In Praise of Dharmadhatu
Translated & Introduced by Karl Brunnhölzl
Commentar by the Third Karmapa
published by Snow Lion Publications
Nitartha Institute was founded in 1996 by The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, under the guidance of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, the leading contemporary teachers of the Karma Kagyü tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Institute, under the aegis of Nitartha international, aims to fully transmit the Buddhist tradition of contemplative inquiry and learning; it offers Western students training in advanced Buddhist view and practice, as taught by the Karma Kagyü and Nyingma lineages of Tibet.
The Institute is pleased to ally with Snow Lion Publications in presenting this series of important works offering a wide range of graded educational materials that include authoritative translations of key texts from the Buddhist tradition, both those unique to the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages and those common to the wider scope of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism; modern commentaries by notable lineage scholar-practitioners; manuals for contemplative practice;
and broader studies that deepen understanding of particular aspects of the Buddhist view. The initial releases are from the Kagyü tradition and will be followed by publications from the Nyingma tradition. This publication is an Intermediate Level Nitartha book.
The Dharmadh atustava 113
An Overview of the Basic Themes of the Dharmadhatustava 113
Translation: In Praise of Dharmadhatu 117
The Significance of the Dharmadhatustava in the
Commentary on the Dharmadhatustava 157
A Short Biography 157
Some Preliminary Remarks on Rangjung Dorje’s View 159
Translation of Rangjung Dorje’s Commentary 206
Appendix I: Outline of Rangjung Dorje’s Commentary 307
Appendix II: Existing Translations of the Praises Attributed to
Appendix III: Translations of the Remaining Praises 313
AC Rangjung Dorje’s autocommentary on his Profound Inner Reality AS Asiatische Studien D Derge Tibetan Tripitaka Döl Dölpopa’s commentary on the Dharmadhatustava DSC Rangjung Dorje’s commentary on the Dharmadhatustava EDV Rangjung Dorje’s Explanation of the Dharmadharmatavibhaga GL Gö Lotsawa’s commentary on the Uttaratantra J Johnston’s Sanskrit edition of the Ratnagotravibhagavyakhya JIABS Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies LG Lodrö Gyatso’s commentary on the Dharmadhatustava MHTL Lokesh Chandra’s Materials for a History of Tibetan Literature MM Rangjung Dorje’s Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra N Narthang Tibetan Tripitaka NT Rangjung Dorje’s [[Treatise on the Distinction between Consciousness and Wisdom]] NY Rangjung Dorje’s Treatise on Pointing Out the Tathagata Heart P Peking Tibetan Tripitaka PEW Philosophy East and West RT Rongtön’s commentary on the Dharmadhatustava SC Sakya Chogden’s commentary on the Dharmadhatustava SS Sönam Sangbo’s commentary on the Dharmadhatustava TBRC The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (www.tbrc.org) TOK Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé’s Treasury of Knowledge WZKS Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens ZMND Rangjung Dorje’s Profound Inner Reality
Precious ones of the Kagyü lineage, please bring about excellent virtue. Through the heart of a perfect Buddha having awoken in you, You are endowed with the blossoming of the glorious qualities of supreme insight.
You genuine holder of the teachings by the name Dzogchen Ponlop, Through your merit, the activity of virtue, You publish the hundreds of flawless dharma paintings That come from the protectors of beings, the Takpo Kagyü, As a display of books that always appears As a feast for the mental eyes of persons without bias.
While the stream of the Narmada1 river of virtue Washes away the stains of the mind, With the waves of the virtues of the two accumulations rolling high, May it merge with the ocean of the qualities of the victors.
This was composed by Karmapa Orgyen Trinlé Dorjé as an auspicious aspiration for the publication of the precious teachings called “The Eight Great Texts of Sutra and Tantra” by the supreme Dzogchen Ponlop Karma Sungrap Ngedön Tenpé Gyaltsen on April 18, 2004 (Buddhist Era 2548). May it be auspicious.
1 The image here alludes to this river being considered as very holy by Hindus—even its mere sight is said to wash away all one’s negative deeds (it rises on the summit of Mount Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh in central India, and after a westerly course of about eight hundred miles ends in the Gulf of Cambay below the city of Bharuch).
In Tibet, all the ravishing and beautiful things of a self-arisen realm, such as being surrounded by ranges of snow mountains that are adorned by superb white snowflakes, being filled with Sal trees, abundant herbs, and cool clear rivers, are wonderfully assembled in a single place. Through these excellencies, our country endowed with the dharma is the sole pure realm of human beings in this world.
They are as pure and clean as the most refined pure gold, accord with reasoning through the power of things, dispel the darkness of the minds of all beings, and are a great treasury that grants all desirable benefit and happiness,
just as one wishes. Without having vanished, these teachings still exist as the great treasure of the Kangyur, the Tengyur, and the sciences as well as the excellent teachings of the Tibetan scholars and siddhas who have appeared over time.
Headed by the Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche with his immaculate superior intention of cherishing solely the welfare of the teachings and sentient beings, many people who strive with devotion, diligence, and prajña to preserve the teachings at Nitartha international undertook hardships and made great efforts over many years for the sake of preventing the decline of these teachings, increasing their transmission, and preserving them, and, in particular, for the special purpose of spreading and increasing in all directions and at all times, like rivers in summertime, the excellent stream of explanations and practices of the unequaled Marpa Kagyü lineage—the great family of siddhas.
By way of these efforts, the book series of “The Eight Great Texts of Sutra and Tantra,” which encapsulate the essential meanings of the fully complete teachings of the victor, was magically manifested in such a way that many appear from one.
Based on this, while being in the process of making efforts myself in the preparatory stages of accomplishing the protection of the teachings and sentient beings, from 12 In Praise of Dharmadhatu the bottom of my heart, I strew the flowers of rejoicing and praise on this activity.
Foreword by The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
More than 2,500 years ago in ancient India, a young prince named Siddhartha found himself dissatisfied with the illusions of a royal life that had been painstakingly maintained by his father, King Suddhodana.
One day, Siddhartha set out with a keen sense of quest. He wanted to understand what life really is and how the world around him really worked. This curious adventure eventually became his journey to enlightenment.
Siddhartha did not begin his journey by discovering great faith in god or religion, nor did he stumble upon a charismatic guru. Rather, he relied on his simple desire and keen intellect—his inquisitive mind.
To help future students understand and realize the vast and profound words of the Buddha, two great Indian masters, Nagarjuna (c. 150–250 ce) and Asanga (c. fourth century), the pioneers of the mahayana tradition, wrote numerous treatises and commentaries to elucidate the Buddha’s intention.
The master Nagarjuna transmitted the lineage of the profound view of emptiness that originated from Manjusri, while the master Asanga transmitted the lineage of vast bodhisattva practices that came from Maitreya.
His birth was predicted in various sutras, such as the Lankavatarasutra (Descent into Lanka Sutra). At the age of seven, his parents sent him to Nalanda University in northern India, where he met the great master Saraha.
It is recorded in the mahayana histories that Nagarjuna discovered the collection of prajñaparamita sutras that had been lost for many generations from the land of nagas. He also is said to have brought back naga clay, and built many temples and stupas with it.
Nagarjuna taught the king for three years and then went to Sri Parvata, the holy mountain overlooking the modern day Indian land of Nagarjunakonda, where he wrote the Ratnavali (Precious Garland; Tib. rin chen ’phreng ba) and the Suhṛllekha (Letter to a Friend; Tib. bshes pa’i spring yig) for the king.
The Collection Of Praises: In this final collection, Nagarjuna clarifies the concept of tathagatagarbha or buddha nature and explains the Buddha’s third turning of the wheel of dharma through writings such as the Paramarthastava
Besides these Three Collections, Nagarjuna also wrote many other texts and commentaries, such as his commentary on the Guhyasamajatantra. He was not only an accomplished scholar but also a realized meditation master, and is thus counted among the eighty-four mahasiddhas of India.
The Dharmadhatustava is a well known text from the collection of praises and is studied in depth in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is regarded as one of Nagarjuna’s most important texts because of its use of many examples to clearly explain the theory and nature of tathagatagarbha.
He has done an excellent job of researching and translating this text and providing further material for reflection on the text’s key topics. This book will serve as a great resource for those who wish to explore the teachings on buddha nature.
There are many texts on buddha nature from the tradition of Asanga, but this is the first time that a detailed presentation of Nagarjuna’s approach to buddha nature has been brought to English language readers.
Therefore, this work is a great contribution to the establishment of genuine Western Buddhism. Through this, may all beings discover and realize the true nature of their minds, the completely awakened wisdom of the Buddha.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche as or “vehicles” are
1) the sravakayana or vehicle of the hearers,
2) the pratyekabuddhayana or vehicle of the solitary realizers, and
3) the bodhisattvayana or
vehicle of bodhisattvas, the spiritual aspirants of the mahayana.
However, so far, there exists no comprehensive discussion of the texts that the Tibetan tradition refers to as his “collection of praises”1 in general and the Dharmadhatustava in particular. To begin to address this lack, the present book explores the scope, contents, and significance of Nagarjuna’s scriptural legacy in India and Tibet, especially his collection of praises. The main discussion of the Dharmadhatustava contains an overview of the text’s structure and basic themes, an English translation, and exemplary passages from Indian and Tibetan works to illustrate the topics for which this text was considered to be important.
The Dharmadhatustava’s themes are deepened through a translation of its earliest and most extensive Tibetan commentary by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, supplemented by relevant excerpts from other Tibetan commentaries.
Additional resource materials to provide a broader background include short biographies of Nagarjuna and Rangjung Dorje, a Buddhist “history” of luminous mind and buddha nature, and some remarks on the Third Karmapa’s view.
Throughout the texts presented here, the dharmadhatu is not understood as some mere emptiness or abstract nature of all phenomena but as the true state of our mind, luminous nonconceptual wisdom, or the present moment of mind’s fundamental awareness and vast openness being inseparable.
Thus, although it will be clear that Nagarjuna’s Dharmadhatustava fully accords with his classical Madhyamaka works, the emphasis here is not so much on philosophical considerations or reasonings to establish emptiness or freedom from reference points, but on the actual experience of the dharmadhatu’s vivid wakefulness free from anything to hold on to or pinpoint.
In other words, nirvana or buddhahood is not just the end of the world as we know it, resulting in some vacuum or blank emptiness, but a living experience of penetrating insight, free from suffering and full of compassion, which takes place in and is realized by an enlightened mind’s unlimited vision.
In particular, as far as the view of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje is concerned, this book may be considered as complementary to the presentations of Madhyamaka as found in my The Center of the Sunlit Sky, which are mainly based on Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s view.
The Kagyü tradition says that its specific view on Madhyamaka was established by the Eighth Karmapa, while its distinct position on the teachings on buddha nature (and the tantras) was laid out by the Third Karmapa.
In relying on the sources mentioned, it should be clear that anything in this book that sounds wonderful and is beneficial for touching our Buddha heart may well be appreciated as reflecting the words and realizations of great masters and scholars. Everything else, including all mistakes, can as usual be said to expose the obscurations of the translator and compiler.
Speaking of great masters and scholars, my sincere gratitude and appreciation go to Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who taught the Dharmadhatustava together with the Third Karmapa’s commentary at Nitartha Institute’s annual program in 2005.
He encouraged me to publish these two texts (“if it’s not too much work”) and granted his guidance for the translation.
Also, I greatly appreciate the generous financial support by Tsadra Foundation and Nitartha Institute, which made this work possible. Last, but not least, I am deeply grateful to Mette Harboe for letting her Buddha heart shine, and to Sengé, who taught me how to take a break, tickling both my patience and my mind.
I offer this work with the wish that it may chime in with the constant wakeup calls from the enlightened hearts in all beings, be they suffering or liberated. May it be a humble contribution to the enlightened activities of all the Karmapas, especially during these times of strife and paranoia obscuring our mind’s basic peace and self-confidence.
Brabrand, in the windy expanse of the Danish peninsula Jutland, June 2006
T Nagarjuna and His Works
Who Was Nagarjuna?
This may look like a very stupid question, since every Buddhist seems to know this great master very well. However, while legends abound, there is hardly anything that is known with certainty about Nagarjuna’s life (probably second century) as far as “hard historical data” go.
Usually, the Indian and Tibetan traditions are not much interested in these kinds of “facts” anyway, the main purpose of presenting “life stories” of great masters in these traditions being to edify and inspire the reader to follow their examples.
He undertook a thorough study of all the then available scriptures of the hinayana and mahayana and defeated the Buddhist monk Sa?kara and the Saindhava Sravakas, who criticized his teachings and the mahayana, as well as many non-Buddhists in debate.
In the latter part of his life, he mainly stayed in the neighboring areas of Amaravati, Dhānyakaṭaka,6 Nagarjunakonda, and Sri Parvata, where he engaged in tantric practices and is said to have attained the first bhumi of a bodhisattva.
It is said that the body and the head have been moving toward each other ever since, and that when they unite Nagarjuna will live again and promote the benefit of sentient beings. Finally, the Mahameghasutra says, he will become the Tathagata *Jñanakaraphrabha 8 in the worldly realm *Prasannaprabha. Among his many disciples, the chief one was Aryadeva.9
As for the reasons for being named Nagarjuna, there are three accounts. One says that, once, when he was teaching the dharma in a park, several nagas rose up around him to form an umbrella, shielding him from the hot sun.
Thirdly, the Chinese biography by Kumarajiva says that Nagarjuna received his name because he was born under an arjuna tree and perfected his prajña through receiving mahayana sutras from a great naga in the ocean.
This is certainly not the place to provide a comprehensive overview of all the many works ascribed to Nagarjuna that are preserved in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese, nor to settle the disputes about which of them were actually written by him.
In the following, I will mainly focus on references to Nagarjuna’s praises in Indian sources and how the Tibetan tradition describes the significance and interrelations of what it calls Nagarjuna’s three scriptural collections—”the collection of speeches,”11 “the collection of Madhyamaka reasoning,”12 and “the collection of praises.”
Beginning with references to Nagarjuna’s scriptural legacy in general by Indian Buddhist masters, Candrakirti’s (sixth/seventh century) Madhyamakasastrastuti (stanza 10) enumerates only eight works by Nagarjuna:
Interestingly though, he explicitly refers here to Nagarjuna’s praises in general.
Mostly, the Indian tradition agrees with the above list, but many other masters, such as Bhavaviveka (sixth century), Avalokitavrata (seventh century?), Śāntarakṣita,, Haribhadra (both eighth century), Kamalasila (740–795), Prajñakaramati (tenth century), Atisa (982–1054), Maitripa (c. 1007–1085), and Sahajavajra (eleventh/twelfth century), refer to and/or quote varying numbers of additional works by Nagarjuna, such as the
It is also cited in Ratnākaraśānti’s (early eleventh century) Sūtrasamucchayabhāṣya 22 and Dharmendra’s Tattvasārasaṃgraha.23 Atisa’s Dharmadhātudarśanagīti incorporates many verses from well-known Indian Buddhist works, among them several by Nagarjuna, including nineteen (!) verses from the Dharmadhatustava.24
The Lokātītastava is furthermore quoted in
The Niraupamyastava is also cited in
This title appears in Dharmendra’s Tattvasārasaṃgraha, which attributes it to Nagarjuna and cites a verse from it.54 Atisa’s Bodhipathapradīpapañjikā attributes another verse to Nagarjuna, which ends in “I pay homage to the nonreferential one.”55 The Pañcakrama also contains three verses with the same ending.56
According to the (later) Tibetan tradition, his works on the sutras are grouped into three main sets: the collection of speeches, the collection of (Madhyamaka) reasoning, and the collection of praises. In due order, these are often said to comment on the Buddha’s three turnings of the wheel of dharma.58
The collection of speeches is usually said to include the Ratnavali (by some placed within the collection of reasoning) and the [Suhṛllekha]]. Three further treatises on (worldly) knowledge and ethical conduct attributed to Nagarjuna may be counted here as well.59
The collection of reasoning is said to contain either five or six texts.
Everybody seems to agree that the first five are the following:
Dharmadhātustava (Tib. chos dbyings bstod pa)
Niraupamyastava (dpe med par bstod pa)
Lokātītastava (’jig rten las ’das pa’i bstod pa)
Cittavajrastava (sems kyi rdo rje’i bstod pa)
Paramārthastava(don dam par bstod pa)
Kāyatrayastotra(sku gsum la bstod pa)
Sattvārādhanastava (sems can la mgu bar bya ba’i bstod pa)
Prajñāpāramitāstotra (shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i bstod pa)60
Acintyastava (bsam gyis mi khyab bar bstod pa)
Stutyatītastava (bstod pa las ’das par bstod pa)
Niruttarastava (bla na med pa’i bstod pa)
Āryabhāṭṭarakamañjuśrīparamārthastuti (’phags pa rje btsun ’jam dpal gyi don dam pa’i bstod pa)61
Āryamañjuśrībhāṭṭarakakaruṇāstotra (rje btsun ’phags pa ’jam dpal gysnying rje la bstod pa)
Aṣṭamahāsthānacaityastotra (gnas chen po brgyad kyi mchod rten la bstod pa)
Aṣṭamahāsthānacaityastotra (gnas chen po brgyad kyi mchod rten la bstod pa)62
Dvādaśakāranayastotra (mdzad pa bcu gnyis kyi tshul la bstod pa)
Vandanāstotra (phyag ’tshal ba’i bstod pa)
Narakoddharastava (dmyal ba nas ’don pa’i bstod pa)63
The question regarding which of all these texts were actually written by Nagarjuna or not has already received some attention in Tibet and is still discussed extensively by many modern scholars, naturally with no unanimous answers.64
In any case, there is no doubt that Nagarjuna—even if only his generally accepted works are taken into account—displays a wide range of resourceful ways to express the Buddhist teachings in their entirety.
Even these texts sometimes “deviate” from such a style, let alone some of his other texts, in which he uses affirmative terminologies—even with regard to the ultimate—and notions that are anything but typical Madhyamaka.
The major examples for Nagarjuna’s positive descriptions of the nature of phenomena, the luminous nature of mind, the notion of “fundamental change of state,” and so on that are found in his praises will be given below,65 so a few further sources shall suffice here.
Providing the characteristics—even if they are phrased negatively—of anything, let alone of something like the ultimate, is sure enough not what Nagarjuna does otherwise in this text, usually concluding that everything is neither this nor that, empty, and lacking any nature.
In the following verse, most of the characteristics of ultimate reality are phrased in the negative, but the first one does point out that the subsiding of all discursive mental activity and its reference points still is and must be one’s own personally experienced insight.
Not known through something other, peaceful,
Not referential through any reference points,
Without conceptions, and without distinctions:
These are the characteristics of true reality.66
Nagarjuna’s Yuktiṣaṣṭikā says that this is the only state that is true and reliable:
The victors have declared
That nirvana alone is real,
So which wise one would think
That the rest is not delusive?67
His Bodhicittavivaraṇa explicitly states this to be the supreme state of mind,
which is not just indifferent or neutral, but blissful and irreversible:
The mind is arrayed through latent tendencies.
Freedom from latent tendencies is bliss.
This blissful mind is peacefulness.
A peaceful mind will not be ignorant.
Not to be ignorant is the realization of true reality.
The realization of true reality is the attainment of liberation.
This is also explained
As suchness, the true end,
Signlessness, the ultimate,
The supreme bodhicitta, and emptiness.
. . .
This precious mind without afflictions
Is the single supreme gem.
It cannot be harmed or snatched away
By robbers like afflictions and maras.68
Similar to the Dharmadhātustava, the Mahāyānaviṃśikā declares final
enlightenment—nonabiding nirvana—to be the revelation of stainless luminosity
that is ever-present and unchanging throughout ground, path, and fruition:
Those who see dependent origination
To be the true actuality
Thus see the world as empty,
Free from beginning, middle, and end.
Through this, they see that, for themselves,
There is neither sansara nor nirvana—
Stainless changeless luminosity
Throughout beginning, middle, and end.69
The *Bodhisaṃbhāraśāstra says that such enlightenment entails limitless
The kayas of a Buddha have infinite qualities.
