Gaining Certainty of the View – Part 3/6


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



5. Analysis of the Two Types of No Self

5.1. The Purpose for Teaching No Self

- The Two Obscurations

5.2. Analysis of No Self

5.2.1. No Self of Phenomena The Meaning Belief in a Self of Phenomena Why Belief in a Self of Phenomena needs to be Eliminated No Self of Phenomena acc. to the Realist Traditions No Self of Phenomena acc. to the Madhyamaka Tradition



5. Analysis of the Two Types of No Self


5.1. The Purpose for Teaching No Self


The Root Text:


“The ten distracting thoughts create obstacles that prevent the (direct) seeing (of emptiness). The two types of no self are the remedy which clears them away.”


In Vajrayana, we practice the Dharma in order to attain siddhis, the Sanskrit term that was translated into Tibetan as dngös-grub. It refers to the common and supreme powers of complete enlightenment. In India, there were great siddhas such as Tilopa and Naropa who had attained supreme siddhis. In Tibet, there were also great siddhas such as Marpa and Milarepa who had attained the goal. It is possible to have clairvoyant cognition and to manifest miracles through the attainment of siddhis.


There is suffering and there are many difficulties in samsara, e.g., poverty, warfare, hardships that arise from global warming, pollution, and so forth. People think, “If the world would be free of poverty, political intrigues, group conflicts, etc., then there will be no more suffering.” But because suffering is the characteristic of samsara, this will never happen. So that problems and sufferings of all kinds end, it is necessary to become free from samsara.


The ultimate result of Buddhist practice is sometimes called “moksha” in Sanskrit and connotes ‘liberation from all sufferings, difficulties, problems, and defilements.’ The ultimate result is also called “nirvana” in Sanskrit, which means ‘transcendence of physical and mental suffering and misery.’ Sometimes it is called “Buddhahood,” which is attainment of the greatest qualities that can be imagined.


The Sanskrit term “Buddha,” which means ‘enlightened, awakened,’ was translated into Tibetan as Sangs-rgyäs. Tibetan scholars did not translate the word for “Buddha” using one word, but they used two. They are: sangs (‘purified’) and rgyäs (‘developed, increased’) - Sangs-rgyäs. The term sangs at the beginning means that all negative tendencies and thoughts that cause samsaric suffering are purified. Practitioners purify more and more negative tendencies of body, speech, and mind as they progress along the path, until they have all been eliminated and enlightenment has been attained. Furthermore, it is necessary to cultivate more and more qualities while advancing on the path, which is the meaning of the word rgyäs. Practitioners need to work on reducing faults, until they are fully eliminated at Buddhahood. They also need to work on developing qualities of being, until they fully manifest at Buddhahood. Developing and increasing qualities are also the means to reduce faults, and reducing faults helps develop and increase qualities. Each aspect enhances the other, until the goal is attained - the state in which all faults are completely purified and all qualities of enlightenment are perfected. Then all causes of suffering will have come to an end and suffering will no longer be experienced by a disciple.


Since we are Vajrayana practitioners, we need to appreciate and acknowledge the fact that we can attain the ultimate goal by eliminating our shortcomings and faults and by developing and increasing all qualities as well as wisdom. Since our faults block us from attaining the ultimate result, they are called “obscurations.” Our obscurations are in our mind. It is necessary to remove them so that we attain liberation.


There are many religious traditions in the world. The main religious tradition of the indigenous people of Tibet is Bön. There is also Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. They all teach that their followers need to win the favour of the external power that they believe created everything and that they think is responsible for everything that happens. They teach their followers to pray to that divine being to rescue them from suffering and to bestow liberation upon them. The Buddhist view is different. Buddhism teaches that the obstacles impeding and preventing liberation are within us and that we need to free ourselves from them in order to experience liberation. That is the special characteristic of Buddhism which distinguishes it from other religious traditions.


- The Two Obscurations


To attain liberation, we need to eliminate our obscurations, which is why we learn about them. The two main categories of obscurations are the obscuration of the defilements and the obscuration of knowledge.


