In Je Tsongkhapa's, Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path Volume 3 pages 343-344 we have this:
Therefore, as I explained before, the sword of reasoning cuts through phenomena, revealing that they lack even a shred of the two selves, and brings forth certainty about selflessness. So if a thing possessed of the two selves does not exist, then how could the non- existence which is its negation be established in reality? The con- ception that the nonexistence that is the absence of the son of a barren woman really exists must be based on the observation of a barren woman and her son. If those two are never observed, then no one thinks to construct the expression, “The nonexistence of the son of a barren woman truly exists.” In the same way, when you see no truly existent thing anywhere at all, you also do not give rise to the conception that the nonexistence of that truly existent thing is something truly existent. Therefore, you stop all thoughts conceiving of signs, because if a thought conceives of true existence, it must be a thought that conceives of the true existence of either an existent or a nonexistent. So if the larger category is negated, then the subcategory is negated. This is what KamalaŸıla’s Stages of Meditation says.
The context of this passage is a debate on how to generate the direct perception of emptiness. To my understanding, Je Tsongkhapa is refuting the notion that the Path of Seeing can be attained by eliminating all conceptual thought after one has used reason (ie., conceptual thought) to thoroughly conceive of the truth of emptiness.
The above passage to me seems to be saying that we have to use analysis/reason/conceptual thought during meditation to establish that, "the nonexistence that is the absence of the son of a barren woman really exists." In other words, that emptiness (the nonexistence or negation of the existence of the son of a barren woman) truly exists is the conclusion of analysis directed at the ultimate. Is this so?
However, right after that it says to enter into signlessness you have to stop all thoughts (emphasis in the original) of true existence ie., even the true existence of emptiness.
I'm confused. Is emptiness a true existent (ie., not mistaken with regards to its appearing object)? I think it is. However, in order to enter signlessness do we have to stop thinking this?
What is the correct interpretation of this passage?
I think Je Tsongkhapa must be using "true existence" or "real" existence synonymously here with inherent existence rather than the alternative defintion of, "non-mistaken with regard to its appearing object."
Why? In the very next passage he says this:
Thus, to achieve the nonconceptual sublime wisdom, you alter- nate (1) developing certainty, profound certainty, that there is not even a particle of true existence in any thing or non-thing whatso- ever, and (2) stabilizing your mind on the conclusion thereby reached. You cannot achieve such wisdom by simply constricting mental activity without any analysis of an object, because this ap- proach does not make it possible to eliminate the conception of true existence. This is because it is merely not thinking of true existence; it is not knowledge of the absence of true existence. In the same way, it is merely not thinking of a self, but is not knowledge of the lack of self, so cultivating it does not stop the conception of self. There- fore, you must distinguish between (1) not thinking about true exist- ence or the existence of the two selves, and (2) knowing the lack of true existence or the nonexistence of the two selves. Remember this critical point.
Thus, I think he must be using 'true existence' synonymously with inherent existence.