King of Reasonings


Buddha Shakyamuni, Kashmir, circa 650-700 adBuddha Shakyamuni, Kashmir, circa 650-700 ad
Buddha Shakyamuni, Kashmir, circa 650-700 ad copy

Buddha Shakyamuni, Kashmir, circa 650-700, Potala Inventory no.406. Reproduced Von Shroeder,

Lama Zopa Rinpoche:

If you don’t have such earlier experiences of realizing or seeing emptiness, then it is very important to rely upon (in the sense of take refuge in) the correct words or teachings that present emptiness. This includes the logical arguments.[1] For example, you can meditate on the emptiness of the I by using the logical syllogism: the I is noninherently existent because it is a dependent arising.

Through this you understand the I exists in mere name because it is merely labeled by thought relating to the base, the collection of the five aggregates—form, feeling, cognition, the compounding aggregates (or compositional factors) and consciousness.[2] The I exists as a dependent arising because it is merely labeled from the side of the mind that is relating to the association of the body and mind.[3]


The I exists as merely labeled therefore it is empty of existing independently of being merely labeled.

Meditating on the logic of extremely subtle dependent arising—that things exist as merely labeled by the mind in dependence on the base—you arrive at the same conclusion: the I is empty. Understanding arises that the I is empty of existing independently. The I doesn’t exist from its own side. The I existing from its own side is totally nonexistent. It is empty of existing from its own side. By using logic in this manner—that the I is a dependent arising, and therefore is noninherently existent—you are able to realize the emptiness of the I.

Though there are many different logical reasonings used to realize emptiness, such as the four-point analysis and the seven-fold logic, the king of logical reasonings is dependent arising.[4] Not only is it the most powerful logic but it is the basis of all the others. You apply the syllogism: the phenomenon is not truly existent because it is a dependent arising.[5]

Meditating on the meaning of dependent arising really makes you see that the thing that appears to be independent is in reality empty of such independence because it is a dependent arising. Continuing to see things as concrete is overcome by such logic. As with other methods, to utilize this logic, you first have to try and identify the object to be refuted. We will deal with this next.


Full publication details of cited texts are found in the  bibliography


Though I worked exhaustively on the texts of sutra and mantra,
When I practiced and spoke about their profound meaning,
I saw that I had not progressed far from the viewpoint
Of one who had learned nothing and understood nothing.

Thus, above all, I studied well all the key points
That induce the perfect view through the subtle path
Of reasoning, which opens the depths of the textual system
Of Nāgārjuna, and all my doubts were severed.

Je Tsongkhapa, quoted in Nyima, The Crystal Mirror, 222.

[2] Quarcoo points out the meaning of “name” in this context while glossing Tsongkhapa’s explication of the analogy of the snake imputed to the rope: “In the twilight someone mistakes a coiled rope for a snake and gets frightened, designating it as ‘snake’ and imputing the characteristics of a snake to it. Tib. btags pa, ‘distort,’ ‘tie,’ ‘attach,’ ‘put on,’ ‘name’ is therefore translated here and below [referring to his immediate Tsongkhapa translation] as the near-synonyms ‘impute’ and ‘designate’ commonly used in this context. However, the main emphasis is not on the actual designation but rather on the characteristics the mind thereby imputes to the object apprehended.” See Tsongkhapa, Middle Length Lam-Rim, 242, footnote 255.

Similarly, Tegchok  explains how “mere name” means “that everything is named on its basis of designation. Mere negates its inherent existent; it negates phenomena existing from their own side. Things exist by being merely named, imputed, designated, or labeled in dependence on their respective bases of imputation; they do not exist inherently; they come into existence by being merely labeled by name and concept.” Insight, 109. Thus we arrive at the term: “real in name and concept only [btags yod, prajñaptisat].” See Jinpa, Self, Reality and Reason, 148. Lama Zopa uses “thought”rather than “concept” but the intended meaning is the same.Tegchok also advises that we mustn’t assume that when Prāsaṅgika assert that “everything is mere name” this means that “only names exist” such that “when I touch the wall, I’m touching a name?” He further cautions, “Thinking that apart from the name nothing else exists is the extreme of nihilism.” So what we must conclude is that “Saying that everything is mere name means that everything is named on its basis of designation…saying that things exist by mere name is not negating their conventional existence.” Insight, 109. The Dalai Lama provides a complementary variation: “If one held that things are whatever conceptuality makes them to be, this would be an extreme of nihilism. For example, even if a conceptual consciousness considers yellow to be white or white to be yellow, this does not make it so. Therefore, although there are no phenomena not imputed by conceptuality, whatever conceptuality  posits as existent does not necessarily exist.” Harvard, 194. This topic concerning the criteria for establishing valid existence will reappear in forthcoming posts.

