Why did the Buddha teach Emptiness and Not-self?

The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “If there are those who say that this sūtra is nonexistent, they are not my disciples, nor am I their teacher.”
    Kāśyapa said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, Mahāyāna sūtras mostly state the meaning of emptiness.
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “All sūtras about emptiness have unrevealed aspects. Only this sūtra is the unsurpassed pronouncement, without any unrevealed aspect. For example, Kāśyapa, King Prasenajit always sponsors a great assembly of almsgiving in the eleventh month of the year. He first feeds the hungry ghosts, the forlorn ones, and the poor mendicants. He next gives to śramaṇas and Brahmins fine food in various flavors as they wish. In the same way Buddha-Bhagavāns expound various kinds of Dharmas in the sūtras according to sentient beings’ desires and preferences.
    “There are sentient beings that breach their precepts, are negligent and indolent in training and learning, and reject the wondrous texts concerning the eternal abiding of the Tathāgata store. They prefer to study and learn various sūtras that teach emptiness, whether following the words and phrases, or adding or altering some words and phrases. Why? Because they say these words: ‘The Buddha’s sūtras all declare that a sentient being has no self.’ Nevertheless, they do not know the true meaning of emptiness and no self. Those without wisdom pursue extinction.
    “Indeed, emptiness and no self are the Buddha’s words. Why? Because immeasurable afflictions, like stored dirt, have always been empty, in nirvāṇa. Indeed, nirvāṇa is the all-encompassing word. It is the word for the great parinirvāṇa attained by Buddhas, eternally in peace and bliss.”
    Kāśyapa asked the Buddha, “How does one discard [the view of] cessation [and the view of] perpetuity?”
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “Sentient beings each transmigrate through their cycle of birth and death without a commanding self. Therefore, I explain to them the meaning of no self. However, the great parinirvāṇa attained by Buddhas is eternal peace and bliss. This meaning shatters the two wrong views, cessation and perpetuity.
    Kāśyapa said to the Buddha, “Please turn to no self, having talked about self for a while.”
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “I explain the meaning of no self to destroy the worldly view of self. If I did not say so, how could I induce people to accept the Dharma of the great teacher? When the Buddha pronounces no self, sentient beings become curious. To hear what they have never heard before, they come to the Buddha. Then I enable them to enter the Buddha Dharma through hundreds of thousands of causes and conditions. Once they have entered the Buddha Dharma with growing faith, they diligently train and energetically progress in their learning of the Dharma of Emptiness. Then I pronounce to them the eternal peace and bliss, and the liberation that still manifests form.
– There are worldly doctrines asserting that existence is liberation. To destroy them, I pronounce that liberation leads to nonexistence. If I did not say so, how could I induce people to accept the Dharma of the great teacher? Through hundreds of thousands of causes and conditions, I explain to them liberation, nirvāṇa, and no self.
– Then I see sentient beings mistake liberation for ultimate extinction. Those without wisdom pursue extinction. Then I pronounce, through hundreds of thousands of causes and conditions, that there still is form after achieving liberation.

