Here is the first English translation (and publication) of a short text, Condensed Essence of the Presentation of Empty-of-Other, by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (‘jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse’ dbang po, 1820 – 1892), one of the most eminent and accomplished nineteenth century Tibetan Buddhist masters. For more information about him, see his Treasury of Lives biography and the page on this website dedicated his life and works here.
This newly translated text is quite short so it is available for free reading here (scroll down to read full text) or download as .pdf here.
Connection to Jonang and Kalacakra Empty-of-Other
The empty-of-other view expressed in this text is clearly connected to the Jonang empty-of other, as Khyentse Wangpo himself refers to several great Jonang masters, such as Yumowa Mikyo Dorje and Dolpopa. The Second Khyentse Wangpo, Chokyi Lodro wrote a short guru yoga sadhana for Dolpopa[i].
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo had a very strong connection with Tāranātha and the Jonang empty-of-other and Kālacakra teachings, via his deep friendship and connection with Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye (‘jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas, 1813-1899). According to his biographers:
Khyentse Wangpo met Jamgon Kongtrul at the end of 1840, when he went to Pelpung to receive teachings from the elder lama on Chandragomin’s grammar. They met again before Jamyang Khyentse went to Tibet the second time. Khyentse Wangpo’s beloved elder brother, Gyurme Dondrub had passed away in Tibet, and it appears that in his grief Khyentse Wangpo turned to his growing friendship with Jamgon Kongtrul for companionship. He went to Pelpung for an extensive transmission of Jonang teachings, including the complete works of Tāranātha and the Kālacakra. Jamgon Kongtrul continued his transmission of Jonang teachings to Khyentse Wangpo after the latter returned from Tibet in the early 1850s, giving Tāranātha’s Drubta Rinjung (sgrub thabs rin ‘jung). At the time Khyentse Wangpo gave Jamgon Kongtrul a complete set of Tāranātha’s writings.
Recently, as I wrote about here, I came across a passage in the ‘Secret Autobiography of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Jamyang Chokyi Lodro’, (1896-1959) (the reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo), where he mentions a dream vision he had in 1943 of the Jonang master, Tāranātha who bestowed on him a full Kālacakra empowerment in the dream! As a result of this experience he states that great faith in Tāranātha arose. The Nyingma lineage master, Mipham Gyatso (‘ju mi pham rgya mtsho, 1846 – 1912) who considered Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo to be his main teacher) also wrote major several texts on the ultimate nature empty-of-other, Kālacakra and the six vajra-yogas.
The text and contents
I received the transmission of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s Collected Works from HH Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche during the transmissions of Khyentse Wangpo’s complete works in Siliguri, India, January 2020. This short text can be found online at TBRC in handwritten Umed script[ii] and is signed as written by Manjuogosha (another name for Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo). I could not find it listed in his Collected Works but have not been able to check all of the editions available. signed as written by Manjughosha, another name used by Khyentse Wangpo.
The text is an extremely precise, profound and clear explanation and presentation of the main points of the empty-of-other view and succinctly captures the central points that need to be understood. From this text, it is clear that Khyentse Wangpo follows the view of the Jonang Dolpopa, opening the text with the lines:
Here is a little explanation of the tradition of the Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka of the great Jonangpa Omniscient One [Dolpopa].
Ultimate truth is indestructible, unconditioned and beyond interdependence. Conventional truth is phenomena that are born and decay, which gather together dependent on causes and conditions.
Then, he gives a clear description of the difference between empty of self and empty of other, using the distinctions between consciousness and naturally arising primordial awareness:
Consciousness is an extremely thick, cloudy dark mind, like poison, which should be abandoned; the conventional that is empty of self [empty of inherent existence: rang stong]. Naturally arising primordial awareness [rang byung ye shes], is like the nectar aspect of empty luminosity. That which is not an object of elimination, is the ultimate empty-of-other (gzhan stong).
The rest of the text considers the three natures, and the base, path and result and the great, unchanging bliss and how the fundamental ‘essence’, Tathāgatagarbha, is not one with, and separable from, the superficial stains that need to be purified to reveal the ‘result’, the ‘base’ of the ever-present, unchanging ultimate essence.
Showing his non-sectarian (Rime) attitude, Khyentse Wangpo ends the text citing the names of Tibetan masters, such as important Kālacakra lineage holder and Jonang founding master, Yumowa Mikyo Dorje, the third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje and Pandita Shakya Chogden.
