One of the most difficult theosophical concepts to explain is that of 'Maya'. Blavatsky only refers to it in passing, but it's an important part of Vedanta philosophy.

Basically (but I'm sure I'm simplifying as usual) it's the idea that everything we see is an illusion brought about by Shiva (or consciousness perhaps?).

In Buddhism the doctrine of Sunyata is similarly illusive. It's not quite nihilistic, but it does imply that everything is empty of permanent self. In other words: everything changes...

So - are these the same thing?

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I'm glad that to you the subject of Sunyata is not illusive, but since whole books have been written about it, and there are at least four different interpretations or explanations of the philosophy - I think you might be missing a few points.
Yeah, I know - I was a bit short there (bed time) and of course I'm not going to write a whole book here.

There are various perspectives on shunyata (or sunyata). And it helps, I think, to know more about each - the way an artist would have to know about different shades of yellow in order to be a really great artist. That doesn't mean a child can't learn about yellow by simply seeing yellow the way we all do.

Your explanation of sunyata is a good one - from the perspective of everything being linked together, the underlying Oneness in theosophical terms.

But other aspects include the realization that everything we see changes. This is also one of the aspects of the Vedanta concept of Maya. It's weird, isn't it, that when we buy something new, we never think about that it will one day lose it's shine, and then stop working? Part of me is still amazed at that. Now if I understood sunyata deep down, the fact that I've got some gray hairs in my hair would not surprise me as much.

The Dalai Lama quotes Tsong Ka Pa:
A coiled rope's speckled color and coiling are similar to those of a snake, and when the rope is perceived in a dim area, the thought arises, “This is a snake.” As for the rope, at that time when it is seen to be a snake, the collection and parts of the rope are not even in the slightest way a snake. Therefore, that snake is merely set up by conceptuality.

In the same way, when the thought “I” arises in dependence upon mind and body, nothing within mind and body—neither the collection which is a continuum of earlier and later moments, nor the collection of the parts at one time, nor the separate parts, nor the continuum of any of the separate parts—is in even the slightest way the “I.” Also there is not even the slightest something that is a different entity from mind and body that is apprehendable as the “I.” Consequently, the “I” is merely set up by conceptuality in dependence upon mind and body; it is not established by way of its own entity.

The Dalai Lama continues:
The impact lasted for a while, and for the next few weeks whenever I saw people, they seemed like a magician's illusions in that they appeared to inherently exist but I knew that they actually did not. That experience, which was like lightning in my heart, was most likely at a level below completely valid and incontrovertible realization. This is when my understanding of the cessation of the afflictive emotions as a true possibility became real.

Now that image of the rope which looks like a snake is one that's traditionally used to explain Maya...
The Dalai Lama, in true 20th century style, stresses what that means for the personality. If we were to really, fundamentally know that what we call 'I' is a changing thing - how would we deal with others? With problems? Wouldn't pride go? Wouldn't there be more compassion?

Not necessarily of course - understanding sunyata might easily lead to a denial of the worth of anything at all. Which is why the Bodhisattva Vow is so essential to Mahayana Buddhism. But you knew that :)

[and follow the links on this page for more on Sunyata].
It seems like we're talking about two pairs of opposites: emptiness versus fullness and reality versus illusion.

In the first case, something is there or it is not there. But there are subtle ways of making that distinction. The simplest is like you hold an apple in your hand or you don't. The apple is there or it is not. But even to think of the apple as not being there is still maintaining an awareness of "not apple" which makes it present by negation. The only way to truly be rid of apple is to give up the is/isn't here dichotomy. Then we'd say the apple is neither here nor is it not here.

Another way of saying the apple is not here is that it is here in potential, like in an apple seed that could grow into a tree and product the apple, or something that has the karmic potential of existing, being here in an unmanifest way ever though not physically present.

The other duality of reality versus illusion has many distinctions as well. How do we consider something as not being real? If someone thinks the earth is flat, that idea could be considered in error, unreal, false. It is simply incorrect.

Another way of looking at the unreal is as a form of perception, as in the mentioned story of the person seeing a stick in the dark and thinking it was a snake. The stick was real and was there, the unreality was solely in the misperception. The unreality was in the idea that someone had about the stick.

A third type of unreality comes from projection. We interpret the nature of the world and the people about us as being a certain way and assume our interactions with them reveal their true natures. But people and the world responds to us in a certain way because of how we are.

