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Closing Consciousness, Disclosing Gnosis
Connate unawareness
is mindless oblivious cognizance.
Imaginative unawareness
is the clinging to the duality of self and other.
This twofold connate and imaginative unawareness
is the ground of delusion of all sentient beings.


Bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide by the means of prajñāpāramitā.
Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear.
They transcend falsity and attain complete nirvāṇa.
All the Buddhas of the three times, by means of prajñāpāramitā,
fully awaken to unsurpassed, true, complete enlightenment.


Inscrutable as neither nonexistent nor existent
nor both existent and nonexistent nor other than existent and nonexistent,
Free from etymological interpretation, to be personally experienced, and peaceful –
I pay homage to this sun of the dharma, which shines the light of stainless wisdom
And defeats passion, aggression, and mental darkness with regard to all focal objects.

—Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra

Consciousness (Sanskrit: vijñāna; Tibetan: rnam shes) is considered to be, from the negative dialectics school (Prāsaṅgika, thal ‘gyur pa) of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist soteriology and orthopraxy, thoroughly and irrevocably erroneous, functioning contrary to and being out of sync with the way things really are (tattva; de kho na nyid). Since reality is understood as being free from all conceptual elaboration (niṣprapañca; spros bral)—which is to say that it precedes, succeeds and exceeds the bounds of reflection and categorization—it is inaccessible from the scope of mundane consciousness, which genetically originates from and is transcendentally founded upon a primeval bifurcation between an apprehending subject (grāhaka) and an apprehended object (grāhya), introducing dissonance and friction within our experience of reality where there otherwise are none.

This basic subject-object structure pervades all forms of consciousness, whether sensory-perceptual or mental-intellectual, and is the imaginative or conceptual ignorance (kun tu brtags pa'i ma rig pa) derived from a causally preceding and logically antecedent condition of the connate ignorance (lhenchik kyepé marigpa) consisting of a basic unawareness of the nature of reality. This means that consciousness does not just risk being out of sync with reality, but more strongly, will always be out of sync since its own discrete, momentary existence is predicated on a privation and appropriation of the qualities and powers immanent to the sublime continuum of perfect gnosis (jñāna; ye shes), which directly, reflexively and non-conceptually intimates its non-dual unity with ultimate reality (paramārtha-satya; don dam bden pa).

Since consciousness can only present or represent reality through an integral nexus of differential signs which indefinitely defer their meanings to other signs (this is the logical consequence of a nominalistic theory of concepts and universals held by all Buddhist schools), it is incapable of ascertaining the nature of reality on its own terms. Consciousness is entirely pervaded by the underlying infrastructure of subject-object duality that made it possible in the first place. While the Kantian transcendental deduction of judgements and categories is meant to refer to the a priori conditions of all possible experience, an ironic quasi-neo-Kantian Buddhist may accept this view with qualification that the a priori is the condition of all mistaken experience. Hence the transcendental unity of apperception is a transcendental structure of delusion. Enclosed by its own self-referential circuit wherein any perception or conception of reality is always-already mediated by transcendental delusion, consciousness traps itself within a correlational circle of its own making. Only the power of reason qua analytically discerning wisdom (prajñā, shes rab) can pierce through and disrupt the veil of practical illusion in order to disclose the nature of mind.

Mental faculties like ratiocination and imagination are “productive” in that they add to everything being accounted for by a system of thought; whether through differentiation or integration, the quantity of entities are multiplied. They are also “derivative” in that they can only work by originally abstracting from initial sensory data collected from the sense organs and then combining these abstractions to create complex concepts and/or further abstracting from existing abstractions to produce more refined abstractions. In contrast to these mundane mental functions of consciousness, analytically discerning wisdom is thoroughly eliminative: it does not consist of quantitative but qualitative reduction, which is another way to say that it does not concern itself with the mode of appearances of entities since appearances are not the neganda to be negated—it is only concerned with their mode of existence, which is mistaken from the point of view of the imputing ignorance of mental consciousness conditioned by the connate ignorance of basic unawareness, which takes subjects and objects to truly exist.

