What is the best understanding and (English) translation of 空无?



《维摩经菩萨行品》: "观於空无而不舍大悲。"

There are a lot of religious, if you will, concepts in here that I just can't seem to wrap my mind around.

ABC dictionary defines it as unreality in English, but I'm not finding anything to do with unreality + Buddhaism. Which leads me to believe that ABC's definition is more akin to 汉语大词典's second definition:


Which we don't need to discuss, here, at all.

  • 2
    What about nihility? Or maybe sunyata, abhava.
    – Stan
    Dec 28, 2014 at 9:02
  • I believe Buddhism concepts are deeply rooted in its own philosophical framework, which is a good reason for inventing new words instead of overloading well-defined words from a different framework.
    – NS.X.
    Dec 29, 2014 at 0:40

3 Answers 3


Emptiness and Nothingness.

Now lets dissect the definition:


  • 从因缘生 -- 因 is the inner reason, 缘 is the outer reason, the two combined together, meaning the Ultimate Reason, is the cause of everything. Hence 一切事物从因缘生. You might want to think of it as dialectic reasoning, and you can do that.
  • 唯心所造 says that everything is created by the Heart, the thinking device. It's idealism stripped to the bone.
  • 自性 is the quality or essence of existence itself, since everything is caused by Reason and created by Heart, their Essence is null. Simply put, they don't Exist, hence 了无自性.

Even with a worldview like this, Buddhists still hold the Great Compassion, hence 观於空无而不舍大悲。

Then you ask what is Reason, what is Heart, and what is the Essence of Existence. The Buddha picks up a flower and smiles, and suddenly you reach Enlightenment.

Or you don't, in fact it's one of Buddha's disciples that does. I have friends struggling with these for decades, but still haven't reached anything remarkable, and I daresay, it's a complete waste of time.

As for translation, it depends on what you are translating. If you translate Buddhism classic texts, it's better to use Sanskrit words. If you translate a novel, or some random article with Buddhism references, use the capital like I did, or like Roger Zelazny did in his novel Lord of Light. It's a great book by the way.


空 means “empty”,无 means “not exist” ,“空无”的常识性(non philosophical)理解就是 nothing.

那个unreality应该是philosophical interpretation,it means 不真实的,虚幻的,phantom,可以理解为“空无” related the real world, which is closed to meaning of "空无“ in 佛教。Nothing for the real world, but also has something in the phantom meaning.


Maybe you mean 虚空无形 concepts of Buddhism. Basically Buddhists say, nothing exists, even emptiness. It is not possible to grasp the non dual nature of duality with a logical mind.

If you read The Platform Sutra of 惠能 you will understand more. Or the Diamond Sutra.

http://www.fodian.net/world/6th_sutra.html http://www.fodian.net/world/platform_sutra_yampolsky.pdf

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