Grounds and paths
Grounds and Paths
This has three parts:
First, the path of accumulation of action tantra is “the path that begins from obtaining a fully qualified initiation and producing the uncontrived pledge to attain buddhahood through action tantra. It extends up to but not including obtaining the insight realizing emptiness derived from meditating on the absorption bestowing freedom at the limit of sound.”
Receiving empowerment in action tantra allows us to study it and obtain instruction on it. At first we are capable of generating only a contrived pledge to attain enlightenment by relying on action tantra. Such a pledge is “contrived” since it is generated only with effort and through generating a suitable motivation. The mind supporting such a pledge is neither stable nor present all the time. By becoming progressively more familiar with this pledge, we require
less and less effort to generate it, until it arises effortlessly in an uncontrived manner and abides stably. When such an uncontrived mind is generated, we enter the first moment of the path of accumulation of action tantra. We complete the path of accumulation and enter the first moment of the path of preparation of action tantra when we attain an insight realizing emptiness that is established through the absorption bestowing freedom at the limit of sound. Some scholars, such as this author, hold that the entrance to tantra and the entrance to the tantric path of accumulation are distinct. In terms of action tantra, we receive empowerment first and only later enter the path of accumulation when our pledge to attain the state of Vajradhara through relying on this tantra becomes uncontrived. From the perspective of the three types of empowerment—the maturing causal empowerment, the liberating path empowerment, and the liberated resultant empowerment133—the entrance to tantra is marked by receiving the maturing causal empowerment, since it authorizes us to study and listen to the root tantra and its commentaries. Others hold that there is no difference between the entrance to tantra and entrance to the tantric path of accumulation.
They posit that the causal empowerment is also the first moment of the tantric path of accumulation. The second type of empowerment, the liberating path empowerment, covers the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, and meditation for these lower classes of tantras. It is called “liberating” since it is the path liberating us from saṃsāra. The third, the liberated resultant empowerment, applies to the path of no-more learning. At this point you have attained your full potential.
Kirti Losang Trinlé has posited as the definition of the maturing causal empowerment “that which empowers us to listen, contemplate, and cultivate the paths of tantra, to accomplish its siddhis, and functions as the entrance to mantra.”134 There are three parts to this definition. The first part describes the permission to study, contemplate, and meditate on the tantra; the second part describes the permission to attain the siddhis; and the third part describes this quality of being the gateway to tantra. This definition can be modified to describe the maturing causal empowerment of action tantra: “that which empowers us to listen, contemplate, and cultivate the paths of action tantra, to accomplish the siddhis of action tantra, and functions as the entrance to action tantra.” By simply substituting the words “performance,” “yoga,” or “highest yoga” for the word “action,” we generate specific definitions for each class of tantra.
The path of preparation
The path of preparation of action tantra is “the path that extends from that insight up to but not including the perceptual realization of emptiness due to cultivating that absorption.” The second path is the path of preparation. It begins from the attainment of the union of calm abiding and insight realizing emptiness and extends up to, but does not include, the experience of the perceptual realization of emptiness due to cultivating the absorption bestowing freedom at the limit of sound.
The path of seeing
The path of seeing of action tantra is “the path that extends from the perceptual comprehension of emptiness through that absorption up to but not including the generation of the direct antidote to the coarsest of the coarse afflictive objects to be abandoned by the path of meditation.” The path of seeing begins when the perceptual realization of emptiness is generated by the might of the absorption bestowing freedom at the limit of sound. When active and manifest, it progressively abandons all objects to be abandoned by the path of seeing and extends up to the moment before we generate the first antidote to objects to be abandoned by the path of meditation.
The nine objects to be abandoned by the path of meditation are the coarsest of the coarse, the moderately coarse, the subtlest of the coarse, the coarsest of the medium, and so on, up to the subtlest of the subtle. When we are capable of manifesting the direct antidote to the coarsest of the coarse objects to be abandoned by the path of meditation, we enter the path of meditation. The path of meditation of action tantra is “the path that extends from the absorption [bestowing freedom] at the limit of sound that is the direct antidote to the coarsest of the coarse afflictive objects to be abandoned by the path of meditation up to the point preceding enlightenment attained through the path of action tantra.”