Can we look at something or behold someone and know the reality that is there? That depends upon what it is that we consider to be real. Is there a static somethingness that we can perceive, or is the essential nature of things always in flux, subject to change, and never fixed from moment to moment? If the later, then the act of knowing something can only last for a moment, and then that thing has changed and we no longer know it. From that standpoint, the only way to know something for a time is to maintain a living connection with its ever-changing life.
very interesting, from my point of view there is both and neither real & unreal by way that this is purely conceptualising, so to say shunyata is more real than maya would be maya.

to summarise the 'division' itself between shunyata and maya IS maya.

i like to think that in maya, amidst all this manifestation of thought, feeling and perception there is shunyata, like how night is still present during the day. but whenever i think of shunyata it eludes me, so i seek to not think about it. but to know im not thinking about shunyata is just as misleading because i have to know what something is in order to not think about it. after a while i might be caught off guard, and in a single flash between the thoughts and perceptions the 'i' literally stops and 'shunyata' is present as it has always been. but seeing as maya and shunyata are eternally together, maya jumps back in, in the form of my mind going "ooh what was that" and ive 'lost' it again.

> So - are these the same thing?

Not exactly. Suppose a bubble. The emptiness inside the bubble is shunyata, while its circumference, or the round outward appearance, is maya.
Dalai-lama was once asked, can be the absoulute emptiness regarded as the absolute fullness in the same time? He replied that probably yes.
i certainly wouldnt suggest that mahayana or nagarjuna have some sort of authority or ownership of the subject. Most definitely they have presented us with beautifully written accounts, but even if we did turn to their records can we be sure that we will have the correct understanding? finding shunyata in our own way is really the only way we can go about the matter, unless one wants to settle on a purely intellectualised understanding of it.
"If "finding shunyata in our own way is really the only way we can go" means not studying the teachings on emptiness of the sages who came before us - then failure is a near certainty." - by this i meant that you are searching for shunyata in your own way, (just as i) which involves reading from the sages, but you would have to agree that these sages didnt have these records to learn from, and seeing as there is no fundamental difference between them and ourselves i can only imagine that we will all eventually come to understand shunyata in our own way just as they did irrespective of what written accounts we have. at least i should hope so, because all things are transient including these written accounts and we would certainly be up the proverbial river if we were dependent on them and they werent around.
I understand there is a zen saying "there are no teachers of zen." how can the incommunicable be communicated between persons? and who is to say there is anything to be communicated in the first place?

also to note, even the understanding that 'things are transient' is indeed transient. who is to say the 'idea of transiency' should remain even after we have passed? although you might conceive of it as an absolute truth, what of those who dont? although transiency stands to reason, that reasoning is dependent on us.

if absolute truth is not dependent on a sentient to be aware of it (and a sentient is not dependent on being aware of an absolute truth), what good is it to talk about absolute truths? it makes no difference whether we should know them or not. many people function well enough without 'knowing' shunyata and suffering is inevitable (as the rise of finite beings is inevitable). so what good is it to know shunyata? even the buddha himself said he had attained nothing through enlightenment, yes?


i respect your views but i would have to disagree on the subject of suffering. it would seem to me that even the 4 noble truths are dependent on suffering. if there was no suffering there would be no noble truths. i mean to say that suffering is inevitable in the fact that, the eternal eternally produces finite beings and these beings will experience suffering, by way that they believe themselves to be separate. so, so long as the eternal produces ignorant beings it will also produce suffering - in effect suffering is eternal. we could also say that seeing as all finite manifestations are all actually one, then even though a being may be released from suffering, seeing as his true self is eternal, his true self will manifest finite selves eternally thus by way of manifestation he will believe to be 'suffering,' eternally.

also i feel that if sunyata could release one from suffering, how was one in it to begin with? did not sunyata precede suffering? how did suffering come about? if it can come about and then one return to sunyata, putting an 'end' to suffering, then cant suffering once more arise again?

'Function" is what machines and other mindless things do. The human has a divine nature & destiny, if one aims at understanding truth. If expressing thoughts & ideas in words is meaningless to you, so be it.

i think you were correct in defining this distinction between your views and mine, i dont believe there is a distinction between man and machine and i dont believe we are special or have a divine nature, destiny or purpose. i feel the eternal pervades all things and is responsible for them all. i dont feel the eternal discriminates between a system whether natural or 'man made' and humans. i think this is a very important distinction because it allows us to better understand each other and our standpoints in regards to shunyata.

thankyou for this discussion

Yes, sunyata = emptiness, literally. And yes, you're quoting the Heart Sutra correctly :)

But like all other philosophical terms, this one too is more than just the literal meaning.

Since sunyata is form, form is emptiness - and that means that the very particles themselves are emptiness as well. That is: they're empty of permanence. Empty of constancy.
Ah - well put :)


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