Rgyud bla ma'i tshig don rnam par 'grel pa

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LibraryCommentariesRgyud bla ma'i tshig don rnam par 'grel pa

rgyud bla ma'i tshig don rnam par 'grel pa
A Commentary on the Meaning of the Words of the Uttaratantra

An early Tibetan commentary on the Uttaratantra, both the śāstra and the vyākhyā, that purports to represent the teachings passed on by the Kashmiri Parahitabhadra to his Tibetan student Marpa, though it is not entirely clear whether this refers to Marpa Dopa or Marpa Chökyi Lodrö, both of whom were important early Kagyu masters and translators that travelled south to receive teachings which they imported and propagated in Tibet. Nevertheless, the text follows more closely Indian commentarial styles and includes typical Mahāmudrā type instructions in its exegesis. Thus it is a prime example of the lineage that descends from Maitrīpa that came to dominate the Kagyu school's approach to the Uttaratantra in later generations.

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Scholarly notes

According to Karl Brunnhölzl, this work has been mistakenly attributed to Marpa Chökyi Lodrö, which is why it is erroneously included in his collected works. Alternatively, he suggests this work be attributed to Marpa Dopa Chökyi Wangchuk, or rather a student of this master that recorded his teachings on the Uttaratantra.

Description from When the Clouds Part

The colophon of this commentary (CMW) says that it preserves the words of Marpa Lotsāwa’s teachings on the Uttaratantra[1] and was prepared according to the assertions of Parahitabhadra. Thus, it appears to have been composed or compiled by a student of Marpa Dopa. As mentioned above, the latter had received teachings on the Uttaratantra from Parahitabhadra and possibly Sajjana (it is possible that this student of Marpa also received direct teachings from Parahitabhadra or Sajjana, but it is not very likely). BA says that Marpa Dopa transmitted the Maitreya texts to Nyingpugpa Chökyi Tragba (1094–1186), so the latter could be the actual author of CMW.[2] In any case, this author must have had access to, and knowledge of, the Sanskrit text of the Uttaratantra since he refers to it in comparison to Ngog Lotsāwa’s translation. This and the fact that CMW mentions some of Ngog’s positions show that it was composed later than Ngog’s commentary.[3]

      CMW is a commentary on both the Uttaratantra and RGVV (also providing headings or referential glosses for different parts of RGVV). However, CMW never quotes the verses of the Uttaratantra in full when commenting on them (sometimes, CMW provides the initial words of a verse or of the first one in a number of verses that it comments on). In its comments on RGVV, CMW follows the common Indian style of a subcommentary by briefly indicating the beginnings (and often the ends) of the passages in RGVV that it comments on.[4] At the same time, CMW also includes an extensive outline, though it is not strictly held to. Thus, CMW’s comments are sometimes given in a looser fashion than later Tibetan commentaries with their strictly structured outlines.

      The introduction to CMW (called "the explanation of the stainless basic element"), which precedes its actual comments on the verses of the Uttaratantra and RGVV, is sometimes sketchy and often feels more like personal notes. It identifies itself as containing the pith instructions on the Uttaratantra and corresponds very much with Mahāmudrā instructions in both its experiential style and contents (though the term "Mahāmudrā" is never mentioned). By contrast, the actual commentary is much more scholarly, and sometimes clearer and easier to understand. Though included under the same title, these two parts of CMW seem like two different texts written for two different purposes—more personal meditation instructions based on the Uttaratantra versus the actual commentary on the verses of this text and RGVV.

      CMW’s introduction uses the term "pointing out" many times and discusses the pith instructions on the basic element in three main points: (1) the results (the three jewels) being condensed in the Buddha—the ultimate place of refuge that is the dharmakāya of one’s own mind, (2) the cause (the tathāgata heart) being condensed in the Buddha—taking the three natures into one’s mind,[5] and (3) the conditions (awakening, the qualities, and enlightened activity) being condensed in the Buddha—being free from the stains of conception.

