Gaining Certainty of the View – Part 1/6


Instructions on Chapter 7.3 of

“The Compendium of Knowledge – Shes-bya Kun-khyab mDzöd”

composed by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great


presented by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

at the Thrangu House, Oxford, England, in 1995



Gaining Certainty of the View

1. Why a Correct View is Necessary

2. Developing the Wisdom of Selflessness

    • No Self of a Subject
    • No Self of an Object
    • Four Mistaken Views


  • The Four Seals




The reason we practice the Buddhadharma is to gain the results. In terms of the Sutras, the result is liberation from suffering, Buddhahood. In terms of Vajrayana, the results are the general and supreme siddhis of complete and perfect Buddhahood. To gain those results, we need to have the samadhi of meditation, and we need to have the correct view so that our meditation is non-mistaken, correct, and goes well.


Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye composed “Shes-bya Kun-khyab mDzö.” The English translation of the title is “A Compendium of Knowledge.” This great treatise is an extensive elucidation of the logical progression through the study and practices of the paths that are taught in the Sutras and Tantras and describes the final results. It is divided into ten principal chapters and each chapter consists of four sections. From among the three chapters on wisdom, meditation, and conduct, the seventh chapter of this great treatise is about wisdom and the third section of this chapter is about the correct view. It is necessary to understand what the basis of Dharma practice is, how the Dharma should be practised, and what the results of our practices will be. The results are achieved by having the correct view.


There are two distinct aspects of the view: acknowledging and realizing the apparent nature of things and the true nature of things. As far as the apparent nature of things is concerned, there is suffering and there are difficulties, problems, and obstacles. As for the true nature of things, there is peace. We need to ascertain the true nature of phenomena and experiences in order to become free from misapprehending the apparent nature of things. The true nature is realized by ascertaining emptiness, and that is the view of the Madhyamaka (‘the middle way’). There are two views in the Madhyamaka. They are Rangtong and Shentong (‘empty of self’ and ‘empty of other’).


The Buddha was born as the son of a king. He was a prince who abandoned samsaric life, went through the hardships of practicing, and attained complete Buddhahood at the foot of the Bodhitree in Bodhgaya. Having attained this result, the Buddha thought, “I have attained this very profound, clear, beneficial, and good result through my meditation and hardships. If I try to explain to others how they should meditate and practice in order to gain the same results, they would not understand. Therefore it is best for me to stay in meditation.” The Buddha then remained in meditation for seven weeks and did not transmit his realisation to anyone. It was only after Brahma and Indra supplicated the Buddha to teach that he set the Wheel of Dharma in motion and gave the teachings.


The Buddha had many different kinds of disciples, so he did not give the same teachings to every one. He gave the easier teachings that are known as Hinayana to pupils with less wisdom and diligence and more complex teachings to those possessing superior wisdom and diligence. He taught Hinayana disciples that the nature of samsara is suffering and that one can attain personal liberation from samsara by one’s own efforts. He taught about the kleshas (‘mental defilements’) and showed that one has to eliminate the root of the mind’s defilements, which is belief in a self. Can belief in a self be eliminated? Yes.


The thought “I” or “me” is an object of belief and attachment. If one examines that object, the self, and tries to find where it is, one will not be able to find or identify it but will discover that this thought has no reality and is a delusion. It is this understanding that destroys believing in and being attached to oneself, and that is how one severs the root of the mental defilements. The Buddha taught this method of realizing selflessness to Hinayana followers and in that way showed them how to attain their own liberation from samsara. Is this enough to attain complete Buddhahood? No. It was necessary for the Buddha to teach the greater way, the Mahayana.


The disposition and attitude of Mahayana followers is greater because they are not only concerned about themselves but also about others. It is necessary not to be afraid of the suffering in samsara when benefitting others. Is it possible to not be afraid of suffering? One continues being fearful of samsaric appearances as long as one thinks that they are real. Therefore the Buddha taught that all phenomena in samsara are devoid of a true nature. He taught that the nature of each and every phenomenon and appearance is emptiness. If a practitioner sees emptiness, then his or her belief in and attachment to a self as well as his or her mental defilements are eliminated. This will benefit oneself and others because one will not be frightened by anything that arises and appears.


