A Translation of Selected Passages from Chapters 19 and 24 of Tsongkhapa’s An Ocean of Reason: A Great Exposition of the Root Text Verses from the Center (rTsa she tik chen rigs pa’i rgya mtsho)
This document contains translations of selected passages from chapter 19 (MMK: 19 An Investigation of Time) and chapter 24 (MMK: 24 An Investigation of the Ennobling Truths) of Tsongkhapa’s late fourteenth century textAn Ocean of Reason: A Great Exposition of the Root Text Verses from the Center (rTsa she tik chen rigs pa’i rgya mtsho).
In each chapter, the romanised Tibetan text of Nagarjuna’s verses is followed by a literal English translation and then Tsongkhapa’s word by word commentary. I have concentrated on the passages in the chapters where Tsongkhapa explicitly interprets the root text. I have omitted digressions, which are indicated by ellipsis points. The pagination follows that of the edition published in Varanasi by the mTho slob dge ldan spyi las khang in 1973.
This work was done as part of my preparatory study for the free poetic translation of Nagarjuna’s text as found in Stephen Batchelor. Verses from the Center: A Buddhist Vision of the Sublime. New York: Riverhead, 2000.
Tibetan Text, literal verse translation and Tsongkhapa’s commentary in An Ocean of Reason: A Great Exposition of the Root Text Verses from the Center (rTsa she tik chen rigs pa’i rgya mtsho)
/da ltar byung dang ma ‘ongs pa//gal te ‘das la ltos gyur na//da ltar byung dang ma ‘ongs pa//’das pa’i dus ni yod par ’gyur/
If the present and the future
were contingent on the past,
then the present and the future
would have existed in the past.
If both the present and the future were intrinsically existent, one could not pass beyond either of them. Therefore, if both the present and the future were contingent upon a time which is past,then both the present and the future would have existed in the past. Because if those two times were intrinsically existent, then their being contingent upon the past would also have the nature of intrinsic existence, and since such a nature would have to be unambiguously the case [mi ‘khrul] at all times and places, it could never change into anything else. ... If those two times existed in the past time, then they too would be past, in which case one would be unable to posit a past, because, if the past and future are posited as such due to their being respectively past and future in relation to the present, if there were no present there could be no past either.
/da ltar byung dang ma ‘ongs pa//gal te de ni med gyur na// da ltar byung dang ma ‘ongs pa//ci ltar de la ltos par ‘gyur/
If the present and future
did not exist there,
then how could the present and the future
be contingent on it?
If, having accepted the argument which has just been given, one now thinks that both the present and the future did not exist at that past time, then how could they be contingent on the past? They could not.
/‘das pa la ni ma ltos par//de gnyis grub pa yod ma yin//de phyir da ltar byung ba dang//ma ‘ong dus kyang yod ma yin/
Without being contingent on the past
neither can be established.
Hence the present and the future times
also do not exist.
Following those who believe the past to be permanent, could it be that both [present and future] do not need to be contingent on it? But without being contingent on the past neither [of them] can be established. This is so, because [of the following reasoning]: (a) were such things as sprouts to have their own self-nature, they would be unable to pass beyond that [condition]; (b) but it is impossible to posit the present without taking into account its being contingent on the past; (c) and the future too must be indirectly contingent on the past, because it is posited as the future now due to its having not yet occurred. If those two times were not contingent on the past, they would not [have to] be contingent on anything else either. Thus, due to their not being contingent on anything, they would be as non-existent as the horns of a donkey. In this way contingency or non-contingency on the past cannot intrinsically exist. Hence both the present and the future times also do not intrinsically exist. (337-8)
/rim pa’i tshul ni ‘di nyid kyis//hlag ma gnyis po bsnor ba dang//mchog dang tha ma ‘bring la sogs//gcig la sogs pa’ang shes par bya/
These very stages
Can be applied to the other two.
Superior, inferior, middling etc.,
Singularity and so on can also be understood [thus].
To understand how the past and future’s contingency on the present and the past and present’s contingency on the future are likewise not intrinsically existent, the very stages of reasoning already used to refute the intrinsic existence of the [present and future’s] contingency on the past can be applied to the arguments on the intrinsic existence of contingency on both the other two times of present and future. [Verses 1-3] could then be altered as follows:
If the past and the future
were contingent on the present,...
...Hence the past and the future times
also do not exist.
If the past and the present
were contingent on the future,...
...Hence the past and the present times
also do not exist.
These very stages in which the three times have been analysed can lead to an understanding of how all tripartite divisions and relationships can be explained: superior, inferior and middling; skilful, unskilful and unspecified; arising, abiding and ceasing; inner, outer and central; the three realms [desire, form, formless]; training, beyond training and neither; singularity, duality and multiplicity [?]. (338-9)
/mi gnas dus ni ‘dzin mi byed//gang zhig gzung bar bya ba’i dus//gnas pa yod pa ma yin pas//ma bzung dus ni ji ltar gdags/
Non-dwelling time cannot be apprehended.