The two accumulations for enlightenment are their root.
Therefore, the accumulations for enlightenment
Do not have any limit either.70
The Sūtrasamucchaya quotes several sutras that assert the existence of the dharmadhatu or the Tathagata heart as permanent, immutable, peaceful, and eternal.
Nagarjuna also says a few other things that a radical Madhyamika is not supposed to say, such as considering outer objects as being just aspects of mind (even using some of the same arguments and examples as the Yogacaras), and accepting such teachings as a valid step on the path.
The Bodhicittavivaraṇa states:
With regard to a single external referent,
Different consciousnesses operate.
Just that which is a pleasant form for some
Is something else for others.
With regard to a single female form,
A mendicant, a passionate person, and a dog
Entertain the three different thoughts
Of a corpse, an object of desire, and a morsel.
As the entities of apprehender and apprehended, The appearances of consciousness Do not exist as outer objects That are different from consciousness. Therefore, in the sense of having the nature of entities, In all cases, outer objects do not exist.
His Mahāyānaviṃśikā says:
Likewise, the alaya-consciousness Is not real but appears as if it were real.
When it moves to and fro, It retains the three existences.73
As for the details of the path of bodhisattvas, such as proper ethical conduct, bodhicitta, the paramitas, and the ten bhumis, Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali, [Suhṛllekha]], Bodhicittavivaraṇa, and *Bodhisaṃbhāraśāstra provide extensive explanations.
To summarize, Christian Lindtner says in his Nagarjuniana: In my view the decisive reason for the said variety of Nagarjuna’s writings is to be sought in the author’s desire, as a Buddhist, to address himself to various audiences, at various levels and from various angles.
CS Catuḥstava is a document confessing its author’s personal faith in the Buddha’s desana, while SS Sūtrasamucchaya, BV Bodhicittavivaraṇa, BS *Bodhisaṃbhāraśāstra, SL [Suhṛllekha]] and RA Ratnāvalī on the whole addressed themselves to a wider Buddhist audience, monks as well as laymen.
I will therefore take it for granted that Nagarjuna never changed his fundamental outlook essentially, and, accordingly, look upon his writings as expressions of an underlying unity of thought conceived before he made his début in writing.74
The underlying unity of Nagarjuna’s outlook is also highlighted by the fact that a considerable number of Indian Madhyamikas—such as Bhāvaviveka, Candrakīrti, Haribhadra, Śāntarakṣita, Prajñākaramati, Atisa, Jayānanda, Maitripa, and Sahajavajra—frequently refer to and quote several of his praises and other texts (and not only the passages in these that speak about emptiness).
I do not think that it is possible to name one single later Madhyamika in India—Prasangika or Svatantrika—who does not expressly acknowledge, or at least indicate (through allusions, quotations etc.) Nagarjuna as his authority par excellence, second only to Sakyamuni himself, of course.76
It goes without saying that, if possible at all, Nagarjuna’s significance as the towering figure of mahayana Buddhism—being called a “second Buddha”— was even greater throughout the Tibetan tradition.
Various Views on Nagajuna’s Scriptural Legacy and Its Scope In the Indian Buddhist tradition, apart from very frequent references to and quotations from Nagarjuna’s works, actual overviews or classifications of them appear to be almost nonexistent.
In addition to the abovementioned short list in Candrakirti’s Madhyamakaśāstrastuti (the five texts of the collection of reasoning, the Ratnavali, the Sūtrasamucchaya, and the praises), his Yuktiṣaṣṭikāvṛtti gives a brief account of the interrelation between Nagarjuna’s four major Madhyamaka texts.
Candrakirti answers by saying that the Vigrahavyāvartanī and the Sunyatasaptati are elaborations on Mulamadhyamakakarika I.3 and VII.34, respectively, in order to answer objections to these verses. Since these two texts thus have no independent line of teaching, they contain no extra praise either.
The Yuktiṣaṣṭikā, however, just as the Mulamadhyamakakarika, was composed by way of mainly analyzing dependent origination. Therefore, it is not something like an elaboration on the Mulamadhyamakakarika.77
Atisa’s Ratnakaraṇḍodghātanāmamadhyamakopadeśa 78 gives the most extensive Indian layout of Nagarjuna’s works, explicitly listing forty-five texts and indicating an even greater number by repeatedly saying “and so on.”
Atisa explains that, for the sake of those who are at the lowest level of the bodhisattva’s stage of engagement through aspiration, Nagarjuna composed the greater and lesser texts on producing incense (P5808, 5809) and so on.
For physicians, he wrote the Yogaśataka (P5795) and others.
The branches of these are said to be the Yuktiṣaṣṭikā, Mahāyānaviṃśikā, Bhāvasaṃkrānti (P5472), Bhāvanākrama, Akṣaraśataka (P5234), Vaidalyaprakaraṇa, Bodhicittavivaraṇa, Dharmadhatustava, Paramarthastava, Prajñaparamitastotra (called *Nirvikalpastava), Acintyastava, Lokatitastava, Cittavajrastava, Salistambasutra?ika (P5486), and the Pratityasamutpadah?dayakarika with its commentary.
For the sake of those with sharpest faculties who serve as the vessels for the secret mantra of the mahayana, Nagarjuna composed texts on the meaning of the Guhyasamajatantra, that is, the *Guhyasamajama??alabhi?ekavidhi, Guhyasamajama??alavidhi (P2663), Pi??ik?tasadhana (P2661), Sutramelapaka (P2662), and Pañcakrama (P2667).
He is also said to have written commentaries on the Catu?pi?atantra and the Mañjusrinamasa?giti as well as many sadhanas.79 Interestingly, Atisa does not mention the [Suhṛllekha]] and Rajaparikathanamaratnavali here, but his Bodhipathapradipapañjika lists the latter.80
In contrast to the Indian tradition, Tibetan works offer a rich variety of accounts and classifications of Nagarjuna’s scriptural legacy. In the introduction to his commentary on the Mulamadhyamakakarika, the early Tibetan Madhyamika Majawa Jangchub Dsöndrü81 (died c. 1185) gives an interesting survey:
In general, as for the treatises composed by this master, there are (1) those that elucidate the causal paramitayana, (2) those that elucidate the fruitional vajrayana, and (3) the one that teaches these two to be equivalent.
1) The first include three types. There are (a) those that mainly teach the view: the sixfold collection of reasoning; (b) those that mainly teach conduct: the *Bodhisa?bhara (the extensive one), the Sutrasamucchaya (the medium one), and the [Suhṛllekha]] (the brief one); and (c) the one that teaches view and conduct equally, the Rajaparikathanamaratnavali.
There are the two main texts, which are like the body and teach all sections of this topic in a complete way, and the four treatises that are the branches or elaborations presented in order to eliminate wrong ideas only about certain parts of said topic.
As for the first of these being definitely two, some explain that the Mulamadhyamakakarika teaches dependent origination as being free from the eight extremes of reference points, such as arising and ceasing, while the Yuktiṣaṣṭikā teaches that it is free from the four extremes of reference points, that is, the pair of arising and ceasing and the pair of existence and nonexistence. However, the explanation that they, in due order, teach the nature of phenomena—emptiness—in a negating way through negative determination and teach this nature—emptiness—in an affirmative way through positive determination on a merely conventional level appears to penetrate the purport of these texts. As for the treatises that are the branches being definitely four, the Vigrahavyavartani is an elaboration to eliminate the objection that Nagarjuna’s own words contradict his refutation of arising from something other in the Mulamadhyamakakarika’s first chapter on examining conditions. . . . The Sunyatasaptati is taught to refute that the characteristics of conditioned phenomena—arising, abiding, and ceasing—in the Mulamadhyamakakarika’s seventh chapter on examining conditioned phenomena are established by a nature of their own. . . . The Vaidalyaprakara?a answers . . . the objection, “If entities are without nature, this is contradictory to such a nature being established through valid cognition” . . . through examining the notion of valid cognition itself.
The Vyavaharasiddhi answers . . . the objection, “If entities are without nature, then, just like the horns of a rabbit, presentations of what is conventional are not justified” through saying that dependent origination is a suitable corrective for an absolutized understanding of the lack of nature . . .
Therefore, this manner of identifying the main and elaborating texts within the collection of reasoning dispenses with all the statements of earlier masters, such as some arriving at six by adding the Ratnavali and leaving out the Vyavaharasiddhi;
some saying that it is called a “collection or group of reasoning,” but that there is no definitive number of six texts in it; and others stating that the treatises that make up the collection of reasoning, which teaches the lack of nature, are only five.
For the reason that Nagarjuna pays homage to the Buddha in the beginning of this text but not in the others such as the Vigrahavyavartani, the Yuktiṣaṣṭikā is a main text, just like the Mulamadhyamakakarika, while the others are elaborating treatises . . . 82
(3) The one that teaches these two paramitayana and vajrayana to be equivalent is the Bodhicittavivara?a, since it is a commentary on the words of the Guhyasamaja root tantra (in which Vairocana calls the ultimate “the greatness of bodhicitta”), commenting on the characteristics of bodhicitta.83
From among those texts, in particular, he composed three types of commentaries on the collection of the sutras. The first type consists of the collection of speeches, which is composed in such a way that the accomplishment of mundane and supramundane purposes and the definite distinction between what is to be relinquished and what is to be adopted are noncontradictory in terms of the presentations of the labels of the mahayana and the hinayana.
. . . 84
You may wonder, “Well, how could these words here in verse 2 of the Dharmadhatustava that ‘the fruition of nirvana— dharmakaya—becomes manifest through the cause of sansara having become pure’ be appropriate? Aren’t these two mutually exclusive in the sense of not coexisting? Moreover, how could it be appropriate in this context that sansara and nirvana exist? This contradicts Nagarjuna’s statement that all phenomena are without nature, which he makes in his collection of reasoning, refuting any such nature through enumerating many reasonings.” What is to be explained here is as follows. . . .85
The Acintyastava says:
Through realizing it, one is called a Buddha.86 Therefore, due to the stained dharmadhatu as the cause of sansara having become pure, there is no contradiction in referring to it with the term “nirvana.” In the collection of reasoning, Nagarjuna negates the clinging to characteristics, but he does definitely not refute the teachings on the way of being of the Buddha and the dharma, wisdom, great compassion, or the wonderful enlightened activity of the Buddhas. Nevertheless, the blinded wisdom eyes of ordinary beings conceive of that as something else. . . . This text here occasions the teaching on the very own essence of the purity of consciousness that is stained by apprehender and apprehended in just an adventitious way.87
Butön Rinchen Drub’s (1290–1364) History of Buddhism first discusses Nagarjuna’s texts of the collection of reasoning: As for the commentaries on the intention of the middle cycle of the Buddha’s words, there are two types: those that elucidate the aspect of the view and those that elucidate the aspect of conduct.
First, . . . those works that teach on the meaning of what the sutras explicitly discuss (or the essential meaning) are the six texts of the collection of reasoning. Among these six, it is said that the Sunyatasaptati teaches that all phenomena are natural emptiness, dependent origination free from all extremes of reference points.
The Prajñanamamulamadhyamakakarika refutes what is other than that, that is, a reality of arising and so on. These two are the main or principal works. The Yuktiṣaṣṭikā proves that emptiness through reasoning. The Vigrahavyavartani removes the flaws that others adduce when disputing that emptiness. The Vaidalyaprakara?a teaches the manner of disputing with others, that is, the dialecticians.
The Vyavaharasiddhi teaches that, despite phenomena’s ultimate lack of a nature, on the level of seeming reality, the conventions of the world are justified and established.88 Later in his text, Butön lists a great number of major and minor works by Nagarjuna. He does not go into any details with regard to the praises but explicitly considers them to be Madhyamaka works:
As for his treatises, in the field of knowledge that consists of the inner Buddhist teachings, among those that mainly teach on the view, the cycle of Madhyamaka praises teaches the middle free from extremes through scriptures, while the collection of reasoning teaches it through reasoning. Among those that mainly teach on conduct, the Sutrasamucchaya teaches this through scriptures, while the *Mahayanavyutpanna89 teaches it through reasoning. The Svapnacintama?iparikatha awakens the disposition of the sravakas.
The [Suhṛllekha]] mainly teaches on the conduct of householders, while the *Bodhisa?bhara mainly teaches on the conduct of the ordained. As for the section of the tantras, the *Tantrasamucchaya is a summary of view and conduct. The Bodhicittavivara?a determines the view. The Guhyasamajasadhana, the Pi??ik?tasadhana, the Sutramelapaka, and the Guhyasamajama??alavidhi in twenty verses teach on the generation stage. The Pañcakrama and so on teach on the completion stage . . . The Ratnavali teaches the union of view and conduct of the mahayana for kings . . .90
The collection of speeches is for unraveling the vast meanings of the variety of dharmas,
The collection of reasoning for unraveling the profound meaning of the intention of the middle turning of the wheel of dharma, And the collection of praises for unraveling the profound meaning of the intention of the final turning of the wheel of dharma.93
The Blue Annals by Gö Lotsawa (1392–1481) mentions, mostly without author, several times the collection of reasoning94 and many of Nagarjuna’s other texts on sutras and tantras, with the notable absence of the Bodhicittavivara?a, the Vyavaharasiddhi, the Mahayanavi?sika, the *Bodhisa?bhara, and almost all the praises. Gö Lotsawa’s text begins with the Kayatrayastotra in both Sanskrit and Tibetan but gives neither its title nor author. Also without author, it mentions the Cittavajrastava and the Dharmadhatustava once each, the latter
It is explained that the protector Nagarjuna uttered his lion’s roar three times on this earth. It is well known that Nagarjuna first composed the treatises of the collection of speeches, which mainly explain the aspect of vast conduct. Next, he composed the treatises of the collection of reasoning, which mainly explain the dharma of the profound view—emptiness in terms of cutting through superimpositions by studying and reflecting. Finally, he composed the Bodhicittavivara?a, Cittavajrastava and so on, which mainly explain emptiness as experienced through meditation.96
The same author’s Distinction between the Two Traditions of the Great Charioteers points to the collections of reasoning and praises being complementary, with the first serving to cut through all reference points and the latter speaking about making this a living experience.97
Sakya Chogden’s contemporary, Gorampa Sönam Senge98 (1429–1489), composed a general outline of Madhyamaka, called Illuminating the Definitive Meaning, which quotes and closely follows Majawa’s above presentation in many respects but also speaks about Nagarjuna’s praises in detail. Unlike most other sources mentioned, it provides a clear and comprehensive explanation of the three collections of speeches, reasoning, and praises.
In general, this master has composed many treatises that elucidate all five fields of knowledge. From among these, the topic at hand is the knowledge of the inner reality that is, Buddhism. Nagarjuna taught both its view and conduct by way of scripture and by way of reasoning. The first approach is found in his Sutrasamucchaya and the second in the following three collections:
Candrakirti’s commentary on the Yuktiṣaṣṭikā speaks about the ways in which the Vigrahavyavartani and the Sunyatasaptati elaborate on the Mulamadhyamakakarika, but there appears no mentioning of a way in which the other texts are elaborations.
Also, as for the Vyavaharasiddhi, it was not translated into Tibetan, and master Candrakirti’s Prasannapada, when speaking about the way of looking at the scriptural tradition of master Nagarjuna, mentions the other five but not this text. Therefore, it appears that it was not counted within the collection of reasoning in India either. Some later masters say that it is not justified to arrive at six texts in this collection by adding the Ratnavali, since it belongs to the collection of speeches.
Therefore, the question of what the collection of reasoning contains is to be treated as follows. It consists of three types of texts: (a) those that negate the objects of negation imputed by others, (b) those that present Nagarjuna’s own system, the body of Madhyamaka, and (c) those that remove objections by way of elaborating on that.
a) The first is the Vaidalyaprakara?a for the following reasons. . . . It says that it refutes the philosophical systems of opponents in order to relinquish their pride, but not that it elaborates on Nagarjuna’s own texts. In the text itself, there only appears a refutation of the Naiyayikas’ sixteen terms of dialectics and their meanings, but nothing else.
b) The second type includes both the Mulamadhyamakakarika and the Yuktiṣaṣṭikā. As for their difference, there are three explanations. Some explain that the Mulamadhyamakakarika teaches dependent origination as being free from the eight extremes of reference points, such as arising and ceasing, while the Yuktiṣaṣṭikā teaches that it is free from the four extremes of reference points, that is, the pair of arising and ceasing and the pair of existence and nonexistence. Others say that the former is a refutation of our own Buddhist factions and other factions in common, while the latter is a refutation of our own factions in particular.
Yet others say that they respectively teach the nature of phenomena—emptiness— in a negating way through negative determination and teach this nature—emptiness—in an affirmative way through positive determination on a merely conventional level.
Majawa says that this latter position appears to penetrate the meanings of the texts.
As for the meaning of “by way of negative determination or positive determination,” the intention behind this statement was that the former emphasizes the negation of a nature, while the latter emphasizes, through examples such as illusions and mirages, the teaching that there are appearances despite this lack of nature.
a) The praises to the ground include the Cittavajrastava (P2013), a praise to mind’s lucidity, that is, the bearer of the nature of phenomena, the dharmadhatu. . . . This is a praise to mind as such, which is the ground of everything in sansara and nirvana.
Its first verse . . . eliminates the qualm of whether the dharmadhatu that is not liberated from adventitious stains is suitable as an object of praise, while the following is a praise to the dharmadhatu that only becomes the cause of sansara, if it is not seized through the proper means.
Its colophon informs that it is what the Bhagavat said to the sixteen great sravakas in the scripture called Bodhisattvapi?akasutra.101 Nagarjuna extracted it from there and then inserted it in the form of these verses into the collection of praises.
The praises that eulogize by way of teaching the view’s own essence without distinguishing between the three kayas are the Paramarthastava (P2014), the Niraupamyastava (P2011), the Acintyastava (P2019), the Lokatitastava (P2012), the Stutyatitastava (P2020), and the Niruttarastava (P2021).
Some appear to add here also the two A??amahasthanacaityastotras (P2024 and P2025) and the two praises to Mañjusri (P2022 and P2023).
3) The collection of speeches includes both the Rajaparikathanamaratnavali and the [Suhṛllekha]].102
The Salistambakasutra?ika instructs on the teachings of the Buddha in general.
The collection of praises teaches on the Madhyamaka that is the fruition, while the collection of reasoning teaches on the Madhyamaka that is the path. The Sik?asamucchaya teaches on conduct. The *Mahayanavyutpanna is a compendium of the sutras.
The [Suhṛllekha]] is for householders, while the Ratnavali is for everybody in common.
The *Tantrasamucchaya teaches on the view and conduct of mantra. The Bodhicittavivara?a teaches on its view.
All that Taranatha (1575–1635) says about Nagarjuna’s texts in his History of Buddhism in India is that he composed five fundamental treatises to silence the contesting sravakas who believed in external reality.
As for the Kayatrayastotra, Taranatha takes Nagahvaya (meaning “the one called Naga,” which is exactly how Nagarjuna is referred to in the above prophecy in the Lankavatarasutra) to be a distinct person and attributes this praise to him.105
Based on the Mahabherisutra, the introduction to the mahayana in Chapter Ten of the Exposition of Philosophical Systems106 by the Gelugpa scholar Jamyang Shéba 107 (1648–1721) speaks of three proclamations of the dharma by Nagarjuna. First, he is said to have spread the teachings according to the Mahabherisutra.
Thirdly, he composed the Ratnavali and, upon his return to South India, brought with him the Mahabherisutra, the Srimaladevisutra, the Tathagatagarbhasutra, and the Sarvabuddhavi?ayavatarajñanalokala?karasutra.
