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A Dose of Emptiness

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A Dose of Emptiness
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Item Code: NAC449
Author: Jose Ignacio Cabezon
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Language: An Annotated Translation of the sTong thun chen mo of mKhas grub dGe legs dpal bzang
Edition: 1993
ISBN: 8170303753
Pages: 607
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.9 Inch X 5.7 Inch
weight of the book: 775 gms
From the Jacket

This book is an annotated translation of one of the great Tibetan classics of Mahayana Buddhist thought, mKhas grub rje’s sTong thun chen mo. The text is a detailed critical exposition of the theory and practice of emptiness as expounded in the three major school of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy:

The Yogcara, Svatantrika, and Prasangika. Used as a supplement to the scholastic debating manuals in some of the greatest monasteries of ‘Tibet, the sTong thun chen mo is a veritable encyclopedia of Mahayana Buddhist philosophical, dealing with such topics as hermeneutics, the theory of non-duality, the linguistic interpretation of emptiness, the typology of ignorance, logic, the nature of time, and the perception of matter across world spheres. This book is an indispensable source for understanding the Tibetan dGe lugs pa school’s synthesis of the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) and Epistemological (Pramanika) traditions of Indian Buddhism. In addition, it is an unprecedented source for the philosophical polemics of fifteenth century Tibet.

“It is encyclopedic and covers the most important ideas in the whole fabric of Indian Mahayana-Tibetan Buddhism. It brings to sharp relief the many debates, controversies, and variant interpretations of the key issues. Some of the elucidations are only found in these Tibetan sources and thus increases the value of this work.”



With these words the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, begins his Metaphysics.’ Although history has been witness to a plethora of interpretations of these seven words. Ortega y Gasset’s must be one of the most interesting. In his Postscript to an essay in What Is Philosophy2 he states: “To know is to be not content with things as presented to us, but to seek beyond their appearance for their being. This ‘being’ of things is a strange condition:

It is not made clear in things; but on the contrary, it throbs hidden within them, beneath them, beyond them.’ There is a sense in Buddhism also in which we might say that it is natural for man or woman to know. Knowledge, and specifically knowledge of the true nature of things, of the “being” that lies throbbing within things, as Ortega y Gasset puts it, is our destiny as human beings. It is natural for human beings both to know and to want to know. Hence, it is not truth in and of itself that will set us free, but our appropriation of it, our knowledge of it.

Ortega y Gasset also recognizes, however, that the being of things “is not clear,” that it is “hidden.” Buddhists also believe that reality is not evident to us, that, while always present, it evades our attempts at apprehending it. The reason for this has to do with the condition of our own mind, with the fact that we have accustomed ourselves to constantly misperceiving the world. This continual misapprehension of ourselves, of others and the world around us is called ignorance, and it is said to be the cause of all of the pain and anguish in the cycle of rebirth, this world known as samsara. Hence, mKhas grub rje, the author of the text translated here, begins his polemical treatise on insight meditation called The Lamp for Eliminating the Darkness of Evil Paths3 with these words:

Apart from meditation on the correct view
There is no path that can destroy the root of samsara.

In Buddhism ignorance (skt. avidya; tib. ma rig pa) is said to be the most basic cause of suffering. In this context ignorance does not refer to a passive lack of factual knowledge but to an active misapprehension of the world. It is considered an innate, prelinguistic, psychological predisposition that, having found a niche in the minds of sentient beings, causes us to suffer. This ignorance, which is the active superimposition of a certain kind of ontological status onto entities that lack them, is believed to be at the very root of the trials and tribulations that affect not only human beings, but all sentient life forms that inhabit this universe of limited existence. Certainly, one of the most important of the Buddha’s insights was the fact that neither suffering nor its most fundamental cause, ignorance, is an adventitious thing. Instead, the tradition has consistently maintained that both suffering and its cause could be overcome through the application of an antidote.3 That antidote is called wisdom (ski. prajna; tib. sues rob), and it refers to the understanding of realty, the ultimate nature of all phenomena. Being the antidote to ignorance, it brings about the reversal of the normal misperception of the world to which living things are heir. The understanding of the true and final nature of our selves and of the world around us is said to be the force that brings an end to suffering, liberating the person to lead the life of an awakened one, a buddha. The object that wisdom perceives, the ultimate nature of phenomena, the reality that eludes sentient beings in their limited modes of thought, is (at least in Mahayana Buddhism’) called emptiness (skt. sunyata; tib. stong pa nyid). It is little wonder, therefore, that emptiness has been characterized as “the central philosophy of Buddhism.’

