Verse I.155

From Buddha-Nature
Ratnagotravibhāga Root Verse I.155

Verse I.155 Variations

शून्य आगन्तुकैर्धातुः सविनिर्भागलक्षणैः
अशून्योऽनुत्तरैर्धर्मैरविनिर्भागलक्षणैः
śūnya āgantukairdhātuḥ savinirbhāgalakṣaṇaiḥ
aśūnyo'nuttarairdharmairavinirbhāgalakṣaṇaiḥ
E. H. Johnston as input by the University of the West.[1]
རྣམ་དབྱེར་བཅས་པའི་མཚན་ཉིད་ཅན། །
གློ་བུར་དག་གིས་ཁམས་སྟོང་གི། །
རྣམ་དབྱེར་མེད་པའི་མཚན་ཉིད་ཅན། །
བླ་མེད་ཆོས་ཀྱིས་སྟོང་མ་ཡིན། །
The basic element is empty of what is adventitious,
Which has the characteristic of being separable.
It is not empty of the unsurpassable attributes,
Which have the characteristic of being inseparable.
如來無為身 自性本來淨
客塵虛妄染 本來自性空
L’Élément est vide des souillures adventices
Qui ont pour caractère d’en être séparables.
Il n’est pas vide de ses insurpassables qualités
Qui ont pour caractère d’en être inséparables.

RGVV Commentary on Verse I.155

།དེ་ལ་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་ཚུལ་དུ་བརྗོད་པ་དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་གང་ཞེ་ན། འདི་ལ་བསལ་བྱ་ཅི་ཡང་མེད། །གཞག་པར་བྱ་བ་ཅུང་ཟད་མེད། །ཡང་དག་ཉིད་ལ་ཡང་དག་ལྟ། །ཡང་དག་མཐོང་{br}ནས་རྣམ་པར་གྲོལ། །རྣམ་དབྱེར་བཅས་པའི་མཚན་ཉིད་ཅན། །གློ་བུར་དག་གིས་ཁམས་སྟོང་གི། །རྣམ་དབྱེར་མེད་པའི་མཚན་ཉིད་ཅན། །བླ་མེད་ཆོས་ཀྱིས་སྟོང་མ་ཡིན། །འདིས་ཅི་བསྟན་ཞེ་ན། གང་གི་ཕྱིར་རང་བཞིན་གྱིས་ཡོངས་སུ་དག་པ་དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་

པའི་ཁམས་འདི་ལས་བསལ་བར་བྱ་བ་ཀུན་ནས་ཉོན་མོངས་པའི་རྒྱུ་མཚན་ནི་འགའ་ཡང་མེད་ལ། གློ་བུར་བའི་དྲི་མ་དང་བྲལ་བ་ནི་འདིའི་རང་བཞིན་ཡིན་པའི་ཕྱིར་རོ། །འདི་ལ་རྣམ་པར་བྱང་བའི་རྒྱུ་མཚན་ཅན་གཞག་པར་བྱ་བ་ཡང་ཅུང་ཟད་ཀྱང་ཡོད་པ་མ་ཡིན་{br}ཏེ། རྣམ་པར་དབྱེ་བ་མེད་པའི་ཆོས་དག་པའི་ཆོས་ཉིད་ནི་རང་བཞིན་ཡིན་པའི་ཕྱིར་རོ། །དེས་ན་དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་ནི། རྣམ་པར་དབྱེ་བ་ཡོད་པ། བྲལ་ཤེས་པ། ཉོན་མོངས་པའི་སྦུབས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱིས་ནི་སྟོང་པ་ཡིན་ལ། རྣམ་པར་དབྱེ་བ་མེད་པ། བྲལ་མི་ཤེས་པ། {br}བསམ་གྱིས་མི་ཁྱབ་པའི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་ཆོས་གང་གཱའི་ཀླུང་གི་བྱེ་མ་ལས་འདས་པ་ནི་མི་སྟོང་ངོ་ཞེས་གསུངས་སོ། །དེ་ལྟར་ན་གང་ཞིག་གང་ན་མེད་པ་དེ་ནི་དེས་སྟོང་ངོ་ཞེས་ཡང་དག་པར་རྗེས་སུ་མཐོང་ལ། གང་ཞིག་ལྷག་པར་གྱུར་པ་དེ་ནི་དེ་ལ་རྟག་པར་ཡོད་དོ་ཞེས་ཡང་དག་པ་ཇི་ལྟ་བ་{br}བཞིན་དུ་ཤེས་སོ། །ཚིགས་སུ་བཅད་པ་འདི་གཉིས་ཀྱིས་ནི་སྒྲོ་འདོགས་པ་དང་སྐུར་པ་འདེབས་པའི་མཐའ་དང་བྲལ་བའི་ཕྱིར། ཕྱིན་ཅི་མ་ལོག་པ་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་མཚན་ཉིད་བསྟན་ཏོ། །དེ་ལ་གང་ཞིག་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་ཚུལ་འདི་ལས་སེམས་ཕྱི་རོལ་ཏུ་རྣམ་པར་གཡེང་ཞིང་རྣམ་པར་འཕྲོ་ལ་{br}མཉམ་པར་མི་འཇོག་ཅིང་རྩེ་གཅིག་ཏུ་མི་འགྱུར་བ་དེས་ན་དེ་དག་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ལས་སེམས་རྣམ་པར་གཡེངས་པ་ཞེས་བརྗོད་དོ། །དེ་ལ་དོན་དམ་པ་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་ཡེ་ཤེས་མེད་པར་ནི་རྣམ་པར་རྟོག་པ་མེད་པའི་དག་པའི་དབྱིངས་རྟོགས་ཤིང་མངོན་པར་འདུ་བྱ་བར་མི་ནུས་སོ། །འདི་ལ་དགོངས་{br}ནས་གསུངས་པ་ནི། དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོའི་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཉིད་ནི་དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཡིན་ལ། དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་དེ་ཡང་ཉན་ཐོས་དང་རང་སངས་རྒྱས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱིས་སྔར་མ་མཐོང་མ་རྟོགས་པའོ་ཞེས་རྒྱས་པར་གསུངས་{br}སོ། །དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་ཇི་ལྟར་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྐུའི་སྙིང་པོ་ཡིན་པ་དེ་ལྟར་ནི། འཇིག་ཚོགས་ལ་ལྟ་བར་ལྷུང་བ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་སྤྱོད་ཡུལ་མ་ཡིན་པར་བརྗོད་དོ། །ཆོས་ཀྱི་དབྱིངས་ནི་ལྟ་བའི་གཉེན་པོ་ཡིན་པའི་ཕྱིར་རོ། །ཇི་ལྟར་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྐུ་འཇིག་རྟེན་ལས་འདས་པའི་སྙིང་

པོ་ཡིན་པ་དེ་ལྟར་ནི་ཕྱིན་ཅི་ལོག་ལ་མངོན་པར་དགའ་བ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་སྤྱོད་ཡུལ་མ་ཡིན་ནོ་ཞེས་བརྗོད་དོ། །འཇིག་རྟེན་ལས་འདས་པའི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྐུ་ནི་མི་རྟག་པ་ལ་སོགས་པ་འཇིག་རྟེན་པའི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་གཉེན་པོར་བསྟན་པའི་ཕྱིར་རོ། །ཇི་ལྟར་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྐུ་ཡོངས་སུ་དག་པའི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྙིང་པོ་ཡིན་པ་དེ་ལྟར་{br}ནི་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ལས་སེམས་རྣམ་པར་གཡེངས་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་སྤྱོད་ཡུལ་མ་ཡིན་ནོ་ཞེས་བརྗོད་དོ། །དེ་རྣམ་པར་དག་པའི་ཡོན་ཏན་གྱིས་ཆོས་རྣམ་པར་དབྱེ་བ་མེད་པ་འཇིག་རྟེན་ལས་འདས་པའི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྐུས་རབ་ཏུ་ཕྱེ་བ་རྣམས་ནི་གློ་བུར་གྱི་དྲི་མས་སྟོང་པའི་རང་བཞིན་ཡིན་པའི་ཕྱིར་རོ། །དེ་ལ་ཚུལ་{br}གཅིག་པོ་ཆོས་ཀྱི་དབྱིངས་དང་ཐ་མི་དད་པའི་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་སྒོ་རྟོགས་ནས། འཇིག་རྟེན་ལས་འདས་པའི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྐུའི་རང་བཞིན་གྱིས་ཡོངས་སུ་དག་པ་ལ་ལྟ་བ་གང་ཡིན་པ་འདི་ནི་འདིར་གང་གིས་ས་བཅུ་ལ་གནས་པའི་བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔས་དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་ཅུང་ཟད་{br}མཐོང་ངོ་ཞེས་གསུངས་པས་ཡང་དག་པ་ཇི་ལྟ་བ་བཞིན་གྱི་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱིས་ཀུན་མཐོང་བར་འདོད་དོ། །དེ་སྐད་དུ། སྤྲིན་མཐོང་མཁའ་ལ་ཉི་བཞིན་འདིར་ཁྱོད་ཕྱོགས་གཅིག་བློ་གྲོས་ཅན། །བློ་མིག་དག་པའི་འཕགས་རྣམས་ཀྱིས་ཀྱང་ཐམས་ཅད་མཐོང་མ་ལགས། །བཅོམ་ལྡན་འདས་{br}ཁྱོད་ཆོས་སྐུ་གང་དག་བློ་གྲོས་མཐའ་ཡས་པ། །ཤེས་བྱ་མཐའ་མེད་མཁའ་དབྱིངས་ཁྱབ་པ་དེ་དག་གིས་ཀུན་མཐོང་། །ཞེས་གསུངས་སོ།