    Kāśyapa said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, achieving liberation and command means that sentient beings must be eternal. By analogy, upon seeing smoke, one deduces that there must be fire. If there is a [true] self in one, then there can be liberation. Saying that there is a [true] self means that there is form after achieving liberation. This is not the worldly self-view, nor is it the statement of cessation or perpetuity.”
    Kāśyapa asked the Buddha, “World-Honored One, why does the Tathāgata, who never enters [extinction through] parinirvāṇa, manifest entering parinirvāṇa? Why does He who is never born manifest birth?”
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “It is for destroying the idea of perpetuity in sentient beings’ calculating minds. The Tathāgata never enters [extinction through] parinirvāṇa but manifests entering parinirvāṇa. He is never born but manifests birth. Why? Because sentient beings would say, ‘Even a Buddha has an ending in life and is not in command, not to mention any of us, who has a self and its belongings.’ As an analogy, a king is seized by a neighboring nation. In cangue and shackles, he thinks: ‘Am I now still the king, the lord? I now am neither the king nor the lord.’ Why does he have such tribulations? It is caused by his abandonment of self-restraint. Every sentient being that transmigrates through its cycle of birth and death has no commanding self. The lack of command is the meaning of no self that I have explained.
    “As another analogy, a person is pursued by bandits who will harm him with knives. He thinks: ‘I now have no strength. How can I avoid death?’ With such concerns about the suffering of birth, aging, illness, and death, sentient beings wish to become the god-king Śakra or a Brahma-king. To destroy this kind of mentality, the Tathāgata manifests death. The Tathāgata is the god of gods. If His parinirvāṇa meant extinction, then the world should also go extinct. If it is not extinction, then it means eternal peace and bliss. To be in eternal peace and bliss, there must be a [true] self, as smoke implies fire. If there is no self and one claims to have a self, the world should be filled with selves. [The true] self does not invalidate no self. If there were no [true] self, a [nominal] self could not be established.”
    Kāśyapa asked the Buddha, “What is existence?”
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “Existence refers to the twenty-five forms of existence as sentient beings. Nonexistence refers to the state of any no-thinking thing, or any sentient being before its birth or after its death. If thinking beings could be destroyed, sentient beings would eventually be extinct. Because sentient beings [in true reality] have neither birth nor death, they neither increase nor decrease in number.”
    Kāśyapa asked the Buddha, “World-Honored One, if there is a [true] self in one, why is it covered up by one’s afflictions, which are like dirt?”
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “Very good! Very good! You should ask the Tathāgata this question. As an analogy, a goldsmith perceives the purity of gold. He thinks about why such pure gold is mixed with dirt and seeks the origin of the dirt. Will he find its origin?”
    Kāśyapa replied, “No, World-Honored One.”
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “If he spends his entire lifetime thinking about the initial cause of the dirt since time without a beginning, will he find the original state? He will acquire neither gold nor the origin of dirt. However, if he diligently uses skillful means to remove the dirt mixed with the gold, he will acquire the gold.”
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “Thus [one’s true] self is covered up by one’s afflictions, like dirt. If a person who wants to see his [true] self thinks: ‘I should search for this self and the origin of afflictions,’ will that person find the origin?”
    Kāśyapa replied to the Buddha, “No, World-Honored One.”
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “If one diligently uses skillful means to remove one’s afflictions, which are like dirt, one will realize one’s [true] self. If one, having heard this sūtra, with profound faith and delight, uses skillful means, neither leisurely nor rushed, to do good karmas with one’s body, voice, and mind, through these causes and conditions, one will realize one’s [true] self.”
    Kāśyapa asked the Buddha, “If there is true self, why it is not seen?”
    The Buddha told Kāśyapa, “I will now give you an analogy. For example, a beginning student is learning the five letters [five sets of five consonants], which are used to compose stanzas of verses. If one wants to know the meanings [of the verses] before learning [the letters], can one know them? One should first learn [the letters], then one will know [the meanings]. Having learned [the letters], one needs to be taught by the teacher, who uses examples to indicate the meanings of verses composed of words. If one can listen to and accept the teacher, one will acquire understanding of the meanings of the verses, and believe and appreciate them. The [true] self is now covered up by the store of afflictions. If someone says, ‘Good man, the Tathāgata store is such and such,’ then the hearer immediately wants to see it. Is he able to see it?”
    Kāśyapa replied, “No, World-Honored One.”



2 thoughts on “Why did the Buddha teach Emptiness and Not-self?

  1. Here’s the summary of this section of the Sutra:

    Sutras which teach about emptiness do not teach the whole picture, but this particular Sutra does.

    People who say that “Everything is empty, there is no self. Because the Buddha said so!” use it as an excuse for their shallow learning and also as an excuse to behave badly. But the problem here is that these guys don’t really understand what emptiness and no self means. They are actually following the path of annihilation – NOT Buddhism.

    The real meaning of no self or anatta is “lack of a commanding self” – this is what’s meant by no self. Lack of a commanding self means you can’t fully control it – it will get old, get sick and die and you can’t control these aspects – so that means that these things you can’t control are not your real self. They are not really you because you can’t tell them to do whatever you want it to. But if something is really you, then you can command it any which way you want it to and it will be so – you will have full, absolute control over it.

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