Interestingly, Wangpo does not use the word ‘permanent’ in his description, which was often used by Tāranātha and Dolpopa. Instead he uses the word ‘changeless’ several times and mentions the word ‘permanently’ only once. He then also lists two kinds of ‘emptiness’, the emptiness that is dependent on causes and conditions, and the emptiness that has ‘gone beyond’ such interdependence. Concluding that the ultimate nature is not empty of itself, but only empty of conventional, ‘fake and hollow’, conditioned phenomena and that the ultimate nature is ‘unchanging’, ‘naturally arisen primordial awareness’.
Thanks to my learned Tibetan teachers for clarifying explanations. Any errors are mine, and I hope that this new translation will be of benefit in not only preserving and understanding the thoughts and views of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, but also the essential and ultimate view of reality, which is empty of conventional, dualistic phenomena; the continually present and unchanging primordial awareness, which includes ‘all aspects’ in terms of its excellent Buddha qualities.
May it be of benefit! May all beings attain the unchanging, ever-present state of the ultimate nature of mind!
Adele Tomlin, Saga Dawa month, June 2020.
[i] For an English translation of this sadhana, see https://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/jamyang-khyentse-chokyi-lodro/dolpopa-guru-sadhana
[ii] gzhan stong dbu ma’i rnam gzhag snying por dril ba/ TBRC W8LS16476, it states: copy made available from the collection of a chung of nang chen area.
Condensed Essence of Empty-of-Other
by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
Here is a little explanation of the tradition of the Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka of the great Omniscient One, Dolpopa[i].
Ultimate and Conventional Truth
Ultimate truth is indestructible, unconditioned and beyond interdependence[ii]. Conventional truth is phenomena that are born and decay, which gather together dependent on causes and conditions.
Samsāra and Nirvāna
Samsāra is the three kinds of suffering[iii], or the collected mindstream of defilements. Great nirvāna is the continual great bliss without defilements, having perfectly gone beyond all causes of suffering.
Consciousness and primordial awareness
Consciousness is an extremely thick, cloudy dark mind, like poison, which should be abandoned; the conventional that is empty of self [empty of inherent existence: rang stong]. Naturally arising primordial awareness [rang byung ye shes], is like the nectar aspect of empty luminosity. That which is not an object to be eliminated, is the ultimate empty-of-other (gzhan stong). Unable to ‘go beyond’ suffering for a single moment, is the nature of emanated suffering from karma and afflictive emotions. The nature of naturally arising primordial awareness, is the ultimate that has completely gone beyond any moment of suffering of the three realms. It is a continual, everflowing, great bliss completely unaffected by the suffering from causes and conditions.
Consciousness and its self-appearances, are suitable for speaking about, or being expressed, in intellectual debates. Naturally arising primordial awareness and its self-appearances, cannot be spoken about or expressed. Going beyond unknowing, like a bird.
Tathāgatagarbha and superficial stains
In relation to Tathāgatagarbha[iv] and the superficial stains[v], those two: the Tathāgatagarbha is the dharmakāya. It is the fundamental, spontaneously innate, indestructible and unconquerable, great bliss that is all-pervasive like the sky. Whereas the superficial stains are the winds/air of mind and mental factors, which have not been abandoned due to habitual tendencies. Thus, there are huge differences between the respective self-appearances of the two truths, samsāra and nirvāna, consciousness and primordial awareness.
Two types of emptiness
Also, there are two emptinesses. The conventional emptiness of ‘not having gone beyond’, interdependence  and the ultimate emptiness ‘that has gone beyond’ interdependence [vi]. First, superficial, conditioned phenomenon are hollow and fake and their lack of self-essence is conventional emptiness. Second, as the dharmatā is unchanging, its nature is unmistaken, perfect truth, it is not empty of itself. Its being empty of other, conventional phenomena, is the ultimate emptiness.
Also, there are two possible permutations of the dharmakāya and emptiness: emptiness but not dharmakāya ; emptiness and dharmakāya . First, the [notion of the] natural state of phenomenon as being empty of self, and its base as also being not established as existent, does not withstand analysis. Second, it has been decided by analysis, that the dharmatā ultimate empty of other is never not existent (rnam yang med pa ma yin)[vii].
The three ‘natures’ (ngo bo nyid gsum)[viii]
Totally imputed and other-powered are superficial phenomena, and conventional emptiness. In terms of the perfectly established, it is the primordial awareness of dharmadhātu, the ultimate emptiness[ix].
Outer, Inner and Other
Outer is the vessel of the environment. The [inner] self ‘contents’ of sentient beings are changing and temporary phenomena and thus, are conventional empty-of self [inherent existence]. The other is the Tathātgatagarbha. The fundamental nature dharmatā which is unmoving, is the ultimate empty-of other.
