Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos kyi 'grel bshad de kho na nyid rab tu gsal ba'i me long

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theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos kyi 'grel bshad de kho na nyid rab tu gsal ba'i me long
The Commentary on the Treatise “Mahāyāna-Uttaratantra”: The Mirror Showing Reality Very Clearly

Gö Lotsāwa Zhönu Pal's commentary to the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā, that presents the text from within the mahāmudrā tradition of Maitrīpa and Gampopa. More specifically, as Mathes reports, the author, himself, states in his colophon that "he combined the commentarial tradition of Loden Sherab with Gampopa's and Drigung Jigten Sumgön's mahāmudrā interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga." (A Direct Path to the Buddha Within, p. 411.)

Relevance to Buddha-nature

An important Kagyu commentary to the Uttaratantra that presents the text from the point of view of the Mahāmudrā teachings.

Description from When the Clouds Part

Gö Lotsāwa is well known for his historical work The Blue Annals, and he also translated a number of works in the Tibetan canon.[1] Beginning his monastic training at age nine in a Kadampa monastery, he later studied with all of the important masters of his time, including the Indian Paṇḍita Vanaratna (1384–1468), the Fifth Karmapa, Teshin Shegpa[2] (1384–1415), Rongtön Shéja Günsi, Tsongkhapa, and several Nyingma and Sakya teachers, thus becoming a master in all fields of Buddhist knowledge. He also was a teacher of the Seventh Karmapa, the Fourth Shamarpa, Chötra Yeshé (1453–1524), the Second Drugchen, Kunga Baljor[3] (1428–1476), and many others. Some of Gö Lotsāwa’s translations of Indian tantric works are found in the Tengyur, and it is said that his own collected writings once covered ten volumes. At present, only a few of his works are preserved— besides BA and GC, there are a biography of Vanaratna and a collection of Gö Lotsāwa’s letters and statements to others.

      Despite his strong Kagyü affiliations, Gö Lotsāwa maintained a nonsectarian approach to all Buddhist schools throughout his life. For example, he received instructions on the six-branch yoga of the Kālacakratantra from both Vanaratna and Jonang masters, as well as on "the trilogy of bodhisattva commentaries" from the latter (both the six-branch yoga and these commentaries form the basis of the Jonang tantric Shentong approach). He was also advised by one of his early Kagyü teachers, Rimibabpa Sönam Rinchen (1362–1453), not to abandon either the Mahāmudrā or the Gelugpa views. This is also confirmed by the Eighth Karmapa’s saying that Gö Lotsāwa accepted Tsongkhapa’s view as valid but also wished to uphold the tradition of the Tagpo Kagyü.[4] The colophon of Gö Lotsāwa’s commentary on the Uttaratantra (GC)[5] says that he explained this text based on (1) the exegetical tradition of Ngog Lotsāwa, (2) Gampopa’s Mahāmudrā interpretation of the Uttaratantra, and (3) the explanations coming from Dsen Kawoché as well as the meaning of the three dharma wheels, both of which are in accordance with Mahāmudrā.[6] Thus, Gö Lotsāwa is another example of someone who explicitly combined Shentong and Mahāmudrā teachings (though the term shentong itself is absent from GC). Although Gö Lotsāwa at times agrees with Ngog Lotsāwa on some more technical or scholastic points, there are also numerous differences, in particular his explanations of crucial passages of the Uttaratantra from a Mahāmudrā point of view and his denial that the tathāgata heart is merely emptiness in the sense of a nonimplicative negation, while affirming rather that it is mind’s natural luminosity or basic awareness free from all reference points. In any case, GC does not mention Tsongkhapa or any typical Gelugpa interpretations of buddha nature and the Uttaratantra.