By allowing us to pierce through the veil of ignorance that construes experience in terms of an a priori subject-object structure, analytically discerning wisdom is able to disclose the gnoseological basis of consciousness itself, unconcealing its concealment by consciousness through its absolute negation by means of the immanent critique of all possible modes of existence entertained by the mind. While cutting through the veil of delusion through the power of analytically discerning wisdom is necessary in order to bring one to genuine contact with the real conditions of existence, such moments of cutting or breaking through on their own are not sufficient to completely destroy the propensity for hypostatization and reification, which tends to roar back to the fore when the temporary autonomous zone of meditative equipoise passes into the relatively tumultuous nature of life under “saṃsāra” or the cyclical reproduction of ignorance and suffering.

Hence there must be a revolutionary process by which the parasitic and exploitative functions of ordinary consciousness are systematically extricated from one’s continuum, such that the impulse towards the deluded apprehension of objects by an apprehending subject permanently comes to cease. Through the successful dissolution of the transcendental structure of subject-object delusion by means of the immanent movement of analytically discerning wisdom, the expropriator is expropriated, and the sublime continuum of perfect gnosis as the unity-in-diversity of luminous appearance and empty reality is consummated in the attainment of perfect Buddhahood—the ultimate form of attainment for each and every being—awake, alert and readily poised to give to each according to their ultimate need in accordance with one’s maximal capabilities.

The parasitic symbiosis of consciousness and gnosis that affords the former its momentary, apparent existence (in spite of being merely abstracted from the concrete continuum through the differential primitive accumulation of subjects and objects) not only occurs but functions in accordance with the mode of operation peculiar to the terms governing consciousness. Since consciousness fails to represent or even present reality as it is, it can only fabricate a construct of it through the medium of a generic image or universal.

According to the “Valid Cognition” (pramāṇa; tshad ma) tradition of logico-epistemology inaugurated by Dignāga and refined by Dharmakīrti, a generic image functioning as a universal (sāmānyalakṣaṇa) is constructed out of a process of inclusive-exclusion wherein a certain x is identified by way of the exclusion of all particulars (svālakṣaṇa) which do not figure in x, such that the identity of x is constituted by the “exclusion of the other” (anyāpoha, sel ba), –x. Hence, the identity of x is not afforded directly by x’s ostensible correspondence to a truly existing, objective state of affairs that would validate its claim to identity, but afforded only indirectly through reference to what it is not. This indirect, rather than direct, relation between a sense and its reference is why Dignāga conceives of the exclusion operation as a form of inference (anumāna) rather than perception (pratyaksa)—there is no actual presence of a universal other than the contours implied by the absence of others; words are merely inferential indicators.[1]

Since this is a connotationist semiotics based on the principle that the meaning (svārtha) of an individual sign or word (śabda) is based on its relation to other signs through relations of indirect exclusion, rather than on a denotative, direct correspondence between a sign and its signifier,[2] the exclusion theory goes radically against the grain of the prevailing orthodox views of the Brahmanical Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika and Mīmāṁsā schools of Vedic hermeneutics, who relied upon a realist theory of imperishable or eternal universals in order to justify the absolute authority of the words of the purportedly “authorless” and “divinely revealed” Vedas, which formed the ideological backbone of ancient Indian society with its rigid system of caste.

The Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika in particular were very strict about the proper delineation of the genuine universal, such that they developed a six-step “universal blocker”[3] program in order to test the qualifications of a property purported to be a universal by asking whether the property being considered as a universal
1. is singularly or multiply exemplified by its particulars,
2. shares extension with other universals,
3. is mutually exclusive or inclusive with other universals,
4. is regress-generating or not,
5. is solely an individuating characteristic or not,
6. only bears the relation of inherence to its bearer or not.

A purported universal can only satisfy the criteria for inclusion into the domain of real universals if it is determined to be singularly exemplified, not sharing extension, mutually exclusive, is not regress-generating, is not solely an individuator, and bears only the relation of inherence to its bearer. All of these criteria are markedly in contrast to the nature of particulars, which multiply exemplify, can share extension with other particulars, can be mutually inclusive, can be regress-generating, can function solely as individuators, and can relate with each other beyond just relations of inherence; indeed, within these systems of Vedic hermeneutics there is a clear differentiation between universal and particular that is systematically contained with very little room for miscegenation between the two domains.