The path of no-more learning of action tantra is the path establishing buddhahood, or the state of Vajradhara. In brief we complete the path to enlightenment through serially progressing through the five paths, where the upper limit of the lower path precisely links with the lower limit of the higher path.135
The first ground is the path of seeing. The second ground exists once you attain the direct antidote to the coarsest of the coarse afflictive objects to be abandoned by the path of meditation. The third ground exists once you attain the direct antidote to the moderately coarse afflictions. [9a] The fourth ground exists once you attain the direct antidote to the subtlest of the coarse afflictions.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh grounds are established respectively by the attainment of the direct antidotes to the three levels of medium affliction. The eighth ground is established by the simultaneous attainment of the direct antidotes to all three levels of subtle affliction. You also abandon the coarsest knowledge obscurations on the eighth ground.
We enter the fifth, sixth, and seventh grounds by respectively generating the direct antidotes to the coarsest medium, the medium medium, and subtlest medium afflictive objects to be abandoned by the path of meditation. We enter the eighth ground by generating the direct antidote to the remaining three obscurations simultaneously: the coarsest of the subtle, the moderately subtle, and the subtlest of the subtle objects to be abandoned by the path of meditation. Further, after abandoning these, we also generate the antidote to the coarsest knowledge obscurations on the eighth ground.
The ninth ground is established by the attainment of the direct antidote to the intermediate level of knowledge obscurations. The tenth ground is established by the attainment of the direct antidote to the subtle level of knowledge obscurations. The direct antidote to the subtlest-subtle level of knowledge obscurations is posited as the pristine wisdom of the final continuum and so on.
This must be asserted in accordance with the sūtra system of the Prāsaṅgika school because the Buddha has not explained in any scriptural source that the method of abandoning both obscurations in the three lower classes of tantra is different from the Perfection Vehicle, and neither is that established by logic. The mode of abandoning obscurations is posited in accord with the sūtra system of the Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka school and not in accordance with the Svātantrika Mādhyamikas or any other lower system. This view is appropriate since no relevant presentation is found in any authoritative text and this presentation does not contradict logic. Moreover this view does not contradict the thought of Tsongkhapa in his Mantric Stages, where he presents the views of great scholars specializing in each class of tantra, such as Buddhaguhya and Paramabodhi, the main sources for action tantra.
How to posit the five paths and ten grounds of performance tantra and yoga tantra. The paths of accumulation of each of these two tantras are the paths extending from [first] producing the uncontrived pledge to attain enlightenment through either path up to but not including obtaining insight realizing emptiness due to meditating on the yoga without signs of either tantra.
The range of the paths of accumulation of performance and yoga tantras is similar to that of action tantra. Each path of accumulation begins with the generation of the uncontrived mind aspiring to the state of Vajradhara in dependence, respectively, on performance or yoga tantra. Then we enter in turn the practices of yoga with signs and yoga without signs. The end of the path of accumulation in both classes is the moment just prior to attaining the insight that arises from the absorption of yoga without signs.
The paths of preparation of each of these two tantras are the paths extending from the yoga without signs that is insight realizing emptiness of each tantra up to but not including the perceptual comprehension of emptiness. You can deduce the remaining paths by adapting the preceding definitions of similar type. The path of preparation begins at the point of termination of the path of accumulation. It starts with the generation of insight due to absorption realizing emptiness, and its range extends to the moment before the perceptual comprehension of emptiness that marks the beginning of the path of seeing. The beginning and end of the remaining paths and grounds may be adapted from the definitions already elucidated for action tantra.
Points of debate
One says: Take the paths explained in the Perfection Vehicle—such as love, compassion, and bodhicitta—that exist in the mental continuum of someone on the path of accumulation of the lower tantras: it follows that they are paths of lower tantra because you [[[Ngawang]] Palden] assert this method of positing the five paths and the ten grounds of these tantras.
A scholar asserts that there are beings who have entered the paths of accumulation of action, performance, or yoga tantras who possess in their minds various aspects of method such as love, compassion, and bodhicitta, practices first developed in the Perfection Vehicle. Should these methods therefore be classified as tantric paths? The scholar continues:
The author disagrees. Something need not be a path exclusive to tantra to be a tantric path. Tantric paths may be either shared or exclusive, and such practices may be classified as tantric paths through being included among the shared tantric paths.
