Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche
-- the Second Analysis of Madhyamaka to Explain Shunyata*
In the article entitled, “Four Diamond Slivers,” we discussed the first analysis of “The Five Reasonings of Nagarjuna” that were introduced in the 2nd century C.E. by the great Mahasiddha Nagarjuna, who founded the
, meaning the middle way between assumptions about eternalism and nihilism. It was the most influential Middle Way School and has come to be known by its Sanskrit name Madhyamaka. The middle view of Madhyamaka is sometimes referred to as Prajnaparamita, which means “Mother of all Buddhas” since it is the basis for realization. Only with perfect insight into the transcendent nature of Prajnaparamita - the Sanskrit term that was translated into Tibetan as Shes-rab-kyi-pa-rol-tu-phyin-pa (“Perfection of Wisdom” in English) - can freedom from samsara be attained and nirvana be realized. The mother of all Buddhas, i.e., the middle view and perfection of wisdom, is the cause for realization of Buddhahood. Correctly understanding the first and second analyses that Nagarjuna presented enhances a deeper appreciation for the truth of shunyata, which was so concisely explained in the Madhyamaka school of thought. schoolof Indian BuddhismIn general, we should not feel that by gaining insight of emptiness we will fall into a state of nothingness, in which there is no karma, no appearance, nothing at all. Nothingness does not exist. Rather, Madhyamaka philosophy teaches us to understand and differentiate between the conventional way things appear and function, the way things appear, and the ultimate nature of all things, the way things are. Should we only understand the first and not the latter, we could mistakenly cling to the false belief that existents possess an inherent self-essence and are permanent. On the other hand, should we only understand the ultimate truth of emptiness and deny conventional appearances and experiences, we could mistakenly cling to the false belief in non-existence, e.g., the notion that vice and virtue are meaningless. Such an attitude leads an individual to turn his or her back on respecting the integral nature of conditioned existence.To analyse the true essence of all that is, Nagarjuna presented reasons that validly prove why sameness and difference of entity are mutually exclusive. He showed that the true essence of all outer and inner phenomena is emptiness by proving that all things are
- devoid of a cause,- devoid of a result,- devoid of both cause and result, and- that everything manifests as the mere appearance of interdependent arising, rten-brel in Tibetan.
The first verse of “The Five Reasonings of Nagarjuna” is a summary of the four verses that follow, opening the gateway to knowledge, prajna in Sanskrit, shes-rab in Tibetan, for us. It describes the essence of all that is in the lines,
Since it is beyond the nature of being one or many,Suffering has no inherent essence,Like the suffering in a dream, for example.The suffering in bardo is also like this. -- Nagarjuna
In the 7th century, the great Mahasiddha Chandrakirti explained Nagarjuna’s texts and wrote the Madhyamakavatara in order to clarify the four logical reasons that Nagarjuna composed about the fact that the essence of all things is beyond being one and many, i.e., neither single or multiple In the last century, Mipham Rinpoche wrote The Gateway to Knowledge and in the chapter on “The Four Analyses” brought together the essential points of the many statements that explain the first verse and that need to be studied so that we understand the selflessness of both apprehending subject and apprehended objects. We need to know that if there were an independent self, then liberation would be impossible, the reason why these instructions on emptiness, shunyata, are so precious indeed.In the first article on refuting inherent existence, we examined the cause by looking at the four diamond slivers and examined the four propositions that can be made and are described in the verse,
Since it does not arise from itself, other,Both of them, or without a cause,Suffering does not arise.Present suffering is also like this. -- Nagarjuna
We will now approach this topic by examining the result and will investigate whether existents and non-existents are empty of arising. We will discover that while phenomena certainly function according to a respective, successive pattern, one condition arising out of another, nonetheless the actual arising itself can never be found, i.e., in the ultimate sense there is no solid entity that can arise. In a third and fourth article, we will look at the last two reasonings that explain emptiness from another angle, fulfilling yet another purpose in our studies. Before we do, though, it would be very beneficial to understand the second analysis of Madhyamaka, which is decisive when learning to appreciate karma, the “infallible law of cause and effect.”