Any property that does not satisfy each and every single one of these qualifications gets expelled to a surplus population of non-universal generalities granted only titular status, which may be of much theoretical and practical use but are inconsequential to the foundational role “true” universals play in the confirmation and consolidation of Brahmanical authority and by consequence, the firm establishment of the social architectonics of caste. Defined by a hierarchical stratification of self-contained, hereditary classes of persons, these classes of caste bear many of the same qualities that ostensibly true universals are purported to bear: castes exemplify many members, do not share members amongst each other, are mutually exclusive, are not “regress-generating” in the sense that there are no formal castes within castes, are not merely principles of individuation amongst the population but are structures which form the shape of individual lives, and are said to inhere as the pre-given natural disposition and/or role of the person born into that caste. As it has been made evident, grounding the reality of universals in a positive way as corresponding to an eternally existent state of affairs was crucial not only to justify the authority of Vedic scripture, but also to naturalize hierarchical social structures of caste and class to the extent that socially constructed positions of status where considered to be natural kinds.[4]

In this context, the pramāṇavadin’s exclusion theory looks like a direct attack, at the discursive level, of the very foundations of Brahmanism and its hierarchical class society. This threat was indeed felt strongly by Dignāga’s main opponents, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa of the Mīmāṁsā and Uddyotakara of the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, both of whom dedicated entire works or least significant portions of their major works to launch scathing yet incisive criticisms of the exclusion theory. Kumārila’s specific treatment is based on three distinct charges, that the exclusion theory is (1) counterintuitive, (2) circular and (3) useless.[5] For the sake of brevity we can lightly touch on the first and third charges before proceeding to a more detailed treatment of the circularity problem.

The first charge that the exclusion theory is counterintuitive rests on the notion that the realist account that universals inhere in the particulars which exemplify them corresponds to our common-sense notions that words point to things they resemble. However, Dharmakīrti points out[6] that the realist himself does not escape the fact that even his positive theory requires negation to support it: a word must point to its specific referent and no other, otherwise it would be useless. So while the Buddhist nominalist may be putting forth a scheme that seems counterintuitive due to the reliance on negation and exclusion in the constitution of an ostensibly positive phenomenon, she simply makes explicit what the realist makes merely implicit in his own account. The third charge is based on the argument that a connotationist semiotics has no real need for an exclusion theory since even “in the absence of a corresponding external object there is an intuition signified by the sentence”. But this entirely rests on the notion of what counts as useful; the exclusion theory is not meant to directly explain how our ordinary epistemic practices function but to explain the logico-causal process of concept-formation.

The second, most famous and most critical charge, was the charge of circularity which generally consists of the argument that if we are to constitute x only indirectly through the exclusion of its negation, we would have to have already identified x in order to differentiate it from –x. Then it would seem that the constitution of x by way of an exclusion of the negation would be entirely superfluous since x would already be known. This is also sometimes called an “interdependence argument” because of the mutual dependence of x and –x. The major force of the argument is not just that the exclusion operation is superfluous because the universal being accounted for is already assumed to exist, but that since both x and –x are mutually constituting, there is no place from which the process of exclusion could even start.

Dharmakīrti attempts to solve this problem by breaking with the strict logical circularity by introducing a unilinear causal relation between x and the particular qualities, y, exemplified by it. Something like x inheres within y, and sensory contact with y produces a generic image of x at the interface between a sensory organ and its corresponding class of sensory object. This generic image is constructed out of a “judgment of sameness” (ekapratyavamarśa)[7] between different particulars, wherein the subject is able to identify a resemblance between a present-moment particular and a stored imprint (vāsanā) in the subconscious storehouse of mind (ālaya-vijñāna) caused by a similar particular in the past. However, this similarity does not exist objectively “out there” like really existing particulars (this would directly contradict the theory that universals are just names assigned to exclusions), but are rather subjective constructs based on the interplay between an axiological aim driven by goal-oriented practices that delimits the range of what is sought out in experience and the connate ignorance that is unaware of the fact that reality is in the nature of being devoid of true universals. These two conditions work together to constitute an ingrained habit of automatically identifying similarities where there otherwise are none.

The pramāṇavadin’s exclusion theory did not just work to solve the problem of how universals can meaningfully extend over particulars all the while being unreal mental constructs, it was also a means to provide a solution to the problem of reconciling the prima facie contradiction between the Buddha’s teaching that the self (ātmā/pudgala, bdag/gang zag) does not truly exist because it is a mere nominal designation imputed upon a basis that is nonself (anātman, bdag med) (such as the impersonal psycho-somatic constituents of experience, or skandhas),[8] with the Buddha’s teaching that the self is to be relinquished[9] in the process of attaining the two-fold fruition of the liberation from suffering and the fruition of omniscience. If there is no self, how would it be possible to even grasp at the self, such that one could then subsequently relinquish said self?

The exclusion theory provides a way of understanding how a generic sense of self might be generated or conceived, thus affording us the possibility of relating to it by the way of affirmation, identification, negation or exclusion, without conceding to it the kind of positive existential status that would undermine the core Buddhist thesis of non-self. Like a hole or a shadow mistaken for a substantial thing, the self is construed positively only as a reified absence of others, existing only as a generic image or quasi-universal which causally originates from yet is irreducible to the perception of the particulars exemplified by it.

While Dharmakīrti adds necessary innovations to Dignāga’s original theory in order to situate his nominalist epistemology of unreal universals within the terms of a foundationalist ontology of real particulars generally accepted even by non-Buddhist schools, thus rendering himself impervious to Brahmanical assault, the theory is not entirely without its faults. Perhaps the greatest critics of the Valid Cognition enterprise of Dignāga-Dharmakīrti do not come from without but from within the Buddhist tradition—starting in India with Candrakīrti, who was and is considered by virtually all schools of Tibetan Buddhism to be not only the most authoritative commentator on the works of the “second Buddha” Ācārya Nāgārjuna, rivaling even Nāgārjuna’s closest disciple Āryadeva, but was and is also recognized as a highly accomplished yogi-scholar of his own right and the first to definitively establish the apagogic method of negative dialectics (by which a given proposition is disproved by appeal to the absurdity of denying its contrary) as the principle, if not exclusive, technique deployed by Nāgārjuna in his exhaustive deconstruction of various existential and doctrinal Buddhist categories in his magnum opus Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (“The Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way”, henceforth MMK).

Both the dedicatory verses in the introduction preceding the formal chapters and the first verse of the MMK exemplify the eliminativism and negativism of the dialectic-analytic deconstructive method deployed in the work, both of which are worth quoting at length:

I salute the Fully Enlightened One, best of orators,
Who taught the doctrine of dependent origination,
According to which there is neither cessation nor origination,
Neither annihilation nor the eternal,
Neither singularity nor plurality,
Neither the coming nor going of any thing
For the purpose of nirvana characterized by
The auspicious cessation of hypostatization.
1.1. Not from itself, not from another, not from both, nor without cause:
Never in any way is there any existing thing that has arisen.[10]

While a genuine comprehension of the totality of the MMK cannot be attained without a thorough reading of not just each individual part considered in isolation, but also through their hermeneutic relation to the integral whole (which demands multiple readings and continuous analysis), the utter simplicity of the whole enterprise is expressed in the first verse. Here at the very beginning of analysis, we start with what we finally end up with at the end of analysis: namely, that nothing has, is or will ever originate, which simultaneously entails that nothing has, is or will ever cease, since as oppositional contrasts these binary terms are reciprocally determining and mutually entailing—one cannot exist meaningfully without the other. The same applies to any other antinomical pair of contrasting terms, such as the rest listed in the Dedicatory Verses.

The method that Nāgārjuna deploys in order to justify this premise/reach this conclusion is that of an immanent critique of the existential categories found in Buddhist scholastic (abhidharma, chos mngon pa) theories of mind and mental processes. By teasing out the logical consequences of an opponent’s view (with the opponent typically appearing in the text as a hypothetical interlocutor) in order to show how those consequences contradict the opponent’s own foundational premises, Nāgārjuna is able to successively negate the validity of a notion’s claim to truth, which includes such common philosophical notions as causality, conditionality, motion, desire, agency, time, parts, self etc. as well as Buddhist categories of soteriology and phenomenology such as the āyatanas, skandhas, dhātus, duḥkha, Tathāgata, catvāryāryasatyā, Nirvāṇa, pratītyasamutpāda etc.

