In the Tibetan tradition, which parses out the root verses and refers to that as the treatise (bstan bcos, śāstra), this title references the full text complete with the root verses and the accompanying prose commentary (rnam par bshad pa, vyākhyā). While the earlier Chinese tradition attributes authorship of both aspects of the text to the as of yet still mysterious figure of Sāramati, the Tibetan tradition attributes the treatise to the Bodhisattva Maitreya and this commentary to the illustrious founder of the Yogācāra school, Asaṅga. However, unlike the Chinese tradition which delineates different aspects of the text into the basic verses, the commentarial verses, and the prose commentary, the Tibetan tradition actually preserves two separate versions of the text we know as the Ratnagotravibhāga.
The first, made up entirely of the so-called root verses, corresponds to the Sanskrit title Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra, though it is known in this tradition only by the Tibetan equivalent of the latter subtitle, Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos, which is commonly rendered into English as the Treatise on the Ultimate Continuum of the Great Vehicle and is abbreviated as RGV. This version is likely a Tibetan redaction, in that thus far there is no evidence of a Sanskrit version written entirely in verse that excludes the commentarial sections that explain them.
The second, which combines the verses with their accompanying prose commentary, corresponds to the *Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā as it has become known in academic circles where it is referenced with the abbreviation RGVV. However, in Tibetan the subtitle is merely appended with the equivalent of vyākhyā, i.e. Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos rnam par bshad pa, and thus a translation of the Tibetan title of the complete text would be something akin to the Explanatory Commentary on the Treatise on the Ultimate Continuum of the Great Vehicle. However, the extant Sanskrit recension of the Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra directly corresponds to the Tibetan version known as the *Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā, in that it contains both the root verses and the prose commentary. Though, again, lacking a Sanskrit work entitled the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā, we can surmise that its corresponding Tibetan title was likely manufactured in order to delineate it from the streamlined verse redaction, while the Sanskrit title *Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā was in turn a product of modern scholars. On the surface it would seem that this title is a combination of the Chinese title back translated into Sanskrit as the Ratnagotraśāstra and the one found in the Tibetan editions, which state the Sanskrit title as the Mahāyānottaratantraśāstravyākhya. Nevertheless, in terms of content, the Sanskrit RGV corresponds to the Tibetan RGVV, in that the Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra is the same text as Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos rnam par bshad pa.
For more on this issue see below for Karl Brunnhölzl's Description from When the Clouds Part.
Relevance to Buddha-nature
As the commentary to the Uttaratantra this is a crucial source text on the topic of buddha-nature.
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Recensions of This Text
Texts and Authorships
The Tibetan and Chinese traditions treat the Uttaratantra and RGVV as two distinct texts. Both canons contain separate translations of the "root verses" and the prose commentary together with these verses. 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 (the Tibetan translation in the Tengyur has the title Mahāyānottaratantraśāstravyākhyā). 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 by Ratnākaraśānti (early eleventh century) explains a part of the prose of RGVV and explicitly says that it comes from the Uttaratantra by Maitreya. Likewise, Abhayākaragupta’s Munimatālaṃkāra quotes a prose passage from RGVV 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, 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.
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). 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. It is noteworthy though that a Khotan-Saka hybrid Sanskrit fragment of the Uttaratantra 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.
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. 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), 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, there were six translations of the Uttaratantra or RGVV into Tibetan. Both texts were translated by: (1) Atiśa and Nagtso Lotsāwa Tsültrim Gyalwa (1011–1064), (2) Sajjana and Ngog Lotsāwa, (3) Patsab Lotsāwa Nyima Tra (born 1055), (4) Marpa Dopa Chökyi Wangchug, and (5) Yarlung Lotsāwa Tragba Gyaltsen (1242–1346). (6) Jonang Lotsāwa Lodrö Bal (1299/1300–1353/1355) translated only the Uttaratantra. YDC additionally refers to a translation by Lhotragpa Dharma Sengé. 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. (pp. 93-95)
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- D3935, fol. 325b.3f.
- D3903, fol. 150a.6 (J139.22–24).
- 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.
- See Takasaki 1966a, 10–19 and 393–95, and the critique by Schmithausen (1971, 23–30).
- *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.
- For an overview, see Kano 2006, 21.
- CH 0047 in the Stein collection at the India Office (edited in Bailey and Johnston 1935).
- 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.
- For details, see Inui 1998 and 2000 as well as Matsunaga 1980, 187ff.
- 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).
- 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).
- Tib. Pa tshab lo tsā ba nyi ma grags.
- Tib. Yar klung lo tsā ba grags pa rgyal mtshan.
- Tib. Jo nang lo tsā ba blo gros dpal.
- 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).
- 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.
Philosophical positions of this text
|Other Titles||~ Mahāyānottaratantraśāstravyākhyā|
|Text exists in||~ Sanskrit|
|Canonical Genre||~ Tengyur · Sūtra · sems tsam · Cittamātra|
|Literary Genre||~ Tengyur|
|Commentary of||~ Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra|
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