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How is Consciousness (rnam shes) Related to Wisdom (ye shes)? The Eighth Karma pa on Buddhist Differentiation and Unity Models of Reality (part II)

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David Higgins

University of Vienna


Abstract


This study (published in two successive articles) examines how Mi bskyod rdo rje (1507‒1554), the Eighth Karma pa of the Karma Bka’ brgyud lineage, articulates and defends a key distinction between consciousness (rnam shes) and wisdom (ye shes). The first article outlined the author’s clarification of the distinction both as an accurate account of the nature and structure of human consciousness and as an indispensable principle of Buddhist soteriology. He argued that human beings have two “concurrent but nonconvergent” modes of awareness, conditioned and unconditioned. The second article – part two – focuses on the author’s vindication and further clarifications of the distinction between

consciousness and wisdom in response to certain rival Tibetan views which in his view has tended to elide their differences and thus confuse the ever-present ground and goal of the Buddhist path (innate wisdom) with what has to be abandoned along the way (adventitious consciousness). Key words: Tibetan Buddhism, Bka’ brgyud, Kagyu, Mi bskyod rdo rje, consciousness, wisdom, jñāna, mind, Buddhist philosophy of mind, Buddhist models of reality, two truths, ultimate truth, contextualism Słowa kluczowe: buddyzm tybetański, Bka’ brgyud, Kagyu, Mi bskyod rdo rje, świadomość, mądrość, jñāna, umysł, buddyjska filozofia umysłu, buddyjski model rzeczywistości, dwie prawdy, prawda ostateczna, kontekstualizm


1 The first part of this study – How is Consciousness (rnam shes) Related to Wisdom (ye shes)? The Eighth Karma pa on Buddhist Differentiation and Unity Models of Reality – appears in: “Studia Religiologica” 2015, No. 4 (49), p. 341–361.


1. Defending a robust distinction between wisdom and consciousness


For the Eighth Karma pa, the distinction between wisdom and consciousness is as indispensable to a correct understanding of the Buddhist path and goal as is the parallel distinction between buddha nature and its adventitious stains. A clear example is his critique of the tantric buddha nature theory outlined in the Cakrasaṃvara Commentary (Bde mchog rnam bshad)2 by Shākya mchog ldan (1423‒1507), which forms the second part of the Karma pa’s two-part Nerve Tonic for the Elderly.3 Whereas the first part of the critique had faulted ’Gos lo’s view of buddha nature with blurring the distinction between buddha nature and adventitious stains, the second and final part takes aim at Shākya mchog

ldan’s epistemology, focusing specifically on his tendency to elide the distinction between consciousness and wisdom. By initially pointing out this structural weakness in the author’s epistemological system, Mi bskyod rdo rje proceeds to demonstrate how the entire edifice of Shākya mchog ldan’s buddha nature theory collapses under its own weight due to this weakness. In comparing this critique with Shākya mchog ldan’s extant commentary and some of his other writings,4 and taking stock of other criticisms of Shākya mchog ldan by Mi bskyod rdo rje in his Madhyamakāvatāra (MA) commentary and one of his Replies to Questions (dris lan) texts, it is possible to provide


2 This text is found under the combined title ‘Khor lo sdom pa la rgyun chags kyi sdeb sbyor gyi sgo nas bstod pa dang | | Bde mchog rnam bshad dpal dang po’i sangs rgyas rab tu grub pa in The Complete Works (gsung ‘bum) of Gser-mdog Paṇ chen Shākya mchog ldan, 24 Vols, Delhi 1995, Vol. 8, p. 1‒193. The text is hereafter referred to as Bde mchog rnam bshad or Cakrasaṃvara Commentary. 3 The author’s auto-bibliography refers to this text by the full title A Nerve Tonic for the Elderly: An Analysis of both “The Secrets of the Three Continua” by Rje Yid bzang rtse ba and “Cakrasaṃvara Commentary” by Paṇ chen Shākya mchog [ldan]. This work is more commonly known by the short title The Sublime

Fragrance of Nectar (bdud rtsi’i dri mchog). Like many Tibetan commentaries and treatises, the text bears a long explanatory title followed by a short ornamental title. We have here adopted the ornamental title Nerve Tonic for the Elderly (rgan po’i rlung sman) that was used by the author himself in the aforementioned bibliography of his own works he included in his spiritual memoirs (Mi bskyod rdo rje’i spyad pa’i rabs) composed at the age of forty, i.e. six to seven years before his death. The three editions of the text consulted for this study and a later bibliography of his student and biographer Zhwa dmar IV Chos grags ye shes, bear the ammended ornamental title Sublime Fragrance of Nectar

(bdud rtsi’i dri mchog). The full title used in the collections is Rje yid bzang rtse pa’i rgyud gsum gsang ba dang | paṇ chen shakya mchog ldan gyi bde mchog rnam bshad gnyis kyi mthar thug gi ’bras bu gzhi dus gnas lugs | lam dus kyi rnal ’byor rnams la dpyad pa bdud rtsi’i dri mchog ces bya ba bzhugs. References, unless otherwise specified, are to the edition contained in the Mi bskyod rdo rje gsung ’bum (hereafter MKsb), Vol. 15, 975‒1024. This text is hereafter referred to by the abbreviated title Tonic. 4 Shākya mchog ldan’s Cakrasaṃvara Commentary (Bde mchog rnam bshad) was among the last of his works specifically dedicated to the topic of buddha nature. A most useful listing of more than twenty texts of different genres by the author that discuss buddha nature is given by Y. Komarovski, Reburying the Treasure ‒ Maintaining the Continuity: Two Texts by Shakya Chokden on the Buddha-Essence, “Journal of Indian Philosophy” 2006, Vol. 34, No. 6, p. 521‒570. This article also includes translations of two important texts specifically on buddha nature, the Rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi nges don sngon med nyi ma, Shākya mchog ldan gsung ’bum (hereafter SCsb), Vol. 13, 121‒1326 and Sangs rgyas kyi snying po’i rnam bshad mdo rgyud snying po, SCsb, Vol. 13, 1326–1465.


a balanced, if necessarily concise, appraisal of the eighth Karma pa’s critique and the particular views it targets. Mi bskyod rdo rje focuses the first part of his criticism of Shākya mchog ldan’s buddha nature theory on a passage from the latter’s Cakrasaṃvara Commentary, which first distinguishes between “the aspect of dual appearances [of] looking outward through the sense-gates at substances or characteristics and the aspect of the [ordinary] clear and knowing [[[cognition]]] (gsal rig) looking inward”, and then proceeds to identify the first as “conventional saṃsāra, the aspect of the stains that are posited as saṃsāra and the apprehended aspects of consciousness, the knowable objects” and the latter with “the ultimate saṃsāra, natural nirvāṇa, the apprehending aspect, and that which bears the namewisdom’.” On this basis, Shākya mchog ldan concludes that these together comprise the abiding condition of all conventional phenomena and that they are pervaded by buddha nature, which is also called the causal

continuum (rgyud) and is the ultimate Guhyasamāja maṇḍala. The relevant passage from Shākya mchog ldan’s Bde mchog rnam bshad reads as follows: Hence, it is determined that saṃsāric phenomena are mere appearances before consciousness and that nirvāṇic phenomena are the experienced objects of wisdom. Among these, the latter do not need to be analyzed at this stage. Among the two factors of consciousness – i.e., [1] the factor of dual appearances [of] looking outward through the sense-gates at substances or characteristics and [2] the factor of the clear and knowing [[[cognition]]] (gsal rig) looking inward, [1] the first is [defined as] conventional saṃsāra, the factor consisting in the stains that are posited as saṃsāra and the apprehended aspects of consciousness, the knowable objects. [2] The latter


is defined as the ultimate saṃsāra, natural nirvāṇa, the apprehending aspect, and that which is designated as ‘wisdom’.5 Since the abiding nature of all conventional phenomena does not exist apart from just these, it is impossible for them not to be pervaded by buddha nature that is called continuum (tantra) and is the ultimate [[[Guhya]]]samāja maṇḍala (don dam pa’i ’dus dkyil) of all phenomena.6 As has been stated [[[Hevajratantra]] I.viii.41cd]: By me is this all pervaded. Another nature of the world [of beings] is not seen.7


