Here is the first English translation (and publication) of a short text, Condensed Essence of the Presentation of Empty-of-Other, by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (‘jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse’ dbang po, 1820 – 1892), one of the most eminent and accomplished nineteenth century Tibetan Buddhist masters. For more information about him, see his Treasury of Lives biography and the page on this website dedicated his life and works here.
This newly translated text is available for free download here.
Connection to Jonang and Kalacakra Empty-of-Other
The empty-of-other view expressed in this text is clearly connected to the Jonang empty-of other, as Khyentse Wangpo himself refers to several great Jonang masters, such as Yumowa Mikyo Dorje and Dolpopa. The Second Khyentse Wangpo, Chokyi Lodro wrote a short guru yoga sadhana for Dolpopa[i].
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo had a very strong connection with Tāranātha and the Jonang empty-of-other and Kālacakra teachings, via his deep friendship and connection with Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye (‘jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas, 1813-1899). According to his biographers:
Khyentse Wangpo met Jamgon Kongtrul at the end of 1840, when he went to Pelpung to receive teachings from the elder lama on Chandragomin’s grammar. They met again before Jamyang Khyentse went to Tibet the second time. Khyentse Wangpo’s beloved elder brother, Gyurme Dondrub had passed away in Tibet, and it appears that in his grief Khyentse Wangpo turned to his growing friendship with Jamgon Kongtrul for companionship. He went to Pelpung for an extensive transmission of Jonang teachings, including the complete works of Tāranātha and the Kālacakra. Jamgon Kongtrul continued his transmission of Jonang teachings to Khyentse Wangpo after the latter returned from Tibet in the early 1850s, giving Tāranātha’s Drubta Rinjung (sgrub thabs rin ‘jung). At the time Khyentse Wangpo gave Jamgon Kongtrul a complete set of Tāranātha’s writings.
Recently, as I wrote about here, I came across a passage in the ‘Secret Autobiography of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Jamyang Chokyi Lodro’, (1896-1959) (the reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo), where he mentions a dream vision he had in 1943 of the Jonang master, Tāranātha who bestowed on him a full Kālacakra empowerment in the dream! As a result of this experience he states that great faith in Tāranātha arose. The Nyingma lineage master, Mipham Gyatso (‘ju mi pham rgya mtsho, 1846 – 1912) who considered Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo to be his main teacher) also wrote major several texts on the ultimate nature empty-of-other, Kālacakra and the six vajra-yogas.
The text and contents
I received the transmission of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s Collected Works from HH Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche during the transmissions of Khyentse Wangpo’s complete works in Siliguri, India, January 2020. This short text can be found online at TBRC in handwritten Umed script[ii] and is signed as written by Manjuogosha (another name for Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo). I could not find it listed in his Collected Works but have not been able to check all of the editions available. signed as written by Manjughosha, another name used by Khyentse Wangpo.
The text is an extremely precise, profound and clear explanation and presentation of the main points of the empty-of-other view and succinctly captures the central points that need to be understood. From this text, it is clear that Khyentse Wangpo follows the view of the Jonang Dolpopa, opening the text with the lines:
Here is a little explanation of the tradition of the Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka of the great Jonangpa Omniscient One [Dolpopa].
Ultimate truth is indestructible, unconditioned and beyond interdependence. Conventional truth is phenomena that are born and decay, which gather together dependent on causes and conditions.
Then, he gives a clear description of the difference between empty of self and empty of other, using the distinctions between consciousness and naturally arising primordial awareness:
Consciousness is an extremely thick, cloudy dark mind, like poison, which should be abandoned; the conventional that is empty of self [empty of inherent existence: rang stong]. Naturally arising primordial awareness [rang byung ye shes], is like the nectar aspect of empty luminosity. That which is not an object of elimination, is the ultimate empty-of-other (gzhan stong).
The rest of the text considers the three natures, and the base, path and result and the great, unchanging bliss and how the fundamental ‘essence’, Tathāgatagarbha, is not one with, and separable from, the superficial stains that need to be purified to reveal the ‘result’, the ‘base’ of the ever-present, unchanging ultimate essence.
Showing his non-sectarian (Rime) attitude, Khyentse Wangpo ends the text citing the names of Tibetan masters, such as important Kālacakra lineage holder and Jonang founding master, Yumowa Mikyo Dorje, the third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje and Pandita Shakya Chogden.
Interestingly, Wangpo does not use the word ‘permanent’ in his description, which was often used by Tāranātha and Dolpopa. Instead he uses the word ‘changeless’ several times and mentions the word ‘permanently’ only once. He then also lists two kinds of ‘emptiness’, the emptiness that is dependent on causes and conditions, and the emptiness that has ‘gone beyond’ such interdependence. Concluding that the ultimate nature is not empty of itself, but only empty of conventional, ‘fake and hollow’, conditioned phenomena and that the ultimate nature is ‘unchanging’, ‘naturally arisen primordial awareness’.
Thanks to my learned Tibetan teachers for clarifying explanations. Any errors are mine, and I hope that this new translation will be of benefit in not only preserving and understanding the thoughts and views of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, but also the essential and ultimate view of reality, which is empty of conventional, dualistic phenomena; the continually present and unchanging primordial awareness, which includes ‘all aspects’ in terms of its excellent Buddha qualities.
May it be of benefit! May all beings attain the unchanging, ever-present state of the ultimate nature of mind!
Adele Tomlin, Saga Dawa month, June 2020.
[i] For an English translation of this sadhana, see https://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/jamyang-khyentse-chokyi-lodro/dolpopa-guru-sadhana
[ii] gzhan stong dbu ma’i rnam gzhag snying por dril ba/ TBRC W8LS16476, it states: copy made available from the collection of a chung of nang chen area.
Copyright Adele Tomlin/Dakini Publications 2020. All rights reserved.