The Structure of Emptiness


The view that everything is empty (śūnya) is a central metaphysical plank of Mahāyāna Buddhism. It has often been the focus of objections. Perhaps the most important of these is that it in effect entails a nihilism: nothing exists. This objection, in turn, is denied by Mahāyāna theorists, such as Nāgārjuna. One of the things that makes the debate difficult is that the precise import of the view that everything is empty is unclear. The object of this essay is to put the debate in a new light. It does so by proposing a mathematical characterization of Emptiness—that is, the totality of empty things—showing that, whatever it is, it has a definite structure and is not, therefore, to be identified with nothingness.