EMPTINESS MEANS "INHERENTLY EMPTY,"
WHEREAS "NOTHINGNESS" MEANS JUST NOTHING
One of the most interesting and debated Buddhist concepts is Shunyata (emptiness). The moment you utter "emptiness," you get the idea of nothingness. So, is there no difference between emptiness and nothingness?
The ontology of Buddhism, more precisely Mahayana Buddhism, makes it clear that emptiness means "inherently empty," whereas ''nothingness" means just nothing.
So, the difference is as big and as clear as between yes and no. An example: When we say the glass is empty, it does not mean there is nothing in it. It's not empty at all.
It is full of air.
That is why the famous phrase, 'form is emptiness, emptiness is form' has remained a much debated paradox in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist view of emptiness is different from its superficial meaning.
Buddhism stresses on the inherent and essential emptiness of the glass (e.g.) because the glass being empty means it does not exist on its own.
That throws up another question: what is non-inherent existence? Can we say that the glass ultimately does not exist? The glass does exist, but like all other things around us, its existence depends on other conditions.
What is the glass made of?
Is there an element or component in it that has its own existence? The components, the shape and the function on their own cannot make up the glass. All of them put together make the glass.
Therefore, we can say the glass, or for that matter any other object, comes into existence only when the specific conditions come into play.
Only then our mind computes the idea of an object coming into existence.
Here, one may rope in Greek philosopher Plato whose theory on objects was the antithesis to Buddhists' Shunyata concept. Plato held the view that there is an ideal essence in everything around us be it an animate or inanimate object. There is a section of thinkers who gives Plato credit for his theory as the "essence of the object ultimately exists in the realm of the mind."
But I am told that isn't as simple as that!