The base, path and result
Generally, there are the base, the path and the result. In terms of the base: there is the primordial awareness all-base Tathāgatagarbha, which abides as the base of all samsāra and nirvāna. It is the basis of faults, purifications and manifestation of excellent qualities.
In terms of the base of the path, it enables the aspects of faults to be exhausted and the aspect of qualities to be manifested, by the methods of the two accumulations. By the accumulation of primordial awareness, the primordially present, innate and excellent qualities of dharmakāya, that abide permanently, clean away the covering of the obscurations. By the accumulation of merit, the previously unmanifested qualities of the form kāya are gradually brought forth.
In terms of the result, the result of separation (dral ‘dras) is the dharmakāya, the ultimate suchness kāya that generates the result of the form kāya, the conventional form. These are the abodes of achieving the purpose for oneself and the purpose for others. Like that, the dharmakāya, is the base that is separate from the stains.
The awareness/family [rigs] that creates the seed that generates the form kāya: is like the gradual growth of a tree that was not there before, it is the excellent result of newly created roots of virtue. Moreover, it is the support for the natural ‘family’. In particular, there are four:
- base of purification,
- what is purified
- what purifies, and
- the result of purification.
In terms of the base of purification: it is the ultimate suchness essence of all-inclusive base primordial awareness[x]. Like the sky densely covered by masses of clouds, or the jewel covered by a muddy swamp. As for the stains to be purified: they are that which cling to the all-base consciousness, like a muddy swamp or masses of clouds. As for what purifies: it is the supreme method that, in an instant, halts the movement of ‘circling’. Like the wind that disperses hosts of clouds, and the flowing river that washes away a muddy swamp.
Therefore, following the pith instructions of the scriptures and reasonings of the Omniscient One, what should be purified, the stains, and the base of purification are not asserted as one and inseparable; the base of cessation is the ultimate empty-of-other that has ‘gone beyond’ interdependence.
The unchanging, great bliss
The teachings that clearly explain the ‘final wheel’, in secret mantra, such as the ‘four joys’, the great afflictions, the great Bodhisattvas, vajra, essential drops (thig le) and ‘suchness itself’, mahamudrā and Vajrasattva and the syllables EVAM and so on, are taught to be the unchanging, supreme great bliss. Thus, by the principal teaching of the cause: emptiness, and the result: great bliss, the vehicles are posited. They are taught to be inseparable and one. Even though they are the same meaning/synonymous, they are said. In that way, the ultimate meaning in mantrayana is clear, in the vehicle of defining characteristics[xi] in terms of attaining the result by profound or not profound methods that are realised, is distinguished in terms of ‘superiority’ by how ‘near’ or ‘far’ they are.
Others, if they do not know [the nature of mind], say it is conceptual. If one understands, then it is dharmakāya. If they do not understand, it is consciousness; if they understand it is primordial awareness and so on, it is said like that. If they do not recognise it, it is ‘darkness’, if one understands, it is ‘illumination’. Not recognizing it, is like hosts of clouds, if one understands, then it is like the sky, and so on. These sayings have the same meaning.
Similarly, all appearances and possibilities are mahamudrā. All conditioned things are the self-arising primordial awareness. All samsara and nirvana are created by mind. The Buddha gave them the names ‘empty’ and so on, but there is nothing contradictory in the teachings of the Buddha (Thubpa). Therefore, here the opposite of the fake, conventional is that which is established as ultimately true, is called ‘unchanging’.
The meaning of the extensive words of the ‘final wheel’ teachings, in summary, are contained in the two works of 10th Bhumi level, Maitreya, and the extremely detailed and fine commentaries of the Ornament of the Mahayāna Sutras and Uttaratantrashastra and in the distinctions of Asaṅga[xii] and his brother (Vasabhandu). In terms of the Sūtras, the final view is called the Great Madhyamaka of Definitive Meaning. Suchness itself, which is the peak of all the tantras in secret mantra, the great bliss of primordial awareness, is distinguished as the changeless great bliss. In our own commentaries on The Bodhisattva Trilogies (sems ‘grel skor gsum): the Vimalaprabha[xiii], Vajragarbha’s Commentary about The Tantra in Two Forms (Hevajra)[xiv] and Vajrapani’s Commentary about Chakrasamvara[xv], it is greatly elucidated.
