I argue that sunyata, or something like it, manifested itself in early Western thought. While Plato and Aristotle resisted emptiness or nothingness, they nevertheless felt themselves obliged to venture close to its edge in order to ground their explanations of changing reality to unchanging principles. These principles (Plato’s receptacle and Aristotle’s prime matter) embody much of the indeterminancy long associated with the Mahayana understanding of sunyata. Although their function was to enable lasting (static) explanations of reality by putting change out of play, they themselves shade off toward a featureless being evocative of non-being. Moving along a somewhat different track, Greek atomists embraced emptiness (or void) so as to permit self-existent, fully self-contained atoms to move about. In their system, non-being, a foundational principle of reality, paradoxically coexists with being. Interestingly, modern science has undone the self-containment of atoms—emptied them of properties once thought to be innate—and thereby removed yet another Western safeguard against change. It seems that change cannot be put out of play, though it does slope off toward sunyata-like emptiness.
"SUNYATA IN THE WEST,"
Comparative Philosophy: Vol. 7
, Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/comparativephilosophy/vol7/iss1/6