And, as noted by the venerable Ghaṇṭapāda:8


5 See, for example, Bde mchog rnam bshad, 156‒161 where Shākya mchog ldan states the following: “Generally, in these scriptures of the Unsurpassed Mantra, the entire range of conditional knowable objects are [classified in terms of] the conventional and ultimate, the dharmin and dharmatā, and the object-possessor (yul can) is subdivided into [ordinary] consciousness (rnam shes) and wisdom (ye shes). Thus, ultimately, the object (yul) is only the ultimate and suchness, and the object-possessor (yul can) is not explained as other than wisdom itself.” spyir sngags bla med kyi gzhung dag na gnas skabs su yul shes bya mtha’ dag la kun rdzob dang don dam gnyis su dang | chos can dang chos nyid dag tu dang | yul can la rnam shes dang | ye shes dag tu so sor phye nas | mthar thug yul don dam dang de bzhin nyid kho na dang | yul can ye shes nyid las gzhan du mi ‘chad do | | 6 We have read ’dus dkyil as an abbreviation of gsang ’dus [kyi] dkyil ’khor (Guhyasamājamaṇḍala). 7 Hevajratantra part I, VIII.41b: madvyāpitam idam sarvaṃ nānyamayaṃ dṛṣṭaṃ jagat | Tib. Hevajratantra part I, VIII.41cd: nga yis ’di kun khyab ste | ’gro ba’i rang bzhin gzhan ma mthong | | See D. Snellgrove, The Hevajra Tantra: A Critical Study, 2 Vols, London 1959, Vol. 2, p. 30‒31. Note that the meaning of jagat (’gro ba) is “world” or “wandering (i.e. transmigrating) beings”. 8 Ghaṇṭapāda (Tib. Dril bu zhabs; a.k.a. Vajraghaṇṭa: Tib. Rdo rje dril bu), author of the above-quoted Śrīcakrasaṃvaraṣekaprakriyopadeśa (Tib. Dpal ’khor lo sdom pa’i dbang gi bya ba mdor bsdus pa),

All these beings are the naturally accomplished maṇḍala Which is nondual.9 10 On the Eighth Karma pa’s reading, this passage contains all the epistemological weaknesses needed to bring down the entire edifice of Shākya mchog ldan’s buddha nature theory. What the Karma pa finds particularly vulnerable is the Sa skya scholar’s identification of ‘clear and knowing cognition’ – the subjective, inwardlooking part of consciousness – with nondual wisdom, and the alignment of these object and subject poles of consciousness with the two truths, the conventional and ultimate respectively. This equation is attributed to the Sa skya master’s endorsement of an Alīkākāravāda11 Cittamātra stance which

identifies the apprehending aspect of cognition with nondual wisdom. The problem from the Karma pa’s perspective is that the explanatory force of the demarcation between consciousness and wisdom, which serves as an essential, and often highly illuminating, leitmotif, in Shākya mchog ldan’s own doctrinal system, is irremediably weakened by linking the subject pole of consciousness with wisdom and drawing further correlations based on this was an important figure in the Indian Cakrasaṃvara lineage. Tibetan historical and biographical sources identify him as one of a trio of Indian mahāsiddhas–Luhipāda, Kāṇhāpāda and Ghaṇṭapāda himself (lu nag dril gsum) – who are credited with establishing important Indo-Tibetan lineages of Cakrasaṃvara teachings and initiations. See The Blue Annals, G. Roerich (tr.), Delhi 1976, p. 228 and R. Davidson, Reflections on the Maheśvara Subjugation Myth: Indic Materials, Sa-skya-pa Apologetics, and the Birth of Heruka, “Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies” 1991, Vol. 14/2, p. 221 and n. 52 which provides Sa skya biographical sources on these three masters. 9 

Śrīcakrasaṃvaraṣekaprakriyopadeśa, D 1431, 4385‒6. 10 The full passage occurs in Bde mchog rnam bshad, 294‒301 as follows: de la ’khor ba’i chos rnam shes la snang tsam dang | mya ngan las ’das pa’i chos ye shes kyi myong bya nyid du nges pa las | phyi ma la re zhig dpyad mi dgos shing | rnam shes la rdzas sam mtshan nyid kyi sgo nas phyi blta gnyis snang gi cha dang | nang blta gsal rig gi cha gnyis las | dang po la ni | kun rdzob pa’i ’khor ba dang | ’khor bar ’jog byed kyia dri ma’i cha dang | rnam shes kyi gzung rnam shes bya la | phyi ma la ni don dam pa’i ’khor ba dang | rang bzhin myang ’das dang | ’dzin rnam dang ye shes kyi ming can dag tu nges la | kun rdzob pa’i chos thams cad kyi gnas tshul ni | ’di kho na las gzhan du yod pa ma yin pas na | chos thams cad kyi don dam pa’i ’dus dkyil dang | rgyud kyi ming can du gyur pa’i de bzhin gshegs pa’i snying pos

ma khyab pa mi srid do | | de skad du yang | nga yis ’di kun khyab pa ste | |’gro ba’i rang bzhin gzhan ma mthong | | zhes dang | dril bu zhabs kyis | ’gro ba ’di dag rang bzhin gyi | | grub pa’i dkyil ’khor gnyis med pa’o | | aaddit. as per two alternate editions (see D. Higgins, M. Draszczyk, Mahāmudrā and the Middle Way: Post-classical Kagyü Discourses on Mind, Emptiness and Buddha-nature, Wien 2016). 11 The designations Nirākāra[[[vāda]]] (rnam med) and Alīkākāra[[[vāda]]] (rnam rdzun) were used, respectively, for Cittamātra branches that maintained the nonexistence of mental representations (aspects), or maintained that such representations are false. The designations Sākāra[[[vāda]]] (rnam bcas) and Satyākāra[[[vāda]]] (rnam bden) referred to Cittamātra branch that maintained the existence of representations, or maintained that they are true. For references to

secondary literature on these Madhyamaka subclassifications, see K. Mimaki. Blo gsal grub mtha’: Chapitres IX (Vaibhāṣika) et XI (Yogācāra) édités et Chapitre XII (Mādhyamika) édité et traduit, Kyoto 1982, p. 27‒38, D. Seyfort Ruegg, Three Studies in the History of Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka Philosophy, Wien 2000, p. 55‒58; O. Almogi, Māyopamādvayavāda versus Sarvadharmāpratiṣṭhānavāda: A Late Indian Subclassifica tion of Madhyamaka and its Reception in Tibet, “Journal of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies” 2010, Vol. 14, p. 135‒212; O. Almogi, Yogācāra in the Writings of the Eleventh-Century Rnying ma Scholar Rong zom Chos kyi bzang po. [in:] The Foundation for Yoga Practitioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet, U.T. Kragh (Ed.), Harvard Oriental Series 75, Cambridge‒Massachusetts 2013, p. 1330–1361.