Other English translations[edit]

Listed by date of publication
Obermiller (1931) [19]
The element of Buddhahood is by nature devoid
Of the accidental (defiling forces), which are different from it,
But it is by no means devoid of the highest properties,
Which are, essentially, indivisible from it.[20]
Takasaki (1966) [21]
The Essence [of the Buddha] is [by nature] devoid
Of the accidental [pollutions] which differ from it;
But it is by no means devoid of the highest properties
Which are, essentially, indivisible from it.
Holmes (1985) [22]
The buddha nature is devoid of any affect -
such an intrinsic characteristic
would be completely foreign.
Yet it is not devoid of the supreme qualities,
whose intrinsic characteristics
are indifferentiable from its domain.
Holmes (1999) [23]
This element is devoid of transient things to be purified,
that have a character separable from it.
It is not devoid of the ultimate qualities
of character indifferentiable from it.
Fuchs (2000) [24]
The element is empty of the adventitious [stains],
which are featured by their total separateness.
But it is not empty of the matchless properties,
which are featured by their total inseparability.
Kano (2016) [25]
The dhātu is devoid of adventitious [stains], which have the defining characteristic
of being separable; but it is not void (aśūnya) of unsurpassable qualities,
which have the defining characteristic of not being separable.

Textual sources[edit]

Commentaries on this verse[edit]

Marpa Dopa Chökyi Wangchuk
1042 ~ 1136
Excerpted from Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part, 914-916.

Marpa Dopa and Parahitabhadra (as represented in CMW)

CMW[26] considers I.154ab and I.155 as representing the theses and the reasons, respectively, of two reasonings about the tathāgata heart’s being free from superimposition and denial.[27] I.154cd represent the elimination of a qualm. Furthermore, the tathāgata heart is said not to be an object of four groups of persons: (1) bodhisattvas who have views about emptiness and are full of pride about that, (2) Sautrāntikas, (3) Mere Mentalists, and (4) śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and ordinary beings.

You may wonder, "Who is it that superimposes [something] onto the basic element or denies [something about it]?" It is the śrāvakas who superimpose by saying, "The afflictions exist in the dharmadhātu since the beginning" and deny by saying, "The qualities of the dharmakāya do not exist from the beginning [but] arise later."

      You may wonder, "How do these two verses teach that [the basic element] is free from the pair of superimposition and denial?" This [is explained through] the subject, the thesis, and the reason [of two reasonings], as well as the elimination of a disputational flaw. As for "in this," the subject is "in this basic element that exists at all times, exists in all sentient beings (the objects), and exists in a manner that is without difference." The thesis is "there is nothing to be removed." "Why?" The reason is "because the basic element is empty of what is adventitious, which has the characteristic of being separable." [As for the second reasoning,] the subject applies again in the same way, and the thesis is "there is not the slightest to be added." "Why?" The reason is "[because] it is not empty of the unsurpassable attributes, which have the characteristic of being inseparable." It may be asked, "In that case, how is it posited that the fruition of liberation is attained through relinquishing the afflictions and attaining the qualities of the dharmakāya? If there are no afflictions to be relinquished and no qualities of the dharmakāya to be attained at present, it follows that there is no fruition of liberation [later either]." There is no such flaw—this disputational flaw is eliminated by [the lines] "Actual reality is viewed as it really is—if actual reality is seen, one is liberated."

      The commentary has three points. (1) The instruction on the defining characteristics or the essence of the basic element that is free from the two extremes consists of [RGVV’s passage] "What is taught by this? . . . free from the extremes of superimposition and denial."

      (2) The second point is to establish that this basic element is not an object of the thinking of four [kinds of] persons, which is [first] established through reasoning. (2a) As for establishing it through reasoning, it is [first] established that [the basic element] is not an object of persons whose minds are distracted from emptiness, which consists of [RGVV’s] passage "Here, those whose minds are distracted from and stray outside of . . ." [In it, the phrase] "those whose minds are distracted outside" teaches that [the basic element] is not an object of those persons who have views about emptiness and are full of pride [about that]. [The phrase] "those who stray" teaches that [the basic element] is not an object of the Sautrāntikas, who assert that the five appropriating skandhas exist from the beginning and become totally nonexistent later, thus denying [something about] the fruition. [The phrase] "those who do not cultivate it in samādhi" teaches that it is not an object of the Mere Mentalists who assert a self-awareness empty of apprehender and apprehended as the ultimate and contrast it to "the wisdom of ultimate emptiness" below. The summary of these three [persons] consists of [the phrase] "those who are not one-pointed [with regard to it]." The instruction that [the basic element] is not an object of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and ordinary beings consists of [the sentence] "Without being introduced to the wisdom of ultimate emptiness . . ."

      (2b) Establishing [that the basic element is not an object of the thinking of four kinds of persons] through scripture consist of [the passage] "With this in mind, it is said . . ." Here, it is said that [this passage from] the [Śrīmālādevī]sūtra explicitly teaches that [the basic element] is not an object of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, with [the word] "any" [in it implicitly] teaching that it is not an object of ordinary beings and [bodhisattvas] whose minds are distracted from emptiness [either] because this appears in [RGVV’s] explanation of this sūtra [passage].

      (3) The third point is the explanation of the instruction that the dharmakāya is [only] a bit of an object for bodhisattvas dwelling on the ten bhūmis, which is connected [to the previous passage] as follows. You may wonder, "If this basic element that possesses such defining characteristics is not an object of these four [kinds of] persons, the object of which persons is it?" [In response] to that, in order to teach that bodhisattvas on the ten bhūmis do not see it in a complete manner, while buddhas see it in a pure manner, [RGVV says,] "Here, to have realized the introduction to the wisdom . . ."

      In addition, CMW’s introduction comments on I.154ab that the line "there is nothing to be removed in this" refers to thoughts’ not needing to be relinquished and being pure, while the line, "not the slightest to be added" means that self-arisen wisdom dawns without needing to be accomplished.[28] Quoting I.155, the introduction explains that the three phases of the tathāgata heart’s being impure, both impure and pure, and completely pure have the same single nature. All three of them are nothing but spacelike luminosity, which is essentially disconnected from the adventitious stains of thoughts.

First, through the ninefold matching of the [tathāgata] heart [with its adventitious stains through the nine examples in the Uttaratantra], sentient beings (the cause) and buddhas (the fruition) are joined, that is, the three phases [of the tathāgata heart’s being impure, impure and pure, and completely pure] are blended as having a single nature. The three phases are the luminosity of the dharmakāya of sentient beings (which is like the space in a clay vessel), the luminosity of the noble ones (which is like the space in a copper vessel), and the luminosity of buddhas (which is like the space in a golden vessel). As for these three [phases, the Uttaratantra says]:

The basic element is empty of what is adventitious,
Which has the characteristic of being separable.

The conditioned element that can be disconnected consists of the stains of thoughts, which are like a vessel. As for what is naturally inseparable, just as space is without difference [in different vessels], the luminous essence of the mind is without difference in both sentient beings and buddhas. [The Uttaratantra continues:]

It is not empty of the unsurpassable attributes,
Which have the characteristic of being inseparable.

The unconditioned basic element that cannot be disconnected consists of the stainless nature of the mind, which is like space.


Minyak Lama Yeshe Dorje
14th Century
Excerpted from Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part, 920-923.