Since time which can be apprehended
Does not exist as something which dwells,
How can one talk of unapprehendable time?
One might argue that time is inherently existent because it is something other than moments, seconds, minutes, day, night and so on. If “time” dwelled as intrinsically different from moments and so on, then although [in theory] it could be apprehended as something distinctive through moments and so on, “time” [as such] could not dwell in its own right as something apprendable through moments and so on. Therefore, since it does not dwell in such a way, time cannot be apprehended through moments and so on which are intrinsically different from it.
[But it might still be objected:] Permanent time does exist and is evident from moments and so on:
Time brings things to maturity;
Time brings people together;
Time awakens one from sleep;
It is extremely hard to go beyond time.
Why could there not be something with such characteristics? But a time which can be apprehended and made evident by moments and so on does not exist as something which dwells in its own right, because if it did exist as intrinsically different from moments and so on, it should be able to be known [as such] whereas in fact it cannot. ... Since such time is unknowable through any valid way of knowing, how can one talk of that unapprehendable time by means of moments and so on? One simply cannot.
/gal te dus ni dngos rten te//dngos med dus ni ga la yod//dngos po ‘ga’ yang yod min na//dus lta yod par ga la ‘gyur/
If time depended on things,
Where would time which is a non-thing exist?
If there were no things at all,
Where would a view of time exist?
Some might say: Although it is indeed true that permanent time does not exist, time configured in dependence upon conditioned things such as forms is what is denoted by the expression “moments and so on.” Where would time which is a non-thing, i.e. which is intrinsically different from such things as form, exist? If, since [such time] could not exist, time is posited in dependence upon things such as form, and when, for the reasons already given and explained, there were no things at all which inherently exist, where would an inherently existent view of timeconfigured on [things] exist? It could not exist. (339-40)
Tibetan Text, literal translation and Tsongkhapa’s commentary in An Ocean of Reason: A Great Exposition of the Root Text Verses from the Center (rTsa she tik chen rigs pa’i rgya mtsho)
/gal te ‘di dag kun stong na//’gyur ba med cing ‘jig pa med//’phags pa’i bden pa bzhi po rnams//khyod la med par thal bar ‘gyur/
"If all were empty,
Nothing could come about or perish.
It would follow for you
That the four ennobling truths could not exist.
The previous twenty-three chapters have sought to establish through reasoning how all internal and external phenomena lack the nature of intrinsic existence. [There now follows] an objection by those who think that this reasoning, which only sets out to prove whether or not [things are intrinsically existent], denies all actions and fields of action such as arising and passing away, bondage and freedom.
“If it were established that all internal and external things were empty of intrinsic existence, you would have committed both great and many errors. How? If things were empty in that way, they could not exist. Hence, like children of barren women, they could neither be born nor die. In which case nothing at all could come about or perish. Since nothing existed, it would follow for youproponents of emptiness that the four ennobling truths could not exist. For if there were not the slightest birth or destruction, the five aggregates of clinging, which were born from former causes and are the truth of anguish, could not exist. If they did not exist, then the actions and afflictions that are the origin of the anguished aggregates could also not exist. If there were no anguish, a true cessation, by which anguish ceases, could likewise not exist. And if there were no cessation of anguish, the true eightfold path that leads to such cessation could not exist. (395)
/‘phags pai’ bden pa bzhi med pas//yongs su shes dang spang ba dang//bsgom dang mngon du bya ba dang//’thad par ‘gyur ba ma yin no/
“Since the four ennobling truths would not exist,
Understanding, letting go,
Cultivating and realizing
Would no longer be valid.
“If that were the case, since the four ennobling truths would not exist, understanding anguish, letting go of its origins, cultivating the path and realizing cessation would no longer be valid. Because if the four fields of action (that which is to be understood [i.e. anguish], that which is to be let go of [i.e. the origins of anguish] etc.) were non existent, then the four [corresponding] actions (understanding etc.) would also be invalid. For actions always require fields in which to act. (395)
/de dag yod pa ma yin pas//’bras bu bzhi yang yod ma yin//’bras bu med na ‘bras gnas med//zhugs pa dag kyang yod ma yin/
“Since they would not exist,
The four fruits would also not exist.
If the fruits did not exist, there could be no abiding in the fruits.
Experiencing them would also not exist.
“Since the understanding of the truth of anguish etc. would not exist, the four fruits [i.e. of the stream entrant, once returner, non-returner and arhat, the four classic stages of awakening found in early Buddhist tradition] would also not exist. ... If those four fruits did not exist, there could be no four ennobled beings to abide in the fruits. Therefore, there would also not exist the four ennobled beings to experience them. (395-6)
/gal te skyes bu gang zag brgyad//de dag med na dge ‘dun med//’phags pa’i bden rnams med pa’i phyir//dam pa’i chos kyang yod ma yin/
“If those eight beings did not exist,
The Community would not exist.
Since there would be no ennobling truths,
The sublime Dharma could also not exist.
