His Holiness the Dalai Lama recommends the study of Nagarjuna’s classic text “Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way,” or other times translated as “Root Wisdom,” before engaging in lam rim studies. The text centers around understanding the concept of shunyata, or that things do not inherently exist from their own side, but appear to arise due to  multiple causes and conditions.

This text goes through multiple points to prove that things do not inherently exist, but one of the most well known verses from this text comes from the first chapter. In referring to how things do not arise, Nagarjuna says:

Not from self, not from other,

Not from both, nor without cause:

Things do not arise

At any place, at any time.

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso has written an interesting commentary on this text entitled The Sun of Wisdom: Teachings on the Noble Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, and explains what this famous phrase could mean.

Why Things Don’t Arise From Self

When something is said to arise, this means that it comes into existence anew. However, if things arose form themselves, they would have to first exist in order to then arise from themselves! What would be the point of saying that something “arose” after it was already existent?

Why Things Don’t Arise From Others

If things arose from other things that were completely separate and independent from themselves, they would be able to arise from anything at all. No connection or relationship would be necessary for one thing to be able to produce another. Darkness would arise from fire, barley would grow from wheat seeds, and so forth. There would be no reason this could not happen, because different things would be arising from different things.

Another reason things do not arise from something different from themselves is that if they did, cause and result would have to exist at the same time. For two things to be different from each other, there have to be two things to begin with. If there is only one thing, what is it different from? Take the example of a seed and a sprout. If the sprout truly arises from the seed that is different from itself, then the sprout and the seed would have to exist simultaneously in order to be different from each other.

Why Things Don’t Arise From Both Self and Others

The third possibility is that things arise from both themselves and something other than themselves. The problem with this is that all the faults inherent in the first two positions accrue to this third one.  Combining wrong view number one and wrong view number two does not erase the faults of the first two views – it just combines them together into doubly wrong view number three.

Why Things Don’t Arise Without Any Cause At All

If they did, however, then they would either always arise or never arise. This would be the case because the arising of things would not arise because, since its arising would not depend on causes and conditions, it would arise whether its cause and conditions came together or not; or it would never arise because, since it would not have any relation to its causes and conditions, even if they came together they would not produce it.

Conclusion From the Analysis

At the level of slight analysis, we can apply the reasoning described above and find that the arising is not real after all – it is just mere appearance.

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