      Gö Lotsāwa’s massive commentary (698 folios in dbu med; composed in 1473) is a commentary on both the Uttaratantra and RGVV that contains many valuable explanations on a broad range of topics. A comprehensive survey or translation of this highly interesting work is beyond the scope of this study, but I use significant excerpts from GC throughout. The following is just a brief sketch of some major features of this commentary.[7] Similar to RYC, GC hardly uses the characteristic Tibetan outline system but follows the Indian exegetical style of first quoting a portion of the text to be explained and then commenting on it. GC also retains the Indian division of RGVV into five chapters. Being an expert in Sanskrit, Gö Lotsāwa had access to a Sanskrit version of the text, which is obvious from occasional Sanskrit quotes of RGVV as well as critical remarks on Ngog Lotsāwa’s translation and comparisons with Nagtso Lotsāwa’s. Indeed, many passages of the Uttaratantra and RGVV quoted in GC correspond better to the currently available Sanskrit version. GC also cites numerous mahāyāna sūtras and treatises (both Yogācāra and Madhyamaka), as well as tantric sources and the teachings of Indian and Tibetan siddhas, in particular Saraha, Maitrīpa, his student Sahajavajra, and early Kagyü masters such as Gampopa and Lama Shang.

      However, it is surprising that GC does not cite many typical tathāgatagarbha sūtras found in other commentaries. Among these sūtras, GC mainly cites the Śrīmālādevīsūtra but otherwise relies heavily on the Laṅkāvatārasūtra (about sixty references and quotations, some of them lengthy). The Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra as well as the other four Maitreya works besides the Uttaratantra are also quoted frequently, and Nāgārjuna’s Dharmadhātustava is represented by quoting about half of its 101 verses. As mentioned above, Gö Lotsāwa’s comments on some of these verses link them to Mahāmudrā and its key notion of ordinary mind.

      GC begins with paying homage to Maitreya, Maitrīpa, Dampa Sangyé, and Gampopa, and this is followed by a short introduction about the validity of the teachings of the Buddha, the transmission of the five works of Maitreya in India and Tibet, and eight different ways of explaining the meaning of "tathāgata heart" (see above). Thereafter, GC is divided into three main sections: (1) the brief explanation of the title for those of sharpest faculties, (2) the explanation of the first three verses of the Uttaratantra for those of medium faculties, and (3) the explanation of the entire remainder of the text for those of lesser faculties.[8]

      GC says that, in general, the Uttaratantra teaches the meaning of all yānas and that all words of the Buddha are authentic. However, the primary meaning of the Uttaratantra concerns the last or unsurpassable turning of the wheel of dharma, and it also shows the difference between the expedient and the definitive meanings of the Buddha’s words.[9] Uniquely among all commentators on the Uttaratantra, Gö Lotsāwa explicitly links this text to the Mahāmudrā in the tradition of Maitrīpa, Sahajavajra, Gampopa, and other Kagyü masters.[10] Following the hermeneutical approach of the Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra, he says that the bhūmis are completely perfected only through the third dharma wheel but not through the second. The fruitional bhūmis of the third dharma wheel are the last three pure bhūmis, while those of the second wheel are only the bhūmis up through the seventh.[11] Gö Lotsāwa also justifies the superiority of the third dharma wheel through the Mahāmudrā instructions of several Indian and Tibetan masters, which are primarily included in the detailed analysis of the seven vajra points in section (2) of GC. In addition, he explains that the four yogas of Mahāmudrā are contained in a hidden form in both the Laṅkāvatārasūtra and the Uttaratantra. However, he also implies that in their being a gradual approach, even these four yogas are inferior to the actual realization of Mahāmudrā in an instantaneous manner because he says that this realization cannot be calculated in terms of different paths and bhūmis.

      Besides establishing the connection of these four yogas with the Uttaratantra directly as above, Gö Lotsāwa also includes them in his detailed comments on the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga's entire section on the nature of phenomena that is included in GC.[12] As already stated above, he says that this section of the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga represents a commentary on the fifth vajra point of the Uttaratantra.[13] For "stainless suchness" in the Uttaratantra corresponds to "the nature of phenomena" in the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga, with both texts explaining that stainless suchness consists of the fundamental change, whose cause is nonconceptual wisdom. The conclusion of GC’s comments on the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga states that the distinction between the existent nature of phenomena (suchness or mind’s luminosity) and nonexistent phenomena in this text matches the explanation in the Uttaratantra that the ultimately existent tathāgata heart is empty of adventitious stains but not empty of buddha qualities.[14]