“If those eight beings, i.e. the four who abide in the fruits and the four who experience the fruits, did not exist, the Community Jewel would not exist. If there were no eight beings, since there would be no ennobling truths, the sublime Dharma (so-called since it is the Dharma of those ennobled sublime ones) could also not exist. [There are two kinds of] Dharma here: Insight, which leads one into the path that results in the fruit of cessation, and Texts, i.e. the teachings which elucidate those [paths and their fruits]. (398)
/chos dang dge ‘dun yod min na//sangs rgyas ji ltar yod par ‘gyur//de skad stong pa nyid smra na//dkon mchog gsum la gnod pa ni/
“If the Community and the Dharma did not exist,
How could Buddha exist?
When you talk of emptiness,
The three Jewels are maligned.
“If the sublime Dharma did not exist, how could Buddha exist? It could not, because apart from experientially knowing all dharmas through the injunctions of the sublime Dharma and Dharma which accords with it, there can be no attainment of Buddhahood. If the Community did not exist, how could Buddha exist? There are four reasons for this: for the attainment of Buddhahood it is necessary (1) to have accumulated wisdom from the teachings of the Community and (2) to have accumulated goodness through having made offerings, paid respect and gone for refuge to the Community. (3) If there were no Community, there would be no one who has achieved stream entry etc. And without first experiencing those [stages], one cannot attain Buddhahood, because even the Buddha must inevitably have achieved some of those fruits. (4) Furthermore, Lord Buddha himself pertained to the Community that has no more training to do, and in some schools is regarded as part of the Community of monks. In these ways, it is obvious that there can be no Buddha without Community. ... Therefore, when you talk of the meaning of emptiness, you aremaligning the three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Community, which are so hard to find, occur only rarely, are not encountered by those with little goodness and are very precious. (398-9)
/byed cing ‘bras bu yod pa dang//chos ma yin dang chos yin dang//’jig rten pa yi tha snyad ni//kun la’ang gnod pa byed pa yin/
“The existence of actions and fruits,
What is not Dharma and what is Dharma,
The conventions of the world:
All these too are maligned.”
“Furthermore, since you include everything when you talk of all phenomena being empty of intrinsic existence, then the occurrence or non-occurence of the fruits of both what is not Dharma, i.e. what is unskilful, and what is Dharma, i.e. what is skilful, would not exist. And all the conventions of the world such as ‘do this,’ ‘sit down,’ ‘go away,’ ‘come here,’ since they too must be included in ‘everything,’ are maligned. Hence, this manner of teaching emptiness is no good.” (399)
/de la bshad pa khyod kyis ni//stong nyid dgos dang stong nyid dang//stong nyid don ni ma rtogs pas//de phyir de ltar gnod pa yin/
An explanation for that: [let me explain:]
Since you do not understand
The need for emptiness, emptiness, and the point of emptiness,
Therefore in that way you malign.
Here is an explanation to answer that other person’s objection: Since you do not understand the need for teaching emptiness, the nature of emptiness, and the point of emptiness, i.e. that point, which when clearly grasped, one then explains as “emptiness,” you therefore badly malign yourself, i.e. you are damaged by numerous wrong ideas. Entirely because of your own misconceptions, you think that “non-inherent existence” ... means “non-existence.” In that way, in falsely exaggerating the meaning of emptiness, you then censure us with statements such as:
“If all were empty,
Nothing could come about or perish...” [v. 1 above]
and thus, with great displeasure, you malign us.
Likewise, if you were to interpret the earlier line:
“Fixations are stopped by emptiness.” [XVIII: 5]
to imply that emptiness means the pacification of every single fixation which apprehends the characteristics of something, and therefore “non-inherent existence” means “non-existence,” then the web of fixations alone will expand in such a way that you will fail to understand the need for teaching emptiness. ...
Moreover, it says in a sutra: “Whatever is born from conditions is unborn.” That is why something that depends on conditions is said to be empty: it is not self-sufficiently stuck inside of itself. “Contingently emergent” means “intrinsically empty.” “Emptiness” does not mean “the absence of a functioning reality.” ... (400-1)
/sangs rgyas rnams kyis chos bstan pa//bden pa gnyis la yang dag rten//’jig rten kun rdzob bden pa dang//dam pa’i don gyi bden pa’o/
The Dharma taught by Buddhas
Perfectly relies on two truths:
The ambiguous truths of the world
And the truths of the sublime meaning.
Who are these people who censure us without understanding the need for emptiness as explained by the Madhyamika? Failing to correctly understand the division of the two truths, which is explained in the teachings, they are those who argue on the basis of their own enthusiastic opinions while merely mouthing the words of the teachings. Therefore, in order to dispel the misconceptions of those who misconstrue the meaning of the teachings, Acharya [Nagarjuna continues his response] from the point of view of a correct presentation of the two truths.
One enters the Dharma taught by the Lord Buddhas through perfectly relying on two truths. The two truths are taught as: the ambiguous truths of the world and the truths of the sublime meaning.
