When we say that something (a dharma, object, person, phenomena, experience, event) is empty, do we mean that it is empty of a self? Or that its self is empty of inherent existence?
I've thought about this quite a bit, and don't think these are expressions of the same position. Chang's book seems to fall into the former camp, while the Prasangika Madhyamika literature I've read falls into the latter.
Both positions have very interesting implications and firm philosophical bases for their positions, and yet for the life of me I can't seem to resolve the issue. If a self is constantly changing and is empty of self-existence, then in what way can it be considered a self? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?
From my understanding, the self as a noun--a concrete, unchanging entity--is a fiction and the source of clinging and suffering. For this reason, it is more accurate to think of ourselves as unfolding processes, or verbs. Constant flux, without a center or core, empty of a self or essence. So does that mean "empty of self" or "having an empty self"?
I realize that I'm trying to apply logic to the Absolute nature of things--admittedly, an inevitably futile task that a Zen master would cudgel me for--but isn't reasoning the very bedrock of Madhyamika philosophy?
More importantly, I can't overlook another obvious question begging my attention: Why must I know? Why do I feel the need for certainty? Isn't this just another form of grasping? The more I gnaw on this question, the more I feel like a dog chasing his tail--tying myself into a mental pretzel.
Which leads me to my final question: How does the answer to the emptiness question affect my practice? It's not like adopting one position is suddenly going to lead me to Enlightenment. If only that were the case!
With that said, I'd still like to know the answer. Please tell me what you think.
Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Sebastian Mary.