He mainly taught the Mahabherisutra and also wrote the Dharmadhatustava.108 Jamyang Shéba concludes by stating the standard Gelugpa position on Nagarjuna’s third cycle of teachings, in particular the Dharmadhatustava:
Therefore, they are in accord with the middle turning of the wheel of dharma, but since they take the Buddha to be permanent in terms of continuity and to not have passed into nirvana in terms of the definitive meaning,
Chapter Twelve of Jamyang Shéba’s work—which treats the Prasangika system—says that the treatises on which these Madhyamikas rely start with Nagarjuna’s works, as they are listed in Candrakirti’s Prasannapada.
Among Nagarjuna’s praises that are directed toward the ultimate, Jamyang Shéba explicitly lists the Dharmadhatustava, Lokatitastava, Kayatrayastotra, Niruttarastava, Stutyatitastava, Acintyastava, and Cittavajrastava (the words “and so on” at the end of this list seem to indicate that there are more praises by Nagarjuna).110
Except for the basic description of the collection of reasoning and Gorampa’s above presentation of all three collections, there are no clear—let alone unequivocal—statements in the above sources as to which texts exactly make up Nagarjuna’s three scriptural collections.
The third proclamation of the dharma refers to his composing works that are based on the Mahabherisutra and others, such as the Dharmadhatustava. These teach that the permanent Tathagata heart—the basic element, the dharmadhatu—pervades all sentient beings.
This appears indeed to be based on several passages in the Mahabherisutra and the Mahameghasutra.
However, the third proclamation of the dharma teaches extensively on the way in which the Buddha is permanent in terms of continuity and, in terms of the definitive meaning, did not pass into nirvana.
Therefore, it is taken to be a proclamation that is distinct from the second proclamation of the dharma.112
As far as the collection of praises is concerned, the explanation in The Treasury of Knowledge by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé (1813–1899) almost literally follows Gorampa’s presentation but omits the Stutyatitastava and the Niruttarastava:
As for identifying the three collections, most Tibetans maintain the following. The collection of speeches contains two texts: the [Suhṛllekha]] (delivered as a message to a king from far away) and the Ratnavali (given as an actual speech before a king).
As for the collection of reasoning, four texts—the Mulamadhyamakakarika, the Yuktiṣaṣṭikā, the Sunyatasaptati, and the Vigrahavyavartani—represent the collection of reasoning that refutes anything to be proven, that is, all extremes of reference points. The fifth—the Vaidalyaprakara?a—refutes the means to prove such, that is, dialectic reasoning.
The collection of praises contains two that pertain to the phase of the ground: the praise to the bearer of the nature of phenomena, the dharmadhatu,113 as being mind’s lucidity and the praise to that nature itself, the Dharmadhatustava.
The praises that pertain to the time of the fruition include the praise to each one of the three kayas separately115 and the praises by way of the view’s own essence, without distinguishing between them, that is, the Paramarthastava, the Niraupamyastava, the Acintyastava, the Lokatitastava.
The latter being elaborations, this means that the five texts in the collection of reasoning are explicitly enumerated in his text too. Therefore, there is no great disagreement between Candrakirti and what was presented above.
The precious Lord Tsongkhapa and others ask why it is not enumerated in the Prasannapada, if there is such a text. Also, it would be reasonable for it to be quoted by the direct disciples of noble Nagarjuna, but it is not quoted anywhere.
The Ratnavali teaches in detail on the two kinds of identitylessness and also instructs on the aspect of means as is appropriate.
Therefore, the Mulamadhyamakakarika, theYuktiṣaṣṭikā, and the Ratnavali represent the treatises that are the fully complete main body of these teachings, while the other three are like branches that elaborate on the Mulamadhyamakakarika.119
In the introduction to his commentary on the Dharmadhatustava, the Sakya master Lodrö Gyatso120 (born nineteenth century) says:
Such an explanation is completely fine.
But here, it is said that the collection of reasoning teaches mainly on the ground (the view), the collection of speeches teaches mainly on the path, and the collection of praises teaches mainly on the fruition.
From among these, the main text in the collection of praises is the Dharmadhatustava.121
The colophon of his commentary states:
The collection of praises and the Uttaratantra mainly teach the notion of the basic element of the two kayas, the fruition of union. Therefore, with regard to the single essence of the path, these texts just bring out clearly the notions of lucidity and emptiness, respectively.122
To summarize what has been said on Nagarjuna’s praises, compared to the list of eighteen praises that the Tengyur attributes to him, all Indian and even the Tibetan masters mentioned above give considerably shorter lists.
and Gorampa eleven (P2010–2105, 2017–2021).123 These four authors all agree on not considering P2022–2028. The others either do not mention Nagarjuna’s praises at all or summarily just speak of “the collection of praises.”
Who or What Is Praised in Nagarjuna’s Praises?
Apart from what was said in Gorampa’s and Jamgön Kongtrul’s above descriptions of the contents of some of Nagarjuna’s praises, formally speaking, in one way or another, most of them pay homage to Buddha Sakyamuni.
The Niraupamyastava, Lokatitastava, Paramarthastava, Acintyastava, Stutyatitastava, Niruttarastava, and Vandanastotra all praise the Buddha directly, and the Dvadasakaranayastotra does so by enumerating his twelve great deeds.
As their name says, the two A??amahasthanacaityastotras pay homage to the eight kinds of stupas in commemoration of eight major deeds of Buddha Sakyamuni in certain locations (although the order, the names, and the accounts of these eight often differ both between the two praises and from the standard set of eight stupas).
Judging by their names, one would expect the Aryabha??arakamañjusriparamarthastuti and Aryamañjusribha??arakakaru- ?astotra to be praises to Mañjusri,
According to the Tibetan colophon in the Tengyur, the Sattvaradhanastava is Nagarjuna’s versified summary of a discourse on the importance of acting for the benefit of sentient beings out of compassion,
Thus, the majority of the verses in his praises could equally be found in the texts included in the collection of reasoning.
In other words, Nagarjuna praises the familiar notions of emptiness, dependent origination, nonarising, freedom from reference points, the lack of any nature, and identitylessness. To give just a few typical examples, the
An entity does not arise as being existent already,
Nor as being nonexistent, nor as being both existent and nonexistent,
Neither from itself, nor from something other,
Nor from both—so how is it born?
. . .
It is not tenable for a result
To arise from a perished cause,
Nor from a nonperished one—
You consider arising as being like a dream,
. . .
Dialecticians hold that suffering
Is created by itself, created by something other,
Created by both, or without a cause,
But you say that it arises in dependence.
What dependent origination is
Is exactly what you consider to be emptiness.
Your incomparable lion’s roar is
That there is no independent entity.
In order to relinquish all imagination,
You taught the nectar of emptiness.
However, those who cling to it
Are also blamed by you.
Being motionless, contingent,126 empty,
Illusionlike, and arisen from conditions,
All phenomena are elucidated by you,
O protector, as lacking a nature of their own.127
The Niraupamyastava declares:
O blameless one, you have realized
That the world of beings, just like an echo,
Is free from unity and mutiplicity
And lacks transmigration and destruction.
Lord, you have realized that sansara
Is free from permanence and extinction
And lacks characteristics and what is to be characterized,
Just like a dream or an illusion.128
The Acintyastava states:
What has arisen from conditions
Is said by you to be unarisen.
What is not born by a nature of its own
You elucidated to be empty.
If there is existence, there is nonexistence,
Just as there is short when there is long.
If there is nonexistence, there is existence.
Therefore, both do not exist.
“Existence” is the view of permanence.
“Nonexistence” is the view of extinction.
Therefore, you have taught this dharma
Free from the two extremes.
Hence you have said that all phenomena
Are free from the four possible extremes,
Unknowable for consciousness,
Let alone being within the sphere of words.
What is beyond both being and nonbeing,
But has not gone anywhere at all,
What is neither knowledge nor knowable,
Neither existent nor nonexistent,
Neither one nor many,
Neither both nor neither,
Without base, unmanifest,
Neither arising nor ceasing,
Neither extinct nor permanent—
That is similar to space,
Not within the sphere of words or wisdom.
What is dependent origination
Is exactly what you consider to be emptiness.
Of the same kind is the genuine dharma,
And also the Tathagata is like that.
Emptiness is not different from entities,
And there is no entity without it.
Therefore, you have declared as empty
Phenomena that originate dependently.129
The Paramarthastava says:
Due to the nature of nonarising,
There is no arising for you,
Neither going nor coming, O protector,
I pay homage to you devoid of any nature.130
The Niruttarastava declares:
In you, there is neither knowing nor nonknowing,
Neither a yogin nor an ordinary person,
Neither meditation nor nonmeditation—
I pay homage to the unsurpassable.131
Even the Dharmadhatustava, which otherwise speaks about the dharmadhatu
in more positive terms, clarifies:
Since dharmadhatu’s not a self,
Neither woman nor a man,
Free from all that could be grasped,
How could it be labeled “self”?
. . .
“Impermanence,” “suffering,” and “empty,”
These three, they purify the mind.
The dharma purifying mind the best
Is the lack of any nature.
. . .
Virtuous throughout beginning, middle, end,
Undeceiving and so steady,
What’s like that is just the lack of self—
So how can you conceive it as a self and mine?
. . .
As long as we still cling to “self” and “mine,”
We will conceive of outer things through this.
But once we see the double lack of self,
The seeds of our existence find their end.
Since it is the ground for buddhahood, nirvana,
Purity, permanence, and virtue too,
And because the childish think of two,
In the yoga of their nonduality, please rest.
. . .
Free from latent tendencies, you’re inconceivable.
Sansara’s latent tendencies, they can be conceived.
You’re completely inconceivable—
Through what could you be realized?
. . .
The nonbeing of all beings—
This nature is its sphere.
The mighty bodhicitta seeing it
Is fully stainless dharmakaya.132
In general, the texts of Nagarjuna and his followers exhibit a basic layout in terms of the three stages of no analysis, slight analysis, and thorough analysis.
As Aryadeva’s Catu?sataka says:
First, one puts an end to what is not meritorious.
In the middle, one puts an end to identity.
Later, one puts an end to all views.
Those who understand this are skilled.133
The skandhas, dhatus, and ayatanas
You have indeed proclaimed,
But any clinging to them too
You countered later on.
. . .
In order to relinquish all views,
O protector, you declared entities to be empty.
But that too is an imputation,
O protector—you do not hold that this is really so.
You assert neither empty nor nonempty,
Nor are you pleased with both.
There is no dispute about this—
It is the approach of your great speech.134
There are many more similar verses in Nagarjuna’s praises, but the ones above should sufficiently illustrate the point of the underlying unity of thought in both the collection of reasoning and the collection of praises.
In addition, to a certain extent, but—as the above examples should have made clear—by far not exclusively or even predominantly,
For example, the Paramarthastava says:
You do not dwell in any of all the dharmas,
But have gone to the reaches of the dharmadhatu,
Having attained the supreme profundity—
To you, the profound, I pay homage.135
The Niruttarastava states:
Having left behind this shore and the yonder,
You illuminate the supreme nature of all that can be known
Through the power of your miraculous display of wisdom—
To the unsurpassable, I pay homage.
Your luminous single wisdom
Determines all knowable objects without exception,
Thus being equal and beyond measure—
To the unsurpassable, I pay homage.136
The Niraupamyastava says:
You know the single taste
Of what is defiled and purified.
Since the dharmadhatu is without distinction,
You are completely pure in all respects.
O faultless one, you have vanquished the afflictions
Right down to their very roots, their latent tendencies,
But you have procured the nectar
Of the afflictions’ very nature.
. . .
Since the dharmadhatu is without distinction,
There is no difference between the yanas, O lord—
Your declaration of three yanas
Is for the sake of introducing sentient beings.
Your body is eternal, immutable, peaceful,
Made up of dharma, and victorious,
But because of people to be guided,
You have demonstrated passing into nirvana.137
With respect to ultimate reality, the Acintyastava even states:
It is also held to be true reality, the ultimate,
Suchness, and the basic substance.
This is the undeceiving reality.
The Cittavajrastava says:
I bow to my own mind
That dispels mind’s ignorance
By eliminating the mind-sprung web
Through this very mind itself.
Sentient beings with their various inclinations
Picture different kinds of gods,
But our precious mind cannot be established
As any other god than complete liberation.139
However, the most consequent and comprehensive example of this approach among Nagarjuna’s praises is certainly the Dharmadhatustava, with its many examples of how the dharmadhatu—the luminous nature of the mind—abides within adventitious stains but is completely untainted by them. One of these examples says:
A garment that was purged by fire
May be soiled by various stains.
When it’s put into a blaze again,
The stains are burned, the garment not.
Likewise, mind that is so luminous
Is soiled by stains of craving and so forth.
The afflictions burn in wisdom’s fire,
But its luminosity does not.140
The Kayatrayastotra’s first verse on the dharmakaya declares:
What is neither one nor many, the foundation of great and
excellent benefit for oneself and others,
Neither an entity nor the lack of an entity, of equal taste like
space, of a nature difficult to perceive,
Untainted, changeless, peaceful, unequalled, all-pervading,
and free from reference points—
To the incomparable dharmakaya of the victors, which is to
be personally experienced, I pay homage.
This is elaborated in the autocommentary as follows:
You may wonder, “If the nature of the dharmadhatu—being free from one and many, beginning and end—is explained as emptiness, how can it be the foundation for the great and excellent welfare of oneself and others?”
There is no problem.
Just as it, through the power of the latent tendencies of ignorance, manifests in the form of the container and its content the outer world and the beings therein, it can as well serve as the foundation for the welfare of oneself and others, just as our consciousness in dreams can manifest in different ways.
It is untainted in that it is free from the stains of desire and such.
It is changeless in that it does not shift from its own nature. It is peaceful in that all afflictions have come to rest. It is to be personally experienced by sentient beings, just as it is pointless to ask a young woman about her bliss of making love for the first time.143
Naturally, in the case of someone like Nagarjuna, who is primarily famous—or notorious—for not leaving any of our cherished belief systems intact, no matter how subtle they may be, the use of such overtly affirmative or even “un-Buddhist” terms may seem strange, if not contradictory.
However, it should be more than clear that he does not use these terms to refer to any absolutely or truly existing entity that is left as something identifiable after everything else has been annihilated by Madhyamaka reasonings.
Rather, far from being mutually exclusive, what Nagarjuna’s two approaches attempt to elucidate is that, despite there being nothing to pinpoint in the dharmadhatu as the nature of the mind, it can still be experienced directly and personally in a nonreferential way.
There is nothing wrong here for the following reasons.
To cut through superimpositions by way of the knowledge of studying and reflecting in the collection of reasoning is for the sake of putting an end to the conceptions that cling to any characteristics of what is to be experienced in meditation.
Then, there is no flaw at all in teaching that the dharmadhatu is experienced once such conceptions have been stopped in this way. . . . “But then, isn’t one thing ascertained through the view and something else brought into experience through meditation?”
No, since it is absolutely unreasonable that, once one meditates after all the hosts of reference points have been put to an end through the view, the meditating mind experiences something other than just dharmadhatu wisdom.144
In other words, the more positive expressions in the collection of praises only start being used and making sense after one’s mind has already been stripped of everything that obscures what these terms speak about—mind’s true nature free from adventitious stains.
but is nevertheless composing praises with great enthusiasm, the Stutyatitastava’s first verse says:
The Tathagata who has traveled
The unsurpassable path is beyond praise,
But with a mind full of respect and joy,
I will praise the one beyond praise.
The concluding verses of the Paramarthastava elaborate on this as follows:
Through such praises, you may be extolled,
But what has really been praised here?
All phenomena being empty,
Who is praised and who praises?
Who would be able to praise you
Who are free from arising and declining
And for whom there is neither middle nor end,
Neither perceiver nor perceived?
Having praised you who are without coming and going,
The Well-Gone One145 free from going,
May the world, through this merit,
Walk on the path of the Well-Gone One.146
However, on the plane of seeming reality, for a Buddhist like Nagarjuna, proceeding towards true reality and realizing mind’s nature does not merely depend on the sharpness of prajña seeing through all our hang-ups, but on the union of this prajña with the proper means.
No matter how sophisticated our reasonings or how refined our insight may be, there is no way around also opening our hearts, giving rise to positive mental imprints (aka accumulating merit), and cultivating compassion for others.
Therefore, praises from the depth of our heart, touching—or being touched by—our innermost being, serve very well as skillful and relevant means to precisely these ends. In fact, they are just like the spontaneously uttered dohas of other great siddhas.
Thus, what the above verses say should be equally applied to the scope of all other praises by Nagarjuna too.
In this vein, a great part of the contemporary scholarly doubts about whether Nagarjuna’s praises were actually authored by this otherwise relentless deconstructor of each and every thing are simply based on the fact that the notion of spiritual devotion (Skt. bhakti) or
even ecstasy—though not unknown, but almost forgotten, in the West—seems alien,
To summarize, as Pawo Rinpoche Tsugla Trengwa says in his commentary on the Bodhicaryavatara, there are many positions on ultimate reality, such as holding it to be a nonimplicative negation, saying that it is an implicative negation, or stating it in a very affirmative way as being something permanent and stable.
However, each of these presentations implies a certain purpose. In some situations, the ultimate may be explained as a nonimplicative negation in order to remove people’s clinging to it as being really established in any possible way. In other contexts, it may be explained as an implicative negation in order to dispel the clinging to it as being a nonimplicative negation.
At yet other times, it may also be described as something permanent and stable that is not empty of qualities in order to remedy clinging to the ultimate as just a nonexistent. Thus, it should be clear that all these explanations do not really contradict each other.
However, if they are put forward in any way that involves clinging to them, they are a far cry from the ultimate, since affirmations and negations are nothing but imputations by minds that cling to existence and nonexistence, respectively.
A Brief “History” of Luminous Mind 148
A Terminological Map for the Dharmadhatustava and Its Commentaries
To better understand the Dharmadhatustava and its significance, it seems indispensable to address at least some of the key notions in this work and its commentaries.
Many of these terms and their meanings are rather complex and are often used in different ways in different contexts or in other texts. Thus, it is only possible to give a very basic introduction pertinent to the texts in question.
The eight consciousnesses are the alaya-consciousness, the afflicted mind (Skt. kli??amanas, Tib. nyon yid), the mental consciousness (Skt. manovijñana, Tib. yid kyi rnam shes), and the five sense consciousnesses.
In this way, it is equivalent to fundamental ignorance and the karma accumulated by it, serving as the basis for all sa?saric appearances and representing the sum of all factors to be relinquished in order to attain liberation.
The various seeds are the alaya,
And the virtuous Sugata heart is also such.
The Tathagatas have taught
This Heart with the term alaya.
The Heart is proclaimed as the alaya,
But the mentally feeble do not understand this.149
Similar passages can be found in the Lankavatarasutra.
This is the starting point of fundamental subject-object duality, which then ramifies into the appearances of the remaining six consciousnesses and their objects, all of them being constantly filtered and afflicted through this basic self-concern.
Thus, these consciousnesses are accompanied by the three primary mental afflictions—desire for what seems pleasurable, aversion toward what seems unpleasurable, and indifference toward what seems neither—as well as countless secondary mental disturbances based on these afflictions.
“Mentation” either designates just the afflicted mind or the seventh consciousness as consisting of both the afflicted and the immediate mind. “Consciousness” stands for the five sense consciousnesses and the mental consciousness.
There is a definite lack of proper equivalents for most of the rich Sanskrit and Tibetan terminologies used for mind and its many facets, but there is also a need for distinct terms when going into the subtleties of mapping out mind in Buddhist texts.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “mental action or a mental state,” suggesting mind being in a state of operation, which is how the Sanskrit and Tibetan terms are mainly used (at least in the present context).
Rangjung Dorje’s commentaries on his Profound Inner Reality and the Dharmadhatustava further divide “mentation” into the “afflicted mind,” the “immediate mind,” and “pure mentation” (for details, see the translation of the latter text below).152
Fundamentally— and this is to be kept in mind throughout Buddhist texts—these terms refer to the ongoing constructive yet deluded activity of the mind that constantly brings forth all kinds of dualistic appearances and experiences, thus literally building its own world.153
What is usually understood by “conceptual thinking” is just a small part of this dynamic, since it also includes nonconceptual imagination and even what appears as outer objects and sense consciousnesses—literally everything that goes on in a dualistic mind, conscious or not.
