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PROGRESSIVE STAGES OF

MEDITATION ON EMPTINESS
BY
YEN. KHENPO TSULTRIM GYAMTSO RIMPOCHE
T ranslated and arranged
by
Shenpen H ookham

PROGRESSIVE STAGES OF
MEDITATION ON EMPTINESS

BY
YEN. KHENPO TSULTRIM GYAMTSO RIMPOCHE

Translated and arranged


by
Shenpen Hookham

1st edition: 1986


2nd edition: 1988
2 n d edition: 1994 Reprint
Copyright
(6) K henpo Tsultrim Gyamtso and Shenpen H ookham 1986
Translation, adaption and reproduction forbidden without
the authorization o f K henpo Tsultrim Gyamtso and Shenpen
Hookham.
Illustrations by Carlo Luyckx
Reproduction forbidden without his permission.
IS B N 0 9511477 0 6
Published by:
Longchen Foundation
30, Beechey A venue
Old Marston
O xford
OTTT

CONTENTS

PREFACE
IN T R O D U C T IO N
STAGE O N E:
T h e Sravaka M editation on N ot-Self
STAGE T W O :
T h e C ittam atra A pproach
STAGE T H R E E :
T h e Svatantrika A pproach
STAGE FOUR:
T h e Prasangika A pproach
STAGE FIVE:
T h e Em ptiness o f O th e r (Shentong) A pp
A PPEN D IX

PREFACE

T he Venerable Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rimpoche came


to Europe at the request of H .H .K arm apa 16th in 1977. He is
one of the most erudite scholars and accomplished yogis of
the Karma Kagyu lineage. He is especially well-known for his
breadth of vision and the clarity of his Dharma expositions.
He first taught the Progessive Stages on Emptiness in Europe
in 1978 and over the years he taught it again on a num ber of
occasions in different countries, including America in 1985.
In 1979 he asked me to write a small booklet by transcribing
his teachings given that year to the Kagyupa Institute of
Mahayana Buddhist Studies (Kagyu Tekchen Shedra) in
Brussels. Due to circumstances which forced me to produce
the booklet very hurriedly, it was inadequate in many ways.
Nonetheless it was well received and immediately translated
into French and Greek. T he French translator, Jerom e Edou,
had the opportunity to expand several points in the book
during consultations with Khenpo Rimpoche and these have
been included in this second edition of the English version.

Over the several years that have elapsed since the appearance
of the first edition Khenpo Rimpoche has further clarified a
num ber of questions for me and has asked me to include the
clarifications in this edition. With Khenpo Rimpoches
permission I have also included a num ber of points that arose
in the discussions my husband Michael Hookham and I had
with Khenpo Rimpoche in Brussels and O xford in 1984 and
1985.
T he present text represents, therefore, a more refined and
extensive version of the original transcribed course. In order
to incorporate the new material at appropriate moments in
the text without disturbing the flow, the whole text has been
re-written and re-arranged. I hope in this way to have
succeeded in presenting all Rimpoches points clearly and
accurately in a readable form.
In addition, discussion of views commonly held by westerners
has also been included. I found that a num ber of intelligent
and perceptive proof-readers had difficulty in relating to the
subject m atter, because of certain assumptions they were
making as westerners, concerning what Khenpo Tsultrim was
saying. Since I find these questions often arise, I have tried to
circumvent m isunderstanding by actually formulating them
in ways I have heard expressed and then showing how they
relate to the subject m atter in hand. In general, where the
views of westerners are referred to, these sections represent
my own additions.

It should be noted that much of Khenpo Tsultrim s presenta


tion is derived from K ongtruls Encyclopaedia of Knowledge
(Shes bya kun khyab). Kongtrul was a great Kagyu teacher of
the late 19th century, famous for his non-sectarian approach.
Shenpen Hookham
Oxford, May 1986

T he Translator
Shenpen Hookham had already studied and practised under
the direction of Kagyu Lamas for ten years before meeting
Ven. K henpo Gyamtso Rimpoche in 1977. She has studied
u nder him for eleven years and is a mem ber of the Kagyu
Tekchen Shedra (established by him in 1978). In 1986 she
completed her doctoral thesis at Oxford University on
T athagatagarbha doctrine according to the Shentong
interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga which is to be
published as a book shortly.

IN TRO D U CTIO N

T h e T ib etan term stong nyid sgom rim m eans som ething like
progressive stages o f m editation on em ptiness. T h e idea o f a series
o f m editation practices on a particular aspect o f the B u d d h as teach
ings is th at by b eg inning with o n es first ra th e r coarse com m onsense u n d erstan d in g , one progresses th ro u g h increasingly subtle
an d m ore refin ed stages until one arrives at com plete an d perfect
un d erstan d in g . Each stage in the process prepares the m ind for the
n ext in so far as each step is fully integrated into o n es u n d e r
standing th ro u g h the m editation process.

T H R E E STAGES IN T H E PROCESS OF U N D ER STA N D IN G


M editation should be un d ersto o d as the th ird stage in the
developm ent o f o n e s u n d erstanding. T h e first stage is to listen to o r
study th e teachings with an op en an d receptive m ind th at does not
d istort w hat is being h eard o r studied. T h e second stage is carefully
to reflect on w hat has been received in o rd e r to clarify its tru e
significance. T h e th ird stage is to integrate the newly acquired
know ledge o r u n d ersta n d in g into o n e s being o r character. In a
sense this is like p u ttin g it into practice. W hen one talks about m edi
tation practice one does not m ean one is practising m editation so

th at one day on e will have perfected it an d be able to give a perfect


perform ance. R ath er it is practice in the sense o f actually doing o r
being it as o p p osed to ju s t thinking about it.

T H R E E FIELDS O F IN V E ST IG A T IO N
T h e whole o f B uddhism is stru ctu red aro u n d this three-fold
train in g in listening, reflecting an d m editating. W hile B uddhist
scholars concentrate on studying o r listening to the B u d d h as
doctrine, the logicians study valid m eans o f know ing an d reasoning,
th e tools with which one reflects and is able to discern w hat is tru e
an d false. T his corresponds to the stage o f reflection. T h e yogis or
m editators are those who have established th ro u g h listening and
reflection w hat m ust be th e case and who are now engaged in
train in g them selves in the a rt o f ab andoning th eir delusions. It is
on e th in g to decide th ro u g h reasoning w hat m ust be tru e an d
a n o th e r actually to see the w orld in th at way.
By relying on these th ree practices and using each to enhance the
others, the fog o f confusion an d clouds o f ignorance are rem oved;
know ledge an d u n d ersta n d in g can th en shine fo rth u n im p ed ed like
the sun breaking th ro u g h th e m ist at daw n.

T H R E E WAYS T O REM OVE D O U B T


At the listening stage a person should study the B u d d h as w ord
in the Sutras an d com m entaries, relying on explanations o f qual
ified teachers who can clarify o n es doubts.
At th e reflecting stage one discovers fu rth e r areas th at lack clar
ity, an d a teach ers guidance will again be required. A fter fu rth e r
reflection yet m ore doubts may arise so the process has to be
rep eated until a certitude concerning the m eaning an d significance
o f the teaching has arisen. W ith this certitude, o r confidence, one is
able to em bark on m editation. T h ro u g h m editation, doubts and
hesitations should disappear, so if one finds them increasing one
should reso rt once m ore to listening an d reflecting.

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As th e doubts disappear one experiences directly the tru e


m eaning o f the teachings so th at eventually o n e s m editation
stabilizes free from hesitation o r uncertainty.

A lthough people vary as to how m uch tim e they have to spend


at each stage, everyone needs each stage o f the process if they are to
reach liberation. M editation w ithout listening an d reflecting is
blind, b u t listening an d reflecting w ithout m editation is like having
eyesight and no legs.

T H R E E TE X TS T O FOLLOW
T h e re are B uddhist texts th at correspond to each stage o f this
process.
For exam ple the J ew el O rn a m en t o f L iberation (Dwags po
th a r rgyan) by G am popa lays o u t the paths and stages o f the
B odhisattva according to the M ahayana Sutras. T his corresponds to
the listening stage w here one learns about the vast an d profuse
aspects o f th e relative tru th , for exam ple karm a, im perm anence,
love an d com passion. O ne can practise progressive stages o f m edi
tation (sgom rim ) on this text by reflecting systematically on its m ain
points. T h u s by studying this text one can reflect and m editate on
relative tru th .
T h e M adhyam akavatara (dBu m a la j u g pa) by C andrakirti
gives a logical exposition o f the absolute tru th o f em ptiness. A fter
studying this text one can reflect an d m editate on A bsolute T ru th .
T his book o f the Progressive Stages o f M editation on Em ptiness is
in ten d ed to assist the developm ent o f the m ed itato rs u n d e r
standing o f this.
T h e M ah ayanottaratantrasastra (also known as the R atnagotravibhaga, rG yud bla m a in T ibetan) is attrib u ted in the T ibetan
tradition to M aitreya. It introduces the m editator to the doctrine of
T ath ag atag arb h a (B uddha N ature) which concerns the C lear Light
N atu re o f M ind. It em phasizes th at for the ultim ate realization of
B u d d h ah o o d to arise one has to experience o n es tru e n atu re
directly w ithout any conceptual effort to clear away delusion o r to
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create an enlig h tened state. It teaches th at as long as one does not


experience the full extent o f the powers o f the E nlightened M ind
one has not reached com plete liberation. T his is a m ore subtle
teaching th an m erely th at o f showing all dharm as are em pty o f self
n atu re. It should be studied and practised after the progressive
m editation on em ptiness th at is outlined in this book.
T h e doctrine o f T ath a g atag arb h a outlined in the M ahayanottaratan trasastra lays the basis for u n d ersta n d in g V ajrayana and
M aham udra teachings and practice. T hese teachings take for
g ran ted th at the p ractitioner has already understood the vast
aspects o f the relative tru th , and the em pty n atu re o f all dharm as, so
th at he is ready to relax in the C lear L ight N ature o f M ind ju s t as it
is, h ere an d now, using all experience to enhance the clarity o f his
u nd erstan d in g .

T H E IM PO R TA N C E O F T H E R ELA TIV E T R U T H
( S A M V R T I S A T Y A , K U N R D Z O B B D E N PA)
F rom these explanations it will be clear th at as a prelim inary to
following the Progressive stages o f M editation on Em ptiness one
should listen to, reflect on an d m editate on the J ew el O rn a m en t o f
L iberation o r some sim ilar text.
W ithout a p ro p e r u n d erstan d in g o f the vast aspects o f the rela
tive tru th , m editation on Em ptiness can be m isleading an d even
dangerous.
A lthough insight may com e quickly, stability comes slowly. T h e
relative tru th gives us a way o f looking at life and the world which,
while conform ing to o u r ordinary com m on sense notions o f tim e
an d space, is conducive to E nlightenm ent (i.e. Liberation) which lies
beyond them .
T h e relative tru th is the foundation of all the B u d d h as
teaching because it gives a p ro p e r u n d erstan d in g o f w hat is to be
ab an d o n ed and w hat is to be cultivated. By abandoning unw hole
som e an d cultivating w holesom e action one creates the necessary
conditions for listening, reflecting and m editating to be fruitful. In

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this way it is th ro u g h respecting the relative truth that the Absolute


tru th can be realized.

A B SO LU TE T R U T H
( P A R A M A R T H A S A T Y A , D O N D A M B D E N PA)
In B uddhism A bsolute T ru th o r Absolute Reality m eans the
en d p o in t o f o n es analysis, in o th er words, the m ost basic o r fu n d a
m ental elem ent o f existence o r experience.
For exam ple, if one takes a clay pot, a p o tter m ight say th at in
absolute term s it was clay, b u t a scientist m ight say it was a collection
o f atom s. If he were being m ore precise he m ight say the atom s
them selves consisted of atom ic particles m oving in space, b u t even
this would be a ro u g h approxim ation to reality. In absolute term s
atom ic particles can no longer be defined precisely these days. T hey
cannot be said to be this o r th at or here o r there; they have to be
expressed in term s o f probability. No dou b t scientists will express it
differently again in a few years time.
In the sam e way Absolute T ru th presents itself differently to
practitioners at the various levels o f th eir practice. Ju st as this
em erges in the experience o f an individual practitioner, it occurs
historically in the way that the B uddhist Scriptures em erged as a
progression o f increasingly subtle teachings.

PROGRESSIVE STAGES OF M E D IT A T IO N
ON EM PTIN ESS
T his book Progressive Stages o f M editation on E m ptiness
presents th e key stages in the B uddhist experience o f the A bsolute
T ru th o f Em ptiness as five-fold;
1. the
2. the
3. the
4. the
5. the

Sravaka stage,
C ittam atra stage,
Svatantrika-M adhyam aka stage,
Prasangika-M adhyam aka stage.
S h entong M adhyam aka stage.

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A lthough these stages are nam ed after th e B uddhist Schools


th at fo rm u lated them , in fact, they re p resen t the stages in the
developm ent o f an individuals u n d ersta n d in g o f Em ptiness.
We are n o t interested at this point in getting involved in
scholastic an d philosophical debate about exactly how each school
w orked o u t its system in detail. T h e point is th at these stages re p re
sent fo u r readily recognizable stages in the progression from a gross
cognisance to increasingly subtle levels o f u n derstanding.
In general a p ractitioner should be given a teaching th at corres
ponds with his capacities an d level of u n derstanding. However,
except for th e occasional well-endowed practitioner, m ost people
cannot u n d ersta n d and practice the m ost subtle and p ro fo u n d
teachings on em ptiness as soon as they h ea r them . Instead, they
have to progress th ro u g h a series o f levels starting with the m ost
basic teaching, ju s t as one has to start in class one at school and
gradually work o n e s way u p from there. For exam ple in the case o f
a very technical subject, one does not expect to u n d ersta n d the
subtleties discussed by experts w ithout having learnt the first princi
ples. In th e sam e way it is highly unlikely th a t a person will gain an
accurate u n d erstan d in g o f the m ost p ro fo u n d teachings o f the
B u d d h a w ithout having gone th ro u g h the progressive stages o f the
teaching leading u p to them .
O ne can think o f the Progressive Stages o f M editation on
E m ptiness as the stages in the refinem ent process o f a piece o f gold
ore. T h e initial stages o f the process are som ew hat gross but
nonetheless effective, the later stages becom e m ore an d m ore
refined until finally the com pletely p u re refined gold itself
em erges. H ere the gold is com pared to the A bsolute T ru th o f the
Em ptiness itself.
A n o th er exam ple o f how the stages of the m editation rep resen t
a progression from gross to subtle is th at o f a person being
instructed on how to find a needle on a m ountain. First he needs to
know the general direction o f the m ountain for which he needs a
large scale m ap. O nce he has found the m ountain he needs a smallscale m ap in o rd e r to find the exact location. It may lie near a large
rock for exam ple. O n nearing the rock he can be shown the exact

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tree u n d e r which it lies. O n arriving u n d e r the tree he needs the


exact place po in ted out. Finally, how ever, it is with his own eyes that
he has to find it. In the sam e way the early stages o f the m editation
progression b rin g one n ea rer and n ea rer to the tru e realization of
E m ptiness, b u t finally it is th ro u g h o n es own direct perception that
it is seen.

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STAGE ONE

THE SRAVAKA MEDITATION


ON NOT-SELF
A lthough this is called the Sravaka stage because it represents
the h ea rt o f the Sravaka vehicle, one should not assum e th at it is
u n im p o rtan t in the o th er vehicles o f B uddhism . M ilarepa, the great
V ajrayana m aster, tau g h t his disciple, the sh ep h erd boy, the
Sravaka m editation on not-self after the boy h ad shown signs o f
having g reat n atu ral m editation ability. It is said th at on being told
to m editate on a small im age o f the B u d d h a he w ent straight into
m editative absorbtion (samadhi) for a week w ithout noticing the
time. W hen he cam e out o f sam adhi it seem ed to him he h ad only
been m editating a few seconds.
At this stage one does not consider the em ptiness o f all
p h en o m en a b u t only the em ptiness o r lack o f self in the person. T h e
im portance o f this is th at it is the clinging to the idea th at one has a
single, p erm an en t, in d ep en d en t, truly existing self that is the root
cause o f all o n es suffering. O ne does not need to have an explicit o r
clearly fo rm u lated idea o f self in o rd e r to act as if one had one. S elf
h ere m eans the im plied self which m ight also be reg ard e d as

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im plied in the behaviour o f anim als. Anim als, ju s t like us, identify
them selves with th eir bodies an d m inds an d are constantly seeking
physical an d m ental com fort as they try to avoid discom fort and
assuage pain. B oth anim als an d hum ans act as if they have a self to
pro tect an d preserve an d one regards this behaviour as autom atic
an d instinctive as well as norm al. W hen pain o r discom fort arise the
autom atic response is to try to rem ove it. It is extraneous to the self
an d the im plication is th at the self would naturally be h appy if all
pain and suffering were rem oved.
Strangely, however, w hen we try to analyse o u r behaviour in
relation to this self, we realize th at we are very unclear as to w hat this
self really is. N on-B uddhist thinkers have defined the self variously
as resting in the brain, blood or h ea rt an d having such qualities as
tru e o r tran scen dental existence in o r outside o f the m ind or body.
T o have any m eaning such a self has to be lasting, for if it perished
every m o m en t one would not be so concerned about w hat was going
to h ap p e n to it the next m om ent; it would not be o n es self
anym ore. Again it has to be single. If one h ad no separate identity
why should one worry about w hat h ap p e n ed to o n e s se lf any m ore
th a n one w orried ab o u t anyone elses. It has to be in d e p e n d e n t or
th ere would be no sense in saying I did this o r I have th a t. If one
h ad no in d ep en d e n t existence th ere would be no-one to claim the
actions an d experiences as its own.
We all act as if we h ad lasting, separate, in d ep en d e n t selves th at
it is o u r constant pre-occupation to protect an d foster. It is an
u n th in k in g habit th at m ost o f us would norm ally be m ost unlikely to
question o r explain. How ever, all o u r suffering is associated with
this pre-occupation. All loss an d gain, pleasure an d pain arise
because we identify so closely with this vague feeling o f selfness that
we have. We are so em otionally involved with an d attached to this
self th at we take it for granted.
T h e m ed itator does not speculate about this self. H e does not
have theories ab out w hether it does o r does not exist. Instead he ju st
trains him self to watch dispassionately how his m ind clings to the
idea o f self an d m ine and how all his sufferings arise from this
attachm ent. At the sam e tim e he looks carefully for that self. H e
tries to isolate it from all his o th er experiences. Since it is the culprit