Also, from the snow mountains place (Tibet), there are the second Maitreya, Omniscient Yumowa[xvi] and the scholars and practitioners of Jonang Omniscient Dolpopa; holder of the white lotus (Chenrezig) Rangjung Dorje (3rd Karmapa)[xvii]; the one with matchless intellect, Pandita Shakya Chogden and so on, who gave detailed explanations and whom via practice, and accomplished and arrived at the Victor’s state, all stated via analysis, that the five aggregates are empty, like the essence of a plantain tree. Some arrogant intellectuals may not like what is said about the essence, yet those experts who have rationally analysed the meaning will say ‘excellent!’, and with a sigh of relief say ‘it is so’. This was said by Manjugosha [Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo].
BRUNNHÖLZL 2011 Karl Brunnholzl, Prajñāpāramitā, Indian “gzhan stong pas”, and the Beginning of Tibetan gZhan stong. Wien: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, Universität Wien, 2011.
DUCKWORTH 2008 Douglas S. Duckworth, Mipham on Buddha-Nature: The Ground of the Nyingma Tradition. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.
HOOKHAM 1991 S. K. Hookham, The Buddha Within. Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine According to the Shentong Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.
HOPKINS 2006 Jeffrey Hopkins, (tr.) Mountain Doctrine. Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha-Matrix. By Dol-po-pa Shes-rab-rgyal-tsan. Ithaca NY: Snow Lion, 2006.
HOPKINS 2007 ibid. (tr.) The Essence of Other-Emptiness. By Tāranātha. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2007.
STEARNS 1999 Cyrus Stearns, The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Snow Lion, 2010.
TOMLIN 2017 Adele Tomlin, Tāranātha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2017.
[i] It is generally accepted among modern scholars that, even though the doctrine of Empty-of-Other seems to have appeared in a various Indian and Tibetan texts prior, the Jo-nang master Dol-po-pa (1292-1361) was the first to use the terms Empty-of-Self and Empty-of-Other in a systematic and extensive way and widely propagated the Empty-of-Other system in Tibet. After studying each of the existing Buddhist traditions in Tibet including the Sa-skya, bKa’ brgyud, and rNying-ma, Dol-po-pa settled in Jo-mo-nang and served as the abbot of Jo-nang Monastery. In his most famous work, Mountain Dharma: An Ocean of Definitive Meaning (Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho in Hopkins 2006), Dol-po-pa clarifies the Empty-of-Other view. These are referred to as the teachings of the ‘Heart’s Meaning’ (snying po’i don). While Dol-po-pa was alive, his formulations remained secretive instructions (lkog chos) that were circulated within intimate circles of his closest disciples. During the eighty years that followed Dol-po-pa’s death, his instructions became widely dispersed and popularized as Empty-of-Other. For more on Dol-po-pa’s life and work see Kapstein 2000: 106–120, Stearns 1999, Hopkins 2007 and the Treasury of Lives biography by Cyrus Stearns at http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Dolpopa-Sherab-Gyeltsen/2670.
[ii] This definition is very similar to Jetsun Tāranātha’s in his Commentary to the Heart Sutra (see tomlin 2017):
The abiding reality of all knowable phenomena, non-dual primordial awareness (ye shes: jñāna), the heart of the sugatas (bde gshegs snying po: sugatagarbha)….. is – free of mental fabrications (spros bral: niṣprapañca) [ii], – unchangeable (’gyur ba med pa[ii] and – [endowed with] all supreme aspects (rnam pa thams cad pa: sarvākāravaropetā).
[iii] The three types of suffering (Skt. triduḥkhatā; sdug bsngal gsum) are:
- suffering of suffering (Skt. duḥkha duḥkhatā; sdug bsngal gyi sdug bsngal). Gross and obvious types of physical and mental suffering.
- suffering of change (Skt. vipariṇāma duḥkhatā;. ‘gyur ba’i sdug bsngal), mental suffering based on pleasure turning into pain and vice versa.
- all-pervasive suffering of conditioning (Skt. saṃskāra duḥkhatā; khyab pa ‘du byed kyi sdug bsngal), the suffering brought about by having five impure psycho-physical aggregates that grasps to a self and duality.
[iv] In Tibetan, the word for Tathāgatagarbha is de gsheg snying po, literally meaning the ‘heart of the bliss gone beyond’. Even though it is not a direct translation it is often used synomymously with the terms ‘Buddha Nature’ and the ultimate nature.
[v] The Tibetan word for ‘superficial’ here is glo bur. This is often translated as adventitious or temporary, and means that they are not a permanent or inherent part of something.