This meaning of deluded mental activity is particularly highlighted by the classical Yogacara terms abhutaparikalpa (“false imagination,” lit. “imagination of what is unreal”) and parikalpita (“the imaginary”), the latter being what is produced by false imagination.
=[[Mind Has [Three Natures]]
This leads us to “the three natures,” the imaginary nature (Skt. parikalpitasvabhava, Tib. kun brtags kyi rang bzhin), the other-dependent nature (Skt. paratantrasvabhava, Tib. gzhan dbang gi rang bzhin), and the perfect nature (Skt. parini?pannasvabhava, Tib. yongs grub kyi rang bzhin).155
To give just a brief and general idea, the other-dependent nature is the mistaken imagination that appears as the unreal entities of subject and object, because these are appearances under the influence of something other, that is, the latent tendencies of ignorance.
In detail, the imaginary nature includes the aspects that appear as conceptual objects (such as the mental image of a form), the connections of names and referents (the notion that a name is the corresponding referent and the mistaking of a referent for the corresponding name),
They are not established as anything real.
It is called “perfect,” because it never changes into something else, is the supreme among all dharmas, and is the focal object of prajña during the process of purifying the mind from adventitious stains.
Just as space, it is without any distinctions, but conventionally, the perfect nature may be presented as twofold—the unchanging perfect nature (suchness) and the unmistaken perfect nature (the wisdom that realizes this suchness).
At times, the perfect nature is also equated with the luminous nature of mind or buddha nature. In this vein, the Seventh Karmapa, Chötra Gyatso (1454–1506), says in his Ocean of Texts on Reasoning156 that the perfect nature can be classified as (1) the path of purification and (2) the focal object of this path.
(1) The causal aspect of this path is the naturally abiding disposition.
The reason is that the latent tendencies of listening render the six inner ayatanas of individual sentient beings distinct from each other. In this way, the naturally abiding disposition is also called “the distinctive feature of the six ayatanas.”158
This means that, through the latent tendencies of listening that serve as the cause for the path of the mahayana, the six inner ayatanas that exist within the continua of those persons who have revived these latent tendencies are made distinct from the inner ayatanas of sentient beings who do not have such tendencies.
It is said that, during the path, these pure tendencies abide together with the impure tendencies of the alaya-consciousness like a mix of milk and water, from which practitioners extract just the milk, leaving the water behind.159 (2)
In brief, the imaginary nature is like mistakenly apprehending the visual appearances that are caused by blurred vision to be floating hairs or dark spots. Since such are nothing but superimposition, they do not exist at all.
The other-dependent nature consists of dependently originating appearances, just like the sheer visual appearances seen by this person with blurred vision. These appear in an illusionlike manner but are without any nature of their own and do not really arise.
First, although there is no personal identity, the perfect nature is what functions as the remedy for the notion of a personal identity. Just as an illusory ship to cross an illusory ocean, it serves as the means to cross the ocean of sansara to the other shore of nirvana.
In terms of dependent origination, this remedial aspect is actually contained within the other-dependent nature, but since it is the cause for realizing the ultimate, it is included in the category of “the ultimate lack of nature.”
This aspect is undifferentiable from phenomenal identitylessness. Like space, it is omnipresent and not established as anything whatsoevenirvanar. It can be compared to the free space that is the natural object of unimpaired eyesight, once blurred vision has been cured, and it is realized that what appeared as floating hairs never actually existed anywhere.
This aspect is “the ultimate lack of nature” per se. On the level of seeming reality, it can be said that the imaginary is nominally existent, while the other-dependent is substantially existent in the sense of something that performs functions. The perfect nature does not exist in any of these two ways, but it exists in a way of being without reference points.
A Fundamental Change of State
The Sanskrit term asrayapariv?tti (Tib. gnas yongs su gyur pa) is often translated as “transformation.” In general, there are a great number of scriptures (from the Pali canon up through the tantras) in which this term is used with reference to a variety of different things or processes (see Davidson 1985).
For some, the word “transformation” may be appropriate, but—as also the Dharmadhatustava and its commentaries show clearly—the whole point in terms of the dharmadhatu, natural purity, buddha nature, or the luminous nature of the mind is that there is absolutely no transformation of anything into anything else.
Rather, the revelation of mind’s primordially pure nature as fruitional enlightenment only appears as a change of its state from the perspective of deluded mind—seeming to be obscured before and then unobscured later.
But this does not refer to any change in nature, just as the sun first being covered by clouds and then being free from clouds would not be called a transformation of the clouds into the sun, or even any transformation of the sun itself.
Thus, when this process of uncovering mind’s fundamental nature is sometimes described in Buddhist texts as if there were a transformation of something impure (such as mental afflictions) into something pure (such as wisdom), this is just a conventional or expedient way of speaking.
Specifically, there is the classical Yogacara format of how a change of state occurs in terms of the eight consciousnesses on the one side and the four wisdoms and the three kayas on the other side, but this does not indicate that the former are actually transformed into the latter.
Rather, just as in the above example of the clouds and the sun, by virtue of the former vanishing, the latter become manifest. Still, conventionally speaking, it is said that the alayaconsciousness manifests as mirrorlike wisdom.
This may also be understood as the fundamental space of the dharmadhatu in which these changes of state take place, all the while being inseparable from it. As for the relationship between the four wisdoms and the three kayas, mirrorlike wisdom represents the dharmakaya, the wisdom of equality and discriminating wisdom make up the sambhogakaya, and all-accomplishing wisdom is the nirma?akaya.161
The Expanse of the Basic Element of Being
When used in terms of ultimate reality, the Sanskrit words dharmadhatu or just dhatu are understood in two main ways, which are reflected by two different Tibetan words that translate the latter term.
In its most general way, dhatu in dharmadhatu refers to the ultimate nature of all phenomena—being equivalent to emptiness—which is usually translated into Tibetan as dbyings (“expanse,” “space” or “vastness”).
If dhatu signifies specifically the nature of the mind of sentient beings in the sense of buddha nature as the most basic element of their entire being, it is typically rendered as khams (lit. “element”).
To be sure, these two meanings and their Tibetan renderings are not necessarily regarded or employed in a mutually exclusive way. Still, generally speaking, they represent the understanding of (dharma)dhatu in Madhyamaka texts and the texts on buddha nature, respectively. Obviously, in the Dharmadhatustava and its commentaries, the term is clearly used in the latter way.
(Tib. rig pa):
(1) pertains only to ordinary beings.
The latter term emphasizes that this wisdom is one’s own unique, immediate, and vivid experience, not just some imagined idea of something one has heard or read of. Mind realizing the nature of all phenomena includes mind being aware of its own ultimate nature, which is the unity of awareness and emptiness. The nature of such a realization is to be free from the triad of something that is aware, something of which it is aware, and the act of being aware, while at the same time being an incontrovertible transformative experience in the noble ones’ own minds (Skt. pratyatmaryajñana, Tib. ’phags pa’i so so rang gi ye shes). It is in this sense that many Tibetan masters, such as the Seventh Karmapa, have explained this wisdom as the most sublime expression of the principle that mind is able to be aware of itself in a nondual way, that is, free from any aspects of subject and object. However, this kind of realization is to be clearly distinguished from the ordinary notion of self-awareness (2), which basically means that all beings are aware of their own direct experiences, such as being happy or sad.
This difference is reflected in the rather specific Buddhist use of the Sanskrit words svasa?vid, svasa?vedana, and svasa?vitti (rang rig; selfawareness) on the one hand and pratyatmagati, pratyatmadhigama, and pratyatmavid (one’s own experience/realization) with the latter’s derivatives, such as pratyatmavedya and pratyatmavedaniya (all translated into Tibetan as so so rang rig). More literally, pratyatmavedaniyajñana means “the wisdom of what is to be personally experienced/realized (that is, the true nature of phenomena).” Of course, there is some overlap in the semantic range of these two groups, and the words in the first may also sometimes be used in the second sense. However, the emphasis in the latter group is clearly on one’s own firsthand knowledge or experience of something, be it emptiness, the dharmadhatu, or the nature of one’s mind.162
In themselves, the corresponding Tibetan expressions rang rig and so so rang rig do not mirror this distinction and are often taken to mean just the same. If the Tibetan tradition gives a distinct explanation of the meaning of so so in so so rang rig pa’i ye shes, it is usually done in two ways. First, so so refers to the fact that the final unmediated realization of the nature of our mind can only be accomplished by our mind’s wisdom itself and not by anything extrinsic to it, such as a teacher’s instructions or blessings. In other words, the only way to really personally know what the wisdom of a Buddha or bodhisattva is like is to experience it in our own mind. In this sense, such wisdom is truly inconceivable and incommunicable, which is part of what the term “personally experienced wisdom” indicates, since it is one’s very own “private” experience unshared with others. Of course, in this context, it should be clear that “personal” or “private” does not refer to an individual person in the usual sense, since the wisdom of the noble ones encompasses the very realization that there is no such person or self. Nevertheless, it is an experience that occurs only in distinct mind streams that have been trained in certain ways, while it does not happen in others. The second explanation of so so is that, just like a mirror, this wisdom clearly sees all phenomena in a distinct way without mixing them up.
In the Dharmadhatustava, the term so so rang rig (suggesting a word from the second group of Sanskrit words above) appears in three verses (29, 46, and 56). Both it and the corresponding so so rang rig pa’i ye shes are also used frequently in the commentaries.
The term tathagatagarbha is not only found in the so-called “tathagatagarbha sutras” (for these, see below) but even in at least one of the prajñaparamita sutras. The Adhyardhasatikaprajñaparamitasutra includes the classical phrase, “all sentient beings contain/possess the Tathagata heart” (sarvasattvas tathagatagarbha?).163 The term does not appear in the Pali canon but in several other early mahayana texts, such as the Lankavatarasutra.
As for the meaning of this Sanskrit compound, it is definitely not as straightforward as it may seem at first glance. In brief, its first part (tatha) can be taken as either the adverb “thus” or the noun “thusness/suchness” (as a term for ultimate reality; several texts gloss tathagatagarbha as “suchness”). The second part can be either read as gata—“gone”—or agata—“come, arrived” (the Tibetan gshegs pa can also mean both). However, in the term tathagata, both meanings more or less come down to the same. Thus, the main difference lies in whether one understands a Tathagata as (a) a “Thus- Gone/Thus-Come One” or (b) “One Gone/Come to Thusness,” with the former emphasizing the aspect of the path and the latter the result. The final part of the compound—garbha—literally and originally means embryo, germ, womb, the interior or middle of anything, any interior chamber or sanctuary of a temple, calyx (as of a lotus), having in the interior, containing, or being filled with. At some point, the term also assumed the meaning of “core,” “heart,” and “pith,”164 which is also what its usual Tibetan translation snying po means. Technically speaking, the compound tathagatagarbha can be understood as either a bahuvrihi or a tatpuru?a compound, meaning “containing a Tathagata (as core)” or “the core of a Tathagata,” respectively. The first is the most natural reading and is also supported by numerous passages in the scriptures.165
Given that both the compound tathagatagarbha and its parts are so rich in meaning, there is clearly no English word that can appropriately translate it. Nevertheless, instead of just using the Sanskrit, my personal choice of rendering garbha as “heart” is based on this word—in its metaphorical sense—also referring to the pith or core of something and appearing evocative enough to point to buddha nature as being “our true heart.” Nevertheless, from among the above meanings of garbha, the ones that signify the space within some enclosure or sheath seem to lend themselves best to a nonreifying notion of buddha nature as the open and luminous space of the nature of mind within the cocoon of adventitious stains that obscure it. However, this image should not lead one to misconceive buddha nature as being some tiny or in any way dimensionally limited space within every sentient being.166
Interestingly enough, in interpreting the meaning of garbha, the Tibetan and the Chinese Buddhist traditions went in opposite directions. The Tibetan term snying po clearly stands for the interior nucleus or most essential part of something. The Chinese ts’ang means womb or enclosure, indicating something that includes or pervades, which later even culminated in the notion that buddha nature pervades everything animate as well as inaminate. Finally, it should be noted that translations such as “Tathagata embryo” or “Tathagata potential” are highly misleading. For, as all the teachings on and examples for buddha nature explain again and again, the whole point is that it is completely without change, let alone any growth or development, throughout all the phases of sentient beings, bodhisattvas, and Buddhas.167
Finally, let’s look into the Dharmadhatustava’s main theme of “naturally luminous mind” (prak?tiprabhasvara? cittam) being defiled by and then freed from adventitious stains (agantukamala). Throughout the Buddhist sources in which this notion appears, the word prabhasvara- (which means clear, brilliant, shining) often alternates and/or is equated with terms such as (pari-, vi-)suddha and vimala, thus being understood as “pure” or “stainless.” Therefore, the rendering “luminous” does not—at least not primarily—refer to some notion of light but to mind’s intrinsic purity, even if it seems to be tainted by temporary extrinsic defilements. This is also confirmed by the contemporary Kagyü and Nyingma master Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who states that the notion of buddha nature refers primarily to the natural purity of mind. As for “adventitious stains,” agantuka means “anything added or adhering,” “incidental,” “accidental,” and also “newcomer,” “stranger,” or “guest.” Thus, these stains are not “at home” in buddha nature, nor do they belong there but are rather strange new kids on the block or unwelcome guests. The sutras also say that “adventitious” refers to phenomena that can be purified or are removable. Most fundamentally, however, “adventitious” indicates that these stains are completely unreal, mere fictions of the dualistically mistaken consciousnesses of ordinary beings. This means that, in actual fact, there is nothing to be removed. “Removing” or “purifying” indicates that it is sufficient to realize that nothing of what appears as so solid and real to us right now is actually there or happening. This is similar to realizing, when mistaking a garden hose for a snake, that there isn’t and never was any snake as that hose apart from us mistaking it for a snake and then panicking. Obviously, the process of realizing the same with regard to buddha nature and its adventitious stains—aka as sa?saric suffering—is not as easy and swift as just giving that hose a second, closer look. Rather, we need to run a thorough and exhaustive check on all our most ingrained habits and patterns of first making up and then dealing with ourselves and our world. As for the expression “the clear light (nature) of mind,” which is found in most English translations and commonly used especially among Western followers of Tibetan Buddhism, it is usually based on the Tibetan ’od gsal ba, which can mean “clear or bright light,” “lucidity,” “luminosity,” or “lustre” (it can also be their respective adjectives). I am not fundamentally arguing with the above translation, since it—on the positive side—surely has the benefit of being evocative and inspirational in tone. However, as countless incidents show, it is more often than not misunderstood in the sense of mind being some source of light (either in a sense of “love and light” or even in a visual sense), which is definitely not what is meant by it.168
Before discussing the actual text of the Dharmadhatustava, it seems appropriate to trace its key notion of naturally luminous mind being temporarily obscured by and then free from adventitious stains in Buddhist scriptures.
Showing that it appears throughout a wide range of texts—both in terms of history and topics—will help to clarify that the occurrence of this theme and how it is presented in Nagarjuna’s text is in no way something unusual or new in the Buddhist tradition.169 Statements that mind is luminous and only obscured by adventitious stains are already found several times in the Pali canon. Examples include a passage from the A?guttara Nikaya:
O monks, the mind is luminosity, and yet it is defiled by adventitious defilements. An ordinary being who has not heard about this does not realize it as it really is. Therefore, I say that an ordinary being who has not heard about this does not possess the cultivation of mind. O monks, the mind is luminosity, and yet it is freed from adventitious defilements. The noble sravaka who has heard about this realizes it just as it really is. Therefore, I say that the noble sravaka who has heard about this possesses the cultivation of mind.170
A??hasalini 68.22 and Papañcasudani I 232.12 cite this passage, and masters of various early schools, such as the Mahasa?ghikas, Mahisasakas, Andhakas, and Vibhajyavadins, elaborated on its theme. Thus, it is found in the Sariputrabhidharma172 (doctrinally related to both the Mahisasakas and the Vibhajyavadins) and also in Vasumitra’s doxographical work Samayabhedoparacanacakra (Chin. I pu tsung lun lun):
According to Hsüan-tsang’s (seventh century) Vijñaptimatratasiddhi,174 the notion of a “stainless consciousness” (amalavijñana) was originally a teaching of the Vibhajyavadins (more precisely, the Mahasa?ghika-Ekavyavaharika- Lokottaravadin-Kaukku?ikas), who speak about the natural purity of the mind being merely obscured by adventitious stains.
Many early postcanonical texts on abhidharma use the notions of bhava?ga and vithimutti, referring to the state of mind in meditation when it is free from any activity of thinking or outwardly oriented perception. Written from a Theravada perspective, the Kathavatthu attributed to Moggaliputta Tissa says that mind in bhava?ga is in its natural state (pakaticitta),175 which the commentaries describe as luminous (pabassara) and natural (pakati).176
Finally, in the context of commenting on the Abhidharmakosa’s first verse of paying homage to the Buddha as the one who has overcome the mental darkness with regard to all that can be known, pulls beings out from the swamp of sansara, and teaches in just the way things really are, Yasomitra’s Abhidharmakosavyakhya quotes the following stanza (as he does when explaining VII.36):
Seed for liberation,
Just like gold hidden within stones
Containing this precious element.177
I have found a nectarlike dharma, Profound, peaceful, free from reference points, luminous, and unconditioned. Whoever I would teach it to could not understand it. Thus, I shall just stay silent in the middle of the forest.178 Another passage speaks about the state of mind of a bodhisattva in profound meditative equipoise:
The minds of bodhisattvas who rest like that in meditative absorption are completely pure, fully cleansed, luminous, without defilements, free from secondary defilements, supple, workable, and unmoving.179
The nature of what the Buddha taught is described as follows: What is taught to be always like the sky, nonconceptual, luminous, and free from middle and extremes is said to be this wheel of dharma.180
Subhuti, these minds are natural luminosity. It is thus that the Tathagata, based on this prajñaparamita, fully knows reality just as it is—that the undefiled minds of these sentient beings immeasurable in number are in fact undefiled.182
“. . . Thus, the mind is no-mind. The nature of the mind is luminosity.” Sariputra asked, “What is mind’s luminosity?” Subhuti said, “Venerable Sariputra, it is the mind neither being associated with nor dissociated from desire, neither being associated with nor dissociated from hatred, ignorance, upsurges, obscurations, contamiipodd_
And about the all-pervasiveness of this luminosity:
The Samadhirajasutra says:
It is to be noted that all these quotes are found in sutras that are among the most essential scriptural foundations of the Madhyamaka School and not from so-called “Yogacara sutras” or the tathagatagarbha sutras. Of course, especially the latter—such as the Srimaladevisutra, A?gulimaliyasutra, D h a ra ? i s v a ra r a j ap a r i p ? c ch a s u t ra , Tat h a g at ag a r b h a s u t ra ,
Gaganagañjaparip?cchasutra, Ratnadarikaparip?cchasutra, and Ratnacu?aparip?cchasutra—abound with statements on luminous mind and adventitious stains. To give just a few examples, the Lankavatarasutra frequently speaks about mind’s nature being pure luminosity, such as:
The Saddharmapu??arikasutra says:
Thus, I teach a single yana.189
And about the Buddha’s wisdom:
The sutra’s final part praises its qualities in terms of the pure bodies and mental faculties of bodhisattvas (such as being able to instruct others by knowing all teachings, the minds of beings, and so on). The concluding verse states:
The Sagaramatiparip?cchasutra uses the example of a blue beryl, which is first covered by mud for a thousand years and then extracted from it and cleansed. During all that time, the beryl has never lost its natural purity.
Likewise, Sagaramati, bodhisattvas know the natural luminosity of the mind of sentient beings, but also see that it is defiled by adventitious defilements. The bodhisattvas think: “These defilements have not entered the natural luminosity of the mind of sentient beings.
