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Sutra 1, Chapter 3 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Right Knowledge or Knowledge of Relations


THEN MAHAMATI SAID: Pray tell us, Blessed One, about the being and the non-being of all things?

The Blessed One replied: People of this world are dependent in their thinking on one of two things: on the

notion of being whereby they take pleasure in realism, or in the notion of non-being whereby they take

pleasure in nihilism; in either case they imagine emancipation where there is no emancipation. Those who are

dependent upon the notion of being, regard the world as rising from a causation that is really existent, and

that this actually existing and becoming world does not take its rise from a causation that is non-existent.

This is the realistic view as held by some people. Then there are other people who are dependent on the

notion of the non-being of all things. These people admit the existence of greed, anger and folly, and at the

same time they deny the existence of the things that produce greed, anger and folly. This is not rational,

for greed, anger and folly are no more to be taken hold of as real than are things; they neither have

substance nor individual marks. Where there is a state of bondage, there is binding and means for binding;

but where there is emancipation, as in the case of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, masters and disciples, who have

ceased to believe in both being and


non-being, there is neither bondage, binding nor means for binding.

It is better to cherish the notion of an ego-substance than to entertain the notion of emptiness derived

from the view of being and non-being, for those who so believe fail to understand the, fundamental fact that

the external world is nothing but a manifestation of mind. Because they see things as, transient, as rising

from cause and passing away from cause, now dividing, now combining into the elements which make up the

aggregates of personality and its external world and now passing away, they are doomed to suffer every moment

from the changes that follow one after another, and finally are doomed to ruin.

THEN MAHAMATI ASKED the Blessed One, saying: Tell us, Blessed One, how all things can be empty, un-born,

and have no self-nature, so that we may be awakened and quickly realise highest enlightenment?

The Blessed One replied: What is emptiness, indeed! It is a term whose very self-nature is

false-imagination, but because of one's attachment to false-imagination we are obliged to talk of emptiness,

no-birth, and no-self-nature. There are seven kinds of emptiness: emptiness of mutuality which is

non-existence; emptiness of individual marks; emptiness of self-nature; emptiness of no-work; emptiness of

work; emptiness of all things in the sense that they are unpredicable; and emptiness in its highest sense of

Ultimate Reality.


By the emptiness of mutuality which is non-existence is meant that when a thing is missing here, one

speaks of its being empty here. For instance: in the lecture hall of Mrigarama there are no elephants

present, nor bulls, nor sheep; but as to monks there are many present. We can rightly speak of the hall as

being empty as far as animals are concerned. It is not asserted that the lecture hall is empty of its own

characteristics, or that the monks are empty of that which makes up their monkhood, nor that in some other

place there are no elephants, bulls, nor sheep to be found. In this case we are speaking of things in their

aspect of individuality and generality, but from the point of view of mutuality some things do not exist

somewhere. This is the lowest form of emptiness and is to be sedulously put away.

By emptiness of individual marks is meant that all things have no distinguishing marks of individuality

and generality. Because of mutual relations and interactions things are superficially discriminated but when

they are further and more carefully investigated and analysed they are seen to be non-existent and nothing as

to individuality and generality can be predicated of them. Thus when individual marks can no longer be seen,

ideas of self, otherness and bothness, no longer hold good. So it must be said that all things are empty of


By emptiness of self-nature is meant that all things in their self-nature are un-born; therefore, is it

said that things are empty as to self-nature. By emptiness of no-work is meant that the aggregate of elements

that makes up personality and its external world is Nirvana


itself and from the beginning there is no activity in them; therefore, one speaks of the emptiness of

no-work. By emptiness of work is meant that the aggregates being devoid of an ego and its belongings, go on

functioning automatically as there is mutual conjunction of. causes and conditions; thus one speaks of the

emptiness of work. By emptiness of all things in the sense that they are unpredicable is meant that, as the

very nature of false-imagination is inexpressible, so all things are unpredicable, and, therefore, are empty

in that sense. By emptiness in its highest sense of the emptiness of Ultimate Reality is meant that in the

attainment of inner self-realisation of Noble Wisdom there is no trace of habit-energy generated by erroneous

conceptions; thus one speaks of the highest emptiness of Ultimate Reality.

