A question to those who went through the thusness stages insights -
John Tan wrote:
Tsongkhapa has different definition with regards to perception and therefore context is different. He doesn't accept pure perception of dharmakirti and dignaga and therefore all phenomena dependent originate. U see many like to say Tsongkhapa doesn't know freedom from all elaborations and started talking about this and that, do u think this is possible? Tsongkhapa is an accomplished yogi and scholar. His thoughts r very deep and profound so don't make comments that u don't understand and when u din read enough about him.
With regards to this, it will be interesting to know how the ATR group after all the insights will respond to the following questions:
A) Primordially pure, pre-conceptual, pre-reflexive
Post conceptual and reflexive (Conceptuality)
C) De-construction and direct recognition A (Anatta)
D) Actualisation of C
So my question is:
1. Is D equals to A? If yes why?
2. If not why?
3. Cannot be said to be same nor different as A, why?
I think I asked this before .
Here's my ham-fisted attempt at this one...
Actualization of Anatta (D), in my opinion, is not the same as primordially pure, pre-conceptual, pre-reflexive awareness (A) as there are still deep cognitive obscurations operating and giving rise to dualistic appearances.
I may be totally misunderstanding the question due to my own ignorance.
I'm inclined to agree, as if they were literally the same we'd all just be primordial Buddhas without obscuration- samsara would be impossible.
Now, you can argue that it IS impossible, ontologically, but it's not only a real experiential possibility it's the experiential default. So I'm not so impressed with the ontological claim especially when it's the rhetorical basis for unsaying anything meaningful about practice and the path
John Tan: What about if D) is full and complete actualization? Is D equal to A?
Soh Wei Yu I'd still say no, but that may be down to my current, and quite likely flawed understanding of what full and complete actualization entails. As I understand it, even post-Anatta there are still obscurations (such as those discussed by Tsongkhapa, based on my limited reading) that prevent recognition of the actual clear light, which suggests that ignorance is still running at a deep level of the thing. This is where I think the higher practices come into play, i.e. Four Yogas of Naropa, as these seem to be where, through mastery of fabrications and experiential knowledge/control of perceptual/patterning systems, one can begin to dismantle the cognitive obscurations directly.
As always, I may be talking a load of nonsense so I'd appreciate any clarification if I'm way off the mark.
I think there is no straight forward answers to the above questions but it will help us summarize and refine our views and praxis with maturing insights.
R linguistic concepts and ultimate truth so cleanly and clearly separated and mutually exclusive or r they intimately mingled so much so that u can't separate one from the other even after de-reification?
For example in the anatta of hearing, just sound -- is the non-dual hearing of sound the same as an infant before the development of the sense of self hearing sound?
To Tsongkhapa, they aren't the same and there is no going back to (A) therefore no for Dignaga-Dharmakırtian idea of pure perception of reality before and after de-reification.
André A. Pais
Paraphrasing Thubten Jinpa paraphrasing Tsongkhapa, the point is to go from preconceptual innocence (I'd call it naivety), through philosophical analysis to post conceptual innocence.
The silence after a Mozart piece is not the silence after someone shouts. Silence is filled with notions.
The non-conceptuality of shutting out thoughts is not the same as the silence of deconstructing them. Not finding something is different from knowing that such 'something' never existed.
Knowing that there is no snake in my room is different from knowing that there is no square-circle in my room.
Òskar K. Linares
A is a deep function, B is a function, C is cognition, so it's the result of a function or vijnana, a non-conceptual function a non-conceptual vijnana, D is (if actualisation is complete realisation) the result of of non-concept. cognition, so it's wisdom or removing of ignorance. Religious people may take A as emptiness or even other-emptiness, but it's obviously a deep mind function (sunyata is all, so it's also sunyata but no more than any other dharma). Maybe a too-yogachara answer but I feel like a modern yogachara member "Pure" should be used only forpoetic purpouses, as there isnt "not-pure" aside from ignorance (conceptual cognition). So is A equal to D? No, if they're were the same there would be no difference between a Buddha and an ordinary being, as D is budahood. As budahood is a function os wisdom, the difference between a mind with A (which we al have) and not D, and a mind with A and D is wisdom. So they're not the same, even if the object of wisdom is the same. Ok, boring... just passing time here...
Y u leave ur sunglasses in the realm of Conceptuality?
Andre must have read Thupten Jinpa's "Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy"...lol.
And great answer, in that case what is freedom from all elaborations for Tsongkhapa?
If Andre has the abv book, Jinpa in this book said for those that criticized Tsongkhapa's emptiness lacks liberating gnosis, Tsongkhapa would response "by arguing that his emptiness can serve as the content of an ārya's liberating gnosis. For according to Tsongkhapa, insofar as the actual object of cognition is concerned, there is no difference between an ārya's nonconceptual awareness and an inferential cognition of emptiness. Moreover, in the context of inferential cognition, the negation of intrinsic existence is the cognition of the emptiness of intrinsic existence (niḥsvabhāva). " Thupten Jinpa's "Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy" Pg 61
I think this is important and is how Tsongkhapa addressed the issue of categorized and non-categorized ultimate (freedom from all elaboration). If he is keen to explore further the context, he can also look up Ocean of Reasoning Pg 495 and compare it with the freedom of all elaboration of Nyingma.
I wonder if this relates to a question I have for AtR higher-stage realizers, which I will pose here. In Tibetan Buddhism, for those who have realized emptiness, there is still a strong distinction drawn between equipoise and post-equipoise - it is even said that the condition of equipoise and post-equipoise being the same is only the case for a Buddha. Yet they also say thought isn't actually a problem if it is seen as empty and self liberated, and moreover even a Buddha uses words, language, and concepts at need, so what is this state of "equipoise" that one who has realized emptiness experiences sporadically, which has become permanent for a Buddha? On the other hand, in AtR it is emphasized that anatta realization is not a temporary experience, but a realization of the way things are which doesn't come and go. How would AtR higher-stage realizers describe the difference between resting in nonconceptual equipoise vs living ordinary life? Does it seem like there is a strong difference, and that the remainder of the path is to make whatever is present only in equipoise into an unbroken, continuous condition? Or is the path seen as something entirely different?
Without prajna wisdom, there is no overcoming of effort and struggle and suffering.
I like what André A. Pais wrote:
"For me, the idea that conceptuality is a trap is actually a trap itself that depletes the potential of spiritual practice. It entails throwing away a very valid dimension of experience - after all, thinking is part of reality as well. And since it is thinking that creates the illusion of duality, it is at the level of thought that illusions must be dismantled. At the level of "reality" there is nothing to be done.
"Observe and see" [which is the only instruction you say you follow,] is also doing something. A spiritual path without instructions is not a path. And from the moment there are instructions, all of them may be valid, depending on the practitioner.
The neo-Advaita has this characteristic of tending to be nihilistic in relation to the path and means of liberation. "There is no one, there is nothing that needs to be done." This reveals a profound misunderstanding concerning the nature of experience: Everything happens in experience, even without an agent to perform it - the spiritual path is no exception.
The simplicity of "not thinking" is a comfortable nest that prevents us from asking important and bothersome questions. There is "presence" in the act of observation, but that presence has to be investigated in order to make its nature known. Otherwise, we are substituting a belief - in the self - for another - in some immutable and eternal presence. Both ego and presence are obvious and undeniable for those who establish them.
Buddhism also dissolves all concepts, but only when they have already done their job of deconstructing all concepts. "Silencing" conceptuality too soon is to throw away the ladder (of analytical thinking) before we've used it to go beyond the wall (of conceptual ignorance).
– Andre A. Pais"
Ngawang Gyaltshen Hence even in Dzogchen there are stages of insight explained in http://www.awakeningtoreality.com/.../the-degrees-of... that is similar to http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com/.../thusnesss-six...