When he turned the Wheel of Dharma a second time, the Buddha taught that the nature of all things is emptiness. The teachings that explain that there is no form, no sound, no taste, no smell, etc. and that there is no phenomenon that has a true nature are handed down to us in the long Sutras, such as in the 100,000 verses of “The Prajnaparamitrasutra,” in its shorter version that consists of 20,000 verses, and in its shortest version that is known as “The Heart Sutra.” Is it enough to have understood these teachings? No, because emptiness needs to be understood correctly and not misinterpreted to be like void space or like a corpse. Since there is knowledge, wisdom, and clarity of mind gained through practicing meditation, the Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma a third time and showed that emptiness is not nothing, rather that it is the basis of a Buddha’s qualities and wisdom. It is called “tathagatagarbaha” in Sanskrit and is translated into English as ‘Buddha nature.’


The Buddha presented the teachings in three stages by turning the Wheel of Dharma three times. Afterwards great Indian masters and scholars passed them on to others. But the words of the Buddha as written down in the Sutras weren’t easy to comprehend, so they composed explanations that are known as “Shastras” (translated as ‘treatises’). The two earliest masters who composed Shastras were Nagarjuna and Asanga. Nagarjuna concentrated on the teachings of the second turning of the Wheel of Dharma and Asanga concentrated on the teachings that the Buddha presented when he turned the Wheel of Dharma a third time. Although a great number of Sutras were translated into Tibetan and are collected in “The Kangyur” (‘The Collection of the Translations of the Buddha’s Teachings’), there isn’t the Tibetan tradition of studying the Sutras. Because the great masters clarified the very extensive Sutras in a concise and accessible way, the Shastras were and are studied in the Tibetan tradition. Tibetan scholars and masters classified the teachings of the three Dharmachakras and showed that the Madhyamaka view is divided into the view of Rangtong (‘empty of self’) and into Shentong (‘empty of other’), the view that accords with the final turning of the Wheel of Dharma. The latter emphasized the Buddha nature. Some Tibetan scholars study and practice Rangtong, while others study and practice Shentong. Je Tsongkapa wrote many commentaries that explain Rangtong, and the Eighth Gyalwa Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, refuted Tsongkapa’s view. Jetsün Jonangpa wrote texts on the Shentong view and other scholars wrote texts that refuted his view. This doesn’t mean that Shentong is better than Rangtong or vice versa. Each view is important.


Gaining Certainty of the View


1. Why a Correct View is Necessary


The Root Text:


“What one strives for is nirvana, a place without death.

This will not arise without prajna, the remedy for eliminating ignorance, the root of obscurations.

Through prajna, pure view is attained.

Through skilful means, pure conduct is attained.

Through uniting completely pure view and conduct, liberation is swiftly attained.


In particular, since all the teachings of the Victorious One

flow towards and enter into the dharmadhatu,

in the beginning the view should be ascertained.

The faults of wrong views should be abandoned after the mind has recognized their ways.

Having searched for the definitive meaning, the authentic view, one should adopt it.”


In this chapter of “The Compendium of Knowledge,” Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye explained the view in several points. Firstly, he taught why it is necessary to have the correct view and that it is insignificant to practice without it. He wrote that it would be like going around in darkness, without being able to see anything. In such cases, one is prevented from achieving liberation from samsara, What is it that prevents one from achieving the goal? Mental defilements. What is the source of the defilements? Ignorance, not knowing the true nature of things. To eliminate the defilements, it is necessary to uproot the source. This is accomplished by gaining certainty of the correct view. The correct view means having a clear understanding of the ultimate nature of all appearances and experiences. Phenomena appear delusive to us, so to realize the ultimate nature of all things, we learn about and contemplate the correct view.