Yeshé Dorje’s commentary on the Uttaratantra explains I.154 as the teaching on the actual way of being of the basic element by identifying its essence:

In general, among all phenomena, there is no entity whatsoever that withstands analysis. Therefore, just like illusions and dreams, they are without any nature. Consequently, there is not the slightest established phenomenon to be removed or to be added in any phenomena of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. As the Bodhicaryāvatāra says:

When phenomena are empty in this way,
What is there to gain and what to lose?[29]

In particular, there is no characteristic of afflicted phenomena to be removed from the basic element that is completely pure by nature because being naturally free from adventitious stains is its nature. Nor is there the slightest need for any characteristic of purified phenomena to be newly added (that is, to be set up) because the inseparable attributes are its nature. To see this actual reality as it really is, that is, in an unmistaken manner, is the path. Based on that, through directly seeing this actual reality (the object to familiarize with), the fruition is to be liberated temporarily from the factors to be relinquished through seeing and ultimately from all stains without exception.[30]

Uttaratantra I.155 is said to determine the basic element as being free from extremes through eliminating disputes:

It may be said, "Isn’t the basic element merely empty [in the sense] of being nothing whatsoever? How is it suitable as something in which there is nothing [to be removed and] to be added?" The basic element (the subject) is not such [an emptiness] because it is empty of the seeming adventitious stains, which have the characteristic of being separable (that is, being suitable to be disconnected), but it is not empty of the attributes that are the unsurpassable qualities, which have the characteristic (that is, the nature) of being inseparable (that is, not being suitable to be disconnected). The Śrīmālādevīsūtra says:

The tathāgata heart is empty of all cocoons of afflictions that are separable [from it] and [can] be realized as being divisible [from it]. It is not empty of the inconceivable buddha attributes that are inseparable [from it], [can]not be realized as being divisible [from it], and far surpass the sand grains in the river Gaṅgā [in number].[31]

One should analyze through one’s own ability[32] how this applies to eliminating disputes. This teaches the defining characteristic of emptiness in an unmistaken way since it teaches what its manner of being free from the extremes of superimposition and denial is like. As the commentary says:

Thus, one clearly sees that when something does not exist somewhere, the [latter] is empty of the [former]. In accordance with actual reality, one understands that what remains there exists as a real existent.[33]

The Bodhisattvabhūmi states:

Some sṛamaṇas or Brahmans neither assert that of which something is empty nor do they assert what is empty of what. Such is called "a bad grasp of emptiness." For what reason? Emptiness is reasonable by virtue of that which is empty being really existent and by virtue of that of which it is empty not being really existent. By virtue of everything’s being nonexistent, where would what be empty of what? Therefore, the emptiness [in the sense] of such [nonexistence] is not reasonable. Hence, such represents a bad grasp of emptiness. So how is emptiness grasped well? Since one sees that something’s not existing somewhere [means that] the latter is empty of the former, one understands, in accordance with true reality, that what remains there really exists there. This is called "engaging emptiness unmistakenly as it accords with true reality."[34]

This kind of realization of the mode of being of the profound nature of phenomena is called "the wisdom of the tathāgata heart" or "the wisdom of emptiness." Without it, the expanse cannot be realized, and those who are distracted to [anything] outside of it are those whose minds are distracted from emptiness. Therefore, the tathāgata heart is not the object of those who have fallen into the views about a real personality because it is the heart of the dharmakāya. [The predicate] entails [the reason] because [the tathāgata heart] is the remedy for [all] views. It is also not the object of those who delight in mistakenness because it is the heart of the supramundane [dharmas]. [The predicate] entails [the reason] because it is taught as the remedy for mundane dharmas, such as impermanence and suffering. Nor is it the object of those whose minds are distracted from emptiness because it is the heart of the pure dharmas. [The predicate] entails [the reason] because it has the nature of being empty of adventitious stains. This and so on is the meaning of the commentary.[35]



Gyaltsap Je Darma Rinchen
1364 ~ 1432
Excerpted from Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part, 923-925.

Gyaltsab’s commentary on Uttaratantra I.154–55 says that (1) the first verse represents the identification of the nature of the basic element, while (2) the second verse provides the proof for that.[36] (1) The explanation of the nature of the basic element is threefold: (a) the ground that is the basic nature of all entities, (b) the view of realizing that, and (c) the fruition of having become familiar with that view.

      (1a) Gyaltsab’s actual glosses of I.154 are quite similar to Rongtön’s (see below), explaining that in this naturally pure basic element there are no previously existing referent objects of the clinging to a personal and phenomenal identity nor any afflictions established by a nature of their own that are to be newly removed because the referent objects of the twofold clinging to identity and afflictions established by a nature of their own never existed in the first place. This indicates that no matter to which phenomenon one may cling as being really existent, this is a superimposition that strays from the actuality of the basic nature and that the referent objects of such clinging are not established in the first place. The clinging to the afflictions as being established by a nature of their own also is a form of clinging to an identity of phenomena, while this clinging to the afflictions’ being explained separately from the clinging to an identity of phenomena entails an intention. Nor are there the slightest previously nonexistent two kinds of identitylessness to be added to this basic element because to be devoid of any personal and phenomenal identity is its nature. This indicates that the statement "The two kinds of identitylessness do not exist" is a form of denial in terms of wrongly engaging the actuality of the basic nature and that the negation of the referent objects of such wrong engagement is nothing to be newly added. To explain in general that the stains are not to be removed and that their remedies are not to be generated without specifying what is to be negated is a denial of the factors to be relinquished and their remedies.

      Also, I.154b is adduced for the sake of establishing what I.154a explains—when it is established that any assumed previously existing real establishment of the afflictions is not to be newly removed, it is established that any previously nonexistent emptiness of a real existence of the afflictions is not to be newly added either. This is the explanation in terms of what is taught explicitly here.

      In terms of connecting this to its instances (mtshan gzhi), in the person or the skandhas, there is nothing really established that is previously existent to be newly removed. Therefore, when the emptiness of real existence—ultimate reality—is established, it is established that there is not the slightest previously nonexistent phenomenon empty of real existence, which is delusive and illusion-like, to be newly added either. Consequently, this also represents the establishment of the seeming reality of all agents and their objects being tenable within the actuality of their being empty of being established by a nature of their own.

      In brief, I.154ab teaches the union of the two realities, for which it suffices to accept in one’s own system (a) the ultimate reality that is the emptiness of real existence in that there is not the slightest object to which the clinging to real existence could be directed and (b) the seeming reality that consists of all the presentations of agents and their objects.

      (1b) As for the view of realizing this union of the two realities, the prajñā that realizes the lack of nature and sees actual reality—the emptiness of a person and the skandhas being established by a nature of their own—as it really is the view of fully realizing the actuality of the basic nature.

      (1c) As for the fruition of having become familiar with that view, if one has embraced it with the vast means that represent the aspect of mahāyāna conduct, thus having seen actual reality directly, and then familiarizes oneself with it again and again, one will attain liberation—the state of completely perfect buddhahood.

      (2) Uttaratantra I.155 provides the proof for this. In this basic element there are no previously existing afflictions established by a nature of their own that are to be removed because the basic element is empty of adventitious stains established by a nature of their own, which have the characteristic of being separable and divisible from it by virtue of having cultivated their remedies. That is, the basic element is empty of these afflictions in the first place. This teaches the basic nature of both realities—the afflictions’ being divisible from the basic element through familiarizing with their remedies and any afflictions established by a nature of their own never having existed in the first place. Nor is there any previously nonexistent emptiness of afflictions established by a nature of their own to be newly added because what exists primordially is the basic element’s not being empty of the emptiness of afflictions established by a nature of their own, with this emptiness being the focal object due to which it is suitable for the unsurpassable buddhadharmas such as the powers, which have the characteristic of being inseparable from it, to arise. This teaches that the cause for the arising of the buddhadharmas—ultimate reality, which is the focal object of the prajñā of directly realizing identitylessness—exists primordially.

      Thus, these two verses teach the ground (ultimate and seeming reality), the path (the prajñā of directly realizing identitylessness), and the fruition (being able to attain completely perfect buddhahood). To assert that the seeming, such as a vase’s being empty of a vase, is self-empty and that ultimate reality is a really existent ultimate that is other-empty means to be outside of what Maitreya holds and represents the extremes of denial and superimposition, respectively.

      In further commenting on RGVV on I.154–155, Gyaltsab says that in this naturally pure basic element of the tathāgatas, there are no previously existing characteristics or focal objects of afflicted phenomena and the clinging to a personal and phenomenal identity that are to be newly removed because it is the nature of this basic element to be free from adventitious stains that are established by a nature of their own. This indicates that being empty of being established by a nature of its own, being empty of being established through its own specific characteristics, and being empty of being established by its own essence are ultimate reality. One should understand that this teaches the presentation of the two realities as being equivalent to Nāgārjuna’s position. Nor is there the slightest previously nonexistent characteristic of purified phenomena (identitylessness as the focal object of the prajñā of directly realizing identitylessness) to be newly added to this basic element because the emptiness of a nature—the true nature of the pure phenomena that are inseparable from it through anything (such as remedies)— is the nature of this basic element. Thus, one clearly sees through the prajñā of directly realizing identitylessness that when some phenomenon established by a nature of its own does not exist in some basis, the latter is empty of the former. During the phase of subsequent attainment, in accordance with true reality, one understands that what remains there—being empty of a nature of its own—always exists there.




Rongtön Sheja Kunrik
1367 ~ 1449
Excerpted from Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part, 925-927.

Rongtön’s commentary on the Uttaratantra explains I.154–55 together as presenting the defining characteristics of the basic element that is to be realized.[37] He takes the adventitious stains to be nothing but the mistaken notions about the two kinds of identity in terms of persons and phenomena, while the unsurpassable dharmas are nothing but the pure nature of phenomena that consists of the two kinds of identitylessness.

      Beginning by referring to Ngog Lotsāwa’s explanation, Rongtön says that in this basic element, there are no previously existing two kinds of identity, the focal objects of the stains, to be removed because it is primordially empty of these two kinds of identity, the focal objects of the adventitious stains, that have the characteristic of being separable from it. This teaches that the basic element is free from superimposition. In this basic element, there are also not the slightest two kinds of identitylessness, the focal objects of purified phenomena, to be newly added because it is not empty of these two kinds of identitylessness, the focal objects of the unsurpassable dharmas, that have the characteristic of being inseparable from it. This teaches that the basic element is free from denial.

