Essential Tibetan Buddhism, p. 176-202

Tsong Khapa’s Medium-Length
Transcendent Insight (part V)

Objective Selflessness

"Objects" are the five aggregates that are the person’s designative base, the six elements such as earth, and the six media such as eye and so forth. Their voidness of objectively established intrinsic reality is the selflessness of those things. There are two parts to the way of determining this: one negating objective self by the reasonings mentioned above, and the other negating it by other reasonings previously unmentioned . . . . .

The Royal Reason of Relativity

The reason of relativity is clearly stated in the Dialogue with Sagaramati Sutra as logically negating the intrinsic reality-status of things: "Things that occur relativistically do not exist with intrinsic objectivity." In the Dialogue with Anavatapta Sutra, Buddha also clearly states, "What is produced from conditions is unproduced, it is not produced through any intrinsic objectivity. I declare that everything produced from conditions is void. Who knows voidness, he is consciously aware." This kind of statement is extremely common in the precious Scriptures. 

In the latter quotation, the "unproduced" in the first line is explained by the "not produced through any intrinsic objectivity," which thus qualifies the negatee in the negation of production. Chandra, in the Lucid Exposition, cites the Visit to Lanka, "Intending the lack of intrinsically real production, I say all things are unproduced!" Thus the Teacher himself explicates his own inner intent in the discourses, explaining for those who worry that perhaps the unqualified statements of productionlessness mean that all things produced do not exist at all, that it rather means that there is no production through any intrinsic reality.

In the third line, the Buddha states that conditionality of dependence on conditions is equivalent to voidness of intrinsic objectivity, which is tantamount to the equation of voidness of intrinsic reality with relativity. This shows that the Buddha does not intend a voidness of functional efficacy, which would be the negation of mere production.

Nagarjuna also, in the Wisdom, states, "Whatever is relatively occurrent is peace in its objectivity." That is, things are peaceful, or void, with respect to intrinsic objectivity, by the reason of their relativity. Thus one should understand that these statements clear away the darkness of erroneous opinions such as that the central way system must advocate nonproduction wiht respect to even relative production.

Such a reason of relativity is extremely praiseworthy. The Buddha states in the Questions of Anavatapta Sutra, "Wise persons will realize the relativity of things and wil no longer entertain any extremist views." That is, one no longer entertains extremist views once one realizes relativity. Furthermore, Chandra declares in the Introduction, "Since things are occurent in relativity, such reifications cannot be attached to them. Hence this reasoning of relativity cuts open the whole network of bad ideas." This is the unexcelled distinctive specialty of the eminent beings Nagarjuna and his son. Therefore here, among all reasonings, we should celebrate the reason of relativity. 

Hence there are two chief points of resistance that obstruct the realistic view. One is the reificatory view or absolutist view that has a fixed orientation toward truth habits that hold to the truth status in things. The other is the repudiative view or nihilistic view that goes to far by not appreciating the measure of the negatee and becomes unable to incorporate in its system the certitude about cause and effect within relativity, losing all ground of recognition about anything such as "this is it" and "this isn’t it." These two views are completely eliminated by the negation of intrinsic reality based on the reason that brings certitude that from such and such a causal condition such and such an effect occurs. For the ascertainment of the import of the thesis radically refutes absolutism, and the ascertainment of the reason radically refutes nihilism.

Therefore all things - inner, such as emotions, and outer, such as sprouts - that occur in dependence on misknowledge and so forth and seeds and so forth, respectively, being thus relative are not correctly established as intrinsically identifiable. For if they were to be intrinsically objectively established, it would be necessary for each to have an independent, self-sufficient reality status, which would preclude their dependence causes and conditions. As Aryadeva says in the Four Hundred, "What exists relativistically will never become independent. All this is without independence; hence the self does not exist." 

