Summary of “Four Hundred Verse Treatise” – Dr. Berzin

The “Four Hundred Verse Treatise” was written by the great Indian master, Aryadeva, the disciple of the founder of the Madhyamaka tradition, Nagarjuna. It contains sixteen chapters, each with twenty-five verses. The first eight chapters discuss how to build up the positive force (merit) for understanding voidness (emptiness) by indicating how to correct distorted ways of regarding conventional truth and how to overcome disturbing emotions and attitudes. The second eight chapters indicate how to gain a correct understanding of deepest truth according to the Madhyamaka view.
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Chapter One: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Grasping at (the Body as) Permanent

The first four chapters show how to rid yourself of the four incorrect considerations: considering something impermanent by nature to be permanent, something in the nature of suffering to be in the nature of happiness, something unclean by nature to be clean, and something lacking an impossible soul or self to have an impossible soul or self. They present these in terms of the human body.

Chapter One speaks about the first of these by discussing the certainty of death and the uncertainty of the time of death. It warns against the naivety of thinking that you will live forever. It then extends this to the death of loved ones, such as your son. It warns against attachment to loved ones, since that only causes pain. Everyone must part; parting is the natural conclusion of meeting. Either you will have to depart first or your loved one will, but the parting is inevitable. If you rid yourself of attachment, even to your own body, then there is nothing to fear about death. You can go off happily into forest retreat.

Chapter Two: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Grasping at (the Body as) Pleasurable

Although your body is impermanent, still you need to take care of it. But remember, Aryadeva warns, it is like an enemy, since it brings you suffering and pain as well as pleasure and happiness. It is extremely easy to find suffering and unhappiness in life, but very difficult to find happiness. That is because the causes of suffering are many, but the causes of happiness are few.

It is the nature of the body that it brings you suffering, so why be so devoted to it? You experience suffering from hunger, sickness, old age, and death. Those sufferings only increase as life goes on. Happiness is dictated by your thoughts, but for samsaric beings, your thoughts are dictated by your suffering and unhappiness. And nothing is more compelling in a samsaric state than disturbing emotions and unhappiness. Further, the body is made of the four elements, which by nature clash. Therefore, of course the body brings suffering, like feeling too hot or too cold.

It is important not to build up negative force from destructive behavior in the futile hope that it will bring you some temporary, ultimately unsatisfying physical pleasure. If you regard the body as the source of your pleasure, you will not overcome attachment to it. But impermanent things inevitably receive harm and fall apart. Therefore, you need to regard the body as suffering.

Chapter Three: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Grasping at (the Body as) Clean

You are attached to your body or, as a heterosexual man, to the body of a woman, as pleasurable because you incorrectly consider it clean. But you will never find lasting happiness from your attraction and attachment to a body. Even dogs find their mates attractive and are attached to them, so there is nothing special about the person you find so alluring.

Although people have attractive good qualities, they also have unattractive aspects, so don’t forget those. You won’t be able to stay together with the person you are attached to and any happiness you find is not the supreme happiness Buddha taught. Consider the filth inside your partner’s body. Isn’t it absurd to be so attached to a vessel full of excrement? You can never make the inside of the body clean, no matter how much you wash the outside. Many points in this chapter are repeated and elaborated upon by Shantideva in the chapter on mental stability in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (sPyod-’jug, Skt. Bodhicaryavatara).

Chapter Four: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Grasping at (the Body as Having) an Impossible “Self” (about Which to Feel Pride)

Aryadeva discusses the next point by addressing himself to a king. There is no reason for a king to feel proud of his “self.” The land is not yours, since it is equally shared by everyone living on it. You are the servant of the people, paid by their taxes. To be able to protect and take care of them, they have to protect and take care of you. Further, you share not only in their taxed wealth, but also in their negative karmic force built up in your service, such as in war. If you punish the people and cause them hardship and pain, how can that be a source of your happiness? How can you find happiness as a king, if you are continually exploiting others and fighting wars?

Your high position comes from previous karmic causes, not from caste. There is nothing inherent about your position in life, so think about how your present actions will affect your future rebirths. If your occupation determined your truly existent caste, then even an outcaste could be considered a brahmin or a member of the royal caste if he worked as such. Also, if you are so proud of your authority and power, look to other rulers who are even more powerful.