      Having stated the characteristics of the basic element free from superimposition and denial in this way, its perceiving subject—the viewing of actual reality—is taught. That is, actual reality (the two kinds of identitylessness) should be viewed as it really is. Through viewing it in this way, if the actual reality that is personal identitylessness is seen, one is liberated from the afflictive obscurations, and if the actual reality that is phenomenal identitylessness is seen, one is liberated from the cognitive obscurations.[38]

      Rongtön declares that the word "characteristic" in "the characteristics of afflicted phenomena and purified phenomena" in RGVV here refers to "focal object" because RGVV explains the following on the jewel of the dharma:

[However,] this [afflictiveness] should be seen in the same manner as a thorough investigator does who does not see any characteristics or focal objects of this [afflictiveness]. When neither characteristics nor focal objects are seen, true reality is seen. Thus, these phenomena are completely and perfectly realized by the Tathāgata as being equal by virtue of their equality. In this way, [the Tathāgata] does not see characteristics and focal objects, which are nonexistent, and sees ultimate reality, which is existent, in just the way it is in true reality. By virtue of [this seeing and nonseeing, the Tathāgata] completely and perfectly realizes the equality of all phenomena through the wisdom of equality, in which neither of these two [nonexistent characteristics and the existent ultimate reality] is to be removed or to be added.[39]

In other words, in this basic element, there are no characteristics of afflicted phenomena—the stains—that exist by a nature of their own to be removed because adventitious stains are empty of any existence by a nature of their own. These stains are separable from the sugata heart because they have the characteristic of being divisible from it. Nor are there the slightest characteristics of purified phenomena—the factor of its natural purity—to be newly added to the basic element because it is not empty of the natural purity that consists of the unsurpassable dharmas. For these have the characteristic of being inseparable from the naturally pure basic element. RGVV says:

because the pure nature of phenomena is its nature.[40]

      The unsurpassable dharmas are the naturally pure nature of phenomena, such as the powers, because the intention here is that this nature of phenomena exists in all sentient beings in a pervasive manner. As the Uttaratantra says:

Since it has the true nature of completely perfect buddhahood,
The basic element of sentient beings is like a treasure.[41]

And:

Awakening takes hold of sentient beings.[42]

The naturally pure nature of phenomena is referred to as "unsurpassable dharmas" because the qualities such as the powers arise through having familiarized with the true nature of phenomena by focusing on it. The reason for the basic element’s not being empty of the unsurpassable qualities is "because the pure nature of phenomena is its nature."




Gö Lotsāwa Zhönu Pal
1392 ~ 1481
Excerpted from Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part, 927-937.

Like Jñānaśrīmitra and the Eighth Karmapa (see below), Gö Lotsāwa’s commentary on the Uttaratantra also comments on both Abhisamayālaṃkāra V.21 and Uttaratantra I.154, taking them to have different meanings in their respective contexts. According to Gö Lotsāwa,[43]Uttaratantra I.153 indicates that the tathāgata heart is not realized merely through devotion, while I.154 teaches that it is realized through prajñā alone. The comments on I.154 begin with a question: "It is explained that since naive beings superimpose a self onto the tathāgata heart and śrāvakas superimpose phenomena onto it, they do not see it. Therefore, this states implicitly that the tathāgata heart is seen through viewing persons and phenomena as identityless. Still, it is taught that even if one wishes to view emptiness, through the mind being’s distracted elsewhere from emptiness, one does not realize the tathāgata heart. Hence, if the tathāgata heart is described through the principle or the word ‘emptiness,’ what is this tathāgata heart that represents emptiness?" The answer is given in I.154–55:

There is nothing to be removed from this
And not the slightest to be added.
Actual reality is to be seen as it really is—
Whoever sees actual reality is liberated.

The basic element is empty of what is adventitious,
Which has the characteristic of being separable.
It is not empty of the unsurpassable dharmas,
Which have the characteristic of being inseparable.

Since the first verse is in common with the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, one should first understand the manner in which master Haribhadra’s Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā[44] and Abhisamayālaṃkāravivṛti[45] explain it in the context of the second wheel of dharma:

Since it is not tenable to become liberated from clinging to [real] entities [otherwise], without removing or adding anything from any phenomenon through what has the nature of denial or superimposition, the very nature of dependently originated form and so on that actually exists on [the level of] the seeming should be examined as [ultimately] having the nature that is the lack of nature and so on. Thus, just as an illusory elephant’s defeating another illusory elephant, if true reality is seen through putting an end to mistakenness, one will be liberated.

The verse in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra that immediately precedes V.21 says:

That phenomena exist and, at the same time,
The cognitive obscurations of the teacher
Are terminated—this claim by others
I consider as amazing.

This states that if an actual nature of entities did exist, it would not be tenable for the buddha to be liberated from the cognitive obscurations. With this in mind, Haribhadra formulates the reason "Since it is not tenable to become liberated from clinging to [real] entities [otherwise]" at the beginning of his above explanation, which comments on the words "from this" in V.21.[46] So through what is one liberated then? One is liberated through seeing that phenomena lack a nature of their own. However, V.21 and its comments teach that this viewing of phenomena as lacking a nature of their own does not eliminate the seeming reality of phenomena nor does it add the ultimate. "Any phenomenon" in Haribhadra’s comments refers to any phenomena such as form or consciousness being suitable to be taken as the bearers of the nature of phenomena. When one looks at these bearers of the nature of phenomena as being phenomena that lack a nature of their own, one should look in a straightforward manner, without removing their mere existence through statements that have the nature of denial (saying that phenomena do not even exist seemingly or conventionally) or adding anything that does not exist through statements that have the nature of superimposition (saying that phenomena exist ultimately). The bearers of the nature of phenomena, such as form, are not eliminated by saying that they do not exist at all— their actual existence on the level of what seems to be is said to be seeming reality because their causal arising in the manner of dependent origination is established through valid cognition. Though the bearers of the nature of phenomena are not apprehended as possessing certain distinct features, what is apprehended as these bearers is what represents seeming reality. Therefore, Haribhadra comments on "actual reality" in V.21c as being "the very nature that actually exists on [the level of] the seeming."

      The phrase "should be examined as [ultimately] having the nature that is the lack of nature and so on" comments on "is to be seen as it really is" in V.21c. As for "the nature that is the lack of nature," since the lack of nature is not fabricated, it is said to be the essence, the nature, the ultimate, and the actual reality. Thus, the predicate to be proven is "the lack of nature." The phrase "should be examined" is a synonym for "is to be seen," which means to be seen through inferential valid cognition. "Thus," with what is dependently arisen’s lacking a nature, both the factors to be relinquished (clinging to real entities) and their remedy (wisdom) are the seeming. Consequently, since both the factors to be relinquished and their remedy do not actually exist, "just as an illusory elephant’s defeating another illusory elephant," through the elephant of seeing true reality putting an end to the elephant of mistakenness, one will attain liberation. Though it is stated here that seeing the ultimate is the cause of liberation, it is not said that one is liberated merely through seeing the ultimate and that there is no need for becoming fully familiar with it.

      As for the manner in which this verse is understood in the context of the final wheel of dharma, "from this" (Skt. ataḥ, Tib. ’di las) means "because of this"—because of this natural purity of the basic element, it is referred to as "emptiness." It is referred to as "empty" because there is no characteristic of afflicted phenomena that serves as their nature and is to be removed. It is referred to as "-ness" because there are not the slightest qualities that are nonexistent and to be produced or newly added—the basic element primordially has the nature of these qualities. Therefore, the nature of the basic element is empty of the adventitious stains, which have the characteristic of being suitable to be relinquished through separating them from the basic element. However, the basic element is not empty of the subtle elements that are the unsurpassable dharmas such as the powers, which have the characteristic of being inseparable from it and being unfabricated. This is what "-ness" means.

      When the Mādhyamikas say that all entities are emptiness, there are two ways in which this is to be understood. To understand it as entities’ being emptiness without there being anything that is not emptiness is an exclusion of possession by others. To understand it as entities’ being empty of a nature of their own but existing as mere entities is an exclusion of nonpossession and therefore an implicative negation.[47] When the inferential valid cognition of realizing that a vase lacks a nature of its own arises, what is assessed explicitly is a nonimplicative negation but what this also makes understood implicitly is that this vase is an entity empty of real existence. Therefore, there is no need to search for a second valid cognition to realize that it is like an illusion. In the final wheel of dharma, when examining the nature of adventitious attachment and so on, one does not see any nature of an object to be attached to or its subject—attachment itself. However, the basic ground of attachment is present as sheer naturally pure awareness, and its being present in this way means that its qualities (such as the supernatural knowledges) appear without deliberation too. As Uttaratantra I.94ab says:

Therefore, without attaining buddhahood,
Nirvāṇa is not attained.

It should be understood that this reasoning that is explained as pertaining to the phase of the fruition is also to be adduced during the phase of the path.

      As for "actual reality is to be seen as it really is," "actual reality" is the emptiness that is the single mode of being, and "to be seen as it really is" refers to seeing and familiarizing with it on the ten bhūmis as it really is. As for "whoever sees actual reality is liberated," by virtue of the cause that consists of the cognitions of seeing actual reality up through the tenth bhūmi, the consummate liberation of buddhahood will be attained.