      In more detail, the introduction refutes all external phenomena and affirms the internal nature of the mind as being the dharmakāya—the inseparability of the unconditioned expanse and self-arisen, self-aware wisdom, whose nature is lucid and unceasing. All adventitious stains are nothing but thoughts, and through realizing the luminous nature of the mind and letting thoughts be as lucid wisdom in an uncontrived manner, their essence is realized as lacking any root and thus they are self-liberated. In other words, sentient beings are nothing but the adventitious flaws of thoughts and therefore one familiarizes with them as being nonentities.[6] Buddhahood is nothing but the luminosity of one’s own mind having become free from these adventitious stains. Without thoughts and clinging, everything that appears and exists dawns as the essence of the three kāyas. This is the way to bring the naturally luminous tathāgata heart onto the path to buddhahood. This path starts with the path of accumulation, when one’s own mind is pointed out as luminosity. On the path of preparation, one familiarizes with what was pointed out. The realization of luminous mind on the path of seeing is the dharmakāya. On the path of familiarization, one still needs effort to realize luminous mind, which represents the sambhogakāya. On the buddhabhūmi, although self-arisen wisdom has been seized within oneself, one has the welfare of others in mind, which represents the nirmāṇakāya.

      Besides such Mahāmudrā-like instructions in CMW’s introduction (it also repeatedly uses the typical Mahāmudrā term "beyond mind"),[7] the text likewise exhibits terms and explanations that are familiar in the Dzogchen teachings. The text speaks of "alpha-pure (ka dag) ultimate luminosity" and also repeatedly mentions basic awareness (rig pa), while distinguishing it from the ordinary dualistic mind (sems). It says that, first, at the time of basic awareness’s being pointed out, one directs the mind toward basic awareness, scrutinizes thoughts, and rests in this unconditioned basic awareness. Second, at the time of basic awareness’s entering the path, one rests in assessing how to separate the pure essence from the dross in terms of the stains of thoughts and luminous self-arisen wisdom.[8] Third, as for wisdom’s seizing its own ground, one scrutinizes thoughts with some effort. As for thoughts’ not needing to be relinquished and being pure, the Uttaratantra says, "There is nothing to be removed in this." As for self- arisen wisdom dawning without needing to be accomplished, it says, "not the slightest to be added." Fourth, as for self-arisen wisdom’s being pointed out, one needs to search for the reality of thoughts, and the aftermath of that is the realization of the lucid nature of phenomena as being like space. In this way, one familiarizes with separating the pure essence from the dross with regard to basic awareness. The pure essence is self-arisen wisdom, and the dross consists of thoughts—ordinary cognitions. The fruition is the twofold separation of the pure essence from the dross with regard to basic awareness—self-arisen wisdom’s ability to stand its own ground being the nonconceptual wisdom of meditative equipoise, and the ability to cope with all kinds of circumstances through having mastered appearances being subsequent attainment.

      In its actual comments on the Uttaratantra and RGVV, CMW says that the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra represents the primary sūtra source of the Uttaratantra, while the remaining sūtras that are referred to in the Uttaratantra and RGVV are the secondary sources. Accordingly, CMW includes lengthy paraphrases and quotes from most of the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra's introduction and the beginning of its main part on the three jewels, the sixty kinds of factors of purifying the buddha element, and the eighty attributes of buddhas, which are given as the sources for all seven vajra points in this sūtra (beyond that, there are four more quotes from the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra). The further sūtra quotes are:

Śrīmālādevīsūtra, sixteen times
Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, six times
Sarvabuddhaviśayāvatārajñānālokālaṃkārasūtra, four times
Anūnatvāpūrṇatvasūtra, three times
Sthirādhyāśayaparivartasūtra, two times
Daśabhūmikasūtra, two times
Sāgaramatiparipṛcchāsūtra, two times
Laṅkāvatārasūtra, two times
Ratnacūḍaparipṛcchāsūtra, two times
Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra, two times
Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, one time
Abhidharmamahāyānasūtra, one time
Tathāgataguṇajñānācintyaviṣayāvatāranirdeśa, one time
Gaganagañjaparipṛcchāsūtra, one time

Quotes from Indian treatises or masters:

Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, six times
Madhyāntavibhāgaṭīkā, six times
Mahāyānasaṃgraha, four times
Vivṛtagūḍhārthapiṇḍavyākhyā, three times
Pañcaskandhaprakaraṇavaibhāṣya, one time
Parahitabhadra, six times
Sajjana, four times

Through CMW’s introduction, its above-mentioned explanation of the term "tantra" in Uttaratantra, and also in some other passages, the Uttaratantra is presented as a bridge between sūtra and tantra, which is how this text is commonly considered in the Kagyü School. In particular, CMW says, among the seven vajra points, the basic element resembles the causal tantra; the means to purify it (awakening, the qualities, and enlightened activity) resemble the method tantra; and the three jewels resemble the fruitional tantra.