Chapter Five: Indicating the Behavior of Bodhisattvas

There are no actions of a Buddha that are not causes for benefiting others. This is because Buddhas are omniscient and know what is of benefit and what is not. Moreover, all actions become beneficial depending on their motivation and intention. Thus, bodhisattvas can make even ordinarily destructive actions into constructive ones through their motivation and intention.

Bodhisattvas need to help tame disciples in accord with the disciples’ inclinations and needs and, like a doctor, not fight with them. The enemy is not the patient, but the sickness. It is therefore best to teach others first the topics that they have preference for, and not immediately the most profound topics when they are not ready for them and hearing about them would cause them to decline spiritually.

Just as a mother would be especially caring and kind toward her child when he or she is sick, a bodhisattva treats especially kindly those who are the most emotionally troubled. There isn’t anyone that bodhisattvas do not help, including shravakas. That is why bodhisattvas are willing to remain for as long as the universe endures, leading everyone to liberation and enlightenment.

Bodhisattvas take on any form to help others, even that of an animal. Therefore, it is important never to deprecate them. The positive force built up by bodhisattvas is enormous. Even while remaining in a samsaric state, they never suffer from it. Bodhisattvas are the happiest when they are able to be giving. Even hearing the word generosity makes them joyous. Therefore, avoid the attitude of giving to others in order to receive something back in return, since that is no different from a business transaction.

Chapter Six: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Disturbing Emotions

The three poisonous emotions and attitudes cause great suffering – longing desire, anger, and naivety or closed-minded ignorance. The activity of desire is to gather things to you; the activity of anger is to dispute and get things away from you; and the activity of naivety is to act as the basis that causes the other two to flare up. Not meeting with what you like, you experience desire; not having the force to overcome what you dislike, you experience anger; and not fully understanding reality, you experience naivety and closed-mindedness. But some people experience desire and some anger toward the same object, so the emotional response is not inherent in the object.

As a guru, you need to treat disciples differently, depending on the disturbing emotion that they suffer from the most. It is best to treat disciples with desire as servants and not be deferential to them, and disciples with anger as lords and to be deferential to them. Each of the three poisonous emotions has great disadvantages. Therefore, those with naivety need to study dependent arising. Those with desire need to stay away from food, entertainment, and so on that they are attached to and stay close to their gurus. Those with anger need to think about how becoming angry with someone or something is never helpful.

Many points here about the disadvantages of anger and how to overcome it are repeated and elaborated upon by Shantideva in his chapter on patience. A bodhisattva, then, needs to rid himself or herself of these three disturbing emotions and help others to do the same.

Chapter Seven: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Craving for Pleasurable Objects That People Desire

The ocean of suffering from uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth will be endless, unless you work to get out of it. Youth comes before old age and then again after it, so it is pointless to cling to it and feel proud about it. Youth, old age and death are like competitors in a race to see which will come first. Moreover, there is no guarantee of what kind of rebirth will follow this one. It is proper, then, to live in fear and dread while under the influence of disturbing emotions and karma, and to renounce them and recurring rebirth under the control of them. Therefore make effort in listening to the Dharma, thinking about it and meditating upon it.

Samsaric rebirth has the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and an increase of karmic results: one negative action can bring about many repeated disastrous results. Also, there is no certainty even that worldly happiness will arise from constructive behavior, since you can destroy its positive force through anger. In any case, worldly happiness – whether past, present, or future – can never satisfy, since it is impermanent. Therefore, do not make efforts merely for worldly happiness and pleasurable objects. The wise renounce that aim.

But just to renounce working for worldly happiness and pleasurable objects in this lifetime is not enough, since clinging to that aim will recur in future lives. So, do not perform constructive Dharma actions for the award of prosperity in future lives. To do so is the same as being attached to receiving a salary for doing good work. If you see all worldly happiness and pleasurable objects to be like an illusion, you can overcome clinging to them and attain liberation and enlightenment. Therefore, take no joy in worldly pleasures.

Chapter Eight: Training Disciples

Just as dissimilar people will not remain friends for long, likewise those who see the faults of samsaric phenomena will lose all desire to stay with them. Because any object or person can be an object of attraction, repulsion, or indifference for different people, objects and people do not exist by their own power as truly attractive. Desirability is established merely by mental labeling and dependently arises based merely on that. Thus, in any relationship between two persons, there is no such thing as a truly existent connection between them that can last forever.