The Madhyantavibhaga declares:
What is afflicted and what is purified Refer to being with stains and without stains. Purity is asserted to be like the purity Of the element of water, gold, and space. . . . It is neither defiled nor undefiled, Neither pure nor impure, Because of mind’s luminosity And the adventitiousness of defilements.194
The Mahayanasutrala?kara states:
The Dharmadharmatavibhaga says:
To penetrate the nature Of the fundamental change of state: It is suchness without stains, So that adventitious stains do not appear, While suchness does appear. . . . Examples for the fundamental change of state Are space, gold, and water.196
Vasubandhu’s Dharmadharmatavibhagabha?ya explicitly identifies this fundamental change of state with natural luminosity.197 Also Sthiramati’s Abhidharmasamucchaya?ika agrees that mind’s fundamental change of state is a change of state of suchness, coming about due to the elimination of the adventitious defilements of naturally luminous mind.198
Naturally, all the various commentaries and subcommentaries on Maitreya’s above texts by Asanga, Vasubandhu, Sthiramati, Asvabhava, and so on elaborate on this topic. In addition, Asanga’s Ratnagotravibhagavyakhya quotes a Prakrit verse, saying that the Buddha uttered it while having the pure disposition (visuddhagotra) and the basic element of the Tathagata (tathagatadhatu) in mind:
Also, many commentaries on the Abhisamayalamkara, usually in the section on the dharmadhatu as the “disposition” (gotra),200 speak of it or mind as being naturally luminous and only covered by adventitious stains, such as Dharmamitra’s (eighth/ninth century) Prasphu?apada, Ratnakarasanti’s Suddhimati and Saratama, Prajñakaramati’s Abhisamayala?karav?ttipi??artha, and Abhayakaragupta’s (eleventh/twelfth century) Marmakaumudi and Munimatala?kara. In this context, Vasubandhu’s huge commentary B?ha??ika 201 on the three largest prajñaparamita sutras may also be mentioned. On Abhisamayalamkara IV.15b, Haribhadra’s Abhisamayalamkaraloka explains:
As for these states of mind being “naturally luminous,” if one examines through valid cognition the nature of the impure states of mind that have become so in the state of ordinary beings by virtue of the cause that is mistakenness, one realizes them to have the essential nature of being unarisen and so on. Through having merged with this realization, by virtue of mind’s capacity to not revert from its state of the remedies having arisen and to eliminate adventitious desire and so on, said states of mind are naturally luminous, and it is nothing but their nature to be utterly pure.202
Furthermore, Asa?ga’s Yogacarabhumi states:
In brief, the Bhagavat taught that a sentient being is a mind that has defilements from a long time in the past, yet is without a creator. At present, it is momentary and naturally luminous. He taught that, in the future, it will be further defiled through heedlessness or purified by heedfulness.203
You may think, “This naturally luminous mind, which is free from apprehender and apprehended and is completely pure, since the stains of ignorance (such as desire) are relinquished, actually exists.” In order to eliminate such clinging to the existence of this mind, it is taught to be like the reflection of the moon in water . . . “Clear” means being free from the turbidities of latent tendencies . . . Since perfect wisdom dispels the darkness of ignorance, pacifies the burning heat of the afflictions, and is not tainted by the stains of latent tendencies, it resembles the moon.
Although this moon of wisdom appears in that way, it is not found as something that is directly perceptible, because what dawns in such a pure mind stream is not apprehendable as a real entity. The reason for this is that, from empty phenomena, nothing but empty phenomena come forth. Since that wisdom is unarisen from the very beginning, it is like the reflection of the moon in water. Thus, since it has the nature of the dharmadhatu, any clinging to entities or nonentities does not exist. Hence, it is not found as something that is directly perceptible.205
His Alokamala proclaims:
The victors who have relinquished the obscurations Have declared, in brief, that sansara Is the mind with stains, such as desire, And liberation consists of being devoid of these. . . . When their insight into themselves Is obscured by stains born from being covered, Just as crystals, minds appear As having another nature. . . . Saying, “In the end, everything vanishes” Is a rhetorical device for childish beings— Something else shines forth That cannot be expressed or analyzed.
Dignaga’s (c. 480–540) Prajñaparamitapi??arthasa?graha states:
The consciousness of ordinary beings Is pure by nature And expressed by the term “Buddha,” Just as a bodhisattva is called a victor. Its own innate nature is enshrouded— Being under the sway of ignorance, It appears otherwise, just like an illusion, While the fruition is like quitting a dream.207
Several texts by Paramartha (c. 500–569) speak about the amalavijñana (“pure consciousness”) as a ninth kind of consciousness. It refers to the unconditioned, changeless, permanent mind unaffected by any impurities, identical with suchness as the ultimate.
This amalavijñana is the foundation of the Buddhist path, while the alaya-consciousness is the foundation of all defilements. Paramartha also equates this amalavijñana with mind’s luminosity and says that it is unmistaken and free from both the imaginary and the other-dependent natures (which comprise the manifestations of mistaken consciousness), thus being reminiscent of typical shentong positions.208
Mind is naturally luminous, The stains are adventitious.209 His Prama?aviniscaya declares: Also what is directly experienced by this self-awareness is nothing but the nature of this awareness. Since it has this nature, it is something very luminous itself. Therefore, it is expressed as “illuminating itself, like a lamp.”210
His Madhyamakaratnapradipa states:
For the time being, it operates as momentary primary minds and mental factors. Since these moments also have very subtle parts— due to being distinguished by their beginning, their present time, and their end—they are in fact without appearance. Therefore, they are not established as mind or mental factors but as the nature of the dharmadhatu. In this, you should rest. As the great Mother says: Mind is not mind, since mind’s nature is luminosity.213
The text also presents a number of similar quotes:
It is primordially natural luminosity, unborn as any nature whatsoever, not established as subject and object, or knowing and what is known, nothing whatsoever, not dwelling in any extremes, not within the range of any expressions or reference points, inconceivable, unthinkable, and beyond thought. Therefore, do not mentally engage, but meditate by abandoning mindfulness and mental engagement.214
Since mind is naturally luminous, it is undefiled and pure. Since the defilements are adventitious, it is not undefiled and not pure.217 Santaraksita’s Tattvasamgraha 218 and his autocommentary on the Madhyamakalamkara219 also speak about naturally luminous mind and adventitious stains. Kamalasila’s first Bhavanakrama says:
Once the mind has become stabilized on its focus through calm abiding, if one examines this mind through prajña, the brilliance of perfect wisdom will dawn. At this point, just as darkness is dispelled through bright daylight, obscurations are eliminated. Like one’s eyes and light in producing a visual perception, both calm abiding and superior insight are mutually compatible with regard to the emerging of perfect wisdom. It is not that they are incompatible in the way that light and darkness are. The nature of meditative concentration is not darkness.220
This statement, “All sentient beings possess the Tathagata heart” teaches that all are suitable to attain the state of unsurpassable completely perfect buddhahood, since it is held that the term Tathagata expresses the dharmadhatu, characterized by personal and phenomenal identitylessness, as being natural luminosity.221
Further examples include Ratnakarasanti’s Triyanavyavasthana, Madhyamakālaṃkāravṛtti-Madhyamapratipadāsiddhi, Prajñaparamitopadesa, Madhyamakalamkaropadesa, and his commentary on the Khasamatantra.223
The complete liberation of Buddhas is called “complete liberation,” since it is being free from all attachment and clinging . . . Naturally luminous mind is known just as it is. Therefore, through a single moment of prajña, they fully and completely awaken into unsurpassable completely perfect enlightenment. . . .225
The only Indian commentary on this text of Candrakirti, Jayananda’s (eleventh/ twelfth century) Madhyamakāvatāraṭīkā, says that the second bhumi is presented from the perspective of realizing that the dharmadhatu is the supreme, since it is naturally luminous.227 Regarding the above passage on “complete liberation,” the text comments as follows:
Since mind is primordially unborn, it is of the nature of emptiness. Therefore, since it is not tainted by the stains of the afflictions, mind is naturally luminous. Accordingly, this natural luminosity’s knowing in a nonreferential manner is complete liberation. Therefore, the knowing of naturally luminous mind is expressed as “complete liberation.”228
Later, the text says:
As for “having the characteristic of adventitious defilements,” since suchness is naturally luminous, they are to be known as being adventitious, just as clouds in space . . . As for “having the characteristic natural luminosity,” it is not tainted by these defilements, just as space is not tainted by clouds.229
As for “the jewel of the genuine dharma,” it has the characteristics of scripture and realization. “Stainless” means that, through threefold virtue, it is pure of the three spheres and naturally luminous, since it is in every respect not the locus of any stains and since the so-called “defilements” are adventitious.230
Commenting on verse VI.40, the text states that the mental flaws of sentient beings, such as hatred, are adventitious and something other than these beings’ nature, since the nature of beings is naturally luminous mind and thus reliable.231
As for the mind, it has no color and no shape. It is natural luminosity that is primordially unborn. The very knowledge that discriminates this is also luminosity. In this interval, consciousness is nothing whatsoever, does not abide as anything, is not established as anything, and has not arisen as any aspect, and all discursiveness without exception is completely at peace. This meditative concentration of space-vajra that is without appearance and in which all the dust of characteristics has vanished is like the very center of the sky that is lit up by the autumn sun.233
His Madhyamakopadesa agrees:
What is without form is the mind. As for that mind, the past mind has already ceased and perished. The future mind has not yet arisen or originated. As for the present mind, it is very difficult to examine: It has no color and is without any shape. Since it is just like space, it is not established. In other words, it is free from unity and multiplicity, or it is unarisen, or it is natural luminosity. . . .
Once all specific characteristics and general characteristics are established as nonexistent through discriminating prajña, this prajña itself is without appearance and is luminous, not being established as any nature whatsoever. Thus, all flaws, such as dullness and agitation, are eliminated.
In this interval of meditative concentration, consciousness is without any thought, does not apprehend anything, and has left behind all mindfulness and mental engagement. For as long as the enemies or robbers of characteristics and thoughts do not arise, consciousness should rest in such a state.234
Commenting on Bodhicaryavatara IX.27cd—an opponent’s claim that sansara needs mind or self-awareness as its support—Vibhuticandra’s (twelfth/thirteenth century)[[Bodhicaryavataratatparyapañjikavise?adyotani says that mind does not qualify that way:
The same author’s Amṛtakaṇikodyotanibandha speaks about mind’s natural luminosity and adventitious stains, quoting Uttaratantra I.63.236 As for the Indian and Tibetan masters of the Kagyü lineage, they all refer to luminous mind over and over again, so just a few examples shall suffice. Tilopa’s Mahamudropadesa (“Ganges Mahamudra”) says:
Naropa’s Summary of the View 238 states:
The last stanza of Maitripa’s Madhyamaka?a?ka says:
In the dark dungeon of the sleep of ignorance, The vision of wide-awake wisdom opened up. Just as when the sun shines in a cloudless sky, The dark gloom of delusion lightened up and vanished. I thought, “Even if I met the Buddhas of the three times face to face, From now on, I have nothing to ask.”240
Connate mind is the actual dharmakaya. Connate appearances are the light of the dharmakaya. Connate thoughts are the waves of the dharmakaya. Connate inseparability is what the dharmakaya is all about. The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje’s Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra says: Within the ground of purification—mind as such, lucid and empty in union—
Therefore, the great Yogacara-Madhyamikas who follow noble Asanga and his brother, through ascertaining that the dualistic appearances of apprehender and apprehended, which obscure true reality, are not established in the way they appear, mainly teach the wisdom that realizes self-aware self-luminous mind.
Noble Nagarjuna and his spiritual heirs, by thoroughly analyzing the clinging to real existence and its objects that obscure true reality through the great Madhyamaka arguments, mainly teach that the nature of luminous mind abides as emptiness. In this way, they ascertain that any such clinging and its objects are without nature.
Both systems do not differ in teaching the final true reality, since this very nature of luminous mind primordially is emptiness, and this emptiness primordially abides as having the essential character of luminosity.243
To conclude this “history” of luminous mind, I would like to quote one of the most comprehensive, insightful, and subtle discussions of the dharmadhatu as the “disposition” and Tathagata heart—given mainly from the ultimate perspective—which is found in the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje’s (1507–1554) commentary on the Abhisamayalamkara, called The Noble One Resting at Ease.244
It not only covers the understanding of the Tathagata heart in both the sutrayana and the vajrayana, but also clarifies the position of the Third Karmapa and eliminates misconceptions. Mikyö Dorje’s presentation culminates in a penetrating analysis of the Uttaratantra’s famous verse I.28, which is usually presented as a threefold proof for all sentient beings possessing buddha nature (since the dharmakaya radiates, suchness is undifferentiable, and they have the disposition).
In general, the meaning of “disposition” is as follows. In the hinayana, the disposition for enlightenment is presented as “having little desire and being content.” But these are just indications that the disposition exists due to the signs of this disposition, whereas they are not clear teachings of the disposition that fully qualifies as such.
Hence, the meaning of “disposition” that is taught here is that it is an adequate substantial cause for its result to come about. Such a cause is classified as twofold: the causes for sansara and nirvana. The cause that is taught here is the disposition that is the cause for nirvana. According to the followers of the mahayana, it is asserted that this very causal disposition abides as a seminal aspect based on the alaya. The causal disposition for nirvana is founded on the alaya-wisdom, and the causal disposition for sansara is founded on the alaya-consciousness.245
Thus, these two causal dispositions are founded separately on the pure and the impure alaya, respectively. However, the assertion that does not clearly differentiate between pure and impure alayas, but presents the causal dispositions for both sansara and nirvana as based on a single alaya as the bearer of such a property, is a mistaken understanding of the meaning of the abhidharma scriptures. The Abhidharmasutra says:
And also nirvana are obtained.
Thus, it is declared that both sansara and nirvana are justified, since all phenomena, by way of the three characteristics,246 are present within the alaya that is the dhatu of beginningless time. Here, the meaning of the sutras is that one needs to differentiate between these two factors of wisdom and consciousness with respect to the alayadhatu that does not reach a limit of beginning in time.
Those who do not know this represent the impure system of gaining but an understanding of limited letters with respect to this phrase, “The dhatu of beginningless time is the matrix of all phenomena.” Therefore, the necessity of making this distinction between consciousness and wisdom within the dhatu of beginningless time has been stated by the invincible protector Maitreya in his Dharmadharmatavibhaga:
The lack of a fundamental change of state
Has four shortcomings—
The flaw of lacking a support in which afflictions do not operate,
The flaw of lacking a support for engaging in the path,
The flaw of lacking a basis of designation
For persons in nirvana,
And the flaw of lacking a basis of designation
For the distinctive features of the three enlightenments.
Their opposites are the benefits involved,
Which are to be known as fourfold. 247
In its commentary by Vasubandhu the following appears:
At this point, it is not justified that mind is this very basis, because the arising of remedies and the ceasing of antagonistic factors are simultaneous, and because contrary phenomena are not justified in the same basis, just as a cold and a warm sensation are not justified in the same basis.248
Therefore, it is clearly declared that there are four flaws, if there is no such support that does not allow for any operation of the factors to be relinquished and allows for the operation of their remedies and so forth—the alaya-wisdom as the basis of the fundamental change of state—and that there are four benefits, if it exists. Hence, the distinction between consciousness and wisdom within the alaya is the assertion of the Buddha Bhagavat.
If, according to the tradition of some people, the causal disposition for both sansara and nirvana is presented as nothing but the alaya-consciousness, the order of all principles of the dharma of the mahayana is mixed up from its very foundation. Since the alaya-consciousness is canceled upon becoming a Buddha, the alaya-consciousness is no longer existent.
But the change of state of the alaya-consciousness into alaya-wisdom (which is its opposite) must be presented as the wisdom that has changed state. But then it follows that, according to you who hold this position, it is not suitable for wisdom that has changed state to arise, once the alaya-consciousness is canceled.
The reason for this is that the canceled alaya-consciousness is something that is already canceled, while a shift from this alaya-consciousness to wisdom (which has changed state by having cast away the alaya-consciousness) is impossible within the sphere of knowable objects.
A presentation that the mere factor of cancellation of the canceled alaya-consciousness exists as the nature of the wisdom that has changed state contradicts reasoning—a phenomenon that has become nonexistent is in no case suitable as a cause for something existent.
Those present-day followers of Mahamudra, whose confusion is even a hundred thousand times bigger than this, exclaim, “Through refining the alaya-consciousness into something pure, it turns into the result of mirrorlike wisdom.” This is not justified for the following reasons: Something like this does not appear in any of the traditions of the mahayana, and what does not appear there also does not appear in the sense of something that is obtained through reasoning.
A presentation of the alaya-consciousness as the cause and mirrorlike wisdom as its result is not something that is obtained through reasoning. Rather, with respect to the mode of being of causes and results in terms of such causes and results in the abhidharma that actually fulfill these functions249 (that is, what produces and what is produced), the alaya-consciousness and mirrorlike wisdom are not adequate as a cause and a result that fully qualify as such.
Also, since the very nature of the alaya-consciousness is nothing but the adventitious stains, it is presented as impure. No matter how it may be refined by something else, it will not turn into something pure.
This is not tenable. That just one single phenomenon should function as the seminal cause for all of sansara and nirvana is not something that appears in the Buddhist tradition. That such does not appear in this tradition is shown by the fact that this is put forward as the assertion of non-Buddhists (“just one single awareness-consciousness, which is the cause or seed of both bondage and liberation”) by the great guardians of the Buddha’s teaching, glorious Dignaga and Dharmakirti, and then refuted.
Most Tibetans in this land of snow say, “The twofold distiction between alaya-consciousness and alaya-wisdom is the system of the Mere Mentalists,” and also, “The twofold distinction between alaya-wisdom and alaya- consciousness does not appear in any system whatsoever.” Their own words are self-contradictory, because if this distinction appeared in the system of the Mere Mentalists, it contradicts not appearing in any system at all. Therefore, in the manner of presenting the contaminated latent tendencies of sansara as being within the alaya-consciousness as their foundation, what cycles in sansara, what makes it cycle, and where it cycles are all not something beyond the alaya-consciousness per se.
Some may argue, “But in that case, a single such factor —the alaya-consciousness— is not suitable as three factors (what cycles and so on).” As for this point, I accept that it is not suitable that way. Nevertheless, although a presentation of three factors through a single one and so on contradict reasoning, whatever happens from the perspective of mistakenness happens this way precisely through the issue of ignorance.
Such an alaya-consciousness is classified as twofold: the seminal aspect and the maturational aspect. The contaminated seeds are input newly under the influence of the force of conditions—they are not something previously existing that is intrinsic through the nature of phenomena. As for the manner in which uncontaminated seeds are input based on the alaya-wisdom, the actual alaya-wisdom is “the Sugata heart,” “the [[vajra of mind]],” and “the naturally abiding disposition.”
Uncontaminated seeds are not something that must be input newly under the influence of conditions, but they are declared in the mantrayana to be “the seeds of all aspects that are intrinsic by virtue of the nature of phenomena.”
You may wonder, “What kind of activity do they perform?” The noble master Asa?ga, who is capable of differentiating between the expedient and the definitive meaning, has declared the following in his Mahayanasa?graha:
Supramundane wisdom originates from the natural outflow of the completely pure dharmadhatu, that is, the seeds which are the latent tendencies of listening. One may wonder, “What are these latent tendencies of listening anyway? Are they of the nature of the alaya consciousness, or are they not? If they were of the nature of the alaya-consciousness, how should they be suitable as the seeds of its remedy? And if they are not of its nature, then look what the matrix of these seeds of latent tendencies of listening is.”
What these latent tendencies of listening in dependence on the enlightenment of Buddhas are, which matrix they enter, and that they enter the maturational consciousness251 in a manner of coexisting with it—all this is like a mixture of milk and water. They are not the alaya-consciousness, because they are the very seeds of its remedy.252
Small latent tendencies turn into medium latent tendencies, and these medium latent tendencies then turn into great latent tendencies, all this by virtue of being associated with listening, reflection and meditation that are performed many times. The small, medium and great latent tendencies of listening are to be regarded as seeds of the dharmakaya.
