What happens after realisation?

This question has two aspects: one pertaining to view, the other pertaining to conduct. In Buddhist literature we can find lots of statements, according to which all karmic ripening of causes and the dependent arising of results will ultimately be realised as emptiness, and thus, from that moment onwards, all phenomena are brought to exhaustion and virtue and non-virtue are not anymore something to be accomplished and abandoned. The two aspects “view” and “conduct” are actually intermingled here: dependent origination of karma, cause, and result is realised as emptiness and as a consequence virtue and non-virtue loose their value. Such statements are backed up with all kinds of quotes from Mahyana and Mantra scriptures. One tantra says: 1

The ultimate result
[arises at] the time when there are no more causes and results.

All phenomena (as we know them) somehow disappear, as one text (ascribed to Dzogchen) puts it:

The bringing of all phenomena to an exhaustion is the essential meaning,
the ultimate view, the great seal.

And Milarepa, too, is quoted: 2

From the perspective of absolute truth,
apart from [being an] obstacle, not even the Buddha himself exists. (…)
In the ultimate truth [however] there is no mind
and all phenomena are brought to exhaustion.

Tantric texts like the Guhyagharbhatantra of the Nyingmapas apparently argue with a nullification of all phenomena and values in accordance with a Madhyamaka type of illusion and emptiness (11.13): 3

Even though one has performed all activities [such as] sexual union and liberation [through killing]
in the way “from the beginning unborn,” “ultimate reality,”
“appearing as an illusion” [and] “optical illusion,”
not even as much as a dust particle has been performed.

And the same text again (19.3): 4

[On the absolute level] existence, non-existence, and anything in between are not apprehended [as objects], and
[on the relative level things are] like an illusion or an optical illusion; [thus],
there is no life and there is no life that will be taken.
Life and people are mere erroneous notions.

So, if emptiness is realised, “anything goes” because nothing matters? To reject such an attitude, Jigten Sumgön states in the Same Intention (6.17): “If emptiness is realised, emptiness emerges as cause and result.”

According to the commentator Dorje Sherab, Jigten Sumgön himself underwent a change of his view during the second year of his training under Phagmodrupa. During the first year, Jigten Sumgön had come to the realisation that all phenomena are empty. Therefore he thought (according to Dorje Sherab):

At the time of death I will become a Buddha and all concerns can be cast aside now. Someone with realisation does not take birth [again]. At death he attains the merging of the two kinds of luminosity and peace is attained. In the first intermediate state he becomes a Buddha, and through the vital point of emptiness the conceptions of cause, karma, and afflictions cannot bind [anymore], like a hemp rope burned by fire: it still has its form as it is not destroyed in its structure, but cannot bind anymore, because its nature has disappeared.

During the second year, however, he understood that such a realisation is not the ultimate one. In that year, Phagmodrupa mainly taught two things: the Jatakas, i.e. the life stories of the former births of the Buddha, and the Dharma wheel of ultimate definitive truth (i.e. in this system the sutras of the third wheel). Through these teachings, Jigten Sumgön came to realise that cause and result exist within emptiness, that this has an impact on how the realised person should behave, and that to follow such a conduct after realising emptiness is an act of compassion. One result of such a realisation was that he abandoned his status as a lay follower and took full ordination.

Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa points out in his commentary that Milarepa had the same realisation. This is expressed in his farewell teaching to Gampopa (the very last personal teaching he gave before Gampopa went away):

Do not interrupt the virtuous Dharma conduct, even though there is no hope for Buddhahood up above, and shun even the most subtle evil, although there is no fear with regard to the bad states [of birth] below.

