The lack of inherent existence of all phenomena without exception, explained by the incomparable Madhyamika-Prasangikas, is the ultimate intention of Buddha himself, as he revealed in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. Moreover, according to both Sutra and Secret Mantra, the wisdom of emptiness is the ultimate view and thus is essential to all paths leading to liberation and full enlightenment.
Emptiness is a subtle topic and is fully understood only by those with great wisdom. In particular, beings who are weak-minded will find it difficult even to recognize the correct object of negation, inherent existence. It is essential, therefore, that we rely upon authentic commentaries that reveal the meaning of emptiness as explained by Buddha in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. All the great Buddhist scholars and meditators agree that such authentic commentaries are to be found in the works of Protector Nagarjuna, such as his root text Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way and its autocommentaries, such as Sixty Reasonings, Seventy Emptinesses, Finely Woven, and Refutation of Objections.
It is essential to rely upon these explanations because the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras themselves are easily misinterpreted. For example, the Sutras say that form is empty of form, sound is empty of sound, and so forth, and these statements are often mistakenly understood to mean that form is not form, that form does not exist, and so on. Nagarjuna, however, clearly explains that the actual intended meaning is that form is empty of inherently existent form. Thus, from Nagarjuna’s explanation we can understand that emptiness is not utter non-existence, as some would assert, but rather the absence of inherent existence, the completely false mode of existence grasped at by the self-grasping mind. It is only the wisdom of emptiness that eradicates such ignorance and leads us to complete liberation from the fears and sufferings of samsara.
There are four major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism—the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug—and, from the beginning, the realized Masters of each of these schools have relied upon the view of Nagarjuna. For example, the great Nyingma Lama, Longchen Rabjampa, says in his Commentary to the Treasury of Instruction that Buddha’s ultimate intention was explained by the glorious Nagarjuna. He also says that in Great Drum Sutra Buddha predicted that Nagarjuna would come to this world and expound this ultimate view. Of the many followers of Nagarjuna, it was Chandrakirti, the main propagator of the Madhyamika-Prasangika system, who interpreted Nagarjuna faultlessly, and Longchenpa himself followed Chandrakirti’s view. Therefore, if someone is a pure Nyingma practitioner, he or she must rely upon the view of Nagarjuna in the same way that Longchenpa, and indeed the great Padmasambhava, did.
The outstanding Sakya Masters of the past also relied upon the view of Nagarjuna. For example, when the great Ngorchen Kungpa Zangpo was asked about the different philosophical views, he answered, ‘I do not know about the different views, I studied only Nagarjuna’s view of the middle way. That is my own view because it is the essence of the Dharma.’ Many other Sakya Masters, such as the venerable Rendpa, also held the same view. Therefore, if someone is a pure Sakya practitioner, he or she too must rely upon the view of Nagarjuna.
As can be seen from the songs of Milarepa and Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, the great Kagyu Masters also followed the Madhyamika-Prasangika view. Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug tradition, also expounded this view and wrote many commentaries to the works of Nagarjuna. Therefore, if someone is a pure Kagyu or Gelug practitioner, he or she too must rely upon the view of Nagarjuna.
The great scholars and meditators of the Kadampa tradition in the lineage of the Indian Master Atisha also relied upon this view. Atisha stated that Nagarjuna’s view was flawlessly expounded by Chandrakirti, and that this is the only view that will lead us to Buddhahood. In fact, if someone holds a view that is contrary to Nagarjuna’s, there is no chance of his attaining liberation or enlightenment, no matter how much he meditates. When Atisha’s Tibetan disciple Dromtönpa offered Atisha his experience of emptiness, Atisha replied, ‘You have made me very happy; you have found the view of Nagarjuna.’
Some people mistakenly think that there is a special view of emptiness presented in Secret Mantra, but this is not the case. As Sakya Pandita said:
There is no difference between the view of emptiness presented in Sutra and that presented in Secret Mantra.
Therefore, if we are sincerely interested in travelling the path to enlightenment, we must make a concerted effort to understand the view of Nagarjuna and train in the wisdom realizing lack of inherent existence. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Clear Light of Bliss: the Practice of Mahamudra in Vajrayana Buddhism, pp. 191-193, © 2002)