20

(
as far as all his suffering is concerned, he wants to find it an d iden
tify it. T h e irony is th at how ever m uch he tries, he does not find
anything th at corresponds to the self.
W esterners often confuse self in this context with person, ego
o r personality. T hey argue th at they do n o t think o f the person, ego
o r personality as a lasting, single, in d ep en d e n t entity. T his is to miss
th e point. T h e person, personality o r ego as such are not a problem .
O n e can analyse them quite rationally into th eir constituent parts.
T h e W estern tradition has all sorts o f ways o f doing this. T h e
B u ddhist way is to talk o f the five skandhas, the eighteen dhatus o r
th e twelve gates o f consciousness. T h e question is not w hether o r
n o t the person, personality o r ego is a changing, com posite train o f
events conditioned by m any com plex factors. Any rational analysis
shows us th at this is the case. T h e question is why th en do we behave
em otionally as if it were lasting, single an d ind ep en d en t. T hus,
w hen looking for the self it is very im p o rtan t to rem em b er it is an
em otional response th at one is exam ining. W hen one responds to
events as if one h ad a self, for exam ple w hen one feels very h u rt or
offended, one should ask oneself who o r w hat exactly is feeling h u rt
o r offended.
If you are not convinced th at you behave em otionally as if you
h ad a lasting, single an d in d ep en d e n t self, th en it is im p o rtan t to
address yourself to this issue before m oving on to consider the
doctrine o f not-self. T h in k carefully about pain and suffering and
ask yourself who o r w hat it is th at is suffering. W ho is afraid o f w hat
will h ap p en ; who feels bad about w hat has h ap p en ed ; why does
d ea th seem such a th rea t w hen the p resen t disappears every
m om ent, scarcely having had a chance to arise? You will find th at
your thinking is full o f contradictions, inconsistencies an d irresolv
able paradoxes. T his is norm al. Everyone (except, perhaps, the
insane) have a com m on sense notion o f w hat o r who they are which
works (m ore o r less) an d enables them to function as norm al h u m an
beings.
H ow ever, w hen the m editator addresses him self to w hat o r
who this self is, he cannot find it. T h e n gradually, very gradually, it
daw ns on him th at the reason he cannot find it is th at it is not th ere
an d never was. T h e re is trem endous em otional resistance to this

21

realization so it takes a long tim e to break th ro u g h , but w hen it does


th ere is an im m ediate release o f tension an d suffering. T h e cause o f
it has gone. T h e cause o f it was a m ental attachm ent to som ething
th at was n o t there.
Som etim es the resistance to the realization takes the form o f
irritation. O n e is used to being able to explain things to oneself
rationally. Experience o f the self is so direct and in a sense so obvi
ous, th ere seems to be no reason to include it in o n es rational expla
nation o f things. O n the o th er hand, w hen one does try to explain it
to oneself, th e whole th in g is so irritatingly subjective it seems one
could never reach any satisfactory conclusion. Instead o f letting the
m ind rest in th e actual experience o f th at paradox, one gets fru s
trated an d irritated at not being able to form a w ater-tight explana
tion o f w hat the self is. It is im p o rtan t to notice th at an d be aw are o f
it. If one tries to ju st push th at irritation o u t o f o n es m ind, one will
never have a d eep realization o f not-self.
Clinging to the idea o f self is like clinging to the idea th at a piece
o f ro p e in the d ark is a snake. W hen the light is tu rn ed on an d one
sees th at th ere is no snake there, o n es fear an d suffering th at arose
from clinging to it as real dissolve. T h e snake never existed in the
first place, so it was simply o n e s clinging to th at idea th at caused the
suffering an d n o thing else. T h e wisdom th at realizes not-self is like
the light th at revealed the rope was not a snake.
Clearly, in o rd e r to end o n e s own suffering, th ere is n othing
m ore im p o rtan t th an to realize th at w hen one acts as if the body and
m ind constituted a lasting, separate, in d ep en d e n t self, one u n th in k
ingly attributes to them qualities which they simply do not have.
N othing in the whole stream o f m ental an d physical ph en o m en a
th at constitute o n es experience o f body an d m ind has the quality o f
separate, in d ep en d en t, lasting existence. It is all change and im p er
m anence, m om ent by m om ent an d so none o f it can be self an d it is
o n e s persistent effort to treat it as if it were, th at makes it a constant
stream o f suffering (duhkha).
Realizing not-self is the first step to realizing the em pty n atu re
o f all ph en o m en a. T h a t is why the first teachings o f the B uddha
concern the T h re e Marks o f Existence i.e. suffering, im perm a
nence, an d not-self.

22

T H E DREAM EXAMPLE

i
*
j

j
I

T h e B u d d h a often used the exam ple o f a d ream to illustrate his


teachings on em ptiness an d this exam ple can be applied with
increasing subtlety at each stage o f the m editation progression on
Em ptiness. It is a good exam ple for showing how the two truths,
relative an d absolute, w ork together. In a d ream th ere is a sense o f
being a p erson with a body an d m ind living in a world o f things to
which one feels attracted o r averse d ep e n d in g on how they appear,
As long as one does not realize it is ju st a dream , one takes all these
things as real an d one feels happy orsad on account o f them .
For exam ple, one may dream o f being eaten by a tiger o r being
b u rn t in a fire. In the absolute tru th no-one is being eaten o r b u rn t,
b u t still in term s o f the dream one m ight really suffer as if one had
been. T h e suffering arises simply by virtue o f the fact th at one iden
tifies oneself with the person in the dream . As soon as one becomes
aw are th at it is only a dream , even if the d ream does not stop, one is
nonetheless free to think, It does not m atter; it is only a dream . It is
n o t really h ap p e n in g to m e. T h e person th at was suffering in the
d ream only arose as a tem porary m anifestation d ep e n d en t on the
condition o f o n es not being aw are th at it was only a dream . It had
no separate, in d ep en d en t, lasting self o f its own.
U n d erstan d in g this intellectually is not en o u g h to free oneself
from th e strongly ingrained habit o f clinging to o n es m ind and
body as a separate, in d ep en d en t, lasting self. O ne has to exam ine
the stream o f o n es m ental an d physical experience again an d again,
reflecting on w hat one does o r does not find until one reaches total
conviction an d certainty. H aving becom e convinced of w hat is the
case, one th e n has to m editate, resting the m ind in this new -found
know ledge until the veils caused by o n es habitual p attern s o f
th o u g h t have finally dissolved. At this po in t direct, unm istakable
realization o f not-self arises an d it is this genuine experience th at
actually liberates one from suffering.

23

M E T H O D O F IN V E ST IG A T IO N
Instinctively we identify ourselves with o u r bodies and m inds.
W e have a very strong em otional attachm ent to them even though
o u r whole idea o f self an d m ine is very vague and confused. For
exam ple, w hen we are sick we som etim es say, I am sick, an d yet in
the very next b reath we may say, ...because I have a h ead ach e.
W hat do we m ean? Do we m ean the I is one thing an d th e head
another? O r do we m ean th at the head is the I? O ne should begin
o n e s investigation with these very com m on sense notions o f I and
I, the d o e r o r I, the ex p erien cer.
O ne could think for exam ple o f having o n es limbs an d organs
rem oved o r transplanted. I f one were given an o th er m a n s heart
would it really affect the I? We naturally th in k th at I (the experi
encer o r doer) has now received a new heart. O ne does not think
th at one is grafting a new h ea rt into the I as such. How far can one
go with this process? W ith limbs an d organs it seems quite clear that
the T is a separate entity, b u t w hat about the brain? Suppose one
h ad an o th er m an s brain im planted into o n es skull. W ould th at
affect the I? O ne m ight find oneself w ondering w hether I (the
experiencer or doer) could actually use a n o th e r m an s brain an d yet
still be the sam e person. O ne m ight w onder if one m ight find some
actions governed by the I one has now and som e actions governed
by th e I o f the person from w hom th e brain was taken. O f course
o ne cannot know what the result o f such a tran sp lan t would be, were
it ever possible to p erfo rm it, b u t instinctively one feels it is im p o r
tan t to know w h ether the I would be affected o r not.
A lthough this seems so im portant, we are still very unclear
ab out w hat this I m ight be. We may w onder if it is, perhaps, ju s t a
small vital p art o f the brain. However, when one thinks about it, one
is not em otionally attached to a m inute m echanism in o n e s grey
m atter. If th at were all o n es em otional attachm ent were about, it
would be easy en ough to rem ove and all the suffering with it. Life
would not need to have any m eaning, n o r h u m an life any particular
value. T h e re would be no need to go on struggling in a life full o f
suffering an d frustration. However, such a view strikes us as totally
nihilistic an d dem eaning. T h e I feels it is m ore im p o rtan t than
that.

24

T h e I th at we are em otionally attached to seems to step back


an d look on life, evaluating experience an d wishing to avoid suffer
ing. We do n o t experience it o r treat it the way we would a physical
object like a brain. We know from general know ledge gleaned from
o th er people th at the brain is in the skull. It can be physically
located, touched and m easured. It has some relationship with the
m ind because, w hen o u r m ental state changes, a change can often
be detected in the brain. How ever, w hatever scientists may Find out
ab out the brain, they will only be able to tell us the relationship
betw een m ind an d brain in m ore detail. T hey can look and probe
an d m easure to fin a facts about w hat the brain is doing, but how will
they know w hat the m ind is experiencing as they do it? T hey may,
for exam ple, be able to say th ere is a lot o f activity in such and such
region o f the brain w hen a person thinks of red. B ut how do they
know the person is really experiencing red? T h e person him self
knows for sure the n atu re o f his experience. H e may call it red. H e
may not. H e may not call it anything. H e will never know if anyone
else ever experiences anything in the way that he does, even if
everyone agrees to call the experience they have by the sam e nam e.
W ho can know how anything is experienced o th er th an the ex p eri
encer? A scientist can say the brain is acting as if it were
experiencing red because the brain is doing w hat it always does
w hen people are experiencing red. W ho will know if they are right
in any p articular case o r not? O nly the experiencer can know for
sure. T h e scientist relies on w ell-inform ed guess-work. C ertain
theories are taken to be tru e because they seem to explain events
very well.
T h e m ain th ru st o f B uddhism , however, is not about theories
at all. It is ab out experience. In particular it is concerned with the
experience o f suffering. W hat B uddhism has discovered is th at the
experience o f suffering is always associated with strong em otional
attach m en t to a vague sense o f self. So B uddhism tu rn s its a tte n
tion onto th at strong em otional response associated with th at sense
o f self an d asks about how th at self is actually experienced. W here
is the I experienced?
O ne m ight answ er th at one experiences it in the brain.
How ever, one does not need to know anything about the brain in
o rd e r to suffer. Even a dog o r a child suffers. T hey do not have
theories ab o u t the self, b u t th eir behaviour suggests th at they have

25

a sense o f self. If they did not, why would a child o r a dog existing in
one in stant o f tim e concern itself about a dog o r a child th at was
going to exist in the next m om ent? Surely it is because u n co n
sciously he is thinking th at the dog o r the child o f the next m om ent
is still h im in some sense and is distinct from anyone else. W hen he
sees a th re a t to his life o r com fort he recoils from it. Unconsciously
he is th inking th at h e could escape this th rea t an d continue his
existence som ew here m ore pleasant; this shows he has a sense o f
having an in d ep en d e n t existence.
O n e could argue th at in lower form s o f living organism s
recoiling from u n p leasan t stimuli is simply a m echanical response,
like trees waving in the wind. Maybe th at is tru e for prim itive form s
o f life, b u t this does not have any bearing on the problem o f
suffering at all. If we were m erely com plex m echanical devices one
could arg u e th at objectively suffering did not m atter. T his would be
an extrem ely im poverished attitude to life an d not a very
convincing one.
O ne may feel th at w hat one really m eans w hen one says that
suffering is experienced in the brain is th at it is experienced in the
m ind. Since one autom atically assum es (in m odern w estern society)
th at th e m ind is in the brain, and since o n es notion o f m ind is so
vague anyway, th ere does not seem to be m uch difference betw een
talking ab out the m ind an d talking about the brain. How ever, they
cannot be synonym ous, even if ultim ately they are discovered to be
o f the sam e stuff, o r nature.
O ne cannot avoid the question o f w hat we m ean by m ind. We
are extrem ely vague an d im precise in o u r everyday, com m on-sense
way o f talking about it. Som etim es it seems we identify ourselves
with o u r m ind, as for exam ple w hen we say we are happy o r sad.
A lthough we m ean the m ind is happy o r sad, we do not really m ake
a distinction betw een o u r se lf an d o u r m ind. N evertheless, we also
find ourselves saying things like, I could not control my m in d . Incidently, we also say, I could not control m yself, as if one had two
selves. T his seems to be the sam e lack o f clarity th at enables us som e
times to talk as if the self w ere the m ind an d som etim es as if the self
ow ned th e m ind.

26

O ne m ight be tem pted at this point to start speculating about


the n atu re o f the m ind an d the self. O ne m ight even wax
philosophical about it, reflecting on such statem ents as, I think,
th erefo re I am . However, since I am is m erely a thought, the only
th in g we are really sure o f is the experience o f thought. So the only
sure m eans o f finding out w hat th at experience is, is to experience it
as precisely an d as dispassionately as is possible. So the Sravaka
ap p ro ach is to investigate experience by simply being as aw are as
possible every m om ent.
In o rd e r to carry o u t this investigation as systematically as
possible B uddhist teachers have organized experience into a
n u m b er o f com prehensive sets o f categories. O ne o f these sets o f
categories is called the five skandhas, which literally m eans the five
heaps. T hey are called heaps because, looked at dispassionately, all
o u r experience arises m om ent by m om ent as isolated, im personal
events. A fter they have arisen, so soon after th at it seems sim ultane
ous, we becom e em otionally involved an d create a whole scenario o f
self versus w orld o r o th e r.
The
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

five skandhas are;


form ,
feeling,
perception,
m ental constructions,
consciousnesses.

Form
Form refers to the body and the environm ent. We take for
g ran ted th at th ere is a world o u t th e re beyond o u r senses an d th at
o u r body partakes o f th at world. W hen we sit dow n to m editate it is
the body an d its environm ent th at first catch o u r attention. So we
can start o u r investigation there. I am sitting here because my body
is sitting here. Is th at I th erefo re the body?
O ne can exam ine the body systematically taking it limb by limb,
org an by organ. Is my h an d me? Am I still me w ithout my hand?
W hat is a h an d anyway? Is it still a h an d w ithout fingers? W ithout

27

skin? W ithout bone? W ithout flesh? W hen it is broken dow n in his


way one finds th at h a n d is m erely a convenient concept. T h e re is
no such th in g as a h a n d as such. It is the sam e for every p art o f the
body. It is the sam e rig h t dow n to the tiniest cell, an d the tiniest
atom an d th e tiniest p art o f an atom as scientists know only too well.
H ow ever far one investigates one will always find m ore parts an d as
each p art is given a nam e, each p art will be fo u n d to break u p into
som ething o th e r th an itself. T h e process is endless.
Exam ining the body in this way one may com e to the conclu
sion th at I an d body are m erely convenient concepts for dealing
with the w orld an d experience. T hey have a certain relative reality,
b u t they are n o t absolutes. In the relative tru th they are stream s of
events th at on e identifies an d labels as I o r body. B ut th at I o r
body can n o t be said to have lasting, separate, in d ep en d e n t exis
tence. If th e body had such existence it m ight have been called the
self, b u t it does n ot have, an d how ever m uch one were to investigate
it, it never w ould have. It is n o t self an d self is not the body. T h e
sam e applies for the brain o f course.

F eelin g
Feeling h ere refers specifically to those o f pleasure, displeasure
a n d indifference. For exam ple, as one sits in m editation, one may
like it an d w ant to stay, o r one may not an d w ant to leave. T h e only
o th er alternative is th at one may not care one way o r the other.
W herever we are and w hatever we are doing, we are always
experiencing one o r o th er o f these th ree feelings. T hey are n o t self,
however, because none o f them is lasting; they take tu rn s in arising;
now th ere is happiness, now sadness an d so on. Self could not be the
feelings because they are always changing.

P erception
P erception here refers to the first m om ent o f recognition o f
in p u t th ro u g h the senses. W hen one experiences a colour such as
blue one recognizes it as blue, w hen one feels an itch one recognizes
the feeling, o r w hen one hears a car starting u p one recognizes the

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sound, an d the sam e applies to smells etc.. We experience a


continual stream o f perceptions th ro u g h o u r senses all the time we
are awake. We are eith er listening to som ething, looking at som e
thing, feeling som ething with o u r sense o f touch, tasting o r sm elling
som ething o r even receiving the im age o f som ething arising in the
m ind. We have six senses including the m ind. As one sits in m edita
tion one m ight be perceiving the breath m oving in and out, images
floating into th e m ind, o r noises going on in the street outside and
so on. A lthough one thinks it is o n es self th at is perceiving these
things one does n ot think these perceptions are the self. N one o f
th em has the characteristics o f self since none o f them is lasting.