Not trying to answer the question above, but have a personal question: Truthfully speaking nowadays Gorampa’s presentation of 2 truths below, along with Mipham resonates the most, especially after mutual interpenetration. I like Tsongkhapa’s emphasis on dependent origination, but his presentation of 2 truths feels much less resonating. Does John Tan think Gelug vs Non-Gelug view is compatible or is it about integrating different aspects of each view to one’s personal practice?
Sample Excerpt (I think you already read it in the past along with Jose Cabezon’s book):
2.1 The Two Truths
The theory of the two truths, or two realities, is fundamental to Madhyamaka philosophy. Reality can be classified in terms of the conventional truth (or conventional reality), which corresponds to the way that things appear to ordinary persons, and the ultimate truth (or ultimate reality), which corresponds to the way that things really are. While Mādhyamikas tend to disagree about the nature of and relationship between the conventional and ultimate truths, the final goal of Madhyamaka philosophy involves realizing the ultimate truth – seeing things not just as they appear, but as they really are.
Gorampa argues that the distinction between the two truths is made based on the ways in which a subject (yul can) apprehends an object (yul). That is, the way in which one engages with the world determines whether one perceives things conventionally or ultimately. Broadly speaking, the conventional truth is mediated by concepts, logic, and reasoning, while the ultimate truth is outside of the realm of conceptual thought. As long as one is engaged in concepts, one is interacting with conventional reality. Once all concepts have been eliminated by following the Buddhist path (as will be explained below), one is said to have realized the ultimate reality.
Gorampa defines “conventional truth” as that which appears to ordinary beings with ordinarily functioning sense faculties. Objects, words, smells, and ideas are all sorts of things that can be conventionally true, or conventionally real. They are true or real in the sense that they appear to be true or real to ordinary persons, without any sort of philosophical analysis. Most people in Paris, for example, can point to the Eiffel Tower and agree, “That is the Eiffel Tower.” The existence of the Eiffel Tower is thus conventionally true. It appears to ordinary people with fully functioning sense faculties, and these ordinary people identify it by means of the linguistic convention, “Eiffel Tower.”
It is not, however, necessarily the case that anything that can be identified or described in words is conventionally true. If a tourist in Paris drinks too much wine and starts seeing double, for example, this does not mean that the existence of two Eiffel Towers is suddenly conventionally true. The drunk person’s perception is skewed; he is no longer operating with ordinary faculties. After he sobers up, he will once again see that really, there is only one Eiffel Tower. To illustrate this point in his texts, Gorampa refers to Candrakīrti’s well-known Madhyamaka analogy of a person with an eye disorder (rab rib can) mistakenly thinking that the floaters in his field of vision are actually hairs on his dinner plate. But the truth of the matter – the conventional truth, that is – is that the hairs are not really there, as a person with normally functioning eyes can affirm.
The conventional truth, therefore, is true in the sense that it is something upon which all ordinary persons with normally functioning faculties can agree. The conventional truth is what allows for people to travel to Paris to visit the Eiffel Tower, to talk about the weather, and to engage in debates about politics. It is also, most importantly for Gorampa, what allows people to understand conceptually what a realization of the ultimate truth is like, and what enables Buddhist practitioners to correctly develop logical reasoning and engage in proper types of meditative practices. In other words, some features of the conventional – such as reasoning and language – can be used to approach an understanding of the ultimate, even though the ultimate itself transcends those features.
In contrast to the conventional, the ultimate truth is understood as the way things really are, independent of the concepts and conventions with which ordinary persons engage. Gorampa contends that the conventional truth is mired in ignorance – the cause of saṃsāra, which keeps sentient beings cycling from one birth to the next, lifetime after lifetime. When this ignorance is removed, one is capable of realizing the ultimate truth, and through that realization, one can attain freedom from the cycle of rebirth.
Based on this account, then, when philosophers attempt to describe or even label “the ultimate truth,” they fail to capture it in its entirety; when identifying and describing the ultimate truth, concepts and language must be used, and Gorampa’s definition of the ultimate truth is that it is beyond all concepts and language. Still, Gorampa argues that it is important to begin the process of realizing the actual ultimate truth by developing a conceptual understanding of the general features of the ultimate. In other words, forming a concept of the ultimate is not the final goal of awakening itself, but it gives one a sense of what awakening is like.
In order to explain the difference between a conceptual understanding and a nonconceptual realization of the ultimate truth, Gorampa divides it into two types: the ultimate that is taught (bstan pa'i don dam) and the ultimate that is realized (rtogs pa'i don dam). The ultimate that is taught corresponds to an ordinary person’s concept of the ultimate, while the ultimate that is realized is directly and nonconceptually ascertained by awakened beings.
When the ultimate is divided in this way, Gorampa makes the case that ordinary persons and awakened beings are capable of recognizing each of the two truths, but in different ways. An ordinary person can conceptually understand the ultimate that is taught, while still perceiving the conventional realm as true or real. From this perspective, the conventional is called “the conventional truth” (kun rdzob bden pa). But once an awakened being nonconceptually apprehends the ultimate that is realized, the conventional no longer appears as real or as solid as it once was. The awakened being, having had a direct experience of the way things really are, no longer experiences the conventional as true, but rather as merely conventional (kun rdzob tsam).
In other words, we can say that the conventional truth is that which is true for ordinary, unawakened beings. The merely conventional, however, is perceived after an awakened being realizes the ultimate truth. There merely conventional is not false; it is simply a mode of perception that is subordinated to the ultimate truth that an awakened being has directly experienced.
Unlike some other Tibetan philosophers, Gorampa stresses that the difference between conventional truth and mere convention is based entirely on the subject who apprehends these objects. The same table appears as truly existent to an ordinary being, and as a merely conventional imputation to an awakened being. The conventional and ultimate truths, similarly, are distinguished on the basis of the ways in which they are apprehended. (This approach differs from someone like Tsongkhapa, who distinguishes the two truths on the basis of the object, arguing that every appearing thing consists of conventional and ultimate aspects.)
(continued in replies due to Facebook word limit)
In short, ordinary beings perceive the conventional truth, and understand the ultimate that is taught. Awakened beings experience the merely conventional, and directly realize the ultimate that is realized. Based on this model of the two truths, Gorampa argues that the Buddhist path involves a process of transforming one’s perspective. One begins by correctly identifying and understanding the conventional truth. Then, through logical reasoning and meditative practices, one gradually begins to realize that this so-called truth is merely conventional and that it is based entirely on concepts that are rooted in ignorance; in this way one comes to a conceptual understanding of the ultimate that is taught. Through more analysis and practice still, one eventually recognizes that the conventional truth is only merely conventional, and directly realizes the ultimate truth, which does not depend on ignorance and concepts.
By working through this process to transform one’s mind, Gorampa argues that a Buddhist practitioner on the Madhymaka path will finally arrive at a state of freedom from conceptual proliferations (spros pa dang bral ba). This is a mental state in which conceptual thought does not occur, and one directly and immediately apprehends the ultimate that is realized. Gorampa is explicit in pointing out that this state of freedom from conceptual proliferations is different from a state of unconsciousness. In order to cultivate a state of freedom from conceptual proliferations, one must eliminate concepts gradually, through particular methods that involve both logical reasoning and meditative practices. As we will see below, Gorampa outlines a very specific fourfold process for eliminating concepts in order to arrive at this desired state of nonconceptuality.
This section can be considered polemic (not necessary to read):
2.2.2 The Role of Negation and the Function of the Tetralemma
According to Gorampa, the tetralemma is a tool that is used to investigate the ultimate status of appearances. Through the logic of this fourfold negation, one cultivates a conceptual understanding of the ultimate that is taught, and then, through subsequent meditative practices, one eventually cultivates a direct, nonconceptual realization of the actual ultimate truth. In short, the logical reasoning involved in the fourfold negation is implemented by ordinary persons in order to understand what the ultimate truth is like, but logic alone is not sufficient to arrive at a direct realization of the ultimate.
