This is a line by line translation of the Huayan Patriarch Cheng'guan's work.


Examination of the Five Aggregates
Written by Śramaṇa Chéngguān
It is asked, “The common person seeks liberation. How should he practise?”
We respond saying that one should practise the two examinations.
What are the two examinations? The first is the examination of the emptiness of persons. The second is the examination of the emptiness of phenomena (dharma).
The root of birth and death – nothing goes beyond the two attachments of persons and phenomena.
One misunderstands the body and mind's characteristic of totality and thus grasps the self of the person as an actual existent.
One misunderstands the five aggregates' individual characteristics and thus conceives the self of a phenomenon as an actual existent.
For the conception of the self of person we utilize the first examination and investigate it.
We then know the five aggregates come together and are provisionally called a person.
Each are carefully examined. We only see the five aggregates. We seek out the self-characteristic of the person and in the end it cannot be found.
What are called the five aggregates? They are form (rūpa), sensation (vedanā), perception (saṃjñā), volitional formations (saṃskāra) and consciousness (vijñāna).
How does one examine them?
The body is the aggregate of form. This is said to be earth, water, fire and wind. What are their characteristics?
Solidity is earth. Moistness is water. Warmth is fire. Movement is wind.
In examining the mind there are four aggregates. These are said to be sensation, perception, volitional formations and consciousness. What are their characteristics?
Feeling is sensation. Apprehending characteristics is perception. Creating actions is volitional formations. Cognition is consciousness.
If we rely on these characteristics of body and mind, carefully examine and see clearly, then in all places we only see the five aggregates. We search out the self-characteristic of the person and in the end it cannot be found.
We call this the examination of the emptiness of persons. If one utilizes this examination then one departs birth and death within the six realms and forever abides in nirvāṇa. We call this the liberation of the two vehicles.
For the conception of the self of a phenomenon we utilize the later examination and investigate it. We then know that each of the aggregates all arise from conditions and all are without self-essence. We seek out the characteristics of the aggregates and they cannot be found and so the five aggregates are all empty.
We call this the examination of the emptiness of phenomena. If we investigate with both examinations we understand the person's self and the phenomenon's self are ultimately empty without existence.
Free from all fears, crossing over all pains and emerging into existence as a Bodhisattva – we call this ultimate liberation.
It is asked, “Seeking liberation is only just understanding delusion and realizing the truth. It is merely being able to realize the principle of tathātā – in quietude without thoughts and then binds are removed. How does one provisionally arouse the mind, examine the aggregates and then seek liberation? Is this not in opposition to the principle?”
We answer: with what do you stand without aggregates, truth and delusion? For the moment the five aggregates are a different name for the body and mind. Supposing the practitioner is not aware of the truth and delusions of body and mind, how could they completely understand them?
They do not reach the source of truth and delusion and practises are vainly undertaken.
Thus the scripture states, “It is like in emptiness ultimately nothing being able to be established.”
The conception of the self of the person is a delusional attachment of the ordinary person. The conception of the self of a phenomenon is a hindrance of the two vehicles.
Thus we have them practice the two examinations and then they are able to understand delusion and realize the truth. How could you do without this?
You will never see emptiness in meditation directly for emptiness is a not a thing that can be seen.


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

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

- Loppon Namdrol (Malcolm Smith)
On the ultimate level all events in samsara and nirvana never come into being, and so have no separate existence. On the relative plane they are illusory figments of mind, so again they have no separate existence. They are unoriginated events appearing in a plethora of magical illusion, which is like the reflection of the moon in water, possessing an inherent acausal dynamic. Since this essentially insubstantial magical illusion also never comes into being, ultimate and relative are identical and their identity is the one cause. Thus intuitive realization of [total presence] arises [with attainment of the unity of the two truths].

- Padmasambhava - Man ngag lta ba'i phreng ba

Just posted in The Tao Bums a week ago:

I have just come to a new realisation of the implications of views in daily life. I could have misunderstood what goldisheavy meant but I think it has to do with the fields of meaning. I have realised how ideas, beliefs, notions, views pervade our life and causes attachment.

I now see that every single attachment is an attachment to view, which, no matter what it is, comes to two basic clinging: the view 'there is' and the view 'there isn't'.

