9. Emptiness in Mahāyāna Buddhism

Interpretations and Comparisons

  1. Steven M. Emmanuel
  1. David Burton

Published Online: 5 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118324004.ch9

A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy

A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy

How to Cite

Burton, D. (2013) Emptiness in Mahāyāna Buddhism, in A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy (ed S. M. Emmanuel), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118324004.ch9

Author Information

  1. Canterbury Christ Church University, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 FEB 2013
  2. Published Print: 25 MAR 2013

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470658772

Online ISBN: 9781118324004



  • Buddha-nature;
  • emptiness;
  • intrinsic existence;
  • Madhyamaka;
  • Mahāyāna Buddhism;
  • philosophy;
  • Yogācāra


Emptiness is a central concept in Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy; however, it has multiple meanings. The purpose of this chapter is to identify the most prominent meanings of emptiness in Mahāyāna Buddhism and highlight some important interpretive disputes. This chapter is also an exercise in comparative philosophizing; it discusses similarities between the emptiness concept and some Western philosophical ideas. The Madhyamaka assertion that all things are empty means that they are all dependently originating; they lack or are empty of autonomous existence because they are reliant on causes to bring them into and sustain their existence. Another concept of emptiness occurs in the buddha-nature teaching. The chapter presents Yogācāra as a form of ontological idealism, which claims that the external world of objects is actually a creation of the mind. It explains that the concept of emptiness in Mahāyāna Buddhism is contested and open to a variety of interpretations.