benwu / Original Non-being
Benwu, or original non-being, is a term used to refer to void. Philosophical schools in the Eastern Jin Dynasty used it to bracket the doctrine of emptiness from the Prajñāpāramitā literatures (“The Perfection of Wisdom”), arguing that things are fundamentally non-existent. In the view of Seng Zhao (384 or 374-414) and the like, the pitfall of this standpoint, by emphasizing the absolute “emptiness,” is an inclination towards nihilism (which is expressively rejected by Buddhist doctrines). Seng Zhao thus criticized it through his writings: here affirmed the middle way (away from the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism), thus interpreted the emptiness as but the dependent origination. This term benwu can also be found in the works of later generations. In certain cases however, it was reinvented to be the “emptiness as the dependent origination” rather than “absolute emptiness.” So, one should be cautious about its various connotations in different historical context.
The teaching of “original non-being” is obsessed with nothingness, which thoroughly dominates their discussion. They reject “being,” because it is nonexistent. They also reject “non-being,” because again non-being is neither existent. But if we look into the scriptures they alluded to, we will see that these texts actually reject the real “being” by naming “non-being” while reject real “non-being” as a refutation of substantialized non-being. Then why on earth should they insist that the negation of “being” is absolutely non-existent and the negation of “non-being” as if the non-being is actually nonexistent? They are just too much into their “nothingness”! How could they enter the reality without hindrance, and approach the true character of things? (Seng Zhao: Treatise of Seng Zhao)