identification. As Mi bskyod rdo rje and much of the Indian Buddhist tradition sees it, ordinary consciousness (vijñāna : rnam shes) is understood to be dualistic precisely on account of its subjectivising and objectivising operations, its inward-looking apprehending aspect and outward-looking apprehended aspects: Since there is no difference between these insofar as they are [both] the clear and knowing aspect that is [just] a hallmark of [[[mundane]]] consciousness, even these two streams of this clear and knowing aspect stem from the element of karmic predispositions. And because it is [just] a hallmark of other-dependent cognition, and because such knowing also consists in the know- er that arises from the ālayavijñāna like waves from water, it is not beyond the adventitious stains that are to be relinquished. So, how could that [clear and knowing cognition] possibly be

wisdom?12 In other words, Shākya mchog ldan has wrongly identified the clear and knowing cognition of the inward-looking, subject pole – or apprehending aspect (’dzin rnam) – with nondual wisdom,13 and the outward-looking object-perception with dualistic consciousness. These identifications are untenable in the Karma pa’s eyes because they align the distinction between consciousness and wisdom with the two streams of dualistic consciousness: the objectifying “outward looking” and subjectivising “inward-looking” poles. Yet, it is for Mi bskyod rdo rje a cornerstone of Buddhist doctrine and praxis to regard these latter as precisely the two aspects of dualistic consciousness – identified by the Yogācāra school as originating from the conditioned ālayavijñāna due to karmic predispositions – which are jointly destroyed by nondual wisdom. Put simply, nondual wisdom is

fundamentally a wisdom in which both the objectifying (outward-looking) and the subjectivising (inward-looking) activities of cognition have ceased. The opponent descends further down this slippery slope in equating wisdom not only with this generic clear and knowing (gsal rig) aspect of cognition but also with self-awareness (rang rig). In fact, Shākya mchog ldan alleges that mundane consciousness (rnam shes) lacks this clear and knowing character of consciousness on the rationale that it deals only with the obscured conventional truth/reality and therefore has a merely nominal existence.14 Against this view, Mi bskyod rdo rje follows the epistemological tradition of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti in taking the clear and knowing (gsal rig) property to be a defining characteristic of cognition in the most general sense. He moreover follows this tradition in taking self-awareness (rang rig : svasaṃvedana)


12 Rgan po’i rlung sman, in: D. Higgins, M. Draszczyk, Mahāmudrā..., Vol. II, p. 115: rnam shes kyi ngo bo gsal rig gi cha yin pa la khyad par med pas | gsal rig gi cha’i rgyun de gnyis kyangdu byed kyi khams las byung ba dang | gzhan dbang rnam rig gi ngo bo yin pa’i phyir dang | de’i shes pa’ang kun gzhi’i rnam par shes pa las chu las rlabs ’byung ba lta bu’i shes pa can yin pa’i phyir | spang bya glo bur gyi dri ma las mi ’da’ bas | de ye shes su ci ltar rung | 13 See, for example, Rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi nges don sngon med nyi ma (SCsb(c) Vol. 13, 1306‒1311), where Shākya mchog ldan says that “without primordially present wisdom, mistaken appearances do not arise and [hence] this aspect of the inward-looking apprehending of mistaken appearances is definitely present as wisdom... gdod ma nas grub pa’i ye shes med par ’khrul snang mi ’char zhing | ’khrul snang gi kha nang blta ’dzin rnam gyi cha de gdod ma’i ye shes su nges par gnas... 14 See Y. Komarovski, Visions of Unity. The Golden Paṇḍita Shakya Chogden’s New Interpretation of Yogācāra and Madhyamaka, Albany 2011, p. 240‒241.

to be the self-evident hallmark of sentience such that its presence or absence is what distinguishes the sentient from the insentient (jaḍa).15 Now, such reflexive awareness, unless it is linked with yogic direct perception, is neither to be identified with wisdom nor with nirvāṇa: “This self-aware direct perception (rang rig mngon sum : svasaṃvedanapratyakṣa) is not nirvāṇa because, in the context of classifying types of mentation (blo ris ’du ba), it is said to exist in all ordinary individuals and is therefore sharply separated from yogic direct perception (rnal ’byor mngon sum : yogipratyakṣa). Hence it is not at all correct [to call it] nirvāṇa.”16 To summarise, the Eighth Karma pa does not have to dig too deep to expose the shaky foundation on which Shākya mchog ldan has erected his epistemology. In reifying the apprehending aspect of consciousness and elevating it to the status of nondual wisdom, Shākya mchog ldan is said to have followed the epistemological blueprint of the Alīkākāra Cittamātra tradition17 – which, in later works, he began to style as a Madhyamaka system.18 Three related points need to be made concerning Mi bskyod rdo rje’s own view of this Cittamātra tradition, his appraisal of Shākya mchog ldan’s doxographical classification of it, and the difference between his own philosophical orientation and that of his rival. The first concerns the questionability of regarding the Alīkākāra tradition as a Madhyamaka system in light of both doxographic and definitional considerations. In terms of doxography, Mi bskyod rdo rje bluntly states in his MA commentary that neither Shākya mchog ldan’s identification of Alīkākāra with Madhyamaka, nor his claim that the distinction between Satyākāra and Alīkākāra – i.e. those who believe representations to be true or false, respectively – is really a distinction between Cittamātra and Madhyamaka respectively, are in accord with the doxography of philosophical systems19 allegedly outlined by the 15 Śāntarakṣita Madhyamakālaṃkāra (MAL 16 = Tattvasaṃgraha k. 2000), Ichigō (ed.), Kyoto 1985, p. 70 f.: vijñānaṃ jaḍarūpebhyo vyāvṛttam upajāyate | iyam evātmasaṃvittir asya yā ’jaḍarūpatā | | Tib. rnam shes bem po’i rang bzhin las | | bzlog pa rab tu skye ba ste | bems min rang bzhin gang yin pa | de ’di’i bdag nyid shes pa yin | | “Consciousness

arises as something opposed to the nature of insentient matter. That whose nature is non-material has this self-awareness.” 16 Rgan po’i rlung sman, MKsb Vol. 15, 10124‒5: rang rig mngon sum ’di myang ’das min te | blo ris ’du ba’i skabs su ’di so so skye bo thams cad la yod par bshad pas | rnal ’byor mngon sum las kyang zur du phye ba’i phyir | rnam pa thams cad du myang ’das su mi ’ong ngo | | The distinction between these two types of direct perception is of central importance for distinguishing between self-conscious direct observation which remains dualistic and yogic direct perception which is nondual. 17 See the section in Rgan po’i rlung sman, MKsb Vol. 15, 10136‒10141 which begins “Well now, is there anyone who claims that the so-called “apprehending aspect” is nondual wisdom? This indeed is claimed by the Alīkākāravāda-Cittamātra [school].” 18 Komarovski has noted that the author’s identification of the Alīkākāra system with Madhyamaka instead of with Cittamātra as was traditionally accepted, and the introduction of the term rnam bdzun dbu ma pa (*Alīkākāra-Mādhyamika), begin to appear in texts no earlier than 1477, this being the composition date of his Theg pa chen po dbu ma rnam par nges pa’i bang mdzod lung dang rigs pa’i rgya mtsho (SCsb Vols. 14–15) in which these identifications are first found. See Y. Komarovski, Reburying the Treasure—Maintaining the Continuity: Two Texts by Shakya Chokden on the Buddha-Essence, “Journal of Indian Philosophy” 2006, Vol. 34, No. 6, p. 521‒570. 19 On the main subclassification of Cittamātra into Nirākāravāda (Non-representationalists) and Sākāravāda (Representationalists) as attested in canonical sources such as Candraharipāda’s *Ratnamālā, Jñānavajra’s *Tattvamārgadarśana and Vajrapāṇi’s *Guruparamparākramopadeśa, a commentary on Maitrīpa´s Tattvaratnāvalī, see O. Almogi, Māyopamādvayavāda versus Sarvadharmāpratiṣṭhānavāda:

Buddha in authoritative Indian texts.20 The distinction, he contends, was introduced in order to classify the philosophical positions of two Cittamātra philosophies which both “took as their doctrinal basis (gzhi) the claim that mind is truly established as ultimate” (sems don dam bden grub par ’dod pa gzhir byas) but diverged on the issue of whether they affirmed or denied the existence of (true) mental representations (rnam pa yod med).21 Concerning the related matter of definition, the Alīkākāra tradition, which believes mental representations to be false, nonetheless holds that nondual wisdom or consciousness in itself are truly established as ultimate.22 In other words, despite its position that mental representations are delusive, this tradition has not relinquished the belief in cognition as a real entity having real properties, whether this is grounded in a

representationalist or non-representationalist epistemology.23 Now, in Mi bskyod A Late Indian Subclassifica tion of Madhyamaka and its Reception in Tibet, “Journal of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies” 2010, Vol. 14, p. 137‒138. See also O. Almogi, Yogācāra in the Writings of the Eleventh-Century Rnying ma Scholar Rong zom Chos kyi bzang po [in:] The Foundation for Yoga Practitioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet, U.T. Kragh (Ed.), Cambridge, Massachusetts 2013, p. 1330–1361, for an analysis of further Tibetan subclassifications of Sākāravāda (Representationalists), known by some Tibetans scholars as Samala-Sākāravāda, into *Sātyākāravāda (Those who proclaim representations are real) and *Alīkākāravāda (Those who proclaim representations are false), and the still further subdivision of *Alīkākāravāda into *Samala-Alīkākāravāda (Those who proclaim distorted false representations) and *Nirmala-Alīkākāravāda (Those who proclaim undistorted false representations). 20 Dwags brgyud grub pa’i shing rta, 273‒5: ...sems tsam rnam bden

rdzun gyi khyad par dbu sems kyi khyad parbyed byed du smras pas | grub mtha’i rnam gzhag sangs rgyas kyi bstan pa dang mi mthun pa’i phyir | | 21 See Dwags brgyud grub pa’i shing rta (2715‒281) where he distinguishes the two as follows: “[1] According to the first [i.e. Sākāravādins, Representationalists], there is no subject-object duality with regard to external objects and hence all the phenomena regarded as such are asserted to be Mind Only. However, the subject-object [[[relation]]] belonging to the representation (rnam pa) of the object with regard to the inner cognition is asserted to be an independent substance (rdzas gzhan). [2] According to the second [i.e. Nirākāravādins, Nonrepresentationalists], by asserting in that way that the subject-object [relationship] with regard to the inner cognition is an independent substance, the selflessness of phenomena would not obtain. Therefore, proclaiming that these representations are just false, like falling hairs [in one suffering from ‘floaters’], they proclaim that it is precisely the nondual wisdom (ye shes) or consciousness (rnam shes) that is truly established.” [1] dang pos phyi don la bltos pa’i gzung ’dzin gnyis med pas der bltos kyi chos thams cad sems tsam du khas len kyang nang shes pa la bltos pa’i don gyi rnam pa’i gzung ’dzin rdzas gzhan khas len la | [2] gnyis pas de ltar na nang shes pa la bltos pa’i

gzung ’dzin rdzas gzhan khas blangs pas chos kyi bdag med mi ’byung bas rnam pa de dag skra shad brdzun pa nyid du smras nas gnyis med kyi ye shes sam rnam shes nyid bden grub par smra’o | | Note here that wisdom and consciousness are treated by these Nirākāravādins as virtual synonyms, an identification which, as we have previously noted, Mi bskyod rdo rje considers to be based on a fundamental confusion. 22 See preceding note. In Dwags brgyud grub pa’i shing rta (4710‒12), Mi bskyod rdo rje follows the criticism of Stag tsang Lo tsā ba Shes rab rin chen who had identified a number of Tibetan traditions professing to be Madhyamaka whose views did not warrant this designation: “According to Stang tshang lo tsā ba Shes rab rin chen, since the Alīkākāra adherents claim that nondual wisdom is truly established, it does not make sense [to call their tradition] Madhyamaka.” stag tshang lo tsā ba shes rab rin chen gyis | rnam rdzun pas gnyis med kyi ye shes bden grub par smra bas dbu mar mi rigs ... 23 Mi bskyod rdo rje would appear to identify the Alīkākāra as non-representationalist (Nirākāravāda), unlike Rong zom, for example, who treated the *Sātyākāravāda (Those who proclaim representations are real) and *Alīkākāravāda (Those who proclaim representations are false) as subdivisions of the Sākāravāda (Represen-tationalists). See O. Almogi, Rong-zom-pa’s Discourses on Buddhology: A Study

rdo rje’s view, if there is one defining and unifying principle of Madhyamaka traditions, it is their blanket rejection of all types of realism, from substance ontologies to subjective idealism, a view epitomised in the expression “freedom from extremes of existence and nonexistence” (yod med mtha’ bral). In the Karma pa’s eyes, it matters not whether it is “external” phenomena or “internal” minds that are taken as real entities having real properties; in either case, such realist assumptions automatically disqualify their proponents from the antirealist viewpoint which alone merits the designation “Madhyamaka”. The second, related point made by Mi bskyod rdo rje is that the Alīkākāra and

Satyākāra tenets were both not only traditionally identified as Cittamātra, but were also said to have been decisively refuted and transcended by Madhyamaka views, above all by the Apratiṣṭhānavāda Madhyamaka-Mahāmudrā system24 of Maitrīpa25 and his colleagues that combined the Madhyamaka system of Nāgārjuna with the Mahāmudrā instructions of Saraha and his followers. In his MA commentary, the Karma pa mentions that Maitrīpa, upon defeating Ratnākaraśānti, a Nirākāra Cittamātra proponent, in debate, was given the title “Victor” (rgyal ba : jina).26 In this connection, the author then quotes as scriptural support the second stanza from Maitrīpa’s Tattvadaśaka: “For one who wishes to know suchness (tathatā), there is neither Sākāra nor Nirākāra; Even a Middle [Way] not adorned with the Guru’s words of Various Conceptions of Buddhahood in Indian Sources with Special Reference to the Controversy Surrounding the Existence of Gnosis (jñāna : ye shes) as Presented by the Eleventh-Century Tibetan Scholar Rong-zom Chos-kyi-bzang-po, Tokyo 2009; and Idem, Māyopamādvayavāda... 24 It was standard practice in the Indian doxographies to show how and

why each higher-ranking view transcends the one just below it and, in some cases, how it is defined in contrast to it. As an example consider Jñānavajra’s account of the Māyopamādvayavāda (“The strand which maintains that [[[phenomena]]] are nondual, inasmuch as they are like illusions”) Madhyamaka position as summarised by Orna Almogi: “The Māyopamavādins reject the positions of both Sākāravāda (i.e. here clearly Satyākāravāda, which maintains the existence of true images) and Nirkākāravāda (which maintains the nonexistence of images), asserting that it is neither the case that images are true nor that there are no images, but rather that images are like illusions, which, like any other phenomena, are impermanent on account of being momentary, but at the same time continuous (skad cig gis mi rtag la rgyun du gnas), that is, in terms of their mode of appearance. Therefore, according to them, on the absolute level images, when analysed, are unattestable; still, the illusions are true, since otherwise experiencing happiness or suffering would be fictitious (brdzun), and it would then be pointless to strive for Buddhahood, while the four buddha-Bodies for their part would not exist either.”