By this one should realize that persons and things such as pots have no intrinsically real status, since they are designated in dependence on their own aggregation of components; this is the second formulation of the reason of relativity. Since things are dependently produced and dependently designated, they are not objectively the same as what they depend upon; for if they were the same, all actions and agents would become the same. Neither are those two objectively different; for if they were, any connection could be refuted and that would preclude any dependence.

Thus having derived certitude about the voidness that is the voidness of all the objectifying attitudes of substantivism, it is extremely praiseworthy to assume responsibility for ethical choice by not abandoning the certitude about the relevance of the evolutionary effects of actions. As Nagarjuna states in the Discourse of the Spirit of Enlightenment, "Knowing this voidness of things, the one who still takes responsibility for evolutionary actions and effects, this one is even more wondrous than wonders, even more miraculous than miracles!"

To achieve this, one must distinguish between intrinsically real existence and mere existence, and between lack of intrinsically indentifiable existence and nonexistence. 

If you do not distinguish these kinds of existences and nonexistences, you will not get beyond the two extremisms of reification and repudiation, since as soon as something exists it will have objective existence, and once something lacks objective existence it will become utterly nonexistent. 

Therefore, in our system, we are free from all absolutisms by the absence of intrinsic objectivity, and we are freed from all nihilisms by our ability to present an intrinsically unreal causality in that very actuality of voidness of objectivity. 

Nagarjuna, thinking that the truthlessness of uncreated things such as space, calculated cessation, uncalculated cessation, and thatness could be easily proved once the truthlessness of persons and created things was proved by the above-explained reasonings, stated in the Wisdom, "If created things are utterly unestablished, how can uncreated things be established?"

As for the way in which it is easy to prove: Once intrinsic reality in created things is negated as above, their nonreality is established as sufficient for the presentation of all functions such as bondage and liberation, cause and effect, and objects and means of knowledge. That being established, then uncreated things also, such as reality and calculated cessation, even though also lacking truth status, can still be well represented as the goals of the paths, objects of knowledge, and as the Dharma jewel, refuge of disciples. It is never said that "if one does not maintain these things as truths, the systems that must present those things are invalid." Therefore there is no point in maintaining the truth status of these (uncreated) things, since truth status is not required for conventional viability.

Even if one did claim their truth status, one would still be required to maintain their presentability as characterized by such and such characteristics, as their being disconnected causes and disconnected effects, and as their being cognized by such and such validating cognitions. And in that case, if they are claimed to be not connected with their own means of attainment, characteristics, and means of cognition, then one cannot avoid the fault of all unconnected things being characteristic and characterized in relation to each other and so forth. And if it is claimed that they are connected, then, since it is impossible for a true, intrinsically real thing to depend on anything else, the claim of connection cannot be sustained.

Thus one should negate truth status through the analysis of sameness and difference. If this rational analysis cannot refute the truth status of these uncreated things, then one cannot refute even in the slightest the truth status of anything, since created things are completely similar.

Former scholars held many opinions about the grounds of differentiation into the two realities. Here, knowable objects are the ground of differentiation, following Shantideva's statement in the Education Manual. "Knowable objects are comprised by the superficial and ultimate realities." 

They are divided into the two realities, superficial and ultimate, according to Nagarjuna's statement in the Wisdom: "The reality of the social superficial and the reality of the ultimate object."

In the Lucid Exposition, Chandrakirti explains "superficial" in three ways, as "a covering over reality," as "mutual dependence," and as "social convention." The latter of these is explained as having the nature of the expressed and its expression, the knowable and its knowledge, and so forth, but by this the superficial reality is not to be understood either as including all expressibles and knowables whatsoever, or as merely the expression and cognition of subjective conventions. Now, the first of the above three is the superficial represented as reality in superficial cognitions of forms and so on. This is also the misknowledge that reifies existence of intrinsic reality in things lacking any intrinsically real objective status. For, truth status being objectively impossible, truth is (merely) represented in cognition, and there is no representation of truth in a cognition free of truth habits.

Tsong Khapa’s Medium-Length Transcendent Insight