Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version



Yaroslav Komarovski, “From the Three Natures to the Two Natures: On a Fluid Approach to the Two Versions of Other-Emptiness from 15th Century Tibet.” Journal of Buddhist Philosophy, vol. 2 (2016): 78-113.


Copyright (c) 2016 Yaroslav Komarovski


In recent years there has been a surge of scholarly interest in diverse systems of Buddhist thought and practice that Tibetan thinkers characterize as “other-emptiness” (gzhan stong), contrasting them with systems of “self-emptiness” (rang stong). While the theories of such exponents of other emptiness as Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, 1292–1361)1 are relatively well known, those of other Tibetan thinkers are only beginning to receive scholarly attention. This paper addresses one such lesser-known other-emptiness theory that was developed by the seminal Tibetan thinker Serdok Penchen Shakya Chokden (gser mdog paṇ chen shākya mchog ldan, 1428–1507).

Shakya Chokden articulated his position on other-emptiness in works written during the last thirty years of his life. In those works he advocated both Alīkākāravāda Yogācāra and Niḥsvabhāvavāda Madhyamaka systems as equally valid forms of Madhyamaka, regarding the former as a system of other-emptiness and the latter as a system of self-emptiness. Instead of approaching the two systems as irreconcilable, he presented them as equally valid and effective, emphasized their respective strengths, and promoted one or the other depending on context and audience. Partly for these reasons, his own philosophical outlook does not neatly fall into the categories of other-emptiness or self-emptiness, and placing him squarely into the camp of “followers of other-emptiness” (gzhan stong pa)—as some advocates of later sectarian traditions did—does not do justice to him as a thinker.