Those who have built up little positive force will not even have doubts about the teachings on voidness; but for those with positive force, their samsaric existence becomes threadbare. Therefore, you need to understand fully the deepest teachings on voidness. There is no other way to gain liberation. But do not think that if everything were void of true existence, everything would be totally nonexistent and therefore there was no use in working for liberation. By doing actions that you think are truly existent, you create for yourself further samsaric rebirth and suffering; but, by doing actions that you understand lack true existence, you gain liberation. However, do not grasp at actions or different positions on voidness as being truly existent “things” to be accepted or rejected.

Disciples need to be led according to their capacity. Buddha taught generosity for those of least capacity, ethical discipline for the middling, and voidness for those of supreme capacity. In addition, disciples need to be led in stages. First, teach them to turn from destructive actions; intermediately, to turn from grasping for a gross self; and finally, to turn from all views of truly established existence. Note that this point can be understood either in a Svatantrika manner as indicating different levels of understanding voidness needed for gaining liberation and enlightenment, or in a Prasangika manner that these two levels of understanding are stages for attaining either liberation or enlightenment. Then, if you understand the voidness of one thing, you will understand the voidness of everything.

But, Buddha did not teach voidness in the same manner to everyone. One medicine does not suit every sickness. Thus to some disciples, Buddha taught that phenomena have truly established existence; to other disciples that some phenomena have truly established existence and some phenomena lack it; and to yet other disciples that nothing has truly established existence. Note that these three manners of explanation are the basis for dividing Buddha’s teachings into three rounds of transmission – the so-called “three turnings of the wheel of Dharma.” Even an understanding of a less sophisticated view of voidness is of benefit, since it will enable you to gain better samsaric rebirth states. But with the full understanding, all karmic seeds are burnt and you gain liberation.

Chapter Nine: Indicating the Meditations for Refuting Static Functional Phenomena

Functional phenomena that arise from causes and circumstances cannot be static with truly established existence. They depend on causes and circumstances, and do not exist just anywhere at any time. No functional phenomenon exists without a cause, and therefore it is impossible to have a static one such as a creator god as asserted by the Nyaya school.

Aryadeva goes on to refute the logic of other faulty systems. The Vaisheshikas argue that if something is produced, it is impermanent and if something is not produced, it is permanent and static. Since an atman of “soul” is not produced, it is therefore permanent. Aryadeva refutes this by arguing that if something is produced, it exists, but if something is not produced, it is not pervasive that it exists as static, because nonexistent things are also not produced.

Static space, for example, cannot be considered substantially existent based on the argument that it performs the function of acting as the object of cognition of it, as Vaibhashika asserts, because static things do not do anything. Further, static space cannot be all-pervasive and partless, as Vaisheshika asserts, because there are always directional parts. It is also contradictory for time to be both static and to allow functional phenomena to appear now or not to appear now, as Vedanta asserts, since then, again, something static would be performing a function. In general, any cause that does not have a result cannot be a cause, and so every cause itself must be a result of something else, since the ability of a cause to give its result is caused by circumstances. So, causes, such as time, cannot be static and permanent. Further, functional phenomena cannot arise from something static and nonfunctional, since phenomena related by a causal process need to be the same class or type of phenomenon.

Ultimately smallest particles cannot be both static and also constitute objects, as Vaisheshika asserts. This is because the meeting of such particles functions as a cause for material objects, and therefore such particles are functional phenomena. Such particles cannot be partless either, as Vaisheshika also asserts, since if they were partless, they could not meet on one side. Shantideva repeats this last argument to refute the Vaibhashika assertion of ultimately smallest particles that are partless functional phenomena.

True stoppings or cessations of suffering cannot be nonstatic and impermanent, yet they do not exist as substantially existent static phenomena performing the function of serving as the object for cognition of them, as Vaibhashika asserts. Further, liberation is not the same as either of those two. Also, nirvana without residue does not mean that a person who attains it becomes totally nonexistent, as both Vaibhashika and Sautrantika assert. It means that there is no residue left of grasping for a substantially existent “self” or “soul” who has attained liberation. Further, nirvana itself does not substantially exist either.

Aryadeva also refutes as illogical the Samkhya assertion of a truly existent permanent liberated “self” as being conscious, because according to Samkhya, such a “self” has totally separated itself from all objects of cognition. There cannot be consciousness without being conscious of something. The Nyaya position of a truly existent permanent liberated self as having no consciousness is also illogical, because how could such a self ever have the thought to work to gain liberation? Further, even if ordinary uneducated people do not hold any of these conceptually based incorrect views, this does not mean that they do not have automatically arising grasping for truly established existence.