Jñānavajra goes on to specify how the still higher Apratiṣṭhānavāda (“Those who maintain [all phenomena] are not fixed [in nature or origin]”) Madhyamaka position in turn rejects the Māyopamavādin view that all representations are ultimately illusory, arguing that this refers only to the conventional level, the ultimate being beyond negative or positive determination, and without any substratum whatsoever. See O. Almogi, Māyopamādvayavāda..., p. 147‒148. Concerning different interpretations of Apratiṣṭhāna in Maitrīpa’s exegesis, see K.-D. Mathes, Can Sūtra Mahāmudrā be Justified on the Basis of Maitrīpa’s Apratiṣṭhānavāda? [in:] Pramāṇakīrtiḥ. Papers Dedicated to Ernst Steinkellner on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, B. Kellner, H. Krasser et al. (Eds.), Wien 2007. 25 On doxographical systems attributed to Advayavajra (traditionally identified with Maitrīpa) which rank Madhyamaka systems above the Nirākāra and Sākāra strains of Cittamātra, see O. Almogi, Māyopamādvayavāda... On problems of identification of Advayavajra with Maitrīpa, however, see K.-D. Mathes, Mind and its Coemergent (sahaja) Nature in Advayavajra’s Commentary on Saraha’s Dohākoṣa. Forthcoming in: “Zentralasiatische Studien” 2016, No. 44 (in Andiast, IITBS), p. 17‒34. 26 Dwags brgyud grub pa’i shing rta, 915‒18.

is only middling.”27 Mi bskyod rdo rje then quotes Sahajavajra’s interpretation of this passage which states: [[[Maitrīpa]]] said “Even the middle [[[path]]] (i.e., Madhyamaka) which is not adorned with the words of the guru, is only middling”, because [“middling”] refers to a putative object which remains (lhag ma : avaśiṣṭa) [even] after the [Sākāra and Nirākāra] branches have been refuted. As for the aim of [presenting reality] here [as] suchness of unity (yuganaddha), which is adorned with the pith-instructions of the genuine guru, namely, Bhagavatī28 it has been taught [in order to] captivate the minds of learned ones. This is because all phenomena are the unborn reality.29 Among similar passages quoted is one from the Jñānasiddhi of Indrabhūti, declaring that “if one remains within the spheres of either Sākāra or Nirākāra, it will be impossible to gain access

to all-knowing wisdom.”30 It is obvious, then, that Mi bskyod rdo rje follows the tradition of Maitrīpa and other siddha-scholars in his rejection of the idealist positions of both Sākāra and Alīkākāra branches of Mind Only. He also considers putative “Madhyamaka” positions that retain some idea of a postulated object – which Mi bskyod rdo rje identifies as a truly established cognition (shes pa bden grub) – to fall short of the Madhyamaka global antireificationist view of teachers such as Nāgārjuna and Maitrīpa who dispensed with all versions of epistemic and ontological foundationalism. As he explains, “Having refuted the Cittamātra adherents, to then describe what remains – namely, the postulate of a truly established cognition – as Madhya[maka] is only a ‘middling Middle [Way]’ because it is not the pure Madhya[maka] tradition [of the Gurus such as Nāgārjuna and also Maitrīpa in his Amanasikāra cycle].”31 Needless to say, what the Karma pa calls the “pure Madhyamaka tradition” comprises both the *Prāsaṅgika strand of Nāgārjuna and the Apratiṣṭhāna strand of Maitrīpa.32

27 This passage is given in the edition and translation of Advayavajrasaṃgraha by K.-D. Mathes (A Fine Blend of Mahāmudrā and Madhyamaka–Maitrīpa´s Collection of Texts on Non-conceptual Realization (Amanasikāra), Wien 2015) as follows: TD, p. 92, ll. 3‒4: na asākāranirākāre tathatāṃa jñātum icchataḥ | madhyamā madhyamā caiva guruvāg analaṃ kṛtā | | a according to Bhattacharya’s edition. The Japanese study group proposes sākārā nirākārā tathatā. Tib. de bzhin nyid ni shes ’dod pas | rnam bcas ma yin rnam med min | bla ma’i ngag gis ma brgyan pa’i | dbu ma’ang ’bring po tsam nyid do | | 28 An epithet for the Perfection of Wisdom (of emptiness) symbolised by the goddess Prajñāpāramitā. 29 The

critical edition (from Mathes 2015) of the passage from Sahajavajra’s Tattvadaśakaṭīkā (which differs somewhat from the one quoted by Mi bskyod rdo rje on 1012‒16) reads as follows: TDṬB, 11a5‒b1; TDṬP, 182b1‒3: bla ma’i ngag gis ma brgyan pa’i | dbu ma’ang ’bring po tsam nyid do | zhes bya ba smras te | bye brag rnam par bkag nas | lhag ma khas blangsa ba’i yul yin pa’i phyir | ’dir bcom ldan ’das ma bla ma dam pa’i man ngag bgi rgyanb gyis brgyan pa’i zung du ’jug pa’i de bzhin nyid kyi dgosc pa ni mkhas pa rnams kyi yidd ’phrog par byed pa nye bar bstan te | gang gi phyir yang chos thams cad ni ma skyes pa’i de kho na nyid do | | aB (dPal spungs block print of the Phyag rgya chen po’i rgya gzhung) blang bP gis brgyan cP dgongs dP yid yid 30 Dwags brgyud grub pa’i shing rta, 918‒20. 31 Dwags brgyud grub pa’i shing rta, 1016‒19: ...sems tsam pa rnam par bkag nas lhag ma shes pa bden grub khas len pa la dbu mar brjod pa ni dbu ma ’bring po ste dbu ma’i lugs rnam par dag pa de ma yin pas... 32 See also K.-D. Mathes, Blending the Sūtras with the Tantras: The Influence of Maitrīpa and His Circle on the Formation of Sūtra Mahāmudrā in the Kagyu Schools [in:] Tibetan Buddhist Literature and Practice: Studies in its Formative Period 900‒1400, Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar

The third point about the Cittamātra followers in general, which the Eighth Karma pa attributes to their reification of the mental, is that they are inclined not only to blur the distinction between ordinary consciousness and wisdom but also, in some cases, to elevate the former to the status of the latter. It must be noted here that Shākya mchog ldan had himself emphasised the importance of differentiating between consciousness and wisdom, even to the point of portraying them as mutually exclusive. He at one point goes so far as to characterise them as sharing no common ground (gzhi mthun) at all, like clouds in the sky or patina on gold.33 Acknowledging Shākya mchog ldan’s endorsement of the distinction, the Karma pa sets out to expose instances where the proclivity to blur the line between consciousness and wisdom had led the Sa skya master to accept positions at odds with his own philosophical commitments, an inconsistency which Mi bskyod rdo rje attributes to the influence of Cittamātra thinking and its idealist premise that mind is a real entity having real properties. The Karma pa’s criticisms of Shākya mchog ldan are in this way deeply indebted to and intertwined with traditional Madhyamaka critiques of Cittamātra idealism.