Here “world” refers to people configured in dependence upon the aggregates [of body and mind], because it is taught that “world” [‘jig rten] depends [brten] on aggregates that perish [‘jig]. “Ambiguous” [kun rdzob; samvrti] means ?unaware? or ?ignorant,? because [ambiguous truths] cover and obscure the actual reality of things. Although in this context ?ambiguous? is explained as synonymous with ?obscuring,? this does not mean that everything ambiguous is obscuring.
Moreover, ?ambiguous? can also mean ?mutually dependent.? Since [things are] necessarily mutually dependent, this means that they do not have the nature of being self-sufficiently stuck inside themselves. This etymology might lead one to conclude that since sublime truths are also like this, they too should be called ?ambiguous.? This is incorrect. For example, [?lotus? in Tibetan] literally means ?lake born.? But on the grounds of this etymology one cannot conclude that a frog [is a lotus because it too is ?lake born?].
Furthermore, “ambiguity” also implies “signs,” i.e. the conventions of the world.
... When [something is] both meaningful and sublime, then it is a “sublime meaning” (don dam; paramartha). Since it is infallible in terms of one’s seeing reality as it is, it is “truth.” [402-3]
[At this point in his commentary, Tsongkhapa launches into a twenty page study of the two truths.]
/gang dag bden pa de gnyis kyi//rnam dbye rnam par mi shes pa//de dag sangs rgyas bstan pa ni//zab mo’i de nyid rnam mi shes/
Those who do not understand
The division into two truths,
The profound reality of the Buddha’s teaching.
Those who do not understand as explained above the division into the two truths of ambiguous and sublime, cannot understand the profound, contingently emergent reality of the Buddha’s teaching. Therefore, if one wishes to know the reality of the Conqueror’s teaching, one should understand how the sublime is beyond the extreme of intrinsic existence as well as the extreme of utter non-existence, for the very reason that contingently created and contingently configured ambiguous [truths] are perfectly functional even while appearing like the moon in water. 
/tha snyad la ni ma brten par//dam pa’i don ni bstan mi nus//dam pa’i don ni ma rtogs par//mya ngan ‘das pa thob mi ‘gyur/
Without relying on conventions
The sublime meaning cannot be taught.
Without understanding the sublime meaning,
One will not attain nirvana.
“The sublime is by nature free from fixations. Nonetheless, it has to be taught. But what is the point of teaching ambiguous [truths] such as the aggregates, the sense fields, the [ennobling] truths, contingent emergence and so on? Since they are not reality itself, then one must let go of them. There is surely no need to teach what is to be let go of?” It is indeed true that deceptive ambiguous [truths], which appear to be reality when in fact they are not, are to be let go of. But without relying on and coming to terms with ambiguous truths and conventions (i.e. the world’s distinctions between speech and what is spoken about, knowledge and what is known etc.) in reference to the noble sublime, the sublime meaning cannot be taught. Without being taught, it cannot be understood. And without understanding the sublime meaning, one will not attain nirvana. Therefore, because they are a means for attaining freedom, then like one in search of water needs a cup, one must first invariably come to terms with the ways in which ambiguous things exist.
/stong pa nyid la blta nyes na//shes rab chung rnams phung par byed//ci ltar sbrul la bzung nyes dang//rigs sngags nyes par bsgrub pa bzhin/
If their view of emptiness is wrong,
Those of little intelligence will be hurt.
Like handling a snake in the wrong way,
Or casting a spell in the wrong way.
Those who regard conditioned things as empty of an inherent nature but who ignore the distinction between the two truths will either think that conditioned things do not exist or, having concluded that certain emptinesses are truly existent, that things inherently exist on the basis of [such emptinesses]. If their view of emptiness is wrong in either of those ways, those of little intelligence in their views will be hurt. The way they will be hurt is as follows. One might think that in seeing things to be empty of an inherent nature one will realize there to be no grounds for positing functionality and therefore that nothing exists. This will lead to the wrong view of underestimation [skur ‘debs]. ... If, on the other hand, one does not underestimate things, but wonders: ?How can these things be empty of inherent existence when they appear [as vividly] as they do? The absence of inherent nature cannot be what emptiness means,? then one certainly will have rejected emptiness. ...
“If one handles something which is beneficial in a way other [than one should], then it will indeed be of no benefit but how will it cause harm? A person who plants seeds in the wrong way will not be destroyed by his action.” Let’s consider other examples. Like, i.e. for example, if you handle snakes, spells or medicines in a way other than you are instructed, not only will this be an error but the potency of these things could cause great harm. If you cast aside such advice and handle them in the wrong way, they will damage you. Or, similarly, although a spell cast in accordance with instructions will benefit the person who casts it, if you ignore the instructions and cast a spell in the wrong way, you will be damaged. [424-5]
/de phyir zhan pas chos ‘di yi//gting rtogs dka’ bar mkhyen gyur nas//thub pa’i thugs ni chos bstan las//rab tu log par gyur pa yin/
Therefore, knowing how difficult it is
For the weak to understand the depths of this Dharma,
The heart of the Muni
Strongly turned away from teaching the Dharma.