(1) The obscuration of the defilements are all negative thoughts and emotions that arise in our mind, such as pride, miserliness, jealousy, stupidity, anger, maliciousness, and so on. The presence of these defilements impedes us from practicing the Dharma correctly. Our defilements prevent us from attaining liberation and from benefitting others. To achieve Buddhahood, we need to eliminate our obscuration of the defilements.


(2) The obscuration of knowledge does not pertain to obvious thoughts by means of which we create defilements, such as thoughts of anger and so on. Rather, it means being and becoming increasingly habituated to an attitude that contradicts and stands in opposition to the true nature of all inner and outer things.


We have the innate tendency to think that appearances and experiences have a true existence, whereby “true” in this context means ‘independent.’ This innate tendency consists of three aspects that are spontaneously present while we are engaged in activities. The three aspects are: (a) Believing in the true existence of the subject, i.e., “our self”; (b) believing in the true existence of the object upon which we carry out an action; and (c) believing in the true existence of the action itself. Believing in and being attached to these three aspects of the obscuration of knowledge prevent us from attaining realisation of the actual nature of all inner and outer phenomena. They need to be overcome so that the obscuration of knowledge is eliminated.


We need a remedy to eliminate the obscuration of the defilements and the obscuration of knowledge. The remedy is the Buddha’s teachings on the two types of no self, i.e., the two selflessnesses. For example, the defilements of lust, desire, and greed will become stronger and stronger habits if they are not overcome and eliminated, and then difficulties and suffering will increase. How do we eliminate the defilements? One way is by realising that they are harmful and lead to painful results. Another way is to suppress them. Another way is by taking a distance to them. But they are not eliminated entirely through these means. How can they be eliminated entirely? By looking at their source and recognizing that thoughts such as “I” and “I am” cause the defilements. As long as we believe in an “I,” we will experience “others.” Thus we will regard the self that we cling to as more important than anything else. As a result, we desire what we want to have and are angry about anything we dislike. These defilements arise from attachment to the idea of a self. If we examine what the self is and try to find where it is located, we will fail and instead will discover that it does not really exist. When the root of the defilements has been removed, then anger against what we do not like, desire for what we think will make us happy, and jealousy of those persons we try to compete with will not arise in our mind. By realising no self of the person, we completely rid ourselves of the defilements. Therefore the teachings on no self of the person are the remedy to reliably eliminate the obscuration of the defilements.


The remedy to eliminate the obscuration of knowledge, which causes us to perceive and apperceive phenomena mistakenly, is to examine phenomena. If we do this thoroughly, we will realise that things have no true existence. We go about this by receiving teachings on emptiness, by contemplating these teachings, and finally by meditating them. That is how we attain the wisdom that arises from meditation. Having fully realised the wisdom that arises from meditation, we will then have realised that phenomena are devoid of an own nature and thus do not truly exist.


5.2. Analysis of No Self


The second subdivision of the fifth section on the analysis of the two types of no self is divided into five parts. The first part was the explanation of the purpose for teaching no self that we looked at and the second is the section we will look at now. It might be bewildering to keep track of all the sections and subsections, but that is how Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye structured “The Compendium of Knowledge,” and it does make it easier to follow the teachings on the view. The first part is also divided into five parts. We will go through each one.


5.2.1. No Self of Phenomena The Meaning


“Since the coarse no self of phenomena is common to both Buddhists and non-Buddhists, it should be ascertained at the outset.”


Although there is a general consensus about the meaning of no self of phenomena, there are different views about the details. Many scholars interpret no self of phenomena differently and disagree about the details. They often dispute in a fashion like this:

A: “Shravakas don’t realize selflessness of phenomena.”

B: “Yes they do.”

C: “It’s impossible to realise selflessness of the person as long as selflessness of phenomena has not been realised.”

D might argue: “That’s not right. Selflessness of the person can be understood perfectly, without having had to realise selflessness of phenomena.”