2. Substratum wisdom (kun gzhi ye shes) versus substratum consciousness (kun gzhi rnam shes)


In the classical Tibetan Buddhist milieu, the consciousness/wisdom distinction was elaborated into an influential indigenous distinction between substratum consciousness (kun gzhi rnam shes) and substratum wisdom (kun gzhi ye shes), which is endorsed by Mi bskyod rdo rje but also central to his critique of Shākya mchog ldan’s tantric buddha nature epistemology. The distinction appears to have been introduced by Dol po pa (1292‒1361),34 who included it in a series of dichotomies that posit ultimate and conventional truths as completely separate domains or “great kingdoms having nothing to do with each other”. If most classical scholars repudiated such a dichotomisation as antithetical to the

tantric principle of unity (yuganaddha), the Jo nang master’s kun gzhi ye shes/rnam shes ye shes distinction was nonetheless widely, if not homogeneously, employed in Jo nang, Sa skya and Bka’ brgyud circles.35 of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, Oxford 2006, p. 212‒214), where the author compares Mi bskyod rdo rje’s position with ’Gos lo tsā ba’s. 33 Rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi nges don sngon med, Vol. 13, 1303‒4. For a translation and discussion of this passage, see Y. Komarovski, Visions of Unity..., p. 239‒240. 34 See C. Stearns, The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, Albany 1999, p. 49‒52 and discussion of doctrinal context by K.-D. Mathes, A Direct Path to the Buddha Within, Gö Lotsawa’s Mahāmudrā Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga, Boston 2008, p. 56‒57. This

distinction is also endorsed by classical Bka’ brgyud scholars. 35 It is of interest to note that the conjunction kun gzhi ye shes does occur in the Tibetan translation of the Śrīdākārṇavamahāyoginītantrarājavāhikaṭīkā (D 1419) attributed to Padmavajra, but it appears there in a sequential listing of the terms in which jñāna (wisdom) is identified as a ninth aspect of consciousness beyond the ālaya (kun gzhi) and its eight aspects. Thus, the conjunction of kun gzhi ye shes appears to be the rendering of a co-ordinative (dvandva) compound with ālaya and jñāna listed as the eighth and ninth aspects of consciousness. The relevant passage reads: sgra dang dri dang ro dang reg | chos yid blo dang nga rgyal lo | rna ba sna dang lce dang lus | yid dang nyon mongs can de bzhin | kun gzhi ye

In searching for parallel formulations in Tibetan traditions, it is worth noting that the great Rnying ma polymath Klong chen rab ’byams pa (1308‒1364), a contemporary of Dol po pa, had drawn a quite similar distinction between kun gzhi’i me long lta bu’i ye shes and kun gzhi rnam shes,36 specifying that the first is the substratum of the basic expanse (dbyings kyi kun gzhi) that is identified with awareness (rig pa) and buddha nature while the latter is the substratum of the eightfold consciousness (tshogs brgyad kyi kun gzhi) that is identified with ignorance (ma rig pa) and the impure stains (dri ma ma dag pa).37 It is well-attested, then, that the distinction between substratum

consciousness and substratum wisdom had proved popular with exegetes of most Tibetan religious traditions, not only Buddhist but also Bon.38 Shākya mchog ldan employed the distinction in various doctrinal contexts, and at one point stated that the kun gzhi ye shes is what is known as rdzogs chen by the Rnying ma pas.39 The distinction is not mentioned by Rang byung rdo rje, but was, as we have previously noted, discussed at length in the early-16th-century commentaries on his Zab mo nang don by Dwags rams pa Chos rgyal bstan pa (composed 1514), Karma phrin las pa Phyogs las rnam rgyal (composed 1509) and their successors in this prodigious commentarial tradition.40 shes rnam shes te | rnam pa dgu ru yongs su grags | (5714). Interestingly, wisdom is not here construed as a pure aspect of the ālayavijñāna but as a factor of consciousness that transcends ālayavijñāna altogether. On these different ways of interpreting ālayavijñāna, see D. Higgins, The Philosophical Foundations of Classical rDzogs chen in Tibet:

Investigating the Distinction between Dualistic Mind (sems) and Primordial Knowing (ye shes), Wien 2013. 36 See Zab don gnad kyi me long [in:] Snying thig ya bzhi, Vol. 13, 2672‒3 where the author argues at length why the substratum that is mirror-like wisdom is different from the substratum of the eight consciousnesses. kun gzhi me long lta bu’i ye shes ni | tshogs brgyad kyi kun gzhi dang mi gcig ste |... While the former is identified with awareness itself, the latter is the aspect that constitutes an impure stain. 37 See Zab don gnad kyi me long, 2673‒2693 where the Ratnagotravibhāga (RGV) 1.47 is quoted as scriptural support. 38 See, for example, the colophon of Bdud ’joms rin po che’s Zab lam phag mo snying thig las: Gsang sgrub ye shes rab ’bar, 1264: ’di yang sprang ban rol pa rtsal lam bdud ’joms rdo rje rtsal de ye shes ḍākiṇī gsang mdzod kun gzhi ye shes ’bar ba’i klong sgrom nas spyan drangs pa’o | The distinction also found its way into Bon po works, and occurs, for example, as the subject of the second chapter of a Bon Yoginī tantra (ma rgyud) included in the Bon po Kanjur called Gzhi ye sangs rgyas pa’i rgyud, which bears the title Kun gzhi ye shes lhun grub kyi le’u gnyis pa. See Bon po’i

bka’ ’gyur. 179 vols. Khreng tu’u: Si khron zhing chen par khrun lte gnas par ’debs khang, 1999, Vol. 153, 241. 39 Gangs can gyi chen po snga phyir byon pa’i lta sgom spyod pa’i rnam bzhag rang gzhung gsal ba’i me long: khor ba byed po kun gzhi yi | rnam shes nyid las gzhan du med | myang ’das byed po kun gzhi yi | ye shes nyid yin de yi mtshon | gab pa mngon pa phyung ba dang | rdzogs pa chen po zhes su btags | As quoted by S. Karmay, The Great Perfection: A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, Leiden–New York, p. 180, n. 34. 40 To date it has been possible to identify fifteen works in the Zab mo nang don corpus. These are of varying lengths and styles and date from the 13th century to the 21st, with the latest commentary being published in 2004. The development of the corpus can be broadly classified into three periods: [1] a classical period of innovation and systematisation (14th c.) marked by Rang byung rdo rje’s composition of the root text and auto-commentary; [2] a post-classical period of consolidation and elaboration (15th‒16th c.) marked by the composition of several important commentaries that further explicate the text’s subject matter and develop a number of core philosophical and soteriological themes; and


[3] a late renaissance period (19th–20th c.) marked by a resurgence of interest in the Zab mo nang don that owes much to the ecumenical spirit of the Nonsectarian (ris med) movement that was initiated by

Both these commentators identify Rang byung rdo rje’s conception of the mind possessing purity with the substratum wisdom and his “impure mind” with substratum consciousness.41 Like his forerunners, Mi bskyod rdo rje saw the distinction as valid and important but also worried that its misunderstanding had been the source of considerable confusion among his coreligionists. In his Tonic, for example, Mi bskyod rdo rje takes issue with Shākya mchog ldan for not adequately differentiating substratum consciousness from substratum wisdom in certain deployments of this distinction. By mixing two levels of discourse pertaining to asymmetrical modes of being and awareness, the Sa skya author is accused of leaving himself open to various errors in exegesis and praxis, errors that were subsequently perpetuated by his followers: Moreover, if the dharmadhātu is taken as

the basis of adventitious stains, then you must clearly distinguish between the substratum wisdom (kun gzhi ye shes) and [[[substratum]]] consciousness ([[[kun gzhi]]] rnam shes). If you don’t distinguish these, then it is not appropriate to explain that substratum which serves as the basis for adventitious stains as being wisdom and buddha nature. Therefore, when anyone says it is necessary to accept [only the] ālayavijñāna which is the basis of adventitious stains, it follows that it is inadmissible to then introduce within that ālaya a distinction between the pure and impure. This is because if it were possible of that which is called *sugatagarbha or dharmadhātu or substratum wisdom (kun gzhi’i ye shes) to function as the basis for the arising of adventitious stains, then there would not be any role left for the ālayavijñāna to be the basis of these [stains].