Chapter Ten: Indicating the Meditations for Refuting a (Static, Impossible) “Self” or “Soul”

The assertion of a permanent, static truly existent “self” or “soul” leads to many further logical inconsistencies. Such a self or soul cannot be male, female, or hermaphroditic, as Vaisheshika asserts; because if it were, everyone would always be reborn as the same gender. Moreover, since the elements of the body are genderless, a self that relies on them could not have gender. Further, if a self were truly existent as “the self,” it would have to be the self of everyone; and therefore your self should be the object of my self-preoccupation too, but it is not. Also, a self cannot change aspects in each rebirth and still be static. A static self could not incite the body’s movements, because a static object cannot do anything. And if you assert a static permanent self that cannot be harmed, why bother to do any actions to prevent suffering?

If, like the Nyayas, you say that the self is not conscious on its own, but gains consciousness by connecting with a physical mind, how could it still be static and permanent if it changes by connecting with a mind? But if, like the Samkhyas, you say a static permanent self is inherently conscious, then why is there the need for it to rely on cognitive sensors to have sensory cognition of a physical object? Moreover, if a conscious self is static and permanent, it should not ever stop being conscious of something it is conscious of.

Aryadeva goes on to refute the Samkhya assertion of primal matter made of the three principles of happiness, unhappiness, and neutral, and yet not being itself a way of being aware of something. Also, a self that pervades the whole universe and all of time, as asserted by the Nyaya-Vaisheshikas, could not come here or go there. Also, as some Vedantists assert, it is illogical to assert that although a non-liberated self is an illusion and not truly existent, a liberated self is truly existent. Further, the impermanence of something cannot mean its truly existent transformation into a truly existent nothing; otherwise, all impermanence would mean that, and there could be no continuity of anything after its first moment ends.

Chapter Eleven: Indicating the Meditations for Refuting (Truly Existent) Time

If the past, present, and future were static and truly existent, as Vedantists assert, then the no-longer-existing, presently-existing, and not-yet-existing vase would all exist forever and there would be no need to produce anything. Not even a portion or aspect of a not-yet-existing vase can change into an aspect of a presently-existing vase or a no-longer-existing vase and still be static and truly existent as not-yet-existing. But if, like the Nyaya-Vaisheshikas and Vaibhashikas, you asserted that past, present, and future were impermanent and yet truly existent, how could anything change from being a truly not-yet-existing vase into a truly presently-existing vase and then into a truly no-longer-existing vase?

If a truly existent time-already-passed were to be impermanent and at some time have to pass away, how could something truly existently already-passed pass away again? But if it never passed away, then how could it be a time that had passed away? Also, it is illogical to assert, as some Vaibhashikas do, that the not-yet-existing, presently-existing and no-longer-existing vases are truly existent and identical with the truly existent vase itself, since then all three times would be identical and nothing could disintegrate and pass away.

If what did not yet exist already existed as a truly existent future, there would be no need for it to arise. It would already be happening. Thus, if your not-yet-existing vows already truly existed, why bother to make any effort to take them?

If, like the Sautrantikas, you assert that your not-yet-happening suffering existed as a truly existent static metaphysical entity, then you would already be liberated and there would be no need for Dharma practice, since it could never become presently-happening suffering.

If, like the Samkhyas, you assert the true simultaneous existence of cause and effect, you would not need bricks and pillars to build a house. On the other hand, if time had a truly existent occurring, then no moment of time could ever change from the state of occurring. But, if time truly existently had no occurring, there could be no end to its not occurring and so nothing could ever occur or happen.

Truly existent phenomena also could not have low-strength impermanence while they were occurring and high-strength impermanence when they were ending, because if they were truly existently of low-strength impermanence, that could never change. Also, phenomena could not be both truly existently occurring and at the same time impermanent, because the two characteristics would contradict each other. If something is impermanent, it would have to change its status and it could only change from being something occuring into something no longer occuring. But if something is truly existently occuring, it must do that forever and so could never change into being something no longer occuring, thus could not be impermanent. Further, all remembering is deceptive cognition, since an already-passed cognition cannot possibly occur again.