This is to be understood in connection with the other quote from Mila above, according to which in absolute truth not even the Buddha exist. Thus the present statement is on the ultimate level, and it points out that even though in absolute truth there are neither Buddha nor bad states of birth, virtuous conduct is not to be interrupted. And Mila furthermore said: 5

Since emptiness is more subtle than the many explanations you are able to make of emptiness in accordance with authoritative scripture and reasoning, it is difficult to understand [emptiness] and to develop confidence. Having great confidence in emptiness and then understanding that emptiness itself arises as cause and result, you will automatically engage in efforts regarding abandoning and accepting of cause and result, and establishing virtue and abandoning evil. Since this great confidence in cause and result is the root of all Dharmas, it is very important to be meticulous and to make efforts with regard to the practise of abandoning evil and accomplishing virtue.

Dorje Sherab presents the same teaching with these words ascribed to Gampopa:

The Jowo Kadampa [Lamas] said: “Having realised emptiness, one must proceed very attentive with regard to karma, cause, and result.” That is very right! Now that I have gained experience [I understand that this] is a [very profound] Dharma transmission that the Kadampas possess. I call myself a yogi and I am very attentive with regard to karma, cause, and result. This is a pith instruction taught by my gurus. Since here is a lineage [for this, starting] from the Lord [Atisha], there is no chance for it to be different.

But how do cause and result still exist for those who have realised emptiness? Dorje Sherab explains this through some examples. When he was still with Marpa, Jetsün Mila, for instance, sang from time to time songs in the village and thereby was able to contribute the offerings he received from the villagers to his guru Marpa’s household. The positive karmic result of that was that later in his life, when he was already a realised yogi, the dakinis invited him to their ganacakra, and furthermore that Jomo Tashi Tseringma offered yoghurt and so forth to him with a spoon made of precious stone. These later occurrences are here causally linked to that type of virtuous conduct, and thus there exists positive karmic ripening for the realised yogi. But Mila also experienced negative results at a time when he was already an accomplished yogi, namely when he had to sustain himself with unsalted nettle soup. This is in this teaching linked to the hail he had magically brought down on the fields of his home village. Similarly, Jigten Sumgön also experience almost immediate karmic retribution after Phagmodrupa’s death, when he led the community of Phagmodru, but because he got into conflict with the community, trying to make everything more than perfect, he finally had to leave secretly the community of Phagmodru.

Thus the key point that cause and result is not nullified by emptiness and that results infallibly arise from causes even after emptiness has been realised has been established through the instructions of the lineage and through numerous examples. Towards the end of his comments on this vajra-statement, Dorje Sherab also presents two canonical quotes to establish (a) that despite having realised emptiness one has to continue one’s attentive awareness, and (b) that even when one has realised true reality, results infallibly arise from causes. The first point is made in a sutra:6

Whatever arises from conditions is not arisen,
it doesn’t have the nature of being arisen.
Whatever depends on conditions is emptiness.
Whoever understands emptiness is one with attentive awareness.

Thus, even though phenomena are unborn as empty, whoever realises that still has to practise the conduct of attentive awareness. The second point is made in the same sutra: 7

Even though it is understood that [in] true reality there is no ripening of karma,
virtuous and non-virtuous activity never goes to waste.

To understand the meaning of that, further scriptural authority from Indian treatises is presented. And who could be a better witness than Nagarjuna? Therefore, Dorje Sherab quotes two well known passages from the Mulamadhyamakakarika. The first (24.19) says:

A phenomenon that is not dependently originated
does not exist.
Therefore a non-empty phenomenon
does not exist.

And the same text (24.14) says:

For whomever emptiness is possible,
everything is possible.
For whomever emptiness is impossible,
everything is impossible.