[vi] kun rdzob rten ‘brel las ma ‘das pa’i stong pa nyid dang /_don dam rten ‘brel las ‘das pa’i stong pa nyid do/.
[vii] This use of a double negative here is common in Tibetan debate language. Also the distinctions between the verbs ‘to be’ (yin) in terms of ‘being something/possessing some quality’, and being in terms of ‘being existent’ (yod) are essential to understand the subtle view of empty-of-other.
[viii] The three natures are said to be the 1) totally imputed (kun rtags) or parikalpita, 2) the other-powered (gzhan dbang) or paratantra, and 3) the perfectly established or parinispanna or (yongs grub).
[ix] These three natures are often referred to in Jonang presentations of empty-of-other. The three natures (trisvabhāva: rang bzhin gsum/mtshan nyid gsum) and the three corresponding types of phenomena are central to understanding and distinguishing the Empty-of-Other view from that of Mind-Only (sems tsam) and Empty-of-Self theories. In this respect, Tāranātha closely follows the work and thought of Dol-po-pa and early Tibetan and Indian Empty-of-Other followers. As Tāranātha concludes in The Essence of Empty-of-Other (see Hopkins 2007):
These divisions of the three natures, and the two realities of apparent ordinary consciousness and ultimate primordial awareness, are posited in relation to all phenomena in saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. Since forms, sounds, smells, tastes and so forth are [viewed] from the perspective of apparent ordinary consciousness, they are not truly established. Since the ultimate forms, sounds and so forth are [viewed] from the perspective of primordial awareness, they are truly established. While there are various perspectives of the apparent, all ultimate phenomena are devoid of defect or contradiction.
Tāranātha also refers to the three natures in the context of the view as it applies to the Prajnaparamita Sutras, such as the Heart Sutra, see tomlin 2017.
[x] In the empty-of-other view, the all-base primordial awareness kun gshi ye shes is to be distinguished from the alayavijnana, all-base- consciousness (kun gshi rnam par shes pa).
[xi] Lakshanayana, which is synonymous with the Sutra system.
[xii] One of the most famous Indian saints; he lived in the fourth century and was the elder brother of Vasubandhu. He received teachings from Maitreya and transcribed them as the ‘Five Treatises of Maitreya’.
[xiii] Stainless Light (Toh 1347) from Kalki Pundariki’s Commentary about Kālacakra.
[xiv] Hevajrapindarthakika (Toh 1180).
[xv] Laksabhidhanaduddhrtalaghutantrapindarthavivarana (Toh 1402).
His extant compositions are four treatises collectively called the Cycle of the Four Radiant Lamps (gsal sgron skor bzhi); these discuss esoteric matters related to the Six Limbed Yoga, the suite of completion stage yogas in the Kālacakra tradition. In particular, the Lamps speculate about the nature of the Great Seal – a luminous consort said to appear to practitioners in visionary experience – and in this context Yumo explores innovative ideas about emptiness.
Though he was not identified with any organized school or sect, Yumo’s writings would eventually resonate with the Jonang tradition, and it seems that his Lamps were taught in the fourteenth century by Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, 1292-1381). The Jonang tradition would ultimately place Yumo as a key link in the Tibetan c lineage; Tāranātha would cite him as an advocate of their distinctive position of “other-emptiness” (gzhan stong) in a tantric context.
[xvii] Some Tibetan sources speak of Dol-po-pa’s contemporary, the Third Karmapa, Rang-’byung-rdo-rje, as a possible influence, or even as the first adherent of the Empty-of-Other. According to Tāranātha, there was a meeting that took place between Dol-po-pa and Rang-’byung-rdo-rje when Dol-po-pa was twenty-nine or thirty years old in 1322. He describes it thus:
Then, Dol-po-pa travelled to Lhasa, Tsurphu, and so forth. He had many discussions about Dharma with the Dharma Lord Rang-’byung. Although Rang-’byung could not match the scriptural reasoning of this Lord [Dol-po-pa], he had a fine clairvoyance, and prophesied, “You will soon have a view, practice, and Dharma language [chos skad] much better than this which you have now.”
However, as Cyrus Stearns notes, there is no record of this meeting in any of the extant early biographies of either teacher apart from a reference to it in a text by Si-tu Paṇ-chen Chos-kyi-’byung-gnas (1700-1774) who specifies that this meeting took place and that at the time of the meeting Dol-po-pa still held the Empty-of-Self (rang stong) view. See Brunnholzl 2011, Stearns 2010 and Tomlin 2017.
Copyright Adele Tomlin/Dakini Publications 2020. All rights reserved.