Chapter Twelve: Indicating the Meditations for Refuting (Attraction to Distorted) Views

A proper vessel for receiving the teachings on voidness is someone who is upright and unbiased, has commonsense discrimination and takes keen interest in voidness. By way of contrast, those who are improper vessels say that the fault is Buddha’s if they cannot understand the four noble truths.

It is important to rejoice in the teachings on voidness: only by understanding them can you liberate yourself from suffering. By gaining confidence in Buddha’s teachings on voidness, you can become confident that Buddha is a valid source of information about extremely obscure phenomena as well, such as karma.

Only those who know very little about voidness are afraid of it. This is because they are unaccustomed to voidness. But, because such people are accustomed to ignorance and confusion, which lead to further suffering, they are unafraid of that. Therefore, it is better to teach that there are truly existent selves to those who are not yet fit vessel for the teachings on voidness, since they might turn completely away from the Dharma if you teach them voidness prematurely.

Buddha did not teach voidness for the sake of debate, but still it burns off the distorted views of opponents. When you see holders of distorted views, whose closed-minded ignorance just causes them more suffering in samsara despite their wish for liberation, how could you not develop compassion for them? The teachings on voidness are far superior to the doctrines of the brahmins and the Jains. The suffering that Jains impose on themselves for the sake of gaining liberation, such as going naked in the winter and starving themselves, are the result of their karma and are certainly not a path to liberation. Birth as a brahmin and therefore reciting the Vedas as your caste duty is also not a path to liberation, since that too is the result of karma. By contrast, Buddha taught that the practice of Dharma is simply twofold: do no harm and understand voidness. Therefore, everyone needs to try to develop interest in voidness.

Chapter Thirteen: Indicating the Meditations for Refuting (Truly Existent) Cognitive Sensors and Cognitive Objects

You don’t see all qualities and aspects of a vase when you see its visible form, so how can bare visual cognition of a form establish the true existence of an object possessing other qualities as well, such as a touchable tactile sensation and a smellable odor? If bare visual cognition truly cognized the vase, it should cognize its smell too; and if it doesn’t truly existently cognize all the qualities of the vase, it cannot truly existently cognize any of them, including the visible form. The vase is made up of parts and the parts are made of parts ad infinitum. Thus since the tiniest particles that make up the form of the vase are just imputations on their parts, how can a composite of non-truly existent parts constitute a truly existent whole cognitive object? The same is true of the sounds of words, which are made up of phonetic parts and which constitute larger composites, namely sentences.

If the shape and the color of a vase are truly existently different, how could the visual cognition of the color of a vase also cognize the shape? And if they are truly existently identical, then why doesn’t a tactile cognition of the shape of a vase in the dark also cognize its color? Earth can be seen as something firm and solid, but it can also be known as that by tactile cognition. But if earth truly existed as an object of visual cognition, it could not also be an object of tactile cognition.

If, a vase arose as truly existently cognizable from its own side, there would be no need for it to be connected with the truly existent universal category of cognizability, which the Nyaya-Vaisheshikas assert as necessary for cognition; the vase would already be cognizable. But, if a vase arose as truly existently uncognizable, then it could not be cognized even it were connected to such a universal category.

Truly existent eye sensors cannot cognize truly existent visible forms that are truly different from them. If visible forms could be cognized by things that were truly different from them, ear sensors should also be able to cognize them, since they too are different from them. Moreover, a visual cognition cannot truly exist before the eye sensors look at a visible form, nor can it truly exist after the sensors look at the form. The latter is so because the seeing would then occur after the looking had ceased and the sensors were no longer looking at the form. But, if the visual cognition of a form occurred simultaneously with the eye sensors looking at a visible form, then looking at the form could no longer be the cause of seeing it.

According to the traditional pan-Indic analysis of sense perception, the power of cognitive sensors travels out to sensory objects in order to perceive them, not that sensory information travels from the object to the sensor as is asserted by Western science. If the power of a truly existent eye sensor had to travel out to an object in order to look at it, then it should take longer to see a distant object than it does to see a nearby object. And if it takes the same time, then why is a nearby object clearer than a distant one? They should be the same on the basis of truly existent eye sensors.

If the eye sensor travels out to its object after having noticed it, then what is the need to see it: it will already have seen it. And if it travels out without having noticed it, then it is traveling out to look at an object without knowing that it is going out to look at anything. But, if the power of the eye sensor did not have to travel out to its object, then it should be seeing everything all the time, whether nearby or distant, whether obvious or obscured. It should also be able to see itself.