Again this scholar says: Taking that same subject, it follows that they are Perfection Vehicle paths because they are shared Perfection Vehicle paths. This second point of debate uses logic similar to the first. The proponent refers to the love, compassion, and bodhicitta in the minds of practitioners on the path of accumulation of the three lower tantras, and he asserts that these should be classified as paths of the Perfection Vehicle because they are paths shared with the Perfection Vehicle.
Reply: That is not logically necessary because pristine awareness comprehending the sixteen aspects of impermanence and so forth in the mental continuum of a bodhisattva is a shared intermediate-scope path but not an intermediate-scope path and this is similar.
Ngawang Palden answers that indeed they are shared paths of the Perfection Vehicle but they are not paths of the Perfection Vehicle. This reason resembles the previous logic: if something is not an exclusive tantric path, it is not necessarily not a tantric path. Moreover an example from sūtra is applied to support this reason, for the comprehension of impermanence and so forth in the mental continuum of a bodhisattva is classified as a path shared with the practices of intermediate scope beings but it is not classified as an intermediate scope path. Just because a path is shared with the Perfection Vehicle does not automatically make it a Perfection Vehicle or sūtra path.
As to the method for attaining enlightenment in dependence on those paths, a being who newly attains enlightenment through the paths of the Perfection Vehicle and the paths of the three lower tantras must abide in Akaniṣṭha, because this is the system of the Perfection Vehicle.
What physical basis do we need to attain enlightenment dependent on the practices of the Perfection Vehicle or action, performance, or yoga tantras? This is stated in the Perfection Vehicle to be a body residing in the pure field of Akaniṣṭha, the seventeenth and highest level of the form realm. The way to attain enlightenment in action and performance tantra is similar to the Perfection Vehicle, and this was explained previously.
No new information is revealed regarding the way we attain enlightenment in action and performance tantra; the way we attain enlightenment in yoga tantra is presented separately. In Mantric Stages, Tsongkhapa mentions numerous Indian scholars in the field of yoga tantra, and the positions of three such eminent scholars are given here. These three are referred to in Tibetan by the composite term sha-sangkun , where sha refers to Śākyamitra, sang to Buddhaguhya, and kun to Ānandagarbha.140 The first two scholars hold the same position, which differs from the position of the third.
The positions of Śākyamitra and Buddhaguhya
In accordance with yoga tantra, both Śākyamitra and Buddhaguhya explain that when Prince Siddhārtha entered equipoise on the supreme limit of the fourth absorption near the Nirañjana River, all the buddhas of the ten directions awoke him by snapping their fingers, inspired him, and escorted him to Akaniṣṭha. There, after bestowing the crown empowerment, they encouraged him to meditate serially on the five stages of enlightenment, and at the completion of that process, he attained enlightenment as an enjoyment body.
The masters Śākyamitra and Buddhaguhya assert that Prince Siddhārtha, who had the body of a desire-realm being, was escorted to the Akaniṣṭha pure land and there obtained the crown empowerment and meditated on the five stages of enlightenment on the basis of his desire-realm body. He then completed the remaining stages of the paths and attained enlightenment with an enjoyment body.
Reply: However, we cannot accept this in our system since it is incompatible with the general system of the Mahāyāna. Mantric Stages states: The Uncommon Secret Tantra as well as Stainless Light specifically state that our Master attained enlightenment before this, and in this world he merely demonstrated the way of attaining enlightenment. Many other mantras also assert that he manifested as an emanation and did not newly attain enlightenment, and the Mantra and the Perfection Vehicles both hold similar positions.
These masters accept that Prince Siddhārtha newly attained enlightenment in Akaniṣṭha, for they assert that he was escorted to the Akaniṣṭha pure land with a physical basis of a desire-realm being and attained enlightenment there as an enjoyment body. But this assertion would contradict the general system of the Mahāyāna that Buddha Śākyamuni had attained enlightenment long before he appeared in this world as Prince Siddhārtha and that he merely demonstrated the aspect of attaining enlightenment here. To support this position the author quotes Jé Rinpoché’s Mantric Stages, and Jé Rinpoché in turn relies on authoritative texts such as Puṇḍarīka’s Stainless Light commentary to the Kālacakra tantra and the Uncommon Secret Tantra. Jé Rinpoché also holds that this position conforms to statements found in both the Sūtra and Mantra Vehicles.