What follows is an annotated translation of one of the most important works on emptiness in the history of the scholastic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the sTong thun chen mo (lit) of the fourteenth century scholar-saint, mKhas grub dGe legs dpal bzang po. It is an encyclopedic work that aims at synthesizing into a coherent whole the most important strands of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy around one central theme, that of emptiness. The dGe lugs pa, or, as it was known in its early days, the dGe’ ldan pa school of Tibetan Buddhism, of which mKhas grub ne is the third patriarch, is both historically and intellectually the culmination of a long tradition of scholasticism that began in the early centuries of the common era in India with such figures as Asaga and Nagarjuna. Following in the steps of his master, the founder of the dGe Jugs pa school, the great Tsong kba pa bLo bzang grags pa (l357—l419), mKbas grub rje attempts a synthesis of the different schools of Mahayana Buddhist thought (the idealist school, known as the Yogacara or Cittamatra, and the nominalist, the Madhyamaka—itself divided into two sub- schools, the Svatantrika and Prasangika).

His approach is to create an interpretive scheme that at once validates these different schools as soteriologically useful while maintaining a gradation in philosophical accuracy (truth) that allows him ultimately to declare the “bright rays of the logical methods of the glorious Candra, that is, the Prasangika school of the Madhyamaka as elucidated in the works of Candrakirti (seventh century) and his successors, to be the ultimate and final expression of truth, the Buddha’s ultimate purport (dgongs pa mthar thug pa).” Based on a hermeneutical framework that seeks to interpret and reconcile the different (and oftentimes contradictory) scriptures upon which these schools were based, he sets forth the doctrine of emptiness in the Mahayana, contrasting it to the doctrines of the Buddhist “realists,” and throughout relying very heavily on the methodology of the school of Buddhist ‘logicians,” the Pramanika. Indeed, the particular synthesis of Madhyamaka although and Dharmakirti’s pramana method is considered one of the striking (and most controversial) features of the dGe lugs pa approach to Mahayana.

The later dGe Tugs pa tradition goes to the extent of characterizing this synthesis of the Madhyamaka and pramanika traditions as ‘two lions hack to back” (dbu tshad seng ge rgyab sprod), implying that it is an invincible philosophical stance impervious to external attack.

Much of mKhas grub rje’s work therefore can be seen as the synthesis and reconciliation of the different scholastic traditions of India. However, synthesis is only half of mKhas grub rje’s task. This was to a great extent already accomplished in the works of his master, Tsong kha pa. Equally, if not more important to mKhas grub rje was the defense of the views of Tsong kha pa against the attacks, both real and imagined, of rival philosophical schools. Hence, the TIC is both a didactic text and a polemical text, something that is witnessed as much by the style as by the content of the work.

For those with a love of the scholastic mind set, alas an endangered species in this postmodern age, the scope and detail of the TTC will be found to be truly amazing. In a text of less than 500 folio sides mKhas grub rje manages to touch upon most of the major issues of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, from prophecy to hermeneutics to psychology and meditation. The table of contents of the work, an exquisite piece of scholastic precision in its own sight, is a veritable curriculum for an advanced course in Buddhist metaphysic a. However, the very ambitious nature of the enterprise oftentimes makes the work demanding on the part of readers. I have attempted to ease the reader’s burden by supplying the context of arguments. or expanding on them, in brief explanatory notes. In view of the length of the work, and the additional task of annotating the copious citations from scriptural and commentarial sources on which mKhas grub rje relies, I have tried to keep these to a bare minimum. Be dial as it may, I can assure the reader that perseverance in regard to these more difficult portions of the text will be well rewarded.