      This is followed by Gö Lotsāwa’s quoting RGVV’s entire comments on I.154–55,[48] on which he then elaborates as follows. I.155 teaches the meaning of I.154 in summarized form. Because the basic element is naturally pure,[49] it is the subject in question. That there is no cause[50] of afflicted phenomena to be removed from it is the predicate. Since it is explained in the context of teaching this basic element through the nine examples that the tathāgata heart is delivered from the cocoons of its stains, one may assume that one needs to remove some stains that have a nature of their own, but such a concern is put to rest here. That the tathāgata heart is to be delivered by removing its stains is merely how things seem to be. Ultimately, the (false) imagination that is the cause that produces afflicted phenomena is not something to be removed because it is completely pure in terms of its own nature. For the reason that entails the above predicate is that, by its own nature, the basic element is free from adventitious stains—whatever is a nature of its own is unfabricated and therefore is not adventitious, just as the appearance of clouds in the sky does not change in the slightest any part of the sky into anything else. The outcome of this explanation is that since the stains of (false) imagination lack a nature, they can be removed—if they had a nature, they could not be removed, just like the tathāgata heart.

      Also, to this[51] basic element (the subject) there is not the slightest cause of purified phenomena to be added (predicate) because the true nature of the inseparable pure dharmas is its nature (reason). Purified phenomena consist of cessation and the path, and their cause consists of proper mental engagement. When having familiarized with this mental engagement, the unsurpassable qualities are not to be added as something previously nonexistent that is newly observed. Since these qualities and the basic element are primordially inseparable, proper mental engagement simply means to focus on the basic element just as it is. Since it is the true nature of the basic element to be primordially pure of stains, this is its unfabricated nature. One should understand that this teaches that there is no need for two separate kinds of familiarization—familiarizing with the basic element’s natural lack of stains as well as familiarizing with its being the cause for the arising of qualities.

      In other words, in terms of the nature of the mind, there is no need to remove flaws or to newly add qualities. Therefore, the tathāgata heart is empty of the cocoons of the stains, which possess the two features of being separable and being known to be divisible from it, since they do not touch its nature. But it is not empty of the inconceivable buddhadharmas that far surpass the sand grains in the river Gaṅgā in number, which have the two features of being inseparable from the basic element (having the same nature) and not being known to be divisible from it. Therefore, this is called "-ness." You may wonder, "But if these qualities are said to surpass the number of sand grains in the Gaṅgā, do they have the same nature or a different one?" They are definitely of the same nature—the ten powers are only presented as ten by virtue of being divided in terms of their objects, but they are not ten different qualities by virtue of their own nature (the same goes for the other qualities). Therefore, in terms of the dharmakāya, though the aspects of infinite knowable objects are distinct and not mixed, said qualities are of the same nature. Hence, they are free from the flaw of being many. This nature is free from all reference points, and thus they cannot be characterized by any characteristics whatsoever. Hence, they are also free from being one. Thus, "inconceivable" means that their own nature cannot be demonstrated. Still, their "surpassing the number of sand grains in the Gaṅgā" indicates that, in terms of enumeration, they are different. This is the meaning stated in I.155.

      Thus, no matter in which teachings of the Buddha the word "emptiness" is mentioned, the meaning of all these cases is as follows. One clearly sees through valid cognition that when some phenomenon to be negated does not exist in some basis of negation, this basis is empty of that phenomenon. At that point it is said that what has been negated does not exist in this basis. In accordance with true reality, one understands through this single valid cognition that the remainder (both this basis and its attributes) of what has been negated there always (that is, definitely) exists in this basis.

      This means that no matter what kind of negating reason it may be, there is none whatsoever that does not implicitly indicate an affirmed phenomenon. If it were possible not to indicate such an affirmed phenomenon, it would be possible that there are persons who, after having rejected merely what is to be rejected, do not wish for anything to be adopted instead. In that case, one would not see any persons anywhere who do not accomplish all their desired objectives. Here, if one realizes the tathāgata heart to be pure of adventitious stains, one will definitely and in any case direct one’s mind toward its qualities, just as when one hears that the blurred vision of one’s old father has been cured and thus immediately understands that he can see forms clearly now.

      If emptiness is realized in an unmistaken manner, this will also demonstrate the qualities of implicitly having put an end to the three kinds of obscurations (such as the views about a real personality) that obscure the tathāgata heart. Here, RGVV first teaches the general negation of the extremes of superimposition and denial, saying that the two verses I.154–55 elucidate the unmistaken defining characteristic of emptiness since it thus is free from the extremes of superimposition and denial. The explanation of the meaning of "empty" eliminates the aspect of superimposition within being mistaken about emptiness, and the meaning of "-ness" eliminates the extreme of denial within being mistaken about emptiness. Therefore, "unmistaken" also refers to the defining characteristics that make one understand of which features emptiness is empty.

      This twofold mode of being of the distinctive features of emptiness— being empty of adventitious stains and not being empty of qualities—is the true actuality of emptiness. Those bodhisattvas whose minds stray from this understanding of emptiness and who mentally engage in many ways in what is not it (regarding it as a kind of extinction or as being the same as, or different from, form and so on) are said to be distracted from it. During the phase of the view, those who hold such wrong views about emptiness do not rest in meditative equipoise in this true actuality and thus do not attain superior insight, nor will they attain one-pointed calm abiding. Therefore, it is said that their minds are distracted from emptiness during the phases of both view and meditation. If one understands the emptiness explained here, one will neither think that the extinction of desire is emptiness, nor that this very desire is emptiness, nor that emptiness exists somewhere else than in that desire. Therefore, through resting free from negation and affirmation right within however this very desire may appear, one will see its natural luminosity through superior insight. At the same time, no matter which thoughts may arise, they function as aids for samādhi, and thus this resting will also be one-pointed.

      Here, it is ultimate emptiness that is explained as emptiness, which is the tathāgata heart that is also explained to be the ultimate reality that is called "the reality of the noble ones." Without the samādhi during the level of engagement through aspiration that familiarizes with this tathāgata heart, one is not able to realize the path of seeing the expanse that is without adventitious conceptions and, through the continuity of that, perceive it directly as the buddhabhūmi. On the other hand, it is taught that one is not distracted toward anything else, if one realizes emptiness, just as it is, in the way described.

      With this perception of emptiness by the buddhas in mind, the Śrīmālādevīsūtra says that once the tathāgata heart has become free from its stains, the wisdom of those who dwell on the buddhabhūmi is also the tathāgatas’ wisdom of realizing emptiness. There is no need to search for any other wisdom of realizing emptiness that is not the tathāgata heart. Having understood that the tathāgata heart’s being primordially empty of what is adventitious is the path, it is exactly by virtue of becoming familiar with this that the unsurpassable qualities that exist in this very tathāgata heart unfold and thus become the wisdom of realizing emptiness.

      This tathāgata heart is not seen directly by any śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, nor is it realized through any certainty that arises from familiarization because it is the extinction of afflictions that is seen as nirvāṇa. Without there being any other means of realizing this tathāgata heart, inasmuch as it is the dharmakāya heart—the dharmakāya’s being the wisdom of liberation and therefore being the remedy for the views about a real personality—it is therefore said not to be the sphere of those who fall into the views about a real personality. For, though it is the dharmadhātu that gives rise to the view at first, its later purity is the remedy for all views. Inasmuch as the tathāgata heart is the dharmakāya, the ultimate heart of all dharmas beyond the mundane seeming, it is said not to be the sphere of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, who delight in being mistaken about the dharmakāya in terms of its impermanence and so on. For the supramundane ultimate dharmakāya is endowed with qualities such as being permanent and therefore is taught to be the remedy for mundane dharmas (the four kinds of mistakenness in terms of impermanence and so on). Inasmuch as the tathāgata heart is the heart of the naturally pure qualities (such as the powers), it is therefore said not to be the sphere of the above two kinds of bodhisattvas whose minds are distracted from emptiness. For the meaning of the phrase "the dharmas that are the pure qualities of the tathāgata heart, which are inseparable from the supramundane ultimate dharmakāya, are more powerful[52] than other dharmas" is also the meaning of the phrase "they are empty because they have the nature of being empty of adventitious stains."

      Having taught the meaning of Uttaratantra I.154ab and I.155, there follows the meaning of I.154cd:

Actual reality is to be seen as it really is—
Whoever sees actual reality is liberated.

The gate that serves as the cause of the principle of empty and –ness— the wisdom that is not different from the dharmadhātu in that both are a singularity as the dharmakāya—is the level of engagement through aspiration. Having realized that, by virtue of the above three distinct features of the dharmakāya (its being the wisdom of liberation and therefore being the remedy for the views about a real personality, its being the ultimate heart of all dharmas beyond the mundane seeming, and its being the heart of the naturally pure qualities), the natural purity of the supramundane ultimate dharmakāya serves as the remedy for those who entertain views about a real personality, those who delight in being mistaken, and those whose minds are distracted from emptiness. Here, to see this natural purity is to see actual reality. It is said that the bodhisattvas who dwell on the ten bhūmis do not behold the entire vast tathāgata heart through that seeing, but they see it a little bit. To see it a little bit is asserted to be the seeing of actual reality, just as it is, through the vision of wisdom. This means that "actual reality" is the tathāgata heart endowed with the above three distinct features. "Seeing" is asserted as the wisdom of seeing this tathāgata heart a little bit on the ten bhūmis. Having seen this actual reality, just as it is, on the first bhūmi, this seeing increases further and further up through the tenth bhūmi. For Dharmadhātustava 75–76 says:

Just as when the waxing moon
Is seen more in every moment,
Those who’ve entered on the bhūmis,
See its increase step by step.

