Five objects of knowledge

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The five objects of knowledge (Tib. ཆོས་ལྔ་ , chö nga, Wyl. chos lnga) are:

  1. name (Tib. མིང་ , Wyl. ming)
  2. sign (Tib. རྒྱུ་མཚན་ , Wyl. rgyu mtshan)
  3. thought (Tib. རྣམ་རྟོག, Wyl. rnam rtog)
  4. perfectly authentic primordial wisdom (Tib. ཡང་དག་པའི་ཡེ་ཤེས་ , Wyl. yang dag pa'i ye shes)
  5. suchness (Tib. དེ་བཞིན་ཉིད་ , Wyl. de bzhin nyid)


The word "sign" refers to what appears as the characteristics of shape, solidity, and so forth (as in the case of an object like a vase). When the name "vase" is attached to the characteristics of a vase, the characteristics of all other things are implicitly excluded, and the label is identified with the vase itself. This is what is meant by a name. By giving a name to something, one gives a clear indication of what the characteristics (i.e., the sign) of that thing are. These two items (sign and name) constitute imputed nature (Wyl. kun btags) because they are the domain of words and thoughts in being the dualistic appearance of subject and object, which, when investigated, are found to be false or deceptive.

All the phenomena of the mind and mental factors that apprehend the perceived object are called thoughts. They can be categorized as the eight kinds of consciousness. This refers to the dependent nature (Wyl. gzhan dbang) and is the ground for all manifest appearance merely on the relative level.

The two no-selves refer to the dharmadhatu, or suchness. The subject that engages in this suchness is self-cognizing awareness (Wyl. so sor rang rig pa) free from dualistic thought, and this is what is called the perfectly authentic primordial wisdom. The latter two items ("suchness" as the object and "perfectly authentic primordial wisdom" as the subject) are referred to as the completely existent nature (Wyl. yongs grub). This nature is not truly existent in itself; it is, however, the unmistaken nature of things—hence its name.

Of the five objects of knowledge, name, sign and thought belong to the relative truth.

Although on the conventional level phenomena in all their variety are but the appearances of the mind, the mind itself does not exist truly. To understand thus that all phenomena, from form to omniscience, are untrue and unproduced refers to the ultimate truth.

Since reasoning proves that in these five objects of knowledge, the traditions of both the Chittamatrins and the Madhyamikas are included, one should understand that they constitute the entire Mahayana.[1]


  1. The Adornment of the Middle Way, Shantarakshita’s Madhyamakalankara with commentary by Jamgön Mipham. Padmakara Translation Group. Published by Shambhala. ISBN 1-59030-241-9

Alternative Translations

  • Five principles (Thomas H. Doctor)