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In Praise of Relativity [13] [14] c. The Essence of Eloquency. Whatever depends on causes and conditions Is empty of intrinsic reality What excellent instruction could there be More marvellous than this discovery? This means that conventionally things do exist, and that there is no use in denying that. But it also means that ultimately those things have no 'existence of their own', and that cognizing then as such results from cognitive operations, not from some unchangeable essence.

Since objects do not exist through their own nature, they are established as existing through the force of convention. It also means that there is no "transcendental ground," and that "ultimate reality" has no existence of its own, but is the negation of such a transcendental reality, and the impossibility of any statement on such an ultimately existing transcendental reality: it is no more than a fabrication of the mind. Ultimate truth does not point to a transcendent reality, but to the transcendence of deception.

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It is critical to emphasize that the ultimate truth of emptiness is a negational truth. In looking for inherently existent phenomena it is revealed that it cannot be found. This absence is not findable because it is not an entity, just as a room without an elephant in it does not contain an elephantless substance. Even conventionally, elephantlessness does not exist. Ultimate truth or emptiness does not point to an essence or nature, however subtle, that everything is made of.

Shentong views the two truths doctrine as distinguishing between relative and absolute reality, agreeing that relative reality is empty of self-nature, but stating that absolute reality is "empty" Wylie : stong only of "other" Wylie : gzhan relative phenomena, but is itself not empty. The truth of sunyata is acknowledged, but not considered to be the highest truth, which is the empty nature of mind. Insight into sunyata is preparatory for the recognition of the nature of mind.


The notion of sentong grew out the Tibetan attempts to reconcile the contradiction between the Madhyama stance on the emptiness of phenomena, and the later notion of an eternal Buddha-nature. Shentong was systematized and articulated under that name by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen — , [25] who originally was Sakya -trained lama , and joined the Jonang school with which shentong is strongly associated. In Dolpopa visited Tsurphu Monastery for the first time, and had extensive discussions with Rangjung Dorje — about doctrinal issues.

It appears that Rangjung Dorje almost certainly influenced the development of some of Dolpopa's theories, possibly including his shentong method. He was responsible for the short-lived renaissance of the school as a whole in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and of the widespread revitalization of the shentong theory in particular.

After the suppression of the Jonang school and its texts and the texts of Sakya Chokden by the Tibetan government in the seventeenth century, various shentong views were propagated mainly by Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lamas. In particular, the eighth Tai Situpa — and Katok Tsewang Norbu — —Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lamas, respectively, and close colleagues—were very instrumental in reviving shentong among their sects.

Shentong views have often come under criticism by followers of all four of the main Tibetan Buddhist schools, but particularly by the Gelug. Shentong was suppressed by the dominant Gelug school for several hundred years, equally for political reasons as doctrinal reasons.

They sometimes label shentong Madhyamaka "eternalistic Madhyamaka. Even when we talk about Buddhas as people, to them Buddha-nature is not hidden and has become actualized. And when we talk about a seed, it gives a meaning of something hidden inside and therefore does not apply to the Buddhas. Although that suchness of the Buddhas always abides in sentient beings, because beings do not see it, it can be described as hidden or as a seed. When the seed is described as unchanging, then it can be said that Buddhas also have the seed of Buddha-nature.

For that reason Buddha-nature is free from both entity and non-entity; that is why it is truly unconditioned and ultimately uncompounded. In the most profound and subtle understanding, there is no dispute that the dharmadhatu of the Buddha is naturally present with all the qualities of the Buddha.

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That is inseparable from the dharmadhatu of sentient beings; therefore what is wrong if we say that Buddha-nature, which is in sentient beings, is also present with all the qualities of the Buddha. Thus, if the seed of the Buddha is present with all the unconditioned qualities, it has all the qualities of the ultimate Buddha. The wisdom of all-pervading space dharmadhatu entails only ultimate truth. Although the other four wisdoms are mainly ultimate because of primordial nature, they have certain aspects which are newly attained through the practice of the path and which are relative.

The ten powers and the four fearlessnesses are similar. Physical qualities such as the major and minor marks, and the sixty attributes of speech, are relative and absolute in equal aspects. The svabhavikakaya is nothing but ultimate truth.

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The dharmakaya is predominately ultimate. As long as we do not differentiate real and imputed, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya are relative and absolute in equal aspects. What appears to others as Buddha activity is relative.

The potency and power of wisdom are absolute. The ultimate aspect of the kayas, wisdoms, qualities and activities is primordially present in Buddha-nature.

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  • When an individual becomes enlightened, these are not newly attained; they are just freed from the stains that obscure them. Whatever is newly attained is the relative aspect. The ultimate aspects of the qualities of past and future Buddhas are the same nature.

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    The relative aspects of those are also the same after one attains enlightenment, but at the time of enlightenment they are different. Therefore, it is impossible to say that the nature of relative qualities is the same or different. It is not really cause and effect.

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    The answer is no. From the vantage point of dharmadhatu obscurations are not removed; removing is from the individual point of view.

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    Dharmadhatu is primordially pure because it has never been stained; for that reason cessation is not newly created by mind. Buddha-nature which is non-dual wisdom permeates all phenomena equally. It is ornamented with all the ultimate qualities of the Buddha. The great perfected nature is unchanging and free from all contrivances; it is endowed with all aspects of wisdom.

    This is the only unmistaken reality. The wisdom of the noble ones is undiluted and truly established by experience. Since it is unchanging, it is permanent, stable, and enduring. Buddha-nature and its qualities such as the marks and signs were taught in the tantras of the Secret Mantrayana in their entirety. Whatever is called relative, dualistic, and diluted appearance, or in short, all phenomena of sight and sound, cannot stain the perfected nature. The perfected nature does not exist separately as untarnished dharmadhatu, but really abides in relative truth. The imaginary nature is just diluted appearance.

    Buddha-nature, the perfected nature, is never empty of itself. All that is other and relative is primordially empty. What is ultimate is empty only of other nature. This way of teaching is called the Great Middle Way. In order to overcome the attachment to worldly dharmas, we practice the renunciation of suffering and impermanence. To renounce selfishness one should bring bodhichitta into the mindstream. In order to renounce gross attachments to relative phenomena, we meditate on understanding relative truth as unreal.