Examining the Result byLooking at Arising from Existents and Arising from Non-Existents
Since the result does not arise
From existing at the time of the cause,
From not existing, from both, or neither,
Suffering therefore does not arise. – Nagarjuna
As mentioned, the second verse of reasoning that was composed by Nagarjuna is decisive when aspiring to understand karma, because if there were a solid reality to phenomena and not emptiness, then karma could not be. Should a result arbitrarily or suddenly arise from a cause, there could be no future lives, therefore the principle of karma confirms the truth of emptiness. By gaining insight into the fundamental nature, we do not abandon karma but gain a great deal of trust.Can there ever be a self-existing cause that produces a self-existing result? Let us take the example of a reflection in a mirror to understand that the image we see in the mirror did not enter the mirror in order to be reflected, rather, given conditions are present, a reflection in a mirror arises without a substantial connection between the image and its reflection, i.e., there is no substantial existent between cause and effect. Due to the empty nature of a cause, secondary conditions, and an effect, it is reasonable that karma created in this lifetime affects the future, our future lifetimes too. Let us examine results according to the fourfold reasoning Nagarjuna described in the verse above.
1. Does a result exist at the time of a cause?
It is obvious that results cannot exist at the time of a cause, and thinking causes and results arise simultaneously contradicts even the most ordinary observations and experiences. I presented many examples in the article “Four Diamond Slivers.” Let us take the rice plant and its seed as an example again: If it had inherent existence, a mature head of rice would have had to have been present before it came to fruition, i.e., it must have been present before it arose. Furthermore, if what existed simply recurs and repeats itself, then any existent would be a repetition of itself and that would be it, again and again. Since both possibilities are not the case and certainly not the way we perceive and experience things as we do, we can easily accept that results cannot exist before they arise and do not repeat themselves when they appear.
2. Is a result non-existent when a cause arises?
If results are non-existent before they arise, thinking that they exist at that time would be like stating sky-flowers or horns of a rabbit exist. Non-existent things never can be, just like a son of a barren woman and horns of a rabbit do not occur. If results are non-existent when they arise, they will have been non-existent before they arose. Arguing that prior to the arising of a result there was non-existence which transformed into something that arose is invalid due to the mutual exclusion of existence and non-existence, the mutual exclusion of existence and nothingness. It is impossible for something to suddenly spring into existence since nothing happens without a cause, nothing arises out of nothingness, rather all things arise in reliance upon former causes and conditions. Thinking that what did not exist suddenly exists is a speculation and leads nowhere. For example, claiming wheat had grown for no reason after what seemed like a fallow season is not proof that things arise out of nothing since there must have been seeds or roots in the soil for wheat or plants to have grown. The observation of a consistent time sequence to events is ignored if one insists that the full field or green meadow today are the same as they were when bare some time ago; such an idea is merely a subjective imputation of situations with no actual connection between the two observations. Similarly, it is impossible for something that exists to simply dissolve into nothingness. Both notions that existents arise from nothing and become nothing when they cease are fallacious because the time sequence, for instance in the cases just described, is not taken into consideration at all. So such statements are only limited imputations. Seen from the surface, it seems as though things can arise and dissolve into nothing again and supposing this to be true is a mistaken supposition. In truth, existents cannot become nothing nor can nothing suddenly exist.I am now forty-five years old.* In ordinary terms, I have the feeling that I am the same person who was born forty-five years ago. However, if I examine the situation with reference to when I was five, it seems absurd thinking that I am the same person today. Forty years ago that person was very small – I am much bigger now and I certainly looked, acted, and thought differently then. In fact, there is no noticeable identity I can find between that young boy and me today. If we want to connect such dissimilar instances, we can just as well connect all of samsara and insist that everything is the same, that all is just one, which is not the case.Again, any notion that things arise out of nothing and pass into nothingness again is just a post factum judgement. Discovering something we haven’t noticed before does not mean it did not exist while we were not watching. Likewise, not seeing something we had noticed before does not mean it vanished into thin air while we looked away. Such notions are mere suppositions and lack any sense for reality. Phenomena do not arise and don’t not arise, nor do they abide and don’t not abide. All appearances and experiences have no self-existing nature; everything that arises is a mere appearance with no own essence at all. In a final analysis, no ultimate statement can really be made about phenomena since everything is subject to change. We cannot really point to an arising or to a ceasing; there is no coming and going, no increasing and no decreasing. We cannot really speak of recognition or obscuration in ultimate terms. Everything is mere appearance and lacks identifiable characteristics from its own side.If someone argues that if results do not already exist when arising occurs or if non-existent results cannot arise, then there would be no appearances at all, but this is not so. All appearances are illusory and have no nature of their own either; they are based upon previous conditions that are just as illusory and have no nature of their own either. The continuum of arising phenomena is unerring insofar as nothing ever arises from anything else, except the illusory sequence of associated causes and conditions. If we examine the details of conditions, we will find that they have no solid reality that we can ever point to and isolate as an independent entity, no matter how hard we try.
