Teachings on Emptiness by Nagarjuna and Vasitva

 Teachings on emptiness from The Bodhisaṃbhāra Treatise Commentary

Verse 29 (p 211-215)

As for “not produced and not destroyed,”

And “neither unproduced nor undestroyed,”

One denies assertions of “both” and “neither.”

So too in cases involving “emptiness” and “non-emptiness.”


When the bodhisattva contemplates the sphere of conditioned arising, he reflects, “Wherever dharmas arising from [the coming together] of conditions are held to ‘exist,’ that ‘existence’ is based solely on conceptual consensus. Therefore, whatever is ‘produced’ cannot be validly established as having any inherent existence. Because its inherent existence cannot be validly established, then the process of ‘production’ is itself devoid of inherent existence.

“If there is no intrinsic reality to the process of production, then ‘destruction’ is itself but a matter of [interdependent] dual concepts.

“As with ‘production’ and ‘destruction,’ simultaneous affirmation and negation is also devoid of any substantial existence. So too with the concepts of nonproduction and nondestruction which themselves are based on dual concepts devoid of any substantial existence.

“In those cases which involve the dual concepts of production and destruction as with ‘both production and nonproduction,” and ‘both destruction and nondestruction,’—those too are devoid of any real existence, this because they involve a simultaneity of opposing concepts.

“So too it is in the case of the concept of being ‘empty [of inherent existence],’ for wherever [one might posit that] there is some supposed ‘existence,’ that is a case devoid of any intrinsic substantiality. Those concepts of ‘non-emptiness’ as well as ‘both emptiness and non-emptiness’ are just the same in this respect.”

Question: If one reflected in this manner, concluding that, “because they are merely products of conditions, all dharmas are devoid of any inherent existence,” how could one persist in this reflection? [Persisting in the contemplation would necessitate the conclusion that], “Not even the dharma of conditioned co-production exists.”


Verse 30

No matter which “existent” dharma one encounters,

One persists therein in the contemplation, remaining unmoving.

That is the “unproduced-dharmas patience.”

It is based on the severance of all mental discriminations.


When this bodhisattva contemplates conditioned co-production in accordance with reality, he succeeds in abandoning the view that any dharma possesses any intrinsic substance of its own. Through abandoning the view imputing intrinsically-existent substantiality, one straightaway cuts off any seizing on an intrinsically-existent substantiality in any dharma.

Once one succeeds in cutting off [the view] imputing intrinsic substantiality to dharmas, one then reflects, “It is not the case that there are no inward-related or outward-related dharmas. However, there is no intrinsically existent substantiality associated with those dharmas. Although the dharmas produced through conditioned co-production do exist, that “existence” abides only in the manner of a bundled sheaf of reeds, a magical conjuration, or a mere dream. Wherever dharmas are produced from conditions, no intrinsic substantiality is actually ‘produced.’”

Once one has carried out this contemplation, one becomes such as no śramaṇa or brahman is able to move and yet one refrains from seizing on [this level of] realization. Because one takes pleasure in contemplating the dharma of non-production and because one severs all mental discriminations, this is described as the “unproduced-dharmas patience.” Having gained this realization, this bodhisattva immediately comes to abide on the “unmoving” bodhisattva ground (acala bhūmi).

Verse 65 (p 261-263)

One should skillfully cultivate

The three gates to liberation:

The first is emptiness, the next is signlessness,

And the third is wishlessness.


As the bodhisattva herein practices the prajñāpāramitā, he should cultivate the three gates to liberation. At the very beginning, he should cultivate the “emptiness” (śūnyatā) gate to liberation, this for the sake of refuting all views. The second is the “signlessness” (ānimitta) gate to liberation which is undertaken to eliminate seizing upon discriminations or thoughts intent on manipulating objective conditions. The third is the “wishlessness” (apraṇihita) gate to liberation taken up to facilitate stepping completely beyond the desire realm, form realm, and formless realm.

Question: Why are these referred to as “gates to liberation”?

Verse 66

Because they have no self-existent nature, phenomena are empty.

If already empty, how could one establish any characteristic signs?

Since all characteristic signs are themselves in a state of cessation,

What could there be in them that the wise might wish for?


Because dharmas are produced from [a mere conjunction of] conditions, they are devoid of any inherent nature of their own. This is what we refer to as “emptiness” [of inherent existence].

Because [dharmas] are empty [of inherent existence], the mind refrains from [imputation-based] seizing upon objective conditions. Hence [dharmas] are “signless.”

It is on account of having abandoned all [mental imputation of] characteristic signs that one finds there is nothing to provoke any wishes. [Hence dharmas are said to be “wishless.”]

Then again, given that dharmas are only “produced” from [subsidiary] conditions, then its [supposed] “inherently existing nature” is not produced [in the first place]. Because its “inherent nature” is not produced at all, that dharma is “empty” of inherent existence.

If a dharma is “empty,” there are no signs abiding in it. Because such signs are devoid of any existence, [that dharma] is “signless.” 

If that dharma is devoid of any signs, then the mind finds nothing in it upon which it might rely. Because it has nothing upon which it might rely, the mind finds nothing anywhere in the three realms for which it might wish. [Hence we speak of “wishlessness.”]

Verse 74 (p 271)

The bodhisattva benefits beings

And yet does not perceive the existence of any being.

This in itself is the most difficult of all endeavors

And is such a rarity as to be inconceivable.


The bodhisattva’s raising forth of the idea of a “being” is in itself the most difficult and inconceivable of phenomena. It is as unprecedented as being able to paint a mural in empty space. At the level of the ultimate truth (paramārtha), there are basically no “beings” at all. This bodhisattva does not course in any awareness of them and does not even apprehend them as existent entities. Nonetheless, for the sake of bringing benefit and happiness to beings, he proceeds with the diligent practice of vigor. With the sole exception of the great compassion, where could there be any other endeavor so difficult as this?

Verse 152 (p 363)

The wise must not base their practice

On getting at the “emptiness” in what is intrinsically empty.

In the case of one determined to get at that emptiness itself,

That wrong is even more extreme than viewing the body as a self.


One relies upon realization of emptiness to eliminate the accumulation [of conceptions] associated with deficient wisdom. The wise must not rely on getting at emptiness itself as the goal of practice. If one sees getting at emptiness itself as the goal of practice, then that error goes beyond even the difficult-to-cure misconcep-tion of those who maintain the view which seizes on the body as constituting a self.

The reason for this is that it is by resort to emptiness that one is able to escape from all view-based practices. In a case where, beyond that, one has developed another view which attempts to grasp at that emptiness itself, this is a circumstance for which there is no cure, this because, there is nothing over and above that through which one can escape [from such a view].

Verse 156 (p 367)

They do not arise in the past.

They do not abide in the present.

They do not go forward into the future.

Contemplate all dharmas in this manner.


Because their “existence” is based solely on the strength of component causes and conditions, and because they have no place from whence they come, dharmas are not produced in the past.

Because they undergo continuous [and complete] destruction in each successive micro-moment (kṣaṇa), and also because they do not abide at all, dharmas do not dwell in the present.

Because they are completely destroyed, leaving no trace, and also because there is no place to which they go, dharmas do not proceed on into the future.

One should direct such analytic contemplation to all dharmas.

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