Yaroslav Komarovski: Shakya Chokden on Tathāgatagarbha in the Tantric Practice of the Two Stages

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Yaroslav Komarovski: Shakya Chokden on Tathāgatagarbha in the Tantric Practice of the Two Stages
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Yaroslav Komarovski: Shakya Chokden on Tathāgatagarbha in the Tantric Practice of the Two Stages

As my contribution to the panel, I will focus on the tathāgatagarbha interpretation by Shakya Chokden (1428-1507) developed in his tantric writings, in particular Dpal dang po’i sangs rgyas rab tu grub pas bka’ ’khor lo gsum pa’i mdo dang rgyud sde kun gyi snying po bsdus pa. As an advocate of both the self- and other-emptiness systems, Shakya Chokden presents them as effective means of achieving buddhahood. That said, he argues that they do not provide equally effective presentations of such important elements of Mahāyāna teachings as tathāgatagarbha. The mainstream self-emptiness systems based on the second dharmacakra present tathāgatagarbha only as the mere natural purity, which is not the actual tathāgatagarbha. It is only the tantric and non-tantric teachings affiliated with the third dharmacakra that teach the actual tathāgatagarbha—the naturally luminous jñāna free from obscurations and imbued with positive buddha qualities, whether partial or complete.

This approach suggests that the category of tathāgatagarbha does not play an indispensable role in contemplative practice: at least on its initial stages, one can progress on the Mahāyāna path without accepting or putting into practice the actual tathāgatagarbha. Yet, this is true only as long one deals with non-tantric systems; in the tantric context, Shakya Chokden argues for the absolute indispensability of correctly identifying tathāgatagarbha and putting it into practice from the very beginning of the path. Not only that—the Highest Yoga Tantra practice can be adequately understood and described only if one plugs in the concept of tathāgatagarbha as it is taught in its texts with their commentaries. In other words, the correct understanding of tathāgatagarbha is indispensable both as a part of tantric practice and as a means of adequately articulating that practice.

In the Highest Yoga Tantra context, Shakya Chokden argues that tathāgatagarbha is possessed not only by Mahāyāna āryas (as it is according to the non-tantric teachings as he understands them); it pervades all living beings and the inanimate universe as well. Furthermore, not only does it have all buddha qualities complete and is naturally free from all obscurations; it also has a "visual" dimension: all tantric deities and maṇḍalas arise from and are primordially contained within it. It is this state that one has to be initially introduced to and recognize at the beginning of tantric practice, cultivate and familiarize with during its generation and perfection stages, and finally fully manifest on the level of buddhahood.

My paper will focus on the relationship of this particular model of tathāgatagarbha with its practical application in the tantric practice of Hevajra, Cakrasaṃvara, and Guhyasamāja. It will also address such issues as the relationship between conceptual minds used in tantric practice and the primordially existent state of buddhahood; the issue of multitudes of divine forms arising from and appearing to the nonconceptual jñāna; the reduction of all elements of tantric practice— including body maṇḍalas—to exclusively mental states; and the need to engage in practices dealing with conventional reality while accepting that tathāgatagarbha is the only reality that exists.
Featuring Yaroslav Komarovski
Creator Tsadra Foundation
Director Perman, M.
Producer Tsadra Foundation
Event Old Topic, New Insights: Buddha-Nature at the Crossroads between Doctrine and Practice (July 2022, Prague)
Related Website Buddha-Nature
Creation Date July 2022
Citation Komarovski, Yaroslav. "Shakya Chokden on Tathāgatagarbha in the Tantric Practice of the Two Stages." Old Topic, New Insights: Buddha-Nature at the Crossroads between Doctrine and Practice. The 16th IATS Conference, Prague, July 3–9, 2022. Produced by the Tsadra Foundation Research Department. Video, 20:42. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_gwSb3n8nk.