Claude Boissons writes to express puzzlement over the following quotation pulled from a Buddhism site:
Everything exists dependently upon everything else. Nothing exists independently in and of itself. Therefore, everything is empty of inherent existence. Every phenomenon is empty of true existence, therefore emptiness is the ultimate nature of everything that exists.
I don’t understand how the second "therefore'' is used. Is it true that if nothing exists independently, the consequence is that nothing exists, period? And so I feel there is a play on words in moving from "empty of inherent existence" to "empty of true existence."Maybe some day you might tell us what you think about this?
How about right now?
Charitably understood, the Buddhist claim is not that nothing exists, period. For that would fly in the face of what we all know to be the case. The claim is not that nothing exists, but that what exists lacks self-nature. This is the famous doctrine of 'no self' or anatta, which, along with anicca (impermanence) and dukkha (suffering), make up the three pillars of Pali Buddhism.
The anatta (Sanskrit: anatman) doctrine lies at the center of Buddhist thought and practice. The Pali and Sanskrit words translate literally as 'no self'; but the doctrine applies not only to persons but to non-persons as well. On the 'no self' theory, nothing possesses selfhood or self-nature or 'own-being,' perhaps not even nibbana 'itself.' We can explain this in Western terms as follows.
If a (primary) substance is anything metaphysically capable of independent existence, then we can interpret the anatta doctrine as a denial of the existence of substances. The 'no self' theory would then imply that in ultimate reality there are no substances: what we ordinarily take to be such are wrongly so taken. The world is a Heraclitean flux of momentary items, dharmas, each of which is insubstantial, impermanent, and something which breeds suffering among the ignorant who try to cling to what in itself cannot be clung to.
Causation in such a system is understood as paticcasamuppada (Sanskrit: pratityasamutpada) usually translated as dependent origination or dependent arising according to which all dharmas arise in dependence upon other dharmas.
What is puzzling you is the move from 'empty of inherent existence' to empty of 'true existence.'
There is no puzzle if you understand 'empty of inherent' existence to mean 'empty of substantial existence' and 'true existence' to refer to a mode of existence that Buddhists claim nothing has.
Let me know if this makes sense to you. Of course, I am not endorsing it.