Although tetralemmic analysis is employed by all Mādhyamika philosophers, Gorampa’s interpretation of this fourfold negation is unique in that it amounts to a complete eradication of conceptual thought. Other Mādhyamikas, such as Tsongkhapa, qualify each of the negations in the tetralemma in ways that eliminate only certain kinds of concepts. For someone like Tsongkhapa, the tetralemma is a tool that can be used to eliminate wrong concepts; for Gorampa, however, it is a tool that eliminates all concepts.
Gorampa’s particular interpretation of the tetralemma is based on the ways that he understands negation to function within this fourfold analysis. For him, the negations of existence, nonexistence, both, and neither are each complete and total non-affirming negations (med dgag); that is, each limb of the tetralemma is negated in its entirely, without the existence of anything else being affirmed in its place. The result of this process is, again, the complete eradication of any concepts of existence, nonexistence, both, or neither.
Some of Gorampa’s opponents – again, including Tsongkhapa – understand negation differently. Tsongkhapa and his supporters adhere to the law of double negation, and understand the negations within the tetralemma to be qualified in certain ways. As such, while the negation of existence is interpreted to mean that nothing exists ultimately, the negation of nonexistence is interpreted to mean that something does, nevertheless, exist. For Tsongkhapa, this “something” is the conventional truth. Because of this, Tsongkhapa’s understanding of the tetralemma involves a complex system of logical statements, each qualified according to one of the two truths. If one accepts double negation elimination, then it makes no sense for both existence and nonexistence to be negated, unless these negations are qualified in certain ways.
Gorampa, on the other hand, does not adhere to double negation in the context of the tetralemma. Instead, he understands the tetralemma as a succession of four negations that are applied to the four possible ways of conceiving of the status of the ultimate truth. Because the ultimate truth is nonconceptualizable, Gorampa contends that Tsongkhapa’s understanding of the tetralemma is incomplete, because it doesn’t negate enough – literally, it underpervades (khyab chung ba). While Tsongkhapa’s model successfully refutes the extreme view of existence at the ultimate level, Gorampa argues that it does not eliminate all extreme views ultimately and in their entirety.
Tsongkhapa argues that a negation of all four extremes at the ultimate level defies logic, but Gorampa contends that a transcendence of logic is specifically the tetralemma’s purpose. By negating all possibilities for logical, conceptual thought, the only recourse is to abandon concepts completely. True freedom from conceptual proliferations lies outside of the scope of conceptual thought, and is therefore inexpressible. Gorampa maintains, however, that because ordinary persons utilize conceptual thought, they necessarily construe the ultimate truth as an object of conceptual constructs (that is, they construe it as the ultimate that is taught). As such, one must first use conceptual reasoning to refute each of the four extremes, but these concepts must eventually be abandoned.
In other words, because all four extremes are negated under the analysis of the tetralemma, Gorampa concludes that a correct realization of the ultimate truth must be something that is other than these conceptualizations of and dichotomizations into existence and nonexistence. As such, the ultimate truth cannot be described using these terms. And, since these are the only possible ways of speaking of or conceptualizing the status of the existence of things, once they are all negated, one is forced to conclude that the ultimate truth cannot be described linguistically or conceptually. The ultimate truth that is realized transcends the boundaries of language and conceptual thought. However, Gorampa still maintains that logic and analysis are essential in arriving at a state of nonconceptuality.
2.3 The Role of Logic
Gorampa’s understanding of the relationship between the two truths and the use of negation in the tetralemma reinforce his understanding of the ways in which a practitioner should proceed on the Buddhist path toward awakening. Through the logic of the tetralemma, Gorampa demonstrates that the final goal of awakening is beyond conceptual thought.
Conceptual thought comes from ignorance, so by eradicating ignorance, one eradicates conceptual thought. In other words, since an awakened being is completely free from ignorance, she has no concepts whatsoever. This claim is quite controversial for obvious reasons: buddhas are understood as consisting of perfect wisdom, and are described in scriptures as omniscient beings. How, then, can a buddha have no concepts at all, but still be considered omniscient?
Tsongkhapa and his fellow Gelugpa opponents criticize Gorampa for this very reason. They contend that Gorampa’s philosophy negates too much – it “overpervades” (khyab che ba). They argue that if the final goal of awakening is really a complete elimination of concepts, then one ought to be able to attain awakening by simply falling asleep or otherwise becoming unconscious. Gorampa contends, however, that in order to successfully eliminate all concepts in their entirety, it is absolutely essential that one begins by using logic and reasoning. The end result is indeed nonconceptual, but it differs from the quietism that is a result of simply not-thinking, without any prior analysis.
The issue underlying this debate concerns the status of conceptual content in the minds of fully awakened buddhas. Gorampa contends, citing Candrakīrti, that fully awakened buddhas have no conceptual content whatsoever; they have completely eliminated ignorance in its entirety, and therefore do not actively engage in the conventional world. They do not conceive of things as existent, nonexistent, both, or neither. In fact, they do not conceive of things at all. They do, however, appear to be omniscient from the perspective of ordinary beings, and because of their previous karma and the compassion that they have cultivated on the path to enlightenment, they continue to function in the world for the benefit of ordinary unenlightened beings for a period of time.
The implications of Gorampa’s view are significant. While Tsongkhapa’s model stresses the eradication of only certain kinds of concepts – e.g., concepts relating to the ultimate existence of things – Gorampa’s model shows that all concepts must be eliminated, first through the logical reasoning of the tetralemma, and then through subsequent meditative practices. Because Gorampa is not concerned with the preservation of certain kinds of concepts, he is more tolerant of variations in styles of argumentation that might be used to arrive at a state of freedom from conceptual proliferations.
Nafis Rahman have you looked into Mipham's view? I'm no expert, but I have heard it described as the "inseperabiltiy view", inseparability of appearance and emptiness. Emptiness is explained in terms of freedom from extremes, but appearances being dependently originated is given equal imortance, apparently the context for this emphasis is actual Nyingma tantra and Dzogchen practice.
I make sense of all this in terms of the context in which it arose. When Buddha first attained enlightenment, the suttas say he didn't think he could explain it (completely beyond concept), so he decided to not try to teach, but a Brahma being came to him and asked him to teach, so (thankfully) he did put some words together to explain it (five skandhas, three marks, twelve links of dependent origination, etc.), while saying "it's just a finger pointing to the moon." Naturally, later scholars (Abhidharmikas) took those words as absolute, reified categories. So a new stream of teaching arose to correct this, which emphasized radical, non-affirming negation of all conceptual categories. Many later authors saw in this a tendency there to negate important aspects of the path, but which things were held to be over-negated and how to prevent said over-negation was not agreed upon. Yogacara, Shentong, Svatrantika Madhyamaka, and Tsongkhapa's Madhyamaka are all instantiations of this principle of how to prevent some type of over-negation. Tsongkhapa, in particular, is trying to prevent over-negation of morality and the value of concepts. For me, when seeing Tsongkhapa in this light, things that others call "flaws" in his system can be seen more sympathetically, even if one might personally prefer Mipham's, etc. presentation.
Now, all of that was a preamble to make a point about the quotes from SEP you posted, but now that it comes to it, I'm more curious to first ask, what is it in Tsongkhapa's presentation that you find flawed, which does not correspond to your experiece of anatta, emptiness, and total exertion?
Mipham vs Tsongkhapa is a very subtle topic, so I’m interested in John Tan’s perspective. Honestly speaking, it’s possible to write an entire book on this topic and the endless polemics involved.