If one regards emptiness in the wrong way, you will be damaged. And those of weak intelligence are incapable of correctly apprehending the meaning of reality itself. On awakening the Buddha saw the temperaments of beings as well as the great depths of the Dharma. Therefore, knowing how difficult it is for the weak in intelligence to understand the depths of this Dharma of profound contingent emergence, the heart of the Lord Muni strongly turned away from teaching the Dharma. 
/skyon du thal bar ‘gyur ba ni//stong la ‘thad pa ma yin pas//khyod ni stong nyid spong byed pa//gang de nga la mi ‘thad do//
Since [those] erroneous consequences
Do not apply to emptiness,
Whatever rejections you make of emptiness
Do not apply to me.
Not knowing the correct nature of the two truths, you fabricate many erroneous consequences, such as:
“If all were empty,
Nothing could come about or perish...” (XXIV: 1 a-b)
Since you do not understand the presentation of the two truths, you have not internalized emptiness, its point or its need. And this has led you to such fabrications, which do not apply to those of us who speak of emptiness. Therefore, having ascribed many faults to emptiness, whatever rejections you make of emptiness do not apply to my tradition. You ascribe these faults through exaggerating the meaning of emptiness to mean that there are no functional things at all. But we do not accept that view. Since we explain the meaning of emptiness to be that of the contingent and relational emergence [of things], such criticisms are unjustified. This argument against the Madhyamika tradition (that nothing at all would be able to function) is due to the fact that you fail to understand the meaning of empty contingent emergence. You should try and understand it. 
/gang la stong pa nyid rung ba//de la thams cad rung bar ‘gyur//gang la stong nyid mi rung ba//de la thams cad mi rung ‘gyur/
Those for whom emptiness is possible,
For them everything is possible.
Those for whom emptiness is not possible,
For them everything is not possible.
From our point of view, not only do such mistakes not apply, but all the presentations of the [ennobling] truths and so on work extremely well. Those traditions for whom emptiness of inherent existence of all things is possible, for them everything we have spoken of is possible.
When we speak of emptiness, we mean that whatever arises contingently and relationally is empty of inherent existence. Therefore, when emptiness is possible, contingent relatedness is possible. [In a world of] contingent and relational emergence, anguish can occur; but [in a world of] no contingent and relational emergence, anguish would not be possible. When there is anguish, the origins of anguish, the cessation of anguish and a path leading to the cessation of anguish are possible. When there are such things, understanding, [letting go of, realizing and cultivating] them are possible, and if we can do those four things, the fruits and those who abide in them are possible. If there are people who experience and abide in the fruits, Community is possible; if the [ennobling] truths exist, the sublime Dharma is possible; and if those two exist, then Buddha is possible. Therefore, the Three Jewels are possible. All mundane and supramundane things, Dharma and not-Dharma, the results of such, and the conventions of the world too are all possible. ...
Those traditions for whom the emptiness of inherent existence is not possible, for them, since contingent relatedness is not possible, everything we have presented [above] is not possible. The way in which this is not possible will be explained at length. [427-8]
/khyod ni rang gi skyon rnams ni//nga la yongs su sgyur byed pa//rta la mngon par zhon bzhin du//rta nyid brjed par gyur pa bzhin/
You are transferring your own mistakes
This is like mounting a horse
But forgetting about the horse itself.
From our point of view, we are without fault and do not contradict any statements about samsara or nirvana, but you misrepresent our viewpoint in a crude and mistaken way. You fools who do not see the difference between value and error are transferring your own mistakes onto me. This is like, for example, someone mounting a horse but forgetting about the horse itself. And then accusing someone else of the fault of having stolen the horse. While mounting the horse which has the characteristics of contingent emergence empty of inherent existence, your mind gets distracted and you fail to notice this. Then you get into an argument with us. 
/gal te dgnos rnams rang bzhin las//yod par rjes su lta byed na//de lta yin na dngos po rnams//rgyu rkyen med par khyod lta’o/
If you view all things
As existing from their own nature,
Then you would view
All things as not having causes and conditions.
What mistakes are made by those who criticise us who speak only in terms of non-referential emptiness? This is now pointed out. If you view all things as existing from, i.e. by, their own nature,then, since a nature cannot be produced from causes and conditions, you would view all things as not having to depend on causes and conditions.
/’bras bu dang ni rgyu nyid dang//byed pa po dang byed dang bya//kye ba dang ni ‘gag pa dang//’bras bu la yang gnod pa byed/
Cause and effect itself,
Agents, tools and acts,
Production and cessation,
The effects too would be undermined.
If you think of a jug as existing by its own nature, it would have no need of changing causes and conditions. It would absurdly follow that the effect called “jug” would be causeless. If there were no jugs, then agents, i.e. potters, as well as tools, such as wheels and so on, and the acts of making pots would also not exist. Since they were non-existent, production and cessation too would not exist, and hence the effects too would be undermined. (428)
/rten cing ‘brel par ‘byung ba gang//de ni stong pa nyid du bshad//de ni brten nas gdags pa ste//de nyid dbu ma’i lam yin no/
Whatever is contingently related
That is explained as emptiness.