Moreover, among you and the teachers in your lineage, there is not even one who has penetrated this matter deeply. Some have asserted that the clarity aspect in the context of the substratum consciousness is the substratum wisdom. Some have asserted that the clarity aspect that is the intrinsic nature of the substratum consciousness is not conducive to nirvāṇa since it is not beyond saṃsāra. Some have claimed that saṃsāra manifests in that clarity aspect which is the substratum wisdom or quintessence. Hence, [I ask] you, masters and disciples42 – is nirvāṇa

two important masters who contributed to the Zab mo nang don corpus, Klong sprul Blo gros mtha’ yas (1813‒99) and ’Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse dbang po (1820‒1892). The Zab mo nang don is perhaps best known for its detailed elaborations of tantric physiology – devoting separate chapters to the energy channels (rtsa), currents (rlung) and potencies (thig le) – based on accounts found in the Kālacakratantra and other Unsurpassed Yoga (Yoganiruttara) tantras. However, the Zab mo nang don corpus also contains a wealth of material on central doctrinal developments within Tibetan Bka’ brgyud traditions from the fourteenth century to the present day. We find, inter alia, interesting material on mahāmudrā, buddha nature theories from early Buddhism onward, the nature of consciousness and its analysis in terms of the distinction between ordinary and originary modes of

awareness (rnam shes and ye shes), the mind-body relationship in contemplative-yogic praxis, two truths (bden gnyis) doctrines according to the different Buddhist philosophical systems (grub mtha’) as well as Mantrayāna, Buddhist hermeneutics, and differing views of emptiness including rang stong and gzhan stong. 41 See Dwags ram pa, Zab mo nang don sems kyi rnam par thar pa’i gsal ba’i rgyan (1071‒6) where the pure substratum wisdom (dag pa kun gzhi’i ye shes), i.e. purity of mind (sems kyi dag pa), which is a homogeneous cause of nirvāṇa and a governing or dominant cause of saṃsāra, is differentiated from the impure substratum consciousness (ma dag pa kun gzhi’i rnam shes), i.e. the impure mind (sems ma dag pa), which is the actual cause of saṃsāra but not a cause of nirvāṇa [at all]. 42 The plural marker (rnams) indicates that the author here is addressing a number of masters and disciples, not only Shākya mchog ldan and his student Paṇ chen Rdo rgyal ba. Little is known about the latter figure, but in a response (in meter) to the questions of Paṇ chen Rdor rgyal ba Mi bskyod rdo

the clarity aspect of the substratum consciousness or is the substratum consciousness the clarity aspect of the substratum wisdom? Masters and disciples, you must give up this inconsistent talk43!44 The Karma pa here argues why it is necessary to unambiguously distinguish between the source of adventitious stains and unconditioned luminous wisdom: the substratum consciousness and substratum wisdom, respectively. So long as the two are not clearly distinguished, their opposing functions – defilement and purification – will also not be distinguished. The author proceeds to outline some of the ambiguities and contradictions that had followed from confusing the natures and functions of the two substratums. We are informed in an interlinear note to this passage that Shākya mchog ldan had maintained in his Cakrasaṃvara Commentary (Bde mchog rnam bshad) that

consciousness (rnam shes) arises as the clarity aspect (dvangs cha) of wisdom. Conversely, his student Paṇ chen Rdo rgyal ba (a.k.a. Rdo rje rgyal mtshan, b. 15th c.) proclaimed that wisdom is the clarity aspect of consciousness. “Hence, the positions subscribed to by these two, master and disciple, are [as] opposed as East and West.”45 The foregoing survey of the Eighth Karma pa’s views on the distinction between consciousness and wisdom has drawn attention to the key role that robust phenomenological distinctions play in the author’s soteriological thinking. For Mi bskyod rdo rje, distinctions are the very stuff of Buddhist philosophy. In clarifying what is innate and enduring as distinct from what is contingent and superfluous, they establish the conceptual parameters needed to traverse the Buddhist path. For example, the central metaphoric

dyad of the Nerve Tonic for the Elderly – the quintessence (snying po) versus chaff (shun pa) – is used to separate the “wheat from the chaff” at every stage of the path of awakening. Whether the focus is the nature of mind, the nature of reality or buddha nature – these highlighting different frames of reference within rje mentions in the colophon some of this scholar’s writings (none currently available), which included Epistemology, Madhyamaka, Abhidharma, Tantra and “especially [his] Gzhan stong commentarial work on the Kālacakra”. See Paṇ chen rdor rgyal ba’i legs bshad, MKsb, Vol. 3, 2573‒4. 43 This is a provisional rendering of the problematic line dpon slob kha ngan pa gyis la byon zhig |. 44 Rgan po’i rlung sman, MKsb, Vol. 15, 10205‒10214: gzhan yang chos dbyings kyi glo bur gyi dri ma’i rten byed na | khyod cag kun gzhi ye shes

dang rnam shes gnyisbyed dgos la | mi ’byed na glo bur dri ma’i rten du gyur pa’i kun gzhi de ye shes dang bde gshegs snying po la ’chad na mi rung bas | glo bur dri ma’i rten kun gzhi’i rnam shes zhig cis kyang khas len dgos zer nas kun gzhi la dag ma dag gnyis kyi dbye ’byed byed pa de mi ’thad par thal | bde gshegs snying po’am chos dbyings sam kun gzhi’i ye shes kyi ming can de nyid kyi glo bur gyi dri ma ’char ba’i rten du rung ba gang zhig de rung na de’i rten la kun gzhi’i rnam shes kyi mgo bde ma byung ba’i phyir | gzhan yang khyod dpon slob brgyud pa dang bcas pa la rnam rtog gting tshugs pa gcig kyang med par | res kun gzhi rnam shes kyi steng gi gsal cha de kun gzhi ye shes su khas len | res kun gzhi rnam shes kyi rang ngo’i gsal cha ’khor ba las mi ’da’ bas myang ’das su mi rung bar khas len | res kun gzhi ye shes sam snying po’i gsal cha de la ’khor ba ’char zer | des na khyed rang dpon slob rnams kun gzhi rnam shes kyi gsal cha myang ’das yin nam | kun gzhi ye shes kyi gsal cha kun gzhi rnam shes yin dpon slob kha

ngan pa gyis la byon zhig | 45 Rgan po’i rlung sman, MKsb, Vol. 15, 10215‒6. These two mutually contradictory positions epitomise the divergent theories the author discusses: the clarity aspect is seen either as a conditioned product of the unconditioned or as an unconditioned product of the conditioned. For the author, these two extreme views, each untenable in its own right, illustrate the absurdities that follow from not properly distinguishing between (substratum) consciousness and (substratum) wisdom.

a unitary experiential dimension – the Karma pa urges the seeker not to confuse the basic nature (ye shes, chos nyid, bde gshegs snying po) with its distorted expressions (rnam shes, chos can, sems can) that are seen as both deriving and deviating from it due to the influence of ignorance and latent karmic tendencies. To blur the lines between such distinctions, he argues, is tantamount to conflating what perpetuates self-imposed limitations and suffering with what emancipates one from them. It is comparable, he argues, to not distinguishing medicine from poison and treating them as members of a single class. The simile was clearly meant to highlight the potentially grave repercussions of such category mistakes in the domains of salvific knowledge and contemplative praxis. They may result not only in semantic confusion – what Mi bskyod rdo rje characterises as the collapse of terminological conventions and attendant misrepresentation of Buddhist doctrine – but, more significantly, in soteriological confusion, a lack of clarity about the proper goals and procedures of the Buddhist path.