To achieve Buddhahood, it is furthermore necessary to have correct conduct. “Correct” here means in harmony with the view. Conduct relates to relative realities and not to the profound, ultimate truth. Ultimately, there is no thing as killing, for example. Does this imply that it is okay to kill? No, not at all. Killing on the relative level is a crime and is bad karma. This applies to stealing, lying, cheating, etc., too. We need to have the correct view in terms of the ultimate truth and correct conduct in terms of the relative truth. If we gain the view of the ultimate truth, we will have eliminated ignorance and then we will have wisdom. The result is liberation.


We develop correct conduct by refraining from engaging in harmful actions and by engaging in beneficial actions on the relative level of reality. Since good conduct on its own will not bring a state of meditation and thus will not engender attainment of Buddhahood and the general and supreme siddhis, our conduct must be accompanied by the view of emptiness. The same with meditation. When lacking the view of emptiness, resting in meditation is simply relaxing. To attain liberation, it is necessary that the correct view is part of all our actions and conduct.


Whether it is the teachings on the non-self of the individual as taught in the Hinayana or the teachings on the emptiness of phenomena as taught in the Mahayana, the dharmadhatu (chös-kyi-dbyings in Tibetan, ‘the realm of phenomena’) is the basis for all teachings that the Buddha presented. This is something that needs to be understood. Having contemplated the teachings on emptiness, it is not right to conclude, “Oh, all things are empty and void,” rather, we need to have a clear understanding and certainty of the true nature of phenomena, to the extent that we think, “Oh, this is what the Buddha meant and taught.” We study the Sutras and Tantras, until we have won a very clear understanding of the nature of phenomena.


Some Tibetan scholars have stated that one shouldn’t gain certainty of the view by relying on other people’s opinions or due to their influence. If we do, there is the danger of faltering. For example, we shouldn’t believe in something because our teacher or somebody else proclaimed, “This is what the Buddha said.” Rather, we should gain certainty of how things truly are through our own understanding, in our own mind. Furthermore, opponents should not touch our view, for example, causing us to think, “Well, I am wrong because that person is right in saying that the Buddha taught something else.”


In the Sutra tradition, disciples gain certainty through inference and deduction, thus they study and think about the teachings for a long time. This isn’t the approach in the Tantra tradition. Followers of Vajrayana gain certainty directly. It is taught in some texts that our mind needs to look at itself in order to see it directly. If the mind is a true existent, then we will see it directly and thus will realize what is there and what is not there. This is a direct understanding that does not depend upon thoughts or deduction. In the section of “The Compendium of Knowledge” that we are discussing, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye wrote about knowledge that is gained through intellectual, analytical inquiry. In this section on the view, he didn’t deal with the direct experience that is won through meditation.


In order to gain definitive knowledge of the view, it is necessary to receive the teachings from a qualified teacher and to read and study the Shastras or Sutras. This is how to gain the wisdom that arises from hearing and learning the teachings. To attain perfect wisdom, it is also necessary to contemplate the teachings. We need to attain the wisdom that arises from hearing and learning the teachings and the wisdom that arises from contemplating them. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö taught that it is very important to have the correct view so that we understand what we wish to know.


2. Developing the Wisdom of Selflessness


“With ignorance acting as the cause, the view of the transitory collections (arises).

One should give rise to the prajna that realises no-self,

the remedy for clinging to the self, the root of the four mistaken views.”


2.1. No Self of a Subject


There is what is called “the view of the self,” which in the Sutras is described as “the view of that which will be destroyed.” The view of that which will be destroyed refers to the five skandhas (phung-po in Tibetan’). The English translation of the Sanskrit term is ‘aggregates, collections.’ The five aggregations are: physical forms, sensations, identification, mental activities, and consciousness. They are impermanent, are not singular but are composed of many parts. They continually undergo change and eventually come to an end. Nobody is a single entity but everybody consists of the five skandhas. The aggregates are also not single, e.g., the form of the body does not consist of a single unit but is made up of many components that also continually change and end. Since the view of the self is based on the aggregates, it is called “the view of that which will be destroyed.”