That is contingently configured;
It is the central path.
From our standpoint, the reason we are able to validate all presentations is because we accept the following: whatever is contingently related to causes and conditions is explained as the very meaning of being empty of birth by its own nature.
... But what does it actually mean to say that something empty of inherent existence is something contingently emergent? If it is meant in the sense that a jug is a vessel [with the ability to pour water,] then it would follow that as soon as you are certain that effects emerge in dependence upon causes and conditions you would also be certain of their emptiness. But this is clearly not so. And the same problem occurs if one asserts that the word “contingent emergence” denotes emptiness. Even if you assert that [something’s emptiness] is implicitly [understood] through the explicitcertainty of its contingent emergence, this would likewise not hold true. Because if you were to ask yourself: “What is this thing?” you would not [necessarily] say it was [empty].
So how do we deal with this? The way in which something empty is contingently emergent is only accessed by those centred people (Madhyamikas) who have refuted inherent existence through authoritative understanding. And not by anyone else. When such centred people have explicit certainty that something emerges contingently in dependence upon causes, then, through the force of that very cognition, they gain certainty about its emptiness of inherent existence. This is so because they have understood (a) that something inherently existent cannot be related to anything else, and (b) that to be both [inherently existent] and contingently emergent is a contradiction. Having gained certainty about emptiness (the elimination of inherent existence by means of contingent emergence), the very moment they see or hear or remember that grains of barley, sprouts and so on depend upon causes and conditions, then they reflect and meditate on how such things do not therefore have their own nature.
By acting thus, even if, in subsequent lifetimes, the emptiness of inherent existence is not explicitly explained to them, simply through an account of contingent emergence, their predisposition to the view of emptiness will be aroused. This would be like when rTa-thul simply told Kuntu-rgyu-nye-rgyal about the contingent emergence of the four truths, the latter understood the nature of reality itself.
That which is empty of inherent existence is contingently configured. We configure a cart on the basis of its wheels and other contingent parts. As such it is empty and not born from its own nature. Such unborn emptiness is beyond the extremes of being and non-being. Thus it is both the centre itself and the central path. Emptiness is the track on which the centred person moves. Nagarjuna says in his Polemic:
I honour the incomparable Buddha,
Who teaches that
Emptiness, contingent emergence and the central path
/gang phyir rten ‘byung ma yin pa’i//chos ‘ga’ng yod pa ma yin pa/ de phyir stong pa ma yin pa’i// chos ‘ga’ng yod pa ma yin no/
Because there are no things at all,
Which are not contingently emergent,
Therefore, there are no things at all,
Which are not empty.
Because there are no things at all, which are not contingently and relationally emergent, contingent emergence too is empty of inherent existence. Therefore, there are no things at all, which are not empty of inherent existence. (431)
/gal te ‘di kun mi stong na//’byung ba med cing ‘jig pa med//’phags pa’i bden pa bzhi po rnams//khyod la med par thal bar ‘gyur/ (cf v.1)
If all were not empty,
Nothing could come about or perish.
It would follow for you
That the four ennobling truths could not exist.
If all internal and external things were not empty of inherent existence, nothing could come about, be born, or perish. Then it would follow for you that the four ennobling truths could not exist. 
/rten cing ‘byung ba ma yin na//sdug bsngal yod par ga la ‘gyur//mi rtag sdug bsngal gsungs pa de//rang bzhin nyid la yod ma yin/
If things were not contingently emergent,
How could anguish exist?
Impermanent things are taught to be anguish;
In their very own nature they do not exist.
Why is this so? Whatever is inherently existent cannot be contingently emergent. And if things were not contingently emergent, they could not be impermanent; they would be like flowers in the sky. Therefore, how could anguish exist? For the Lord has said that whatever is impermanent is [prone to]anguish. Impermanent, corrupted things are taught to be [prone to] anguish. If one accepted that things existed in, i.e. by their very own nature, then since they could not exist, anguish could not be possible. 
/rang bzhin las ni yod min* na//ci zhig kun tu ‘byung bar ‘gyur//de phyir stong nyid gnod byed la//kun ‘byung yod pa ma yin no/ [* error?]
If it did exist from its own nature,
Why would it have an origin?
Therefore, for those who undermine emptiness
It can have no origin.
If anguish did exist from its own nature, then since it would be unborn, why would it have an origin? It would not need one. Therefore, for those who undermine anguish’s emptiness of inherent existence, it can have no origin. Because something is posited as [anguish’s] origin due to the fact that anguish originates from it.
/sdug bsngal rang bzhin gyis yod la//’gog pa yod pa ma yin no//rang bzhin nyid ni yongs gnas phyir//’gag la’ang gnod pa byed pa yin/
If anguish existed by its own nature,
There could be no cessation.
Because its own nature would be totally present,
Cessation too would be undermined.