These verses are quoted here in our context as scriptural authority for the fact that (a) every single phenomenon is dependently originated and thus empty, and (b) that when emptiness is accepted, acceptance of cause and result within emptiness is implied. The second verse is a close match to the final verse (no. 70) of Nagarjuna’s Vigrahavyavartani, whose auto-commentary has been translated by Westerhoff (2010). 8 One passage from the commentary on the last verse says (p. 130):

For whom there is emptiness there is dependent origination. For whom there is dependent origination there are the four noble truths. For whom there are the four noble truths there are the fruits of religious practice, and all the special attainments. For whom there are all the special attainments there are the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. For whom there is dependent origination there is righteousness, its cause and its result, as well as unrighteousness, its cause and its result. For whom there is the righteous and the unrighteous, their cause and their result, there are the obscurations, their origin, and their bases. For whom there is all this, the law of the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth, the attainment of the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth, the way of going toward the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth, the passing beyond the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth, the means for passing beyond the fortunate and unfortunate states of rebirth as well as all worldly conventions are established.

Dorje Sherab furthermore compares the arising as cause and result within emptiness to space. Space may be used as an illustration of emptiness, but within that space, the sun heats up the air, and when there is moisture, a rainbow will arise. You may deny space’s emptiness, but the birds fly through it, chasing after the rainbow without meeting with any hindrance in space, and they can also not take hold of the rainbow. Here both the empty space in which there arises the rainbow, and the rainbow itself that arises in space are obviously empty, since they cause no hindrance and they cannot be grasped. Yet, if you insist on the emptiness of space and rainbow, it is pointed out that within that very space there appears the rainbow with its five colours, vivid and unmixed, and the space cannot stop these appearances. Thus, despite space’s emptiness, the rainbow is not prevented from arising. “Similarly,” Dorje Sherab sums it up, “the happy and painful results arise from virtuous and non-virtuous activities, not being stopped by emptiness.”

There is also a very interesting passage with regard to “emptiness emerging as cause and result” in the introduction to Dorje Sherabs commentary, the Dosherma, which is traditionally ascribed to Dorje Sherab himself, but may have been substantially expanded by one of his disciples or by a scholar of a later generation. In one passage (p. 231), 9 the perspective of the path is discussed. This is important, because while the perspectives of the ground and the result have many implications regarding the view, the perspective of the path is obviously of greatest concern for those who are practising, and it also has a lot to do with conduct. This passage says that on the path, there are three aspects of dependent origination, cause, result, and emptiness, namely:

(1) to apply cause and result to emptiness,
(2) the arising of emptiness as cause and result, and
(3) the non-dual existence of emptiness, cause and result.

(1) When one dwells through one’s practice in the nature, free from proliferation, one understands that whatever arises from causes and conditions is empty of own existence. This is the truth of dependent origination. By way of realisation one enters into the state of “emptiness-equipoise”. This state of understanding equals the realisation of Jigten Sumgön during his first year with Phagmodrupa.

(2) When one experiences “one-taste” in the yoga of Mahamudra, all the fine details of cause and result arise without loss from the state of emptiness. That arising of the fine details of cause and result is the “unity of the path”, or the “unity of [the stage of] learning”. This is Jigten Sumgön’s realisation during or after his second year with Phagmodrupa.

(3) Understanding that the ultimate original nature of the dependent origination of cause and result arises perfectly without mixing up all the individual ways of the arising of “this result from that cause,” one actualises that ground, path, and result are non-dual and inseparable from the beginning. At the time of non-dual equipoise and post-equipoise (i.e. between actual sessions of meditation) this is the “union of [the stage of] no more learning”. This is Jigten Sumgön’s realisation during his second retreat in the E-chung cave ca. 1175-1177 (cf. Christine Sommerschuh’s translation of Jigten Sumgön’s biography, p. 117 f. and p. 283). 10

Obviously these three stages refer to the last three of the four yogas of Mahamudra, i.e. (1) “free from proliferation” (spros bral), (2) “single taste” (ro gcig), and (3) “no-more learning” (slob du med). Our present topic of “emptiness emerging as cause and result” is realised on the level of “single taste”, which is the realisation that Jigten Sumgön obtain while he was a disciple of Phagmodrupa.

