Theg chen rgyud bla ma'i gdams pa

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LibraryCommentariesTheg chen rgyud bla ma'i gdams pa

theg chen rgyud bla ma'i gdams pa
Instructions on "The Ultimate Continuum of the Mahāyāna"
This work details instructions on the Ratnagotravibhāga that Maitrīpa reportedly received directly from Maitreya in a dream, which he then later retrieved, in actuality, discovering the text concealed within in a stūpa. Mönlam Tsultrim, the attributed Tibetan author of this work that lived centuries later, thus claims that he copied and edited this work from the original manuscript that was passed down in a lineage coming from Maitrīpa, himself.
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Relevance to Buddha-nature

This work contains pith instructions on the Uttaratantra that synthesize the terminology and approaches of the Yogācāra and Mahāmudra traditions.

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Description from When the Clouds Part

As for the transmission of the Uttaratantra, this text (IM) says that Maitrīpa (referred to as Maitreyanātha), while staying in a monastery in Magadha, dreamt that he had put instructions on the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga and Uttaratantra in a four-storied sandalwood stūpa and then received pointing-out instructions on them directly from Maitreya in that dream.[1] The next day, Maitrīpa found the instructions from his dream in a stūpa that he had circumambulated before.[2]

      The actual instructions on the Uttaratantra in IM contain Maitreya’s very direct pointing-out instructions on the nature of the mind, which are based on first making Maitrīpa recognize that he is dreaming and then using his awareness of having a lucid dream. Generally, these pointing-out instructions are very similar to pointing-out instructions in the Mahāmudrā tradition, repeatedly advising Maitrīpa to look directly at the essence of his thoughts and discover their nature as being luminous self-arisen wisdom. IM also uses some typical technical terms, such as "mind as such" (Tib. sems nyid), "beyond mind" (Tib. blo 'das), "connate ignorance" (Tib. lhan cig skyes pa'i ma rig pa), and "imaginary ignorance" (Tib. kun brtags pa'i ma rig pa) in the same way as they are explained in the Mahāmudrā teachings.

      In more detail, first, Maitreya says that the Uttaratantra, which makes buddha nature a living experience, combines the triad of the cause (the tathāgata heart), the conditions (awakening, the qualities, and enlightened activity), and the results (the three jewels). In particular, he points out the tathāgata heart through the inconceivability of the last four vajra points as described in Uttaratantra I.24–25 in a very immediate experiential manner. This is followed by eight further guiding instructions closely based on the Uttaratantra. These instructions consist of identifying one’s own mind as a buddha, being mistaken as a sentient being through thoughts, there being no difference in terms of the benefit of natural luminosity during its three phases (in sentient beings, bodhisattvas, and buddhas), trusting that the guru who points out luminous self-arisen wisdom is a buddha, discussing the scriptural passages on the first three vajra points that are the results, discussing the naturally pure basic element that is the luminous dharmadhātu, being free from the stains of adventitious thoughts (which discusses the last three vajra points), and explaining great nonconceptual wisdom (which mainly consists of a discussion of the five flaws to be counteracted by teaching the tathāgata heart).

      These pointing-out instructions also contain typical Yogācāra elements, such as an explanation of the eight consciousnesses that echoes the one in verse 9 of Vasubandhu’s Trisvabhāvanirdeśa and the equation of saṃsāra with adventitious thoughts, which are nothing but the adventitious stains of mind’s luminosity. These teachings also refer to the vajrayāna instructions on "fourfold luminosity" (for details, see below). In typical vajrayāna and Mahāmudrā fashion, the guru is identified as being equal to a buddha due to being the key person who directly points out the nature of one’s mind.

      Furthermore, in agreement with the Uttaratantra, IM equates the tathāgata heart with mind’s ultimate true nature, mind’s natural luminosity, self-arisen nonconceptual wisdom, buddhahood, and the dharmakāya, all of which are said to exist already in sentient beings, but are merely obscured by imaginary adventitious stains. This is also fully in line with the Avataṃsakasūtra’s example of comparing the immeasurable buddha qualities within the mind streams of ordinary beings to a huge silk cloth with a painting of the universe inside a minute particle (see RGVV on I.25). Needless to mention, all of this is in accord with the Shentong view.

      Interestingly, IM also specifies that its instructions are very advanced teachings that should not be pointed out to four kinds of people: (1) those who cling to the illusionary appearances of saṃsāra as being real (those with great desire), (2) those who cling to the skandhas as being a real self (tīrthikas), (3) those who do not realize great bliss within saṃsāra and thus abandon it for their own benefit (śrāvakas), and (4) those who lack the compassion that benefit others (pratyekabuddhas). These four correspond to the ones that are identified as not being able to realize the tathāgata heart in Uttaratantra I.32–33ab and RGVV. This shows clearly that IM does not explain away positive descriptions of the ultimate as being teachings with only provisional meaning but takes them as definitive instructions for the most advanced practitioners on the Buddhist path. (pp. 315-317)

  1. I am indebted to Professor Klaus-Dieter Mathes for referring me to IM and kindly providing me with a copy of his article (Mathes 2011b [2012]) "The Gzhan stong Model of Reality—Some More Material on its Origin, Transmission, and Interpretation" in the proceedings of the 2008 IABS Conference in Atlanta, which is an enlarged version of his paper read at that conference, bearing the title: "Was the Third Karmapa Rang byung rdo rje (1284–1339) a Proponent of Gzhan stong? Some More Material from rJe Bkra shis ’od zer’s (15th/16th cent.) Ratnagotravibhāga Commentary." Among other themes, this article translates and discusses the significance of selected passages from IM (147.7–148.7, 150.3–151.2, 151.5–152.1, 154.2–156.1), which has informed some parts of my discussion of this text.
  2. It is not clear whether "instructions" (Tib. gdams ngag) refers to the actual texts of the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga and the Uttaratantra or to separate instructions on them in the style of IM. Nor is it clear whether Maitrīpa retrieved separate instructions on the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga from that stūpa, and if so, whether they have survived somewhere. In any case, what is clear is that IM represents the record of Maitreya’s pointing-out instructions based on the Uttaratantra in Maitrīpa’s dream.

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