I started by noticing how in the past I had a sense of self, body and awareness... That these all seem so real to me and I kept coming back to that subjective sense and this is no longer the case now: I don't even have a sense of a body nowadays. Then I realized that all these clingings are related to view.

The view of There is.... Self, body, mind, awareness, world, whatever. Because of this clinging on to things as existent, they appear real to us and we cling to them. The only way to eradicate such clingings is to remove the root of clinging: the view of 'there is' and 'there isn't'.

The realization of anatta removes the view of 'there is self', 'there is awareness' as an independent and permanent essence. Basically, any views about a subjective self is removed through the insight that "seeing is just the seen", the subject is always only its objective constituents. There is no more sense of self, body, awareness, or more precisely there is no clinging to a "there is" with regards to such labels. It is seen that these are entirely ungraspable processes. In short the clinging and constant referencing to an awareness, a self dissolves, due to the notion "there is" such things are being eradicated.

The realization of dream-like reality removes the view of 'there are objects', the universe, the world of things... One realizes what heart sutra meant by no five skandhas. This is basically the same realization as anatta, except that it impacts the view "there is" and "there isn't" in terms of the objective pole, in contrast to the earlier insight that dissolves "there is" of a subjective self.

What I have overlooked all these while is the implications of views and how the thicket of views cause all clingings and suffering and what underpins those thicket of views, and how realization affects and dissolves these views.


Related stuff:

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


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

~ Loppon Namdrol

At base, the main fetter of self-grasping is predicated upon naive reification of existence and non-existence. Dependent origination is what allows us to see into the non-arising nature of dependently originated phenomena, i.e. the self-nature of our aggregates. Thus, right view is the direct seeing, in meditative equipoise, of this this non-arising nature of all phenomena. As such, it is not a "view" in the sense that is something we hold as concept, it is rather a wisdom which "flows" into our post-equipoise and causes us to truly perceive the world in the following way in Nagarjuna's Bodhicittavivarana:

"Form is similar to a foam,
Feeling is like water bubbles,
Ideation is equivalent with a mirage,
Formations are similar with a banana tree,
Consciousness is like an illusion."


"In other words, right view is the beginning of the noble path. It is certainly the case that dependent origination is "correct view"; when one analyzes a bit deeper, one discovers that in the case "view" means being free from views. The teaching of dependent origination is what permits this freedom from views."

~ Loppon Namdrol

Another related article from an Actualist practitioner:

Just found and bought a great book by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 'Lighting the Way'. Here are some excerpts.

Generally speaking, there are two forms of meditation on emptiness. One is the space-like meditation on emptiness, which is characterised by the total absence or negation of inherent existence. The other is called the illusion-like meditation on emptiness. The space-like meditation must come first, because without the realisation of the total absence of inherent existence, the illusion-like perception or understanding will not occur.

For the illusion-like understanding of all phenomena to occur, there needs to be a composite of both the perception or appearance and the negation, so that when we perceive the world and engage with it we can view all things and events as resembling illusions. We will recognise that although things appear to us, they are devoid of objective, independent, intrinsic existence. This is how the illusion-like understanding arises. The author of the Eight Verses indicates the experiential result when he writes: 'May I, recognising all things as illusions, devoid of clinging, be released from bondage.'

When we speak of cultivating the illusion-like understanding of the nature of reality, we need to bear in mind the different interpretations of the term 'illusion-like'. The non-Buddhist Indian schools also speak of the illusion-like nature of reality, and there are different interpretations within Buddhist schools. For example, the Buddhist realist schools explain the nature of reality to be illusion-like in the sense that, although we tend to perceive things as having permanence, in reality they are changing moment by moment and it is this that gives them an illusion-like character.

In the context of our short text, the illusion-like nature of reality must be understood as relating to all things and events. Although we tend to perceive them as possessing some kind of intrinsic nature or existence, in reality they are all devoid of such reality. So there is a disparity between the way things appear to us and the way things really are. It is in this sense that things and events are said to have an illusion-like nature.