There are varying opinions, but Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye presented his view and taught that there are two types of selflessness of phenomena, the obvious and the subtle. He wrote that the obvious no self of phenomena is that, as we saw earlier, a hand, a head, and so forth have no independent true existence and that this is taught and understood by followers of all Yanas. He wrote that the subtle no self of phenomena is only studied and understood by Bodhisattvas. There is the obvious no self of phenomena. If it is misunderstood, then the no self of a person cannot be ascertained. Looking at no self of the person, everyone has the innate belief in a self. Ever since we were born, we do not doubt that we have a self and cling to our belief until we die. Our very strong belief in a self was not taught to us and we did not gain it through investigation. Rather, we have been habituated to this strong belief throughout all our past lives. Our conviction that our “self” truly exists is naturally present in us, so it is very difficult to remove.


The subtle no self of phenomena concerns non-existence. It is possible to be attached to a wrong belief of non-existence, therefore Mahasiddha Saraha warned, “Those who believe that things truly exist are as stupid as cows, but those who believe in the non-existence of things are even more foolish.” Shantideva offered an example and wrote, “A man dreams that a son is born to him and is very upset when his son dies. First he believed in the existence of a son in his dream and then he believed in the non-existence of a son in his dream. Clinging to the non-existence of his son after he died put this man in a worse state of mind.” Either way, he was mistaken. Likewise, we believe in the existence of appearances but are deluded about their true nature. They are merely like dream-appearances. Believing in the non-existence of appearances is a graver error than thinking that things truly exist, so it is important to realise the subtle no self of phenomena. Belief in a Self of Phenomena


“Like taking a rope to be a snake, its essential nature is clinging to (what appears to) an ordinary mind as truly existent (in terms of its) specific characteristic.”


We will be able to realise no self of phenomena when we have removed our belief in and attachment to a self of phenomena. What is the nature of that mistaken belief? It is like taking a rope for a snake in a dark room. We will think it is a snake as long as we are in the dark. In that way, we are deluded when we think that the phenomena that we perceive truly exist. On the other hand, we are not deluded when we see a rope and understand that it is a rope. Being attached to the idea that the appearances we see are true existents needs to be eliminated. Why Belief in a Self of Phenomena needs to be Overcome


“(True existence of the object) is refuted because (clinging to it) is the cause of grasping onto a self, the root of the two obscurations.”


In the third part of the teachings about no self of phenomena we learn why we need to abandon the mistaken belief in a self of phenomena. This belief is an obscuration of knowledge in that it is the source of our defilements. We cannot attain Buddhahood and thus cannot benefit others as long as we have not become free of the two obscurations. We might be able to give limited help to others at certain times, but this is not what is referred to in the sacred texts. The meaning of benefitting others is helping others become free from suffering and working to establish them in true and lasting happiness. To have this ability, it is necessary to be free of the two obscurations. That is why it is important to eliminate our belief in a self of phenomena.


Nagarjuna wrote in “The Ratnavali” that we must abandon attachment to the skandhas as being the self. The five skandhas (‘aggregates’) are: physical forms, sensations, identification, mental activities, and consciousness. By being attached to them, the thought “I” or “I am” arises in our mind and as a result we are preoccupied with fulfilling our wishes and desires. We will then have a great variety of thoughts, e.g., “That person wants to hurt me,” which causes us to become angry, or “This person is competing with me,” which causes us to become jealous. Or we might think, “Those people are lower than I am,” which is a sign of being proud. All kinds of fears and emotions will arise as long as we are attached to a self. We will not be passive but will do and say things so that we benefit and others do not, so that we are victorious and others are defeated, so that we are higher than others, and so forth. This is not good. Therefore it is very important to eliminate attachment to a self.


As long as we are attached to a self and even if we do not have a particularly negative motivation, it is very difficult to think that others are more important than we are. Indeed, even if we do not have a bad motivation, we accumulate karma. But we will have a bad rebirth if we do so with a bad motivation. In any case, we accumulate karma and will have a rebirth. Our rebirth will be better if we have a better motivation. Since we will experience a rebirth, our attachment to a self will become stronger if we do not do anything about it. That is why it is important to get rid of attachment by realising that phenomena have no self. No Self of Phenomena according to the Realist Traditions


“Although the Vaibhashikas and Sautrantikas do not completely perfect it, they ascertain (the no self of phenomena) with respect to particular (categories of) phenomena. The reason for this is that through analysis, nothing is found. They take this (not finding) to mean ‘not truly existent.’ (This) is the general system of these two schools.


