Tsong kha pa’s Interpretation of svabhāva (rang bzhin)
This article consists of an annotated Japanese translation of Tsong kha pa’s Lam rim chen mo 414b4–419b1 (in the Zhol ed.), which corresponds to the section entitled: “Refuting an overly restricted identification of the object to be negated” (dgag bya ngos ’dzin khyab chung ba dgag pa), where he discusses what is the definition of svabhāva (Tib. rang bzhin).
Tsong kha pa opens his discussion by examining a certain opponent’s view which says that svabhāva or “own being,” the object to be negated by the Mādhyamika’s reasoning, is precisely defined as what is not fabricated (bcos min) and does not depend on others (gzhan la bltos pa med pa). Against this, Tsong kha pa argues that this is “an overly restricted identification of the object to be negated” on the grounds that these two characteristics are not unique to own being. He therefore asserts that, as long as the object of negation is understood as such, it is not possible to abandon the ignorant conception of own being, which binds sentient being to saṁsāra. Furthermore, he says that, if it were the case that the object of negation is identified as such, there would be no need for the Mādhyamika to demonstrate that things are empty of own being; for in that case even non-Mādhyamika schools would easily understand the emptiness of own being when they observe that compounded phenomena (’dus byas) are produced by causes and conditions.
It is of course true that Nāgārjuna teaches, in the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā XV 2, that svabhāva is not fabricated and does not depend on others. However, according to Tsong kha pa, this statement is not what defines the object to be negated, but what merely expresses the logical entailment that, if something is own being, it must necessarily be what is not fabricated and does not depend on something else. Further, Tsong kha pa insists, in accordance with Candrakīrti’s view, that there exists svabhāva that is not fabricated and does not depend on others. What is said to be svabhāva here is “intrinsic nature” of things, which is the ultimate reality of emptiness or dharmatā. Although it is essentially ineffable, it is referred to by the name of svabhāva by means of superimposition (sgro btags), that is, by giving that name to the reality that is beyond language. The intrinsic nature is unreal in the sense that it lacks analytically findable identity, but it exists as the object of verbal activity (tha snyad). The point Tsong kha pa emphasizes is that the intrinsic nature of things does exist although it is not established by their own being.