      CMW emphasizes that the dharmadhātu or self-arisen wisdom exists right now in all sentient beings without exception and that there is no cut- off disposition. This self-arisen wisdom is not realized at present due to the two obscurations, which are however primordially nonexistent. Referring to RGVV’s passage about "sound mind" and "unsound mind" in the Śrīmālādevīsūtra, CMW says that "sound mind" refers to the wisdom of realizing luminosity, while "unsound mind" refers to the adventitious dependent[9] mind. Since these two are the remedy and what is to be relinquished, respectively, they do not operate at the same time. Thus, like other Yogācāra texts (such as the Mahāyānasaṃgraha), CMW basically speaks about an impure dependent nature that is ultimately nonexistent. For CMW equates the dependent nature here with the adventitious stains, which it explains throughout to be nonexistent. Similar to SM 9cd ("The suchness of the dhātu is devoid of what is afflicted—the dependent") and all the implications explained there, this also clearly suggests that, in terms of the relationship between the three natures in Yogācāra, the perfect nature is empty of both the imaginary and the dependent natures (if the dependent nature is merely adventitious, the same goes even more for the imaginary nature). Obviously, all of these themes are discussed in great detail in later Shentong works.

      Generally, in its quotes and commentarial explanations, CMW exhibits a very strong and exclusive Yogācāra underpinning (it does not refer to or quote any Madhyamaka works).[10] In particular, its discussion of the ālaya and its relation to the disposition is primarily based on the first chapter of the Mahāyānasaṃgraha (which is in line with the Third Karmapa’s great reliance on this chapter) and its commentary Vivṛtagūḍhārthapiṇḍavyākhyā. According to Parahitabhadra, "the naturally abiding ālaya" is equivalent to the naturally abiding disposition, and "the adventitious ālaya" is equivalent to the unfolding disposition (thus, the unfolding disposition basically refers to the ālaya-consciousness’s progressively disappearing to the same extent that the naturally abiding ālaya or disposition becomes manifest).[11] In general, the ālaya functions as the basis of both contaminated and uncontaminated phenomena. However, in the minds of sentient beings, though the uncontaminated seeds exist in the ālaya, they do not exist substantially in it and thus are not able to directly produce manifest uncontaminated results, whereas the opposite is true for the contaminated seeds and their results. The uncontaminated seeds are not the primary seeds in the ālaya but represent a minority in it, whereas the contaminated seeds represent a majority. Both coexist like water and milk in a single bowl as their basis. Through the path, the seeds of afflicted phenomena decrease, and the seeds of purified phenomena increase, just as geese are able to extract the essence (the milk) from the dross (the water). Until one focuses on the naturally abiding ālaya through the remedy that is the path, the seeds of afflicted phenomena exist in it in the manner of adventitious stains, which are then purified through the path. RGVV is said to actually refer to the disposition not only as the nature of phenomena but also as the uncontaminated seeds by speaking of the basic element as "the seed of the supramundane attributes."[12] Thus, since the disposition and the ālaya are the same, RGVV is said to discuss this in detail.

      Being phrased throughout in classical Yogācāra diction, this section of CMW is the clearest example of an early Tibetan commentary (based on the position of the Indian master Parahitabhadra) often explicitly combining Yogācāra teachings with those on buddha nature. This is exactly what later Tibetans such as the Third Karmapa, Dölpopa, and virtually all other Shentongpas did in great detail. In addition, just like later Shentongpas, CMW distinguishes between Yogācāra and Mere Mentalism, saying that the tathāgata heart is not an object of the Mere Mentalists who assert a really existing self-awareness empty of apprehender and apprehended as the ultimate (which is contrasted with "the wisdom of ultimate emptiness"). (pp. 301-306)