“Within their own system, the Cittamatrins assert the realisation of the two (types of) no self. If (these) are evaluated by Madhyamaka (reasoning), there remains an aspect of the self of phenomena, because (the Cittamatrins) assert that consciousness empty of dualism is an ultimate.”


In this section of “The Compendium of Knowledge,” Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye tells us how no self of phenomena is understood and realized in the different Buddhist traditions. The traditions are Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra, and Madhyamaka. All schools teach about the importance of realising no self, yet the ways they go about it differ. The first three schools are called “Realists” because they state that there are things that have true existence, whereas scholars of the fourth school, the Madhyamaka, state that the nature of all things is emptiness. Therefore Madhyamikas are known as “proponents of emptiness.” Since there are these minor differences between the traditions, the first three schools can be divided into two groups. Followers of the first two have the same view of phenomena.


(1) Vaibhashika and Sautrantika.

Adherents of these two schools belong to the Hinayana tradition. They teach that external phenomena are composed of real existents, i.e., objects such as mountains, rivers, the own body, and so forth are composed of truly existing atoms. This means to say that forms seen with the eyes, sounds heard with the ears, scents smelled with the nose, tastes perceived with the tongue, and tactile sensations felt with the body have material existence. They understand that cognition is immaterial and teach that apperceptions occur by means of the visual consciousness, oral consciousness, olfactory consciousness, taste consciousness, and tactile consciousness. They say that all consciousnesses are cognitive realities and thus have true existence. So, for followers of these traditions, there are two kinds of truly existing entities. They are external, material entities that are composed of atoms as well as internal, immaterial entities that are composed of moments of consciousness and cognition. They say that nothing can nor does exist apart from these two kinds of entities.


The Realists claim that all external things are composed of atoms. They teach that when atoms come together in a specific way, they form a large object, e.g., a cup. It can be seen and the mind can think about it. Every object that can be apperceived can be divided or chopped up into smaller parts with a knife, until the smallest particle that cannot be divided is reached; they call it “the smallest atom possible.” As for the internal mind that has cognition, the Realists teach that it is not composed of atoms but that is divisible, in terms of the flow of time. They say that this flow of time consists of a succession of instants and that there is such a thing as a smallest possible unit of time. So, they teach that there is a succession of mind. Let me explain their argumentation: We can think of “my mind” as a single unit, but the mind that we had as a child is not the same as the one that we have now, i.e., we thought differently and our abilities changed as we grew older. The mind of an adult and an old person are different, too. As we grow older, we think differently and our mental abilities are not the same as they were when we were young.


Looking at it from a more subtle level, Realists see that the mind is different with each passing year, month, week, and day, and therefore they understand that the mind of this hour will not be the same in the next hour. This happens in a minute, in a second, until a point has been reached that they call “a smallest possible unit of time.” They speak about a continual succession of smallest units of time and compare the mind or consciousness to a flowing river that is constantly replaced with new water. The Vaibhashikas and Sautrantikas argue that, like a river, the mind is continually replaced by a new mind through the flowing succession of tiniest units of time and therefore it is not an indivisible entity.


Because the smallest atoms and tiniest instants of time that they believe in are out of their sight and as a result out of their reach, practitioners of the Realist traditions are able to loosen their tight grip on attachment to the self of a person and of phenomena, but they cannot achieve complete realisation of the true nature of external and internal things.


(2) Cittamatra.

The Cittamatra teaches another view than that of the Realists, who say that if atoms didn’t truly exist, it would be impossible to apperceive external phenomena. The Cittamatrins state that it is possible to apperceive external phenomena without having to believe in the true existence of tiniest particles. They present the example of dreams and argue that we think that tigers, lions, mountains, rivers, houses, and other objects that we experience in our dreams truly exist but they don’t. We hear sounds as if we hear them with our ears, we see sights as if we see them with our eyes, we smell odours as if we smell them with our nose, but there are no external sounds, forms, smells, and so on present in our dreams. All dream-appearances arise from our mind. The Cittamatrins teach that it is the same during the daytime. Because all things arise from our mind, there are no external forms that exist, that there are no atoms that exist. This is how they explain no self of phenomena. But they believe that the mind, which is the source of all appearances, truly exists. Therefore they do not fully comprehend emptiness.