Since they are the remedy for the alaya-consciousness, they are not of the nature of the alayaconsciousness. In the sense of being a remedy, they are something mundane, but since they are the natural outflow of the supramundane—the utterly completely pure dharmadhatu—they are the seeds of supramundane mind.
Although this supramundane mind has not originated yet, they are the remedy for being entangled in sansara through the afflictions, the remedy for migrating in the lower realms, and the remedy that makes all wrongdoing vanish. They are what is in complete concordance with meeting Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Though beginner bodhisattvas are mundane, these latent tendencies should be regarded as being included in the dharmakaya and those of sravakas and pratyekabuddhas as being included in the vimuktikaya.253
“This is like geese254 drinking milk from water. It is similar to the change of state when, being free from mundane desire, the latent tendencies of what is not meditative equipoise wane, while the latent tendencies of meditative equipoise increase.”255
Hence, what is called “the latent tendencies of listening” is what allows one to listen to all the twelve branches of a Buddha’s speech. It is the capacity of uncontaminated consciousness that is active through the power of the nature of phenomena.
It is what is not suitable to blend with the mind streams of sentient beings. Here, these latent tendencies are said to be “latent tendencies” in terms of allowing the enlightened activity of the dharmakaya, which is based on enlightenment, to engage the mind streams of sentient beings.
But there are no latent tendencies whatsoever that fully qualify as such in the enlightened activity of the dharmakaya, which has the character of the twelve branches of a Buddha’s speech and is the natural outflow of the supramundane, completely pure dharmadhatu.
One may think, “The explanation of small latent tendencies turning into medium latent tendencies, and these medium latent tendencies then turning into great latent tendencies and so on, is a description of such an increase in the sense that latent tendencies exist that fully qualify as such.” This is not the case.
Rather, it is the power of the decline of the factors to be relinquished—the antagonistic factors—that appears as if the latent tendencies of listening, which are the natural outflow of the completely pure dharmadhatu, increase from small to medium and so on.
Here, the meaning of “Though being mundane, . . .” in the above quotation is said to be as follows. Though the latent tendencies of listening are the remedy for what is mundane, they are not contained in mundane mind streams but are the natural outflow of the supramundane dharmadhatu.
The gist of “natural outflow” is that it addresses the definite need for something that is other than the completely pure dharmadhatu itself and at the same time outside of everything that exists within the class of impure phenomena whose nature is the dharmadhatu. So, from the perspective of this factor of the natural outflow being associated with a mind stream, it is both presented as a bodhisattva and yet this factor is also included in the dharmakaya. During this time, there are two modes of engagement in one single body of a yogin that appears as the other-dependent nature: the mode of engagement of the continuum of consciousness and the mode of engagement of the capacity of wisdom.
Just as from a mix of milk and water
That is present in a vessel,
Geese just sip the milk, but not the water,
Which remains just as it is.
Just so, being covered by afflictions,
Wisdom dwells within this body, one with them.
But yogins just extract the wisdom
And leave the ignorance behind.256
Wishing to eliminate such a qualm, some say, “The mistake that an unconditioned phenomenon is not suitable as cause does not exist here, because there is a twofold reason to present an unconditioned phenomenon as the causal disposition.
It is presented in a twofold way through support and through focus.
First, it is justified that an unconditioned phenomenon—which has the mode of supporting— functions as “causal disposition.” Bodhisattvas are labeled due to their six ayatanas, and these are supported by the mental consciousness.
Since in the end this is supported by the dharmadhatu, it is justified that the unconditioned dharmadhatu functions as “causal disposition” from the perspective of presenting it as support. The Uttaratantra teaches such through the two verses starting with:
The explanation in the Uttaratantra that these rest on or are supported by the following ones is merely a presentation from a conventional perspective that, by the implication of all phenomena being emptiness, they are suitable to arise, suitable to appear, and may relate as support and supported. That the nature of the mind—or the unconditioned dhatu free from stains—could be supported by or resting on another phenomenon is primordially impossible.
Therefore, it is neither justified that the very dharmadhatu supports something else, nor that the dharmadhatu itself is supported by something else. Furthermore, these two verses speak explicitly only of a being supported by or resting on the purity of mind, but they do not explain a being supported by the nature of the mind, the dhatu without stains. To identify “the purity of mind” in this context as the dharmadhatu is not necessarily so. Since the mind that is improper mental engagement never existed in this way, it does not change into something other than just its pure mode of being.
Hence, this is the meaning of “resting.”
In general, in order for some things to function as cause and result, they must be mutually connected as support and supported. Also, such a support and supported must come together, but it is impossible that the dharmadhatu and the mental consciousness come together or that one supports the other. Even if there were such a coming together, it would not be a proof that justifies an unconditioned phenomenon as the disposition. Rather, that would be a proof of justifying a compound of a conditioned and an unconditioned phenomenon as the disposition. Furthermore, if something given supports a phenomenon, it is difficult to prove that it is the cause for that phenomenon, or even a cause at all. Neither is necessarily the case.
Moreover, it is justified to present the dharmadhatu as the Tathagata once it has become free from stains through having meditated on the path by focusing on the nature of phenomena. However, a presentation of an unconditioned phenomenon as the disposition merely due to this is something uncertain. Rather, once the purpose of meditating by focusing on these259 has been fulfilled, it is certain in every respect that an unconditioned phenomenon cannot be presented as the disposition.
Also, in general, since an unconditioned phenomenon that is contained in the mind streams of sentient beings is not possible, there is also no focusing of bodhisattvas on it or them being supported by the actual dharmadhatu that fully qualifies as such, because the dhatu that is the nature of phenomena is not suitable to support or to be focused on. Moreover, if the cause of the
result of some phenomenon is not established as having the character of this specific resultant thing, then it contradicts reasoning that it could become the cause of that result by focusing on a cause other than this cause, or by the result being supported by that other cause. Hence, such is never the case.
You may say, “But what then is the presentation of an unconditioned phenomenon as the disposition in your own system?” This presentation of the unconditioned dharmadhatu as the cause for buddhahood is not to present it as a cause by way of the existence of a connection between a cause and a result that fully qualify as such. Rather, this unconditioned dharmadhatu is presented as a cause in terms of perfect buddhahood and the unconditioned dharmadhatu being one in nature, while separable as different isolates.260
Hence, the cause for perfect buddhahood is not different from the nature of the cause that is the dharmadhatu, and therefore it is called “the cause for buddhahood.” When it is associated with stains, the name “result” is not used for this kind of nonduality of dharmadhatu and perfect buddhahood, but instead it is labeled by the name “cause.” Once it has become free from stains, perfect buddhahood is taught by the name “result.”
According to the definitive meaning, both notions that are taught here— what is taught by the name “cause” and what is taught by the name “result”— are of the same nature. Therefore, these two do not exist as an actual cause and its specific result that are different from each other. For, rather, their modes of being as described are inseparable in terms of the distinctive feature of true reality.
Nevertheless, according to the expedient meaning, the dharmadhatu is presented as the cause and perfect buddhahood as the result. This involves the intention that something pure does not originate from a completely impure cause, but that something pure originates or exists based on something pure only.
Thus, the purpose in this sense is established in terms of it being easy for such an understanding to emerge within the perspective of those whose minds are trained in the presentation of causes and results.
Otherwise, the mistake of the consequence that cause and result are the same would be accrued, since the very cause that is the unconditioned dharmadhatu is explained as “original Buddha” in the mantrayana.
Hence, it is an expedient meaning that the result of perfect buddhahood is produced by the unconditioned dharmadhatu.261 This kind of expedient meaning is indeed a teaching adapted to the mental perspective of those to be guided.
However, since the single actuality of the unconditioned dharmadhatu is taught in many ways, such as being a cause in some contexts and being a result in other contexts, it is necessary to distinguish the expedient meaning and the definitive meaning without mixing them.
As for “the distinctive feature of the six ayatanas of bodhisattvas,” other Tibetans say, “Some distinctive features of the six ayatanas of bodhisattvas who are on the path have the capacity to produce uncontaminated phenomena.”
But I assert that the distinctive feature of the six ayatanas, that is, the consciousness that is not shared by the six ayatanas of bodhisattvas, is something that is to be taken as something distinctive that is other than the six ayatanas.
What is called “uncontaminated consciousness” is the unconditioned naturally abiding disposition, which is definitely the cause for perfect buddhahood and exists in all beings without beginning, right from the start. Due to three ways in which such a single disposition becomes revealed when it meets with distinctive features of conditions, there are also three types of possessors of the disposition. The meeting with conditions is based on the distinctive feature of the unfolding disposition.
The understanding of the unfolding disposition is as follows: The disposition, which through the power of the nature of phenomena, consists of the conditions for presenting the unconditioned disposition as the great enlightenment of Buddhas, the conditions for presenting it as the medium enlightenment of pratyekabuddhas, and the conditions for presenting it as the lesser enlightenment of sravakas, is labeled as the “unfolding disposition.”
In brief, the natural disposition is the support that exists from the very start, while the unfolding disposition abides as the disposition that consists of the thirteen accomplishments,262 which are distinguished by the particular phenomena supported by the naturally abiding disposition and enable the arising of the kayas that promote the welfare of others or not. The gist of such an explanation is as follows. The naturally abiding disposition is the very nature of the mind associated with stains. The factor of the gradual process of all its stains becoming exhausted or the factor of already having relinquished them is presented as the unfolding disposition. This leads to presenting the display of the two kayas—which are one’s own and the welfare of others—as the results of these two dispositions.
Those who assert that there exist both an empty and a nonempty aspect in this dharmakaya—one’s own welfare—and that it exists as conditioned as well as unconditioned may well claim to have trained their minds in distinguishing the two realities according to the system of Lord Maitreya. However, any assertions that the dharmakaya and the dharmadhatu are conditioned and empty in the sense of a nonimplicative negation and so on are not tenable for the following reasons: Let alone in the distinction between the two realities as asserted by Lord Maitreya, even in any other system of any master who founded a Buddhist tradition, a dharmadhatu and a dharmakaya that are conditioned phenomena are not asserted. In all of these traditions, it is impossible to present the dharmadhatu and the dharmakaya as the factor that is a nonimplicative negation, that is, as empty in the sense of never having existed primordially right from the start. Moreover, the dharmakaya and the dharmadhatu are never ever presented as seeming reality. Thus, this manner of exegesis is explained the same way in all authentic traditions of the mahayana.
Some people proclaim loudly, “The presentation of the disposition that is explained in texts such as the Mahayanasutrala?kara and the Abhidharmasamucchaya is the system of the Mere Mentalists, but not the system of the Madhyamikas.” If this were the case, as a consequence, all scriptural traditions of the mahayana would be forcefully pushed into the camp of the Mere Mentalists alone, and thus the Madhyamika camps would suffer tremendous losses. Rather, in the system of the Mere Mentalists as well, the naturally abiding disposition is accepted as the Buddha heart. They say, “It is possible among beings—those who possess the Buddha heart—that some do not reach nirvana in the form of great enlightenment. Therefore, there are those who possess the disposition that is the cut-off disposition.” However, they declare that there is no sentient being whatsoever that does not have the Buddha heart.
These are their assertions to be understood without confusing them.263
In the mantrayana, this is explained as the principal of the divisions of all dispositions, the lord of the circle of the ultimate mandala, the unbroken continuum within all aspects of ground, path, and fruition, which is always devoid of the three poisons and whose nature is not impermanent.
This actual mode of being is declared to be “the Tathagata heart” by Lord Maitreya. His intention was that this Heart is the dharmakaya endowed with twofold purity, and that, by labeling a part with the name of the whole, sentient beings have one dimension of this Buddha heart endowed with twofold purity, that is, its “natural purity.”264 It is in this way that he spoke of “sentient beings having the disposition of the Buddhas.”
In brief, no matter which reasoning one might put forward to prove that the Buddha heart exists in the mind streams of sentient beings, it is impossible to establish a direct connection between the reason and the predicate in such a reasoning. Also, as far as the assertion by others that sentient beings possess the Heart is concerned, it is only suitable to assert that they possess such a heart in the sense of the factors to be relinquished. However, in that case, the factors to be relinquished are nothing but mistakenness, which never existed from the start.
The assertion that either a connection of identity or a causal connection is established265 between this Heart and sentient beings, as well as the assertion that they are some kind of support and supported that actually fulfill these functions, are not in accord with the Buddha and the successor to his throne, the protector Maitreya, and so forth.
Therefore, they should be discarded.
You may wonder, “Then what is such a Heart?” It is the very nature of true reality, which cannot be separated from what consists of the unsurpassable qualities. In terms of its own nature, it is always endowed with twofold purity.
However, provisionally and from the perspective of dialecticians, the Heart that actually fulfills this function is presented as what is free from adventitious stains, and its being free from adventitious stains is asserted as perfect buddhahood at the time of fruition. But it is stated, “As for that where the imputed Heart exists, it exists in the basic element associated with its husks.”266
During that time of the Buddha heart existing in ordinary sentient beings, since it exists in the basic element that is associated with its husks, it does not necessarily exist in the basic element itself.
Rather, due to the fact that many facets of personally experienced wisdom exist in this very Heart, the various collections of consciousness that obscure it cease as the respective obscurations on each of the bhumis. This is labeled with the name “seeing.”
A Heart like this is not contained in the mind streams of any sentient being whatsoever, nor is it blended with any mind streams. By focusing on this Heart of the mind streams of sentient beings, the obscurations are purified, and even when liberation is accomplished, they do not have any connection to this Heart. At this point, it is said that “sentient beings have accomplished the path and thus attained the dharmakaya.”
However, this too is just in terms of convenient conventional expressions, because a fully qualified presentation of being endowed with the attainment of the dharmakaya through the accomplishment of the path, as it is given in the abhidharma, cannot be applied to this.
Some fools say, “The Omniscient Karmapa Rangjung Dorje asserts the intention of the Mahayanottaratantra to be that the Tathagata heart exists in the dharmadhatu of the mind of sentient beings in an inseparable manner.”
This wise being did not assert such.
By giving the pure mind names such as “ordinary mind,” “original protector,” and “original Buddha,” he says that it is exactly this mind that possesses the mode of being inseparable from the buddha qualities.269 This kind of pure mind is also the Buddha heart that actually fulfills this function.
However, it is again only under the influence of other-dependent mistakenness that sentient beings exist as that which is to be purified, whereas, according to the definitive meaning, that which is to be purified—the adventitious stains—do not exist right from the start.
As for the meaning of “adventitious stains,” it is inadequate in all respects to explain that “adventitious” refers to the assertion that something previously nonexistent originates newly or to the assertion that something previously existent is suitable to become separated off later.
The meaning of “adventitious” is not having come from some time before, nor to cease at some later time, nor to arise as something that newly comes about.
Nevertheless, due to various causes of mistakenness making their connections, these stains are adventitious in the sense of being transitory appearances. In other words, they are nullities that have the nature of being unreal, false, and nonexistent.
Also, “existing” in “sentient beings existing as that which is to be purified” does not refer to an existence as in the existence that is distinguished as the counterpart of nonexistence in the dichotomy of existence and nonexistence.
Rather, the existence that is taught here has the meaning of existing or not existing as what performs a function. So, all these sentient beings are entities because they are able to perform a function.270
Therefore, they abide as something that definitely perishes.
It is in this sense that it is declared, ultimately speaking, that there is not even a single sentient being that absolutely never passes into complete nirvana within this great basic element of sentient beings. This is the definitive meaning.
If something does not arise through a nature of its own, it does not exist permanently, and something that does not exist permanently is also not produced by permanent causes and conditions that give rise to it.
This mode is what obscures the basic state of natural emptiness.” What is said here is the intention of the Karmapas who successively arrive as noble Avalokitesvara intends, through assuming human births.
This is clearly explained by the mighty victor, the Seventh Karmapa, Chötra Gyatso.” This is just putting to melody what others say, but it is not our own Kagyü system.271 You may wonder, “Which other great ones assert such a system?”
In Tibet, the land of snows, there are indeed also many others who assert something like that, but the one who explains it by excessively promoting it is Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. He declares that “such a Heart, which is free of all flaws and endowed with all qualities, exists in sentient beings.
I say that this statement, “Buddhahood exists in sentient beings” is flawed. In general, in a proof that a single subject in question either has a distinct property or is this very property, the establishment of a connection between the predicate of the probandum and the reason in such a way that they are inseparable in their own essence represents a “nature reason.”
However, considering the above statement in terms of the first type of proof, if “sentient beings” are taken as the subject, and “are Buddhas” is taken as the predicate of the probandum, then the possibility to connect these with a reason that is formulated with “exist” is generally excluded through valid cognition.274
Furthermore, in your own system, you cannot take “sentient beings” as the subject and “Buddha” as the predicate of the probandum and then connect them with a reason that is formulated with “exist.” For, to connect two phenomena in such a way that the one is or has the other, in general, one needs something that is not negating what one tries to connect through being contrary to it.
But in your system, it is not proper to connect sentient beings and Buddhas through a reason that is formulated with “exist,” since you claim that they, just like light and darkness, are contrary in the sense of not coexisting in a single locus.
In brief, to be the probandum or to exist in it depends on a connection being established. However, for a connection to be established, the unmistaken positive and negative concomitances 276 must be established.
Consequently, this statement, “Buddhahood exists in sentient beings” is uncertain, since it does not rest upon any positive or negative concomitance whatsoever that is unmistaken through valid cognition.
You may want to reformulate this by saying, “In sentient beings who are endowed with buddhahood (the subject), buddhahood exists.” Here, the nature of the subject is not established. That which is buddhahood or the Heart is unconditioned, and it is impossible that conditioned sentient beings are endowed with this unconditioned Heart.
However, if we just assume that they were endowed with it, would they then be endowed with it in a contradictory manner or be endowed with it in a connected manner? Obviously, you do not assert that they are endowed with it in a contradictory manner.
But if they were endowed with it in a connected manner, the Heart and sentient beings who obscure it would again not be beyond being connected either by identity or in a causal manner, while the Bhagavat has declared in the collection of sutras of definitive meaning that these two cannot be expressed as being either the same or different.
“Buddhahood exists in sentient beings, without the two being connected, in the manner of a Heart or core within the cocoon of beginningless afflictive obscurations, and in such a way that this Heart is not something whose own nature is nonexistent.” As for the meaning of this, it is tenable to say, “Its intention is that the Heart exists as or in the Heart.”
Some later great ones in Tibet say, “As for the meaning that the Buddha heart exists in sentient beings, it is declared that ‘Buddhahood exists in sentient beings’ with the following in mind: ‘In different individual sentient beings, individual kinds of buddhahood that serve as the Hearts of these beings exist.’”
Through being explained in this way, it indeed strikes the intelligence of some people as being tenable. However, the existence of individual kinds of buddhahood as the Hearts of individual sentient beings is also difficult to discriminate as being the definitive meaning.
The buddhahood that serves as the Heart of these beings cannot be expressed as existing as many individual kinds that are either the same or different, because the suchness of this Heart cannot be differentiated as being good or bad due to a difference in its support (existing in a Buddha or a sentient being) and because this undifferentiable Heart is free from being one or many. This is why some people put forth the following proof: “Verse I.28 of the Uttaratantra is taught as the means to prove the existence of the Heart that actually fulfills this function in sentient beings:
Therefore, the existence of the actual Buddha heart is established through these three reasons according to their order. During the time of sentient beings, in all beings (the subject), the Buddha heart exists, because the disposition exists at this time.”
However, in such a formulation, the mode of positive concomitance (if the disposition exists, the Heart exists) is not established for the following reason. If the disposition is also presented as merely the latent tendencies of listening, the Heart refers to actual buddhahood. But
Furthermore, it may be said, “In these sentient beings (the subject), the Buddha heart exists, because the suchness of sentient beings and the Buddha heart are undifferentiable.” Here, a part of the reason does not apply to the subject, since it is declared in this system of the Mahayanottaratantra that suchness and the Buddha heart are equivalent and just different names, but that suchness does not exist in sentient beings.