Even though things are composed of different components and many things come together to make up a phenomenon, we think of things as single entities. We see ourselves as “one being” and call it “I” or “self.” But the self that took birth, suffers, ages, and dies is a mixture of aggregates that come together, undergo change, and finally end. For example, a baby has the body and mind of a baby. A grown-up has the body and mind of a mature person. As long as we are not aware of the changes that take place from childhood through adolescence and into old age, we think of ourselves as a single individual. If we examine, though, we will discover that the self has no location and that the view of a self is a delusion. This delusion needs to be eliminated.


2.2. No Self of an Object


Since attachment to a self is a delusion, the objects that the self is attached to vary and aren’t definite. By distinguishing between what we call “I” and “mine,” we realize that what we consider “mine” is other than the self we label “I.” We can see the body as “my body,” in which case the “I” that we think owns the body is thought to be “I and mine” together. Or we can think of the clothes that we are wearing as “my clothes,” in which case the “I” is thought to be a single entity with those clothes. Or we can think of larger objects as “mine,” e.g., “my house,” “my country,” and so on. When we think of “my house,” for instance, then we delusively imply “other houses.”


Ignorance means that the mind is mistaken about objects of perception and labels them as things that they are not. Taking something as being what it is not, taking something that has no self as being a self, taking something that isn’t an “I” as being an “I” is the state of ignorance. And ignorance has the view of that which will be destroyed. The nature of ignorance is delusion, misunderstanding. We are attached to a self while deluded. As a result, we have four mistaken views that hold what is erroneous to be true.


2.3. Four Mistaken Views


The four mistaken views are: (1) Seeing what is impure as being pure; (2) seeing suffering as happiness; (3) seeing what is impermanent as permanent; and (4) seeing what is no self as being a self.


(1) Seeing what is impure as being pure.

If we examine our body, for example, from the top of our head to the soles of our feet, we will not find a precious substance – no jewels, no gold, no silver. We will only find impure substances – blood, flesh, bones, etc. Our body is composed of impure substances, but since we identify it with the self, we think it is very precious, invaluable, and pure. As a result, we think, “Since this body is my very self, it is of great value.” That is the first way of seeing things in an opposite perspective. The Sutras list 36 impure substances that make up our physical body. Not one of the 36 substances is precious. But since we identify the body with the self, we are very attached to it and thus think that what is impure is pure.


(2) Seeing suffering as happiness.

We experience illnesses, problems, suffering, and anguish in our mind. Where do difficulties and obstacles come from? Attachment to a self is the source of all the trouble and pain that we experience. As long as we perceive things mistakenly and are attached to the notion of a self, we think that pain, afflictions, etc. come from something other than ourselves. There is a story about Patrul Rinpoche from Kham that I want to share with you.


Patrul Rinpoche wanted to make offerings at sacred places in Central Tibet, so he set out on the journey with an attendant. He carried 100 units of money. He and his attendant were very worried that they would be robbed and took turns keeping watch during the night. They feared being robbed and killed during the day, too, so one person kept watch behind while the other ran ahead to keep a look-out. They had a terrible time. Patrul Rinpoche thought, “This is awful. It’s because of the money that we can’t sleep at night and can hardly get anywhere during the day.” He threw the money into the river and told his attendant, “Now we are fine. We can carry on without any worries and there is nobody to be afraid of anymore.” The enemy was the money, so Patrul Rinpoche said, “We ourselves had attachment to the money, and that was the source of our suffering.”


(3) Seeing what is impermanent as permanent.

As described above, we were very small when we were a baby, grew, and eventually became old. In the same way as our body changes, our mind also changes. But we think we are changeless and argue, “This is me. It is me from the time of birth until now.” We identify impermanent things that we have as “mine,” e.g., we think, “My body. My clothes, My house, My money,” and so on. It is because of attachment to the self that anger, desire, pride, and the other mind poisons arise. If we are attached to a self, then we will have the four mistaken views. If we can eliminate attachment to a self that we believe in, then we will have overcome and eliminated our incorrect views.


(4) Seeing what is no self as being a self.

In this text, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye wrote down the Sanskrit term for “self,” which is “atmaka.” In its wider sense, it refers to all phenomena. There is the belief in a self of every phenomenon. Instead of seeing things as they really are – namely like a dream, like an illusion, like a reflection in a mirror, without any true reality – we think that things we perceive have a reality of their own. Things are ever-changing, but we think they have a definite reality, a self, atmaka, and therefore we are attached to them.


In a subtler sense, atmaka applies to the five skandhas that make up an individual. Each aggregate is indefinite and ever-changing. Our body is composed of many factors that continually change; sensations continually change, too, and so forth. Nevertheless, we think of the aggregates as being the self and are attached to that idea. The term “self” can be applied to all phenomena, so there is the belief in a self of phenomena as well as in the self of a person.




The nature of ignorance is dullness and obscuration of the mind, which means that we are impeded from understanding and seeing things correctly. To clearly see the nature of samsaric phenomena, we need to examine that what is impure is not pure, what is impermanent is not permanent, what is suffering is suffering, and that the absence of a self is no self. We can have the correct view if we investigate the four mistaken views. If we don’t, we will continue lingering in ignorance and delusion and will not be able to realize the Four Noble Truths.


We need to get rid of ignorance and attachment to a self. How can we do this? By developing the wisdom of selflessness, no self. By examining the nature of phenomena and the aggregates, we learn that there is no self. Having cultivated the wisdom of no self, we will have eliminated our mistaken belief in a self. So, to remove ignorance, we need to apply the antidotes. Having eliminated ignorance, we will have overcome attachment to a self and thus we will have destroyed the four mistaken ways of seeing and experiencing things. As a result, we will be free from samsaric suffering. We develop wisdom by hearing and learning the teachings on selflessness and by meditating them. Great masters presented examples on overcoming ignorance. They taught that it is like being in a dark room and mistaking a rope for a snake. As a result, one is very frightened and suffers. How can one become free of this suffering? Taking a knife or weapon will not help. Having a bottle of poison to kill the snake will not help either. What will help? Examining what one sees and in that way discovering that the rope in the dark room is not a snake. Then one will no longer be afraid and will stop suffering. In the same way, if we continue believing in an inherently existing self of an individual and phenomena, we will experience fear and will suffer. As long as we adhere to the belief in a self, we will suffer. Only wisdom of selflessness will bring freedom from all kinds of suffering.


In this section of “The Compendium of Knowledge,” Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye wrote that it is necessary to have the wisdom that realizes selflessness. As long as we don’t realize selflessness, we will suffer. So it is important to develop the wisdom that realises no self, which is done by hearing, contemplating, and meditating the teachings. By realising selflessness, we will become free from suffering. This concludes the section on “Developing the Wisdom of Selflessness.”


3. The Four Seals


“All compounded phenomena are impermanent (because) momentary.

All defiled phenomena have the nature of the three sufferings.

(Whether) totally afflicted or completely pure, (all) phenomena are empty and without a self.

Nirvana alone is liberation and peace.

These Four Seals (are) marks of the doctrine in general.

Having contemplated these thoroughly, from the very beginning one should give rise to certainty.”


In this section of the chapter on the view, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye wrote about the process by which disciples develop the wisdom that realizes no self. We develop the wisdom of no self by learning, contemplating, and meditating the Four Seals. They are: (1) Whatever is composite is impermanent; (2) everything that is polluted is suffering; (3) all phenomena are empty and without a self; and (4) nirvana is peace.


The word “seal” is used in analogy to the decree of a king, who seals a document to confirm that it is the word of the ruler. The Four Seals are the signs that they are the teachings of the Buddha. If they are missing, then whatever is said is not a teaching of the Buddha. In that case, the document is not to be considered as the word of the Victorious One.


(1) Whatever is composite is impermanent.

If something doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t exist. Whatever exists is a composite and not a single entity that is separate from its parts. Every phenomenon is made up of parts and therefore things are impermanent. Living beings pass away and die, objects wear out and fall apart. This coarse level of impermanence can be noticed by everyone. The main concern here is the subtle level of impermanence. It is the momentary impermanence that occurs in every instant.