M ental C onstructions
M ental constructions include all the m ental activity o f thinking,
p attern s o f th o u g h t, negative em otions such as desire, pride, and
jealousy, an d healthy em otions such as love, devotion an d patience.
In fact feeling an d perceptions are m ental constructions too, b u t for
the sake o f this categorization they are here listed separately. T h e
term in Sanskrit for this h eap (skandha) is sam skara (dus byed in
T ibetan). Sam skara also has the m eaning o f predisposition in the
sense o f tracks left by fo rm er deeds th at condition o n es present
th in k in g and behaviour. T h e T ibetan term dus byed is a general
term m eaning m ental constructions o f any kind. A lthough we
should u n d ersta n d th at everything th at arises in the m ind is
conditioned by w hat has gone before, in general we can ju s t take this
skandha to m ean all m ental events not included in the o th er th ree
m ental skandhas.
A lthough we do not think o f m ental constructions o r m ental
events as being self, we do ten d to identify o u r se lf with w hat we
conceive to be o u r personality. Em otionally, if some p art o f o u r
personality is criticized, we feel we (our self) has been criticized.
H ow ever, if one exam ines the m ake-up o f o n es personality very
carefully an d dispassionately one finds it even m ore intangible th an
th e body. At least with the body one was sure w hat was included as
p a rt o f it, even th o u g h none o f it could be identified as the self. W ith
o n e s personality, on the o th er han d , one ju s t has a stream o f everchanging m ental constructions an d events. O ne tends to choose

29

certain, m ore o r less constant features o f this stream as charac


teristic o f a particular personality, an d w hen they are m anifest one
feels a p erson is being him self. If he starts to m anifest (again in a
m ore o r less constant fashion) totally d ifferent characteristics, we
talk ab out him having a change o f personality. We talk o f people not
being in th eir rig ht m ind, o f being tem porarily deran g ed an d so on.
T h e im plication is th at th ere is a person o r self o th er th an the
p resen t personality o r m ind state. It is this se lf th at we are inves
tigating. It is clearly not the personality or any o f the m ental
constructions o r events th at constitute it, since none o f them
exhibits a separate, in d ep en d en t, lasting elem ent th at one could call
th e self.

C o n sciou sn esses
A consciousness in B uddhism refers to a m om ent o f aw areness.
As we th in k ab out the fo u r skandhas th at have already been listed
we m ight feel th at behind all o f them th ere is a general sense o f
aw areness o r knowing. We m ight even call it the m ind itself as
opposed to the m ental events th at occur w ithin it. W e m ight feel
th at this is really w hat we m ean by the I o r the self. It seems to be
an u n changing, separate, in d ep en d e n t aw areness th at is ju s t going
on as th e basis o f all o u r experience an d it is this aw areness th at is I,
the d o e r. L ets exam ine this idea carefully.
Generally speaking we think o f o u r life an d experience going
along as a sort o f stream in tim e an d space. T h e re is a sense o f begin
nin g an d en d an d one event following on from an o th er. Even
th o u g h one does not think exactly in term s o f a m om ent o f experi
ence having edges ro u n d it, nevertheless th ere is a sense o f its
en d in g som ew here, otherw ise it would ju s t m erge into everything
else. So o u r experience an d o u r sense o f self is definitely b o u nded
by tim e an d space. T h erefo re, it m ust be possible to divide it u p into
th e sm allest conceivable parts an d th e smallest conceivable
m om ents o f time. In th e Sravaka approach one tries to be aw are of
th e smallest conceivable m om ents o f experience in o rd e r to be sure
th at one has missed no th in g in o n es search for a lasting, separate,
p erm a n en t self.

30

W hat one finds is th at every m om ent o f experience has two


aspects. If it did not have these two aspects it could hardly be
counted as being a m om ent o f experience at all. W hat are these two
aspects? T h e re has to be som ething to experience an d som ething to
experience it. In o th er words th ere is always som ething know ing
som ething o r being aware o f som ething. If eith er o f these elem ents
were m issing th ere would be no experience. T h ese sm allest conceiv
able m om ents o f consciousness arising d ep e n d en t on th eir corres
p o n d in g m om entary object o f consciousness are w hat in B uddhism
are know n as consciousnesses. T h e term is vijnana (rnam shes in
T ibetan). T h e vi p art o f the w ord can m ean partial o r divided.
T h u s, a consciousness is a partial o r divided knowing. This contrasts
with jn a n a (ye shes in T ibetan) which m eans simply know ing o r
wisdom. T h e difference betw een jn a n a an d vijnana becomes very
im p o rtan t in th e later stages o f the progression o f m editation on
em ptiness.
T h e up sh o t o f this ra th e r long discussion on what is m eant by
consciousness in B uddhism is th at w hen, in the hopes o f resolving
o n es difficulties, one suggests th at the self is th at continuing aw are
ness th at is b eh in d all o n es experience, one m ust in fact be re ferrin g
to the stream o f vijnanas. O ne may not have analysed it as deeply as
that, b u t if one still accepts com m on-sense notions o f tim e and
space, th en the n atu re o f consciousness m ust be divisible in the way
outlined above. F u rth erm o re, since each m om ent o f consciousness
has a differen t object each m om ent o f consciousness is separate and
distinct. It m ight be a consciousness o f form , sound, smell, taste,
touch o r m ental im age, b u t w hichever it is, it is quite distinct from
any o th er m o m ent th at has arisen before o r is about to arise after it.
T h e m o m en t before has gone an d the m om ent to com e does not
exist yet. So consciousness can only ever be m om entary an d such a
m om entary p h en o m en o n w ould never qualify for the title o f s e lf .
T h u s, th e m ind o r aw areness th at seems to be behind all o u r experi
ence cannot be the self either.
At the en d o f o u r analysis we arrive at the conclusion th at the
self is simply a vague an d convenient concept th at we project now
h ere and now th ere onto a stream o f experiences, and is n o th in g in
o r o f itself. O ne may wish to m aintain that th e se lf is the continuity
o f the stream o f physical an d m ental events th at constitute a person-

31

ality an d th at as such it does not have to have the characteristics of


being lasting, single an d ind ep en d en t. T his is simply a redefinition
o f the term self, but it does not explain o u r em otional behaviour at
all. B uddhism is not telling anyone th at he should believe th at he
has a self o r th at he does not have a self. It is saying th at w hen one
looks at the way one suffers an d the way one thinks an d responds
em otionally to life, it is as if one believed th ere were a self th at was
lasting, single an d in d ep en d e n t an d yet on closer analysis no such
self can be isolated o r found. In o th er w ords the skandhas are em pty
o f a self.
In term s o f relative reality, however, because one is so em otion
ally attached to o n e s concept o f self, all o n es m ental p attern in g and
habits o f th o u g h t (samskaras) feed an d stren g th en the idea.
F u rth erm o re, the actions th at one perform s in the belief th at it is
the self acting serve to create th e w orld th at one finds oneself in. In
o th er words, although th ere is no self in absolute term s, in term s of
the relative one still has to suffer the results o f o n es past good and
bad actions.
T o illustrate this point, take, for exam ple, a candle flame. O ne
can, in a g eneral way, say som ething like, T h a t flam e has been
b u rn in g all day. However, in absolute term s, no flam e has been
b u rn in g all day. T h e flam e was never the sam e flam e from one
m o m en t to the next. T h e re was no single, in d ep en d en t, lasting
flam e th ere at all. T h e re is no such thing as a flam e as such,
nevertheless it is still m eaningful to talk about flames.
W hen one m editates on the em ptiness o f the skandhas, one
simply sees them as they are; th ere is no th in g solid an d real about
them , they are not a lasting, in d ep en d en t, separate self an d th ere is
no such self in them . J u s t as in a dream , once one sees th at the
p erson in the dream is not really oneself, any suffering th at one may
have felt on account o f being b u rn t o r chased by a tiger, for exam
ple, simply fades away. In the sam e way, w hen one focuses o n e s
atten tio n inwardly on the absence o f self in the skandhas, all the
suffering caused by taking the skandhas to be the self fades away.
T h e n the m ind can rest peacefully in em pty space, with perfect
confidence an d assurance. T h ro u g h m editation in this m a n n e r all

32

'

'

subtle doubts are w orn away a n d th e m ind can rest naturally in


em ptiness.

T H E F R U IT OF T H E SRAVAKA PRA CTICE


O u r instinctive, em otional attachm ent o r clinging to a vague
notion o f self is the source o f all o u r suffering. From the idea o f self
com es th at o f o th e r. It is from the interaction o f self an d o th e r
th a t desire, h atred and delusion arise. T h e re are m any kinds of
desire including greed, envy an d miserliness. H atred can take the
form o f jealousy, an g e r an d resentm ent. D elusion includes m ental
dullness, stupidity and confusion. From these unhealthy m ental
states arise actions m otivated by them , and th eir results. T h e results
take the form o f all kinds o f sufferings, which one cannot escape as
long as one identifies with the self who is suffering.
T h u s the only way to rem ove o n es suffering is to realize notself. T h e wisdom m ind th at realizes not-self is like light rem oving
darkness. Ju st as darkness cannot exist in the light, so suffering
can n o t exist in the light of the wisdom m ind.
W here th ere is suffering, clinging to self m ust also be present.
W here th ere is clinging to self, ignorance o f not-self m ust be
present. T h e only way to rem ove suffering is th erefo re to rem ove
the ignorance th at causes the clinging to self.
T h u s the goal for the Sravaka is the rem oval o f suffering. T h a t
goal is called nirvana. T h e Sravaka is not trying to rem ove the
suffering o f all beings, n o r is he trying to attain B uddhahood. H e
does n o t have the vision, the und erstan d in g , n o r the confidence
necessary to do that. His aim is relatively m odest. It is simply to
rem ove the cause o f his own suffering. N onetheless, one cannot say
th a t his realization o f em ptiness is not very profound. It is said that
it corresponds to th at o f Bodhisattvas on the first to the sixth levels.
It rem oves the veils o f ignorance an d confusion th at m ake d eep er
an d m ore subtle levels o f em ptiness so inaccessible. T h erefo re, by
realizing the not-self em ptiness of the skandhas one is p re p arin g
the way for the h ig h er vehicles, whose goal is not ju st the rem oving
o f o n e s own suffering, b u t the suffering o f all beings.

33

M E D IT A T IO N PRO CED URE


A lthough w hen the progressive stages o f m editation on E m pti
ness are being tau g h t one often has little tim e to m editate on one
stage before one is introduced to the next, it is best to take each stage
at a tim e an d to practise it until some definite experience has arisen.
It is im p o rtan t to have a regular m editation schedule, begin
nin g with periods o f 15-30 m inutes in the m orning an d evening.
O n e can build u p from th ere m editating for longer and longer
periods. As with study an d reflection a certain am o u n t o f perseverence an d effort are needed at first, but one should never let o n es
m ind get too tight. R em em ber the exam ple o f the m usician tu n in g
the strings o f his instrum ent. T h e tension has to be ju s t right,
n eith er too tight n o r too loose.
C hoose a definite tim e in the m o rn in g an d evening to sit in
m editation. Sit in a good m editation posture an d always begin by
taking refu g e an d rousing B odhicitta m otivation.
W hen you first begin the practice, reflect for som e tim e on the
m eaning o f not-self, an d investigate in the m an n er explained
above. H ow ever, once you have developed some confidence and
u n d erstan d in g , do not b o th er to keep investigating, ju s t go straight
into th e em ptiness m editation. T o keep re tu rn in g to the inves
tigatory stage after confidence has arisen is like keeping switching a
light on an d o ff w ithout any purpose. O nce the light is on, leave it
on. At the m editation stage o f your practice th ere should be no
m ore n eed for reflection. O ne should ju s t rest in the m editation
w ithout any hesitation.
At the en d o f each session dedicate all the m erit to the
enlig h ten m en t o f all beings. Betw een sessions reflect again and
again on how th ere is no self in the skandhas and think o f every
th in g as being like a dream , a film or a magical illusion. T h e re is the
app earan ce o f a self b u t th ere is no self th ere really. T h in k in g like
this, how can un healthy em otions such as greed, hate an d delusion
arise? If these do not arise, how can suffering arise.

34

STAGE TW O

CITTAMATRA APPROACH
W hile th e Sravaka stage belongs to w hat is som etim es called the
H inayana, the C ittam atra stage belongs to the M ahayana.
M ahayana m eans the G reat Vehicle because its goal is the great goal
o f the E n lig h ten m ent o f all beings. T his contrasts with the goal o f
the H inayana which is simply the cessation o f o n es own personal
suffering. From the M ahayana point o f view, the H inayana is a tru e
an d valid m eans for rem oving the self-clinging that gives rise to the
un h ealth y em otions (klesa), the root o f all suffering. T h e M ahayana
also accepts th at the H inayana rem oves the veils o f ignorance that
prev en t on e realizing the tru e n atu re o f the skandhas as not-self, in
o th e r w ords as em pty. H owever, the M ahayana teaches th at
H inayana does not rem ove ignorance com pletely. It simply
rem oves th e gross ignorance th at causes klesa an d suffering. T ec h
nically it is said to rem ove simply the klesa veils, leaving the m ore
subtle veils called know ledge veils. Klesa an d suffering are extin
guished like the flam e o f a candle whose wax is exhausted an d the
m ed itato r passes into a state o f peace which he calls nirvana.
How ever, the M ahayanist realizes th at even in this state of
peace th ere is still a subtle kind o f ignorance. It is ignorance o f the

37

tru e n atu re o f reality and this ignorance obscures the fullness o f the
potential th at a h u m an being has. A h u m an being can actually reach
a state o f perfect and com plete aw akening in which he is endow ed
with all the powers o f a B uddha. T his m eans all the pow ers that
work for the benefit o f all sentient creatures an d bring them finally
to perfect an d com plete aw akening.
T h us, the m otive for progressing fu rth e r is com passion for
o th er beings an d the wish to rem ove th eir suffering. C om passion
alone is n o t en o ugh, however; it is also necessary to have the vision
to see th at th e pow er to liberate others arises from seeing the tru e
n atu re o f reality m ore deeply. O ne has to aspire to rem ove all o n e s
subtle veils o f ignorance an d to realize the suprem e aw akening of
the B uddha. T hese veils o f ignorance are called the veils o f know
ledge and, th o u g h subtle, are very pow erful. T hey pervade and
d istort the way one sees an d u n d erstan d s the whole o f o n e s experi
ence an d prev ent one know ing anything properly in an absolute
sense.
T h u s, the B odhisattva has two great aspirations: one is to
liberate all sentient beings an d the o th er is to realize the p ro fo u n d
Em ptiness o f all p h enom ena, the realization o f the fully aw akened
B uddha. T his double aspiration is called the giving rise to the
E nlightened M ind (B odhicittotpada, byang chub sems bskyed).
W ith this aspiration as th e foundation one proceeds to th e next
stage o f the m editation on em ptiness.
C ittam atra m eans m ind only o r m erely m ind. As at the
Sravaka stage, at the C ittam atra stage one thinks o f o n e s m ind as a
stream o f m om ents o f consciousness with a know ing an d a known
aspect. H ow ever, w hereas at the Sravaka stage one takes for gran ted
a world o u t th e re beyond the senses, at the C ittam atra stage this is
questioned. T h e C ittam atrin does not take a solipsist view th at the
world is his own invention an d th at no th in g exists outside himself.
T his would be like som e kind o f m adness. H e avoids solipsism
because he already realizes the em ptiness o f self. T h e re is no self
th at could be the creator o f such a fantasy world.
Essentially the C ittam atrin approach, like any B uddhist
ap p ro ach , is based on direct experience. Following the Sravaka

38

p attern o f trying to be intim ately aware o f every m om ent of


consciousness as it arises, at the C ittam atrin stage the m editator
realizes th at the division of each m om ent o f aw areness into an in n er
perceiving m ind an d an o u ter perceived object is a conceptual
invention. In a d ream one experiences, m om ent by m om ent, in n er
perceiving m om ents o f consciousness aw are o f seemingly o u ter
perceived objects and yet, w hen one wakes up, one realizes th ere
were no o u ter perceived objects o th er th an the m ind itself. B oth the
in n er perceiving m om ents o f consciousness and the o u ter
perceived objects were different m anifestations o f m ind. T his
shows th at the m ere appearance o f seemingly o u ter perceived
objects is not any p ro o f th at such things exist in absolute term s. In
fact, th ere is no p ro o f that th ere is any substance o th e r than m ind
anyw here. F u rth erm o re, the B u d d h a H im self taught, T h e th ree
realm s o f existence are m erely m in d .
T h u s, having already established th at th ere is no personal self
in the skandhas, the C ittam atrin now looks at the skandhas th em
selves with g reater precision. N ot only is th ere no self in the sense o f
a lasting, separate, in d ep en d e n t person, b u t th ere is no difference
in n atu re betw een m ind an d m atter. M atter is em pty o f a separate,
in d ep en d e n t n ature. T hus, in absolute term s, each m om ent o f
experience is em pty o f a difference in n atu re o f perceiver and
perceived. R ath er th an reg ard in g consciousness m erely as the
seeing o r observing aspect o f a m om ent o f experience, it is also the
con ten t o f th at experience.
M ind is, at one an d the sam e tim e, both real an d em pty. It is real
in the sense th at all experience is basically a m anifestation of m ind.
It is em pty in th e sense th at it is not a lasting, single, in d ep en d e n t
entity. It is instead a stream o f fleeting, dependently arising
m om ents o f consciousness. F u rth erm o re, all phen o m en a pertain
eith er to the in n er perceiving aspect o f consciousness o r to the o u ter
perceived aspect o f consciousness; in o th er words they are all m ind.
So the whole o f existence is em pty o f a duality o f substance betw een
m ind an d m atter. T his m eans th ere are no limits to the pow er o f the
m ind and th ere is no reason why a person should not realize the full
powers o f th e B u d d h as E nlightenm ent and work for the liberation
o f all beings.

39

O n reflection, one can see th at the Sravaka approach is sim ilar


to rem oving suffering in a dream by recognizing th at the person in
th e d ream is not really oneself. T h e C ittam atra approach is like
rem oving the suffering by realizing th at both the cause o f the
suffering, for exam ple the fire or the tiger, an d the person suffering
are both n o th in g m ore th an the play o f the m ind. Realizing that,
one realizes th at th e fire o r the tiger and the one suffering are
em pty o f any reality o f th eir own. F u rth erm o re, recognizing th at it
is the m ind pro d ucing both, one could choose to dream o f w hatever
one w anted to. N ot only is one liberated from the illusion o f self, one
is liberated from the sense o f powerlessness. T h a t sense o f pow er
lessness prevents one realizing o n es tru e n atu re an d limits o n es
capacity to feel com passion.
It is im p o rtan t not to take the C ittam atra view to be a kind o f
solipsism. C ittam atra is not saying everything is oneself o r o n es
own personal experience. T h e re is a w orld th at one shares with
others. W hat C ittam atra is saying, how ever, is th at it is not o f a diffe
re n t substance to m ind. T his doctrine is very useful w hen discussing
how a consciousness which is o f a m ental n atu re can perceive
m atter. T h e re is a discontinuity betw een o u r experience an d what
we conceive o f as the m aterial world. For exam ple, we experience
obstruction and conceive o f solidity. We never really experience
solidity as such. Solidity can only be im agined by the m ind. Solid,
m aterial things cannot get into the m ind an d float about in it. M ind
cannot p u t o u t a kind o f feeler into the m aterial world an d experi
ence it. T h e m ind simply experiences m ental events an d interprets
them to m ean th ere is such a thing as a m aterial world which it th en
proceeds to im agine.
Q uite a lot o f m odern scientists an d philosophers think th at the
m ind /m atter dichotom y can be resolved by saying th at m ind is none
o th er th an m atter. T h e interesting thing about th at theory is that
not only does one in te rp re t o n e s experience to m ean th at th ere is a
m aterial w orld beyond th e senses, but th at th at m aterial world can
produce an d experience thoughts, em otions and m ental im ages in
ju s t the sam e way th at o n e s own m ind does. F u rth erm o re, these
th o ughts, feelings and im ages pertain to the m aterial world. O ne is
left w ondering w hat m aterial m ight m ean in this context.

40

T H E DREAM EXAMPLE
T h e d ream exam ple is the best m eans one has for u n d e r
standing th e C ittam atra stage o f realizing Em ptiness. In o rd e r to
appreciate how p ertin en t this exam ple is, ask yourself how you
know th at you are not d ream ing right now?
M aybe you feel like saying, Because dream s are never so vivid
as this, colours are not so bright, form s, sounds, smells, touch and
tastes are n o t so clear an d precise. H owever, som eone else m ight
disagree an d say his dream s are even m ore vivid th an his day-tim e
experiences. Does this then m ake his dream s waking experience
an d his w aking a dream ? Does it m ean if your faculties becom e
im paired so th at you no longer experience things so clearly and
precisely, th at your life becom es a dream ?
O n fu rth e r reflection you m ight suggest th at you know th at
you are n o t dream ing because o f the continuity o f your life. Every
th in g is in predictable places, th ere is a sense o f cause an d effect,
regularity, an established p attern of events an d so on. You m ight
say th at dream s are not like that. T hey are unpredictable; they can
change in bizarre ways w ithout w arning an d for any ap p a re n t
reason. T h e re is no real continuity and you m ight find yourself in
any place, tim e, shape o r form .
Are you saying then, th at if a dream were to stabilize so th at
th ere were a continuity an d a fairly predictable p attern o f events, if
th en it were to continue for long periods o f tim e and your waking
experiences were only to last for b rief periods in which you were
very confused an d disorientated, th en the dream would have
becom e waking experience an d the waking experience dream ? For
after all, it is not u nusual for people to dream o f ordinary situations,
eg. th at they have got u p an d had their breakfast an d gone to work
an d so on.
You may laugh at the suggestion th at you are dream ing now.
You may th in k th at if you were asleep an d dream ing everybody
would stop interacting with you. T hey would tell you w hen you
woke u p th at you had been dream ing, so th ere is no way th at one
could confuse dream ing with waking. However, th ere is no

41

in h ere n t reason why you should not dream th at people have woken
you u p an d told you th at you have ju s t aw akened from a dream .
Finally one has to adm it th at th ere is no characteristic o f waking
experience th at clearly distinguishes it from dream ing. It is only a
m atter o f degree an d o f o n e s em otional predisposition. You believe
you are awake because you want to feel secure an d feel that the
w orld is solid, real an d supportive aro u n d you. If you were to seri
ously d o u b t you were awake, you would feel frig h ten ed and
confused. T h e stability o f the experience o f being awake reassures
you, so you believe in it an d give it a reality th at you do not afford to
dream s. If you suffer in a dream you are happy to let it go w hen it
ends, feeling reassured th at it was not real anyway. I f you suffer in
w hat you call your w aking life, you get em otionally involved in it
an d afford it the status o f absolute reality.
C ittam atrins explain the p h en o m en a o f d ream ing as the six
consciousnesses which usually face outw ards to the objects o f the
senses dissolving back into the base consciousness (alayanvijnana see section on C ittam atra D octrine below) like waves into an ocean.
It th en starts to move w ithin itself creating im ages o f subjects and
objects th at th e m ind takes to be real an d experiences like waking
experience. T h u s, the C ittam atrins are not saying th ere is no differ
ence at all betw een waking and d ream experience. T hey are saying
th at the difference is not one o f an essential difference in substance.

T H E SU B JECTIV E N A TU R E OF T IM E
Maybe you are still not convinced. O ne knows one is awake
because tim e is passing in a reg u lar an d predictable m an n er, so th at
o ne can synchronize events with an apparently stable an d in d ep en
d en t outside world. T his is only an o th er function o f the stable way
in which o n es experience is unfolding. In fact subjectively time
seems to be going fast o r slow according to o n e s m ood an d situa
tion. As for synchronizing, w hen events occur to g eth er they are
autom atically synchronized an d if they do not, one thinks u p a
reason to explain it. If one can not, one calls it a m ystery an d th ere
have been plenty o f unsolved m ysteries in the history o f m ankind.

42

T h e re is a story about a m an who went to a m agicians hom e


an d was offered a cup o f tea an d he took a sip o f it. W hat he did not
know was th at the m agician had p u t a spell in the tea, so no sooner
had he p u t his cup dow n th an he was u n d e r the sway o f a magical
illusion. H e took to his horse an d rode to the en d o f the w orld w here
th ere was a g reat ocean so he could go no fu rth er. H e m et a b eau t
iful w om an whom he m arried and by whom he had th ree children.
H e lived with h e r happily for th ree years until, falling u p o n bad
times, he was driven to despair and threw him self into the ocean. At
th at point the effect o f the spell wore o ff and he found him self back
at th e m agicians house with his tea still in fro n t o f him . So little tim e
h ad passed, th at the tea h ad not stopped swirling in the cup after he
h ad p u t it down.
T h e p o in t is th at the im pression o f tim e passing an d the ap p a
re n t synchronicity o f events does not prove th at anything o th er
th an the m ind itself is creating it.
It is well know n, for exam ple, th at m editators can go into
sam adhi for h o urs o r weeks at a time, b u t it does not seem to them
th at any tim e has passed at all.

ABSENCE OF CONSENSUS
You may w ant to argue th at th ere m ust be a world 'o u t th e re
th at is n o t m ind o r th ere w ould be no consensus about w hat the
world was like. W e tend to take as real w hatever the general
consensus o f opinion dictates, especially w hen it coincides with o u r
own experience an d opinions.
How ever, consensus is only a m atter o f degree. We have no
m eans o f know ing w hether any o f us ever sees o r experiences
an y th in g in exactly the sam e way as anybody else. At the sam e time
th ere is plenty o f evidence th at we do not see an d experience the
sam e th in g in the sam e way. T h e difference is even m ore m arked
w hen one considers how differently d ifferent creatures experience
the sam e thing. T ake w ater for exam ple, we experience it as som e
th in g refresh in g to drink. We do not norm ally see it as som ething to
live in. H ow ever, fish do. A fishs view on the n atu re o f w ater is

43

totally at odds with ours. Again, take the exam ple o f som eone like
M ao Tse T u n g . T o some he ap p eared as a dangerous enem y an d to
others a d ear friend. Yet to a m osquito he ap p e are d ju s t as a source
o f n o u rish m en t an d to the parasites in his body a com plete universe.
Since for any object its every aspect is established th ro u g h the
perception o f the m om ents o f consciousness perceiving it, how can
its existence in d ep en d e n t o f these consciousnesses be established?
C onsensus does not prove anything o th er th an th at certain relation
ships exist betw een differen t stream s o f experience. It does not
prove th at th ere is anything o th er th an m ind in substance.
In fact th ere are fundam ental problem s involved in positing
the existence o f some substance o th er th an m ind. How can such a
substance be fo und o r known? If som ething cannot be known
w ithout a knower, how can it ever be shown to exist independently?
How does the interface betw een m ind an d m atter actually work?
How can m atter e n te r into a relationship with m ind, o r m ind with
m atter? Since the alternative explanation p u t forw ard by the
C ittam atrins dispenses with such problem s, it dem ands serious
consideration.

C IT T A M A T R A D O C T R IN E
In the C ittam atra School o f B uddhism elaborate explanations
are given o f how the w orld appears as solid an d real an d o u t th e re ,
w hen in fact all th at is occurring is transform ations o f a kind o f
m in d-stuff which is like an ocean giving rise to waves. T h e a p p e a r
ance o f an in n er perceiving an d an o u ter perceived aspect in each
m om ent o f consciousness gives rise to the illusion that they are o f
differen t substance, m ind an d m atter. How ever, m atter is ju s t an
im aginary concept. It does not exist at all. M ind is em pty o f such a
distinction betw een itself an d w hat is o th er to it. If the m editator
were to rest his m ind in its own n atu re an d see this em ptiness, then
all confusion would disappear an d the m ind would be brig h t and
clear an d self-aware. T his m ind is called the self-illum inating, selfaw are m ind (shes pa ra n g rig ran g gsal). It is called this because it is
the m ind experiencing itself (rang gis ran g m yongs ba).

44

As we shall see, the M adhyamikas do not accept such a m ind


and in th eir treatises they often refute the C ittam atrins on this
point. However, the C ittam atrins reply th at w ithout such a m ind
th ere would be no way th at one would be able to rem em ber past
events. T h e perceiver an d perceived aspects o f each m om ent o f
consciousness th at has passed have gone. If n othing had experi
enced it an d registered an im pression, how could it ever be recalled?
T o explain the p h en o m en a o f m em ory and the registering of
karm ic traces the C ittam atrins posit the self-illum inating, selfaw are m ind. A ccording to the C ittam atrins, a m om ent o f conscious
ness does not ju s t consist of a perceiving aspect and a perceived
aspect, th ere is also the self-knowing, self-illum inating aspect. It is
n o t a separate m om ent o f consciousness, it is a necessary aspect o f
every m om ent o f consciousness. For exam ple, w hen a flower is
perceived, th ere is the perceived aspect, the flower, and the
perceiving aspect th at is focussed on the flower. T h e form er could
be called the outw ard-facing aspect as opposed to the inner-facing
aspect th at experiences an d registers both the perceiving and
perceived aspects o f the consciousness as a whole. It is inwardfacing in the sense th at it experiences the perceiving o f the flower,
registering both the flower an d the consciousness b u t not distin
guishing these as separate entities. T h e outw ard-facing aspect is like
a television cam era in th at it films b u t does not register events. T h e
inner-facing aspect does register an d can be recalled or re
aw akened as m em ory. T h u s the self-knowing, self-illum inating
aw areness is an aspect o f every m om ent o f consciousness an d is
w hat enables the alayavijnana (see below) to carry the traces of past
events, ra th e r like a tap e-reco rd er registering sounds. W hen the
rig h t conditions arise they can be re-activated as it were. W hen a
tape is re-played sounds are h ea rd th at correspond to the original
sound en reg istered on the tape. Similarly o n es karm a ripens to one
in a way th at corresponds to the original action. A lthough this
exam ple is not analogous in m any respects, it does illustrate the
principle o f the rip en in g or re-aw akening o f d o rm an t traces.
A ccording to the C ittam atra system, the m ind th at realizes
th ere are no separate perceiver an d perceived entities in a m om ent
o f consciousness is the wisdom m ind (jnana). W hen this wisdom
m ind arises, th ere is no longer an appearance o f such separate
entities an d so the base consciousness (alayavijnana - see below) is

45

said to be purified. At this point only the self-illum inating, selfaw are aspect o f each m om ent o f consciousness arises an d these
continue as a p u re stream o f radiant, clear m om ents o f conscious
ness.
Since th e C ittam atrins were such great m editators an d their
ideas arose from their experience th ro u g h m editation, they are
often called Yogacarins (yoga refers to m editation here). W hen the
m ed itato r rests his m ind in its em ptiness, free from dualistic
concepts, he experiences the natu ral spaciousness an d clarity o f
aw areness. T his is a p ro fo u n d m editation experience. Since the
C ittam atra stage o f m editation is based on this experience, their
u n d erstan d in g o f Em ptiness is very p rofound.
T hey teach th at the alayavijnana is the stream o f consciousness
th at gives rise to all six kinds o f sense consciousnesses an d their
objects:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

form ,
sound,
smell,
taste,
touch and
m ental objects.

Alayavijnana m eans the basis o f all an d it is called th at because


all th at m anifests does so on the basis o f this stream o f conscious
ness. B oth th e perceived an d the perceiving aspect o f each o f the six
consciousnesses are none o th er th an the substance o f the alayavij
nana. T h ey are like the waves on an ocean. T hey are never o th er
th an the ocean, th o u g h they m anifest differently. T h e alayavijnana
is w hat accounts for the continuity o f consciousness th ro u g h life,
d eath and reb irth, deep sleep, dream ing an d the m editative absorbtion o f a yogi. T h e alayavijnana is called the eighth consciousness.
O ne may w onder w heth er every being has his own alayavijnana
o r w h eth er th ere is only one. In the relative tru th each individual
has his own stream o f alayavijnana and his own actions rip en to him.
In the A bsolute tru th th ere is only m ind and it is em pty o f any sepa
rate perceivers an d perceived objects.

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T h e seventh consciousness is called the klesa m ind. It is a m indconsciousness (the sixth type o f consciousness).It is the ign o ran t
m om ent o f consciousness th at instantaneously follows a sense
consciousness, causing the o u ter perceived an d in n er perceiving
aspect to a p p e a r as separate entities. T h e first m om ent o f sense
consciousness is free from this ignorance, b u t it is so swift one is not
aw are o f it an d all o n es conceptual notions follow on the basis o f the
following m om ent, the klesa-m ind. By m editating on the em ptiness
o f a difference in substance betw een the in n er perceiving an d o u ter
perceived aspects o f consciousness the klesa m ind is rem oved and
the sense consciousnesses are purified. T h e alayavijana no longer
produces th e illusory dualistic appearance o f separate perceiving
an d perceived entities and so the self-aware, self-illum inating
aspect o f each m o m ent shines forth unobscured.
T h e m om ents o f consciousness (including both the perceiving
an d perceived aspect) are called the d ep e n d en t n atu re because they
arise in d ep en d en ce on causes an d conditions, like reflections that
ap p e ar in a m irro r th at only arise in dep en d en ce on the objects they
reflect; they are conditioned by th e past actions o f the person whose
stream they constitute. R em em ber th at the person has no absolute
reality. As in the Sravaka system, the person is relative tru th . T h e
Absolute tru th is the em ptiness o f those consciousnesses o f sepa
rate, in d ep en d e n t entities o f perceiver an d perceived. T h e separate
entities which we call m ind an d m atter are simply inventions, in
o th e r words they are the im aginary nature.
A very im p o rtan t elem ent in C ittam atrin doctrine is the way it
subtly divides experience into these th ree natures:
1. the im aginary n atu re (parikalpita, k un rtag)
2. th e d ep e n d en t n atu re (paratantra, gzhan dbang)
3. the truly existent n atu re (parinispanna, yongs grub)
T h e Sravakas had only distinguished two kinds o f reality, the
relative reality o f the world as we know it an d the absolute reality o f
the skandhas n o t being self. T h e relative reality is like the dream
experience an d the absolute reality is th at the person suffering in
th e d ream is not really real. T h e C ittam atrins m ake a fu rth e r
distinction. T h e dream experience has a certain reality o f its own

47

because it is the m ind, the d ep e n d en t nature; th at is to say the


dreain m anifestations in them selves before one conceptualizes
entities such as this is an enem y, this is a frie n d . T h e person in the
d ream im agined to be som ething separate from the things
perceived in the dream is com pletely im aginary, as are all the sepa
rate, in d ep en d e n t entities that seem to ap p e ar in it; these are the
im aginary natu re. T h e absolute tru th is the em ptiness o f the m ind
o f these entities; this is called the truly existent n ature, because that
em ptiness is w hat truly is.
A n o th er exam ple would be a film o f a tiger o r a snake. T h e
concept o f a real tiger o r snake is the im aginary n ature. T h e m ere
ap p e ara n ce o f the tiger o r snake i.e. the light playing on the screen
in the form o f a tiger o r snake, is real an d is the d ep e n d en t nature.
O ne could also think o f the screen itself as the d e p e n d e n t n ature,
like the alayavijnana from which all the o th er m anifestations
ap p ear. T h e em ptiness o f the m ere appearances, in the sense o f
th eir m erely being light em pty of any real tigers o r snakes, is the
truly existing nature; the screens em ptiness o f real tigers and
snakes is also the truly existing nature. T his exam ple is not as good
as the d ream exam ple tho u g h , because it gives the im pression that
th e screen and the light playing on it are differen t substances. A
b etter exam ple for illustrating the relationship betw een the
alayavijnana and the o th er six consciousnesses is the ocean an d th e
waves.
T h e im aginary n atu re is never anything b u t em pty. T h e klesam ind produces the concept o f a basic duality and from th at all o th er
nam es an d concepts follow. T hese are simply nam es an d concepts b u t none o f the conceptualized entities they re fer to exist. T hey are
simply im aginary. T h e d e p e n d e n t n atu re is real existence (bden p ar
g ru b pa). T h e truly existing n atu re is absolute existence (don dam
g ru b pa).
T h e d ep e n d en t n atu re includes all the six consciousnesses and
th eir objects, the alayavijnana itself an d the self-illum inating, selfaw are stream o f consciousness th at rem ains w hen the alayavijana is
purified. T h e self-aware an d self-illum inating stream o f conscious
ness is em pty o f perceived objects as different entities to the
perceiving m inds an d so it is actually the ultim ate d e p e n d en t

48

n atu re. T h e C ittam atrins called it a kind o f absolute however, and


this was w hat the M adhyam ikas refu ted (see Stages 3, 4 an d 5 on
M adhyam aka).
If you are w ondering how the C ittam atrins classify ph en o m en a
into the relative an d A bsolute truths, the answ er is th at in term s of
th at division o r classification, the self-illum inating, self-aware m ind
is classified as absolute (rnam grangs p ai don dam ). It is not clas
sified as relative (samvrti, kun rdzob). However, since it arises from
causes an d conditions it is not the ultim ate Absolute. T h e ultim ate
Absolute (m th a th u g p ai don dam ) is the truly existent n ature. T h e
truly existent n atu re does not com e into the discussion of how the
two tru th s are divided since it is beyond all such distinctions. It is
simply ultim ate, p u re an d perfect reality (yang dag pa).
T h e im aginary n atu re is called im aginary because w hen one
applies o n es reason an d exam ines the n atu re o f these concepts
clearly an d dispassionately, one finds nothing real that corresponds
to them . T h e d ep e n d en t n atu re is said to be real because w hen one
exam ines carefully one does find the self-illum inating, self-aware
m ind. T h e ultim ate Absolute is w hat is found in the ultim ate
analysis. In the ultim ate analysis one finds no perceiving and
perceived entities in the m ind an d this is the truly existent, perfect
purity an d ultim ate reality.
Som etim es W estern com m entators have called C ittam atrin
an d Y ogacarin ideas Idealism . T his m ight lead one to think th at in
som e form s o f B uddhism th ere is the idea o f a vast limitless m ind
th at creates the world, like a kind o f creator god an d th at beings are
all linked to this one m ind as God m ight be to his creatures. Ideas
like these have long been cu rren t in India, b u t no B uddhist school
ever subscribed to them . T h e alayavijnana is not like a God, because
it is a stream o f m om entary consciousnesses which are not a self n o r
a S elf. T his is a fundam ental difference betw een theistic and
B uddhist systems and one should never lose sight o f it.
If one lost sight o f this distinction, one could find oneself falling
into the form less sam adhis o f limitless space, consciousness or
nothingness. A lthough th ere is no d a n g e r o f getting stuck in such a

49

MMm

sam adhi unless one cultivated it over a very long time, nonetheless,
o ne should be very aw are o f the fact th at all B uddhist sam adhis that
lead to liberation are based on the realization o f em ptiness an d notself. Sam adhis th at are not so based do not lead to liberation.

F R U IT O F C IT T A M A T R A
T h e fru it o f the wisdom th at sees the em ptiness o f the m ind/
m atter duality is the rem oval o f suffering (duhkha). Ju st as dark
cannot exist in the presence o f light, suffering cannot exist in the
presence o f wisdom.
T h e first ignorance is to take as a self w hat is not self an d from
this arises the concept o f a difference betw een self and other. From
this duality arises the m ental disturbances (klesa) o f attachm ent to
what is d ea r an d aversion to w hat is not dear, an d th ro u g h attach
m en t an d aversion the klesa an d suffering increase.
T h e wisdom th at sees th at m ind is em pty o f a m ind/m atter
duality (i.e. em pty o f o u ter perceived entities d ifferent in substance
to the in n er perceiving consciousnesses), at a single stroke, cuts
th ro u g h attach m ent an d aversion an d all the associated suffering.
O n the m ost subtle level every m om ent o f consciousness is purified
o f all stain o f ignorance an d th ere is not even the shadow o f the idea
o f a difference in substance betw een m ind an d its objects.
T h a t m eans the m ind rests free from all conceptual contrivance
based on such dualistic ideas. Such ideas are based on false asser
tions an d denials. D ifferences are asserted th a t do not exist an d the
tru e n atu re o f reality is denied. All o u r concepts are based on
accepting o u ter objects as separate from the in n er perceiving m ind
an d taking them to be real.
By letting go o f all these.concepts th ro u g h m editation on the
m in d s em ptiness o f this duality, the veils are cleared away an d the
light o f the wisdom m ind, the self-aware self-illum inator, is e xperi
enced. T his is a very p ro fo u n d experience an d even for those who
experience it, it is difficult to explain.

50

C ittam atrins tried to explain it as a p u re stream o f self-aware


m om ents o f consciousness, but such an explanation falls into a
logical contradiction (see later chapters for details). Because o f this,
m ore refin ed teachings on the n atu re o f em ptiness are required
before one can realize the tru e n atu re o f this self-aware, selfillum inating experience.

M E T H O D O F E X A M IN A TIO N
Reflect on how one has no p ro o f th at the o u ter perceived
aspect (or object) o f a m om ent o f consciousness exists in d e p e n
dently o f the in n er perceiving aspect. An in n er perceiving aspect of
a m o m en t o f consciousness cannot arise w ithout an o u ter perceived
object - an d vice versa. Each m om ent has to have both aspects sim ul
taneously in o rd e r to arise. A perceiving consciousness with no
object o f perception is a contradiction in term s, as is an object o f
p erception with no perceiving consciousness. O ne cannot arise
before o r after the other, having an in d ep en d e n t separate exis
tence, ju s t as d ream appearances cannot exist independently o f the
d ream in g m ind. Each m om ent o f the d ream ing m ind arises
to g eth er with its dream m anifestation as its object. T h e dream
m anifestation cannot ap p e ar before o r after its d ream conscious
ness, n o r vice versa.
In w aking life we deduce from certain p attern s o f relationships
th at objects o f consciousness exist before an d after we perceive
them , b u t this is relative tru th (samvrtisatya). W hen we exam ine
closely we do not find any such existence in the ultim ate analysis.
Similarly, evidence o ffered by others, who claim to perceive the
sam e objects as we do, does n o t stand u p to m inute analysis. W e can
deduce th at in the relative tru th others perceive the sam e objects as
we do - b u t ultim ately every perception o f both oneself an d others
arises an d disappears sim ultaneously with its object. B oth the o u ter
perceived object an d in n er perceiving aspect o f every m om ent o f
consciousness are o f the sam e substance with no m ind/m atter
dichotom y, ju s t as in dream s.
Some people, who think o f them selves as scientifically m inded,
believe th at the m ind is the brain o r a function o f the brain an d th at
for this reason th ere is no essential m ind/m atter dichotom y.

51

A ccording to th eir view, everything can be explained in term s o f the


m aterial world. T hey choose to overlook the qualities o f m ind that
have no relation to m atter, such as subjective experience, thoughts
an d em otions. A lthough they would n o t take seriously the story of
Pinocchio, w here a sim ple piece o f m atter, a stick, inexplicably
develops a m ind experiencing hopes an d fears, pleasures an d pain
an d so on, they would n o t find it strange if sub-atom ic particles,
atom s o r m olecules started to produce thoughts an d feelings.
H ow ever, n o t only is th ere no scientific evidence w hatever th at such
a p h en o m en o n is possible, b u t it represents a sem antic confusion of
catagories. Linguistically th ere is the catagory m ind an d w hat is not
m ind i.e. m atter. M atter, o r the m aterial world is w hat exists out
th e re beyond the senses. If it does not exist in d ep en d e n t o f the
senses, how can it be catagorized as m aterial? How can a m aterial
world th at exists outside th e senses also be th e senses th at sense and
experience it? Such a theory does not answ er anything. It does not
even begin to address itself to the question o f w hat conscious experi
ence is, let alone to the question o f w hat m ight o r m ight n o t exist
external to it.

M E D IT A T IO N PRO CED URE


As with the Sravaka stage, begin by taking refuge an d arousing
B odhicitta m otivation. Reflect carefully on the exam ple o f the
dream an d th e th ree natures. Reflect on how the idea o f separate,
truly existing outside objects is an unnecessary an d superfluous
invention o f the m ind. W hen you have becom e convinced o f this,
rest th e m ind as before in th e spaciousness o f th at em ptiness. T h e
self-illum inating, self-aware m ind rests in itself, focussed on the
em ptiness o f any m ind/m atter dichotom y (bzung dzin gnyis gyis
stong pa). T h e m ind is taken as som ething given, so one does not
focus on m ind as such - one focuses on the em ptiness o f each
m o m en t o f consciousness by not creating any concepts o f there
being a difference in substance betw een the in n er perceiving aspect
an d o u ter perceived aspect. So, as in the Sravaka stage o f m editation
on em ptiness, the m ind rests in the vast expanse o f em ptiness.
B etw een sessions reflect on how all experience is like a dream .
T h e o u te r w orld an d th e in n er m ind are all m ind, ju s t as in a dream .

52

STAGE THREE

SVANTANTRIKA APPROACH
T h e T ibetan tradition divides the M adhyam aka into the
M adhyam aka Self-Em pty (R angtong) an d the M adhyam aka O therEm pty (Shentong).
T h e re are two kinds o f M adhyam aka R angtong;
1.
2.

M adhyam aka Svatantrika,


M adhyam aka Prasangika.

A lthough the term S hentong was coined in T ibet,


M adhyam aka S hentong represents the views o f those w hom , in
India, were know n as the Yogacara M adhyamikas.
T h e p u rpose o f the M adhyam aka R angtong is to establish the
em ptiness o f self-nature o f all p h en o m en a (dharm as).
W hen we were considering the C ittam atra system we saw th ere
w ere th ree kinds o f em ptiness. T h e em ptiness of th e im aginary
n atu re, th e em ptiness o f the d ep e n d en t n atu re and the Em ptiness
th at is th e T ruly Existent N ature.

55

We saw th a t th e em ptiness o f the im aginary n atu re m eant that


w hen an im aginary object is closely scrutinized it is found not to
exist at all, except in the im agination. In particular it refers to the
em ptiness o r absence o f self-entity in the person an d outside
objects; in o th er words they never existed as real entities except in
the im agination.
O n the o th e r h an d we saw th at the em ptiness o f the d ep e n d en t
n atu re (which in C ittram atra refers chiefly to the m ind-stream )
m eant it was em pty o f the im aginary n atu re b u t not o f its own
n atu re. T his is the point th at M adhyam ikas refute. T hey do not
consider the ultim ate em ptiness (parinispanna) fo u n d by the
C ittam atrins to be ultim ate em ptiness at all. In their opinion the
C ittam atrin analysis does not go far enough.
T h e Sravakas, the C ittam atrins an d the M adhyam aka
R angtong pas (i.e. those who follow M adhyam aka R angtong) all
agree th at the m ind is a stream o f m om ents o f consciousness. T h e
Sravakas analyse it an d find no self in it. T h e C ittam atrins fu rth e r
analyse the objects o f consciousness an d find no self-nature in them .
T h e M adhyam aka R angtong fu rth e r analyses the consciousnesses
as well as th eir objects an d finds that n eith er consciousnesses n o r
th eir objects have self-nature.
N evertheless, all M adhyam ikas agree th at the m ind appears as
a stream o f m om ents o f consciousness to g eth er with th eir objects,
an d th at this sim ple ap p earan ce is relative tru th . It is n o t absolute.
B oth Sravakas an d C ittam atrins think the m om ents o f conscious
ness o f th e m ind-stream are absolute in som e sense, because in the
final analysis one always experiences m ind as som ething real.
T h e M adhyam aka R angtong uses reason to establish th at
consciousnesses an d th eir objects cannot be ultim ately real, because
in the final analysis each arises only in d ependence on the o th e r and
n eith er has a self-nature o f its own.
T his ap p ro ach is a very pow erful an d p ro fo u n d way o f estab
lishing the em ptiness o f all relative p h en o m en a th at arise from
causes an d conditions in m utual dep en d en ce (pratityasam utpada).
It leaves m any questions unansw ered, how ever, an d in som e ways

56

the C ittam atra system gives m ore answers to how relative reality
works th an does the M adhyam aka R angtong. M adhyam aka
R angtong is a system o f reasoning th at takes o u r everyday com m onsense view o f the world an d shows us th at such a view o f the world is
full o f logical contradictions. We experience th e world th ro u g h o u r
senses an d yet w hen we use o u r reason to enquire m inutely into the
exact m ode o f its existence we find nothing exists by self-nature at
all.
Ultimately, experience an d reason are fo u n d to be in fu n d a
m ental conflict an d the resolving o f the conflict can only com e
th ro u g h th e direct know ledge th at arises from insight m editation.
T h u s the aim o f all M adhyam aka systems is to clarify aw areness by
exhausting the reasoning m ind an d helping it give u p its p re
conceived ideas concerning the n atu re o f world.
T h e difference betw een the M adhyam aka Svatantrikas an d the
M adhyam aka Prasangikas is th at the form er use argum ents to
refu te th e self-nature o f p h en o m en a (dharm as) an d th e n fu rth e r
arg u m en ts to establish th eir tru e n atu re is em ptiness. T h e P rasan
gikas only use argum ents to refute self-nature, w ithout trying to
establish the tru e n atu re by reasoning at all. T h u s the Svatantrikas
first establish th at dharm as do not truly exist; in o th er words, th at
they have no self-nature. T h e n they establish that in fact th eir tru e
n atu re is em ptiness. T h e ir argum ents are very effective in refu tin g
certain H in d u ideas according to which things do not have self
n a tu re because th eir tru e n a tu re is God.
T o say som ething has no self-nature m eans it has no separate,
in d ep en d e n t, lasting n atu re o f its own. For exam ple a rainbow
ap p ears very vividly an d arises from the com ing to g eth er o f causes
an d conditions such as the sky, the rain, the sun, the angle o f the
light, an d so on. How ever, w hen one looks closely for its ultim ate
n atu re , one finds em pty space. It is as if it h ad disappeared u n d e r
o n e s eyes, an d yet it is still th ere shining brightly in the sky.
In th e sam e way scientists study physical things like, for exam
ple, flowers. T h e first ro u g h analysis breaks a flower u p into its
parts, petals, stam ens etc. M ore refined analysis breaks it dow n into
cells, m olecules, th en atom s, th en sub-atom ic particles. Finally

57

those sub-atom ic particles them selves lose their identity and


becom e sim ple m ovem ent in em pty space and the ultim ate n atu re
o f th at m ovem ent defies rational analysis.
Yet th e flower rem ains as vivid and obvious as ever.
O n e has to accept, th erefo re, th at th ere are two tru th s, the rela
tive an d th e absolute. T h e relative is how things ap p e ar to the noncritical ord in ary consciousness and the absolute is the ultim ate
n atu re o f a th in g th at is established th ro u g h accurate an d m inute
analysis by m eans o f the rational m ind. T his is the Svatantrika view.
T h e relative is m erely concepts (rnam rtog gis btags pa tsam) and
the absolute is em ptiness free from concepts.

T H E DREAM EXAMPLE
In a d ream the ultim ate n atu re o f the various things that
m anifest is em ptiness, because none o f them is real. T hey do not
have self-nature in the sense that, for exam ple, the dream fire does
n o t have th e n atu re o f fire i.e. it cannot really b u rn anything. It is
n o t created from the com ing to g eth er o f causes an d conditions such
as wood an d m atches etc.. Likewise the dream tiger cannot really
bite an d does not arise from the com ing to g eth er o f its m o th er and
fa th e r etc.. T h u s the fire an d the tiger do not have the self-nature of
fire o r o f tiger. T hey are em pty o f th at n atu re , an d yet they a p p e ar
an d function in the sense th a t they can cause fear and suffering in
the d ream er. T h e ir ap p earin g and functioning is the relative tru th ,
b u t th eir absolute reality is em ptiness.
In the sam e way, in waking life, relative p h en o m en a ap p e ar
an d p erfo rm functions an d yet, although they seem to have inde
p en d en t, lasting existence o f th eir own, they have no such self
n atu re. T h e ir ultim ate n atu re is em ptiness.
Svatantrikas follow the B u d d h as teaching that, All dharm as
are em ptiness. T hey take this to be the certain, tru e an d final
teaching o f the B uddha concerning the ultim ate n atu re o f things
i.e. they take it to be a n itarth a teaching. In th eir opinion, the
B u d d h as statem ent, T h e th ree realm s are m erely m in d , needs to

58

be carefully explained. In o th e r words it is a provisional (neyartha)


teaching. T h ey in terp re t the statem ent th at everything is m ind to
m ean th at the relative is m erely concepts. T hey do not accept, as the
C ittam atrins do, th at in the ultim ate analysis th ere is a truly existing
substance, m ind. T h e point they are criticizing about the C ittam atra
is that, since a m om ent of consciousness arises in dependence on an
object o f consciousness an d vice versa, consciousness cannot exist
in d ep en d en tly with its own self-nature, so the m ind th at the
C ittam atrins are positing m ust be relative, n o t absolute. By arguing
in this way the Svantantrikas are m ore th o ro u g h an d precise in their
analysis o f th e absolute n atu re o f things. T hey establish very force
fully th at th e ultim ate n atu re o f all relative dharm as is em ptiness
because they are all m erely concepts. Even concepts such as em p ti
ness itself can be established as being em pty.
A lthough some Svatantrikas teach the two tru th s as quite sepa
rate an d d ifferen t in nature, others stress th at they are inseparable,
b oth being d ifferent aspects o f a single reality. T h e form er are stres
sing th at em ptiness m eans absolute non-existence and th at all that
we experience as existing is relative tru th . T h e latter are stressing
th at even th o u g h this is true, em ptiness an d appearance cannot ulti
m ately be two separate entities. U ltim ately the tru e n atu re o f things
cannot be conceptualized as eith er existent, non-existent, both o r
neither. Such a view is very close to the Prasangika view. T h e m ain
difference is th at Prasangikas do not use logical arg u m en t to estab
lish the absolute em pty n atu re o f the dharm as, w hereas Svatan
trikas do.

M E T H O D O F IN V E ST IG A T IO N
Svatantrikas use m any detailed argum ents for establishing
th eir position. T h e object is to establish the em ptiness o f all
elem ents o f existence, an d the m ethod is systematically to exam ine
each elem ent o f existence in tu rn until one reaches the conviction
th at all w ithout exception are em pty.
In the P rajnaparam ita sutras the B u d d h a lists 108 em ptinesses
starting with the 18 elem ents an d including all p h en o m en a u p to
the ten powers an d the O m niscient W isdom o f the B uddha.

59

In B uddhist philosophy the elem ents o f existence are classified


in several d ifferent ways; each system p u rp o rts to cover all possible
elem ents o f existence o r experience. T h e idea is to have a kind o f
check list o f all possible ph en o m en a an d then to exam ine them all to
find th eir ultim ate tru e n atu re th at is com m on to them all.
We have already seen how the five skandhas are used in this
way. Now we are going to use the eighteen elem ents as an o th er
exam ple o f this m ethod.
T h e E ighteen Elem ents are:
Eye
E ar
Nose
Tongue
Body
M ind

Form
Sound
Smell
T aste
T ouch
M ental objects

Eye consciousness
E ar consciousness
Nose consciousness
T o n g u e consciousness
Body consciousness
M ind consciousness

In this list the six sense organs, eye etc., re fer to th e actual
sensitive p art o f each org an th at links th e physical o r m ental object
to th e consciousness. Eye consciousness cannot arise simply in the
presence o f form , the light sensitive org an has also to be p resen t and
functioning. T h e m ind o rg a n is the m om ent o f consciousness that
bears the im age o f a sense consciousness o r a m ental object an d
enables a conceptual consciousness to grasp it.
N ag arju n a was the great fo u n d e r o f the M adhyam aka system.
In his M ulam adhyam akakarikas he sum s u p his system o f reason
ing. His disciple B uddhapalita w rote a fam ous com m entary on this,
b u t his contem porary, Bhavaviveka criticized his m ethod an d estab
lished a system o f his own, again based on the Karikas. In this way he
becam e th e fo u n d e r o f the Svatantrika M adhyam aka. C andrakirti, a
follower o f B u d dhapalita w rote a treatise defending B uddhapalita
an d arg u in g against Bhavavivekas critique o f his work. In this way
he becam e the fo u n d e r o f the Prasangika M adhyam aka.
So w hat kind o f reasoning did N agarjuna use to establish the
em ptiness o f all dharm as? We have not got tim e to go into them all
here. In fact, for the m editator it is not really necessary to know
th em all. O n e ju st has to know en o u g h to be able to establish the

60

em ptiness o f all dharm as fo r oneself as a p re p ara tio n for th e m edi


tation.
O n e o f th e m ost pow erful argum ents he used was the a rg u
m en t against a p h en o m en o n being eith er single o r m ultiple. T aking
each elem ent in tu rn , he asked if it could be said to exist as a single
entity o r an entity m ade u p o f parts? It is taken as axiom atic th at
anything th at exists m ust be eith er single o r m ultiple, since no o th er
possibility exists. T ake, for exam ple, a form such as the hand. If it
were single it could not be divided; since it can be divided it m ust be
m ultiple. How ever, once you have divided the h an d into its parts,
w here is th e hand? O ne does not find a h an d as such, so the h an d
cannot exist; it is n eith er single n o r m ultiple. H a n d is no th in g in
itself. It has no self-nature. It is simply a concept. You may think to
yourself th at although it is tru e th at th ere is no h an d as such, th ere
are th e atom s th at m ake u p the hand. H ow ever, an atom has to be
eith er single o r m ultiple. If it w ere single it could not have d im en
sions. T o have dim ensions m eans it has a left an d a rig h t side etc..
O ne can find all the parts, b u t th en w here is the atom itself?
H ow ever m inutely one analyses, one can never arrive at a smallest
possible existent particle o f which all o th er existent things could be
said to be m ade up. N agarjuna used reasoning to establish this;
m o d ern day scientists are com ing to the sam e conclusion using
experim ents. Maybe we find the experim ental evidence m ore
convincing th an N ag arju n as reasoning. It does not really m atter
which m ethod one uses if th e conclusion is the same.
N ag arju n a applied th e sam e arg u m e n t to m ental phenom ena.
M ental p h en o m en a are experienced by the m ind. Is a m om ent o f
experience single o r m ultiple? I f it is n eith er it cannot truly exist. If
it were single it would not be able to have any duration. D uration
m eans th ere is a beginning, m iddle an d end. If you say th ere is a
beginning, m iddle an d en d to a m om ent, th en the m om ent is th ree
m om ents an d the original m om ent has disappeared. T h erefo re it
cannot be eith er single o r m ultiple. H ow ever m inutely you analyse
you never find a sm allest possible truly existent m om ent o f experi
ence o f which all o th er existent experience could be m ade up.
Consciousness or experience is em pty o f self-nature, because ulti
m ately th ere is no truly existing m om ent o f consciousness o r experi
ence.

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Svatantrikas like to use two m ain types o f argum ent. O ne is the


arg u m e n t used above i.e. n eith er single n o r m ultiple and the o th er
is m ere d e p e n d e n t arising (pratityasam utpada). W hat is dependently arising by definition has no self-nature. T h erefo re to show
all p h en o m en a are dependently arising is to show they have no self
natu re.

M E D IT A T IO N PRO CED URE


In th e C ittam atra m editation, we saw th at the th in g th at was
em pty (stong gzhi) was the m ind, em pty o f m in d /m atter duality. In
the Svatantrika m editation the thing th at is em pty is all phenom ena,
in n er an d outer, i.e. both m ental p h en o m en a as well as o u ter
ap p earin g objects. Everything is em pty o f self-nature.
NB. Some Svatantrikas take o u ter ap p earin g objects to be
differen t in substance to the m ind an d som e do not, b u t all agree
th at both o u ter perceived objects and in n er perceiving conscious
nesses are em pty o f self-nature. N one o f them accept (as Cittam atins do) th at dependently arising p h en o m en a have a kind o f tru e
existence.
B egin the m editation session with taking R efuge an d arousing
Bodhicitta. T h e n , having established certitude by listening,
studying an d reflecting, abandon all doubts an d rest the m ind in its
own em ptiness an d the em ptiness of all p h en o m en a free from all
concepts such as existence, non-existence an d so on. Rest the m ind
in th at vast op en space, and, ju st as w hen one recognizes dream s for
w hat they are they disappear, so everything disappears into the vast
expanse o f em ptiness w hen one m editates free from conceptual
contrivance (nisprapanca).
Betw een sessions m editate on how things vividly a p p e ar but
are em pty an d how, th o u g h em pty, they appear, as dream s ap p ear
even th o u g h they are em pty.
T his em ptiness is the n atu re o f the B u d d h as D harm akaya and
also the ultim ate n atu re o f all beings. Because o f this sam eness o f
n atu re, beings are able to realize the E nlightenm ent o f B uddhas

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an d becom e B uddhas with the pow er to work fo r ever at th e task o f


liberating all sentient beings.
T h in k in g o f this one dedicates all the m erit accum ulated
th ro u g h m editating like this to the com plete and perfect E nlighten
m en t o f beings.

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STAGE FOUR

PRASANGIKA APPROACH
T h e Svatantrika system is very effective fo r a first u n d e r
standing o f em ptiness because it cuts th ro u g h o n es attachm ent to
things as real. How ever, even th o u g h the Svatantrikas them selves
thin k they teach an u n d erstan d in g th at goes beyond concepts, from
the Prasangika p o in t o f view th eir u n d ersta n d in g is still subtly
conceptual. T h e Prasangikas argue th at to establish em ptiness
th ro u g h reasoning is a subtle attem p t to grasp the ultim ate n atu re
with the conceptual m ind. Reason shows the conceptual m ind is
always in erro r, it can only ever give a distorted an d ultim ately self
contradictory version o f experience, never the n atu re o f reality
itself. T h erefo re they refuse to use any reasoning to establish the
tru e n atu re o f ph en o m ena. T hey say th at since the ultim ate n atu re
is beyond even the m ost subtle concepts (nisprapanca), it is
m isleading to try to establish o r prove nisprapanca as a description
o r a concept th at expresses the ultim ate n atu re o f reality.
T hey are ad am an t in not positing anything eith er positive o r
negative. Some arg u e th at this a dishonest view in the sense th at one
is simply side-stepping issues and refusing to allow o p p o n en ts to
refu te o n es views. However, th ere is som ething very p ro fo u n d in

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this m ethod. It is quite uncom prom ising in its systematic refutation


o f all conceptual attem pts to grasp the n a tu re o f the absolute. T h e
original Prasangikas in India and T ibet did not assert anything
ab out th e relative app earan ce o f p h en o m en a either. T h ey consi
d ered th e n atu re o f this also to be beyond even the m ost subtle
concepts o f existence, non-existence etc.
Som e later Prasangikas, nam ely the G elugpa school o f Tibet,
do hold views concerning the n atu re o f relative phenom ena. T hey
establish th ro u g h reasoning th at relative p h en o m en a exist conven
tionally (vyavahara, th a snyad du). O th e r Prasangikas are very
do u b tfu l th at such a system can be considered Prasangika at all. A
n u m b er o f very pow erful refutations o f the G elugpa view have been
m ade by bo th G elugpa an d o th er scholars an d debate still continues
to this day, even now as the D harm a spreads to the West. T h e
debate will certainly continue here. Maybe W estern scholars will
resolve it, w here T ibetans have failed to do so.
W e will only be considering the original Prasangika view in this
M editation Progression on Em ptiness. T h a t is, we will confine
ourselves to refu tin g all views, b u t n o t asserting any co u n ter-arg u
m en t establishing any view o f o u r own. T his am ounts to a com plete
destruction o f all conceptual views, leaving one with no alternative
th an a non-conceptual view o f the n atu re o f reality. T h e aim o f the
Prasangika is to silence com pletely the conceptual m ind, allowing
the m ind to rest in absolute freedom from concepts. Absolute
freedom from concepts is w hat Prasangikas call em ptiness. T h e
absolute n atu re o f reality is em ptiness in th a t sense only. It cannot
be established as em pty, n o r even as freedom from concepts (nis
prapanca) by the conceptual m ind because th at is not tru e em pti
ness o r tru e freedom from concepts - these are ju s t concepts too.
Finally, th erefore, the Prasangikas are not saying anything
ab out the ultim ate n atu re o f reality o r o f em ptiness. T h a t is not the
aim o f th eir system. T h e ir aim is to free th e aw areness of its concep
tualizing habit an d to let the ultim ate n atu re o f reality reveal itself in
a totally non-conceptual way. It is a very pow erful system in that it
gives the conceptual m ind no th in g to grasp onto at all. In contrast to
the Svatantrika, which is good for refu tin g non-B uddhist systems,
the Prasangika is very good for refu tin g subtle views held in o th er
B uddhist systems. It shows how, although they all claim to go

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beyond concepts, they still have subtle concepts as long as they try to
establish the n atu re o f reality th ro u g h reason and the use of
concepts.

T H E DREAM EXAMPLE
T h e Svatantrika view is like realizing th at th e dream fire or
d ream tiger are not real. In this way th ere is the subtle concept o f a
real em ptiness an d an u n real fire o r tiger. In o th e r words th ere is a
subtle conceptual division betw een the absolute an d the relative
tru th s. T h e Prasangika view is like realizing the tru e n atu re o f the
dream fire o r dream tiger directly, w ithout first negating the dream
an d establishing em ptiness. If th ere is no concept o f real, th ere is
no concept, u n re al. If th ere is no concept, self-nature, th ere is no
concept, absence o f self-nature. T h u s the m ind rests in total peace
w ithout any conceptual contrivance w hatever. T h e d ream tiger
does n o t n eed the concept o f em ptiness to negate a reality it never
had.
T his is obviously a m uch m ore advanced way o f practising th an
th at o f th e Svatantrika. For an ordinary person it is not possible to
gain a non-conceptual u n d ersta n d in g o f em ptiness im m ediately. It
is very good to use the Svatantrika ap p ro ach to establish em ptiness
at first. T his cuts th ro u g h o n es ordinary conceptual way o f thinking
which takes existence an d non-existence for granted. T h e n one has
to use the Prasangika to cut th ro u g h the conceptual m ind
com pletely. It enables one to cut th ro u g h the tendency to separate
the relative tru th o f how things ap p e ar from th e absolute tru th of
how they actually are. As long as one separates the two tru th s, o n es
u n d ersta n d in g o f em ptiness is subtly conceptual. O nce one lets go
o f the tendency to subtly divide the two tru th s, one sees the relative
as naturally em pty. It is like seeing dream s naturally as they are
w ithout contrivance or confusion. T h e n one sees th at relative and
absolute tru th are ju st nam es for two aspects o f one reality. Even the
term s relative an d absolute are conceptual creations. Ultim ately
th ere is no such distinction.

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In a d ream m any things ap p ear th a t are em pty. If they are


em pty an d not real, how can th eir em pty essence be real? T o hold a
concept th at the ultim ate n atu re o f the dream appearances is em pti
ness is n o t to see th eir n atu re properly. T h e aw areness m ust rest
m editatively w ithout creating any concepts o f real o r unreal, em pty
o r not-em pty, existent o r not existent etc..
Until th at non-conceptual n atu re has been discovered,
however, it is not possible to avoid subtle positive an d negative
concepts. T h a t is why it is useful to go th ro u g h all the stages o f this
M editation Progression on Em ptiness. At each stage you will learn
to recognize and fam iliarize yourself with all the subtle concepts
th at are going to creep into your m editation again an d again.
R ecognizing them , you will see th eir n atu re m ore an d m ore clearly
an d eventually the m ind will tire o f them .
Ju s t as darkness cannot exist in the presence o f light, ignorance
cannot exist in the presence o f aw areness th at rests w ithout
concepts. At first the m ind rests like th at for ju s t b rief m om ents at a
time, b u t gradually, by recognizing the significance and im portance
o f these m om ents, they are fostered an d as the conceptual ten d en
cies grow weaker, the non-conceptual aw areness grows stronger
an d stronger, like the sun em erging from behind clouds.

M E T H O D O F IN V E ST IG A T IO N
C andrakirti was the great p ro p o n e n t o f the Prasangika system,
an d he relied a lot on argum ents th at showed th at dharm as did not
arise. If dh arm as can be shown never to arise, it goes w ithout saying
th at they do not abide o r perish an d th at they have no self-nature.
Santaraksita, a Svatantrika, on the o th er hand, arg u ed in his
M adhyam akalam kara th at if you can show th at things have no self
natu re, it is easy to show they do not arise, stay o r perish.
C andrakirti used the arg u m e n t th at in n er an d o u ter things do
n o t arise from them selves, from som ething o th er than themselves,
from both o r from n eith er i.e. causelessly. Since th at covers all fo u r
possibilities, this arg u m e n t shows that no th in g truly arises. For
som ething to arise, it first has to be absent. T h e Sam khyas believed

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th a t things arose from them selves. C andrakirti refu ted this saying
th at if som ething already existed it would not need to arise. Arising
has no m eaning for som ething which already exists. T h e H inayana
B uddhist schools, th e Vaibhasikas an d Sautrantikas, believed th at
things arose from w hat was o th er th an them selves. In o th e r words
one m o m en t gave rise to the next. C andrakirti arg u ed th at no
connection exists betw een one m om ent an d the next. A m om ent
arises at the very instant that the m om ent before disappears. Som e
th in g th a t has no connection with an o th er th in g can hardly be called
its cause, otherw ise one could say darkness was the cause o f light or
light the cause o f darkness, ju s t because the one followed on from
the other.
Since, in this way things arising from them selves an d things
arising from som ething else are refuted, one m ight try to arg u e that
things arise from both. T h e Jain s th o u g h t this. C andrakirti argued
th at such a position has th e faults o f both th e previous positions.
M aybe on e w ould like to argue th a t things arise from nothing?
T his would be like the belief o f those who deny all cause an d effect,
including karm a cause an d effect. Such a school existed in India.
T h ey were called the Ajivakas an d C andrakirti refuted th eir view by
saying th at if things arose w ithout cause w hat w ould be th e point of
d oing anything? For exam ple, why should a farm er b o th er to plant
his crops, if causes do n o t bring about effects? Such a belief, which
suggests th at everything is h ap h azard an d chaotic, is totally nonscientific.
M aybe a film is a good exam ple o f how things are non-arising.
W e all know th at w hen we see a m oving film it is really a series o f still
fram es being projected onto the screen in very quick succession. It
may look as if one thing is affecting a n o th e r th in g on the screen,
but, in fact, except for the sequential arran g em en t, th ere is no
connection betw een them . T h e re are even gaps betw een the
pictures. For som ething to cause som ething else th ere has to be a
p o in t w here they m eet, otherw ise how could the one affect the
o ther. B ut a cause never exists at the sam e tim e as its effect. O nce
the effect has arisen the cause is past. T h e cause has to precede its
effect, otherw ise cause has no m eaning. If they arise to g eth er at the
sam e m o m en t they cannot be cause an d effect. In the prasangika

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system this arg u m e n t is developed in detail an d at great length.


A lthough we have n o t looked at it in detail here, we have seen, at
least, the kind o f reasoning used.
It is im p o rtan t to u n d ersta n d th at w hat is being arg u ed about
here is the ultim ate n atu re o f things. O f course, on a gross level,
everyone has to agree that, for exam ple, a candle flam e arises from
the wick and wax o f the candle and from the wood an d flam e o f a
m atch an d so on. It is w hen one exam ines the concept o f causality
very m inutely th at it begins to fall apart, an d this is w hat the P rasan
gikas are interested in. As to the way ap p a re n t causality works in the
world, the Prasangika does not claim to have anything to add to
w hat th e world says about it. H owever, for the Prasangika the
arising o f things is m ere relative appearance. T h e re is no arising in
the absolute. As in dream s, relatively things a p p e a r to arise, but they
do n o t arise in the ultim ate analysis. T h e re is arising in the concep
tual essence (of phenom ena); the absolute essence o f p h en o m en a is
w ithout arising (rnam rtog gi ngo bo skye ba red. don dam p ai ngo
bo skye ba m ed pa red). T h e Prasangika does not hold the position
th at eith er the absolute o r the relative arise o r do not arise, exist or
do n o t exist etc..
T h e Prasangikas are very careful to em phasize th at as well as
things n o t being truly existent (bden p ar grub), and not arising
(skye ba), they are also not not truly existing (bden p ar m a grub) and
no t non-arising (skye ba m ed pa). Such positions are equally
unsatisfactory, because if tru e existence does not exist, th en neith er
can its opposite, not tru e existence, since th at only has m eaning in
relation to existence. If similarly th ere is no arising, th ere is no n o n
arising. In this way they m ake sure th at all concepts, positive and
negative, are n egated an d th at no th in g is asserted in th eir place. In
o th e r w ords the Prasangika system is beyond any m ental grasping
w hatsoever (bloi dzin gtang tham s cad las das pa).
Incidentally, w hen it is said th at the Prasangika holds no posi
tion o r view it m eans he does not truly believe any view o r position
o r hold anything as his absolute an d final opinion. It does not m ean
th at C andrakirti, for exam ple, could not say Im C andrakirti and I
live in N alan d a. J u st saying som ething does not m ean th at one
holds it as ultim ately true.

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T h e reason we have not dwelt at length here on all the detailed


arg u m en ts used by C andrakirti and o th er com m entators is th at we
are talking ab out the m editators approach. Jam g o n K ontrul
R im poche, in his Encyclopaedia o f Knowledge, in the ch ap ter on
Sam atha an d Vipasyana explains that the m editator only needs to
analyse intellectually very briefly, ju st en o u g h to convince him self
o f the way to m editate. T h e n he should d ro p all dou b t an d intellec
tual enquiry an d rest his m ind naturally w ithout any conceptual
contrivance. O f course, if one still has doubts one will have to re tu rn
again an d again to the study an d reflective stages o f the practice.
W hen actually m editating, however, one m ust let all doubts subside
an d rest the m ind w ithout artifice.

BASE, P A T H AND F R U IT
T h e base fo r b oth Svatantrika an d Prasangika M adhyam akas is
the two T ru th s, th e p ath is the two accum ulations (sam bhara) and
th e fru it is the two Kayas (B uddha bodies).
For th e Prasangika, d u rin g the m editation session one rests
o n e s m ind w ithout conceptual effort on the inseparable two truths.
O n e clings to no concept o f good, bad, happy, sad etc.. Even tim e
has no m eaning. Some people get very attached to tim e an d think it
is very im p o rtan t how long they m editate an d so on. T his can
becom e a g reat obstacle to realizing the non-contrived state. T im e
itself never arises. T o m editate like this is to accum ulate wisdom
(jnanasam bhara).
B etw een sessions, how ever, one has to deal with o n es everyday
life. H ere we see cause an d effect w orking all the time. T hey may
n o t ultim ately arise b u t they ap p e ar to do so to the conceptual m ind,
so it is im p o rtan t to respect th at an d not to confuse the levels o f the
teaching. B etween sessions th ere is good an d bad, skilful and
unskilful actions th at lead to happiness an d suffering respectively.
So it is very im p o rtan t to use this tim e for perform ing good actions
like serving the T rip le Gem , giving help w here n eeded an d so on.
T his is called th e accum ulation o f good (punyasam bhara) for the
benefit o f all beings.

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A lthough this path is called the path o f the two accum ulations,
in the last analysis th ere is no accum ulation, no path an d no fruit.
T h e m ind is naturally free from m ental constructions. T h e re is
n o th in g to ad d o r rem ove. T his is em ptiness w ithout any sense o f
n egating an y th ing an d w ithout any concept o f em ptiness. T h e
m ind ju s t rests naturally in its natural state w ithout contrivance.
T h e fru it is the two Bodies o f B uddha. Sam sara is conceptual
elaboration (rnam rtog spros pa, prapanca), N irvana is absence of
conceptual elaboration (nisprapanca). A lthough the D harm akaya is
the cessation o f all conceptual elaboration, on the path to B uddhahood, the B odhisattvas m ake vows an d wishes o u t o f com passion for
beings, an d th ro u g h the pow er o f th eir com passion, the results of
th eir past vows and the p u re karm a o f beings they are able to
m anifest form bodies w hen they reach B uddhahood. T hese form
bodies are in essence free from conceptual elaboration, b u t because
o f the concepts of beings they are able to a p p e ar to them . T hey
a p p e ar to th eir p ure vision, b u t they are not the absolute B uddha.

M E T H O D OF M E D IT A T IO N
For this m editation the m ind should be very relaxed. H aving
taken R efuge an d aroused Bodhicitta, let th e m ind rest, vast and
spacious, like clear an d em pty space. W henever the m ind gets tense
from too m uch studying an d so on, one should let the m ind rest
naturally w ithout contrivance in the natu ral non-contrived em pti
ness o f m ind. T his is the way to relax the m ind. If you have u n d e r
stood correctly the non-contrived state, you will find all tension and
em otional disturbance subsides, like ocean waves becom ing still by
them selves. W henever strong passions like anger, desire o r jealousy
arise, letting the m ind rest w ithout contrivance is sufficient rem edy,
w ithout doing anything at all. T hey simply subside an d com e to rest
by them selves. Similarly with suffering, if one rests in its essence
w ithout contrivance, th at sensation o f suffering becom es spacious
ness and peace.
It is im p o rtan t also to rest the m ind like this w hen the m ind is
happy. O therw ise one will lose o n es equanim ity at the point o f
change w hen the happiness com es to an end.

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STAGE FIVE

THE EMPTINESS-OF-OTHER
(SHENTONG) APPROACH
As was m en tioned in the last section, m any S hentong m asters
criticize the Prasangika M adhyam ikas for th eir claim th at they do
not hold any views. In the opinion o f these m asters, P rasangikasjust
dodge the issue because they refu te everyone elses views an d th en
avoid the refu tatio n o f th eir own views by claim ing not to have any.
From the S hentong point o f view, th e fault with both Svatan
trika and Prasangika M adhyam aka is that they do not distinguish
betw een the th ree different kinds o f existence, the th ree d ifferent
kinds o f em ptiness and the th ree d ifferent kinds o f absence of
essence th at corresp ond to the th ree natures (i.e. the im aginary,
d ep e n d en t and perfect existence). Some S hentong m asters argue
th at R angtong M adhyam aka teaches only the first kind o f em p ti
ness, in o th er words, the em ptiness o f the im aginary n atu re, which
is simply its com plete non-existence. T hey argue th at if this kind o f
em ptiness were the absolute reality, or if m ere absence o f concep
tual contrivance were absolute reality, it would be a m ere n o th in g
ness, em pty space. How can m ere nothingness account for the

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m anifestations o f sam sara an d nirvana? T hey a p p e a r vividly as


im p u re an d p u re m anifestations respectively. M ere em ptiness does
n o t account for this. T h e re has to be som e elem ent th a t is in some
sense lum inous, illum inating an d knowing.
Because S hentong m akes the sam e distinction betw een the
th ree natu res as the C ittam atrins do, an d because it stresses the tru e
existence o f the lum inous know ing aspect o f m ind, m any R angtong
m asters have confused it with C ittam atra.
H ow ever, th ere are very im p o rtan t differences betw een
C ittam atra an d Shentong. Firstly, S hentong does not accept the
C ittam atra view th at consciousness is truly existent. T hey hold the
M adhyam aka view th at it is non-arising an d w ithout self-nature.
T h ey consider them selves to be the G reat M adhyam ikas because
th eir system involves n o t only recognizing freedom from all concep
tual contrivance, b u t also the realization o f the W isdom M ind
(Jnana) th at is free from all conceptual contrivance.
T his non-conceptual W isdom M ind is not the object o f the
conceptualizing process and so is not negated by M adhyam aka
reasoning. T h erefo re, it can be said to be the only th in g th at has
absolute an d tru e existence.
It is im p o rtan t to u n d ersta n d th at this tru e existence does not
m ean th at it can be conceptualized. If it were even the m ost subtle
object o f the conceptual process, it could be refu ted by Prasangika
reasoning. T h e non-conceptual W isdom M ind is not som ething
th at even su prem e wisdom (prajna) can take as its object. A nything
th at can be an object o f consciousness, how ever p u re an d refined, is
d ep en d en tly arising an d has no tru e existence.
So w hat is the non-conceptual W isdom Mind? It is som ething
th at one realizes th ro u g h m eans o th er th an the conceptual process.
O ne experiences it directly ju st as it is an d any conceptual fabrica
tion obscures it. All the teachings o f M aham udra an d M aha Ati and
the whole o f the T an tra s are about this non-conceptual W isdom
M ind an d the m eans o f realizing it. For this realization a G uru is
absolutely necessary. His realization an d the disciples devotion an d
openness o f m ind have to m eet in such a way th at the disciple can

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experience th at non-conceptual W isdom M ind directly. From then


on he uses th a t experience as the basis o f his practice, n u tu rin g and
fostering it until it becom es clear an d stable. O nly th en can the final,
full an d perfect realization occur.
From the S hentong point of view, w hat the C ittam atrins call
absolute i.e. the experience o f the self-knowing, self-illum inating
awareness, is wrongly in terp re ted by them to be a consciousness
(vijnana). S h entong says th at although it is tru e th at w hen the m ind
rests in em ptiness w ithout conceptual contrivance (which all
M ahayanists claim to do) one does experience the clear lum inosity
an d aw are quality o f m ind, this is not a consciousness (vijnana).
V ijnana m eans a divided consciousness; in o th e r words divided into
a seeing and seen aspect. S hentong takes it as a fact th a t a m ind
b o u n d ed by concepts of tim e an d space m ust in some sense e n te r
tain the concepts o f m om ents having d u ra tio n and atom s with
extension in space. F u rth erm o re, it will always seem th at for an
instant o f know ing to take place, a know ing an d a know n aspect of
consciousness m ust arise, even if it is u n d ersto o d th at they have no
ultim ate o r real existence.
T h e S hentong regards the concept o f a stream o f consciousness
consisting o f m om ents having know ing an d known aspects as a
m isu n d erstan d in g o f reality. It is a false o r deceptive reality o r
tru th . In fact the term relative tru th we have been using
th ro u g h o u t this text is a translation o f th e Sanskrit w ord, sam vrti,
which m eans covered o r concealed; the T ibetan translation, kun
rdzob, m eans dressed u p o r blown u p to give a false appearance.
O ne could say sam vrti is m ere concealm ent (samvrti). In a certain
sense it is n o t reality o r tru th at all, but m erely a seem ing reality. It is
only relatively tru e in the sense th at things seem to be th at way to
ordinary beings. U ltim ately it is not tru e at all.
From the S hentong point o f view, the lum inous self-aware
non-conceptual m ind th at is experienced in m editation, w hen the
m ind is com pletely free from concepts, is A bsolute Reality, an d not
a vijnana; vijnana is always sam vrti from the S hentong point o f view
an d is n o t w hat is found by the suprem e wisdom (prajna) th at sees
A bsolute Reality. W hen the lum inous, self aw are, non-conceptual
m ind th at is the W isdom M ind (Jnana) is realized by the suprem e

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wisdom (prajna) th ere is no seeing an d seen aspect, no realizing and


realized aspect to the realization. T his is called the T ranscendence
o f S uprem e W isdom (Prajnaparam ita). It is none o th er th an the
non-conceptual W isdom M ind (Jnana) itself. It is also called the
n o n -d u al W isdom M ind (Jnana), the C lear Light (prabhasvara)
N atu re o f M ind an d D hatu (spacious expanse o r elem ent).
Elsew here it is called D hatu an d aw areness inseparable, clarity and
em ptiness inseparable, bliss an d em ptiness inseparable. It is also
called the D h arm ata an d the T athagatagarbha.
T h e S h entong contention is th at the experience o f com plete
freedom from conceptual contrivance (nisprapanca) m ust also be
the experience o f the C lear Light N atu re o f M ind. In th eir opinion
a Prasangika who denies this m ust still have some subtle concept
which is obscuring o r negating this Reality; in o th er words he has
n o t truly realized com plete freedom from conceptual contrivance.
T his h ap p en s because for a long tim e th e m editator has been
cu tting th ro u g h illusion an d seeing em ptiness as a kind o f negation.
T his becom es such a strong habit th at even w hen the experience o f
Absolute Reality, the C lear Light N ature o f M ind, starts to break
th ro u g h like the sun from b ehind clouds, the m editator au to m ati
cally tu rn s his m ind towards it to subtly negate it. T h e S hentong
argues th at if th ere really were no conceptual contrivance in the
m ind th e C lear Light N atu re would shine forth so clearly and
unm istakably th at it would not be possible to deny it.
T h e fact th at the R angtong M adhyam ikas do deny it, shows the
im portance o f the th ird W heel o f the D octrine. T h e B u d d h a is said
to have tu rn e d the W heel o f the D octrine (D harm acakra) th ree
times. T h a t is to say, he gave th ree m ajor cycles o f teaching. T h e
first co rresp o n d ed to the Sravaka level o f m editation on em ptiness,
the second to the M adhyam aka R angtong level, and th e th ird to the
M adhyam aka S hentong. Each level o f teaching rem edies the faults
in th e level below it. T h u s the S hentong regards the th ird W heel of
the D octrine as rem edying the faults in the second, the
M adhyam aka R angtong.
T h e th ird W heel o f th e D octrine is explained in detail in the
T ath ag atag arb h a Sutras an d these are com m ented on in the
M ah ay anottaratantrasastra (also know n as the R atnagotravibhaga)

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which in the T ibetan tradition is attrib u ted to M aitreya. H ere it is


tau g h t th at the T ath ag atag arb h a pervades all beings an d th at the
m in d s n atu re is the C lear Light. T hese are two ways o f saying the
sam e thing. T h e classic exam ples given are those o f b u tte r in milk,
gold in gold ore an d sesame oil in sesame seeds. T h e butter, gold
an d sesame oil pervade in the sense th at w hen the milk, gold ore or
sesame seeds are processed, the b u tter, gold and sesame oil em erge.
In the sam e way beings go th ro u g h a process o f purification
from which the p urified B u d d h a N atu re (T athagatagarbha)
em erges.
If the tru e n atu re (D harm ata) o f beings were not the
T ath ag atag arb h a they could never becom e B uddhas, in the same
way th at a rock th at did n o t contain gold could never yield gold
how ever m uch it were to be refined.

PURPOSE OF T E A C H IN G T H E
TA T H A G A T A G A R B H A
T h e p u rp o se o f teaching the T ath ag atag arb h a is to give the
m ed itato r confidence th at he already has B u d d h a N ature. W ithout
such confidence it is very difficult to fully rest the m ind free from all
conceptual contrivance, because th ere is always a subtle tendency to
try to rem ove o r achieve som ething.
In the R atnagotravibhaga five reasons are given for teaching
the T ath ag atag arbha. Firstly, it encourages those who would o th e r
wise be so self-depreciating th at they would not even try to arouse
B odhicitta an d attain B uddhahood. Secondly, it hum bles those
who, having aroused Bodhicitta, feel intrinsically su p erio r to others
who have not. T hirdly, it rem oves the fault of taking the stains,
which are unreal, to be the tru e n atu re o f beings. Fourthly, it
rem oves the fault o f taking the C lear Light N ature, which is real, to
be u nreal. Fifthly, by showing th at all beings are intrinsically o f the
sam e n atu re as the n atu re o f B uddha, it rem oves the obstacle to the
arising o f tru e com passion, which sees no difference betw een self
an d other.

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BASE, PATH AND FRUIT


Since the B uddha N ature is th ere from the beginning, it is
p resen t in the base, path an d fruit. T h e only difference betw een the
th ree stages is th at the base is the tim e w hen the B uddha N atu re is
com pletely obscured by stains, th e p ath is w hen it is partially
p urified an d the fruit is w hen it is com pletely purified.

T H E D O C T R IN E OF T H E
R A TN A G O TR A V IB H A G A
T h e R atnagotravibhaga gives th ree points of M ahayana
B u ddhist doctrine th at prove all sentient beings have
T ath ag atag arb h a. It lays o u t the doctrine on T ath ag atag arb h a
u n d e r ten headings an d it gives the nine exam ples from the
T ath a g atag arb h asu tra which illustrate how, although the
T ath ag atag arb h a rem ains unchanged, the veils have to be
rem oved.
It teaches th ree stages, the p u re , the partly p u re a n d the
com pletely p u re, which correspond to beings, B odhisattvas and
B uddhas respectively. T hese correspond to the base, path an d fruit
T athagatagarbha.
At first, an ordinary being does not recognize the C lear Light
N atu re o f his m ind at all. It is th erefo re covered with both gross and
subtle veils; this is the base T ath ag atag arb h a, which is like gold
w hen it is still in the gold ore.
O nce th e tru e n atu re o f the m ind has been recognized by the
Bodhisattva, th e gross veils fall away. From th en on the B odhisattva
uses his realization as the essence o f the path, which consists o f
refining it as on e refines gold once it has been separated from the
ore.
T h e final realization is the fruit T ath ag atag arb h a an d is like the
perfectly refined gold th at has all the qualities o f p u re gold. T h e
fru it T ath ag atag arb h a displays all the qualities o f a perfectly
enlig h ten ed B uddha.

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R atnagotravibhaga 1.154 teaches th at the E lem ent (i.e. the


T ath ag atag arb h a) is em pty of the contingent (stains) th at are separ
able, since they are not o f its essence, b u t not em pty o f the B uddha
qualities th at are not separable, since they are o f its essence.
T h e B u d d h a qualities are the qualities o f the non-conceptual
W isdom M ind, which, w hen it is purified, is called the D harm akaya.
W hen the W isdom M ind is not purified the qualities are not
m anifest an d it is called T athagatagarbha.
T hese qualities are the essence o f th at W isdom Mind. T hey are
n o t divisible from its essence as if the m in d s essence were one thing
an d the qualities another. If they were like th at they would have
b een shown to be em pty o f own n atu re by M adhyam aka reasoning.
T h e essence w ould have arisen d e p e n d e n t on the qualities an d the
qualities d ep e n d en t on the essence. Such qualities o r such an
essence could not have any self-nature o r tru e existence. However,
the B u d d h a qualities are not like this. T hey cannot be grasped by
the conceptual m ind an d are not separable from the essence o f the
W isdom M ind (which also cannot be grasped by the conceptual
m ind). T h u s the B u d d h a qualities are n o t co m pounded o r
conditioned p h enom ena, which arise, stay an d perish. T hey exist
prim ordially.
T h e S h en to ng criticizes the view o f the o th er M adhyam ikas
who say th at the B u d d h as qualities arise as a result o f the good
deeds, vows and connections m ade by Bodhisattvas on the path to
en lightenm ent. If the qualities arose in this way then they would be
co m p o u n d ed an d im p erm an en t p h enom ena, not beyond sam sara
an d o f no ultim ate use to beings. T h e Shentong accepts the doctrine
o f the T ath ag atag arb h a sutras th at the B uddha qualities are
prim ordially existent. N evertheless, good deeds, vows an d connec
tions are necessary for rem oving veils.
Both the C ittam atrins (and R angtong M adhyam ikas who have
a philosophical view) think of the B u d d h as wisdom as a stream of
m om ents o f p u rified aw areness th at has em ptiness o r the conceptionless n atu re as its subtle object. Since the object is p ure, the
aw areness itself exhibits the qualities o f a p u re m ind and this is
called jn a n a . Its arising is associated autom atically with the qualities

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o f the B u d d h a th at result from the actions o f the B odhisattva on his


p ath to en lig h ten m en t th ro u g h his accum ulation o f wisdom and
m erit (punya). T h erefo re, w hether they express this view explicitly
o r not, th e R angtong M adhyam ikas who have a view re g ard the
B u d d h a qualities as relative p h en o m en a whose essence is em p ti
ness.
As has been m entioned already above, S hentong does not
accept th a t the W isdom M ind knows in a dualistic way. It does not
divide into a know ing an d a known aspect, so th ere is no subtle
object o f the W isdom M ind. It is not a stream o f m om ents o f aw are
ness. It is com pletely u n b o u n d ed an d free from all concepts
including tim e an d space. T h erefo re it is prim ordially existent like
its qualities.

