de piedra, para romper y comprender la enseñanza central en el Sutra del corazón ( Hrdaya Prajnaparamita Sutra), creo, es esto :
No hay forma (rupa), no hay sentimiento (vedana), ni percepción (samjna) , ni impulso (samskara) , ni consioucness (vijnana)
Para percibir, "absorber" esta Realidad [ el REAL de esta entidad], para tocarlo, probarlo; y realmente "entender" como uno entiende un sentimiento, una emoción, una percepción [ físicamente o mentalmente] requiere una gran cantidad de práctica meditativa, es decir, la meditación vipassana sobre el cuerpo, el sentimiento, la conciencia y las cosas (dharmas) así como la contemplación profunda en ellos. No como conceptos, pensamientos, experimentos de pensamiento, teorías de una manera teórica, filosófica, mediante la que la principal fuente de búsqueda, investigación, pensamiento es el sexto sentido (la manovijñána) cuando uno aprende un nuevo tema; lógica, química, gramática, biología, o hace matemáticas, física, o escribe ensayos, composiciones.
Sin duda, los pensamientos analíticos y meditativos-contemplativos pueden ayudar más adelante en el proceso de darse cuenta de la verdad acerca de estos cinco No; pero primero uno tiene que darse cuenta al percibir, "ver" cómo aparecen, formar, quedarse un tiempo, luego desaparecer en el complejo mente-cuerpo, o la conciencia de la mente y el cuerpo. Eso significa que uno tiene que practicar la meditación. Meditación sobre el Aliento, sobre sentimientos de cuerpo, de emoción y de cosas, mental, conceptualmente y sus componentes relacionados.
Inquidiendo la forma en que los investigadores de filosofía occidental, los filósofos utilizan, dirigen sus métodos: investigación, comparación, correlación, hipótesis, analizar y concluir no ayudan mucho. Es por eso que L. Wittgenstein enfatizó la importancia del acto de "Observar" { "No pienses, pero observes”}, y en cierta medida, E. Husserl también recomendó la observación persistente antes de formar cualquier teoría, la racionalización.
Volver a nuestro "Cinco No":
Tal vez sea más fácil darse cuenta de los cuatro No posteriores. Pero es extremadamente difícil "VER" la verdad de la Primera: Sin Forma, significado, el No del "yo" corporal, este Yo, este Ser de todo tipo de sentimientos, emociones y todos los "cangrejos" entremezclando, interactuando, inter-siendo , interabsorbiendo en Él.
¿Cómo podemos negar, refutar la existencia de este Ser, este cuerpo con los otros agregados, especialmente este cuerpo físico? Está ahí; Lo vemos, sentimos, tocamos, olemos en cada momento del día. Está constantemente allí, continuamente allí, repetidamente todos los días, está en el espejo , oye música, pájaros cantan; huele a cơm khê (arroz medio quemado); come, toma duchas, cepilla los dientes; trabaja, estudia, juega en el jardín, escribe estas palabras, ¿cómo podemos refutar su existencia, o negarla? Debe estar loco, o delirante, o influenciado por la esquizofrenia para decir que (1).
Sí, con todos esos actos de pertenencia, funciones, esos atributos, características, características, parece que sólo los locos, los lunáticos pueden negarlo, pero de hecho, ese es el descubrimiento extremadamente profundo, INCREÍBLE, PENETRANTE. Es el instrumento para DESTRUIR las barreras para descubrir la verdad para el Ser para todos nosotros. Iniciado por el Buda Gotama, del clan Khastrya de la antigua India.
Los estudios, las investigaciones, el pensamiento, el análisis, aprendizaje de los sutras y satras, la contemplación, etc. en la forma filosófica de Occidente, como se dijo anteriormente, en 5-7 años, solo pueden entender un poco, o algo así como la parte de la "piel", como a menudo repetido en la literatura Zen. Para ir más allá, se requiere un aprendizaje continuo, la práctica de la meditación y sumergirse profundamente en el complejo mente-cuerpo para cultivar la bhàvana para pelar gradualmente miles de capas "incorrectas", ingenuas o sin profundidad de percepción, pensamiento, encuadre, realización y concepción para descubrir esto sobre el Vacío de este cuerpo, del Ser.
Chân Huyền
Dec. 2019
1. Esto también se advierte, se habla en el Sutra del Corazón

Chân Huyền

* In one month, or  there will be a response on how it is so, for the ones who meditate, ponder, contemplate and want to learn

Tuesday, December 3, 2019


Your falls



        of Impermanence