  1. It is probably because of this statement that CMW is mistakenly included in a recent publication as a work of Marpa Chökyi Lodrö (Anonymous 2011). However, while BA reports that Marpa Chökyi Wangchug translated the Uttaratantra, there is no evidence that Marpa Chökyi Lodrö ever translated the Uttaratantra or wrote a commentary on it, nor is such asserted in the Kagyü tradition. CMW is not found in two other contemporary publications of Marpa Chökyi Lodrö’s works (A mgon rin po che 2004, vols. 5–6 and Lho brag mar pa lo tsa’i gsung ’bum [Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011]). Another possible short text by a Marpa Lotsāwa on the Uttaratantra (Rgyud bla’i bsdus don, 31 folios) is listed in Dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ’jug khang 2004, 1411 (this entry adds ’di mar pa lo tsā ba’i yin nam brtag).
  2. 1009
  3. A comparison of the two congruent outlines of the Uttaratantra by Ngog Lotsāwa (see Kano 2006, 267–76 and 502–4 as well as 2008a, 150–57) and the outlines in CMW and HLS shows that the latter two differ significantly from the former two as well as between each other. The outlines in CMW and HLS are both of similar length and much more detailed than those by Ngog.
  4. Therefore, it is helpful to read CMW in close conjunction with RGVV, which enables one to easily match the abbreviated passages from RGVV that CMW refers to with their source (due to the consecutive order of these passages in CMW, my translation usually does not indicate the page numbers on which they are found in RGVV).
  5. Throughout, unless noted otherwise, "the three natures" refers to the dharmakāya, suchness, and the disposition, as listed in Uttaratantra I.143cd–144/146cd–147.
  6. That sentient beings are simply equated here with the adventitious obscurations and nonentities may sound unusual and somewhat shocking (the same is repeated later in CMW, saying, "through realizing one’s own mind, there is not the slightest to be removed because there is no sentient being to be relinquished apart from [mind’s] playing as thoughts without a basis"). However, similar remarks are likewise found in GC (12.25: "sentient beings are [just] a continuous flow of afflictions and suffering"), as well as in the Eighth Karmapa’s and the Fifth Shamarpa’s commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra. Referring to the Third Karmapa, the Eighth Karmapa (Brunnhölzl 2010, 439) says, "In his autocommentary on The Profound Inner Reality, he makes a twofold classification [of mind as such], saying, ‘what is pure is expressed as mind, and what is impure is [also] expressed as mind.’ By explaining that those who possess impure mental impulses are sentient beings, he elucidates that the dharmadhātu does not exist in such sentient beings. He presents these very sentient beings as being the adventitious stains that are produced by false imagination, which mistakenly strays from the dharmadhātu. By giving the pure mind names such as ‘ordinary mind,’ ‘original protector,’ and ‘original buddha,’ he says that it is exactly this [mind] that possesses the mode of being inseparable from the buddha qualities. This kind of [pure mind] is also the [buddha] heart that actually fulfills this function. Based on Uttaratantra I.35–38, a similar distinction is found in the Eighth Karmapa’s Lamp (31–32): "Unsurpassable completely perfect buddhas, through knowing the entirety of how all phenomena without exception actually are and how they appear, clearly realize the basic nature, ultimate reality, as being the pāramitās of supreme purity, permanence, bliss, and self. On the other hand, they clearly realize the ways in which [phenomena] appear—the adventitious elements of seeming sentient beings—as being impermanent, suffering, without self, and impure." Likewise, the Lamp (34) says: "‘What is the meaning of the regent Maitreya’s "distinguishing between phenomena and their true nature" within the mind streams of ordinary beings?’ After having explained phenomena just in general as being the adventitious stains that consist of cognitions and knowable objects [of ordinary beings], he explains their true nature as the sugata heart." Following the Eighth Karmapa’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Brunnhölzl 2012, 274–75), the Fifth Shamarpa equates sentient beings with the ālaya-consciousness, the impure dependent nature, nonafflicted ignorance, false imagination, and the consciousness that entails the dualistic appearances of apprehender and apprehended. This accords with what both these authors say on the dharmadhātu as the disposition for buddhahood (the tathāgata heart). Again relying on the Karmapa, the Shamarpa (ibid., 285) explains: "The statement ‘Sentient beings have the [buddha] heart that fully qualifies as such’ is not suitable ultimately, because sentient beings must be presented as the ālaya-consciousness, which is the aspect of being mistaken and has never been established right from the start. You may wonder, ‘So are sentient beings buddhas then?’ That is not the case either because adventitious [stains] are certain to perish—it is impossible for them to be permanent. Nevertheless, from the perspective of convention, at the time of the ground, it is suitable to present merely the existence of one part of this Heart—its aspect of natural purity—in sentient beings, without it, however, being contained in, being mixed with, or being connected to the mind streams of these sentient beings. Uttaratantra [I.129] says:
    . . . the beginningless cocoons
    Of the afflictions that are not connected to
    The basic element of sentient beings . . .
    In this context, the following statement applies: ‘Sentient beings are not the cause of buddhahood, but it is buddhahood itself that has become buddhahood.’" Consequently, the Eighth Karmapa declares that it is impossible for sentient beings to become buddhas because they are the adventitious stains and thus have to disappear in order for the tathāgata heart to clearly manifest as buddhahood. The Shamarpa also states that "cloud-like adventitious stains obscure space-like suchness" (Brunnhölzl 2010, 275). This is in accord with Uttaratantra I.52–63 saying that all the factors that make up a sentient being—improper mental engagement, afflictions, karma, skandhas, dhātus, and āyatanas (which resemble the material elements)—rest on the nature of the mind, which resembles space. Likewise, Uttaratantra II.4–6 describes buddhahood as being like the sunlit sky, while all obscurations are like clouds in that sky. In sum, despite the many more conventional statements and examples in the Uttaratantra and elsewhere that buddha nature exists within sentient beings or the obscurations, as the above explanations show, in actual fact the obscurations or sentient beings exist within buddha nature. This is only logical since buddha nature is not something with physical or spatial dimensions and is certainly not limited to some place within the five skandhas. In other words, in being equivalent to the adventitious stains, sentient beings are nothing but the insubstantial clouds that float in and obscure the infinite sky of the dharmadhātu. Clinging to a personal self and the resultant notion of a sentient being is just like being stuck on the claustrophobic and gloomy outlook of fixating on the configuration of one of these clouds (which moreover keeps changing all the time) from within that cloud, while being aware of the cloudless and sunlit expanse of the sky without any reference points resembles the nonconceptual wisdom of the dharmadhātu of a buddha. For more details, see Brunnhölzl 2010, 284–85 and 428–46.
  7. Tib. blo 'das.
  8. "Separating the pure essence (Tib. dvangs ma) from the dross (Tib. snyigs ma)" is a typical vajrayāna presentation, referring to distinguishing between wisdom and ordinary dualistic consciousness. Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé’s commentary on the Third Karmapa’s Profound Inner Reality (Kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas 2005a, 34) reports the following explanation by Tagpo Rabjampa (1449–1524; Tib. Dvags po rab 'byams pa): "In each one of all phenomena (skandhas, āyatanas, and dhātus), there is the pure essence (the aspect of wisdom) and the dross (the aspect of [mistaken] consciousness). By taking the collection of both the pure essence and the dross as the basis for purification, with the dross as that which is to be purified, through the two means for purification (maturation and liberation) according with the progressive [purification] of the basis of purification, the result of purification (the three kāyas) is revealed." The Second Pawo Rinpoche’s commentary on the Bodhicaryāvatāra (Dpa' bo gtsug lag phreng ba n.d., 887–88) warns that when misinterpreting this, one may falsely cling to the utter nonexistence of ordinary mistaken consciousness and the real existence of wisdom.
  9. Tib. gzhan dbang gi sems.
  10. CMW mentions the term "Mādhyamika" only once in the context of establishing cessation (as one of the two parts of the jewel of the dharma) as the Mādhyamika type of cessation rather than the one of the śrāvakas.
  11. In that sense, the distinction here between "the naturally abiding ālaya" and "the adventitious ālaya"can be seen as suggesting the later shentong division between "ālaya wisdom" and "ālaya-consciousness."
  12. See RGVV on I.26 (J25).

Text Metadata

Text exists in ~ Tibetan
Literary Genre ~ Commentary on Words - tshig 'grel
Commentary of ~ Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra