Ten topics of knowledge

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The ten topics of knowledge (Tib. མཁས་པར་བྱ་བའི་གནས་བཅུ་, Wyl. mkhas par bya ba'i gnas bcu) are identified in the Madhyantavibhaga, an Indian philosophical text that is widely studied in Tibetan Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism. These topics are also presented upon in the Khenjuk, a commentary by Mipham Rinpoche.

According to these texts, each of the ten topics is an antidote to one of the ten views of the self.

The ten topics are:[1]

  1. Aggregates (Tib. ཕུང་པོ་; Skt. skandha)
  2. Elements (Tib.ཁམས་; Skt. dhātu)
  3. Sense sources (Tib. སྐྱེ་མཆེད་; Skt. āyatana)
  4. Dependent origination (Tib. རྟེན་འབྲེལ་; Skt. pratītyasamutpāda)
  5. What is possible and what is impossible (Tib. གནས་དང་གནས་མ་ཡིན་པ་; Skt. sthānāsthāna)
  6. The faculties (Tib. དབང་པོ་; Skt. indriya)
  7. Time (Tib. དུས་; Skt. adhvan) - all phenomena are subject to arising, abiding and ceasing
  8. The truths (Tib. བདེན་པ་; Skt. satya) - refers to the four noble truths and two truths
  9. The vehicles (Tib. ཐེག་པ་; Skt. yāna) - refers to the three vehicles of the Mahayana
  10. The conditioned and the unconditioned (Tib. འདུས་བྱས་དང་འདུས་མ་བྱས་; Skt. saṁskṛta-asaṁskṛta)

Brief descriptions

This section contains brief descriptions of the ten topics of knowledge based on the presentation in the Madhyantavibhaga.


An aggregate (skandha) refers many things coming together; it is a gathering of parts. Aggregates can be categorized in terms of their characteristics. For example: the five skandhas, nama-rupa, etc.

Understanding the aggregates is an antidote to grasping to the self as "singular".


Elements refers to the eighteen elements of the Abhidharma teachings. Each of the elements has its own nature, qualities, and capacity to apprehend objects. These elements are the cause of our apprehension of the world and its beings.

Understanding the elements is an antidote to grasping to the self as the "cause" for the world and its beings.

Sense sources

Sense sources refers to the twelve sense sources of the Abhidharma teachings. All our experiences of the world arise through the sense sources.

Understanding the sources is an antidote to grasping to the self as that which "experiences" (or encounters or consumes) the world.

Dependent origination

Dependent origination refers to the understanding that all phenomema arise in dependence upon causes and conditions. This includes outer phenomena, such as a tree, and inner phenomena, such as the five aggregates.

Understanding dependent origination is an antidote to grasping to the self as the "creator" of the universe.

What is possible and what is impossible

"What is possible and what is impossible" is the understanding that specific results arise only if the corresponding causes and conditions are present. For example:

  • if the corresponding/concordant causes and conditions are present, then results will arise. This is correct.
  • if causes and conditions are not aligned with results, this is incorrect.

Hence, the correct causes and conditions must be present to give rise to a result. Results are not dependent upon one's wishes. Without the correct causes and condition, results will not arise, despite one's wishes.[2]

This topic is an antidote to the belief in a self that is autonomous.


The faculties are the antidote to the self as the "owner" of experiences.

The Garland of Radiant Light states:

Seeing the self as the ruler, as the one in charge or the central decisive factor, is eliminated by gaining expertise regarding the faculties. The twenty-two faculties alone have control over the qualities of thorough affliction and complete purification. Aside from these, nothing else is necessary to govern [their manifestation], nor is anything observed to do so.[1]

Similar lists

The Avatamsaka Sutra identifies six topics of knowledge; these are:

  • aggregates, elements, sense sources, dependent origination (known collectively as the four gates to the truth),
  • the correct and the incorrect and
  • the truths.

The Sutra of Inexhaustible Intelligence identifies eight topics: time is mentioned instead of the correct and the incorrect, and the vehicles and the conditioned and unconditioned are also mentioned.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2007, s.v. The Ten Topics of Knowledge.
  2. MAV notes.


  • Book icoline.svg Dharmachakra Translation Committee (2007), Middle Beyond Extremes: Maitreya's Madhyantavibhaga with Commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham, Snow Lion Publications 
  • Book icoline.svg Mipham Rinpoche (2004), Gateway to Knowledge, I, translated by Kunsang, Erik Pema, Rangjung Yeshe Publications 

Further reading

This article includes content from Ten topics of knowledge on Rigpawiki (view authors). Licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0 RW icon height 18px.png