Also, even if the reason “since the perfect buddhakaya radiates” is given for the same subject and predicate of the probandum as before, it does not go beyond being a reason that does not apply to the subject, because it is impossible that the perfect buddhakaya radiates from the continua of sentient beings.
This is why the statement that the Tathagata heart exists in sentient beings because of the above kinds of reasons must be understood through the triad of intention, purpose, and logical invalidation of the explicit statement. 279
This is said clearly in this text —the Uttaratantra— itself.280 Some great ones say, “The intention behind this statement is that buddhahood exists in the continua of sentient beings as something suitable to come forth, just as in the example of butter existing in milk as something that is suitable to come forth from it.”
This example of those who put it that way is not justified either. That butter comes forth from milk is invalidated even by reasoning that is based on direct perception. So just as this example is not established, its meaning is not established either.
Thus, to explain the dharmadhatu and nothing else as the disposition as well as the fact that the fruitions of the three yanas emerge in dependence on just this dharmadhatu is what persists as the definitive meaning. Noble Asa?ga declared:
Consequently, the threefold difference in terms of fully complete or not fully complete realization of sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and Buddhas, respectively occurs through the three different ways of engaging in this very dharmadhatu as a yana. However, Asa?ga did not state that realization’s own nature is anything other than this cause that is the dharmadhatu.
Here, some may say, “Then it follows that also the realization of realizing personal identitylessness does not go somewhere else beyond the cause that is the dharmadhatu.” To this, there is the widely known answer and the answer for those who really want to know. As for the first, if I already accept that there are no other phenomena apart from the dharmadhatu, why should I not accept the above consequence—I do accept it.
As for the second, if this consequence refers to the existence of the factor of personal identitylessness in the dharmadhatu, I accept it. But if this consequence refers to the factor of realization through the prajña that realizes the identitylessness of the continuum of the person that is connected to the continuum of a sravaka, then there is no entailment in it.
Some Tibetans present the nature of the dharmadhatu as consciousness that is lucid and aware. They explain the assertion that, by focusing on nothing but this, it functions as the support for the various types of realization of the three yanas as being the system of the Yogacaras. They say, “If the dharmadhatu is realized, this is not necessarily the realization of phenomenal identitylessness,” and “When the result of any of the yanas comes forth in dependence on the dharmadhatu, it is not certain that the dharmadhatu must be realized for this to happen.” There are indeed such statements, but for now I leave them as bases to be examined.
You may say, “The gist of your explanation in this way presents the disposition that actually fulfills this function as the Buddha heart. Hence, in that case, since there are three kinds of possessors of the disposition, is this Heart itself presented as these three kinds of possessors of the disposition?”
It is not. Though this Heart in itself does not go beyond just the single disposition of the Tathagatas, the classification as three kinds of possessors of the disposition is made due to the existence of three different kinds of noble persons.
However, it is not that there is something to be classified in the disposition of the Tathagatas itself. Then you may think, “In that case, different noble persons are impossible altogether.” What is taken as the basis of designating noble persons are the qualities of awareness and liberation of these noble ones.282
In brief, nowadays, those who boast about being the proclaimers of the definitive meaning say, “The disposition of the Buddhas is what relinquishes the respective portions of the factors to be relinquished in individual beings to be guided who are the three kinds of possessors of the disposition.
Through that, they respectively attain the realization of some aspects or of the entirety of all aspects of the buddha disposition of the Buddhas. This is the justification for the three kinds of possessors of the disposition.
Also, the attainments of these three types of enlightenment come forth due to the buddha disposition granting its power.” In the first parts of such an explanation, there is nothing major that is untenable, but a phrase like “granting the power of the Heart” did not appear anywhere in India or Tibet before.
At the time of such activity engaging with sentient beings, the actual accomplishing of that activity is something that takes place in the continua of sentient beings with pure karma, meaning that it comes about through the power of entities.
Since that activity is accomplished in the continua of these beings during that time, there is no need for the existence of efforts or conditioned activities within the actual enlightened activity of the dharmakaya itself.
Through having performed the activity of accomplishing the purification of adventitious stains in the Buddha heart, once the stains have become pure, it can be said that “the result of buddhahood is attained.” This result is what bears the names “disposition,” “support,” or “cause” during the phase of being in the process of accomplishing it. That in this case there is no cause or result that fully qualifies as such has already been explained above.
As Lord Tüsum Kyen sang]]:
If there is no change in buddhahood,
There is no aspiration to attain all these fruitions. Some later people in the land of snows say, “By presenting the thirteen accomplishments as something that arises as the nature of dharmadhatu wisdom, they are something supported in that manner.
However supreme sentient beings may be,
However it may be covered by obscurations,
The Heart does not move
From buddhahood to anywhere else.
This much is for sure.285
From all of this, it should be clear that the teachings on buddha nature do not refer to the existence of some solid eternal nucleus of buddhahood enclosed in sentient beings, deep down in the wild tangle of intense afflictions that obscure it.
Rather, the explanation by the Eighth Karmapa fits very well with the above-mentioned meanings of garbha that signify the space within some enclosure or sheath, pointing to a nonsolidifying understanding of buddha nature as the open yet luminous space of the nature of the mind within the merely fictitious cocoon of adventitious stains.
In fact, it is the other way round—our whole existence as sentient beings is in itself the sum of adventitious stains that just float like clouds within the infinite, bright sky of buddha nature, the luminous, open expanse of our mind that has no limits or boundaries.
Once these clouds dissolve due to the warm rays of the sun of wisdom shining within this sky, nothing within sentient beings has been freed or improved, but there is just this radiant expanse without any reference points of cloudlike sentient beings or cloud-free Buddhas.
Similar to the space within a glass becoming one with the infinity of all space, once the glass is broken, one cannot say that the space within these clouds is the same or different from all of space.
Of course, as long as the clouds are there, from their perspective, the space within them seems to be different from the space without. But once the clouds are gone, the question of whether the space that had been within them is the same as or different from all other space simply does not apply anymore, because the very reference point that seemed to allow for such a distinction in the first place—the clouds—is gone.
Likewise, once the adventitious stains—or, more personally speaking, we as sentient beings—have dissolved, it is a moot question whether “our” dharmadhatu (or buddha nature) and “all the rest” of the dharmadhatu (or the buddha natures of all Buddhas) are the same or different, since what is called a sentient being is nothing but the very mistakenness that makes up such a distinction.
To wit, when it is said that the Tathagata heart is perfect in itself, primordially pure, and unchanging, and that buddhahood means just the removal of adventitious stains, one cannot help but notice striking similarities with the doctrine of abhivyakti (“manifestation” or “revelation”), which is found in both the Upanisads and the Sankhya School. In the Upani?adic Pasupata doctrine,
abhivyakti refers to liberation as the manifestation of the perfections of the innate Siva through the removal of stains. For the Sa?khyas, it means that the entire diversity of the world is nothing but a manifestation of the single,
In the same vein, the view that there is no difference between the Tathagata heart as the cause of the dharmakaya and the result being nothing but its manifestation as dharmakaya seems to come very close to the Sankhya School’s central assertion that nothing can be produced that does not exist already (satkaryavada)—an assertion that is generally refuted by all Buddhist schools and one of the favorite targets of the Madhyamikas in particular (the result already being fully present in the cause).
Needless to mention, the Tathagata heart even being described as a self (atman), permanent, blissful, and pure makes people wonder what the difference is compared to Vedic notions of atman and brahman.
In terms of the Buddhist path, the notion of all beings actually being Buddhas in the first place may lead some into an attempt of ignoring the stains and afflictive states of mind (which are said to be adventitious and unreal anyway) and pretend to be enlightened already, thus avoiding any serious practice in order to remove said stains and afflictions.
However, there never evolved any fixed set of “classical” doctrinal positions on it, the only Indian treatise devoted to this subject alone and treating it somewhat systematically being the Uttaratantra with its commentary by Asanga.286
It should also not be forgotten that the primary scope and purpose of texts like the Uttaratantra and the Dharmadhatustava is to highlight the fact that all sentient beings are capable of attaining complete buddhahood.
expounding on the notion of the Tathagata heart, clearly setting it off from the above-mentioned doctrines and misunderstandings, and integrating it with the rest of the Buddha’s teaching—in particular emptiness as taught in the prajñaparamita sutras—was only taken on much later by Tibetan commentators.
In this process, however, many masters who did not subscribe to the notion of buddha nature meaning nothing but emptiness—or at least being a teaching of expedient meaning—were severely criticized by others and even accused of having “heretic” views like the Sa?khyas or supporting the Vedic notion of atman.
If one has the remedies to relinquish the stains, there is no need to search for enlightenment somewhere outside or far away. But if one does not use these remedies, enlightenment is not near, since the mere existence of the dharmadhatu is not enlightenment.
You may wonder, “But isn’t it necessary to assert this dharmadhatu wisdom as natural buddhahood?” That is indeed so, but this in itself does not qualify as actual buddhahood, since the three kayas are not complete.
“But aren’t the three kayas complete naturally?” They are indeed complete, but that too does not qualify as actual buddhahood, since these are not the kayas that serve as the ultimate welfare of others.
Otherwise, if actual buddhahood existed just through what is called “natural buddhahood,” one would assert the philosophical system of the Sankhyas. For then, during the time of sentient beings, buddhahood would reside in them in a nonmanifest way and would just need to be made clearly manifest through the power of the path later.287
Thus, from a practical point of view, no matter how sophisticated the terminological or philosophical distinctions with regard to the Buddha heart may be formulated or conceived, for Buddhists, the whole point of these teachings is to personally connect with the experience and realization that they try to convey through the Buddhist path, that is, nothing less than discovering this Heart in themselves and become Buddhas.
In the same vein, Mipham Rinpoche’s Exposition of the Madhyamakalamkara quotes numerous passages from the Vedas and other Indian non-Buddhist texts that resemble Buddhist statements on Yogacara, Madhyamaka, and buddha nature almost to the letter, and then concludes:
Since Dzogchen is the final one of the very profound teachings, it is difficult to realize. Therefore, the vast majority of meditations that are cultivated by way of meditating in a foolish way—which means either not having completed cutting through one’s doubts through studying and reflecting or lacking the essential points of profound pith instructions—will be very close to these non-Buddhist systems just mentioned. Without finding certainty in primordial purity (ka dag), just mulling over some “ground that is neither existent nor nonexistent” will get you nowhere.
If you apprehend this basis of emptiness that is empty of both existence and nonexistence as something that is established by its essence separately from everything else, no matter how you label it—such as an inconceivable self, Brahma, Vi??u, Isvara, or wisdom—except for the mere name, the meaning is the same.
Since the basic nature free from the reference points of the four extremes, that is, Dzogchen —the luminosity that is to be personally experienced—is not at all like that, it is important to rely on the correct path and teacher. Therefore,
you may pronounce “illusionlike,” “nonentity,” “freedom from reference points,” and the like as mere verbiage, but this is of no benefit whatsoever,
if you do not know the actual way of being of the Tathagata’s emptiness (which surpasses the limited kinds of emptiness asserted by the tirthikas) through the decisive certainty that is induced by reasoning. . . .
In this way, Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophical systems cannot be distinguished through mere words, but as far as the profound essential point is concerned, they are as different as the earth is from the sky.
According to the Gelugpa School, buddha nature means nothing but sentient beings’ emptiness, which is held to be a nonimplicative negation in the sense of the sheer lack of real existence (Tib. bden grub).
Like so many Gelugpa positions, this is an interesting concept and, fundamentally, there is no problem with it, except that it is simply not tenable on the basis of any Indian text on buddha nature, nor through reasoning.
At the same time, it is highly insufficient from a soteriological point of view. To keep this really brief, let alone what the Uttaratantra and the other treatises quoted above say again and again, the Mahaparinirvanasutra states
Whenever you search for what is called “the emptiness of emptiness,” nothing whatsoever is found. Even the Nirgranthas 289 have what is called “nothing whatsoever,” but liberation is not like that . . . Liberation is the uncontrived basic element—this is the Tathagata.290
Also many other sutras, such as the Srimaladevisutra, Angulimaliyasutra, Dhara?isvararajaparip?cchasutra, and Tathagatagarbhasutra suggest everything but the above Gelugpa position of the Tathagata heart being nothing but emptiness, let alone a nonimplicative negation.
To summarize, it should be clear that the Tathagatagarbha interpretation of the dGe-lugs-pas favored by Ruegg, as interesting as it is in itself, is hardly less tenable from a historical point of view than the opinion of the dGe-lugs-pas that also the Alayavijñanam of the Yogacaras is eventually nothing other than emptiness.291
On the more technical side, also in the Gelugpa system, a nonimplicative negation is categorized as a generally characterized phenomenon, which is defined as “that which is not able to perform a function.”292
So if buddha nature—and thus buddhahood—is nothing but a nonimplicative negation, by definition, it could not have any qualities, let alone those of a Buddha, such as unlimited prajña, compassion, omniscience.
Nor could it perform even so much as a wink of enlightened activity. In other words, if buddha nature means nothing but the sheer absence of real existence, how can any absence ever be something like buddhahood with all its wisdom, qualities, and enlightened activities?
This is especially absurd, since the performance of enlightened activity for the welfare of all sentient beings is the whole and only point of becoming a Buddha in the first place—otherwise, one may as well just strive for the personal and inactive liberation of an arhat.
As Zimmermann says:
They obviously consider this fact as an automatic consequence of the manifestation of one’s buddha nature, and in several passages it alone is stated to be a characteristic of buddhahood. This in itself demonstrates that efficaciousness was a main category in the earliest stage of tathagatagarbha thought.
Furthermore, according to the Gelugpa position, there is every reason to wonder why stones and cars do not become Buddhas too, since a buddha nature that is nothing but emptiness in the sense of a nonimplicative negation applies to all inanimate phenomena in just the same way. In addition, in the Gelugpa system, the teachings on buddha nature are regarded as being of expedient meaning, while emptiness (as said nonimplicative negation) is held to be the definitive meaning.
Thus, when it is said at the same time that buddha nature means nothing but the emptiness of sentient beings, this leads to the consequence that buddha nature must either be of definitive meaning too or emptiness—at least the one of sentient beings—must be of expedient meaning.
Let’s not go into the details of the absurdity of there being two emptinesses—the expedient one of sentient beings and the definitive one of everything else (which would moreover make it impossible for sentient beings to realize that definitive emptiness based on anything in their own continua). In addition, any nonimplicative negation is by definition an existent and an object of conceptual consciousness only.
This would mean that even the highest wisdom of a Buddha is still conceptual, and yogic perception (the only ultimately infallible form of insight in Buddhism) never happens. Even if it did arise anyway, it would have to realize something other than the emptiness that is a nonimplicative negation.
But this simply means that it then would be mistaken, since it does not realize what is claimed to be the sole ultimate. In addition, since—according to the Gelugpas —such a nonimplicative negation already is the actual ultimate, there would be no need to abandon it and proceed to a direct realization.294
Furthermore, if buddha nature referred to nothing other than the emptiness that is a nonimplicative negation, why would the Buddha have bothered to greatly elaborate on merely this emptiness in many sutras of the third turning of the wheel of dharma (which is moreover considered to be of expedient meaning by the Gelugpas), when he had already taught the emptiness of all phenomena at length and in a very straightforward manner in the prajñaparamita sutras of the second turning?
If—as per the Gelugpas—the third turning only teaches Mere Mentalism, then it is definitely contradictory that this very turning teaches the same emptiness (buddha nature being nothing but a nonimplicative negation) as the prajñaparamita sutras, which the Gelugpas themselves consider to be of definitive meaning.
Also, as mentioned above, even the Adhyardhasatikaprajñaparamitasutra— a part of the second wheel of dharma that is of definitive meaning— says that “all sentient beings contain the Tathagata heart.” So is this then a statement of definitive meaning, or is the sutra of expedient meaning?
There are anecdotes of Gelugpas who, upon being asked in conversation whether a Buddha has wisdom or not, became more or less offended by such a “heretical” question. At the same time, in formal debate, they would strictly deny that a Buddha has wisdom.
Similarly, it may be safely assumed that none of them would say “no” to the question, “Do you aspire to become a Buddha?” But does that mean that they are really inspired by the notion of wanting to become a nonimplicative negation? Okay, enough of that for now.
As for the arguments that the teachings on buddha nature are just of expedient meaning, they are usually based on Uttaratantra I.157, which says that the existence of the Buddha heart in all sentient beings is taught in order to eliminate the five flaws of faintheartedness, denigrating inferior beings, clinging to what is not the ultimate, denying the ultimate, and being excessively attached to oneself.
Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s Lamp That Elucidates the System of the Proponents of Other-Empty Madhyamaka 295 states that the existence of buddha nature is taught in order to awaken all sentient beings’ disposition for buddhahood and to relinquish the five flaws.
Then, the Karmapa addresses the above argument in good Prasangika style by drawing the absurd consequence that, if these teachings were only of expedient meaning, there would be no need to give up these five flaws.
In other words, we would have every reason to be fainthearted, lacking confidence in ever attaining enlightenment, since we do not have any buddha nature to even start with. Therefore, any trust in our buddha nature would just mean to fool ourselves.
Also, we would be fully entitled to look down on inferior beings because none of them really have buddha nature, let alone any of its qualities. On the reverse side, we would be justified in being proud and self-satisfied upon achieving any “new personal” qualities.
Also, everybody who denies the possibility of enlightenment would be perfectly right, since the nonexistence of buddha nature means the nonexistence of the dharmakaya. Thus, such people would just express the way things truly are. On the other hand, since there would be nothing other A Brief "History" of Luminous Mind 109
than just the delusions and obscurations that manifest as sansara, it would be justified to take these illusory appearances as the only reality there is. Consequently, any attempt at practicing the Buddhist path would be pointless.
It may be added that, if the teachings on buddha nature are understood as an expedient meaning, that is, as mere skillful means to address some specific flaws, it would follow that each and every teaching of the Buddha, including those on emptiness, is of expedient meaning.
For, it is common for all instructions of the Buddha to be given for specific purposes and as remedies for specific problems. Consequently, there would be nothing in the Buddha’s teachings that is of definitive meaning.
On the other hand, there are also passages in the scriptures that clearly present the teachings on emptiness and identitylessness as remedial and expedient and those on buddha nature as fruitional and definitive.
For example, the Mahaparinirvanasutra says that teaching buddha nature after identitylessness is like first smearing bitter bile on a mother’s breasts in order to prevent her baby from drinking milk while it has to digest a medicine (identitylessness) against a disease (clinging to any kind of identity). Once the baby is cured, it is allowed to drink the milk (buddha nature).296
To summarize, when not just clinging to the words but understanding what is conveyed by these words, let alone Nagarjuna’s Dharmadhatustava, in Indian Yogacara texts too, there is no reifying interpretation of tathagatagarbha.
The teachings on buddha nature were never designed as a doctrinal or ontological alternative to or replacement of emptiness. Tathagatagarbha—the luminous nature of the mind—is not regarded as a monistic absolute beside which all other phenomena have a mere status of emptiness.
Rather, it is the natural state of our mind, in which no self-delusion is ever at work. The default example used throughout tathagatagarbha texts for this nature of the mind being without reference points, inexpressible, and indemonstrable is space. Still, in order to clarify that the ungraspable expanse of the mind is not just a mere inert vacuum, but that this expanse is vivid sheer experience—the natural unity of expanse and wisdom—these texts also give many examples for the luminous aspect of mind’s nature and its boundless inseparable qualities.
An Overview of the Basic Themes of the Dharmadhatustava Given this long and rich “history” of luminous mind being covered by adventitious stains only, the subject of Nagarjuna’s Dharmadhatustava and how it is taught is not at all unusual, except for when one has one’s own set agenda of what he is supposed to say as a “true” Madhyamika and what not.
In fact, since pretty much everybody else in the Buddhist mahayana world speaks on luminous mind and tathagatagarbha, the question seems not to be why Nagarjuna would teach on this subject, but rather why he would not.