  Acknowledgements xv
  Introduction 1
  A Short Biography of mKhas grub rje 13
  Translation: The Great Digest  
  Hommage 23
  Reason for the Composition of the Text 23
  The Buddha’s Doctrine as the Ultimate Source of Salvation 24
  The Prophecies of Nagarjuna’s Coming 24
  The Reason Why It Is Correct to Seek Out REALITY 27
  The Emptiness Taught in the Tantras 28
  The Benefits of Trusting in the Profound [Doctrine of Emptiness] 30
  The Vessel, That is, the Listener, to Whom This Doctrine Should be Explained 32
  A Misconception Concerning Emptiness and Its Consequence 32
  The Characteristics of the Proper Disciple 33
  The Actual Doctrine to be Explained 35
  Identifying Which Scriptures Are of Definitive Meaning (nges don) and Which of Provisional Meaning (drang don) 35
  The Doctrines of the Yogacara School  
  Yogacara Metaphysics and Hermeneutics 39
  The Three Natures 39
  The Reality of the Dependent and the Real, and the Yogacara Critique of the Madhyamaka 43
  The Rationale Behind the Prajnaparamita’s Claims That Things “Do Not Arise” According to the Sutralamkara, a Yogacara Text 45
  The Elucidation of Some Scriptural Passages Highlighting Unique Features of the Yogacara 45
  The Yogacara Belief in Three Final Vehicles and a Foundation Consciousness (kun gzhi) as Another of Their Distinctive Features 47
  Arguments Against the Advocates of “the Emptiness of What Is Other” (gzhan stong) 48
  The Distinctively Yogacara Use of the Example of the Illusion and the Status of the Dependent 49
  Tsong kha pa’s Unique Exposition of the Yogacara Theory of Emptiness 52
  On Latent Potentialities 61
  The Proof of the Linguistic Interpretation of Emptiness 63
  Nonduality as a Corollary of the Linguistic Interpretation of Emptiness 66
  The Explanation of the Three Natures 67
  Similarity in Terminology Between the Yogacara and Prasangika Is Not a Reflection of an Underlying Similarity in Meaning 69
  Cittamatra Hermeneutics 69
  The Doctrines of the Madhyamaka School  
  The Sources of the Madhyamaka School  
  How the Father, the Arya Nagarjuna and His Son [Aryadeva], Following Such Sutras as the Aksayamatiairdesa, Set Forth the Doctrine of the Definitive and the Provisional 77
  How, Step by Step, the Texts of Nagarjuna and the Commentaries on Their Purport (dgongs pa) Arose 78
  The Explanation of the Way in Which the Scriptures of the Arya Were Written 78
  The Explanation of How the Individual Commentaries on the Purport [of Nagarjuna’s Treatises] Arose 81
  A General Introduction to the Madhyamaka  
  On the Classification of Madhyamakas 89
  The Meaning of the Claim That Prasangikas Accord with the World 90
  Setting Forth Emptiness by Following Those [Madhyamaka Scriptures] 92
  Identifying What Is to Be Refuted by the Reasoning Which Analyzes the Ultimate (don dam dpyad pa’i rtags) 92
  Why It Is Necessary to Identify What Is to Be Refuted 92
  Refuting the Scriptural Exegesis of Those Who [Proceed in the] Refutation without Identifying [the Object to Be Refuted] 92
  Refuting the One Who Overextends (khyab ches ba) Himself or Herself in the Identification of What Is to Be Refuted 92
  Stating What They Believe 92
  Refuting Them 96
  Demonstrating That They Have Refuted the Principal and Special Quality of the Prasangika Madhyamikas 96
  Identifying That Chief Quality 96
  How They Have Refuted That [Special Quality] by Their System [of Interpretation] 98
  Demonstrating Those Reasons to Be Faulty 100
  Demonstrating That Their Analysis into the Four Possibilities, Existence, Nonexistence, and So Fourth, Is Faulty: [The Law of Excluded Middle and the Question of Whether the Madhyamaka Has a Viewpoint] 102
  A Critique of Quietism 112
  Demonstrating That Their Analysis of [What It Means for Something] to Be Established or Not Established by a Valid Cognition, and Their Subsequent Refutation, Is Faulty 117
  Demonstrating That [Their] Examination of Whether Arising Can Be Determined to Exist in Any One of the Four Ways, Such as Arising from Self, Is Faulty 120
  Demonstrating That It Is Incorrect to Urge on Us the Absurdity That What We Advocate Goes Against the Four RELIANCES 122
  How We Refute the One Who Dose Not Go Far Enough (khyab cung ba) in the Identification of the Object of Refutation 124
  The Explanation of What Our Own System [Considers] to Be the Extent of What Is to Be Refuted 127
  Explaining in a General Way the Layout of What Is to Be Refuted 127
  Innate and philosophical Misconceptions 128
  The Doctrines of the Svatantrika School  
  The Logic of the Svatantrika Critique  
  The Explanation o f the Measure of the Svatantrikas’ Object of Refutation 139
  The Analysis of the Svatantrikas’ Object of Refutation Based on the Example of the Illusion 139
  The Analysis of the Svatantrikas’ Object or Refutation Based on Scriptural Sources 141
  The Correct Identification of the Svatantrikas’ Object of Refutation 143
  The Reasoning of the One and the Many 147
  How the Example of the Reflection in the Mirror Is Understood 151
  The Diamond-Granule Reasoning and the Question of the Qualification of the Object of Refutation 153
  The Reasoning Refuting Arising via the Four Extremes 156
  The Reasoning Refuting the Arising of the Existent and Nonexistent 157
  The Doctrines of the Prasangika School  
  A General Exposition of Prasangika Tenets  
  Explaining the Extent (tshad) of the Prasangikas’ Object of Refutation (dgag bya) 161
  Does Reality Truly Exist or Is It Too a Mere Label? 163
  An Excursus on the Essence Body of the Buddha 164
  The Argument Concerning Reality Continues 165
  The Reasoning Used to Prove That One Phenomenon Is Empty Applies to All Phenomena, Including Emptiness 166
  As It Does Not Truly Exist, Emptiness Is Only a Mental Label 167
  The Meaning of “According with the World” in the Prasangika System 168
  The Scriptural Basis for Nominalism 169
  True Existence, the Opposite of Nominal Existence 172
  Refuting Misconceptions in Regard to the [Distinction between Svatantrikas and Prasangikas] 173
  On “Withstanding Logical Analysis” 180
  An Explanation of the Implications of This  
  An Explanation of the (1) the Two Kinds of Selflessness to be Refuted and (2) the selflessness that is the refutation 185
  A Brief Mention of the Tenets Advocated by Other Systems 185
  Identifying the Self that Is the Perceived Object (dmigs yul) of the Innate View of a Self as Accepted by Both Buddhists and Others 185
  What Faults the Glorious Candra Finds in These [Views] 187
  How the Other Buddhist Schools Posit the Self That Is the Direct Object of the Two Views of the self [the Person and Phenomena] and How That Self, Which Is Something to Be Refuted, Is Posited as Nonexistent 192
  The Hinayana’s Views on Liberation and Buddhahood 195
  How the Glorious Candra’s Critique Is to Be Expounded 196
  The Exposition of the System of the Prasangikas as a Distinct [System in Its Own Right] 196
  A Brief Explanation of the Differences between the Selflessness of the Person and Phenomena] 199
  Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas Understand Reality  
  The Explanation of Whether Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas Understand the Selflessness of Phenomena 201
  How the Glorious Candra Goes About Explaining This 201
  The Refutation of the Misconception that Believes that [Exposition] to Be Incorrect 207
  The Response to the Preceding Criticism 208
  The Exposition of the Valid Scriptural Evidence Explaining that Sravaka and Pratyekabuddhas Have an Understanding of the Selflessness of Phenomena  
  The Exposition of the System of the Son of the Conqueror, Santideva 217
  The Explanations of This Point According to the Abhisamayalamkara, the Uttaratantra, and Their Commentaries 221
  How the Abhisamayalamkara and Its Commentaries Explain this Point 221
  The Explanation of the Meaning of the Uttaratantra and Its Commentary 226
  An Extensive Explanation of Scripture and Logical Reasoning Proving that It is correct [to Claim That] Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas Have an Understanding of the Selflessness of Phenomena 230
  The Exposition of the Logical Reasoning 230
  Bringing Scriptural Exegesis to Bear [on the Problem] 234
  On the Hinayana and Mahayana Understanding of Nirvana 239
  The Explanation of the Two [Kinds of] Obscurations (sgrib pa) and the Paths on Which They Are Abandoned 245
  How the Obscurations Are Eliminated on the Various Paths 253
  The Status of Inference in the Madhyamaka  
  As Regards the Refutation of That [Object of Refutation], the Explanation of the Differences between the Prasangikas and the Svatantrikas 257
  Refuting What Others Believe. [Do the Madhyamikas Have Philosophical Positions] 257
  Setting Forth Our own Position  
  The Explanation of the Meaning of Svatantra and Prasanga 272
  The Explanation of the Reasons Why the Svatantra Is Not Accepted 277
  Bringing the Prasannapada to Bear on This [Question] and Explaining [Its Meaning] 279
  Madhyamaka Logical Strategies and Related Polemics  
  The Explanation of the Reasoning That Refutes the Object of the Refutation 287
  The Actual Explanation of the Reasoning that refutes the object of the refutation 287
  The Reasoning that Refutes the Self of the Person 287
  The Explanation of the Refutation of the Self of Phenomena 290
  The Actual Explanation of the Reasoning that Refutes the Self of Phenomena 290
  The Refutation of Arising from Another 302
  The Refutation of the Arising Causelessly and Conclusion 305
  Other Unique Tenets of the Prasangika School  
  Explaining Other Facets [of the Prasangika Tenets] That Are Not in Common with the Cittamatrins and Others 307
  The Explanation of the Uncommon Exposition of the Three Times 307
  The General Explanation of the Three Times 307
  The Explanation of the Proof of Why the Past and Future Are Entities 311
  The Explanations of [Two Other Factors] Differentiating [the Prasangikas from Other School], Namely, the Rejection of the Foundation Consciousness (kun gzhi) and the Acceptance of External Objects (phyi don) 314
  The Explanation of How, Even Though We Do Not Accept the Foundation Consciousness, the Relationship between Karma and Effects Is Still Possible 314
  Refuting the Fact That the Arya [Nagarjuna] and so on Accept [the Foundation Consciousness] 316
  The Reason Why They Do Not Accept [the Foundation Consciousness] 316
  The Refutation of the Belief That [the Prasangika Madhyamikas] Accept it 318
  The Explanation of How External Objects Are Posited Nominally 324
  The Prasangika Interpretation of the Cittamatra Sutras 327
  Sense Perception Across World Spheres: The Case of Water 334
  The Explanation of Why We Do Not Accept Auto cognition (rang rig) 345
  The Explanation of How We Refute the Position That Does Accept It 345
  The Explanation of the Opponent’s Position 345
  The Explanation of How to Refute It 347
  The Refutation of the [Logical] Proof 347
  The Refutation of the Belief 348
  The Explanation of How We Posit Our Own System, Which Does Not Accept [Auto cognition] 349
  The Two Truths and Their Cognition  
  The Explanation of the Two Truths, Which Is the Basis Set Forth by Reasoning 357
  The Basis for the Division [into Two Truths] 357
  The Meaning of the Words [Ultimate and Conventional] 360
  Considering Whether They Are the Same or Different 363
  The Nature of Each [of the Two Truths] Individually 365
  The Definitions 365
  The Divisions 365
  The Divisions of the Ultimate Truth 365
  The Divisions of the Conventional 366
  The Prasangika Interpretation of the Three Nature Theory of the Yogacaras 370
  The Explanation of the Valid Cognition that Ascertains the Two Truths, [That Is, All Phenomena] 371
  The Definition 371
  The Divisions 372
  Having Set Forth Emptiness, How to Meditate on It 381
  The Exposition of the Result That Is the Culmination of Meditation 381
  Concluding Verses 386
  Colophon 388
  Appendix: 1 The Verses to Rong ston 389
  Appendix: 2 The Eighteen Great Contradictions 391
  Notes 393
  Glossary 523
  Abbreviations 555
  Bibliography Western Scholarly and Sanskrit Sources 559
  Tibetan Sources 573
  Indices 577


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