The basis of designation of a person, the five aggregates, the six elements such as the earth element, and the six elements such as the earth element, and the six sense fields such as the eye are phenomena, and the selflessness of those phenomena is their emptiness of an inherent existence established by way of their intrinsic natures. There are two ways to determine it: refutation using the reasoning explained above and refutation using another reasoning not explained above.


Among the things that are aggregates, elements, and sense bases, there are two types. With physical phenomena, you investigate their parts in the various cardinal directions such as east as well as that which possesses the parts, with consciousness, you investigate their time segments such as earlier and later as well as that which possesses the segments. You refute in the above fashion after investigating whether they are established by way of their natures as the same or different. That is the meaning of a sutra statement quoted above.

Just as you know the perception of self,
apply it to everything mentally.


This has two points: the logical proof of dependent arising and the way uncompounded phenomena are also established as not truly existent through this and earlier reasonings.




With regard to the logical proof of dependent arising, the Questions of Sagaramati Sutra says:

Those that originate interdependently
do not exist by way of their nature.

Inherent establishment is clearly refuted with the reason of dependent arising. The Questions of the Naga King Anavatapta Sutra (Anavataptanagarajapariprcchasutra) also clearly says:

Whatever is born from conditions is not born;
it is not born by way of its intrinsic nature.
Whatever depends on conditions is said to be empty;
whoever has realized emptiness is heedful.

This is said very frequently in the precious scriptures. The meaning of what the first line refers to as “not born” is explained by the second line, “not born by way of its intrinsic nature”. Therefore, in the refutation of birth, the object negation is qualified. Candrakirti’s Clear Words quotes the Descent to Lanka Sutra (Lankavatarasutra) as saying:

Thinking that they are not born inherently, I said,
“All phenomena are unborn”.

The Teacher himself addressed the intention of the sutras by explaining their meaning to be the nonexistence of inherent birth out of concern that without such a qualification, his statements that birth does not exist would be interpreted as meaning that all birth whatsoever is non-existent.

Then, the third line says that dependence and reliance on conditions is the meaning of being empty of establishment by way of one’s intrinsic nature. This teaches that emptiness of inherent establishment is the meaning of dependent arising, whereas an emptiness of performing functions, which would negate mere birth, is not.

The Root Text on Wisdom (7.16) also says:

That which arises in dependence
is free of intrinsic nature.

Because it arises dependently, it is pacified or empty of establishment by way of its nature. Whatever obscure fabrications have been propounded – that because of dependent arising itself, the Madhyamaka system must propound nonarising and so forth – are thereby cleared away. The logical proof of dependent arising that is like that is praised very much. The Questions of the Naga King Anavatapta Sutra says:

Experts see that phenomena arise in dependence [252]
and do not rely at all on extreme views.

In realizing dependent arising as it is, one does not depend on views holding to extremes. The meaning of this is set forth in Entering the Middle Way (6.115):

Since things arises utterly through dependence,
these conceptions cannot withstand analysis.
Thus this reasoning of dependent arising
shred the net of all bad views.

This is the unexcelled distinctive feature of Mahatma Nagarjuna, the father, and his spiritual son [Aryadeva]. That is why, from among various reasonings, I will explain that of dependent arising here.


Here, there are two mistakes that obstruct pure view. The first is the view of permanence and superimposition that has as its referent object the apprehension of true existence; that is, it apprehends phenomena as truly existent. The second is the view of annihilation and denial, in which the scope of the object of negation is not delimited and becomes excessive. This makes it impossible to induce the ascertainment of dependently arising causes and effects in one’s own system; there is no way of identifying that something is this and not that.

When inherent establishment is negated with a logical proof including the ascertainment that from such and such causes and conditions such and such effects arise, those two mistakes are abandoned without remainder. This is because through ascertaining the logical proof, the view annihilation is radically negated, and through ascertaining the meaning of the thesis, the view of permanence is negated.

Therefore external things such as sprouts and internal things such as karmic formations originate depending, respectively, on seeds and so forth and on ignorance and so forth.

If that is so, then establishment through their intrinsic characteristics is illogical. For if they were established through their intrinsic natures, they would necessarily be established for themselves, through their own-powered, self-sustaining inherent existence; so this would contradict their being dependent on causes and conditions. Four Hundred Stanzas (14.23) says:

That which has a dependent origin
does not exist autonomously.
All these are not autonomous;
hence, they do not have a self.

Through this you should understand that since persons and pots and the like are also imputed in reliance upon their own collections of parts, [253] they do not have inherent establishment. Those are the two presentations of the logical proof of dependent arising.

If something arises dependently and is imputed dependently, it does not exist as something established by way of its intrinsic nature as one with whatever is depends on. If it did exist as one, all actions and agents would be one. The two are also not established by way of their natures as different, because if they were, one could refute their relation, and this would contradict their beings dependent.
The Root Text on Wisdom says (18.10):

Whatever arises dependent on something
is not identical with that thing,
but neither is it different from it. Hence
it is neither annihilated nor eternal.

And Praise of the World-Transcending Out (Lokatitastava) says:

Logicians claim that suffering is created by itself,
by other, by both itself and other,
or without any cause.
You said that is arises dependently.

That which arises dependently
is asserted by you to be empty.
“Things do not exist independently!”
is your matchless lion’s roar.

The logical proof of dependent arising is thus said to refute the apprehension of oneness and difference, the extremes of eternalism and annihilation, and the four extremes of origination.


Having thus induced certainty through the emptiness that is empty of all referent objects for apprehending signs, one does not eliminate one’s ascertainment of the relation between actions and their effects. Discarding non-virtues and adopting virtues while relying on that is highly praised. The Essay on the Mind of Enlightenment (Bodhicittavivarana) says:

To rely on actions and their effects
while knowing this emptiness of phenomena
is more wonderful still than the wonderful
and more marvelous still than the marvelous.

For that to happen it is necessary to differentiate among inherent existence, mere existence, nonexistence by way of an intrinsic characteristic, and nonexistence. It is as stated in the Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary:

Knowing the presentation of cause and effect even
in relation to a mirror’s reflection without inherent
existence, what wise person would determine
forms, feelings, and so forth – which do
not exist other than as causes and effects – to
have an intrinsic nature based on observing them
as merely existing? [254] Therefore although they
are observed to exist, they are without inherent

If you do not differentiate among those four, things will exist by way of their intrinsic nature as soon as they exist, and they will be nonexistent as long as they do not exist by way of their intrinsic nature. You will not move beyond the two extremes of superimposition and denial. Commentary on Four Hundred Stanzas says:

Those who propound that real substantial things
exist think that as long as a thing exists, so long
will it possess intrinsic nature, whereas the moment
it is rid of its intrinsic nature, then the thing
will no longer exist in any way and will therefore
be like a donkey’s horn. Therefore, since they do
not pass beyond this duality, all their assertions
only coordinate with difficulty.

This being so, you are freed from all extremes of existence through the absence of existence by way of an intrinsic nature and, within that, from all extremes of nonexistence through the ability to posit causes and effects without resorting to inherent existence.

With regard to extremes, Principles of Exegesis (Vyakhyayukti) says:

Extreme (anta) means “finish,” “end,”
“nearness,” “direction,” and “the lower”.

Such extremes are indeed asserted in our system as well. However, as for the extremes that are places where the so-called “view free from extremes” goes wrong, Illumination of the Middle Way (Madhyamakaloka) says:

If in the Madhyamaka the mind were to exist as
an ultimate thing with its intrinsic nature, then
since it would exist for that system, how could
clinging to it, thinking, “It is permanent” or “It
is impermanent,” be an extreme? It is illogical to
refer to proper attention that corresponds to the
suchness of a thing as a “position one stumbles

As stated here, attention that corresponds with how an object actually exists is not a position one would stumble over, so it does not constitute holding to an extreme. In the world the precipice of an abyss is called an extreme or an edge (mtha’), and stumbling off it is called “falling off the edge”. Likewise the apprehension of phenomena as truly existent [255] and the apprehension that nothing at all is established or exists constitute, respectively, the falling to the extremes of permanence and annihilation, which are opposites of reality. On the other hand, the apprehensions that phenomena do not ultimately exist, that causes and effects conventionally exist, and so forth do not constitute holding to extreme because the objects abide in the way they are apprehended.

The reason is stated in Refuting Objections (Vigrahavyavartani, v. 26), which says:

If lack of inherent existence is inverted,
it’s something established by its intrinsic nature.

That is, if something is not ultimately nonexistent, it ultimately exists. Also:

We do not make explanations
without asserting conventionalities.

Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness says:

We do not refute this worldly mode:
“depending on this that arises”.

Therefore the difference made between “that thing is not existent” and “it exists” as opposed to “it does not exist” and “it is not nonexistent” is nothing more than a difference in the way of expressing it. There is no difference, whatsoever in the manner the two appear to the mind, however much you analyze. Therefore it is nothing more than a fixation on mere words to propound that one falls or does not fall to extremes through that manner of expression.



Once compounded phenomena, persons and phenomena, have thus been established as not truly existent by way of the reasonings explained above, it is established with little difficulty that uncompounded phenomena such as space, analytical cessations, nonanalytical cessations, and reality do not truly exist. With that intention the Root Text on Wisdom (7:33) says:

Compounded phenomena are not established,
so how could the uncompounded be?

An easy method for establishing this is as follows. When inherently established compounded phenomena have been negated as above, even though they are not inherently established, one may still posit [the functions of] agents and actions, bondage and liberation, causes and effects, and objects of comprehension and those who comprehend them. When that is established, even though non-products like ultimate natures and analytical cessations are not established as truly existent, one can still speak about them in terms of objects of attainment on the path, objects of comprehension, the Jewel of Dharma as refuge for disciples, and so forth. [256] If they are not asserted to truly exist, it cannot be claimed that this presentation that must posit them is illogical. Therefore it would be pointless to assert them as truly existent.

Even those who assert them to truly exist must and do indeed also accept functions such as their definitions and definienda, their causes and effects of separation, their comprehension by such and such valid cognitions, and so forth. At that point, if they do not relate them to their respective objects of attainment, definitions, comprehenders, and so forth, they cannot refute that all unrelated things become definitions and definienda of each other and the like. If they assert relations, they cannot posit them since something truly existent, inherently established, cannot depend on something else.

Similarly, you should also investigate whether uncompounded phenomena are one with or different from their bases of designation and then negate their inherent existence. If by this reasoned analysis you cannot refute the assertion that they are truly established, you cannot negate true existence even in the slightest because it is the same in all respects for compounded phenomena. Someone might think that if the meaning of “Compounded phenomena are empty of inherently established natures” is that those phenomena do not have such natures, that it is thereby a nihilistic emptiness, but suchness truly exists because it has its intrinsic nature. That is the furthest you can err in determining compounded phenomena as empty of inherent establishment, a view that denied the interdependence of compounded phenomena. The latter [view of suchness] is a terrible view of permanence that superimposes true existence if something has its intrinsic nature. Therefore you would be entering the meaning of perfect emptiness wrongly.

If the emptiness of an inherently established nature were the absence of it in itself, the absence would mean that nothing at all could possibly exist, so the holder of the thesis that certain phenomena truly exist, the scriptures and reasonings proving this, and so forth would also be empty of an inherently established nature. Therefore the basis would not be established, and therefore positing the tenet that some phenomena are truly established is a random statement without investigation.


With good insight into the implications of this way of reasoning, all the Buddhist schools of the noble land of India that propound the true existence of phenomena are called proponents of things since they certainly propound that things are established as truly existent. [257] Propounding that things are without true existence and no more asserting any phenomena whatsoever to be established as truly existent would seem to indicate a distinct superiority over those who propound the nonsense of this faction.

With the above explanations you should also come to a good understanding of those who advocate two discordant positions with regard to suchness and how they approach the debate on whether the ultimate is ultimately established, having agreed on the above kind of emptiness of an inherently established nature with regard to conventional phenomena. This is because these two are dissimilar in all respects: first, refuting true existence with regard to phenomena by reasoning and not asserting true existence with regard to any things or phenomena, and second, propounding that all things and phenomena are without true existence in reliance upon a nihilistic emptiness that is a mistaken manner of understanding emptiness.

Someone might object, if the meaning of “Compounded phenomena are not established, so how could the uncompounded be” were as explained above, wouldn’t this contradict other statements by Nagarjuna? Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning (v.35) says:

When the victors teach nirvana
as the one and only truth,
what scholar would conceive
that the rest is not untrue?

Only nirvana is said to be real while everything else is said to be unreal. Praise of the Sphere of Reality (Dharmadhatustotra) also says:

All the sutras teaching emptiness
set forth by the Victor,
counteract the mental afflictions;
they do not diminish this sphere.

That is, the purpose of the sutras that teach emptiness, the absence of inherent existence, is to eliminate mental afflictions; they do not teach that the sphere of natural purity (dharmadhatu) does not exist.



[Response:] Those who think that way approach the meaning of the scriptures incorrectly. The above statement means the same as the following statement by the Victor:

Monks, this ultimate truth is unique; it is nirvana,
that which is nondeceptive. All compounded
Things have the quality of being false and
deceptive. [258]

This sutra also says that nirvana is true and that all compounded things are false. The first part of the sutra quote very clearly explains that true means nondeceptive, and the latter part very clearly explains that false means deceptive. Moreover, the Commentary on Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning (Yuktisastikavrtti) explains nirvana as an ultimate truth, which it is. Therefore a mind looking at it with direct perception will see in it no deceptiveness of appearing inherently established while not being inherently established. That is why they do not turn out to be established as truths that withstand analysis when you examine them with the reasoning that analyzes whether they are truly established. What then is the point of being attached to mere words without thinking deeply about their meaning?


Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning (v.6) also says:

Cyclic existence and nirvana –
neither of these exists.
Perfect knowledge of cyclic existence
is what is called nirvana.

This is an explanation that both existence and peace do not inherently exist and that nirvana is posited as the very knowledge that an inherently established existence does not exist. So how could this be a position that asserts emptiness, the nontrue existence of cyclic existence, as a nihilistic emptiness?

The meaning of the scriptural passage from Praise of the Sphere of Reality, too, is this: to avert the apprehension of things as truly existent, the root of all other mental afflictions, the sutras teaching emptiness, the absence of inherent establishment, teach that the object conceived by that apprehension does not exist. They do not teach that emptiness does not exist – the sphere of natural purity that negates the object of that apprehension of true existence, the two types of self. Although emptiness exists, it is not truly established. That is why this scriptural passage serves as a source for refuting the assertions “The emptiness that negates the object of negation, true existence, does not exist either” and “In order to eliminate all the mental afflictions, it is not necessary to realize emptiness, the ultimate suchness”. In fact that very Praise says:

These three purify the mind:
“Impermanence, emptiness, and suffering”.
What purifies it best is
the absence of inherent existence.

And: [259]

Phenomena have no inherent existence;
Meditate on this as the sphere of reality.

The fact that these phenomena lack an inherently established nature is said to be the sphere of reality (dharmadhatu), which is the object of meditation, and just meditation on that is said to be the mind’s best purifier. Therefore how could it be suitable to interpret these quotes as supporting the position that the emptiness that is the absence of inherent establishment of phenomena appearing inherently established is a nihilistic emptiness and that, therefore, a truly established emptiness separate from it should be posited as the emptiness that is the object of meditation?

That is like propounding that when it comes to eliminating the suffering of fear arising from apprehending a snake in the east even though there is none, showing that there is no snake in the east will not serve as an antidote and one needs to show, rather that there is a tree in the west. This is because one would propound that when it comes to eliminating the suffering of sentient beings as they adhere to true existence with regard to what appears truly existent, the realisation that the basis for the apprehension of true existence lacks true existence will not serve as an antidote and instead one needs to show some other useless basis and truly existent.




This has four points: the basis on which the two truths are divided, the number of divisions, the purpose of dividing them in that way, and the meaning of each division.


Earlier scholars had many ways of asserting the basis of division of the two truths. However, here, objects of knowledge are the basis of division because the Compendium of Trainings says:

Objects of knowledge are completely subsumed
within these conventional and ultimate truths.


Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way states that objects of knowledge are divided into the two, conventional and ultimate truths, when it says “worldly conventional truths and ultimate truths”.


Since dividing something into two must mean that the two are different, in what way are they different? Many earlier scholars propounded three types of difference. A pot and a woollen cloth, for instance, are different entities. Product and impermanence, for instance, are one entity but have different conceptual identities. In these two types of difference, the two things being differentiated are both functioning things. The [third] type of difference, when either thing is not a functioning thing, is a difference that negates their being one. Among these three differences, the difference between the two truths was said to one that negates their being one. [260] However, others asserted that the two are one entity and different conceptual identities.

It is acceptable to teach this according to Illumination of the Middle Way, which says that the relationship of same nature is not contradictory even for nonfunctioning things. Therefore a oneness of entity does not contradict a difference of conceptual identities even if one or both things to be differentiated are nonfunctioning things. The Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary says:

Two types of nature of all things are taught:
conventional and ultimate.

Thus, with regard to the nature of each and every subject, there is both a conventional and an ultimate nature. If the two truths were not one entity, since it would also be very unreasonable for them to be different entities, they would be without entity and therefore nonexistent, because whatever exists necessarily exists as either one entity or many.
Essay on the Mind of Enlightenment says:

Conventions are explained as emptiness.
Emptiness only is the conventional.
For surely this does not occur without that,
just like a product and impermanence.

If a sprout, for instance, were a different entity from its own ultimate nature, it would also be a different entity from its emptiness of true existence; so the sprout would be truly established. Therefore, since it is not a different entity, it is one entity. Although a sprout is empty of its own true existence, it is not its own ultimate truth.



This has three points: conventional truths, ultimate truths, and teaching that the number of truths is definitely two.


This has three points: the meaning of the words conventional and truth, the characteristics of conventional truths, and divisions of conventionalities.


Clear Words explains three meanings for the conventional: “concealers of suchness,” “mutually dependent objects,” and “worldly designations”. The latter are said to be defined as objects of expression and means of expression, knowers and objects of knowledge, and so forth, [261] so they are not just designations by subjects – that is, by consciousness and expressions. Also, not all objects of knowledge and objects of expression should be held to be conventional truths.

The first of the three is the convention that is the concealing consciousness from whose perspective form and the like are posited as truly existent. It is the ignorance that superimposes onto phenomena that they have their own inherently established nature which in fact does not exist. This is because true establishment is actually impossible, which is why the positing of objects as truly existent is from the perspective of the mind. It is not possible for objects to be posited as truly existence from the perspective of a mind that does not apprehend true existence. That being so, Entering the Middle Way (6.28) says:

Ignorance is a concealer, for it obscures the true nature.
Its fabrications that seem truly existent
were called conventional truths by the Sage,
and fabricated things are mere conventions.

The Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary says: 

In this way, conventional truths are posited
under the power of afflictive ignorance, one
of the links of cyclic existence. For sravakas,
pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas who have
abandoned afflictive ignorance and who see
compounded things as resembling the existence of
mirror images and the like, these are fabricated
natures rather than truths because such beings
do not exaggerate them as truly existent. To the
childish they are deceptive, but to others they are
mere conventionalities owing to their arising
dependently similar to illusions and the like.

This statement does not indicate that whenever conventional truths are posited as existent, they are posited as existent because of ignorance; nor does it indicate that conventional truths are never posited from the perspective of the minds of sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas who have abandoned afflictive ignorance. The reason for the first point is that, as explained above, afflictive ignorance is the apprehension of true existence, which is why the object it apprehends does not even exist conventionally. Whatever is a conventional truth necessarily exists conventionally. Therefore, if something is conventional in the sense of being a basis for positing phenomena as conventionally existent, it must be something that is not taken as conventional with regard to afflicted ignorance. [262]

The reason for the second point is that those who have abandoned the conventionality of afflicted ignorance do not have the conventionality of adherence to true existence from whose perspective true existence is posited. That is the reason why compounded things are established as untrue from their perspective, but this does not establish that they are not conventional truths. Consequently the statement, from their perspective, compounded things are mere conventions means that for them, from among the two components conventional and truth, truth cannot be posited. So the word mere eliminates truth but not conventional truth. This is how to understand the intention of teaching both mere conventions and conventional truths.

Clear Words says:

That which is a truth for the world in a concealing
manner is a worldly conventional truth.

This is explained in the Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary:

That which is a concealer perceives to be truly existent
and is individually perceived as a nature while
not existing by nature is true for a worldly erroneous
concealer. Therefore it is a worldly conventional

In accordance with this clear statement, worldly conventional truths should be understood as truths for the concealer that is the ignorance explained above. They should not be understood as truly established conventionally, because that would contradict the system in which establishment by way of an intrinsic characteristic is impossible even conventionally. Also, the refutation of true existence and the proofs of the lack of true existence are performed conventionally. The explanation by the master Jnanagarbha of abidance as conventionally true should also be understood in this manner.

Now, one may think that the apprehension of the true existence of reality and the two selves is true from the perspective of a concealer and therefore are truths for a concealer. If that which is merely true for a concealer apprehending true existence were posited as a truth for a concealer, such would indeed be the case. However, that has not been propounded. All that was explained was that the truth of conventional truth is a true convention for a certain concealer and the way it is true for it. 



Each and every external and internal thing has both a conventional and an ultimate nature. More specifically, if this is illustrated with regard to a sprout, for example, the two are (1) th sprout’s nature found by a reasoning consciousness that perceives the meaning of suchness, a true object of knowledge, [263] and (2) the sprout’s nature found by a conventional consciousness that comprehends a deceptive object, a false object of knowledge. The former is the sprout’s nature in terms of ultimate truth, and the latter is the sprout’s nature in terms of conventional truth. In accordance with that, Entering the Middle Way (6.23) says:

Two natures of all things are apprehended
By seeing what is real and what is false.
The objects of seeing the real were taught to be
objects seen that are false are conventional truths

This indicates that the sprout has two natures: the two truths. The ultimate one is found by the former consciousness and the conventional one is found by the latter. This does not teach that one single nature of the sprout is the two truths in reliance upon the former and latter consciousness. The Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary says:

Two aspects of the nature of all things have been
taught. They are conventional and ultimate.

This is saying that the natures of each and every thing are divided into two: the ultimate ones are found by consciousnesses that perceive reality, and the conventional ones are found by consciousnesses that see what is false.

Conventional truths in fact are not true but merely true from the perspective of the apprehension of true existence. Therefore, in order to ascertain their distinct meaning, it is necessary to ascertain them as false. In order to ascertain a basis of characteristics – for instance, a pot – as a false object of knowledge, a deceptive object, it is necessary to acquire a view, with regard to that basis, that negates the conceived object apprehended as true by a reasoning consciousness. This is because a falsity is not established by valid cognition without its truth having been refuted by reasoning.

Although a pot, a woollen cloth, and so forth are conventional truths, when they are established by a mind, the mind does not also need to establish the meaning of conventional truth. Likewise, although pots, woollen cloths, and so forth are not inherently existent and are accordingly illusion-like in their appearance, the minds that establish them need not establish their illusoriness.

That is why in this [Prasangika-Madhyamaka] system it is unreasonable to propound that pots, woollen cloths, and so forth are posited as conventional truths relative to the perspective of the minds of ordinary beings who lack the Madhyamaka view and that they are posited as ultimate truths relative to an arya’s experience. That would contradict what is set forth in the Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary:

That is to say, something is ultimate for
ordinary beings [264] is a mere conventionality for
aryas, who possess a sphere of experience that
involves appearances. For them any emptiness of
inherent existence is ultimate.

Ordinary beings apprehend pots and the like as truly existent, and precisely that is the apprehension of ultimate existence. In relation to their consciousness, pots and the like are therefore ultimately established rather than being conventional objects. The bases that for them are ultimately established, pots and the like, are conventionalities in relation to the vision of exalted wisdom in the mindstream of an arya, who comprehends appearances as illusion-like. Since they cannot be posited as true in relation to that consciousness, they are known as mere conventionalities

Since their nature is thus said to be an ultimate truth, you should discriminate and say that for aryas pots and the like are conventionalities and their nature is ultimate. You should not propound that pots and the like are ultimates for aryas. This is because their reasoning consciousness seeing reality does not find pots and the like, and because that which is found by a reasoning consciousness seeing reality is said to be the meaning of an ultimate truth.



Svatantrika-Madhyamikas ascertain that consciousness that appears to be established by way of its intrinsic characteristics exists just as it appears. Therefore they do not differentiate between true and false subjects but instead differentiate whether what appears as an object does or does not exist by way of its intrinsic characteristics in accordance with how it appears. They assert this in accordance with the following statement in Jnanagarbha’s Distinguishing the Two Truths (Satyadvayavibangha):

They seem the same, but since some can
and some cannot fulfil a function,
a distinction is made between real
and unreal conventionalities.

Our [Prasangika] system asserts that whatever appears to the ignorant as established by way of its intrinsic characteristics is an appearance of that consciousness polluted by ignorance. Therefore conventional objects are not differentiated as two, true and false.

Now, the Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary says:

Whatever is false even conventionally is not a
conventional truth. [265]

To the worldly conventional consciousness of someone conversant with words, it is not true that the reflection of a face, for example, is a face. Hence it is not conventionally true from that perspective. While this is so, it is still the object found by a consciousness seeing a false object of knowledge, a deceptive object; so it is a conventional truth. The consciousness that the reflection appears to is mistaken about its appearing object, and likewise those with ignorance to whom something blue and the like appears to be established by way of its intrinsic characteristics are mistaken about their appearing object. When a true object of comprehension is posited, it would be contradictory to claim that it is posited by a consciousness mistaken in that way. However, precisely that is helpful for positing false objects of comprehension. Otherwise something could not be posited as a conventional truth if it had not been established as conventionally true; so when illusion-like falsities are posited conventionally, they could not be posited as conventional truths.

The Prasangika system posits six consciousnesses unaffected by temporary causes of deception, six consciousnesses that are the opposite of those, six objects apprehended by the former six consciousnesses, and six objects apprehended by the latter six. The false objects and subjects are posited as false conventionalities, whereas the objects and subjects that are not false are posited as true conventionalities. Furthermore, it posits them as true and false conventionalities in relation to worldly or conventional valid cognition rather than in relation to a reasoning consciousness that accords with an arya’s perspective. In our Madhyamaka system, for someone with ignorance, the appearances of reflections and the like and the appearances of blue and the like do not differ with regard to whether they are mistaken in relation to the appearing object. That is why true and false conventionalities are not differentiated. Entering the Middle Way (6.25) says:

Whatever the worldly apprehend and perceive
by means of the six nondefective senses
is true only from the worldly perspective.
The rest is posited as false from that perspective.

Regarding the two types [innate and intellectually acquired] of apprehensions of persons and phenomena established by way of their intrinsic characteristics, conventional valid cognition does not establish the opposite of the [intellectually acquired] mode of apprehension that arises, for example, from the mind being temporarily polluted by one’s own bad tenets. [266] This is an exception.

Moreover, although dualistic appearances occur for the exalted wisdom knowing things in their variety free from all causes of pollution by predispositions of ignorance, it is not mistaken with regard to its appearing objects. The reason is explained elsewhere.



This has three points: explaining the meaning of ultimate and truth, the definition of an ultimate truth, and divisions of ultimate truths.


Clear Words says:

Since it is an object and it is ultimate, it is the
ultimate object. Since it is nondeceptive, it is the

This asserts that both ultimate and object apply to the ultimate object truth. The way in which an ultimate truth is true is that it is nondeceptive. Specifically, it does not deceive the world by abiding in one way and appearing in a different way. The Commentary on Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning says that an ultimate truth is merely posited as existent by the power of worldly conventions.

That being so, the meaning of the word truth in conventional truth, which is a truth from the perspective of the apprehension of true existence, and the meaning of the word truth in ultimate truth are not the same.


This has two points: the actual definition and refuting an objection. 


As explained above in Entering the Middle Way, the definition of an ultimate truth is that which is found by seeing the meaning of a real object of knowledge. The commentary on that says:

That is to say, the ultimate gains its own
self-nature through being the object of a particular
wisdom of those who perceive reality; it is not
established intrinsically. This is one nature.

This means that it is found by the uncontaminated exalted wisdom comprehending suchness and not established by way of its intrinsic nature, so this negates the proposition that something is truly established if found by uncontaminated meditative equipoise. The words “a particular wisdom” mean that what is found by any wisdom of aryas is not sufficient and that instead ultimate truth is only what is found by a particular wisdom, [267] the wisdom that knows the ultimate mode of being. Found means that it is established as such by that consciousness, the same as with conventionalities.

Yet how does it find it? While the eyes of someone with an eye disorder see floating hairs in the space before them, healthy eyes do not see even an appearance of floating hairs in that space. Likewise, those who are damaged by the eye disorder of ignorance observe an intrinsic nature of aggregates and the like. The uncontaminated exalted wisdom of meditative equipoise of those who have exhausted all the imprints of ignorance and of aryas on the paths of learning, when perceiving suchness, does not perceive even subtle dualistic appearance, like eyes without a disorder. The nature perceived through this type of perception is an ultimate truth. Entering the Middle Way (6.29) says:

Where false entities such as floating hairs
are imputed because of an eye disorder,
one with clear eyes sees things as they are.
Suchness should be known here in like manner.

Its commentary also says:

The buddhas’ ultimate truth is whatever reality of
the aggregates and so on that they, who are free
from the imprint of ignorance, perceive in the
manner of those free of eye disorder who see no
floating hairs.

The ultimate perceived in this manner is the ultimate nature of two natures that each and every subject has. More specifically, it is both the naturally pure nirvana, which is the emptiness of inherent establishment of subjects, and the nirvana that is a true cessation, which is reality free from all the various seeds of defilements.


The meaning of the statements in the Commentary on Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning “Is a nirvana also a conventional truth? It is so” and “Therefore a nirvana is only designated as a conventional truth” [268] is that positing a nirvana, an ultimate truth, as existent also implies positing it as merely existent from the perspective of a conventional consciousness, a conventional truth. They do not mean that this system asserts that nirvana is a conventional truth, for the same commentary also explains that the other three truths are conventional truths but nirvana is an ultimate truth. The Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary also sets forth the other three truths as conventional truths and true cessation as an ultimate truth. Some protest that if a nirvana were posited as conventionally existent, this would contradict the statement that it is an ultimate truth. In response to that, it says that it was taught as an ultimate truth. In response to that, it says that it was taught as an ultimate truth only by worldly conventions.


Therefore everything posited as existent is posited by the power of worldly conventions. The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in a Hundred Thousand Lines (Satasahasrikaprajnaparamitasutra) says: 

All these phenomena are labelled in reliance upon
worldly designations, they are not ultimate.

And Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness also says:

The Buddha taught abiding, arising, and
existence and nonexistence, and inferior, equal, and
by the power of worldly conventions
and not by the power of final reality.

In other words all the various presentations and the Victor taught about arising, disintegrating, and abiding; inferior, superior, and equal; and “This exists and this does not exist” were posited merely by the power of worldly designation. He said that they were not posited by the power of a pure mode of subsistence that is not merely posited by the power of designation.

Master Jnanagarbha states:

Since it is a truth for an ultimate consciousness, it
is an ultimate truth. 

Here he explains that a reasoning consciousness is ultimate as well. The meaning here is to explain that what is non-deceptive from the perspective of such a cognition is truth. However, he does not mean that such a cognition is truly existent in terms of being able to withstand analysis, because in that text he refutes the true establishment of all phenomena.

Therefore, if it is asserted that “If the ultimate does not exist truly as ultimate, then conventional truth wouldn’t exist truly as conventional,” then we concur. On the other hand, if the assertion is that “If the first [the ultimate] does not exist ultimately, then the second [the conventional] would not exist conventionally,” this would be tantamount to saying, “If the negation of true existence [269] does not exist truly, then the basis upon which it is negated would possess true existence”. This is because ultimate truth is defined in terms of the mere negation of the true existence of a given basis, and to imply that such bases would have no conventional existence is to imply that they do not exist as deceptive realities. If that is what is being asserted, that would be absurd, for it is only by understanding the perceived things as devoid of true existence that the bases upon which true existence is being negated come to be established as deceptive.


Therefore for something to be posited as conventionally existent, it need not be established by a reasoning consciousness of suchness, but it also cannot be damaged by any valid cognition – that is, by a conventional or reasoning consciousness. The Commentary on Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning explains that since the appropriated aggregates conventionally have the four qualities of being impermanent and so forth, the apprehension of those four is correct for that [mind], and since the aggregates do not abide even conventionally as [the opposite of] those four, permanent and so forth, the apprehension of these [latter] four is erroneous for that [mind].

Entering the Middle Way (6.26) says:

Like the self imputed by non-Buddhists,
who are overcome by the sleep of ignorance,
what is imputed to magic, mirages, and such like
does not even exist from the worldly perspective.

This is saying that the self, the fundamental nature, and so forth imputed by non-Buddhists (tirthika), as well as magically emanated horses, elephants, and the like, do not exist even conventionally. Therefore the proposition that it is the Prasangika approach to posit as conventionally existent what only exists from the perspective of a mistaken mind is meaningless babble. None of the other great Madhyamikas assert this either.

In Entering the Middle Way, objects and subjects are taken to be equal in terms of existence and nonexistence but not in terms of mere existence and nonexistence. Rather, the two are taken to be equal in terms of inherent existence and nonexistence. That being so, whatever is posited as conventionally existent is posited as existent by the power of nominal conventions, but not everything posited by the power of these is asserted to be conventionally existent. Although phenomena are asserted to exist merely by the power of conventions, the word mere precludes the meaning that they are not conventions of subjects. It does not at all preclude that the objects posited are established by valid cognition. 

This [Prasangika] system is not dissatisfied with such a way of positing phenomena by the power of conventional imputation. [270] What it does not do is search for an imputed object that is not merely posited like that but that exists in accordance with its meaning, and if it is found, posit it as existent, and if not, posit it as nonexistent. Rather, it asserts that if something findable were to emerge as one searches with this method, it would be truly established. Therefore it does not assert even conventionally that anything is found to exist upon such analysis. That is where the dividing line between analyzing and not analyzing suchness is drawn.

So one can see that if something established by way of its intrinsic characteristics existed, it would have to exist by way of its intrinsic nature as an object not merely posited by the power of a subject’s designations. Having seen that, one does not even conventionally assert inherent existence, existence by way of an intrinsic characteristic, or existence by way of an intrinsic nature. This has already been explained in detail elsewhere.



Someone might object, if the Buddha’s wisdom that knows the ultimate mode of being of phenomena finds ultimate truths, then what about the following statement from the Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary?

“Isn’t such a nature not actually visible? So how do they see it?”
“That is indeed true, but it is said that they see it by means of not seeing”.

This explains that to not see anything at all is to see suchness. As a source for that, Candrakirti quotes an explanation that ultimate truths are beyond even the objects of omniscient wisdom. He also explains that at the level of buddhahood, the movement of the mind and mental factors has permanently stopped and that at the time of the ten powers, when a buddha does not see aggregates and so forth, he knows all phenomena. How can these explanations not be contradictory?

We would answer that the statement “They see it by means of not seeing” does not refer to not seeing any objects at all. Rather, it teaches that if these objects, which are observed owing to the eye defect of ignorance, existed in reality, they would have to be observed by the uncontaminated wisdom of an arya’s meditative equipoise. So their suchness is seen by way of their not seeing anything at all. This is because, if the object of negation existed, it would be observable. The realisation of the negation of the object of negation is posited because [the object] is not observed. The meaning of “Seeing without seeing is most excellent” should also be understood in this way. [271]


Thus the Verse Summary of the Perfection of Wisdom (12.9) also says:

“Those who do not see forms and do not see sensations,
do not see perceptions and do not see intentions,
do not see consciousness, mentality, nor mind,
they see reality,” the Tathagata teaches.

Beings express themselves in words like “I see space,”
But in what way is space seen? Investigate this!
The Tathagata teaches this as how reality is seen.
Such seeing cannot be expressed through other analogies.

What is not seen are said to be the five aggregates, and what is seen is reality. That is the meaning of suchness, just as in the statement “He who sees dependent arising sees reality”. More specifically, in the analogy, space is the mere elimination of obstructive tangible objects, and seeing or realising it is like not seeing the obscuring obstructive objects of negation that would be observable if they were present. What is seen is space and what is not seen are obscuring obstructions. The last two lines negate that suchness is seen the way you might see blue rather than in accordance with the analogy. The statement that the five aggregates are not seen indicates that possessors of qualities are not seen from the perspective of uncontaminated meditative equipoise seeing suchness. 

The Engaging in the Two Truths Sutra (Samvrtiparamarthasatyanirdesasutra) says: 

Divine child, this ultimate truth, possessing all
supreme qualities, transcends all objects up to and
including the objects of omniscient wisdom; it is
not like what is expressed by saying, “It is an ultimate 

This explains that when you say, “This is an ultimate truth,” it means object and subject are not seen as separate appearances for the mind. Therefore the quotation is a source supporting that dualistic appearances stop rather than that the Buddha does not realize the ultimate.

The Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary also says:

He fully realizes true nature by directly perceiving
that reality without touching produced things.
That is why he is called “Buddha”.

From the perspective of seeing suchness with a buddha’s wisdom that knows the ultimate mode, [272] only reality is said to be realised without touching that which is other powered.

The movement of the mind and mental factors coming to an end means that when suchness becomes manifest, the movement of conceptualisation comes to an end. It does not indicate that the mind or mental factors do not exist. Clear Words says:

Conceptualisation is movement of the mind. Because
suchness is the absence of conceptualization,
it is free from that [movement]. As is set
forth in a sutra, “What is ultimate truth? If there
is not even movement of the mind in it, what need
is there to mention words?”

The statement that there is no movement of the mind is explained to mean the absence of conceptual thought. Moreover, the Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary sets forth that at the time of an arya’s meditative equipoise on a learning path, it has not come to a permanent end, whereas at the time of buddhahood it has.


Apart from that, the Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary establishes with an accompanying source that if that true nature did not exist, it would be pointless for bodhisattvas to accomplish and experience their difficult conduct for the sake of realizing it. It says,

Someone might ask, “What is their nature?” That
which is unfabricated about them and which does
not depend on anything else: their intrinsic nature
that is realized by a consciousness free from
the eye defect of ignorance. To those who ask,
“Does it exist or not?” we would answer, if it did
not exist, then for what purpose would bodhisattvas
cultivate the path of the perfections? Why
would bodhisattvas exert hundredfold effort in
order to realize reality?

He then quotes the following [from the Cloud of Jewels Sutra]:

Child of the lineage, if the ultimate did not exist,
pure conduct would be meaningless, and it would
be pointless for tathagatas to come forth. Since
the ultimate exists, bodhisattvas are called “those
skilled in the ultimate”.

If ultimate truths did not exist, it would be pointless to engage in conduct for the sake of the purity of final nirvana, it would be impossible for disciples to realize it, it would be pointless for a buddha to come to the world in order to make them realize it [273] and the great children of the victors would not be skilled in ultimate truths. This is why he quotes a sutras that establishes that ultimate truths exist. Therefore it is simply wrong to say that the great master’s system propounds that ultimate truths are not objects of knowledge and that the wisdom realizing suchness does not exist in an arya’s meditative equipoise.

Furthermore the Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary says:

Therefore it is posited through imputation that
“suchness is realized,” but actually it is not that
something is known by something else because
both the knower and the object of knowledge are

The first part means that to posit the realization of suchness by taking wisdom and suchness separately as subject and object is to posit it merely from the perspective of conventional consciousness rather than positing it from the perspective of that wisdom. “The knower is unarisen” means that in relation to its object, which is not inherently arisen, it is like water poured into water.

Candrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way Autocommentary says further: 

Since mind and mental factors do not operate
with respect to suchness, which is the object of
wisdom, it is actualized only by the body. 

In this statement, the object to be actualized is suchness; the subject, wisdom, is that which actualizes it; and the complete enjoyment body is the agent of the actualization, the exalted knower. The manner in which it is thereby actualized is by way of stopping conceptual movement of minds and mental factors as explained above. It should be known from the explanation in the Autocommentary that the body by means of which suchness is actualized has the nature of peace because it is free from minds and mental factors. If a buddha did not perceive the aggregates and the like, this would deny his knowledge of things in their variety as well as the diversity of all objects, because to exist and to not be known by a buddha contradict each other.

Therefore the varieties of objects must appear to the exalted knower of things in their variety, and aspects appear to it because this system is not one that propounds an exalted knower without aspects. Yet the varieties of appearing objects are both that which is unpolluted by the imprints of ignorance, such as the signs and marks of a buddha, [274] and that which is polluted by the imprints of ignorance, such as the impure inanimate and animate world. As for the first of these, it would be nonsense if they came to an end at the buddha level, whereas the latter come to an end at that level because their causes come to an end.


The way they appear is as follows. When a buddha’s signs and marks appear to a person who has not abandoned ignorance, they appear to be established by way of their intrinsic characteristics, but they are not. The reason for this is not that those objects arise owing to the imprints of ignorance. Rather, they appear like that because the subject is polluted by the imprints of ignorance. This is not because they appear to that subject merely from the perspective of appearing that way to other persons but because they appear that way from the subject’s own perspective. Forms, sounds, and the like, objects that are not established by way of their intrinsic characteristics but still appear that way from the perspective of someone who has not abandoned ignorance, appear to a buddha’s wisdom that knows things in their variety only by means of their appearance to persons with the pollution of ignorance. They do not appear from a buddha’s own perspective, independently of their appearing that way to others. Therefore a buddha knows forms and the like, which are not inherently established but still appear to be, yet it is from the perspective of their appearing that way to those with ignorance. A buddha does not know them in the manner of their appearing that way from his own perspective, independently of their appearing that way to those persons. Hence, there is no sense in which he is deceived by appearances because they do not appear from pollution existing within the wisdom but because of the essential point that the wisdom, necessarily knows all objects of knowledge. That being so, from the perspective of an exalted knower of things in their variety, all things appear to be selfless and lack inherently existent natures. Thus they appear as illusion-like falsities and do not appear as truths. When they appear to that wisdom in terms of their appearance to those with ignorance, they merely arise as that which appears true to other persons.

Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning (v.25) also says:

Those who are skilled with respect to things
see things as impermanent, deceptive phenomena
that are made up, empty, and selfless
and as what is referred to as “devoid”.

[Candrakirti’s] commentary on this says that those who have completed the deeds see things in that way. [275] Thus Distinguishing the Two Truths says: 

Omniscient knowers directly see
all that arises dependently,
everything just as it appears,
devoid of any imputed natures.

This says that [omniscient buddhas] see all things in their variety directly and vividly. Also:

When consciousness, objects of consciousness,
and the self are not perceived,
since there is not appearance of signs,
they do not arise, for they firmly abide.

This explains that omniscient knowers never rise from the concentration in which dualistic appearance has been completely pacified.

Although there are these two explanations, to someone who does not understand the modes of [perception within] both explanations correctly, it may seem contradictory to assert both and not just one of the two, but there is no contradiction. The wisdom seeing suchness and the wisdom seeing things in their variety are one in nature, but that does not in the least contradict the fact that in relation to individual objects, they become respectively, a reasoning consciousness and a conventional consciousness. This depends on knowing well that there is not the slightest contradiction in their being two different modes of finding objects by means of a reasoning consciousness and a conventional valid cognition, based on a single object in the context of the ground when establishing the view. If you know well not only this about the occasion of the result, when the two wisdoms comprehend their objects, but also which of the two valid cognitions is active, then you will also be able to know that the two subjects do not become one and the same even though they do not ascertain their objects separately. Through this you will also understand fine details of the definitions of the two truths.


(to be continued…)