After going through books covering both views and based on my current experience, I find Mipham/Gorampa more resonating (although I’m always open to refining my view), and truthfully I haven’t been able to integrate Gelug plus Non-Gelug views in terms of practice whether intellectually or in terms of direct experience. John Tan once sent a comment after realizing initial total exertion that Tsongkhapa is more A+ and Mipham is A-, and later said both views are equally profound and ultimately the same in terms of result, and that one should not write baseless statements and study them properly.
Regarding dependent origination, Mipham covers it quite well in my opinion when relating it to appearances and freedom from extremes. Mipham's Sword of Wisdom by Khenchen Palden Sherab, which is about valid cognition/2 truths has many excerpts regarding this (would have posted, but too long for including in Facebook), and his commentaries on Chandrakirti and Madhyamaka in general talk about the importance of understanding dependent origination in relation to emptiness/non-arising.
Related excerpt, although they are many others:
"All phenomena do not come into being through their own inherent identity, but as a result of the coming together of causes and conditions, and when there are no conditions they do not arise. Even at the time when they appear, they appear whilst lacking any inherent existence, since they are like reflections, brought about by causes and conditions. Free from any conceptual elaborations such as being permanent or non-existent, going or coming, arising or ceasing or being one or many, they appear whilst lacking true reality.
When evaluating in this way, using reasoning investigating the ultimate in accordance with the actual nature of things, they are found to be mere unfailing dependent arising. Otherwise, if they were truly established in any way, such as arising according to the four extremes or four alternatives, or being existent or non-existent, or permanent or impermanent etc., then that would be inappropriate as an explanation for the conventional, and would result in a deprecation of all conventions.
According to the Middle Way tradition, for whom the unreal illusory appearances of dependent origination and emptiness arise in the same reality, all the conventions of mere appearance are extremely reasonable. This being so, the conventions of the world, as well as the supermundane conventions of the Four Truths, Three Jewels and so on, are all perfectly established.
This king of reasonings, the Great Interdependence, includes all the other types of ultimate logic, such as the Diamond Splinter and so on, because they are all concerned with the seemingly real, unexamined appearances of dependent origination. When analyzed, no causes, effects or essential identities whatsoever can be established. The extensive variations of this logic that investigates the meaning of dependent origination are to be found in The Root Verses of the Middle Way and elsewhere."
On the other hand, Tsongkhapa’s emphasis on dependent origination in relation to reification, designation/imputation, general D.O. (as opposed to afflictive D.O.) etc is much more extensive in my opinion than other teachers, and quite similar to the view of total exertion/mutual interpenetration from certain aspects, although I don’t want to compare Hua-yen/Soto Zen with Madhyamaka in this reply. This comment section is too small to properly cover the differences between Tsongkhapa’s presentation of dependent origination vs other teachers, but there are a few related passages found in Jeffrey Hopkin’s Meditations on Emptiness, Ocean of Reasoning, Lamrim Chenmo Volume 5: Insight by Geshe Sopa etc that I can quote if necessary.
Regarding Tsongkhapa, Gorampa has already written a detailed critique in my opinion (Freedom from Extremes: Gorampa's "Distinguishing the Views" and the Polemics of Emptiness by Jose Cabezon), while Mipham has also covered it in Beacon of Certainty along with other books, while showing appropriate respect as well. After reading their critiques/arguments, and later reading Tsongkhapa with an open mind, I honestly haven’t been able to refute any of their allegations, in fact I find myself agreeing with them instead, which is why I want to hear John Tan’s opinion since his insight is far superior to mine’s. Would have posted the arguments, but as you already know it covers too many pages. There’s also a book by Sonam Thakchoe that aims to compare Tsongkhapa/Gorampa’s presentation on 2 truths, but due to sectarian bias, it misinterprets Gorampa’s view in my opinion (author is a Gelug scholar).
However in terms of direct experience, I agree with the descriptions of ordinary/awakened perception that Gorampa provided above. I think anyone with post-anatta insight should find them quite resonating, although other’s may have different opinions. Basically conventional reality is a delusion fabricated by our mind, while ultimate reality is how reality truly is without perceiving it through mental/karmic obscurations. However this explanation is too simplistic, better to go through the root texts instead. This is the main point in the article above that I find more resonating from Gorampa’s perspective:
“Unlike some other Tibetan philosophers, Gorampa stresses that the difference between conventional truth and mere convention is based entirely on the subject who apprehends these objects. The same table appears as truly existent to an ordinary being, and as a merely conventional imputation to an awakened being. The conventional and ultimate truths, similarly, are distinguished on the basis of the ways in which they are apprehended. (This approach differs from someone like Tsongkhapa, who distinguishes the two truths on the basis of the object, arguing that every appearing thing consists of conventional and ultimate aspects.)”
For example, before anatta, everyone experiences an internal perceiver/self in their mind. Conventionally we can that a self “exists”, but ultimately it’s non-existent. We can directly tell someone that the internal perceiver is a complete delusion (presentation 1), or we can be wishy-washy by continuously emphasizing that conventionally a self is real, although ultimately it isn’t (presentation 2) so that someone doesn’t over-negate and end up suffering from dissociation/depersonalization or Neo-Advaita (there is no one to realize, therefore practice is useless and unnecessary). Both practitioners will eventually realize anatta, but I prefer presentation 1 due to personal preferences which is actually similar to ATR as well (imo). This analogy is too simplistic/flawed to portray Gelug vs Non-Gelug, but Gorampa/Mipham are able to distinguish 2 truths much more clearly in terms of practice in my opinion, and I like how Mipham describes the reification process in relation to solidity/mere appearances.
There’s also the issue of over-negation/under-negation, tetralemma etc, but my personal opinion is that Tsongkhapa eventually realized freedom from extremes based on various excerpts besides the passages posted by Soh above (he spent most of his time as a yogi rather than a scholar and wrote commentaries on various tantras as well), although the way he presents the distinction between conventional vs ultimate reality/perception is too convulted in my opinion (don’t know how to say it in a nicer way) and might lead to various misconceptions if one is practicing strictly using sutric methods (if someone is practicing tantra, then it might be less relevant). However he has manifested an illusionary body and could move through walls, which is an insight beyond what anyone in the group has, so it would be disrespectful and highly arrogant if I claimed his insight/experience was lacking or inferior.
Ok, got ya. I definitely think there is an understanding of Tsongkhapa such that it is seen to be saying the same thing as, say, Mipham, the only difference being presentation, which one could argue is more or less skillfull. My first point is to not reifying the two truths as conceptual categories. This way you see that Gorampa's presentation of the two truths in a sense has four truths, two for ordinary beings and two for enlightened beings. If I was inclined to polemicism I could say this is contrived. Isn't the conventional truth what wordly beings conceive of, and the ultimate truth what enlightened beings perceive? So why two truths for enlightened beings and two for ordinary beings? It's another layer of conceptual gloss, same as Tsongkhapa, just taking a different track. On a gut level, I haven't looked into Gorampa much because I am only interested in the writings of Arya beings on the matter, and anyone who says Tsongkhapa was inflenced by demons was not an Arya being.