As I mentioned earlier, many texts on emptiness state that the understanding of dependent origination is the most powerful means of arriving at the knowledge of emptiness. When, as a result of engaging in deep meditation on emptiness, we fail to find the intrinsic reality of the object of our focus, we do not conclude from this that the object in question does not exist at all. Instead, we deduce that since our critical analysis has failed to find the true, independent existence of the object, its existence or reality must be understood only as dependent origination. Therefore, a genuine understanding of emptiness must really take place. The moment we reflect upon our understanding of the emptiness of inherent existence, that very understanding will indicate that things exist. it is almost as if when we hear the word 'emptiness' we should instantly recognise its implication, which is that of existing by means of dependent origination. A genuine understanding of emptiness, therefore, is said to be that in which one understands emptiness in terms of dependent origination.

A similar point is raised by Nagarjuna in his Precious Garland, where he explains the emptiness or selflessness of 'person' by a process of reductive analysis. This involves exploring how the person is neither the earth element nor the water element, fire element and so on. When this reductive process fails to find something called 'person' that is independent of these various elements, and also fails to identify the person with any of these elements, Nagarjuna raises the question: where, then, is the person? He does not immediately conclude by saying, 'Therefore "person" does not exist.' Rather, he refers to the idea of dependent origination, stating that: 'The person is therefore dependent upon the aggregation of the six elements.' Thus he is not negating the fact that the 'person' does exist and is real and undergoes experiences of pain and pleasure.

From my own experience I know that I exist; I know that I have non-deluded experiences of pain and pleasure. Yet when I search for the entity called 'self' or 'I' among the various elements that together constitute my existence, I cannot find anything that appears to possess intrinsic, independent reality. This is why Nagarjuna concludes that we can understand a person's existence only in terms of the principle of dependent origination.

At this point some people may raise the following objection: isn't saying that all phenomena are devoid of inherent existence tantamount to saying that nothing exists? Nagarjuna's response is to state that by 'emptiness' we do not mean a mere nothingness; rather, by 'emptiness' we mean dependent origination. In this way Nagarjuna's teaching on emptiness transcends the extremes of absolutism and nihilism. By rejecting intrinsic, independent existence his view transcends absolutism; and by stating that things and events do exist, albeit as dependent originations, he transcends the extreme of nihilism. This transcendence of the two extremes of absolutism and nihilism represents the true Middle Way.

At this point it may be helpful to reflect a little on the different levels of meaning of the principle of dependent origination. On one level dependent origination refers to the nature of things and events as understood in terms of their dependence upon causes and conditions. On another level this dependence can be understood more in terms of mutual dependence. For example, there is a mutuality of concepts between, say, long and short, in which something is posited as 'long' in relation to something else that is 'short'. Similarly, things and events have both parts and a whole; the whole is constituted of the parts, and the parts are posited in relation to the whole.

On another level still, the principle of dependent origination relates to the subject, which is the conceptual mind that creates designation, appellations, labels and so on. As we have briefly discussed before, when we give something a label or a name we generally tend to assume that the labelled object has some kind of true, independent existence. Yet when we search for the true existence or essence of the thing in question, we always fail to find it. Our conclusion, therefore, is that while things do exist on the conventional level, they do not possess ultimate, objective reality. Rather, their existence can only be posited as a mere appellation, designation or label. According to Nagarjuna, these three levels of meaning in the principle of dependent origination pervade our entire spectrum of reality.

By Ven Jue Xing

Sorry for English readers, I can't find time to translate currently. Maybe another day.

The articles are located at

By Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso

Outside the three realms are shining in freedom
Inside the wisdom, self-arisen, shines
And in between is the confidence of realizing basic being
I’ve got no fear of the true meaning—that’s all I’ve got!

In this verse Milarepa sings about his realization of the true nature of reality. To realize the true nature of reality, the necessary outer condition is for the “three realms” to be “shining in freedom.” The three realms refer to the universe and all of the sentient beings within it. Sentient beings inhabit the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm, so these three realms include all the experiences that one could possibly have, and they are shining in freedom—they are self-liberated.*

“Self-liberation” in one sense means that appearances of the three realms do not require an outside liberator to come and set them free, because freedom and purity are their very nature. This is because appearances of the three realms are not real. They are like appearances in dreams. They are the mere coming together of interdependent causes and conditions; they have no essence of their own, no inherent nature. This means that the appearances of the three realms are appearance-emptiness inseparable, and therefore, the three realms are free right where they are. Freedom is their basic reality. However, whether our experience of life in the three realms is one of freedom or bondage depends upon whether we realize their self-liberated true nature or not. It is like dreaming of being imprisoned: If you do not know you are dreaming, you will believe that your captivity is truly existent, and you will long to be liberated from it. But if you know you are dreaming, you will recognize that your captivity is a mere appearance, and that there is really no captivity at all—the captivity is self-liberated. Realizing that feels very good.

