The Essence of Wisdom Sutra

Form is empty. Emptiness is form. Emptiness is nothing else than form and form is also nothing else than emptiness.

This is the way of viewing the aggregate of form as empty of inherent existence. The aggregate of form of the person is only an appearance to the non-investigating nonHappyMonksPublication_ComentaryHeartSutra_DinA5_EN_deckblatt-vorne-analyzing nominal consciousness. Because the imputed meaning is not found when analyzed and investigated with ultimate analysis, it is empty of existing from its own side or empty of inherent existence.

For example, like:

  • the moon in the pond,
  • the face in the mirror,
  • the water of the mirage,
  • the person in a dream,
  • illusory horses and elephants.

All of these are only appearances to the nominal consciousness and do not exist as moon and so forth, from the very moment they appear. The way of looking for the imputed meaning is explained below.

Q: If something does not exist inherently, does it then not become non-existent?

A: It does not become non-existent. While in nature empty of inherent existence, it appears nominally as form, e.g., it is not contradictory for the reflection of the moon to appear as moon while not being the moon at all.

Q: Then, does this mean that, similarly to the reflection of the moon not being the moon, form also does not exist as form? If it is not like this, then what does the example refer to?

A: Although this doubt pertains to a very important point and needs to be explained in some length, I suspect it would be too much at this time and should be understood from the extensive scriptures of Lama Tsong Khapa and his sons.

If we explain it in brief however, then it is like this: The way the example and the meaning have to be linked is that, in the same way as the reflection does not exist as the form, so form does not exist inherently. Further, since phenomena like the reflection of form in the mirror can be understood by ordinary worldly beings trained and experienced in worldly conventions and signs as not existing as form, the reflection is commonly known in the world to be false. Although form does not exist inherently, that it does not exist in this manner cannot be understood by ordinary worldly beings, and therefore it appears to the consciousness of ordinary beings as existing truly.

Nevertheless, because it can be realized as not existing the way it appears with the reasoning of the Middle Way, it is known as false among Madhyamikas. Therefore, something that is not known to be false in worldly terms, is established as not existing out of its own nature, although appearing so, by taking as an example something that is known to be false in worldly terms. Then: It can be established with nominal prime cognition that form, while not existing inherently, does exist as form, similarly to the reflection of the face existing as reflection while not being the face. It can be related to the other examples in the same way.

Q: The illusory conventional nature of form is compounded and the non-inherent existence of form is an ultimate non-compounded phenomenon. Do the two, therefore, exist as being of different nature?

A: No, they do not, because the emptiness that is the nature of the form aggregate is not of another or different nature from the form aggregate. They are both of one nature. For example, the appearance of the reflection as the moon and its non-existence as the moon are of one nature and not of different natures. That the appearance of the reflection as the moon and its non-existence as moon exist simultaneously on one basis is established directly by worldly prime cognition. That form and its nature of emptiness are not of a different nature, ordinary worldly beings do not realize, but those that know the Madhyamika reasoning can. If we look at that, then not only is the emptiness that is the nature of form not of a different nature from form, but also form is not of a different nature from the emptiness that is its nature, e.g., like the reflection not being of a different nature from its non-existence as the form it appears to be. In brief, forms and so forth are of one nature, but of a different isolate, with their nature of emptiness, e.g., like produced and its impermanence being of one nature but of a different isolate.

Nagarjuna, in his Commentary on Bodhicitta:

It is not observed separately from the illusory, because the illusory is said to be emptiness and only emptiness is the illusory. One can never exist without the other, like produced and impermanence.

Although it explains in the Elucidation of the Thought four reasons why form and its lack of inherent existence are not one, and not of different nature, if we summarize, form and its lack of inherent existence are of one nature but are not completely one, because form is illusory truth and its lack of inherent existence is ultimate truth. They are not of a different nature because if they were, then they would be unrelated, and it would follow that form would not lack inherent existence.

In that way, because all phenomena are dependent arising, there is no phenomenon that does not exist interdependently. Because that does not exist, there is no phenomenon that does not lack inherent existence.

Lama Tsong Khapa in the Praise to Dependent Arising:

Therefore, since there are only phenomena that arise interdependently, that is why it is taught that only phenomena that lack inherent existence exist.

Relating this reasoning also to the other four aggregates: Likewise, feeling, recognition, compositional factors and primary consciousness are empty. In accordance with how the meaning of the example was explained in relation to the form aggregate, also the other four aggregates of feeling and so forth are empty of inherent existence. Although feeling and so forth are empty of inherent existence, they nominally appear as feelings and so forth. The emptinesses that are the nature of feeling and so forth are not of a different nature from feeling and so forth, and feeling and so forth are not of a different nature than their emptiness, because they are of one nature. This is how these points should be related.

Lama Tsong Khapa in the Three Primary Aspects of the Path:

They who see cause and effect of all phenomena of samsara and nirvana as totally infallible, and who fully destroy any focal object, have entered the path that pleases the buddhas. Interdependet appearances are infallible and empty; the two understandings accepting this, for as long as they appear separately, one has not realized the Able One’s intent. Once they are not separate but simultaneaus and merely by seeing interdependency as infallible, ascertainment destroys any apprehending of the object, then the analysis of the view is complete.

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Author: Fedor Stracke

An adventurous Buddhist monk.

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