3. Does a result exist both at the time of a cause and not at the time of a cause?
If results that do not exist or results that do exist do not arise, then conditions that both exist and do not exist could not arise. This subject was discussed above.
4. Does a result neither exist nor not exist when a cause arises?
Arguing that a result neither exists nor does not exist when a cause arises is an absurd alternative proposition since there is no existent that can said to neither exist nor not to exist when a cause arises. It is only another mistaken assumption that can be verbally formulated but is not based on anything that is actually real or true. Every appearance and experience that arises is beyond conceptual imputations and is free of being restricted by intellectual descriptions from its own side.
It may seem that this kind of analysis, which refutes any conceptual proposition or imputation about ultimate existence, non-existence, both, and neither of a result is itself an alternative proposition in which being and nothingness are denied all in one, i.e., denial turning into another proposition, but this is not so. These instructions were presented to enhance an intellectual appreciation of emptiness. They were presented so that students know that firstly, since many people may think that results already exist when causes arise, the analysis proving that there is no existence until appearances arise were given. Secondly, since many people may think that these arguments prove that results do not exist when phenomena do arise, their total non-existence was refuted. Thirdly, since these arguments may lead students to think that conditions neither exist nor do not exist when they arise, the argument that refutes such a mistaken assumption is presented. Finally, many students may think that cause and effect neither exist nor do not exist, so the fourth argument is presented to refute such a wrong view.The first and second analyses carried out in the Madhyamaka School that we have looked at so far are important in that they help us gain an intellectual appreciation of emptiness and learn to understand that emptiness is not a void. These instructions are presented so that we do not meditate wrongly. We practice meditation so that we realize the unconditioned mind, but the present mind must first be pacified through tranquillity meditation practice, called shamata in Sanskrit, so that our true nature can easefully unfold and appear. Through correct practice of shamata and vipassana, “insight of the true,” non-discriminating wisdom arises as brilliant clarity in which the real nature of experiences and appearances is recognized.* Correct practice transmutes our normal mode of apprehension that drives us to live in opposition to the world and ourselves by mistakenly thinking that there is a true subject that truly apprehends a true object, all factors different and distinct. Through correct practice based upon the right view, realization of the undivided state can directly be realized and seen.
* Instructions on chapter 6 of “mKhas pa’i tshul la ‘jug pa’i sgo – The Gateway to Knowledge” by Mipham Rinpoche, presented at the Namo Buddha Seminar in Kathmandu, Nepal, 1978, translated from Tibetan by Shakya Dorje. Revised excerpt from Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, An Open Door to Emptiness. Translated by Shakya Dorje, edited by Michael L. Lewis, Clark Johnson, Ph.D., & Jean Johnson, 3rd ed., Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone, Co., 1997, pages 53-58. (First ed. published by Lhungdrub Teng, Kathmandu; 2nd ed. published by Tara Publishing, Manila.) Revised by Gaby Hollmann for Thar Lam, publ. Aug. 2007.* Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche is now 74 years old, which means he presented these precious teachings 29 years ago.* See specifically Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, The Practice of Tranquillity and Insight. Translated by Peter Roberts, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, N.Y., 1993.