This translation of the Discourse on Emptiness in the True Sense of the Word has been prepared by Thich Nhat Hanh from the Samyukta Agama, 335. It appears in Thich Nhat Hanh, Chanting From The Heart (Parallax Press, Rev.Ed., 2006)
It is recited regularly at Plum Village practice centers around the world, as part of our daily sitting and chanting sessions.
Discourse on Emptiness in the True Sense of the Word
This is what I heard one time when the Buddha was residing with the Kuru people, in the village of Kalmasadamya. The World-Honored One addressed the monks: “I will offer you now the Teaching that is good at the beginning, good at the middle and good at the end; good in its meaning and good in taste, pure, and homogeneous, the Teaching that will help you successfully lead the pure and noble life of a monk. This is the Teaching of Emptiness in the True Sense of the Word. Please listen and reflect skillfully on it.
What does it mean, ‘the Teaching on Emptiness in the True Sense of the Word?’ The eye, o monks, when it arises does not come from anywhere, and when it perishes it does not go anywhere. Therefore, the eye arises not as a real entity, and having arisen, it perishes. The action is there, the result of the action is there, but there is no actor. One aggregate, while disintegrating, gives rise to another aggregate; and one can only look upon phenomena as mere designation. The same thing is true with regard to the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the consciousness—everything should be looked upon as mere designation.
What does mere designation mean? It means: ‘This being, that is; from the arising of this, that arises, as in the case of the twelve interdependent links. From the arising of ignorance arise formations, from the arising of formation arises consciousness, etc., until the arising of the entire mass of ill-being.’ It also means: ‘This being not, that is not; since this has ceased, that does not arise anymore, as in the case of the twelve interdependent links. The cessation of ignorance results in the cessation of formations, the cessation of formations results in the cessation of consciousness, etc., until the cessation of the entire mass of ill-being.’ That is o monks, the Teaching called Emptiness in the true sense of the Word.”
Thus spoke the World-Honored One. The monks were delighted and joyfully put the teaching into practice.
Samyukta Agama, 335