On the fifteenth day of waxing,
Eventually, the moon is full.
Just so, when the bhūmis’ end is reached,
The dharmakāya’s full and clear.

What proves this, Gö Lotsawa says, is the verse that concludes RGVV’s comments on I.154–55:

Just as the sun [seen] in the sky through a gap in the clouds [is not
seen in its entirety], you are not seen in your entirety here
Even by the noble ones who have the pure eye of insight but whose
insight is limited.
Bhagavan, [only] those whose perceptiveness is infinite see your
dharmakāya
In its entirety, which pervades the infinite firmament of knowable
objects.

This means that, through the eye of the mind’s being washed by the samādhi of emptiness, the eye of the mind of the noble ones on the ten bhūmis is pure of the stains of saṃsāra. But even they, when looking at the sky of the dharmakāya of the Bhagavan have only limited and partial insight. They are similar to a person wishing to look at the vast sky and seeing only a little bit of the orb of the sun through a gap in the clouds that mostly obscure it. Thus, they do not see all aspects of the qualities of the dharmakāya, nor do they see the dharmakāya itself completely. Since the buddhas alone possess infinite perceptiveness, they always see that the dharmakāya pervades all beings and that the light of its qualities pervades the expanse of the firmament of the dharmadhātu of infinite knowable objects.

      The meaning of "whoever sees actual reality" in I.154d is that the buddhas see actual reality fully, and "is liberated" refers to being free from all obscurations.

      It may be said, "But master Haribhadra says in his Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā:

Through having familiarized themselves with all phenomena’s being identityless, by virtue of the dharmadhātu’s being without parts, bodhisattvas realize it in its entire nature. However, in terms of giving rise to [particular aspects of] certainty [about it], it is discriminated as the actuality of omnipresence [on the first bhūmi and so on]. Through this, a very lucid cognition of directly perceiving all phenomena to be without nature arises. At that time, bodhisattvas have correctly engaged what is flawless and therefore attain the path of seeing.[53]

      Thus, he explains that when the path of seeing is attained, the dharmadhātu is realized in its entire nature because it does not have any parts. Here, however, it is explained that even those on the tenth bhūmi see the dharmakāya only a little bit. Isn’t that very much contradictory?"

      Since Haribhadra explains the dharmadhātu as phenomenal identitylessness, which has the characteristic of a negative phenomenon (or negation), it is suitable to say that it is seen in its entirety on the path of seeing. However, the case here is different because the dharmakāya of the buddhas has the nature of a positive (or affirmative) phenomenon. Thus, these two explanations merely agree in that both use the name "dharmadhātu." "That is true, but if it is explained here too that even bodhisattvas on the first bhūmi see that the dharmadhātu, which is established as naturally luminous mind and pervades all sentient beings, how can it be said that bodhisattvas on the tenth bhūmi see it only a little bit?" Just as the dharmadhātu of bodhisattvas on the first bhūmi is directly seen by them as their own tathāgata heart, they see many instances of the dharmadhātu pervading others and also gain certainty that this is the case for all sentient beings. However, it is not that they see such directly with regard to all sentient beings because they do not see all sentient beings in a direct manner. For when the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra explains the distinction between appearing and nonappearing sentient beings, it asserts that those below the earth do not appear while those above do appear to bodhisattvas. Here, the meaning of "seeing a little bit" is that when bodhisattvas first see their tathāgata heart, its qualities have not unfolded yet. Therefore, they only see these qualities as being small, but they see them increase further on the higher bhūmis. However, compared to those of a buddha, even in bodhisattvas on the tenth bhūmi, the qualities of the tathāgata heart are small.




Dumowa Tashi Özer
c. 15th Century
Excerpted from Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part, 937-938.

Dashi Öser first presents a number of divergent ways that Tibetans identify the nature of the tathāgata heart. According to the Gelugpas, the tathāgata heart is the emptiness of mind’s being empty of real existence, which is a nonimplicative negation. The Sakyapas assert that the tathāgata heart is mind’s union of being lucid and empty. The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, says:

Just this ordinary mind
Is called "dharmadhātu" and "heart of the victors."
Neither is it to be improved by the noble ones
Nor made worse by sentient beings.
Without doubt, it may be expressed through many conventional terms,
But its actual reality is not understood through expressions.[54]

In his actual comments on Uttaratantra I.154–55, Dashi Öser closely follows RGVV and the Śrīmālādevīsūtra, saying that there are no afflicted phenomena to be removed from this tathāgata element that is completely pure by nature because it is its nature to be free from adventitious stains. Nor is even the slightest purified phenomenon to be added to it because the inseparable and inconceivable buddha attributes are its true nature and essence. This tathāgata heart is empty of all cocoons of the afflictions that are separable and can be realized as being divisible from it, whereas it is not empty of the inconceivable buddha attributes that are inseparable, cannot be realized as being divisible from it, and surpass the sand grains in the river Gaṅgā in number.




Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye
1813 ~ 1899
Excerpted from Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part, 939-942.

Jamgön Kongtrul’s commentary on the Uttaratantra explains I.154 as teaching the essence of emptiness and I.155 as describing the manner of being empty and not being empty.[55]

In the basic element that is completely pure by nature, the sugata heart, there are no previously existent stains that are established as the nature of this basic element (the flaws of afflicted phenomena) to be removed because it is the nature of this [basic element] to be primordially free from all adventitious stains. Likewise, there are not the slightest previously nonexistent qualities of purified phenomena to be added because the nature of this [basic element] is its true nature of the ultimate qualities (such as the powers) being spontaneously present [in it] and being inseparable [from it] since the very beginning. Thus, the perfect prajñā of knowing the ultimate (the subject) directly views and rests in meditative equipoise in the actually real dharmadhātu free from the two extremes (the object), due to which there is consummate familiarity [with this dharmadhātu]. Also, through the gradual arising of the wisdom of directly seeing the actuality of the pure nature of phenomena, just as it is, liberation from the adventitious stains to be relinquished is attained. On the path of seeing, one will be liberated from the stains to be relinquished through seeing. On the path of familiarization, one will be liberated from the stains to be relinquished through familiarization. On the final path, one will be liberated from the entirety of the two obscurations including their latent tendencies.
      Mind’s basic nature free from anything to be removed or added is free from extremes. Since the basic element is empty of the adventitious stains that have the characteristic of being separable, that is, divisible, from this basic element, it is free from the extreme of superimposing [undue] existence [onto it]. Since that basic element is not empty of the attributes that are the unsurpassable qualities (such as the powers) and have the characteristic of not being divisible from the basic element through being separable [from it], it is free from the extreme of denying it [by saying that] it does not exist. It is also liberated from the extreme of being both existent and nonexistent because [existence and nonexistence] are mutually exclusive. Precisely because of that, it is liberated from the extreme of being neither (the negation of the [third extreme]) too. Therefore, this alone is the principle of unmistaken emptiness liberated from the two extremes or the four possibilities.

      For the same author’s TOK that quotes and explains these two verses in the context of the view and meditation of sūtra Mahāmudrā,[56] see the introduction. Elsewhere, TOK also briefly explains the contents of these verses without directly referring to them:

It is taught that this heart is empty of all adventitious flaws or stains. [However,] it is not empty of the attributes of unsurpassable qualities, but possesses them in a spontaneously present way. Therefore, with regard to its essence, there are no stains to be removed and no qualities to be added. This is not realized through mere one-sided study and reflection, but it is gradually realized through the stainless personally experienced or self-arisen awareness that comes from meditation.[57]

      The same author’s Guiding Instructions on the View of Great Shentong Madhyamaka describes the essential parts of the main practice of distinguishing well existence, nonexistence, and so on, in accordance with the third turning of the wheel of dharma and the vajrayāna, once any suitable samādhi of calm abiding and superior insight has arisen, as follows.[58] The tathāgata heart (the basis of distinctive features) that is endowed with the many qualities of freedom of a buddha (the distinctive features) is at present the self-aware wisdom that is lucid and unceasing, is the innate natural state, and is experienced through study, reflection, and meditation. Exactly this is what abides as the basis of purification. After the adventitious stains (what is to be purified) have become pure, nothing but this basic nature that abides in oneself (the result of purification) becomes manifest, which is labeled as "the dharmakāya free from stains." Though it arises as all aspects of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, from the very moment of their arising, these aspects do not move away from that ground, just as all kinds of reflections may appear in a stainless crystal ball, but from the very moment of their appearing do not mix with that crystal. In the same way, no matter how the appearances of saṃsāra, nirvāṇa, and the path may appear within this lucid and empty self-awareness that is stripped bare, they are self-arising and self-liberating, without ever tainting the essence of this awareness. Therefore, without there being any latent tendencies of views and flaws to be removed and without there being any need to newly add any distinctive qualities that did not exist before, the wisdom of the noble ones rests in meditative equipoise in emptiness. In order to bring this clearly to mind, the text has one recite and contemplate Uttaratantra I.154.