Key to Nāgārjuna’s method is that he does not offer a counter-position to any of the positions he negates; his negations are thoroughgoing “absolute negations” (niṣedha, med dgag) that simply refute the validity of views taken under consideration without supplying more favorable alternatives. Nāgārjuna’s dialectics, rather than deploying the force of negativity as means to the end of establishing some positive ultimate in the last instance, is thoroughly negative to the point that it brings an end to itself along with the material being deconstructed. If the parasitism of philosophic reflection born of ordinary deluded consciousness negotiates a complex dialectical tension with the sublime continuum of gnosis whose powers it appropriates and whose reality it depends upon, the parasitism of Nāgārjuna’s apagogic negative dialectic—which appears as none other than the textual deployment of analytically discerning wisdom—is utterly suicidal: it destroys itself along with its host. But this is not self-destruction that results in failure: on the contrary, self-destruction is proof of the success of his method.

While Nāgārjuna himself states that he holds no views, and thus can never fall into error, it would be remiss to dismiss the fact that Nāgārjuna has something like a view, the important distinction being that while Nāgārjuna holds no philosophical position on the ultimate nature of things he does have a recognition of the ultimate nature of things that allows him to magnificently deploy the power of reason in the specific way that he does without succumbing to the deluded and deluding power of mundane consciousness. Part of this recognition is the absolute impossibility of anything like svabhāva/rang bzhin. This term has many, sometimes mutually conflicting meanings, but in this context may roughly translate to any of these terms: own-being, intrinsic nature, inherent identity, along with having rough approximations to the concepts of substance, essence, quiddity or haecceity. In short, it is the notion that for something to be real, it must be real intrinsically, without reference to anything beyond itself as a support for its own being.

As a hypothetical mode of existence, the notion of svabhāva suggests that there are things that can exist on their own without dependence upon others, but part of Nāgārjuna’s recognition of the ultimate nature is that this hypothetical mode of existence is impossible, in spite of constantly imposing itself through the sheer force of mistaken consciousness. Whereas his own hypothetical interlocutor as well as actual Buddhist and non-Buddhist critics accuse him of various degrees of nihilism, suggesting that his negations undermine the possibility of both worldly and dharmic praxis, Nāgārjuna responds with the tu quoque point that it is actually his opponents, who adhere to the notion of svabhāva, who undermine the possibility of practice because the principle of svabhāva is nothing but a mistaken assumption born of spiritual ignorance (avidyā, ma rigpa). Key to this notion is that, as a function of the connate ignorance, it is not principally a conceptual error at the level of belief but a pre-reflective, pre-thematic condition of any form of thinking and being.

Since Dignāga-Dharmakīrti did not come on to the scene until centuries after Nāgārjuna’s MMK, they were not explicitly brought up of course, but their adherence to the intrinsic nature of really existing particulars falls under the scope of Nāgārjuna’s critique. The issue of circularity endemic to the exclusion theory of universals and concept-formation may originate from this very adherence to intrinsically real particulars, since it generates the problem of how something of a completely different, unreal nature (like a universal) is able to causally originate from something of a real nature (like a particular) if nothing like the former inheres in the latter. This means that the universal is something entirely different from the particular (something the pramāṇavadins would readily accept), but this begs the question as to the necessary relationship between this universal and the particulars it is supposed to exemplify. Dignāga leaves this problem to be solved by the future, and Dharmakīrti is only able to patch it up by taking the risky move of suggesting that there is something of the universal that does causally originate from the particular even while remaining intrinsically different from it in nature.

Candrakīrti claims that these issues stem from the pramāṇavadin’s commitment to an essentialist ontology of really existing particulars and a foundationalist epistemology based on the incontrovertible status of perception relative to inference.[11] As a negative dialectician in line with Nāgārjuna’s unphilosophical method, Candrakīrti refuses to give onto-epistemic precedence to either perception or inference since they are to be understood and analyzed as instances of antinomical contrasts which are mutually entailing and hence devoid or empty (sunya) of independent meaning, as well as refusing to give ultimate existential status to any individual or class of entity or process—pointing to his own commitment to a thoroughly anti-essentialist ontology of emptiness wherein nothing can be established as ultimately real (paramārthasatya/don dam bden pa) and an anti-foundationalist epistemology affirming a plurality of methods of acquiring knowledge within the transactional domain (vyavahāra) of merely relative or conventional truth (saṃvṛtisatya/kun rdzob bden pa).

While seemingly contradictory, recognition of the ultimate truth of emptiness and the affirmation of a plurality of epistemic practices at the conventional level go hand in hand, for Nāgārjuna himself states in MMK 24.10 that “the ultimate truth is not taught independently of customary ways of talking and thinking. Not having acquired the ultimate truth, nirvāṇa is not attained.” Though the conventional domain is entirely immanent to the transcendental structure of delusion, the ultimate cannot be conceived as being Outside of the conventional since transactional notions of inside/outside only obtain from within the structure of delusion—the only way out (to the ultimate) is through (the conventional).