When things are examined by right knowledge there are no signs obtainable which would characterise them

with marks of individuality and generality, therefore, they are said to have no self-nature. Because these

signs of individuality and generality are seen both as existing and yet are known to be non-existent, are

seen as going out and yet are known not to be going out, they are never annihilated. Why is this true? For

this reason; because the individual signs that should make up the self-nature of all things are non-existent.

Again in their self-nature things are both eternal and non-eternal. Things are not eternal because the marks

of individuality appear and disappear, that is, the marks of self-nature are characterised by non-eternality.

On the other hand, because things are un-born and are only mind-made, they are in a deep sense


eternal. That is, things are eternal because of their very non-eternality.

Further, besides understanding the emptiness of all things both in regard to substance and self-nature, it

is necessary for Bodhisattvas to clearly understand that all things are un-born. It is not asserted that

things are not born in a superficial sense, but that in a deep sense they are not born of themselves. All

that can be said, is this, that relatively speaking, there is a constant stream of becoming, a momentary and

uninterrupted change from one state of appearance to another. When it is recognised that the world as it

presents itself is no more than a manifestation of mind, then birth is seen as no-birth and all existing

objects, concerning which discrimination asserts that they are and are not, are non-existent and, therefore,

un-born; being devoid of agent and action things are un-born.

If things are not born of being and non-being, but are simply manifestations of mind itself, they have no

reality, no self-nature:--they are like the horns of a hare, a horse, a donkey, a camel. But the ignorant and

the simple-minded, who are given over to their false and erroneous imaginings, discriminate things where they

are not. To the ignorant the characteristic marks of the self-nature of body-property-and-abode seem to be

fundamental and rooted in the very nature of the mind itself, so they discriminate their multitudinousness

and become attached to them.

There are two kinds of attachment: attachment to objects as having self-nature, and attachment to words as

having self-nature. The first takes place by not knowing that the external world is only a manifestation



the mind itself; and the second arises from one's clinging to words and names by reason of habit-energy.

in the teaching of no-birth, causation is out of place because, seeing that all things are like maya and a

dream, one does not discriminate individual signs. That all things are un-born and have no self-nature

be-cause they are like maya is asserted to meet the thesis of the philosophers that birth is by causation.

They foster the notion that the birth of all things is derived from the concept of being and non-being, and

fail to regard it as it truly is,--as caused by attachment to the multitudinousness which arises from

discriminations of the mind itself.

Those who believe in the birth of something that has never been in existence and, coming into existence,

vanishes away, are obliged to assert that things come to exist and vanish away by causation--such people find

no foothold in my teachings. When it is realised that there is nothing born, and nothing passes away, then

there is no way to admit being and non-being, and the mind becomes quiescent.

THEN MAHAMATI SAID to the Blessed One: The philosophers declare that the world rises from causal agencies

according to a law of causation; they state that their cause is unborn and is not to be annihilated. They

mention nine primary elements: Ishvara the Creator, the Creation, atoms, etc., which being elementary are

unborn and not to be annihilated. The Blessed One, while teaching that all things are un-born


and that there is no annihilation, also declares that the world takes its rise from ignorance,

discrimination, attachment, deed, etc., working according to a law of causation. Though the two sets of

elements may differ in form and name, there does not appear to be any essential difference between the two

positions. If there is anything that is distinctive and superior in the Blessed One's teaching, pray tell us,

Blessed One, what it is?

