From “The Ontology of the Prajnaparamita”, by Edward Conze


“ A. The ontological status of dharmas is considered in six ways:

  1. Dharmas are non-existent. […]
  2. Dharmas have a purely nominal existence. They are mere words, a matter of conventional expression (vyavahara). “The dharmas on which beings seek a false support are names and signs; they are not, they are imagined, artificial adventitious designations which are added on to what is really there”. Or, as it is put in another passage, they are “mere words,” and “words are merely artificial constructions, which do not represent dharma,” but which constitute “adventitious designations, which are imagined and unreal.” A bodhisattva “does not expect to find any realities behind those words, and, in consequence, he does not settle down in them. The dharmas themselves are inexpressible.” “One cannot properly express the emptiness of all dharmas in words.” “The Buddha is the same as speechless silence.”


  1. The following psychological attitudes are enjoined upon us as a result of this state of affairs:
  2. Non-apprehension. If separate dharmas are non-existent, cognitive activities directed toward them will be without a basis in fact. It would be a mistake, therefore, to regard such cognitive activities as a means of approaching reality. The apprehension (upalabdbi) of a multiplicity of separate entities actually gets us away from the true reality, from emptiness. It should, therefore, be avoided.” Even emptiness should not be apprehended.
  3. The emotional concomitants of non-apprehension are summed up in the term anabhinivefa, which might be rendered as “no settling down.” Its meaning is threefold: (a) There should be no conviction that dbarmas have reality, (b) There should be no inclination toward dharmas, no turning toward them (equivalent to anabhoga),(c) There should be no attachment to dharmas (equivalent to asaiiga). It would be futile to establish a relation with what is essentially unrelated (vivikta)
  4. No attainment (prapti). No person can “have,” or “possess,” or “acquire,” or “gain” any dharma. There is no person who could be there to get, reach, achieve or realize anything. There is no entity that could be got. Not only is attainment, or the more or less permanent combination between a dharma and a personal continuity, impossible as a fact. The selfless also have no motive to desire it. As Subhuti expresses it, “I do not wish for (icchdmi) the attainment of an unproduced dharma, nor for re-union (abhisamaya) with one.”
  5. Perfect wisdom gains body in the virtue of non-relying, which is taught “through an almost infinite variety of expressions.” It must suffice here to indicate only a few of these expressions. “Dharmas, because they lack in either single or manifold own-being, are unworthy of reliance.” In consequence, the mind of the Tathagata is not supported on anything, and those who wish to emulate him should “raise a thought which is not supported anywhere.” It is in the practice of the six perfections that one learns to lean on nothing whatever. When one practices giving, that should be done in a spirit of complete disinterestedness and inner freedom, i.e., one gives without grasping at any ideas concerning the gift, its recipient, or the reward which one may reap for oneself for one’s generosity. The same “threefold purity” should be observed with the other five perfections.
  6. Finally, one may say that the attitude of the perfected sage is one of non-assertion. His individual self is extinct, and so he will not assert himself in any way. And, since he has no belief in separate things, he will not affirm anything about any of them. Such an attitude of nonassertion must lead to logical rules which differ radically from those commonly held.”


Philosophy East and West, Vol. 3, No. 2. (Jul, 1953), pp. 117-129.

From “The Ontology of the Prajnaparamita”, by Edward Conze

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