      Thus, in both the Uttaratantra and the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga, the fundamental change indicates a primordial ultimate that is described in positive terms and is revealed by eliminating ultimately nonexistent adventitious stains (as illustrated by the examples of primordially pure space, gold, and water). By extension, this also means that the section on phenomena in the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga is a commentary on the adventitious stains as discussed in the Uttaratantra. Thus, the contents of these two texts are very closely related, which is also supported by the concluding part of Vasubandhu's Dharmadharmatāvibhāgavṛtti's explaining the examples of space, gold, and water in the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga as illustrating the manner in which there is a fundamental change in terms of permanent natural luminosity, without this luminosity’s being changed in its own nature but only becoming free from adventitious stains.

      As mentioned above, GC compares several times the two different approaches to meditation by Kamalaśīla and Maitrīpa (analytical meditation versus direct realization of mind’s luminosity), with the latter’s being said to be superior. In addition, GC’s section on the four yogas of Mahāmudrā in relation to the Uttaratantra and the Laṅkāvatārasūtra refers even to Atiśa's Madhyamakopadeśa as well as Kamalaśīla's three Bhāvanākramas and his commentary on the Avikalpapraveśadhāraṇī's saying that once all phenomena have been found to be nonexistent through analysis, one needs to rest in luminous nonconceptuality without mental engagement. In this vein, Gö Lotsāwa repeatedly states that the tathāgata heart—basic awareness beyond affirmation and negation—is not a nonimplicative negation and that it cannot be found anywhere else than right within our own mental afflictions. (pp. 310-314)

  1. The discussion of Gö Lotsāwa’s life and his GC (except for the part on GC’s comments on the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga) in this section is greatly indebted to the groundbreaking studies of this text in Mathes 2002; ’Gos lo tsā ba gzhon nu dpal 2003b, ix–xv; and Mathes 2008a. In particular, for a detailed account of Gö Lotsāwa’s life and his Mahāmudrā interpretation of the Uttaratantra, see Mathes 2008a, 131–47 and 367–410.
  2. Tib. De bzhin gshegs pa.
  3. Tib. Kun dga’ dpal ’byor.
  4. See Mathes 2008a, 143.
  5. GC, 574.8–13.
  6. The Fourth Shamarpa’s biography of Gö Lotsāwa also says that he taught, without contradiction, many teachings of former masters, such as those of the mahāsiddha Yumowa Mikyö Dorje, Gampopa and his disciples, Vanaratna, the trilogy of bodhisattva commentaries, and many Nyingma instructions (see Mathes 2008a, 146–47).
  7. For more details, see the chapter "The Uttaratantra and Mahāmudrā" as well as Mathes 2008a.
  8. GC, 8.3–13.2, 13.2–80.11, and 80.11–576.17, respectively. Sections (1) and (2) are translated in Mathes 2008a, 157–314.
  9. GC, 12.26–13.1.
  10. Ibid., 2.6–7, 5.10–21, and passim.
  11. Ibid., 74.25–26. As Mathes (2008a, 372) points out, this accords exactly with a statement by Jigden Sumgön (’Bri gung skyob pa ’jig rten gsum mgon 1998, 338.12–17)
  12. GC, 453.5–470.25. For a translation of this commentary, see Brunnhölzl 2012b, 301–28.
  13. Note that JKC (24) says the same.
  14. Note that the first two topics of the second chapter of the Uttaratantra (nature and cause) correspond to the first and sixth points of the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga's explanation of the fundamental change, with false imagination being what is to be relinquished and the nature of phenomena or nonconceptual wisdom being what is to be revealed. Directly or indirectly, the remaining six topics in the second chapter of the Uttaratantra are also discussed in the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga's section on the nature of phenomena.

Text Metadata

Other Titles ~ rgyud bla ma'i 'grel bshad de kho na nyid rab tu gsal ba'i me long
~ rgyud bla ma'i 'grel bshad de nyid gsal me

Text exists in ~ Tibetan
Literary Genre ~ Commentaries - 'grel pa
Commentary of ~ RKTST 3363