The term “self-liberation” is also used in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings, which describe appearances as “self-arisen and self-liberated.” This means that phenomena have no truly existent causes. For example, with a car that appears in a dream, you cannot say in which factory that car was made. Or with the person who appears in the mirror when you stand in front of it, you cannot say where that person was born. Since the dream car and the person in the mirror have no real causes for arising, all we can say about them is that they are self-arisen, and therefore they are also self-liberated.
When we apply this to an experience of suffering, we find that since our suffering has no real causes, it does not truly arise, like suffering in a dream. So it is self-arisen, and therefore it is self-liberated. Since the suffering is not really there in the first place, it is pure and free all by itself. And apart from knowing self-liberation is suffering’s essential nature and resting within that, we do not need to do anything to alleviate it.

Thus, Milarepa sings that what one needs on the inside is to realize self-arisen original wisdom. This wisdom is the basic nature of mind, the basic nature of reality, and all outer appearances are this wisdom’s own energy and play. Original wisdom is self-arisen in the sense that it is not something created; it does not come from causes and conditions; it does not arise anew, because it has been present since beginningless time as the basic nature of what we are. We just have to realize it. The realization of original wisdom, however, transcends there being anything to realize and anyone who realizes something, because original wisdom transcends duality.

How can we gain certainty about and cultivate our experience of this wisdom? Since wisdom is the true nature of mind, begin by looking at your mind. When you look at your mind, you do not see anything. You do not see any shape or color, or anything that you could identify as a “thing.” When you try to locate where your mind is, you cannot find it inside your body, outside your body, nor anywhere in between. So mind is unidentifiable and unfindable. If you then rest in this unfindability, you experience mind’s natural luminous clarity. That is the beginning of the experience of original wisdom. For Milarepa, original wisdom is shining. It is manifesting brightly through his realization of the nature of the three realms and of his own mind.

In the third line, Milarepa sings of his confidence of realizing the true nature of reality, the true meaning. There are the expressions and words that we use to describe things, and the meaning that these words refer to—here Milarepa is singing about the latter. He is certain about the basic nature of reality, and as he sings in the fourth line, he has no fear of it, no doubts about what it is. He is also not afraid of the truth and reality of emptiness. When he sings: “that’s all I’ve got,” he is saying: “I am not somebody great. I do not have a high realization. All I have got is this much.” This is Milarepa’s way of being humble.

One can easily be frightened by teachings on emptiness. It is easy to think: “Everything is empty, so I am all alone in an infinite vacuum of empty space.” If you have that thought, it is a sign that you need to meditate more on the selflessness of the individual. If you think of yourself as something while everything else is nothing, it is easy to get a feeling of being alone in empty space. However, if you rememberthat all phenomena, including you yourself, are equally of the nature of emptiness, beyond the concepts of “something” and “nothing,” then you will not be lonely; you will be open, spacious, and relaxed.

In the context of this verse, it is helpful to consider a stanza from the Song of Mahamudra by Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye:

From mind itself, so difficult to describe,
Samsara and nirvana’s magical variety shines.
Knowing it is self-liberated is view supreme.

“Mind itself,” the true nature of mind, original wisdom, is difficult to describe—it is inexpressible. And from this inexpressible true nature of mind come all the appearances of samsara and nirvana. Appearances do not exist separately from the mind. What appears has no nature of its own. Appearances are merely mind’s own energy; mind’s own radiance; mind’s own light. And so appearances are a magical display. To describe the appearances of samsara and nirvana as a magical variety means that they are not real—they are magic, like a magician’s illusions. Appearances are the magical display of the energy of the inexpressible true nature of mind. When we know this, we know that appearances are self-arisen and self-liberated, and that is the supreme view we can have.
* Most sentient beings, including animals and humans, inhabit the desire realm, so named because desire for physical and mental pleasure and happiness is the overriding mental experience of beings in this realm. The form realm and the formless realm are populated by gods in various meditative states who are very attached to meditative experiences of clarity and the total absence of thoughts, respectively.