The pramāṇavadin logico-epistemologists agree with the Prāsaṅgika negative dialecticians that consciousness is structured by ignorance and powered by delusion, yet for the latter the former do not go far enough in their nominalism, since in their attempt to debate with the Brahmins they conceded too much to the opposition’s foundationalist and essentialist terms. This bears significant relation to the doxographic distinction in Tibetan Madhyamaka scholarship between “Svātantrikas” and the Prāsaṅgikas, or between those (like Bhāviveka, Kamalaśīla and Śāntarakṣita) who principally deploy the use of autonomous, syllogistic reasoning to establish the view of emptiness, and those (like Āryadeva, Buddhapālita and Candrakīrti) who only use apagogic reasonings like the reductio ad absurdum in order to point to the folly of holding a view contrary to emptiness.

While Indian Svātantrikas like Kamalaśīla and Śāntarakṣita did not have much of a problem synthesizing Yogācāra pramāṇavadin logico-epistemology with Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka anti-foundationalism, virtually all Tibetan schools start with the premise that Candrakīrti’s Prāsaṅgika reaches the developmental apex of Indian Madhyamaka, and so this end is their starting premise. But because no other school of Indian Buddhism developed a more sophisticated system of logic and epistemology, Tibetan monastic education often starts with pramāṇa logico-epistemology before learning and practicing Madhyamaka dialectics. Thus, although Candrakīrti’s Prāsaṅgika is concerned to be definitive, all major thinkers of Tibetan Madhyamaka in some way or another incorporate and deploy the insights developed by Dignāga-Dharmakīrti.

While there is much discourse and debate in Tibetan Madhyamaka as to how to precisely delimit the negandum to be negated by analytically discerning wisdom (camps are largely divided between “logocentrists” like the Gelukpas and “mysticists” like the Shentongpas over whether or not the negandum to be negated by analytically discerning wisdom is merely hypostatic existence or existence as such),[12] it is commonly held throughout the different schools that the function of analytically discerning wisdom is to refute all possible modes of reality (enumerated tetralemically as the four extremes of either existence or non-existence, both existence and non-existence, and neither existence nor non-existence) to attain a state of freedom from conceptual elaborations (spros pa dang bral ba).

Being free from conceptual elaboration and hence being without the architectural edifice of delusion that springs from it, one is given a chance to recognize the nature of one’s state free from such encumbrances. Then the gnoseological basis of one’s own mind is disclosed and one is able to embark on a path to the inexorable and permanent elimination of all afflictive obstructions to deep bliss and all knowledge obstructions to total omniscience. This gnoseological basis is, according to Nyingma polymath Ju Mipham, “the one truth, nirvāṇa, the limit of reality. It is the ultimate state of all phenomena, enlightened being wherein knowing and known are inseparable, pure wisdom experience without limit or center.”[13]

Though empty of any real foundation, this basis is endowed with immense fecundity, functioning as the primordially pure basis of not only the transcendental structure of delusion giving rise to subjects, objects and their saṃsāric world of suffering and ignorance, but also to the analytically discerning wisdom that realizes the ultimate truth of such things in the blissful and illuminating state of Nirvāṇa. Being the original condition for the spontaneous emergence of time and space, it is beyond time and space, as well as being beyond any category of quantity, quality, relation or modality—it is free, utterly free.

It is so free that it is even free to make use of such categories on a relative and provisional level! Indeed, being empty, even gnosis cannot be truly established as ultimately real, since gnosis is the very condition of establishing anything, whether deluded or awakened. Hence, rather than being something that utterly transcends the unreality of reality, gnosis is absolutely immanent to reality, not existing beyond its own appearances, including deluded appearance—it is the “basic space of phenomena”. And it is precisely because gnosis is not separate from the reality it experiences nondual unity with that it can serve as the means by which all needs can be fulfilled.

