Buddhist traditions understand emptiness in various ways, and two streams of interpretation, “self-emptiness” (rang stong) and “other-emptiness” (gzhan stong), have emerged in Tibet that help bring into focus the extent to which interpretations diverge. In contrast to self-emptiness, other-emptiness does not refer to a phenomenon’s lack of its own essence; it refers to the ultimate reality’s lack of all that it is not. Rather than claiming the universality of self-emptiness (emptiness as lack of own essence), proponents of other-emptiness assert another way to understand emptiness with regard to the ultimate (emptiness as ultimate ground). These two interpretations of emptiness—as ground and as groundless abyss—reveal a rift at the foundation of Buddhist metaphysics.
This essay probes the discourses of other-emptiness in the Jonang (jo nang) and Nyingma (rnying ma) traditions. After briefly introducing other-emptiness in the Jonang tradition, the locus classicus for other-emptiness in Tibet, I will contrast the way Mipam (‘ju mi pham rgya mtsho) (1846–1912) positions the discourse of other-emptiness in his interpretative system. I will then demonstrate how Mipam’s portrayal of other-emptiness highlights the way he uses a perspectival means to incorporate a diversity of seemingly contradictory claims that he uses to support his view of ultimate reality as indeterminate. I will argue that an implication of his view is a non-representational account of language about the ultimate. (Duckworth, introduction, 920)
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