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You will never see emptiness in meditation directly for emptiness is a not a thing that can be seen...

When you don't find anything, that not-finding is finding emptiness.

When you don't see anything, that not-seeing is seeing emptiness.


- Loppon Namdrol



These are a series of posts on Madhyamaka, from Loppon Namdrol aka. Malcolm, who was trained in the Sakya sect.


First things first -- truths (satyas) are objects of cognitions -- which can be either correct (ultimate) or false (relative). Since you are studying Gelug influenced discourse, this may not be immediately evident to you.

This means that if you see something that you identify as salt, and it functions as salt, this cognition is true in so far as it is efficient.

When you analyze that appearance for some fundamental saltiness in that appearance of salt, that cognition of salt fails because no fundamental saltiness will or can be found. In other words, relative truths are true so long as they are not investigated, that is, so long as the appearance which produces the cognition which labels that appearance is not analyzed to discover whether or not there is an essence which produces the identification of the given appearance in question.

A relative truth is the subject of a cognition that is not in possession of the fact that the given apparent phenomena being perceived as an object of said cognition lacks the identity imputed to it. An ultimate truth is an object of a cognition which is in possession of the fact that the given apparent phenomena being perceived as an object of said cognition lacks the identity imputed to it and does not perceive the identity which is non-existent in that object of cognition.

The function of the two truths is to lead to the cessation of proliferation about identity. The lack of identity within phenomena and persons alone is emptiness and nothing else.


A view is a fundamental belief one holds about reality. For example, "everything exists" (sarva asti)....


One can easily observe that common people, not educated in tenets, generally believe their statements about the existence and non-existence of things. When a pot is broken, for them it is not a pot anymore. It may have become a broken pot, or shards, but for them the pot that was there is no longer there and has thus become non-existent in their mind.

Likewise, they believe in simple reality of a pot that they can see. For them the pot "is".

When it comes to people trained in tenet systems, this question is easier, because of course, those who subscribe to various Buddhist and non-Buddhist tenet systems subscribe to various sets of beliefs such as those who assert arising from an existent, those who assert arising from a non-existent and so on.

The Buddhas and Nagarjuna's target at based was really more oriented at the sort of naive realism that people have, especially in regards to rebirth. Naively, some people believe that they exist, and that they will continue to exist after death. Other people, on the other hand, think that after death, they will not exist anymore.

The root of both these mistaken positions is "is" and "is not" -- for example "I exist now, and I will continue to exist after death" or "I exist now but when I die I will cease to exist".

We can assume then, based on people's statements and training whether they are naive realists or not, or are trained in some tenet system.


The emptiness of salt does not prove salt does not exist, it merely removes the claim that there is an existent called "salt" When salt is analyzed, no salt is found in salt. There is no entity among the components of salt that make salt salt.

It is the same for any composite entity. We experience an appearance, we impute a label upon it, this act lets us work with that appearance. When we examine the appearance to find the basis for the label, however, none can be found. That non-finding is the emptiness of the appearance in question.


Whatever arises dependently, that is empty -- that is Nagarjuna's message -- there is no place where we say "Oh, we can stop our analysis here". If you stop your analysis, you are in effect making a claim of independence, at least, that is what Nagarjuna is trying to force you to admit.


Only if we arbitrarily limit our analysis of dependent relations. And if we limit that analysis, the Madhyamakas will try to force us to admit that we have made a claim about essences....


The point of that description however, was that conventionally speaking, Madhyamakas are general considered to accept production from another, even if this does not withstand ultimate analysis, it is the conventional mode Madhyamakas are comfortable with because it accords with dependent origination. Thus salt a dependent collection upon which term salt is applied, the same goes for cars, persons and everything else without the need for some non-dependent entity to exist which can serve as a basis for designation.

Salt molecules are not independent entities, so "salt" therefore, is just a dependent designation on a collection, like "Dave" and "Malcolm".

The absolute truth of salt, Dave and Malcolm is emptiness i.e that when salt, dave and malcolm are sought as distinct entities in their respective collections, nothing can be found apart from a designation upon a collection.


And at the end of the day, we will still be left with the fact that all of these so called "things" are just imputations of identity onto impermanent collections, which themselves are composed of still further impermanent collections.