[3] There are three levels of dependent arising, each more subtle (and thus harder to realize) than the last:

  • Causal dependency (dependence on causes and conditions; e.g., a sprout is dependent on its seed.
  • Mutual dependency (including dependence on parts; e.g., a table is dependent on its surface and legs; also, young and old, and happiness and suffering are mutually dependent because we can’t ascertain one without the other).
  • Merely labeled dependency (phenomena exist in dependence on being merely labeled).

By logically understanding the first two we are best located to logically penetrate the third. See Tashi Tsering, Emptiness, 110–18.

[4] The four-point analysis (sometimes called the four essentials) will be expounded extensively in this blog. A canonical presentation is found in Tsongkhapa’s Middle Length Lam Rim—see Hopkins, Final Exposition, 66–73. The seven-fold reasoning (an elaboration of the four-point analysis) is found in Candrakīrti’s Madhyamakāvatāra and is also explained in Tsongkhapa’s Ocean of Reasoning and Elucidation of the Thought. See Joe Wilson, Candrakīrti’s Sevenfold Reasoning for a condensed presentation. Wilson translates Candrakīrti’s famous verse containing the reasoning:

A chariot is neither asserted to be other than its parts
Nor non-other; it is not asserted to possess them.
It is not in the parts nor are the parts in it.
It is not the mere collection [of the parts] nor is it [their] shape.
Just so [should a yogi understand a person and its aggregates].

Ibid., 23. Tsongkhapa explicates the reasons in the Great Treatise, Volume Three, 277–87. Lama Zopa Rinpoche will later utilize the logic regarding the chariot not being the “mere collection of its parts” in relation to the I not being the collection of aggregates.

The reasoning or logic of dependent arising, also called the “king of logics” or “king of reasonings,” appears throughout Nāgārjuna’s seminal Mādhyamika texts. In How to See Yourself As You Really Are, the Dalai Lama discusses the quintessential verse from Nāgārjuna’s Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Called “Wisdom”:

Because there are no phenomena
That are not dependent-arisings,
There are no phenomena that are not
Empty of inherent existence.

Ibid., 60. See also Hopkins, Meditation, 179–96.

There are various other renowned lines of middle way reasoning, such as the reasoning of the diamond slivers refuting production of the four extreme types (from self, other, both and neither [causelessly]), the refutation of the production of the four alternatives and so forth. See Hopkins, Emptiness Yoga, 148–55. Tegchok notes, “There is the reasoning of dependent arising, the reasoning of one and many, the reasoning of diamond slivers, and so on….All of these lines of reasoning come back to the same point, which is that phenomena cannot exist from their own side.” Tegchok, Insight into Emptiness, 119. For a summary of the three types of logical reasoning favored by Nāgārjuna, see Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, Tibetan Tradition, 179.

[5] A syllogism is a form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. Its use in Buddhist dialectics involves understanding “the necessary relationship between the subject, predicate, and reason.” See Katherine M. Rogers, Tibetan Logic (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2009), 31. She continues, “To be valid, the proof must be able to generate, in the mind of an appropriate person, a new valid understanding of the thesis.”

Geshe Lam Rim further explains, “A correct reason is defined as that which is the three modes (tshul gsum yin pa). The three modes are: 1. property of the position, 2. positive-pervasion, and 3. counter-pervasion. The first mode, property of the position (phyogs chos), is a reason the property of which is present in all members of the class of the subject, or more simply, a reason which is applicable to the subject….The second mode, positive-pervasion (rjes khyab), is a reason the property of which is present in all cases similar to the predicate, or in other words, a reason every instance of which is pervaded by, or necessarily an instance of the predicate….The third mode, counter-pervasion (ldog kyab), is a reason the property of which is absent among those cases dissimilar to the predicate, or in other words, a reason of which every instance of the negation of the predicate is pervaded by, or necessarily an instance of the negation of that reason.” A Necklace of Good Fortune 22–23. See also The Dalai Lama at Harvard, 25–28.

Of the benefits of accomplishing a syllogistic inference, Khensur Yeshey Tupden illustrates, “[In short] if understanding is cultivated upon completion of inference, one will remember without needing to depend on reasoning. For example, one uses the following syllogistic statement: ‘The subject [of the syllogism], a jewel, lacks true existence because of being a dependent arising.’ To say that this jewel is a dependent arising establishes that it lacks true existence; dependent arisings cannot be inherently existent [because these are mutually exclusive].” Klein, Path to the Middle, 79.



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