Moreover, eye sensors, being physical matter, cannot be a way of being aware of anything; and consciousness, being a way of being aware of something, cannot be something physical that travels out to an object. So how can cognition occur as the result of the interaction of truly existent consciousness, cognitive sensors, and cognitive objects? Aryadeva then makes a similar analysis of ear sensors and audible sounds. Thus, cognition is like an illusion, arising from illusion-like consciousness, sensors, and objects.

Chapter Fourteen: Indicating the Meditations for Refuting Grasping at Extremes

A truly existent functional phenomenon could not come about from relying on anything else, since it should then exist totally independently by its own power. If a truly existent vase truly existed with a truly existent visible form in general, then whenever seeing any visible form, you would be seeing a vase. If the two truly existed as different, then a vase would not be a visible form.

If, as the Nyaya-Vaisheshikas assert, a vase and the universal category existence were both truly existent as separate types of truly existent phenomena, then your assertion of a vase truly existing in a separate category from existence makes no sense. The vase would have to be truly nonexistent. Aryadeva then refutes other Nyaya-Vaisheshika assertions, such as substances being able to exist without qualities, but qualities – for instance the quality of number, like being “one” or “two” – being unable to exist independently of qualifying a substance. Or, qualities not being able to qualify other qualities – both the quality of being a form and the quality of being large can qualify a substance, but “large” cannot qualify “being a form” and thus forms cannot be large.

If a truly existent vase is truly one with the eight types of truly existent constituent particles that constitute it, like the Sautrantikas assert, then the vase would have to be eight truly existent things, not one. Also, it is impossible for the particles of the four elements, which do have the ability to have contact, to join with the four particles of being a visible form, and so on, which do not have that ability, and form a single vase as a unit.

Aryadeva then goes on to refute that truly existent phenomena have truly existent defining characteristics, because the two cannot truly exist as either the same or as different from each other. He also refutes that truly existent wholes can exist as collections of truly existent physical parts or as the result of a collection of truly existent causes. He further analyzes how a collection of truly existent fuel, as an example of the earth or solid element, together with truly existent air and truly existent fire can become hot. If hot is a truly existent quality of the fire element, it cannot qualify the fuel as an example of the earth element. But doesn’t the fuel have to become hot in order to burn?

Aryadeva then explains that the line of reasoning of “neither one nor many” needs to be applied to refute all extreme views concerning existence, nonexistence, both, or neither.

Chapter Fifteen: Indicating the Meditations for Refuting Grasping at Affected Phenomena as Ultimately (Truly Arising)

Affected phenomena are those that arise, having been affected by causes and circumstances. Aryadeva now analyzes arisings as being ultimately truly existent.

Something truly nonexistent at the time of the cause cannot arise at the time of the result; but if a truly existent result already existed at the time of the cause, there would be no need for it to arise again. A truly existent cause cannot give rise to a truly existent result that is either truly the same as itself or truly different from itself. Moreover, there can be no truly existent arising, abiding, or ceasing, since at the time of one of these happening, the other two would be truly nonexistent and could either never happen or could never have happened.

Also, a truly existent phenomenon as a result cannot be produced from something either truly the same as itself or truly other than itself. Also, if something that arises is truly new, it could never become old. Since a truly existent arising, abiding, and ceasing cannot occur either separately and independently or simultaneously, when do they occur? Moreover, a truly existing arising, abiding, and ceasing cannot truly exist on the basis of a truly existent functional phenomenon as truly existent separate phenomena; otherwise, functional phenomena would be static and permanent.

Further, a truly existent functional phenomenon cannot arise from another truly existent functional phenomenon, because it would already truly exist. But, it cannot arise from a nonfunctional static phenomenon either. And a nonfunctional phenomenon cannot arise from another nonfunctional phenomenon, so how is there a truly existent arising of anything from anything?

Also, how could something truly existent and in the process of arising be already truly existing as what it will be? So what is it then? And does it make any sense to say that there is an interval between when the truly existent result does not yet exist and when it truly exists, and during that interval, the phenomenon exists as half truly existing and half truly not existent?

When does the process of a truly existing arising occur then? And how can a truly existent arising exist before an object that truly arises? And how can something truly existent be truly in the process of arising, as if its arising existed truly as something separate from it? Also, how can an arising truly exist before it has occurred and then become connected to a truly existent object that has not yet arisen and, by that connection, make that object arise?

