Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra

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रत्नगोत्रविभाग महायानोत्तरतन्त्रशास्त्र
Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra
theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos
jiu jing yi cheng bao xing lun
Traité de la Continuité suprême du Grand Véhicule
The Treatise on the Ultimate Continuum of the Mahāyāna
D4024   ·  T1611

The Ratnagotravibhāga, commonly known as the Uttaratantra, or Gyü Lama in Tibetan, is one of the main Indian scriptural sources for buddha-nature theory. Comprised of verses interspersed with prose commentary, it systematizes the buddha-nature teachings that were circulating in multiple sūtras such as the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, and the Śrīmālādevīsūtra. It was likely composed during the fifth century. The Tibetan tradition attributes the verses to the Bodhisattva Maitreya and the commentary to Asaṅga, and treats the two as separate texts, although this division is not attested to in surviving Indian versions. The Chinese tradition attributes the text to *Sāramati (娑囉末底), but the translation itself does not include the name of the author, and the matter remains unsettled. It was translated into Chinese in the early sixth century by Ratnamati and first translated into Tibetan by Atiśa, although this does not survive. Ngok Loden Sherab and the Kashmiri Pandita Sajjana translated it a second time, and theirs remains the standard translation. It has been translated into English several times, and recently into French.

See a manuscript version of the text at the British Library

Relevance to Buddha-nature

This text by Maitreya/Asanga is the main source of buddha-nature teachings in India and Tibet.

Translations of This Text

Recensions of This Text

Description from When the Clouds Part

The Mahāyānottaratantra (Ratnagotravibhāga) and the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā

Texts and Authorships

The Tibetan and Chinese traditions treat the Uttaratantra and RGVV as two distinct texts.[1] Both canons contain separate translations of the "root verses" and the prose commentary together with these verses.[2] However, the two available Sanskrit manuscripts of RGVV (which include both the verses of the Uttaratantra and the prose commentary) as well as other Indian sources suggest that the two are simply two elements of the same text. The Sanskrit does not speak of RGVV as a commentary on the Uttaratantra, and its title is Ratnagotravibhāgo mahāyānottaratantraśāstram, thus containing both names. Also, though the title Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā for RGVV is used by modern scholars, it is not attested in any Indian text[3] (the Tibetan translation in the Tengyur has the title Mahāyānottaratantraśāstravyākhyā).[4] The Chinese tradition calls RGVV Ratnagotraśāstra, while it is almost always referred to as Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra or simply Uttaratantra in the Indian and Tibetan traditions, as attested by titles such as Sajjana’s Mahāyānottaratantraśāstropadeśa and Vairocanarakṣita’s Mahāyānottaratantraṭippaṇī, as well as quotes from the text in other Indian sources. For example, the Sūtrasamuccayabhāṣya[5] by Ratnākaraśānti (early eleventh century) explains a part of the prose of RGVV[6] and explicitly says that it comes from the Uttaratantra by Maitreya. Likewise, Abhayākaragupta’s Munimatālaṃkāra quotes a prose passage from RGVV[7] by saying that it stems from the Uttaratantra authored by Maitreya.

      The text known as RGVV consists of three parts: (1) basic verses, (2) commentarial verses,[8] and (3) prose commentary. The commentarial verses explain the basic verses, and the prose commentary glosses all verses (at least in the first chapter). Such a structure is quite rare among Indian works in general. Though Takasaki and other modern scholars agree that RGVV is a compilation of different elements and have made attempts to identify the "original" core verses of the text, there is no clear solution to isolating such verses.[9]

      As for the authorship of the Uttaratantra and RGVV, the Sanskrit manuscripts contain no name of the composer. Beginning with Ngog Lotsāwa’s translations of the Uttaratantra and RGVV in the Tengyur, the Tibetan tradition holds that the former was composed by Maitreya, while the latter was written by Asaṅga. The Chinese tradition asserts that both were authored by the elusive figure *Sāramati (though no author is given in the translations or any of the old catalogues).[10] In many modern publications, the authorship of the Uttaratantra and RGVV continues to be disputed with no definitive outcome, some favoring the Tibetan account and some the Chinese tradition.[11] It is noteworthy though that a Khotan-Saka hybrid Sanskrit fragment of the Uttaratantra[12] from the end of the eighth century, which quotes Uttaratantra I.1, III.1–8, III.10, and V3d, refers to the text as the Ratnagotravibhāgaśāstra by the bodhisattva Maitreya. Also, as the above references in texts by Ratnākaraśānti and Abhayākaragupta show, from the eleventh century onward in India, it seems that not only the verses but also the prose parts of RGVV were ascribed to Maitreya. So far, no attribution of the authorship of RGVV to Asaṅga has been found in Indian works.[13]