As here in the Introduction, where the realisation of “emptiness as cause and result” is connected with the realisation of “single taste,” in the Dosherma, too, this realisation is taught to arise when all phenomena are realised as “sameness”. But even at the time of omniscience, Dorje Sherab continues, all the subtleties of cause and result arise in the state of emptiness, without anything discarded or lost. Since Phagmodrupa understood that Jigten Sumgön would realise this, he said to him: “You will be one who is better than merely a ‘great meditator’ (sgom chen),” indicating that he would become an actual siddha. And later, Jigten Sumgön remarked:

Because I mastered this [teaching], I am among all the Dharma practitioners of Tibet not only one head larger than they are, but I am distinguished by a full body length!

See also Jigten Sumgön’s statement quoted by Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa in Same Intention 6.19:

I, [the one] who is endowed with the realisation matching the eighty mahasiddhas of India, appear now in the manner of renunciation – [in that] I am very reckless!

This is in Tibetan a word play, where recklessness, which is usually connected with the “crazy wisdom” of the siddhas, is here applied to the enthusiasm through which Jigten Sumgön practised the vows of renunciation, as Atisha, Gampopa and also Milarepa (though not formally as a monk) have done before him. Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa says in this context:

Thus, however vast one’s experience and realisation is, this conduct of awareness that is practised in conjunction with disciplined conduct is the practise of the pure teachings. But nowadays some people wear the bone ornaments that [they] pretend to be [an element of their] special observance, they wrap themselves in dog-fur, brandish weapons, and they perform a conduct of a realised one that disregards cause and result and treats body and life carelessly, performing the misbehaviour of disturbing gods and nagas and filling the valley with the sound “Phat” and meaningless shouts, the meaningless [pretended] special observance of roaming around like a dog – [disciplined conduct] is so much more distinguished than that!

As Khenchen Nyima Gyaltshen explained when he taught this point of the Same Intention: To hold that all phenomena, including karma, cause and result, are empty and like an illusion, is fine in the context of view, but since within that emptiness all the fine details of cause and result arise without loss, the “anything goes because nothing matters” attitude is a wrong application of emptiness to the sphere of conduct.


1 gSang ba’i snying po de kho na nyid nges pa, D vol. 98, fol. 211r.

2 ‘Jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas, dPal ‘khor lo bde mchog ngam rdzong snyan brgyud kyi man ngag rtsa ba tshe ring skor gsum gyi gzhung, gDams ngag mdzod, TBRC W23605, vol. 8, p. 113 and 108.

3 Klong-chen-pa, dPal gsang ba’i snying po, p. 628.

4 The paraphrases in square brackets are taken from Klong-chen-pa, dPal gsang ba’i snying po, pp. 628.8 f.

5 For an edition of the Tibetan text of this passage, see de Jong (1959: 153 f.).

6 Arya Anavataptanagarajapariprccha Mahayanasutra, D vol. 58, fol. 230v.

7 D vol. 58, fol. 231v.

8 Jan Westerhoff (2010) The Dispeller of Disputes: Nagarjuna’s Vigrahavyavartani, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

9 Khog dbub kyi sa dmigs, in: dGongs pa gcig pa’i ‘grel chen snang mdzad ye shes sgron me, by sPyan-snga rDo-rje-shes-rab, vol. 1, bKa’ brgyud nang bstan mtho slob khang nas dpar ‘grems zhus, Kagyu College, Dehra Dun, India, 2007.

10 Chenga Sherab Jungne (2014) Funkensprühen des kostbaren Vajras: Der Lebensweg der völligen Befreiung des Dharmaherrn Jigten Sumgön, mit der Biografie des Verfassers, “Donnerklang des Ruhms,” Christine Sommerschuh (trl.), (Vajra-Klänge 2), edited by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, München: Edition Garchen Stiftung, with a biography of Chenga Sherab Jungne by Rinchen Phüntshog trl. by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, 301 pp., 2 maps, ISBN 978-3-945457-02-3.


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