Unobstructed timeless awareness, a naturally occurring spacious expanse,
is utterly lucid—unobscured, with no division into outer and inner –
so self-knowing awareness is the great radiant mirror of mind.
The precious gem that provides for all wants is the basic space of phenomena.
Since everything occurs naturally without having to be sought,
naturally occurring timeless awareness is the splendid source of all one could wish for.[14]
  • 1

    SIDERITS, Mark, TILLEMANS, Tom & CHAKRABARTI, Arindam (eds.), Apoha: Buddhist Nominalism and Human Cognition, Columbia University Press, 2011, p. 66.

  • 2

    According to Brons, “the closest Western equivalent to this idea is Derrida’s concept of ‘différance’, which similarly expresses a deferring of meaning (or determination) by reference to or embedding in a network of different, but related, concepts”. (BRONS, Lajos, “Dharmakīrti, Davidson, and Knowing Reality”, in: Comparative Philosophy, 3(1), 2012, p. 39)

  • 3

    Ibid., p. 8.

  • 4

    According to Berger, “Naiyāyikas … are philosophers of identity, and they are so in two senses, one metaphysical and the other methodological. They believe that objects are wholes (avayavin), that is to say, particular instantiations of universal substance-quality relations. Things are identified based on a correct apprehension of essences in which certain qualities inhere. This holds true whether one is attempting to properly locate a tree or a brahmin, since both are examples of natural kinds (jāti) and not constructed kinds (upādhi). This metaphysical essentialism, which serves as a support to the traditional social structure, is backed up by the Naiyāyikas with a methodological bias, which assumes that realistically grounded forms of reference are the only valid forms of discourse and debate.” (BERGER, Douglas L., Indian and Intercultural Philosophy: Personhood, Consciousness and Causality, Bloomsbury Academic, 2021, p. 104)

  • 5

    DREYFUS, Georges B. J., Recognizing Reality: Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy and Its Tibetan Interpretations, State University of New York Press, 1997, p. 215.

  • 6

    According to Pascale Hugon, “Dharmakīrti invokes the necessity of a restriction in the setting of a convention to guarantee that the application of the convention will not be deviant; it is not enough to know what a word applies to, one must also make sure that it does not apply to anything else”. (SIDERITS et al., Apoha, p. 113)

  • 7

    Ibid., p. 116.

  • 8

    Addressing a group of five mendicants, the Buddha had once said: “Any kind of form … feeling … perception … volitional formations … consciousness … should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘this is not mine, this is I am not, this is not my self.’” (Anattalakkhanasutta, SN 22.59,

  • 9

    The Buddha states that the cessation of suffering results from the cessation or relinquishing of craving: “Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of craving [for sensual pleasure, for existence/being, for extermination/non-being], the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.” The Buddha then states that having not just understood suffering and abandoned it, he has realized its complete cessation, leading to the arising of “vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light”. (Dhammacakkappavattanasutta, SN 56.11,

  • 10

    SIDERITS, Mark & KATSURA, Shoryu (trans.), Nagarjuna’s Middle Way: Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, Wisdom Publications, 2013, p. 18.

  • 11

    According to Dreyfus, Candrakirti considers pramānavadin’s system of logico-epistemology as “contradicting the Madhyamaka rejection of essentialism. For Candrakirti, Madhyamikas should undermine, or, to use a by now worn out word, deconstruct concepts that presuppose an idea of essential identity”. Additionally, since for the Prāsangika-Madhyamaka both particulars and universals are unreal mental constructs, “particulars and universals are given the same ontological status,” which “contrasts with the ontological privilege Dharmakirti accords to particulars”. (DREYFUS, Recognizing Reality, pp. 19, 195)

  • 12

    According to Phuntsho, Nyingmapa Mipham attempts to go beyond these two orientations, represented by the “Gelukpa understanding of the absence of hypostatic existence as ultimate” on the one hand and the “advocates of the gzhan stong [Shentong] theory, who claim that … the state of nirvana qua enlightened nature is absolute and inherently existent” on the other, aiming to inclusively transcend both notions in favor of a view of the ultimate as the indivisible coalescence of emptiness and appearance. (PHUNTSO, Karma, Mipham’s Dialectics and the Debates on Emptiness, Routledge, 2010, p. 152)

  • 13

    Mi pham rgya mtsho. Don rnam par nges pa shes rab ral gri mchan bcas (Sword of Wisdom),

  • 14

    Klong chen rab ‘byams, Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod ces bya ba (The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena), Padma Publishing, 2001, p. 33.

Kazi Adi Shakti

Kazi is an artist based in Baltimore.