If anguish existed by its own nature, there could be no truth of the cessation of anguish, because such a nature could never be revoked. Because if something existed in that way by its own nature, it would have to be totally present at all times, the truth of the cessation of anguish would be undermined by those who hold on to inherent existence and reject the view of emptiness.
/lam la rang bzhin yod na ni//bsgom pa ‘thad par mi ‘gyur te//ci ste lam de bsgom byas na//khyod kyi rang bzhin yod ma yin/
If the path existed by its own nature,
Cultivation would not be appropriate.
If the path is to be cultivated,
Your own nature cannot exist.
If the truth of the path existed by its own nature, since it would exist even it one had not cultivated it, cultivation would not be appropriate. What then would be the point of cultivating it? If you accept that the path is to be cultivated, then your ennobling path cannot exist by its own nature, because it is a task to be performed.
/gang tshe sdug bsngal kun ‘byung dang//’gog pa yod pa ma yin na//lam gyis sdug bsngal ‘gog pa ni//gang zhig ‘thob par ‘gyur bar ‘dod/
When anguish, origins,
And cessation cannot exist,
What ceasing of anguish
Could one seek to attain by the path?
Surely the path is to be cultivated because the cessation of anguish is to be attained and its origins are to be let go of. But when, according to those who maintain that things inherently exist, the aggregates of anguish, the truths of the origins and the cessation of anguish cannot exist, what true ceasing of anguish by the path that lets go of the origins [of anguish could there be]?. Since there can be no cessation which they seek to attain, the cultivation of the path would be invalid. 
/gal te rang bzhin nyid kyis ni//yongs su shes pa ma yin na//de ni ci ltar yongs shes ‘gyur//rang bzhin gnas pa ma yin nam/
Existed by its very own nature,
How could one ever understand?
Doesn’t it abides by nature?
If one’s previous non-understanding of anguish existed by its very own nature, how could one subsequently ever understand it? One could not, because it truly abides by its own nature, just like heat in fire, doesn’t it? Existing by its own nature and becoming something else are mutually exclusive.
/de bzhin du ni khyod nyid kyi//spang dang mngon du bya ba dang//bsgom dang ‘bras bu bzhi dag kyang//yongs shes bzhin du mi rung ngo/
In the same way, your letting go,
And the four fruits too
Are as impossible as understanding.
In the same way as understanding is impossible, from your standpoint, letting go of origins, realizing cessation and cultivating the path would also be impossible, because the previous inherently existent state of not-having let go of orgins could not subsequently be let go of. This is so since inherent existence cannot be revoked. The way we have explained understanding can then be applied to the other two [realizing cessation and cultivating the path]. And as with understanding, the four fruits such as stream entry and so on too could not possibly exist in a subsequent time while not having existed previously.
/rang bzhin yongs su ‘dzin pa yi//’bras bu rang bzhin nyid kyis ni//’thob pa min pa gang yin de//ci ltar ‘thob pa nyid du ‘gyur/
How can any fruits,
Which totally hold their own nature
and by their own nature are unattained,
How can any of the four fruits, which exist by their own nature as previously unattained, subsequently be able to be attained? They could not be because they totally hold their own nature, i.e. their own nature could never be revoked.
/’bras bu med na ‘bras gnas med//zhugs pa dag kyang yod ma yin//gal te skyes bu gang zag brgyad//de dag med na dge ‘dun med/ [cf. 3c-d/4a-b]
If the fruits did not exist, there could be no abiding in the fruits.
Experiencing them would also not exist.
If those eight beings did not exist,
The Community would not exist.
If the four fruits and their attainment did not exist, there could be no abiding in the fruits and therefore experiencing them also would not exist. If those eight beings did not exist, the Community Jewel would not exist.
/’phags pa’i bden rnams med pa’i phyir//dam pa’i chos kyang yod ma yin//chos dang dge ‘dun yod min na//sangs rgyas ci ltar yod par ‘gyur/ [cf. 4c-d/5a-b]
Since there would be no ennobling truths,
The sublime Dharma could also not exist.
If the Community and the Dharma did not exist,
How could Buddha exist?
Since there would be no ennobling truths, the sublime Dharma Jewel could also not exist. If the Community and the Dharma did not exist, how could Buddha exist? It could not. These points should be understood as explained above.
/khyod kyi* sangs rgyas byang chub la//ma brten par yang thal bar ‘gyur//khyod kyi byang chub sangs rgyas la//ma brten par yang thal bar ‘gyur/ [Lalungpa: kyis; Tsongkhapa: kyi]
It would also follow
That your Buddha does not depend on awakening.
It would also follow
That your awakening does not depend on Buddha.
If, for you, those who are called Buddha existed by their own nature, they would not depend on, i.e. be related to, awakening, i.e. omnisicient wisdom, because it is said that “natures are unconstructed and unrelated to anything else.” Similarly, it would also follow that your omniscient wisdom of awakening does not depend on, i.e. is unrelated to and independent of, Buddha, because it would be inherently existent.