“Citta” is the Sanskrit term for ‘mind’ and “matra” means ‘only.’ The Cittamatra tradition is ‘Mind Only’ because it teaches that only the mind truly exists. Through their studies, they realize the obvious but not the subtle selflessness of phenomena.


        • No Self of Phenomena according to the Madhyamaka Tradition


“Although there are numerous Madhyamaka reasonings, the five of Nagarjuna’s system lead to certainty about the union of emptiness and dependent arising.


“Chandrakirti stated two (ways of ascertaining): Once the perceived object is refuted, by reason of its non-existence, the perceiving subject is refuted; and once a single relative (phenomenon) is (ascertained) to be empty, it follows that all phenomena are empty.”


The fifth and last point in the explanation about the no self of phenomena is a description of the Madhyamaka view.


Lord Buddha taught the meaning of emptiness in the Sutras, particularly in “The Prajnaparamitasutra” (‘The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra’). Nagarjuna was the first siddha to explain these specific Sutras in great detail. He was prophesied by the Buddha, who in a Sutra is quoted as having said, “In a land called Vidhar there will be a monk whose name will be Naga. He will understand, teach, and establish the ultimate truth of non-existence, emptiness.” This man was Nagarjuna. He wrote commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings of the second turning of the Wheel of Dharma. His basic work is entitled “Mulamadhyamakaprajna” (‘The Wisdom of the Middle Way – The Route to the Middle Way’). So that disciples would be able to clearly understand and gain certainty of the Buddha’s teachings, he wrote other treatises and thereby set forth the different ways of analysing and establishing the truth of the actual nature of things.


In the texts that he composed, Nagarjuna asked the question, whether a truly existing seed is the cause from which a truly existing flower arises? He explained why it is not the case and taught that a truly existing seed does not give birth to a truly existing flower. How can this be? It is obvious that a flower comes from a seed, but if we think about it and take the time to investigate, then we would understand that because a seed and flower have a completely different shape, color, and size, they are not at all the same. If the seed is not capable of giving birth to the flower, then where does the flower come from? The flower is a natural appearance that has no true reality of its own. While dreaming, we might wonder, for example, “Who built the house and how was it built?” There are explanations like “Such-and-such a person built the house on such-and-such a property and used this-and-that material.” Just like nobody built the house that we dreamt of, all explanations regarding the flower are wrong. The flower has no reality; it is an appearance devoid of true existence. We might ask, “If the flower does not come from the seed, does it come from something else?” No, that is not the case either, otherwise there would be no connection between the flower and the seed. The point is that at one time there was the appearance of a seed and at another time there was the appearance of a flower. This argumentation is applied to establish that the seed and flower have no true existence of their own and exemplifies how Nagarjuna analysed causes. In the same way, to establish emptiness, he presented five different analytical methods; analysis of the result, analysis of the nature, and so on.


In later times, Chandrakirti, who was also a great Madhyamaka master, presented two analytical methods to establish the no self of external phenomena. He found that the inner consciousnesses arise in dependence upon external appearances and concluded that if there are no external phenomena, then there can be no internal consciousnesses. For example, if there is a blue object, then the consciousness that perceives it is dependent upon that object and vice versa. If there is no blue object, then there is no inner consciousness that perceives it. Thus, if there is no external phenomenon, then the inner consciousness has no reality, and vice versa. Both internal and external phenomena are therefore devoid of an own reality.


The second analytical method that Chandrakirti presented to establish no self was by investigating the hand, for example. We understand that it consists of various components, and he tells us that this proves that a hand has no true existence. The same applies to everything else. Mountains, houses, and trees appear and, in the same way as the example of the hand, they have no independent true existence.






The photo of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche’s Throne at Tsadra Rinchen Drak was taken in 2010 by Neil Coyo Te.


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,” 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