The position of Ānandagarbha
We must accept the position of Master Ānandagarbha, who explains that the Master accumulated merit for three countless eons [10a] and in his final existence entered equipoise on the supreme limit of the fourth absorption in Akaniṣṭha and was awakened by all the buddhas of the ten directions snapping their fingers and so forth.
Ānandagarbha makes no reference to the events taking place by the Nirañjana River, nor is there mention of possessing a physical basis of the desire realm.145 The author sources his presentation of Ānandagarbha’s position in Jé Rinpoché’s Lamp Illuminating the Five Stages of Guhyasāmaja. Illuminating Lamp states:
Now the Compendium merely states that when the bodhisattva Siddhārtha was seated near the Bodhi Tree, the tathāgatas inspired him; it does not clearly refer to Akaniṣṭha or the desire realm. Vajra Peak explains this to be the Akaniṣṭha field called Ghanavyūha.146 We have already mentioned that there are four tantras related to yoga tantra. These quotations are taken from the condensed root tantra, Compendium of the Reality of All Tathāgatas, and the explanatory tantra, Vajra Peak.
Reply: This is unacceptable because although highest yoga tantra clearly explains two different ways of attaining enlightenment through differentiating this path from other paths, it is not explained this way in yoga tantra. Illuminating Lamp states:
The system of highest yoga tantra explains two systems, namely that of jewel-like disciples who enter this path from the beginning and attain enlightenment in one life, and that of disciples who add the mantric path at the end of the Perfection Vehicle path.
Highest yoga tantra describes two types of practitioners. First are those who enter the tantric path of accumulation from the beginning and achieve enlightenment by following highest yoga tantra without first traversing the sūtra path. Such jewel-like disciples, as they are called, possess definite lineage, since they enter just one vehicle, and they are categorized in four types, the best of which attains enlightenment in one life. Second are those who
first enter the Perfection Vehicle and later supplement this path with tantric practices. Such disciples do not possess a definite lineage, since they first enter one vehicle and later enter another vehicle. However, Illuminating Lamp does not mention that these two types of disciples exist in yoga tantra. The system of yoga tantra does not appear to state that you append the previously explained path of yoga on to the path of the Perfection Vehicle, making a distinction between this path and other paths; it also does not clearly identify a method for attaining enlightenment that is separate from the Perfection Vehicle. I wonder, therefore, whether the explanation that enlightenment is attained through being inspired by the buddhas after completing the ground previously explained, and so on, is the system of this path. This should be well examined.
This statement implies that what applies to the Perfection Vehicle in light of highest yoga tantra is not really applicable to yoga tantra. Yoga tantra appears to have its own distinct system, and for that reason Jé Rinpoché suggests this issue should be examined carefully.
Therefore, I wonder whether it shouldn’t be asserted—within the system of yoga tantra—that our Master attained enlightenment through entering that path of yoga tantra from the beginning and that to attain enlightenment [10b] by the Perfection Vehicle, it is not necessary to add the path of yoga tantra. Having quoted the passage from Illuminating Lamp, Ngawang Palden concludes that from the perspective of yoga tantra, we may assert that our Master, Śākyamuni Buddha, attained enlightenment by entering the path of yoga tantra from the very beginning without relying on the path of the Perfection Vehicle. Explanation of the Two Investigations explains that the mantric path is added at the end of the Perfection Vehicle.
Explanation of the Two Investigations is an explanatory text on the root tantra of Hevajra composed by Khedrup Rinpoché. In this work Khedrup Jé states that supplementing the sūtra paths with mantra paths does exist. Still, this possibility is not mentioned within the texts of yoga tantra, according to which Buddha Śākyamuni attained enlightenment by entering the path of yoga tantra from the beginning.
This concludes the presentation of the three lower tantras.