/khyod kyi rang bzhin nyid kyis ni//sangs rgyas min pa gang yin des//byang chub spyod la byang chub phyir//bstsal yang byang chub ‘thob mi ‘gyur/
For you, someone who by his very nature
Is not Buddha
Could not attain awakening however much he strove
In the practice of awakening for the sake of awakening.
Furthermore, for you, a person who prior to becoming Buddha abided by his very nature in the state of not-Buddha could not attain awakening however much he strove in the practice of the Bodhisattva for the sake of attaining unsurpassable awakening. Because such a nature could never be revoked.
[nb. Tsongkhapa’s insistent but strained Mahayana gloss on the text of 31-2]
/’ga’ yang chos dang chos min pa//nam yang byed par mi ‘gyur te//mi stong ba la ci zhig bya//rang bzhin la ni bya ba med/
No one would ever do
What is Dharma and what is not Dharma.
What can that which is not empty do?
Inherent nature is inactive.
Moreover, if you accept [that things are] inherently existent, no person would ever do skilful deeds which are Dharma and unskilful deeds that are not Dharma, because what can that which is not empty of inherent nature do? It is impossible for something with inherent nature to do anything.
/chos dang chos min med par yang//’bras bu khyod la yod par ‘gyur//chos dang chos min rgyus byung ba’i//’bras bu khyod la yod ma yin/
Even without Dharma and not-Dharma,
You would have the fruits.
You would not have the fruits
Which have arisen from the causes of Dharma and not-Dharma.
Furthermore, if you say that fruits exist by their own nature, then even without having done Dharm[ic] and not-Dharm[ic acts], you would have the pleasant and unpleasant fruits which have those [acts] as their cause. In that case, it would be meaningless to do either of those two acts for the sake of those fruits. Hence, without having done those two acts, you would not have the fruits which have arisen from the causes of Dharma and not-Dharma.
/chos dang chos min rgyus byung ba’i/’’bras bu gal te khyod la yod//chos dang chos min las ‘byung ba’i//’bras bu ci phyir stong ma yin/
If you have the fruits
Which have arisen from the causes of Dharma and not-Dharma,
Why are the fruits which have arisen from the Dharma and not-Dharma
If you have the two fruits which have arisen from the causes of Dharma and not-Dharma, why are both the fruits not empty of inherent existence? They must be because they are contingently emergent [things] which have arisen from the Dharma and not-Dharma, like reflections in a mirror.
/rten cing ‘brel par ‘byung ba yi//stong pa nyid la gnod byed gang//’jig rten pa yi tha snyad ni//kun la’ang gnod pa byed pa yin/
Whoever undermines emptiness
Which is contingent emergence
All the conventions of the world.
He who says that things are inherently existent undermines emptiness which is contingent emergence. Whoever does that undermines all the conventions of the world such as ?go!?, ?do!?, ?give it back!?, ?sit down!?
/stong pa nyid la gnod byed na//bya ba ci yang med ‘gyur zhing/rtsom pa med pa’i bya bar ‘gyur//mi byed pa yang byed por ‘gyur/
If one undermines emptiness,
There would be no actions at all
And actions without an author
And agents who do not act.
Moreover, if one undermines the emptiness of inherent existence of all things, then since something inherently existent would exist without having to do anything [to produce it], people would dono actions at all. There would be actions without an author, i.e. [actions occuring] even without anything being done, and agents who do not act at all. Since this is illogical, all things must be empty of inherent existence.
/rang bzhin yod na ‘gro ba rnams//ma skyes pa dang ma ‘gags dang//ther zug tu ni gnas ‘gyur zhing//gnas skabs sna tshogs bral bar ‘gyur/
If there were inherent nature,
All beings would be unborn and unceasing,
Would be fixed in place forever,
Separated from the variety of situations.
Furthermore, if all things existed by their inherent nature, all beings would be unborn and unceasing, because an inherent nature would be unconstructed and irrevocable. If things were unborn and unceasing, all beings would be fixed in place forever and since they would be unrelated to causes and conditions, they would be separated from all the variety of situations.
/gal te stong pa yod min na//ma thob ‘thob par bya ba dang//sdug bsngal mthar byed las dang ni//nyon mongs thams cad spong ba’ang med/
If [things] were not empty,
There could be no attainment of what had not been attained,
No ending of anguish
And no letting go of all actions and afflictions.
If [things] were not empty of inherent existence, there could be no subsequent attainment of a fruit that had not previously been attained, no subsequent ending and exhaustion of anguish that previously had not been ended and exhausted, and no subsequent letting go of all actions and afflictions that had not previously been let go of.
/gang gis rten cing ‘brel par ‘byung//mthong ba des ni sdug bsngal dang//kun ‘byung dang ni ‘gog pa dang//lam nyid de dag mthong ba yin/
He who sees contingent emergence
And origins and cessation
And the path itself.
If one believes that things are inherently existent, all doctrines will be invalidated. Therefore, the yogin who sees emptiness to have the characteristics of contingent emergence sees the very reality of those four truths of anguish and origins and cessation and the path.
Translated from Tibetan by Stephen Batchelor
Sharpham, 3 December 1996