I did look a bit into Mipham's criticism, the most salient one I remember is the well known "by introducing a notion of intrinsic existence separate from ordinary existence, you end up refuting a conceptual construct instead of the actual root of delusion." And this is likely true for people who stay at the conceptual level debating at their monastic college rather than engaging in practice. There was a Gelug scholar named Janggya Rolpai Dorje/ Changkya Rölpé Dorjé, who was known to have realized emptiness and was praised by Mipham, who admits that Gelug dialectics can become impotent in this way. But when you understand what Tsongkhapa was trying to do, to come as close as possible to describing the experience of an enlightened being in words without intermediate steps or "levels of analysis" or paradoxical statements, it would have to be that way in a sense - if there wasn't a subtle point that was easily missed rendering the whole thing impotent, how could it be subtle enough to describe enlightened experience? Nagarjuna is content to roll this subtlety into paradoxical statements like "it neither exists nor doesn't exist. Tsongkhapa wants to avoid such paradoxical descriptions, so he tries to precisely describe that which is negated, and ends up creating a system that is easy to get too conceptual about. Of course it would be so! But actually, Tsongkhapa said that "identifying the object of negation", which he called intrinsic existence, is precisely what he saw when he personally realized emptiness, the exact thing that must be seen as false, what Nagarjuna would call svabhava.
· 19h · Edited
Now, what really increased my faith in Tsongkhapa is that his presentation of Madhyamaka, rather than being just an exercise in removing paradox from the presentation of the enlightened state, actually has precedent in the Sutras in an unexpeted way - the three natures theory. Before this I was as critical of Tsongkhapa's dialectics as anyone. But I read something derived from Janggya's presentation of Cittamatra:
"A Cittamatrin might say, for instance, that a table and the mind apprehending it may not be different entities, but they are not identical; neither is the other.Similarly, a table and the space it occupies are one entity, but no one would claim that the space is the table or that the table is the space. According to Gelukba scholars, Prasangikas do not refute all of the Cittamatra positions, although those they accept are sometimes creatively adapted. For instance, it is said that Prasangikas do refute the true existence of any phenomenon and the non-existence of external objects, but they do not deny that subject-object dualism is transcended in the experience of the direct realization of emptiness by an exalted wisdom consciousness, for they do not wish to deny that one's experience of directly realizing emptiness is as if the mind and emptiness are fused, like fresh water poured into fresh water. They merely resist the conclusion that the experience of fusion means that the mind and emptiness are the same. The Prasarigikas also do not deny that phenomena have the three natures. As Janggya says:
"The presentation of the three characters [i.e., natures] in our own Prasangika system is: those conventionalities that are the substrata [of emptiness] just like those appearing [to our minds now] are posited as other-powered [or dependent] natures; factors of superimposition that are their own objective mode of subsistence or mode of disposition are posited as imputational natures; and the factors of the emptiness of such superimpositions are posited as thoroughly established natures."
Thus, for Prasangikas, a dependent nature is a conventional truth (conventional truths comprising all existents other than emptinesses); the inherent existence conceived with respect to a dependent nature is a non-existent imputational nature; and a thoroughly established nature is the emptiness of inherent existence of any phenomenon. In other words, like the Citta matrins, they explain that in terms of a dependent nature, its thoroughly established nature is its emptiness of an imputational nature. For example, for a table, its dependent nature is the table itself; its thoroughly established nature is the table's emptiness of inherent existence; and the opposite of that, the inherent existence of table, is its imputational nature, i.e., the nature that does not exist despite the fact that ignorance imputes it to the table."
Malcolm polemically points this out when he says Tsongkhapa's presentation is Gzhan tong upside down - it means there is a structural similarity in the presentation to the three natures theory, even though it is non-substantialist. Now if you actually read the Sandhinirmocana Sutra, which introduces the three natures, and also the doctrine of the three turnings, it says that the third turning is that which gives an more full explanation of emptiness that avoids the tendency toward over-negation of the second turning, but doesn't identify this with luminosity or Buddha nature, but in fact the teaching of the three natures! Tsongkhapa in a sense rediscovered that the way to present emptiness in a way that avoids overnegation is something with this structure - the ultimate nature of dependent appearances is their emptiness of that which is false (svabhava, intrinsic existence). He might even have been aware of this, and presented Cittamatra in a way to set up his Prasangika system, see Garfield's "Three Natures and Three Naturelessnesses".
Tyler, 3 natures theory is honestly something I don’t personally resonate with anymore. I read all the authors that are sympathetic towards yogacara whether it’s Karl Brunnholzl or Dan Lusthaus, along with commentaries by Mipham and Kagyu authors, I think anyone who has mutual interpenetration won’t find yogacara resonating with personal experience (too idealistic philosophically compared to Madhyamaka/Soto Zen along with how they present dependent origination/designation), but even for non-arising, if I tried to realize it through contemplating yogacara I would probably be stuck in Stage 5.5. Personally I haven’t found it useful for practice whatsoever (just sharing my opinion), although it has descriptions of anatta and an interesting presentation on karma/various obscurations. In my opinion, Tsongkhapa’s view is superior to yogacara, I think Mipham is the one who tried to include it in his presentation more deliberately in relation to conventional reality, although he never found a way to integrate 3 natures with Madhyamaka, and later said Prasangika Madhyamaka was the ultimate view.
“it says that the third turning is that which gives an more full explanation of emptiness that avoids the tendency toward over-negation of the second turning”
This is something I personally disagree with since I don’t feel 2nd turning did any form of over-negation although I know various Shentongpas who disagree otherwise. For me 3rd turning teachings have never come up in relation to personal practice (whether we equate it to yogacara/ tathagatagarbha or both), while tantric texts already cover luminosity in relation to direct experience. Even in Gelug, they consider 2nd turning definitive based on what I’ve read, mostly Karma Kagyus and a few Nyingmpas these days are obsessed with combining 2nd + 3rd turning whether intellectually or in terms of direct experience, although they haven’t been able to fully succeed yet (personally don’t think it’s possible to fully reconcile Madhyamaka and Asanga).
“I did look a bit into Mipham's criticism, the most salient one I remember is the well known "by introducing a notion of intrinsic existence separate from ordinary existence, you end up refuting a conceptual construct instead of the actual root of delusion." And this is likely true for people who stay at the conceptual level debating at their monastic college rather than engaging in practice.”
I know that most people online criticize Tsongkhapa mostly for stopping at lack of inherent existence rather than freedom from extremes, but personally I think Tsongkhapa went all the way, although his presentation in regards to tetralemma/negation is less clear compared to Mipham (imo) and can lead to certain misconceptions such as under-negation and so on. However there are further structural criticisms of Tsongkhapa as well that Gorampa covers in great depth (even till now no one has been able to refute them and in fact before the Rime movement most of his writings were completely banned and suppressed). However personally I’m not interested in attacking Tsongkhapa and pointing out his flaws, I mainly wanted to know if Gelug and Non-Gelug views were compatible in terms of personal practice, which I haven’t been able to reconcile either intellectually or in terms of direct experience.
“On a gut level, I haven't looked into Gorampa much because I am only interested in the writings of Arya beings on the matter, and anyone who says Tsongkhapa was inflenced by demons was not an Arya being.”
I know Gorampa once wrote that Tsongkhapa was possessed by demons, and we can consider that statement sectarian but I still think his criticisms are valid, and the SEP article above is very much related to anatta as well from my perspective, it clearly described the process of delusion to awakening that I have gone through. Compared to Gorampa, I think Dogen is much more sectarian and vicious when attacking certain views such as calling his opponents robbers of Buddhism destined to go to karmic hell, etc although I find his view and insight very profound and resonating, and I even agree with his criticisms of wrong views whether substantialist or otherwise, even though he might not have been very polite in his replies.
However the main point is how one presents emptiness in relation to direct experience: Gorampa states entities are fabrications created by our mind/samsaric ignorance which we have to completely dissolve and see reality as it truly is (basically just like the notion of an internal perceiver, conventional reality never existed in the first place), while Tsongkhapa says phenomena themselves have two natures, conventional/ultimate. But in my opinion, emphasizing how significant and “real” conventional reality is isn’t the proper path of practice, instead we need to focus on transcending our delusions until we can see reality as it truly is.
The universe is already illusionary and perfect, but due to delusion we unnecessarily impute various characteristics, for me what most people consider “conventional reality” no longer appears in terms of direct perception, it is just ignorance. That’s why Gorampa and Mipham are far more resonating these days, and I appreciate the distinction between intellectual and non-conceptual ultimate reality (along with their fourfold scheme of 2 truths) in relation to ordinary/awakened perception rather than external characterizations of conventional/ultimate phenomena divorced from subject-object apprehension (Tsongkhapa) since originally I started off by reading intellectual descriptions of anatta/emptiness/total exertion and later progressed in terms of real-time experience/insight. Gorampa’s ultimate view is mainly one truth (ultimate reality), he doesn’t focus that much on conventional reality except for the sake of negation and deriding it as a delusion/fabrication in comparison to ultimate reality/enlightened perception. Here is something related from Constance Kassor who wrote the SEP article above:
Gorampa's discussion of the two truths serves, at least in part, as a reply to the views put forth by Tsongkhapa. While the Synopsis is not as overtly polemical as his other Madhyamaka works (especially the lta ba'i shan 'byed), Gorampa still explicitly engages with Tsongkhapa's views on a number of important points throughout the text, and he works hard to distinguish his own Sakyapa view from those of his non-Sakyapa opponents. In the foregoing presentation of the two truths, Gorampa bases his analysis on the distinctions between "correct seeing" and "false seeing," as explained in Madhyamakāvatāra VI:23. Recall that this verse states,
“All things have two natures, apprehended by correct or false seeing. The object of correct seeing is suchness; the object of false seeing is called conventional truth.”
Gorampa's interpretation of this passage stands in stark contrast to that of Tsongkhapa, who places his interpretive emphasis on the phrase,“all things have two natures.” By focusing on the two natures of all things, Tsongkhapa reasons that the two truths are divided based on the types of objects that appear to different types of persons, rather than on the minds of the persons who are apprehending those objects. To put it another way: Tsongkhapa’s interpretation of Madhyamakāvatāra VI:23 divides the two truths ontologically, rather than experientially. He explains in his dBu ma dgongs pa rab gsal:
“The buddhas, whose knowledge is unsurpassed, taught the nature of the two truths as follows: the nature of all internal mental formations (‘du byed) such as intention, and all external objects such as sprouts, are apprehended as having two aspects. What are they? They are the nature of conventional truth, and the nature of the ultimate truth.”
Here, Tsongkhapa explains that every single thing – regardless of whether it appears as an internal mental phenomenon or as an external object – possesses both a conventional nature and an ultimate nature, and that the nature (ngo bo) that one perceives determines whether one is engaging with the conventional truth, or with the ultimate truth. This interpretation of Candrakīrti’s verse shifts the focus away from the subjective mind in determining the distinction between the two truths, and instead places the focus on the
objects that are apprehended by different cognitive processes. In short, this means that two different types of cognitions apprehend two different objects, and these objects – these natures – comprise the two truths.
Unlike Gorampa, who argues that the difference between correct and false seeing corresponds to the way in which a particular type of person is said to engage with a single appearance, Tsongkhapa contends that the acts of correct seeing and false seeing actually engage with two different types of objects. It is the existence of these objects, he argues, that constitutes the basis of division into conventional and ultimate. He elaborates,
“This means that when one divides the nature of one thing such as a sprout, it is revealed to be two natures: a conventional and an ultimate. However, this does not at all show that the single nature of the sprout is two truths from the perspectives of ordinary persons and āryas.”
According to Tsongkhapa, the conventional and ultimate natures are equally existent in any given thing. That is, the two natures have the same ontological status. One type of seeing (i.e., "false seeing") perceives the conventional nature of things, while another type of seeing ("correct seeing") perceives the ultimate nature. This is an important point that marks a sharp distinction between Tsongkhapa and Gorampa. While Gorampa contends that the conventional is no longer true from the perspective of one who realizes the ultimate, Tsongkhapa's system preserves the truth of the conventional, regardless of one's perspective.
Tsongkhapa is careful to note that the objects that matter when making these distinctions between correct seeing and false seeing are the natures of things, and not the things themselves. He contends that when an ordinary person perceives something such as a pot, she initially apprehends it as an ultimately existent thing. From an ordinary person’s perspective, something like a pot appears to really, truly exist. But from the perspective of an ārya, that same pot is understood to be a conventional object, while the pot's nature is said to be ultimate. In other words, the pot is merely conventional, but the nature of that pot is the ultimate truth. What this implies is that from the perspective of
the mind of an ārya, there is a twofold division of things: there is the merely conventional thing, and there is the ultimately true nature of that thing.
When compared to Gorampa's arguments above, in which the mind is the basis for the division between the two truths, we can see that Tsongkhapa's two truths schema relies much more heavily on the objects that are perceived, rather than on the minds of the persons who are perceiving them. The two truths, he argues, cannot be understood without considering the two natures in all appearances. What this means is that on Tsongkhapa's view, the process of coming to see the ultimate truth involves discovering something that was previously unseen. On this model, one progresses from a state in which an ordinary person only perceives the conventional, to a state in which an enlightened buddha perceives both the conventional and ultimate natures of things at the same time. As such, when one sees things correctly, one apprehends something new
about those things.
Because Gorampa argues that the two truths are divided on the basis of minds, seeing the ultimate truth on his system does not involve coming to see some thing that was previously unseen; it involves seeing differently. For Gorampa, the two natures refer to two perspectives with respect to the things that we see, not two distinct aspects of things. Gorampa’s ultimate is not an object to be discovered; it is the result of a radical transformation of one's mind, in which one no longer engages in conceptual thought, and is free from conceptual proliferations.
· 4h · Edited
Tsongkhapa’s ontological distinction between the two truths forms the basis for a formulation of the Madhyamaka view that looks very different than that which Gorampa develops. When the two truths are grounded in an ontological distinction, it becomes possible for an enlightened being to perceive the conventional truth and the ultimate truth. That is, when one discovers the ultimate nature of a thing, it remains possible for him to continue to perceive the conventional nature of that thing as well, and for the conventional nature of that thing to be considered true. In other words, unlike the chart above, an ārya's rational apprehension of the conventional in the post-meditative state is still considered "correct seeing."
It is not my aim here to provide a detailed analysis of Tsongkhapa’s presentation of the two truths as it stands in contrast to that of Gorampa, as that has been attempted elsewhere. I only wish to sketch a general outline of Tsongkhapa’s understanding of the division between the two truths to highlight an important issue: The ways in which one understands the division between the two truths dramatically affects the ways in
which one understands the efficacy and ontological status of the conventional truth, as well as the ways in which one understands the nature of buddhahood. For Tsongkhapa, not only is it possible to continue to apprehend the conventional at the level of the realization of the ultimate truth, it is necessary. This is because, as we will see below, Tsongkhapa has strong ontological commitments. For Gorampa, on the other hand, a cognition in which one simultaneously apprehends each of the two truths (as two distinct truths) is impossible. Tsongkhapa’s model preserves the conventional truth at the level of buddhahood, while Gorampa’s model negates it entirely.
(Technically the following section is unnecessary in terms of replying to above, mainly including since you haven’t read Gorampa before)
What’s at stake, here? Gorampa and Ontological Deflationism
So far we have seen that according to Gorampa’s Madhyamaka, the two truths schema serves as a scaffolding for reality. And according to this scaffolding, the conventional is conceptual, involving the apprehension of dualistic appearances, while the ultimate truth is free from conceptual proliferations and is the dissolution of dualistic distinctions. On this model of the two truths schema, one can either perceive the conventional or experience the ultimate, but one cannot engage with both of these distinct realities simultaneously. For ordinary persons, this means that one either perceives the conventional truth, or rationally apprehends the ultimate truth that is taught. For āryas, this means nonconceptually experiencing the ultimate truth that is realized while in meditative equipoise, or conceptually engaging with the merely conventional while in the post-meditative state (while realizing that it is not really true). Gorampa’s presentation of the two truths sets out a system in which one’s experiences determine the distinctions between conventional and ultimate.
