The apophatic methodology, also known as the via negativa, is something not absent from the canon of Buddhism. Apophasis or negation, for example, occurs when the Buddha inventories the Five Aggregates, consisting of form, sensation, perception, predispositions, and consciousness, and finds them to be not the self or anatma. In this respect, these aggregates do not belong to him, fundamentally. They are, in other words, what he is not, viz., not his self.
The method of Buddhist emptiness is another form of Buddhist apophasis. One of perhaps the earliest formulas of emptiness occurs in the Culasuññata Sutta of the Pali Canon.
“He regards that which is not there as empty of it. But in regard to what remains there he comprehends, ‘That being, this is.’ Thus, Ananda, this comes to be for him a true, not a mistaken, utterly purified realisaton of (the concept) of emptiness” (M. i. 104–105).
In Vasubandhu's Madhyantavibhaga he defines emptiness in the following way which is not unlike the definition in the Culasuññata Sutta:
"It is perceived as it really is that, when anything does not exist in something, the latter is empty with regard to the former; and further it is understood as it really is that, when, in this place, something remains, it exists here as a real existent."
Under this definition we will use the example of mind perturbations (âsravas) as being the emptable or removable part of mind that doesn't belong to mind's true nature.
In apophasis, the âsrava obstructed mind is confronted by the, as yet, hidden, potentially transcendent mind. The transcendent mind removes from its primordial field all âsrava/perturbations arriving finally at itself. This arriving-at-self, is none other than nirvana and pure Mind which is absolutely free of perturbations. And for this reason, in the Pali canon, this emptiness of Mind is called paramanuttara suññatâ i.e., the incomparably highest emptiness.
Since mind has always been implicitly behind the removing or emptying-out process—although hidden from itself—by removing the three obscuring perturbations consisting of sensuality, becoming, and nescience (sometimes there is a fourth, which is view) mind has no other course than to eventually arrive at itself as pure Mind which is luminous and absolutely self-affirming.
Apophasis, if applied correctly, proceeds to what is most primordial and everlasting (nitya). In the incomparably highest emptiness Mind is the immaculate medium of all in which all is seen—but as what is not the absolute Mind. In this state one is Mind being now liberated from blindly following its perturbations in the belief that these conditions were it.