The Blessed One replied: My teaching of no-birth and no-annihilation is not like that of the philosophers,

nor is it like their doctrine of birth and impermanency. That to which the philosophers ascribe the

characteristic of no-birth and no-annihilation is the self-nature of all things, which causes them to fall

into the dualism of being and non-being. My teaching transcends the whole conception of being and non-being;

it has nothing to do with birth, abiding and destruction; nor with existence and non-existence. I teach that

the multitudinousness of objects have no reality in themselves but are only seen of the mind and, therefore,

are of the nature of maya and a dream. I teach the non-existence of things because they carry no signs of any

inherent self-nature. It is true that in one sense they are seen and discriminated by the senses as

individualised objects; but in another sense, because of the absence of any characteristic marks of

self-nature, they are not seen but are only imagined. In one sense they are graspable, but in another sense,

they are not graspable. When it is clearly understood that there is nothing in the world but what is seen of

the mind itself, discrimination no more rises, and the wise are established


in their true abode which is the realm of quietude. The ignorant discriminate and work trying to adjust

themselves to external conditions, and are constantly perturbed in mind; unrealities are imagined and

discriminated, while realities are unseen and ignored. It is not so with the wise. To illustrate: What the

ignorant see is like the magically-created city of the Gandharvas, where children are shown streets and

houses, and phantom merchants, and people going in and coming out. This imaginary city with its streets and

houses and people going in and coming out, are not thought of as being born or being annihilated, because in

their case there is no question as to their existence or non-existence. In like manner, I teach, that there

is nothing made nor un-made; that there is nothing that has connection with birth and destruction except as

the ignorant cherish falsely imagined notions as to the reality of the external world. When objects are not

seen and judged as they truly are in themselves, there is discrimination and clinging to the notions of being

and non-being, and individualised self-nature, and. as long as these notions of individuality and self-nature

persist, the philosophers are bound to explain the external world by a law of causation. This position raises

the question of a first cause which the philosophers meet by asserting that their first cause, Ishvara and

the primal elements, are un-born and un-annihilate; which position is without evidence and is irrational.

Ignorant people and worldly philosophers cherish a kind of no-birth, but it is not the no-birth which I

teach. I teach the un-bornness of the un-born essence of all things which teaching is established in the



of the wise by their self-realisation of Noble Wisdom. A ladle, clay, a vessel, a wheel, or seeds, or

elements--these are external conditions; ignorance discrimination, attachment, habit, karma,--these are inner

conditions. When this entire universe is regarded as concatenation and as nothing else but concatenation,

then the mind, by its patient acceptance of the truth that all things are un-born, gains tranquillity.

Sutra1 Chapter1 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Discrimination
Sutra1 Chapter2 - The Lankavatara Sutra - False-Imagination and Knowledge of Appearances
Sutra1 Chapter3 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Right Knowledge or Knowledge of Relations
Sutra1 Chapter4 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Perfect Knowledge, or Knowledge of Reality
Sutra1 Chapter5 - The Lankavatara Sutra - The Mind System
Sutra1 Chapter6 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Transcendental Intelligence
Sutra1 Chapter7 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Self-Realisation
Sutra1 Chapter8 - The Lankavatara Sutra - The Attainment of Self- Realisation
Sutra1 Chapter9 - The Lankavatara Sutra - The Fruit of Self- Realisation
Sutra1 Chapter10 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Discipleship: Lineage of the Arhats
Sutra1 Chapter11 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Bodhisattvahood and Its Stages
Sutra1 Chapter12 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Tathagatahood Which Is Noble Wisdom
Sutra1 Chapter13 - The Lankavatara Sutra - Nirvana
Sutra2 Chapter1 - The Diamond Sutra - The Diamond Scripture
Sutra3 Chapter1 - Sutra of Transcendental Wisdom - Sutra of Transcendental Wisdom
Sutra4 Chapter1 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Autobiography of Hui-Neng
Sutra4 Chapter2 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Prajna
Sutra4 Chapter3 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Dhyana and Samadhi
Sutra4 Chapter4 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on Repentance
Sutra4 Chapter5 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Discourse on the Three-Bodies of Buddha
Sutra4 Chapter6 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Dialogues Suggested by Various Temperaments and Circumstances
Sutra4 Chapter7 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Sudden Enlightenment and Gradual Attainment
Sutra4 Chapter8 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Royal Patronage
Sutra4 Chapter9 - Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch - Final Words and Death of the Patriarch

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