      Likewise, out of one’s trust in the ground that is suitable to be freed from the stains and is suitable for the qualities to arise, one contemplates Uttaratantra I.155 as follows. Everything that is separable, such as karma, causes and results, karmic maturations, afflictions, skandhas, dhātus, āyatanas, and dependent origination, has not only never existed ultimately, but even on the level of seeming reality, the tathāgata heart is merely associated with all these phenomena but is never tainted by any of them. By contrast, the inseparable buddha attributes that outnumber the sand grains in the Gaṅgā, such as the self-arisen major and minor marks, the powers, the fearlessnesses, the threefold foundation of mindfulness, great love and compassion, and immeasurable samādhis (such as the vajra-like samādhi) and wisdoms (such as dharmadhātu wisdom), are present in an intrinsic and primordial manner. Therefore, the tathāgata heart is not empty of them.

      Furthermore, lines 91–94 in the Third Karmapa’s Pointing Out the Tathāgata Heart are literally Uttaratantra I.154, on which Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé’s commentary says the following:

In this mind as such, the sugata heart, there are no separate stains to be removed that are established as any real entities other than [just] our being fettered through our own discriminating notions of mistaken appearances. Since [this sugata heart] is naturally endowed with its qualities, there is not the slightest to be newly added or produced that did not exist before. Therefore, actual reality—mind as such free from something to be removed or added—is to be seen as it really is, that is, in the manner of its being unable to look at itself. Through looking in this way [of not looking], it is seen that mind as such—the inseparability of dhātu and wisdom—actually is [this inseparability]. Hence, the adventitious stains are [nothing but our] discriminating notions, and these lack any nature of their own, just like mirages. If this lack [of any nature] is actually seen for what it is, one is liberated from being fettered by these discriminating notions.[59]

Academic notes[edit]

