Nāgārjuna’s Concept of Emptiness in Comparison with Schopenhauer and Aristotle


  • Volkmar Enßlin Volkmar Enßlin is a lecturer and researcher in Buddhist ethics at Mahidol University International College in Thailand.


One of the most difficult and controversial concepts in Buddhism is the concept of emptiness or śūnyatā. It often attracts the attention of Western thinkers, who expend much effort either to embrace or reject it. Hence, this concept had led to many contradictory interpretations and endless discussions. Emptiness, or śūnyatā, has been so often misunderstood, not only in the West, but also in India itself, even during Nāgārjuna’s own time. Out of this bed of conflicting interpretations lies the motivation for this article to assist in the understanding of the concept of śūnyatā. I will focus on the concept as taught by the Indian monk Nāgārjuna of the Mādhyamika school. In pursuing this approach, I will show a corresponding interpretation of another Mādhyamika monk, Śāntideva, and will reveal parallels to the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. In order to demonstrate an opposing theory, I will contrast Nāgārjuna’s concept to the theory of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.