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Tantra in Tibet

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Dzong-ka-ba's text begins the Great Exposition of Secret Mantra,' as it is also called, with an examination of the difference between the Buddhist vehicles.

That section-presented in the first book in this series, Tantra in Tibet'mainly analyzes a variety of earlier delineations of the difference between the Sutra Great Vehicle and the Mantra Great Vehicle.

Although he does not mention Bu-don Rin-then-drupd (1290-1364) by name, it is apparent that his prime source is Bu-don's encyclopedic presentation of the difference between Sutra and Mantra in his Extensive General Presentation of the Tantra Sets, Key Opening the Door to the Precious Treasury of Tantra Sets.'

Budon lists presentations by several Indian scholars who delineate various numbers of ways the Mantra Great Vehicle surpasses the Sutra Great Vehicle, or Perfection Vehicle as it is commonly called:


Tripitakamala and commentator Vajrapani-four differences
Jnanashri-eleven differences
Ratnakarashanti-three differences
Nagarjuna-six differences'
Indrabhuti-seven differences
Jnanapada-three differences
Dombhiheruka-five differences
Vajraghantapada-four differences
Samayavajra-five differences.


In a radical departure from Bu-don's catalogue of opinions, Ijzong-ka-ba analyzes the structure of the path to Buddhahood and analytically chooses to emphasize a single central distinctive feature of the Mantra Vehicle, deity yoga.

The main points he makes in distinguishing the Lesser Vehicle and the Great Vehicle and, within the latter, the Sutra and Mantra forms, are:

The difference between vehicles must lie in the sense of "vehicle" as that to which one progresses or as that by which one progresses. The Lesser Vehicle differs from the Great Vehicle in both.

The destination of the lower one is the state of a Hearer or Solitary Realizer Foe Destroyer and of the higher one, Buddhahood.

Concerning "vehicle" in the sense of means by which one progresses, although there is no difference in the wisdom realizing emptiness, there is a difference in method-Lesser Vehicle not having and Great Vehicle having the altruistic intention to become enlightened and its attendant deeds.


Sutra and Mantra Great Vehicle do not differ in terms of the goal, the state being sought, since both seek the highest enlightenment of a Buddha, but there is a difference in the means of progress, again not in wisdom but in method.

Within method, Sutra and Mantra Great Vehicle differ not in the basis or motivation, the altruistic intention to become enlightened, nor in having the perfections as deeds, but in the additional technique of deity yoga. A deity is a supramundane being who himself or herself is a manifestation of compassion and wisdom.

Thus, in the special practice of deity yoga one joins one's own body, speech, mind, and activities with the exalted body, speech, mind, and activities of a supra-mundane being, manifesting on the path a similitude of the state of the effect.


As scriptural authority for the central distinguishing feature between the Sutra and Mantra Great Vehicles, Uzong-ka-ba quotes a passage from the Vajrapanjara Tantra,' rejects the commentaries of Krshnapada and Indrabodhi," and critically uses the commentary of Devakulamahamati,' accepting some parts and rejecting others.

He reinforces his presentation of deity yoga as the dividing line between the two Great Vehicles with citations from or references to works on Highest Yoga Tantra by Jnanapada,' Ratnakarashanti,' Abhayakara,' Durjayachandra," Shridhara,' Samayavajra," Jinadatta," and Vinayadatta."


Despite Thong-ka-ba's many citations of tantras and Indian commentaries, it is clear that they are used only as supportive evidence for his argument. Tradition is only supportive, not the ultimate authority.

The arbiter is reason, specifically in the sense of determining coherence and consistency within a path structure.

Tshong-ka-ba refutes Ratnarakshita and Tripitakamala, " for instance, not because they differ from the aforementioned sources but because their presentations fail in terms of consistency with the path structure.

By doing so, he moves the basis of the presentation from scriptural citation to reasoned analysis of a meditative structure.


Also, whereas Bu-don catalogues nine ways that Indian scholar-yogis differentiate the four tantra sets-by way of the four Indian castes, four schools of tenets, four faces of Kalachakra, four periods of the day, four eras, followers of four deities, four afflictive emotions to be abandoned, four levels of desire to be purified, and four levels of faculties-I) Tsong-ka-ba critically examines most of these, accepting only the last two, with modification.

Differentiates the [four Tantra sets]] by way of their main trainees being of four very different types, since these trainees have (1) four different ways of using desire for the attributes of the Desire Realm in the path and (2) four different levels of capacity for generating the emptiness and deity yogas that use desire in the path.


In his systematization, the four tantras are not differentiated (1) by way of their object of intent since all four are aimed at bringing about others' welfare, or (2) by way of the object of attainment they are seeking since all four seek the full enlightenment of Buddhahood, or (3) by way of merely having different types of deity yoga since all four tantra sets have many different types of deity yoga but are each only one tantra set.

Rather, the distinctive tantric practice of deity yoga, motivated by great compassion and beginning with emptiness yoga, is carried out in different ways in the four tantra sets.

Various levels of desire-involved in gazing, smiling, touching, and sexual union-are utilized by the respective main trainees in accordance with their disposition toward styles of practice, these being to emphasize external activities, to balance external activities and meditative stabilization, to emphasize meditative stabilization, or to exclusively focus on meditative stabilization.


Dzong-ka-ba's exposition represents an appeal to analysis, a carefully constructed argument based on scriptural sources and reasoning, with the emphasis on the latter.

Consistency, coherence, and elegance of system are the cornerstones; his procedure is that of a thorough scholar, analyzing sources and counter-opinions with careful scrutiny and determining the place of the pillars of his analysis in the general structure of a system.

His intention is clearly not to present a catalogue of views as Bu-don mainly does, but to adjudicate conflicting systems of interpretation, thereby establishing a radically new one.