‘Selfhood’ here translates ‘self-nature’ (svabhāva). As we have seen, it is the fact that things are empty of self-nature which allows their natures to be represented by a tree, all branches of which are infinite.The infinitude allows for interpenetration. And the fact that all things interpenetrate with nothing means that the tree for something very large interpenetrates with the tree for something very small.37 The mustard seed can, then, metaphysically contain Mount Sumeru.

Note the consequences of this. Take any two objects—say me and a flower in the desert; and consider a (sparse) relation that contributes to making the flower what it is.38 By transitivity, this also contributes, in the great scheme of things, to making we what I am. Of course, as I observed in Section 11.4, not all relations are of equal weight; and one would expect the relations inherited by me from the flower to be pretty negligible. One can express this thought in terms of the Net of Indra: the image of one jewel in another will be larger/brighter the closer it is.

A final comment. The Huayan held not only that each object interpenetrates with each other object, but also that each object interpenetrates with the totality of all objects. They were right about this too. Everything and nothing are like north and south. Each could not be what it is unless the other was what it is. Everything and nothing then interpenetrate. And since any thing interpenetrates with nothing, it interpenetrates with everything: for any a, ae.39

So much for an analysis of emptiness (and its Huayan articulation). We can now go on to look at some of its implications. But before we do this, we need to pause and address a couple of important objections to the very coherence of the notion of emptiness. In the next chapter, we turn to this.

37 In Huayan thought, it is not nothing which links all things together; it is ultimate reality (principle, li). But in this respect, nothing is behaving very much like a Buddhist ultimate reality. We will meet some other important ways in which this is the case in a later chapter.

38 Not all relations between me and the flower are sparse, however.Thus, the fact that I am drinking tea when the flower is blossoming is, presumably, not.

39 In the Huayan tradition it is held that any object (not just everything) interpenetrates with each of its parts. So the identity of an object depends on the identity of its parts, and vice versa.This is a harder position to sustain. For a start, it seems natural to suppose that an object can remain the very object it is if one part is changed.Thus, if I change a tyre on my bike, it is still the same bike.Moreover, and again, it is natural to suppose that a part can remain exactly the same part, independently of the rest of the object.The new tyre was the tyre it was even if it was made before the bike was. Against the first objection, the Huayan argued that when the tyre is replaced, the old bike literally does go out of existence.What comes into existence is an object which is very similar, and functionally equivalent. (One could also argue, as I did in Section 6.9, that at any time an object is the sum of its parts, but the parts can change while the object remains the same.) Against the second, they argued that the new tyre is not really a tyre at all, let alone that tyre, until it is put on the bike. Till then, it is just a tyre-in-waiting. (Aristotle runs this line for animal parts. See Parts of Animals, 1.1, esp. 640b34–641a10.) For a defence of the Huayan view, see Jones (2009) and (201+).

One: Being an Investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness by Graham Priest