3. Conclusion: from differentiation to unity


We may recall that Mi bskyod rdo rje saw no contradiction between differentiation and unity models of consciousness on the grounds that “thoughts of adventitious mind do not exist as fundamentally different from the dharmakāya of innate mind, but that mind which exists only as conceptual superimposition therefore has no independent existence, even conventionally, apart from dharmakāya.” Moreover, the capacity to discern innate mind from its adventitious objectifications is precisely what is required to recognise “the very nature of the saṃsāric and nirvāṇic minds” which is “ultimately present as a great openness and equality, inseparable in being free from discursive elaborations.”46 Stated concisely, the recognition of differentiation may play a crucial preliminary role in the realisation of the unity of reality, the inseparability of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, the coemergence of mind and wisdom or of thoughts and dharmakāya. It is important to gain a clearer understanding the view of “unity” (zung ’jug : yuganaddha) which Mi bskyod rdo rje is here endorsing. To this end, it may be helpful to distinguish, as I have elsewhere,47 between symmetrical and asymmetrical types of unity. By symmetrical unity I mean a relationship wherein two relata (say,

x and y) stand to one another in some type of symmetrical relation (correlation) either of identity (x = y) where x is the same as y, or reciprocal determination (x ⇐⇒ y) where x and y are co-determined by one another or require one another for their very definition. By asymmetrical unity I mean a relationship of unity wherein two relata stand to one another in an asymmetrical relation of ontological priority such that one (x) is a condition of possibility for the other (y), but not vice versa. To expand on a traditional metaphor, waves are not different from the river from which they emerge 46 These are quotations from the text as it is translated in the Appendix to the first part of this study. 47 D. Higgins, M. Draszczyk, Mahāmudrā..., Vol. I, p. 384‒385.

but they do derive from it. According to this logic of asymmetrical unity, adventitious reifications are fundamentally equal to the innate (reality or consciousness) to the extent that they derive from it and have no independent existence apart from it. On Mi bskyod rdo rje’s understanding, the Buddhist adept embarks on a via negativa of stripping away adventitious superimpositions in order to eventually lay bare the nondual awareness of the undifferentiated nature of things (dharmadhātu), wherein the dualistic reifications of subject and object, including the dichotomy between the dispeller of obscurations and the objects to be dispelled, come to an end. One might be tempted to

conclude that conventional reality dissolves or resolves into the ultimate reality, but Mi bskyod rdo rje’s point seems to be that conventional and ultimate are reciprocally determined truth-claims which are left behind in the realisation of a unity beyond extremes. This is how he understands the view of unity (zung ’jug) which he considers to be the goal of Mahāmudrā practice. Towards the end of his life, Mi bskyod rdo rje became an avid proponent of the “unity of reality” view, presenting it as a doctrinal cornerstone of both Mahāmudrā and Madhyamaka philosophies which had been advocated by a long line of Indian Mahāmudrā and Madhyamaka masters including Saraha, Śavaripa, Nāgārjuna,

Buddhapālita, Candrakīrti, Maitrīpa, Atiśa, and as well as by the Tibetan Rnying ma master Rong zom Chos kyi bzang po48 (1042‒1136).49 Let us now conclude this article with a brief synopsis of this view as presented in Mi bskyod rdo rje’s commentary on Karma Pakshi’s Direct Introduction to the Three Kāyas which he composed in the last years of his life. There he explains that the inseparability of the two truths

48 In his commentary on Karma Pakshi’s Direct Introduction to the Three Kāyas (entitled Sku gsum ngo sprod rnam bshad), Mi bskyod rdo rje became a strong advocate of Rong zom pa’s Apratiṣṭhānavāda Madhyamaka views, and especially those based on “classical texts maintaining the inseparability of the two aspects of reality” (bden pa rnam pa gnyis dbyer med par ’dod pa’i gzhung). He cites Rong zom pa six times in this late commentary, but not in any previous works. Concerning Rong zom’s endorsement of Apratiṣṭhānavāda and the “inseparability of truth/reality” view, which he termed “special Mahāyāna,” see O. Almogi, Rong-zom-pa’s Discourses on Buddhology..., p. 39‒42 et passim. 49 Sku gsum

ngo sprod rnam bshad, MKsb, Vol. 21, 1443‒6: “According to the Easterner Tsong kha pa, because conventional [[[phenomena]]] are established by sources of knowledge [grounded] in customary transactions, they are not individually empty of intrinsic essence. However, the emptiness wherein the mode of subsistence of objects which is not conceptually imputed is empty of truly established intrinsic essence – [i.e. of an] independently existent conventional – is the ultimate reality. [This view] lies outside the sublime Madhyamaka tradition of all those who claim that the ultimate reality and the conventional [share] the same nature, as eloquently discerned by those who appeared in former generations such as the glorious lord Saraha, the noble Nāgārjuna, venerable Śavaripa, the teacher Buddhapālita, Candrakīrti and the master Maitrīpa. Thus, in the same way that

the subject of the two realities was ascertained by the lord Maitrīpa and the exalted Atiśa, so it appears to have also been explained by the great Paṇḍita Rong zom chos [kyi] bzang [po].” shar tsong ga pa chen pos | kun rdzob tha snyad pa’i tshad mas grub pa’i phyir rang rang ngo bos mi stong yang brtags bzhag min pa’i yul gyi sdod lugs tshugs thub kyi grub pa’i kun rdzob bden grub par rang gi ngo bos stong pa’i stong nyid don dam bden pa yin la | don dam bden pa de dang kun rdzob ngo bo gcig yin par ‘dod pa thams cad sngon rabs byon pa’i dpal mgon sa ra ha dang | ‘phags pa klu sgrub zhabs dang | rje btsun sha ba ri dang | slob dpon sangs rgyas skyangs dang | zla ba grags pa dang | mnga’ bdag mai tri pa chen po dag gis legs par phyes pa’i dbu ma’i lugs bzang po las phyi rol du gyur pa’o | | des na jo bo mai tri pa dang dpal ldan a ti sha de dag gis shes bya bden gnyis ji ltar gtan la dbab pa de ltar paṇḍita chen po rong zom chos bzang gis kyang bshad par snang ste | That the single shared ground is not substantially existent (dngos por yod pa) but a mere imputation (brtags pa tsam gyi gzhi), i.e. a groundless ground, is discussed at ibidem, 1413‒4.

or realities becomes apparent to a mind which no longer objectifies reality in terms of subject and object and which thus recognises that all phenomena, conventional and ultimate, have always been beyond discursive elaboration (spros bral).50 It is at this point that the distinctions which had played such a central role in discerning innate and superfluous modes of reality and cognition give way to the realisation of the inseparability of reality beyond oppositional constructs. Therefore, so long as the mind has not let go of [reifying the two truths in terms of true and false], and there is a conceptualising cognition which clings to and believes in [them], then it will never dwell in the

lofty state of the equality of the two truths, inseparability of the two truths, single taste of the two truths and unity of the two truths. Then how does this equality of the two truths, and inseparability that is the unity of the single flavour of the two truths come about in a mind which does not take the two truths as objects as mere established foundations? As [[[truth]]] cannot be touched by thinking [based] entirely on linguistic representation [in terms of] subject and object, when it comes to the way of perceiving that which is other than mere talk proclaiming ‘union’ as the consummate conclusion regarding the so-called “equality of the two truths,” where does there exist anything that can be posited as one or two, or equal or unequal?


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