Gorampa’s experiential division between the two truths has some important implications. For one, this affects his understanding of the nature of buddhahood. If enlightened buddhas do not engage in conceptual thought or perceive the conventional truth, then how can they be understood to work in the world for the sake of sentient beings, giving teachings and showing ordinary persons the path to liberation? This is, in
fact, a criticism that Tsongkhapa levels against this style of reasoning, which will be discussed in detail in Chapter Five. However, another implication of Gorampa’s experiential division between the two truths is, perhaps, more immediately important for ordinary persons who are engaging with the Buddhist Path (not to mention for scholars who are attempting to make sense of Madhyamaka philosophy). If the ultimate truth is empty and free from conceptual proliferations, then in what way can it be said to exist? Conversely, if conceptual, dualistic conventions are eventually abandoned upon realizing the ultimate truth, then what purpose does the conventional actually serve? Both of these questions lead one to wonder: With Gorampa’s insistence on the supremacy of spros bral (freedom from conceptual proliferations), how seriously do we need to take the conventional truth, and why should one exert oneself through philosophical reasoning to get the conventional truth “right” ?
According to Gorampa, knowledge of the conventional is a tool that enables one to advance toward enlightenment, but it is not a component of enlightenment itself. That is, the conventional is conceptually constructed, and is not real. What, then, is the purpose of cultivating knowledge of something that isn't real? If the Buddhist Path is a process by which a practitioner comes to see things as they really are, then it seems counterintuitive that one would spend so much time and effort cultivating knowledge of something that is ultimately unreal.
The answer to this problem can perhaps best be explained by invoking the idea of ”ontological deflationism,” a term coined by Hilary Putnam, and further refined in two recent articles by David Chalmers and Matthew MacKenzie. Putnam argues that the project of ontology can be explained in three different ways: inflationism, reductionism, and eliminationism. Briefly, ontological inflationism corresponds to strong ontological realism, asserting the need for robust ontological commitments. Ontological reductionism, on the other hand, asserts that entities can be reduced to ontologically more basic things, and ontological eliminationism maintains that there are no wholes at all that can be reduced to smaller parts. Putnam argues that these latter two positions constitute ontological deflationism (as opposed to inflationism), because they reject a commitment to strong ontological claims.
MacKenzie, following Chalmers, argues that all three of Putnam’s categories are internal to the project of Ontology, and therefore do not offer a satisfactory critique of ontological claims overall. Ontological deflationism, MacKenzie argues, is a “metaontological position,”which “involves an attempt to reject or avoid the project [of Ontology] itself, and thus cannot be associated with any of the positions within the project.” So, while Putnam’s positions all make claims within the ontological project (i.e., they implicitly assert something about the project of Ontology), MacKenzie argues that a true deflationist avoids making any claims within the ontological project as a whole. There are thus two ways to be an ontological deflationist. The first is to avoid any ontological claims whatsoever. The second, which is what MacKenzie suggests Mādhyamikas are doing, is a weaker form of deflationism, in which one “may still find some use in ontological discourse, suitably deflated.” A weak deflationist, therefore, can say things about ontology without making any actual ontological commitments.
From an ontological deflationist’s perspective, reality does not need to be grounded in any ontological basis, and reasoning does not need to be grounded in any ontological reality. There is nothing, for the deflationist, that is necessarily ontologically more basic than the things with which one ordinarily engages. Affirming the existence of a table, for example, does not need to involve affirming some sort of objective, concrete existence of the table or its parts, nor does it need to involve denying the existence of the table and its parts altogether. For an ontological deflationist, a statement that attempts to assert some further fact about the table does not actually add any useful information. If one says that “The table’s existence is true,” the deflationist argues that this is no different than asserting “The table exists.” In other words, adding “is true” to a proposition does not add any new information to the statement. The deflationist argues that we can simply say, “There is a table there,” without saying that “There is truly a table there.”
Turning to the Madhyamaka project, we can begin to see the parallels between Gorampa's insistence on spros bral and ontological deflationism. The ultimate truth is empty, free from conceptual proliferations. Thus, insofar as we can talk about the existence of things, we can only talk about the conventional existence of things. There is no further fact to conventional existence; no ontologically more basic level of reality that underlies a thing's conventional existence.
On an ontological deflationist Madhyamaka view, then, we can say that reality is not grounded in any ontological basis, and reasoning is not grounded in any ontological reality. With this in mind, if we follow Gorampa’s presentation of the distinction between the two truths, we can also say that Buddhahood is not grounded in anything that fundamentally underlies the world as we see it. This is an important point, which highlights a key aspect of Gorampa's Madhyamaka. For Gorampa, becoming a Buddha, seeing the ultimate that is realized, just involves transforming the ways in which one sees. Realizing the ultimate does not consist in coming to discover something new. Gorampa’s entire project thus involves showing that there is no ontological basis underlying our conventional perceptions of things. There is, in other words, no ultimate nature that exists distinct from conventional appearances.
In short, we can understand Gorampa’s Madhyamaka in terms of ontological deflationism, while Tsongkhapa’s appears to involve some sort of commitment to an
ontology at the conventional level. Thupten Jinpa describes Tsongkhapa’s ontological commitment as “conventional realism.” That is, following Candrakīrti’s fictionalist stance, Tsongkhapa’s sense of knowledge about the truth is “veridical only within the limited framework of our everyday transactional, conventional world.” Jinpa goes on, however, to argue that “In the ultimate sense, all such knowledge remains provisional.”
This is an important distinction; while Gorampa contends that conventional appearances no longer remain at the level of the ultimate, Tsongkhapa argues that they are still accepted, but with certain qualifications. We will see the implications of qualifications such as these in the following chapter.
With this in mind, [Thupten] Jinpa summarizes the distinction between Tsongkhapa’s position and that of his opponents such as Gorampa as follows: “For Tsongkhapa, as shown earlier, the conventional (saṃvṛti) and the ultimate (paramārtha) are not two distinct entities with a categorically different ontological status. Rather, they are two aspects of one and the same world. There is only one world, the lived-in world of our everyday experience. This, however, is not the case with Tsongkhapa's critics. For them, the world of saṃvṛti is a world of illusion, which has no place within the perspective of an enlightened mind. At the stage of full enlightenment, the only perception that remains is that of emptiness. Like a mirage that disappears when approached, the perceptions of the multiple world of saṃvṛti are said to dissolve at enlightenment. Because of this, conventional reality cannot be accorded any established existential status. According to Tsongkhapa, however, '...it is necessary to accept a mode of being (gnas lugs) that is dependently originated, without essence, like a reflection.' Therefore, for Tsongkhapa, the rejection of this mode of being is not only logically incoherent, it is also spiritually dangerous, for it constitutes nihilism.”
Tsongkhapa’s emphasis on the two natures of things leads one to practice in such a way that one seeks out some fundamental substratum (i.e., the ultimate nature) in all things. When Madhyamaka is understood in this way, the conventional continues to be true, even after the ultimate truth has been discovered. Gorampa, on the other hand, has no such commitment to preserving truth at the conventional level. Once one has realized the ultimate truth, the conventional level of reality is no longer conventional truth, but rather merely conventional. Gorampa can, in other words, talk in terms of conventions without having any sort of commitment to the truth of those conventions. (For example, I can talk about I AM realization without reifying an internal perceiver)
By emphasizing the distinctions between correct and false seeing, rather than identifying two natures in things, Gorampa presents a system in which ontological commitments are not fundamentally important. Just as adding "is true" to a statement about a thing's existence does not actually provide the deflationist with any useful information over and above the statement of existence itself, Gorampa’s position is that there is no further fact underlying conventional existence, and any attempt to find some ultimate nature in conventional existence will undoubtedly fall short.