So whatever clinging we have to any impermanent collection whether internal or external in terms of identity is certain to lead to suffering. This is the point of Madhyamaka i.e. to demonstrate that the beleif that attributions of identity onto impermanent collections are anything more than mere conventions is a delusion.

Of course these conventions work, but they are no more real than the habit of the "I" we attribute to our personal collection of aggregates. The habit of "I" certainly works, but that "I" is not real. The imputation of salt onto a given collection we have chosen to call salt "works" but the "salt" can't be found apart from the imputation we make onto that collection so we can use it effectively.

The problem most laypeople have with the MMK is that people rarely are acquainted with the views that MMK is seeking to correct. Without understanding Abhidharma, most of the arguments in the MMK will seem rather pointless if not obscure in the extreme. Some people mistakenly think that MMK is a panacea -- when it fact it is rather narrow text with a rather narrow project i.e. to correct Abhidharma realism and bring errant Abhidharmikas back to a proper understanding of dependent origination and help them to abandon a kind of naive essentialism that had crept into Buddhism.

Madhyamaka as a whole is an exercise in trying to introduce people to the real meaning of dependent origination i.e. the emptiness of persons and phenomena based in the Buddha's observation that statements about existence and non-existence were at odds with the real meaning of dependent origination.

Since there are no permanent phenomena, claims for the existence and non-existence of phenomena are completely naive on anything other than a conventional level.

So you can keep insisting that salt harms snails as much as you like. Since you are making a conventional statement you are not going to get any complaint from me, but if you assert that there is saltiness in salt, for example, you have only two courses -- mire yourself in the myriad contradictions of asserting that there is an essence of salt or simply accede the point that "salt" is a conventional identity proposition that is at best a functional imputation and nothing more than that.


...The point was clinging to identity (atman). Atman, as you know, means self, it also means "essence" in Sanskrit, and it's [a] synonym of svabhāva....


...Conventional truth is called "conventional" (vyavahāra) because it is based on empirically observed functionality shared by common people's ordinary healthy sense perception. What Madhyamaka rejects is that there is an salt atman or svabhāva, and further observes that claims for the existence of salt, or anything else for that matter, quickly become entangled with identity propositions....


Not really, I am trying to explain to you that Madhyamaka states the self, the identity, the atman of any given phenomena, not merely personal phenomena, is merely an imputed label which derives from the functionality of that phenomena. The absence of identity in external phenomena does not obliterate them, indeed, from a Madhyamaka POV that absence of idenity is all that makes them possible since whatever conditioned phenomena there are must be dependently originated and hence, must lack an intrinsic or unique identity, a "self", an essence, an atman.

We are not asserting, for example that dependent phenomenon are in the class of children of barren women or horns on rabbits or other such total non-existents -- which I suspect is your fear.

Dependent phenomena are free from both existence and non-existence since dependent phenomena are empty of a self or svabhāva, in other words, when a salt molecule ceases, there is no atman of salt that continues, and there is no atman of salt that ceases. When a salt molecule perishes all that has happened is that the causes and conditions for producing salt have ceased. Cessations are absence of causes, and are not caused per se.

If phenomena were to exist, they would not need causes and conditions, and since phenomena appear to be produced from causes and conditions, they are not non-existent either. They are not both existent and non-existent, since this is just a summary of the first extreme, and they are not neither, since this is just a summary of the second.

Therefore, since we cannot say that phenomena fall into one of these four extremes, Nagarjuna states dependent origination is free from eight extremes: in dependent origination there is no ceasing, arising, annihilation, permanence, going, coming, difference or sameness. He praises the Buddha for giving such a teaching because it frees one from ontological doubts i.e. pacifies proliferation.

All I am trying to get you to understand is that emptiness means that when you examine some conventional entity, something that we would say "exists out there in shared reality", there is no underlying reality propping it, apart from being labeled on the basis of functional appearances, such conventional entities cannot be found.

Edited by Simple_Jack

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The problems only come in when you read Tibetan shit like Tsongkhapa, Mipham etc.

If you have to pick a Tibetan view, Rongzom is the best by far.

Edited by RongzomFan

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