Main content start

Video available! Khenpo Yeshi: "The Ground of Existence in the Great Perfection and Its Relationship with Buddha-Nature"

Tibetan Buddhism Lectures

This talk examines the ground (gzhi) of existence in the Great Perfection tradition of the Tibetan Buddhist Ancient Order (rnying ma), focusing on the relationship between the ground and buddha-nature. The ground speaks of ontological concerns about primordial reality before or beyond the existence of time and place. The philosophical topic of the ground and its relationship to both earlier Yogacāra nomenclature and to early Great Perfection writings are addressed. Early texts such as the Seventeen Tantras in the Great Perfection’s Heart Essence teachings (rdzogs chen snying thig) are employed as core sources to examine discussions regarding the ground and buddha-nature, as well as their connections to ālaya concepts in India and early Tibet. These early (10th–11th century) writings demonstrate that the ground functions as both the philosophical foundation and the cosmogonic source of the universe, and that saṃsāra and nirvaṇa are oscillating appearances of the ground. The Buddhist philosopher and Great Perfection master, Nyi ma ‘bum (1158–1213), writes about the ground that exists “before the emergence of either any realizing buddha or non-realizing sentient beings.” This engenders further philosophical and ontological questions which are addressed in this talk.


Khenpo Yeshi was educated at several monasteries of the Geluk, Kagyu, and Nyingma schools of Buddhism in Tibet, India, and Nepal, and he taught both monks and westerners at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal. He received a B.A. in Religious Studies from UC Berkeley (2012), an M.A. in South and Southeast Asian Studies from UC Berkeley (2017), and is currently a doctoral candidate in South and Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. His research focuses on Tibetan Buddhism and the early development of the Great Perfection’s Heart Essence (rdzogs chen snying thig) tradition, the highest section of the so-called Pith Instruction Teaching (man ngag sde) of the Great Perfection. His dissertation title is “Seeing without Looking: The Eleven Topics and the Foundation of the Great Perfection’s Heart Essence Tradition.” His interests revolve around this contemplative system’s view, path, conduct, and fruition, as well as broader issues in the Great Perfection’s relationship with other traditions in Tibet and beyond.