Chapter Sixteen: Indicating How to Cause Teachers and Disciples to Gain Certainty (about Voidness)

Lastly, Aryadeva refutes truly existent logic, which is asserted by all non-Prasangika Buddhist schools of tenets. All these chapters, Aryadeva explains, have been written to refute any reasons anyone might give for grasping at things not to be void of truly established existence, despite everything being void of it. And even the author, the subject matter, and the words of this text are void of truly established existence. To counter another’s position and establish or prove your own position, you need to rely on logical reasoning. If, upon analysis with logic, what you assert is not found as existing, then you must understand that what you assert does not exist at all.

We Prasangikas do not use faulty lines of reasoning that even other Buddhists use, such as the Sautrantika argument that anything cognized by bare nonconceptual cognition truly exists, because it is cognized. Moreover, we do not even assert that voidness has truly established existence, which the Chittamatrins assert. If a basis for voidness does not have truly established existence, how could its voidness be truly established? Also, if voidness as the logical position to be proved had true existence, then its counter-position, non-voidness, would also have to be truly existent, since these two components of a line of reasoning depend on each other. But since voidness is not truly existent, neither is non-voidness.

If truly existent phenomena actually existed, they should be cognized by valid cognition. But they are never cognized by valid cognition, therefore how can they exist at all. Also, as there are no truly existent phenomena, it makes no sense to divide phenomena into some that truly exist and some that do not truly exist, like the Chittamatrins do. And if you accuse Prasangika as asserting that everything is totally nonexistent, then how is it that our logic is able to refute your position? If you say that our Prasangika logic is absurd, then why can’t you find any faults in it? If you cannot establish your position of non-voidness by logic and it were correct simply because you say it is correct; then any position would be correct merely by saying that it is so.

The words used in logical reasoning also lack truly established existence as referring to truly established phenomena. And it is illogical to say that voidness has true existence simply because it is proven by truly existent lines of reasoning or by using truly existent examples in the lines of reasoning to prove voidness.

If phenomena had truly established existence, what benefit would there be in understanding voidness, because voidness would be incorrect. But Buddha taught voidness of truly established existence because it is correct and its understanding gets rid of suffering. So, whether you assert truly established existence, truly established nonexistence, truly established both existence and nonexistence, or truly established neither existence nor nonexistence, voidness refutes all of them.

About the Text

Having received the Madhyamaka teachings on emptiness (voidness) from his teacher, Nagarjuna, some time around the end of the 2nd century or the beginning of the 3rd century C.E. Aryadeva wrote his elaboration on them in his Four Hundred Verse Treatise. The full title of this text is Four Hundred Verse Treatise on the Actions of a Bodhisattva’s Yoga (Byang-chub sems-dpa’i rnal-’byor spyod-pa bzhi-brgya-pa’i bstan-bcos kyi tshig-le’ur byas-pa, Skt. Bodhisattvayogacarya-catuhshataka-shastra-karika), indicating its importance for a bodhisattva’s practice. Before passing away, Aryadeva entrusted the teachings to Rahulabhadra.

Chandrakirti was in the next generation of disciples after Rahulabhadra. He wrote the most famous Indian commentary on The Four Hundred. The root text and this commentary were translated into Tibetan by Patshab Lotsawa (Pa-tshab Nyi-ma grags, b. 1055). Patshab Lotsawa was a major translator of Nagarjuna’s work, as well as of Guhyasamaja texts. He revised the old translation of Nagarjuna’s Root Verses on the Middle Way, Called “Discriminating Awareness” (dBu-ma rtsa-ba shes-rab, Skt. Prajna-nama-mulamadhyamaka-karika) and Chandrakirti’s commentary on it, Engaging in the Middle Way (dBu-ma-la ’jug-pa, Skt. Madhyamakavatara). According to Gelug, he was greatly responsible for the transmission and establishment of the Prasangika view in Tibet.

Rendawa (Red-mda’-ba gZhon-nu blo-gros) (1349–1412) wrote the earliest commentary on The Four Hundred, explaining it from the Sakya point of view of Madhyamaka. Gyaltsab Je (rGyal-tshab rJe Dar-ma rin-chen) (1364–1432) wrote the Gelug Prasangika commentary.

Read and listen to the original text “Four Hundred Verse Treatise” by Aryadeva.