      As Kano (2006, 23 and 28–29) points out, from the seventh to tenth centuries, there seem to be no Indian texts that quote the Uttaratantra (though some texts discuss the topic of tathāgatagarbha), whereas the work is cited in a significant number of Indian Buddhist texts from the eleventh to thirteenth century. However, as Kano says, there are two texts that indicate the possibility of the transmission of the Uttaratantra still continuing at least throughout the eighth century—besides the above-mentioned Khotan-Saka fragment, the Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgraha (late seventh to eighth century) uses terms such as garbha, dhātu, and ratnagotra in accordance with the Uttaratantra.[14] In any case, a Sanskrit manuscript of the Uttaratantra was brought to China by Ratnamati in 508 Ce and was translated by him in ca. 511 Ce, so the text must have still been available in India in the early sixth century. Takasaki (1966a, 45–54; 1989, 412–15; and 1999) discusses a number of texts from the sixth and seventh centuries that appear to have been influenced by the Uttaratantra. These are the *Buddhagotraśāstra (Taishō 1610), the *Anuttarāśrayasūtra (Taishō 669; both translated by Paramārtha),[15] the *Dharmadhātvaviśeṣaśāstara (Taishō 1627), and two Chinese translations of a trikāya chapter in the Suvarṇaprabhāsottamasūtra (Taishō 664 and 665), which is absent in the Sanskrit and Tibetan versions of this sūtra. However, since these texts are available only in the Chinese canon and since the *Buddhagotraśāstra and the *Anuttarāśrayasūtra are not unlikely to have been authored by Paramārtha (499–569), it is uncertain whether they are indeed translations of actual Indian texts.

      According to BA,[16] there were six translations of the Uttaratantra or RGVV into Tibetan. Both texts were translated by: (1) Atiśa and Nagtso Lotsāwa Tsültrim Gyalwa[17] (1011–1064), (2) Sajjana and Ngog Lotsāwa, (3) Patsab Lotsāwa Nyima Tra[18] (born 1055), (4) Marpa Dopa Chökyi Wangchug, and (5) Yarlung Lotsāwa Tragba Gyaltsen[19] (1242–1346). (6) Jonang Lotsāwa Lodrö Bal[20] (1299/1300–1353/1355) translated only the Uttaratantra. YDC[21] additionally refers to a translation by Lhotragpa Dharma Sengé.[22] At present, only the translation by Ngog Lotsāwa survives in its entirety, while several citations from translations (1), (3), and (6) are found in some Tibetan commentaries at least up through the fifteenth century.[23] (pp. 93-95)