  1. Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Unicode Input
  2. Brunnhölzl, Karl. When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sūtra and Tantra. Boston: Snow Lion Publications, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, 2014.
  3. DP read "What is the tathāgata that is expressed as the principle of emptiness here?" (de la stong pa nyid kyi tshul du brjod pa de bzhin gshegs pa’i snying po gang zhe na).
  4. This verse represents one of the most famous and often-cited stanzas in the literature of the mahāyāna, being essential in both the Uttaratantra and the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (V.21). As for its origin, Gampopa’s Ornament of Liberation (Lha rje bsod nams rin chen 1990, 289) says that it is found in the Gaganagañjaparipṛcchāsūtra (D148), but I could not locate it there. Instead, except for the third line, this verse is found in the Śrīmahābalatantra (P36, fol. 34a.6–7). To provide a bit more of the context of these three lines in that tantra, the lines immediately preceding and following them are as follows:
    Once identitylessness in phenomena is realized,
    Mind will be realized.
    Everything is filled with the flavor of being empty—
    This is called "mahāsukhakāya."
    It is prajñāpāramitā
    In this, there is nothing to be removed
    And not the slightest to add on.
    Who sees true reality is liberated.
    Be it a single disposition, three dispositions,
    Five dispositions, a hundred dispositions, and so on,
    In this true reality, there is no difference.
    Once you have found an ox,
    You don’t search for the traces of that ox.
    Likewise, if you have found the true reality of mind,
    You don’t search for any thoughts at all.
    Note that the last four lines also represent a very common example in the Mahāmudrā tradition. To my knowledge, besides the Śrīmahābalatantra, the Uttaratantra, and the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (and the commentaries on the latter two), there are at least twenty-one further Indian works in which this verse appears: Buddhaghoṣa’s Sumaṅgalavisāraṇī I.12 (in Pāli, attributes the contents to the Buddha); Nāgārjuna’s Kāyatrayastotranāmasyavivaraṇa (D1124, fol. 72a.3), Pratītyasamutpādahṛdayakārikā (D3836, verse 7; some hold that it does not belong to the original Sanskrit stanzas, being added later, but it is found in this text as it appears in the Tibetan canon as well as in an eighth-century Tibetan manuscript from Dunhuang [PT 769]), and Pratītyasamutpādahṛdayavyākhyā (D3837, fol. 149a.1–2); Aśvaghoṣa’s Saundarananda (paraphrase XIII.44) and Śuklavidarśana (a summary of the Śālistambasūtra that begins with this verse); the Bodhisattvabhūmi (Wogihara ed., 48; prose paraphrase); Nāgamitra’s Kāyatrayāvatāramukha (D3890, paraphrased as verse 106); Jñānacandra’s Kāyatrayavṛtti (D3891, fol. 30b.5–6); Sthiramati’s Madhyāntavibhāgaṭīkā (Pandeya ed., 1999, 23; D4032, fol. 203a.6–7); Līlāvajra’s Nāmasaṃgītiṭīkā ad VI.5 (D2533, fol. 54a.5–6; attributing it to Nāgārjuna); the Mahāyānaśraddhotpāda (D. T. Suzuki, Aśvaghoṣa ’s Discourse on "The Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna" [Chicago: Open Court, 1900], 57; prose); Candrahari’s Ratnamālā (D3901, fol. 71b.3); Jñānaśrīmitra’s Sākārasiddhi (in Jñānaśrīmitra, Jñānaśrīmitranibandhāvali, 487.16–17) and Sākārasaṃgraha (II.53); Yamāri’s Pramāṇavārttikālaṃkāraṭīkāsupariśuddhā (D4226, vol. me, fol. 3a.7–3b1); Maitrīpa’s (or Nāgārjuna’s) Caturmudrāniścaya (in Maitrīpa, Advayavajrasaṃgraha, 102; D2225, fol. 78b.3–4) and Maitrīpa’s Dohākośapañjikā (Bagchi ed., 1938, 70.1–2; D2256, fol. 187b.4–5); Sahajavajra’s Tattvadaśakaṭīkā (D2254, fol. 170a.3–4); Rāmapāla’s Sekanirdeśapañjikā (D2253, fol. 156a.3–4); and Vibhūticandra’s Bodhicaryāvatāratātparyapañjikāviśeṣadyotanī (D3880, fol. 196b.4).
  5. DP "its nature is to be free from adventitious stains" (glo bur ba’i dri ma dang bral ba ni ’di’i rang bzhin yin pa).
  6. P rnam par dbye ba med pa’i chos nyid ni rang bzhin yin pa’i phyir D rnam par dbye ba med pa’i chos dag pa’i chos nyid ni rang bzhin yin pa’i phyir.
  7. D45.48, fol. 272a.7–272b.1. The Chinese translation of this passage (Taishō 353, 221c) uses the terms "the empty tathāgata heart" and "the nonempty tathāgata heart."
  8. As already mentioned, these two sentences (with minor variations) originally come from the Cūlasuññatasutta (Majjhima Nikāya 121). They are also found in the Abhidharmasamuccaya (D4049, fol. 76b.3), Vasubandhu’s Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya on I.1, Sthiramati’s Madhyāntavibhāgaṭīkā on I.1, the Śatasāhasrikāpañcaviṃśatisāhasrikāṣṭādaśasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitābṛhaṭṭīkā (D3808, fol. 63a.2–3), Jagaddalanivāsin’s Bhagavatyāmnāyānusāriṇīnāmavyākhyā (D3811, fol. 293a.5), and the Bodhisattvabhūmi (Dutt ed., 32.12–13; D4037, fol. 26b.5–6). The larger context in which this passage appears in the Bodhisattvabhūmi (Dutt ed., 32.6–23; D4037, fols. 26b.4–27a.3) is the justification of the correct understanding of emptiness: "Some sṛamaṇas or Brahmans neither assert that of which something is empty nor do they assert what is empty of what. Such is called ‘a bad grasp of emptiness.’ For what reason? Emptiness is reasonable by virtue of that which is empty’s being really existent and by virtue of that of which it is empty not being really existent. By virtue of everything’s being non- existent, where would what be empty of what? Therefore, the emptiness [in the sense] of such [nonexistence] is not reasonable [though the Tibetan supports this reading, the sentence could also be understood as ‘the emptiness of something’s being empty of something is not reasonable’]. Hence, such represents a bad grasp of emptiness. So how is emptiness grasped well? Since one sees that something’s not existing somewhere [means that] the latter is empty of the former, one understands, in accordance with true reality, that what remains there really exists there. This is called ‘engaging emptiness unmistakenly as it accords with true reality.’ . . . Therefore, the entities about which one has notions such as form are empty of the character of the designational terms ‘form’ and so on. What is the remainder here in these entities about which one has notions such as form? It is said to be the bases of the designational terms ‘form’ and so on. As for these two, it is said that one understands, in accordance with true reality, the existence of mere entities and the mere designations as mere entities. One does not superimpose what is not truly real, nor does one deny what is truly real. One does not create any redundancy, nor does one create any deficiency. One does not set up [anything], nor does one reject [anything]. One realizes, in accordance with true reality, what is in accordance with true reality—suchness, whose nature is inexpressible. This is said to be a good grasp of emptiness— its being well realized through perfect prajñā. This [description] is the one that accords with reasoning that establishes tenability and the one through which the inexpressible nature of all phenomena is to be known in an exact manner." The Bodhisattvabhūmi (Dutt ed., 30.27–31.4; D4037, fol. 25b.3–5) also says that those who cling through superimposing existence onto what is not truly real (the specific characteristics of the designations for entities such as forms) and those who absolutely deny the true reality of what is ultimately truly real as having an inexpressible nature (the mere entities that are the bases of designations) have fallen away from the dharma. In addition (Dutt ed., 31.17–19; D4037, fol. 26a.5–6), those who deny both designations and true reality are the chief nihilists, with whom those with pure conduct should not associate and who bring only misery upon themselves and others. The text (Dutt ed., 146.9–14; D4037, fol. 113b.2–4) also lists the distinctive features of the prajñā of bodhisattvas with regard to truly realizing phenomenal identitylessness, which include being utterly peaceful, nonconceptual, free from reference points, and without the two extremes of superimposition and denial (as indicated above). Due to these features, this prajñā should be understood as the one that follows the middle path and realizes true reality. For the original context and the vast range of interpretations of the quote from the Cūlasuññatasutta in the above and other texts, see Dargyay 1990 and Nagao 1991, 51–60. The Eighth Karmapa’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Brunnhölzl 2010, 510) explains it as follows: "With nondual wisdom (ultimate reality) not existing during any phase of nondual consciousness (seeming reality), one sees or realizes clearly or in a supreme way (that is, in the manner of according with the actual way of being through the prajñā of identitylessness that is a natural outflow of the dharmadhātu) that this wisdom is empty of nondual consciousness (seeming reality). In this nondual wisdom, there always exists the remainder that remains primordially and is primordially empty of the adventitious stains of nondual consciousness—the nondual wisdom that is not enshrouded in these adventitious stains."
  9. I follow MA/MB viparītaṃ and DP phyin ci ma log pa against J aparyantaṃ.
  10. As the citation of the passage from the Culasūññatasutta in Sthiramati’s Madhyāntavibhāgaṭīkā shows, what is said here is reminiscent of the explanation in Madhyāntavibhāga I.1 about duality’s not existing in false imagination, while emptiness exists in false imagination. Also, Madhyāntavibhāga I.13 declares the two defining characteristics of emptiness as the nonbeing (or nonexistence) of duality and the being (or existence) of said nonbeing (or nonexistence). That is, emptiness is neither existent as duality nor is it nonexistent altogether because it exists as the very being of the lack of duality. The same meaning is found in I.20 saying that the nonexistence of persons and phenomena is emptiness, while the real existence of the nonexistence of persons and phenomena in it is another emptiness. The Bhāṣya on this comments that emptiness is defined as twofold in this way as the emptiness of what does not exist (persons and phenomena) and the emptiness that is the nature of what does not exist in order to avoid the two extremes of wrongly superimposing actually nonexistent persons and phenomena and wrongly denying the existence of the emptiness of these persons and phenomena. Note that this represents the typical Yogācāra approach to the middle way of avoiding extremes that usually hinges primarily on avoiding the two extremes of wrongly superimposing what does not exist and denying what actually does exist. By contrast, the Madhyamaka approach to the middle way beyond extremes aims at avoiding any notions of existence or nonexistence altogether.
  11. This is the only instance in RGVV of the compound śūnyatāvikṣiptacitta’s being unraveled as śūnyatārthanayād bahiś cittaṃ vikṣipyate.
  12. D45.48, fol. 272a.5–6.
  13. DP "dharmakāya."
  14. I follow MA/MB lokottaradharmakāya° (confirmed by DP ’jig rten las ’das pa’i chos kyi sku ni) against J lokottaradharma°.
  15. I follow MA/MB śūnyatāvikṣiptacittānām (confirmed by DP stong pa nyid las sems rnam par g.yengs pa rnams kyi) against J śūnyatāvikṣiptānām.
  16. I follow MA tadviśuddhiguṇa° and DP de rnam par dag pa’i yon tan against MB and J viśuddhiguṇa°.
  17. This passage follows the passage already mentioned from the Śrīmālādevīsūtra (D45.48, fol. 275a.2–3) that says that the tathāgata heart is the heart of the dharmadhātu, the heart of the dharmakāya, the heart of the supramundane dharmas, and the heart of the naturally pure dharmas.
  18. For further comments on Uttaratantra I.154 and the almost identical Abhisamayālaṃkāra V.21 in various Indian and Tibetan texts, see appendices 2 and 3.
  19. Obermiller, E. "The Sublime Science of the Great Vehicle to Salvation Being a Manual of Buddhist Monism." Acta Orientalia IX (1931), pp. 81-306.
  20. This is verse 153 in Obermiller's translation
  21. Takasaki, Jikido. A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra): Being a Treatise on the Tathāgatagarbha Theory of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Serie Orientale Roma 33. Roma: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (ISMEO), 1966.
  22. Holmes, Ken & Katia. The Changeless Nature. Eskdalemuir, Scotland: Karma Drubgyud Darjay Ling, 1985.
  23. Holmes, Ken & Katia. Maitreya on Buddha Nature. Scotland: Altea Publishing, 1999.
  24. Fuchs, Rosemarie, trans. Buddha Nature: The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra. Commentary by Jamgon Kongtrul and explanations by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso. Ithaca, N. Y.: Snow Lion Publications, 2000.
  25. Kano, Buddha-Nature and Emptiness, 270.
  26. 499–501.
  27. Compare CMW’s explanation (426) that the essence of the basic element is "the nature of phenomena free from superimposition and denial,"for which I.154 is adduced as scriptural support.
  28. 419–20.
  29. IX.151ab.
  30. YDC, 326–27.
  31. D45.48, fol. 272a.7–272b.1.
  32. rtsod spang du sbyar ba ni gi’i nus pa dpyad par bya’o emended to rtsod spang du sbyar ba ni rang gi nus pas dpyad par bya’o.
  33. J76; D4025, fol. 114a.3–4.
  34. Dutt ed., 32.6–14; D4037, fol. 26b.4–6.
  35. YDC, 327–28.
  36. Dar ma rin chen 1982, 321.5–325.6.
  37. Rong ston shes bya kun gzigs 1997, 143–45.
  38. Note that this explanation is the same as what Ratnākaraśānti’s Sārottamā on Abhisamayālaṃkāra V.21 says (see appendix 3).
  39. J13
  40. The Sanskrit says "because it has the nature of inseparable pure dharmas" (avinirbhāgaśuddhadharmaprakṛtitvāt). Rongtön quotes a part of D rnam par dbye ba med pa’i chos dag pa’i chos nyid ni rang bzhin yin pa’i phyir (but even here, dag pa should qualify chos and not chos nyid). P has rnam par dbye ba med pa’i chos nyid ni rang bzhin yin pa’i phyir.
  41. IV.10cd (DP chos nyid, Sanskrit dharmatva).
  42. IV.6d. This seems to be how Rongtön understands byang chub sems can yongs su ’dzin (Skt. bodeḥ sattvaḥ parigrahaḥ) in order to support his above statement that the nature of phenomena pervades all beings. However, as is clear from the context in the Uttaratantra, this line explains the phrase "taking hold"in IV.5 as referring to bodhisattvas as the ones who take hold of awakening.
  43. GC, 433.12–13 and 439.20–446.21.
  44. D3791, fol. 303a.7–303b.2.
  45. D3793, fol. 125b.1–3.
  46. Here, Gö Lotsāwa correctly remarks that the Sanskrit ataḥ is often rendered as ’di la (instead of ’di las) in the Tibetan translations as if it were a locative (seventh case) instead of being an ablative (fifth case).
  47. A simple example of an "exclusion of possession by others" (Skt. anyayogavyavaccheda, Tib. gzhan ldan rnam gcod) would be "Only Susan is a good cook,"which excludes that others too possess the feature of being a good cook. An example of an "exclusion of nonpossession" (Skt. ayogavyavaccheda, Tib. mi ldan rnam gcod) would be the statement "Susan definitely is a good cook,"which excludes that she does not possess the feature of being a good cook.
  48. J76–77.
  49. As above, GC glosses ’di la(s) in I.154a as de’i phyir.
  50. As will be clear from what follows, here GC takes Skt. nimitta (Tib. rgyu mtshan) to mean "cause" and not "characteristic." The same goes for this term in relation to purified phenomena in the text below.
  51. Here, ’di la in I.154a is taken literally.
  52. This is how Gö Lotsāwa wants Skt. prabhāvitānām (Tib. rab tu phye ba) to be understood here.
  53. D3791, fols. 58b.7–59a.1.
  54. These are lines 50–55 from the Third Karmapa’s Treatise on Pointing Out the Tathāgata Heart.
  55. JKC, 117–18.
  56. 3:376–78.
  57. 3:82.
  58. GISM, 190–92.
  59. Kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas 1990, 153–54.