This should not be taken to mean that Gorampa believes that an experience of the ultimate involves an experience of nothing whatsoever. As we will see in the next chapter, Gorampa holds that the application of a specific type of analysis allows one to come to a realization of the ultimate truth. This analysis, however, reveals that there is no ontologically basic ground upon which the conventional truth is constructed. The
implication of this, which we will see in chapter five, is that accomplishments such as becoming a Buddha, behaving ethically, and cultivating wisdom, are processes which are inextricably linked to our conventional world and actions.
Gorampa argues that a correct understanding of the conventional is the basis for a subsequent realization of the ultimate. This does not mean that there is something that is somehow fundamentally true to our experiences, but rather that our ordinary, conventional experiences nevertheless help us to eventually arrive at a state that is free from conceptual proliferations. As noted above, Gorampa contends that if this were not the case, then any philosophical view (or, even more problematically, no view at all) could serve as a basis for a realization of the ultimate. The fact that conceptual thought is eventually abandoned does not imply that the conventional does not matter. Gorampa’s implementation of a sliding scale of analysis shows us that it does matter, but that it is slowly refined and eventually given up, in favor of a more accurate understanding of the way things really are. As McClintock suggests,
“…conventional reality… is not infallible or unassailable, a finding that can itself be demonstrated through analysis. But for this demonstration to occur, one must begin with the conventional and then apply analysis to it. Once this has been done, one can then use the conventional as a field for dialectical reasoning, offering inferences that start out from whatever can be agreed upon to appear to oneself and others in order to help others arrive at the Madhyamaka perspective.”
The conventional, therefore, is necessary precisely because it can be analyzed and eventually abandoned. As one moves toward buddhahood on Gorampa’s sliding scale of analysis, one’s understanding of the conventional is continually revised and refined until eventually, at the level of the realization of the actual ultimate that is free from conceptual proliferations, the conventional is no longer perceived at all.
This is a complicated problem, not just for Gorampa, but for all Mādhyamikas: if there is nothing really, substantially existent, then why is it the case that some conceptually constructed things are conventionally true, while other conceptually constructed things are conventionally false? Candrakīrti’s explanation is as follows:
“Even though [objects] do not exist [in a substantial sense], because they are taken for granted throughout the context of everyday experience, they are said to exist strictly with reference to worldly convention.”
The conventional truth (as opposed to conventional falsity) is that which is in accord with the conventions of the world. Conventional truths are conceptual constructions, but they are conceptual constructions that do not conflict with all of the other intricately related conceptual constructions with which ordinary beings engage every day. As Jan Westerhoff explains,
“The Mādhyamikas do not deny that there is a tree outside of my window, that 7+5=12, or that water is H2O. What they deny is the claim that there is anything to these true statements that we do not make ourselves, based on an ongoing and intricate process of conceptual construction.”
There are certain conceptual constructs that make sense in the context of our worldly conventions, and others that do not. Those that make sense are conventionally true, while those that do not are conventionally false. Again, from Gorampa’s deflationist perspective, there is no need to account for this in terms of anything that is fundamentally basic to our ordinary experiences.
The conventional truth is constructed by our conceptual proliferations, and when these conceptual proliferations subside, the conventional truth is no longer constructed. The only way to eliminate these conceptual proliferations (and therefore eliminate
suffering in its entirety) is by thoroughly understanding them. Once one is capable of understanding the conventional truth and conceptual proliferations, one can analyze these things, and progress along the sliding scale of analysis in order to eventually eliminate
them. This is why Gorampa contends that a correct understanding of the conventional truth is necessary for a nonconceptual, nondual realization of the ultimate truth.
At first glance, it seems contradictory that one would perform a conceptual analysis of the conventional in order to eliminate conceptual thought, for this appears to be creating a system in which one is weighing oneself down with more concepts, rather than getting rid of them. But Gorampa argues that analysis is, at least initially, the only way for conceptual proliferations to subside completely. This conceptual analysis must be carried out, however, in a very specific way, according to a specific process of reasoning known as the tetralemma (catuṣkoṭi, mtha’ bzhi). One must first understand the conventional truth and its relationship to the ultimate as we have seen Gorampa describe above. Then, one must analyze the conventional truth through the tetralemma. As we will see in the following chapter, Gorampa argues that when the tetralemma is conceptualized correctly, it serves as a basis for the nonconceptual realization of the ultimate.
In short, Gorampa argues that the Buddhist Path involves a process of transforming one's perspective. One begins by correctly identifying and understanding the conventional truth. Then, through logical reasoning and meditative practices (which, again, will be elaborated in the following chapter), one gradually begins to realize that this so-called truth is merely conventional and that it is not grounded in anything other than our own conceptual constructs. This leads to a conceptual understanding of the ultimate that is taught. Through more analysis and practice still, one eventually leaves behind the merely conventional and directly experiences the ultimate truth that is realized, which does not depend on language and concepts. In other words, when one realizes the ultimate that is taught, a distinctive feature of this realization is that, even though it depends on concepts (and thus ignorance), it can actually be used to negate concepts and eliminate ignorance. For Gorampa, seeing the ultimate is not about seeing something new (or simply forgetting about what we conventionally see); it is about seeing differently.
As Gorampa has shown, "correct seeing" can be understood in multiple ways. This is the case with different levels of analysis pertaining to the minds of different types of beings (see chapter 3), but it is also the case with respect to an ordinary person's understanding of the conventional truth. As Gorampa makes clear, there are multiple ways to get the conventional "right." Appearances can be correctly understood, for example, in terms of mind, or in terms of external objects. The important issue for Gorampa is that a correct understanding of appearances leads to the eventual realization of the ultimate. The criteria for "correct seeing," in other words, is that which allows one to eventually deconstruct the scaffolding of the conventional.
Because a realization of the ultimate involves the complete elimination of all conceptual proliferations in their entirety, the specific concepts that one employs in order to eventually arrive at such a state are ultimately not important. Through making sense of the conventional (however it might be understood), one begins to make sense of the ultimate truth that is taught. The conceptual structures of the conventional, in other words, allow one to construct an idea of "the Madhyamaka view" (even though ultimately, there is no view). Like the temporary scaffolding on a construction site, however, these conceptual structures are eventually no longer needed, and are subsequently removed. Conceptual structures, in other words, are necessary in order to bring about a realization of the ultimate, but once the ultimate is realized, these conceptual structures disappear. They are extraneous to the realization that is the goal.
This contrasts with someone like Tsongkhapa, who contends that one must work to develop one very specific concept of emptiness in order to realize the ultimate truth. Emptiness, for Tsongkhapa, is an object (yul). As such, a practitioner must work to understand the conventional in very specific ways, in order to eventually realize that very specific object directly. There is no room for flexibility about the conventional for someone like Tsongkhapa, because it is used to orient a practitioner toward a specific object. For Tsongkhapa, the conventional is not part of the temporary scaffolding that allows one to eventually realize the nature of reality nonconceptually; rather, the
conventional is part of the structure of reality itself (which I personally disagree with).
Me: Some people might read Tsongkhapa and think awakening is about seeing conventional/ultimate reality simultaneously, but in terms of direct perception there is only one reality that ultimately appears. This is like following Thanissaro’s presentation of anatta and believing anatta is about seeing self is merely illusionary but conventionally exists rather than completely non-existent, although Tsongkhapa’s insight is much more profound than most teachers, even if I don’t resonate that much anymore with the way he presents conventional reality in relation to the perception/realization of ultimate reality.
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