  1. The Chinese canon only has a single text listed, but that text actually consists of two parts: A) the verse text: an extract of certain verses from the entire text, and B) the whole work including the prose section but excluding certain verses from part A. (Karl Brunnhölzl, personal communication, January 25, 2020.
  2. Note however that the Tibetan and Chinese versions of the verses differ considerably in both number and content (see Takasaki 1966a, 9–19; and Schmithausen 1971, 123–30).
  3. The conclusions of chapters 1, 4, and 5 of RGVV contain the compound ślokārthasaṃgrahavyākhyānataḥ (the Chinese translation omits this). However, as Takasaki (1989, 389) points out, this compound simply refers to the basic verses of the Uttaratantra, its commentarial verses, and the prose explanation of all these verses (RGVV).
  4. Despite all this, my discussion will retain the two separate titles Uttaratantra and RGVV and treat them as two separate texts, since the latter is the prose commentary on the verses of the former.
  5. D3935, fol. 325b.3f.
  6. J67.9–68.6
  7. D3903, fol. 150a.6 (J139.22–24).
  8. VT (fols. 12v7, 13r2, 15r7) calls the basic verses mūla (III.4) and the commentarial verses vyākhyāśloka (I.64–65 and I.67–68). Jñānaśrīmitra’s (c. 980–1040) Sākārasiddhiśāstra (in Jñānaśrīmitra, Jñānaśrīmitranibandhāvali, 503.20–22) calls the basic verses "mūla" (III.1) and the commentarial verses vivṛti (III.2–3; see also 502.17, 503.15, 536.22, and Schmithausen 1971, 124). Ngog Lotsāwa (Rngog lo tsā ba blo ldan shes rab 1993b, fol. 34b.4) calls the basic verses rtsa ba lta bu'i tshigs su bcad pa.
  9. See Takasaki 1966a, 10–19 and 393–95, and the critique by Schmithausen (1971, 23–30).
  10. *Sāramati is also held to be the author of the *Dharmadhātvaviśeṣaśāstras (Taishō 1627). In Fa-tsang’s commentary on this work (Taishō 1838, 63c14–21), there is a brief account of *Sāramati’s life, which Fa-tsang heard from Devaprajñā, a monk from Khotan who was the reported translator of the *Dharmadhātvaviśeṣaśāstra. This account says that *Sāramati was a bodhisattva on the first bhūmi who was born in India seven hundred years after the passing of the Buddha. He mastered all the teachings of hīnayāna and mahāyāna, but concentrated on teaching the undifferentiated dharmadhātu. Therefore, he composed texts such as the Ratnagotravibhāga and the *Dharmadhātvaviśeṣaśāstra. His works do not deal with provisional dharmas but clarify only the substantial ultimate dharmas (see also Takasaki 1966a, 6–9). Modern scholars consider *Sāramati to be someone different than Maitreya or consider "*Sāramati" to be one of his epithets.
  11. For an overview, see Kano 2006, 21.
  12. CH 0047 in the Stein collection at the India Office (edited in Bailey and Johnston 1935).
  13. As Shiu (2006, 186) reports, the contemporary scholar Tam Shek-wing believes that the root verses of the Uttaratantra were composed by Maitreya, while additional verses were added by *Sāramati. The commentary (RGVV), he says, was authored by Asaṅga, and a final thorough editing of the entire text was done by Maitrīpa after his rediscovery of the work.
  14. For details, see Inui 1998 and 2000 as well as Matsunaga 1980, 187ff.
  15. About 70 percent of the *Anuttarāśrayasūtra consists of almost literal passages from the Uttaratantra and mostly RGVV (I am indebted to Fitri Junoes for this information).
  16. 350
  17. Tib. Nag tsho lo tsā ba tshul khrims rgyal ba. He was sent to India by King Jangchub Ö (Tib. Byang chub ’od) to invite Atiśa to Tibet and also became one of his main students. He and Atiśa translated the Uttaratantra and RGVV at Yerpa at the request of Ngog Jangchub Jungné (Tib. Rngog byang chub 'byung gnas).
  18. Tib. Pa tshab lo tsā ba nyi ma grags.
  19. Tib. Yar klung lo tsā ba grags pa rgyal mtshan.
  20. Tib. Jo nang lo tsā ba blo gros dpal.
  21. 306
  22. Tib. Lho brag pa dharma seng ge. He was a Kadampa master who also wrote a commentary on the Uttaratantra (Bka’ gdams gsung ’bum phyogs sgrig thengs gsum pa, Lhasa: Dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ’jug khang, vol. 78, 213–308).
  23. For example, in addition to using mainly Ngog’s translation, GC sometimes quotes Nagtso’s and Patsab’s renderings. YDC also refers to the translations by these three. For a study of the textual qualities of these translations and a register of sources in which translations (1), (3), and (5) are quoted, see Kano 2005 and 2006, 89–111.

Text Metadata

Other Titles ~ rgyud bla ma
~ Uttaratantra
~ Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra
~ Ratnagotravibhāga
~ theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos dkon mchog gi rigs rnam par dbye ba

Text exists in ~ Tibetan
~ Sanskrit
~ Chinese
Canonical Genre ~ Tengyur · Sūtra · sems tsam · Cittamātra
Literary Genre ~ Tengyur

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