Volume 12, 2001
“Will This Potato Grow?”
Ultimate Analysis and Conventional Existence in the Madhyamika Philosophy of Tsong kha pa Lo sang drak pa’s Lam Rim Chen Mo
In this paper, I discuss the problem of how empty persons can make distinctions between right and wrong within the two-truths doctrine of the Buddhist tradition. To do so, I rely on the teachings of the fifteenth- century founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Tsong kha pa Lo sang drak pa. I summarize Tsong kha pa’s exposition of the Buddhist tradition on this question, and then show how he held that profound emptiness, the ultimate truth found under scrupulous analysis of how things exist, must be understood as complementing and fulfilling, rather than canceling, the principles of moral action, based as they are, primarily, on valid conventional distinctions. Along the way, I highlight Tsong kha pa’s major contribution to the history of Tibetan philosophy, namely, that conventional realities are not obviated by their profound emptiness of essence but have their own kind of validity; I then outline his criteria for saying that something exists conventionally.