T H E D O C T R IN E OF T H E
MAHAY ANASUTRALAM AKARA
T his is an o th er o f the five T reatises th a t the T ibetan tradition
attributes to M aitreya.
T h e M ahayanasutralam kara teaches a distinction betw een the
d h arm in , the relative m ind, an d the D harm ata, the absolute C lear
Light M ind. (D harm in is a general term th at refers to th at which has
the particu lar quality u n d e r discussion. D harm ata m eans that
which has the tru e nature).
T h e relative m ind is m istaken an d confused, while the absolute
m ind is non-m istaken an d non-confused. T h e relative m ind faces
o u t tow ards its object an d has a perceiving an d perceived aspect. It
constitutes th e stain th at is to be given up. Its essence o r tru e n atu re
is the C lear Light Mind.
T h u s th e relative m ind is the thing th at is em pty o f som ething
(stong gzhi). It is em pty o f self nature. Its real n atu re is the absolute
C lear L ight N ature.
A ccording to S hentong the C lear Light M ind in the
M ahayanasutralam kara is the sam e as the T ath ag atag arb h a in the

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R atnagotravibhaga. T h e relative m ind is w hat is re ferred to as the


stains in the R atnagotravibhaga. H ow ever the R atnagotravibhaga
does not explictly say the tru e n atu re o f the stains is the
T ath ag atag arb h a. It ju st says they are em pty o f self-nature. T h u s
th ere is a slight difference in the lay-out, b u t the m eaning is the
same.

T H E D O C T R IN E OF T H E
M A D H Y A N TA V IB H A G A
T his is an o th er o f the five T reatises o f M aitreya. T his text is
in terp re ted by S hentongpas as alluding to the following doctrine
which is fo u n d clearly ex p o u n d ed in the S andhinirm ocana sutra.
i. the th ree m odes o f existence,
ii. th e th ree m odes o f em ptiness,
iii. th e th ree m odes o f absence o f essence.

i. T he T hree M odes o f E xisten ce.


T h e im aginary n atu re exists as m ere conceptual creations. It is
the objects th at o u r concepts an d ideas re fer to. For exam ple, since
the real tiger in a dream is non-existent, it is m erely a figm ent o f the
im agination. In o th er words, the im aginary n atu re , which refers to
the contents o f the delusion ra th e r th an the delusion itself, exists
only in the im agination as the re fere n t o f nam es and concepts. For
exam ple we talk about past events. T hese events do not exist at all.
T h ey are simply nam es o r concepts for re ferrin g to things th at are
being im agined, b u t which do not exist. Objects external to the
m ind an d senses are o f this nature. T hey do not exist and yet nam es
an d concepts are applied to them .
T h e d ep e n d en t n atu re substantially exists (rdzas su yod pa) in
the sense th at it is not ju st im aginary in the above sense. T h u s the
thoughts, concepts, nam es and ideas them selves, that a p p e a r both
to the m ind an d in it, do actually occur. For exam ple, the dream
tiger occurs an d produces an effect, such as fear, in the d ream ing
m ind. However, the dream tiger is only substantial in relation to the

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real tiger th a t is im agined to be there. It is n o t substantial in an abso


lute sense. From the S hentong point o f view, it is not en o u g h ju st to
refu te th e tru e existence o f the im aginary nature. T h e S hentong
uses M adhyam aka reasoning to refu te the tru e existence o f the
d e p e n d e n t n atu re as well as o f the im aginary nature.
T h e perfectly existent n atu re truly exists because it exists in a
n on-conceptual way. In th e C ittam atra the perfectly existent n atu re
is said to be m ere em ptiness, in the sense o f freedom from the
conceptual process o f distinguishing o u te r perceived objects as
d ifferen t in substance to the in n er perceiving m ind. In the S hen
tong it is said to be the non-conceptual W isdom M ind itself. It is
in d eed em pty o f the conceptual process o f distinguishing o u ter
perceived objects as differen t in substance to the in n er perceiving
m inds. It is also em pty o f the conceptualizing process th at creates
th e ap p earan ce o f a divided consciousness (vijnana) i.e. a stream o f
discrete m om ents o f consciousness with perceiving an d perceived
aspects. It is com pletely free from any conceptualizing process and
knows in a way th at is com pletely foreign to the conceptual m ind. It
is com pletely unim aginable in fact. T h a t is why it can be said to truly
exist.

ii. T he T hree M odes o f E m ptiness


T h e im aginary n atu re is em pty in the sense th at it does not exist
at all. It is the em ptiness o f som ething non-existent. T h e referents
o f nam es an d concepts, the conceived objects them selves, never
exist except in the im agination. T h ey have no self-nature of their
own, so they are said to be em pty in them selves.
Some S hentong m asters say th at th e em ptiness tau g h t by the
R angtong is n o thing m ore th an this. In o th er words they do not
reg ard it as being the ultim ate em ptiness tau g h t by the S hentong.
T h e d ep e n d en t n atu re is em pty in the sense o f som ething exis
tent, b u t not ultim ately existent. In the relative it exists an d func
tions, having its own characteristic. It is em pty o f the im aginary
n atu re b u t n o t em pty o f itself. T his is like the C ittam atra view. T h e
Sh en to n g in terprets this to m ean th at in absolute term s the

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d e p e n d en t n atu re does n o t exist at all. It is em pty o f self-nature


because it is d ep endently arising. How ever, the appearance o f the
d ep e n d en t n atu re is only possible because in essence all appearance
is th e M inds C lear Light N atu re and this does exist ultim ately.
T h e perfectly existent n atu re is the ultim ate absolute em p ti
ness. It is the non-conceptual W isdom M ind, non-arising, n o n
abiding an d non-perishing. It is prim ordially existent and endow ed
with qualities. It is em pty in the sense that it is free from all the
obscurations created by the conceptual m ind. T h erefo re w hen the
conceptual m ind tries to grasp it, it finds no th in g and so it experi
ences it as em ptiness. T hus, it is em pty to the conceptual m ind, but
from its own point o f view it is the C lear L ight N ature o f M ind
to g eth er with all its qualities.

iii. T he T hree M odes o f A bsence o f E ssence.


T h e im aginary n atu re is w ithout essence in the sense th at it
does n o t exist according to its own characteristic. For exam ple the
im aginary fire does not have the characteristics of fire which is hot
an d burn in g . In the sam e way every p h en o m en o n th at is a
conceived object of a concept does not exist with its own
characteristic.
T h e d ep e n d en t n atu re is w ithout essence in the sense th at it
never arises. S hentong refutes the existence o f the d ep e n d en t
n atu re using M adhyam aka reasoning.
T h e perfectly existent n atu re is absolute absence o f essence in
th e sense th a t it is th e absence o f essence which is the Absolute; in
o th er words its essence is non-conceptual. T h e essence o f the nonconceptual W isdom M ind cannot be grasped by the conceptual
m ind an d so, from the point o f view o f th e conceptual m ind, it is
w ithout essence; from its own point of view it is Absolute Reality.

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NON-CONCEPTUAL JNANA
T h u s, according to the S hentong in terp retatio n , the R atnagot
ravibhaga, M ahayanasutralam kara an d M adhyantavibhaga all
teach in d ifferen t term s th a t the m in d s tru e n atu re is the nonconceptual W isdom M ind and th at this is the ultim ate Absolute
Reality.
As long as this is n o t realized the C lear Light N ature acts as the
basis for the im pure, m istaken o r illusory appearances to m anifest.
In o th er words it is the basis for the m anifestation o f sam sara. Once
it is realized, it is the basis for p u re m anifestations, in o th er words
the B u d d h a Kayas and B u ddha Realms, the M andalas o f T antric
Deities an d so on.
T h e W isdom M ind is both em ptiness an d lum inosity at the
sam e time. T h e em ptiness expresses its non-conceptual n atu re and
the lum inosity expresses its pow er to m anifest the im pure an d p u re
appearances.
T his is the view th at links the sutras and the tantras. It is tau g h t
in the sutras o f the th ird W heel o f the D octrine an d is the basis for all
the tantric practices. T h e latter should be seen as special m eans for
speeding u p th e realization process. In term s o f the view, it is the
sam e as th at fo und in the sutras

DREAM EXAMPLE
W hen the dream was used as an exam ple in the explanation o f
the o th e r views, the em phasis was very m uch on the illusory n atu re
o f th e d ream appearances. From the S hentong point o f view the
com parison goes even fu rth e r th an this, because dream s quite
clearly arise from the lum inous quality o f the m ind itself. T h e m ind
itself can produce good an d bad dream s and can continue a dream
even after it has becom e aw are th at it is dream ing. T h u s they can
m anifest w h eth er the m ind is unaw are or aware. In the sam e way
the C lear Light N ature o f M ind is the basis for both sam sara, which
is w hen the m ind is unaw are o f its own n atu re, and nirvana, which is
w hen the m ind is aw are o f its own nature.

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W h eth er the m ind is aw are o r unaw are o f its own n atu re, that
n atu re does n o t change. It is always em pty o f the im aginary and
d e p e n d e n t natures. H owever, as long as the non-conceptual, n o n
arising W isdom M ind is not recognized, the d ep e n d en t n atu re
seems to arise, creating the dream m anifestations th at the confused
m ind im agines to com prise an o u ter world interacting with in n er
m inds. From this confusion the idea o f self an d other, attachm ent
an d aversion, an d all the o th er concepts an d em otional disturbances
arise. It is ju s t like getting totally confused an d involved in a dream .
O nce the aw akened consciousness re tu rn s, how ever, one quickly
sees the dream s as m erely m anifestations o f the play o f the m ind,
a n d w h eth er they subside im m ediately o r not, they do not disturb
the m ind at all.

M E T H O D O F IN V E ST IG A T IO N
T h e key to this m ethod o f m editation (or ra th e r non-m edita
tion) is held by those who have the realization them selves. Finally
th ere is no substitute for personal instruction from a realized m aster
who can, th ro u g h his own skill-in-means on the one hand, an d the
faith an d devotion o f the disciple on the o th er, cause the realization
to arise an d m atu re in the disciples m ind.
H ow ever, m uch can be done to p re p are the m ind an d th at is
w hat this M editation Progression on Em ptiness is designed to do.
G radually, by carefully practising each stage in the M editation
Progression until som e real experience o f each level o f realization
has arisen in the m ind, o n e s u n d erstan d in g deepens an d the
conceptualizing tendency loses its tight hold on the m ind. G ra d u
ally the m ind becomes m ore relaxed and open. D oubts an d hesita
tions lose th eir strength an d begin to disappear. T h e m ind is n a tu r
ally m ore calm an d clear. Such a m ind is m ore likely to respond
readily an d p roperly to the teach ers oral instructions.
In K o n g tru ls Encyclopaedia o f Knowledge, he says th at the
R angtong is the view for w hen one is establishing certainty th ro u g h
listening, studying an d reflecting. S hentong is the view for m edita
tion practice.

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M E D IT A T IO N PRO CED URE


By th e tim e one comes to m editation based on the C lear Light
N atu re o f the M ind, the investigation stage o f the practice has come
to an end. All th ere is to do now is to rest the m ind naturally in its
own n atu re, ju s t as it is w ithout any contrivance o r effort. As
Jam g o n K ongtrul says in the section on sam atha an d vipasyana in
his Encyclopaedia o f Knowledge, w hatever thoughts arise, th ere is
no need to try to stop them ; in th at state they simply liberate th em
selves. It is like waves on an ocean th at simply com e to rest by th em
selves. No effort is req u ired to still them .
M editation can be done, as before, in sessions beginning with
taking R efuge an d arousing Bodhicitta, followed by dedication for
the benefit o f all beings. It can also be con tinued betw een sessions.
From tim e to tim e one can stop what one is doing an d rest the m ind
in its C lear L ight N ature, an d th en try to carry th at aw areness over
into w hatever one is doing.
G enerally speaking, how ever, w hen one first starts to m editate
on th e C lear Light N atu re o f M ind in the S hentong way, o n es m ind
is far from being free o f conceptual effort. Som etim es th ere will be
the effo rt to see the em ptiness o f w hat arises, som etim es the effort
to see th e C lear Light N ature, som etim es the effort to see them both
as inseparable, som etim es the effort to grasp the non-conceptual
state, to u n d erstan d it intellectually o r to try to fix and m aintain it
som ehow. T h u s in the early stages o n es m editation will not be a lot
d ifferen t from the early stages o f the C ittam atra. T his does not
m atter, since this is m oving in the right direction. Know ing the
d ifferen t ways o f m editating helps one to recognize th e level o f
realization th at one is approaching. K nowing the subtle faults o f
th at level o f realization helps one to overcom e them .

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CONCLUSION
D harm a consists o f view, m editation an d action. In this M edita
tion Progression on Em ptiness we first establish the view in a simple
an d b rief form . T his is im p o rtan t because if the view is wrong, the
m editation will be also.
Following on from having established w hat is th e rig h t view,
comes the actual m editation. M editation (sgom in T ibetan) m eans
to train by accustom ing oneself. T his requires discipline an d perse
verance in the practice until realization arises.
Finally, following on from the m editation comes the conduct
th a t accords with the m editation. T h e m editation causes o n es m ind
an d attitu d e to change an d this m eans a change in o n e s conduct.
T his M editation Progression on Em ptiness needs to be care
fully exam ined with the critical m ind th at is searching for the tru e
an d precise n atu re o f reality. T h e B u d d h a said that we should not
ju s t accept his words o u t o f respect for him , o r for any o th er reason.
W e should exam ine them for ourselves to see if they are tru e or not.
O nly if we find them tru e and conducive to the good an d w hole
som e should we accept them . We should exam ine the teachings like
a m erch an t buying gold. H e tests the gold by m eans of one test after
an o th er until he is perfectly sure it is p u re an d flawless. Only then
does he accept it. In the sam e way we should exam ine the teachings
u n til we are sure they are tru e and w ithout fault. Only th en should
we accept them .

89

<v

APPENDIX

T h e range o f the B u d d h as teachings is organized in a n u m b er o f


ways. T h e re are the th ree Vehicles (Yana), num erous schools and
th ree T u rn in g s o f the W heel o f the D harm a (D harm acakra).

The three Vehicles


T hese are the H inayana, M ahayana an d Vajrayana. This divi
sion is stressed in T ibetan B uddhism which is correctly called T h re e
Yana B uddhism . T h re e Yana B uddhism originated in India an d is
tau g h t in all T ib etan B uddhist schools.

Schools
Many schools o f B uddhism sprang u p in India and the co u n
tries to which B uddhism spread. C ertain form ulations o f the
B u d d h as doctrine are associated with each school. T h e diagram
below shows the relationship betw een som e o f the m ain
philosophical schools th at originated in India.

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Dharmacakras
According to M ahayana literature, each sutra spoken by the
B u d d h a is associated with a certain D harm acakra. In the sutras it is
tau g h t th a t the B u d d h a tu rn e d the W heel o f the D harm a three
times. T h e first tim e he tau g h t th at dharm as exist b u t th at they are
not th e self. T h e second tim e he tau g h t th at dharm as do not exist.
T hey are em pty. T h e th ird time he tau g h t th at Absolute Reality is
the C lear L ight N ature o f the Mind.
A lthough V ajrayana corresponds to the view o f the th ird D h ar
m acakra, it is based on the T an tra s an d is not of the S utra tradition.
T h u s V ajrayana in not included in the th ree D harm acakras.

In this Progressive Stages o f M editation on Em ptiness the Sravaka


not-self stage represents the H inayana view o f the first D har
m acakra. T h e M adhyam aka R angtong (Svatantrika an d P rasan
gika) rep resents the M ahayana view o f the second D harm acakra.
T h e S hentong represents the M ahayana view o f the 3rd D h ar
m acakra which is fu rth e r developed in Vajrayana.
K henpo T sultrim often divides the B u d d h as teaching into four;
1. T h e way things ap p e a r to exist eg. rebirth, karm a cause and
effect, atom s and m om ents o f consciousness. T his corresponds to
H inayana.
2. T h e way all things are fundam entally m ind. In o th er words
th ere is no real distinction betw een m ind and m atter. T his is the
doctrine o f the C ittam atra.
3. T h e way things really are. In o th e r words em pty o f tru e exis
tence. T his is the doctrine o f the sutras o f the Second D harm acakra.
4. T h e ultim ate reality o f the way things really are. In o th er
words things m anifest as the play o f the C lear Light N ature o f
Mind. T his doctrine is found in the sutras o f the T h ird D h ar
m acakra, in S hentong an d in Vajrayana.

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THE BUDDHIST SCHOOLS

H IN A Y A N A

V aibhasika

S autrantika

M AHAYANA

C ittam atra

M adhyam aka

R angtong

Svatantrika

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Prasangika

S hentong
(Yogacara)