When looking at coarse impermanence, everybody can see that a child changes, until old age. We can think that continuity takes place and might wonder where this change occurs. We might conclude that everyone is different from one year to the other, or from one month to the next, or from one day or one hour to the next. It is easy to see that things change through time, but the subtle level of impermanence is that it occurs in every instant. Chandrakirti taught that even a solid-looking diamond that is as large as a boulder changes every single instant.


(2) Everything that is polluted is suffering.

All phenomena that are polluted or stained entail different kinds of suffering. There are three kinds of suffering. They are: (1) The suffering which is suffering; (2) the suffering of change; and (3) the suffering that pervades the composite.


The first and most obvious kind of suffering is the suffering that one experiences due to illness, old age, and pain. Even animals experience and identify physical pain, so it is not necessary to receive teachings, to contemplate, and to meditate on it to validate that suffering is suffering.


The second kind of suffering is the suffering of change. Even though there is happiness and joy, it will eventually change and when it ends, it will be replaced by the suffering that is caused by change. Actually, everyone knows that happiness doesn’t last, but not many people live their lives according to the fact that happiness changes into suffering. That is why it is taught that everything that rises will fall and everything that meets will separate. In this way, everything is bound to decline, diminish, and end. The truth of the suffering of change does not need to be analyzed and proven because it is experienced by everyone.


The third kind of suffering, the suffering which pervades the composite, isn’t obvious. It means that since all things in samsara are composed of many parts, they change in every single instant. Whether one is happy, sad, or feels indifferent, it is experienced automatically by everyone.


(3) All phenomena are empty and without a self.

Any phenomenon that can be perceived and apprehended is like a water bubble. Although we can hear, see, smell, taste, touch, and think about things, nothing has an inherent reality, i.e., there is no true, personal self and no true self of any phenomenon. In spite of the fact that phenomena appear, they have no true reality of their own and have no self. So the third seal is that all phenomena are empty and without a self.


(4) Nirvana is peace.

On the basis of the fact that persons and phenomena have no self, it is taught that all things are empty and devoid of a self. If we realize this, then we have overcome the mistaken views and consequently are free from samsara and have attained nirvana. While in the world of samsara, we experience suffering and do not have lasting peace and happiness. When we attain nirvana, then we will have true peace and happiness. If practitioners of the Hinayana, Mahayana, or Vajrayana realize no self, then they will have attained nirvana, the state of true peace and happiness. Therefore the fourth seal is that nirvana is peace.




When we fully realize the first two seals, we will have become free of attachment to worldly, samsaric engagements and will have turned our mind towards liberation by having sought refuge and by having relied on the Buddha’s teachings. When we have fully realized the third seal through meditation practice, we will have gained liberation from samsara. By having realized the first three seals, we will have found nirvana. In order to become free from suffering that characterizes samsara and to attain nirvana that is the state of true peace and happiness, it is necessary to realize no self and emptiness. This is the basis of the Buddha’s teachings and is the reason the Four Seals are called “the Seals of the Buddha’s teachings.” It is important to know and gain certainty of the Four Seals.






The photo of the thangka of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye is credit of the website of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York.


The translation of the teachings that Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche presented in Tibetan were simultaneously translated into English by Peter Roberts. The Root Text, “Gaining Certainty about the View” (that appears in italics), was translated under the guidance of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche by members of the Marpa Translation Committee and was published in Kathmandu, Nepal, by Modern Printing Press Ltd., in 1994. The teachings of this seminary were transcribed & edited from the recordings by Gaby Hollmann in 1996 and in 2013 the manuscript was typed again & revised for the Dharma Download Project of Karma Lekshey Ling Shedra, Nepal. This rendering is for personal studies only; it may not be published anywhere else, and it may not be translated into another language without prior permission from everyone mentioned here. Copyright. – May virtue increase!

©Karma Lekshey Ling Institute