As for the text of the ]]Dharmadhatustava\\, only six of its verses (18–23) are preserved in Sanskrit, as quoted in Naropa’s Sekoddesatika.297 The Tibetan translation in 101 verses was prepared by K???a Pa??ita and the Tibetan translator Nagtso Lotsawa Tsültrim Gyalwa298 during the middle of the eleventh century.
The Tengyur editions of Peking (P2010; ka, fol. 73a.7–77a.8), Derge (D1118; ka, fol. 63b.5–67b.3), and Narthang (ka, fol. 70a.1–74b.7) show a number of variations, but only a few are significant (see translation).
The Chinese Buddhist canon contains two translations of the Dharmadhatustava (Taisho 413 and 1675), translated by the famous tantric master Amoghavajra (705–774) and Danapala from U??iyana in the early eleventh century, respectively.
Differing from the Tibetan, Taisho 413 has 125 verses (its verses 91–112 and 116–119 are not found in the Tibetan) and also shows a number of variant readings. Taisho 1675 is not a literal translation but a freer rendering of the meaning in eighty-seven verses.299
Many of its verses are in accord with both the teachings on emptiness as in Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka works and the instructions on buddha nature as found in the tathagatagarbha sutras and Maitreya’s Uttaratantra.
The latter is especially true for the examples that illustrate the Dharmadhatustava’s main theme—luminous mind or dharmadhatu being obscured by adventitious stains but essentially untainted by them, revealing all its qualities in full, once these stains are removed.
The text contains twelve such examples:
(1) butter within milk (verses 3–4);
(3) an encrusted beryl (9–10);
(4) gold in its ore (11);
(5) rice grains in their husks (12–13);
(7) a soiled fireproof garment (20–21);
(9) a baby in the womb (27);
(10) the same water being cold or warm (36–37);
(11) milk mixed with water (62–63); and
The example of the banana tree
(14–15) is a somewhat mixed metaphor applied to both of the just-mentioned senses, since the example itself says that a sweet fruit grows from something without pith, while its application in the next verse states that sansara without pith being freed from the peel of the afflictions is the fruition of buddhahood.
Together, the thirty verses on these examples and their meanings make up almost one third of the text.
In the same vein, enlightenment is neither near nor far, being just a matter of realizing the ever-present dharmadhatu or not (49, 61), which occurs through or as the personal experience of one’s own awareness or wisdom (1, 29, 46, 56, 61).
All phenomena are said to be empty, nonexistent, merely dependently arising and ceasing, being madhyama —the very center (30–33). Conceptions about self, mine, or any other characteristics of phenomena are the very obscurations (28, 64).
Similarly to the Uttaratantra, verse 22 addresses the question of the relationship between the Buddha’s teachings on emptiness and the Tathagata heart, stating that emptiness serves as the remedy for afflictions, but never invalidates the luminous nature of the mind.
This is confirmed by verse 26, saying that
In terms of the practical application of this not only in formal meditation but throughout one’s life, verses 38–45 speak of directly realizing the dharmadhatu through penetrating to the very essence of the five sense consciousnesses and the mental consciousness, including their objects, which is strikingly similar to what is said in this respect in Mahamudra and Dzogchen instructions.
Further topics of the text include how Buddhas appear to sentient beings (51–55); that the dharmadhatu is the fundamental basis for everything in sansara and nirvana (2, 57–59); the ten paramitas as the means to reveal the dharmadhatu (66–68);
the progression of the ten bhumis of bodhisattvas (78–87); and the fruition of buddhahood as the final “fundamental change of state,” including its interaction with bodhisattvas on the tenth bhumi (88–101).
This is personally experienced wisdom (the ultimate subject without any duality of subject and object), in other words, buddhahood full of enlightened qualities, which represents infinite benefit for both oneself and others.300
Translation: In Praise of Dharmadhatu301
I pay homage to Youthful Mañjusri.302
I bow to you, the dharmadhatu,
Who resides in every sentient being.
But if they aren’t aware of you,
They circle through this triple being. 1
Due to just that being purified
What is such circling’s cause,
This very purity is then nirvana.
Likewise, dharmakaya is just this. 2
While it’s blended with the milk,
Butter’s essence appears not.
Likewise, in the afflictions’ mix,
Dharmadhatu is not seen. 3
Once you’ve cleansed it from the milk,
Butter’s essence is without a stain.
Just so, with the afflictions purified,
The dharmadhatu lacks all stain. 4
Just as a lamp that’s sitting in a vase
Does not illuminate at all,
While dwelling in the vase of the afflictions,
The dharmadhatu is not seen. 5
From whichever of its sides
You punch some holes into this vase,
From just these various places then,
Its light rays will beam forth. 6
Once the vajra of samadhi
Has completely smashed this vase,
To the very limits of all space,
It will shine just everywhere.303 7
118 In Praise of Dharmadhatu
Unarisen is the dharmadhatu,
And never cease it will.
At all times without afflictions,
Stainless through beginning, middle, end. 8
A blue beryl, that precious gem,
Is luminous at any time,
But if confined within its ore,
Its shimmer does not gleam. 9
Just so, the dharmadhatu free of stain,
While it’s obscured by the afflictions,
In sansara doesn’t shine its light,
But in nirvana, it will beam.304 10
If this element exists, through our work,
We will see the purest of all gold.
Without this element, despite our toil,
Nothing but misery we will produce. 11
Just as grains, when covered by their husks,
Are not considered rice that can be eaten,
While being shrouded in afflictions,
It is not named “buddhahood.” 12
Just as rice itself appears
When it is free from all its husks,
The dharmakaya clearly manifests,
Once it is free from the afflictions.305 13
“Banana trees don’t have a pith”—
That’s used as an example in the world,
But their fruits—their very pith—
In all their sweetness we do eat. 14
Just so, when sansara without pith
Is released from the afflictions’ peel,
Its fruition, buddhahood306 itself,
Turns into nectar for all beings. 15
Likewise, from all seeds there are,
Fruits are born that match their cause.
By which person could it then be proved
That there is a fruit without a seed? 16
This basic element, which is the seed,
Is held to be the basis of all dharmas.
Through its purification step by step,
The state of buddhahood we will attain.307 17
Spotless are the sun and moon,
But obscured by fivefold stains:
These are clouds and smoke and mist,308
Rahu’s face309 and dust as well. 18
Similarly, mind so luminous
Is obscured by fivefold stains.
They’re desire, malice, laziness,
Agitation and doubt too.310 19
A garment that was purged by fire
May be soiled by various stains.
When it’s put into a blaze again,
The stains are burned, the garment not. 20
Likewise, mind that is so luminous
Is soiled by stains of craving and so forth.
The afflictions311 burn in wisdom’s fire,
But its luminosity does not. 21
The sutras that teach emptiness,
However many spoken by the victors,
They all remove afflictions,
But never ruin this dhatu. 22
Water dwelling deep within the earth
Remains untainted through and through.
Just so, wisdom in afflictions
Stays without a single stain. 23
120 In Praise of Dharmadhatu
Since dharmadhatu’s not a self,
Neither woman nor a man,
Free from all that could be grasped,
How could it be labeled “self”? 24
In all the dharma that’s without desire,
You see neither women nor a man.
“Men” and “women” are just taught
For guiding those plagued312 by desire. 25
“Impermanence,” “suffering,” and “empty,”
These three, they purify the mind.
The dharma purifying mind the best
Is the lack of any nature. 26
In a pregnant woman’s womb,
A child exists but is not seen.
Just so, dharmadhatu is not seen,
When it’s covered by afflictions.313 27
Through conceptions of a self and mine,
Discriminations of names, and reasons,
The four conceptions will arise,
Based on the elements and their outcome.314 28
Even the Buddhas’ aspiration prayers
Lack appearance and characteristics.
Immersed in their very own awareness,315
Buddhas have the nature of permanence. 29
Any horns there on a rabbit’s head
Are just imagined and do not exist.
Just so, all phenomena as well
Are just imagined and do not exist. 30
Also the horns of an ox do not exist316
As having the nature of particles.
Just as before, so it is after—
What’s to be imagined there? 31
Since things dependently originate
And in dependence too will cease,
If not even one of them exists,
How can fools imagine them? 32
How the dharmas of the Sugata
Are established as the very middle317
Is through the ox- and rabbit-horn examples. 33
The forms of sun, moon, and the stars
Are seen as reflections upon water
Within a container that is pure—
Just so, the characteristics are complete. 34
Virtuous throughout beginning, middle, end,
Undeceiving and so steady,
What’s like that is just the lack of self—
So how can you conceive it as a self and mine? 35
About water at the time of spring,
What we say is that it’s “warm.”
Of the very same thing, when it’s chilly,
We just say that it is “cold.” 36
Covered by the web of the afflictions,
It is called a “sentient being.”
Once it’s free from the afflictions,
It should be expressed as “Buddha.” 37
In dependence upon eye and form,
Appearances without a stain occur.
From being unborn and unceasing,
The dharmadhatu will be known. 38
In dependence upon sound and ear,
Pure consciousness comes forth,
All three dharmadhatu without signs.
Linked with thought, this will be hearing. 39
122 In Praise of Dharmadhatu
Smelling in dependence upon nose and smell
Is an example for the lack of form.
Likewise, it’s the nose’s consciousness
That conceptualizes dharmadhatu. 40
The nature of the tongue is emptiness,
And the dhatu of the taste is void—
Being318 of the dharmadhatu’s nature,
Consciousness is nonabiding. 41
From the nature of a body pure
And the characteristics of the tangible conditions,
What is free from such conditions
Is to be expressed as “dharmadhatu.” 42
Once conception and its concepts are relinquished
With regard to phenomena whose principal is mind,
It’s the very lack of nature of phenomena
That you should cultivate as dharmadhatu. 43
What you see and hear and smell,
What you taste and touch, phenomena as well—
Once yogins realize them in this way,
The characteristics are complete. 44
Eyes and ears and also nose,
Tongue and body and the mind as well—
The six ayatanas fully pure.
This is true reality’s own mark. 45
Mind as such is seen as two:
Worldly and beyond the world.
Clinging to it as a self, it is sansara—
In your very own awareness, true reality. 46
Since desire is extinguished, it is nirvana.
Hatred and ignorance are extinguished too.
Since these have ceased, it’s buddhahood itself,
The very refuge for all beings. 47
Due to realization and its lack,
All is in this very body.
Through our own conceptions, we are bound,
But when knowing our nature, we are free. 48
Enlightenment is neither far nor near,
And neither does it come nor go.
It’s whether it is seen or not
Right in the midst of our afflictions. 49
By dwelling in the lamp of prajña,
It turns into peace supreme.
So the collection of the sutras says:
“By exploring319 your self, you should rest!” 50
Children blessed by tenfold powers’ force,
See them like the crescent of the moon,
But those beings with afflictions
Do not see Tathagatas at all. 51
Just as ghosts with thirst and hunger
See the ocean to be dry,
Those obscured by ignorance
Think that Buddhas don’t exist. 52
What’s the Bhagavat supposed to do
For inferiors and those whose merit’s low?
It’s just like the supreme of jewels
Put in the hand of one who’s blind. 53
But for beings who acquired merit,
The Buddha dwells before their eyes,
With the thirty-two marks shining bright
In their luminous and glorious light. 54
Though the protector’s rupakaya
May remain for many eons,
For guiding those in need of guidance,
It is just this dhatu that is different. 55
124 In Praise of Dharmadhatu
Ascertaining the object of the mind,
Consciousness will engage in it.
Once your very own awareness becomes pure,
You will dwell right in the bhumis’ nature. 56
The great and mighty ones’ supreme abode,
Akani??ha that’s so beautiful,
And consciousness, all three of them,
Fuse into a single one, I say. 57
As for knowing all among the childish,
The diversity among the noble,
And the great and mighty, infinite in time—
What’s the cause of time in eons? 58
For sustaining the duration,
During eons truly infinite,
Of all beings’ outer realms
And for creatures’ life-force to remain,
This is what’s the inexhaustive cause. 59
In that whose fruition’s inexhaustible,
Through the special trait of nonappearance,
Engage in full for prajña’s sake. 60
Don’t think enlightenment is far away,
And don’t conceive it as close by.
With the sixfold objects not appearing,
It’s awareness of reality just as it is. 61
Just as from a mix of milk and water
That is present in a vessel,
Geese just sip the milk but not the water,
Which remains just as it is.320 62
Just so, being covered by afflictions,
Wisdom dwells within this body, one with them.
But yogins just extract the wisdom
And leave the ignorance behind. 63
As long as we still cling to “self” and “mine,”
We will conceive of outer things through this.
But once we see the double lack of self,
The seeds of our existence find their end. 64
Since it is the ground for buddhahood, nirvana,
Purity, permanence, and virtue too,
And because the childish think of two,
In the yoga of their nonduality, please rest. 65
Generosity’s multiple hardships,
Ethics gathering beings’ good,
And patience benefitting beings—
Through these three, the dhatu blooms. 66
Enthusiastic vigor for all dharmas,
Mind that enters meditative poise,
Prajña as your permanent resort—
These too make enlightenment unfold. 67
Prajña that is joined with means,
Aspiration prayers very pure,
A firm stand321 in power, wisdom too—
These four dharmas make the dhatu flourish. 68
“To bodhicitta, I pay no homage”—
Saying such is evil speech.
Where there are no bodhisattvas,
There will be no dharmakaya. 69
Some dislike the seeds of sugar cane
But still wish to relish sugar.
Without seeds of sugar cane,
There will be no sugar. 70
When these seeds of sugar cane
Are well guarded, fostered, and refined,
Molassis, sugar, candy too
Will then come forth from them. 71
126 In Praise of Dharmadhatu
With bodhicitta, it is just the same:
When it’s guarded, fostered, and refined,
Arhats, conditioned realizers, Buddhas too
Will then arise and spring from it. 72
Just as farmers guarding
Seeds of rice and others,
Thus, the leaders guard all those
Who’re aspiring to the supreme yana. 73
Just as, on the fourteenth day of waning,
Just a little bit of moon is seen,
Those aspiring to the supreme yana
Will see a tiny bit of buddhakaya. 74
Just as when the waxing moon
Is seen more in every moment,
Those who’ve entered on the bhumis,
See its increase322 step by step. 75
On the fifteenth day of waxing,
Eventually, the moon is full.
Just so, when the bhumis’ end is reached,
The dharmakaya’s full and clear. 76
Having generated this mind truly
Through continuous firm aspiration
For the Buddha, dharma, and the sa?gha,
Irreversibility shows time and again. 77
Through the ground of darkness323 all relinquished
And the ground of brightness324 firmly seized,
It is ascertained right at this point.
Therefore, it is designated “Joy.” 78
What’s been tainted through all times
By the stains of passion and so forth
And is pure now, without stains,
That is called “The Stainless One.” 79
Once the afflictions’ web pulls back,
Stainless prajña brightly shines.
This dispels all boundless darkness,
And thus is The Illuminating. 80
It always gleams with light so pure
And is engulfed by wisdom’s shine,
With all bustle being fully dropped.
Hence, this bhumi’s held to be The Radiant. 81
It triumphs in science, sports, and arts and crafts,
The full variety of samadhi’s range,
And over afflictions very hard to master.
Thus, it is considered Difficult to Master. 82
The three kinds of enlightenment,
The gathering of all that’s excellent,
Arising, ceasing too exhausted325—
This bhumi’s held to be The Facing. 83
Since it’s ever playing with a web of light
That’s configurated in a circle
And has crossed sansara’s swampy pond,
This is labeled “Gone Afar.” 84
Being cared for by the Buddhas,
Having entered into wisdom’s ocean,
Being without effort and spontaneous—
By the hordes of maras, it’s Immovable. 85
Since those yogins have completed
Their discourses teaching dharma
In all awarenesses discriminating perfectly,
This bhumi is considered Excellent Insight. 86
The kaya with this wisdom’s nature,
Which is stainless, equal to the sky,
Holds the dharma of the Buddhas.
From it, the “Cloud of Dharma” forms. 87
128 In Praise of Dharmadhatu
The abode of buddhadharmas
Fully bears the fruit of practice.
This fundamental change of state
Is called the “dharmakaya.” 88
Free from latent tendencies, you’re inconceivable.
Sansara’s latent tendencies, they can be conceived.
You’re completely inconceivable—
Through what could you be realized? 89
Beyond the entire sphere of speech,
Outside the range of any senses,
To be realized by mental knowing—
I bow to and praise whatever’s suitable. 90
In this manner of gradual engagement,
The highly renowned children of the Buddhas,
Through the wisdom of the cloud of dharma,
See phenomena’s empty nature.326 91
Once their minds are cleansed completely,
They have gone beyond sansara’s depths.
They rest calmly on a throne,
Whose nature is a giant lotus. 92
Everywhere they are surrounded
By lotuses that number billions,
In their many jeweled petals’ light,
And with anthers of enthralling beauty. 93
They overflow with tenfold power,
Immersed within their fearlessness,
Never straying from the inconceivable
Buddhadharmas without reference point. 94
Through all their actions327 of outstanding conduct,
Their merit and their wisdom are complete—
This full moon’s surrounded everywhere
By the stars that are its retinue. 95
In the sun that is the Buddhas’ hands,
Stainless jewels shine their light.
Through empowering their eldest children,
They bestow empowerment on them. 96
Abiding in this yoga that’s so great,
With divine eyes, they behold
Worldly beings debased by ignorance,
Distraught and terrified by suffering. 97
From their bodies, without effort,
Light rays are beaming forth,
And open wide the gates for those
Who are engulfed in ignorance’s gloom. 98
It’s held that those in the nirvana with remainder
Into the nirvana without remainder pass.
But here, the actual nirvana
Is mind that’s free from any stain. 99
The nonbeing of all beings—
This nature is its sphere.
The mighty bodhicitta seeing it
Is fully stainless dharmakaya. 100
In the stainless dharmakaya,
The sea of wisdom finds its place.
Like with variegated jewels,328
Beings’ welfare is fulfilled from it. 101
The Significance of the Dharmadhatustava in the Indo-Tibetan Tradition The full significance of the Dharmadhatustava in the Indian mahayana tradition is impossible to assess at present. The fact is that there is no preserved Indian commentary on it, nor any reports that one ever existed.
Also, since there has been no exhaustive research as to in how many and in which Indian sources the text appears, there are only a handful of known quotations or explicit references to it.
For example, Bhavaviveka’s Madhyamakaratnapradipa cites seven verses of the Dharmadhatustava and explicitly attributes them to Nagarjuna. Verses 91–96 appear in the context of bodhisattvas passing from the tenth bhumi to buddhahood:
When mighty bodhisattvas in their last life on the tenth bhumi look at sentient beings, they see that there is no decrease in their number and think . . . “Without having manifested the dharmakaya, I am not able to lead sentient beings out of sansara. Therefore, I will manifest the dharmakaya.”
Buddhahood means to have awoken from the sleep of ignorance, while the bodhicitta of the nature of phenomena—great self-sprung wisdom—knows and fully realizes the entire ma??ala of knowable objects in a single instant.332
What springs from its blessings and is supported by that basis of the dharmakaya is the sambhogakaya. What comes from its blessings and appears in accordance with the inclinations of those to be guided is the nirma?akaya.333
These verses include two examples for luminous mind being obscured but unaffected by adventitious stains (like the sun and moon by the five obscurations, such as clouds and smoke, and the fireproof garment by dirt), and an example for wisdom remaining stainless within the afflictions (water deep within the earth). Verse 22 says that the sutras on emptiness terminate the afflictions but never ruin the dharmadhatu.
If the corrosions would arise suddenly or randomly, the copper would have been free from them all the time before and then become corroded in an instant.
Also, if the corrosions had been around on their own for a long time and then the copper would arise later, where would they have come from in the first place? If they could arise without the copper, then it would also be possible that flowers grow in the sky.
However, they never really stain it either but just coexist with it. Emptiness refers to what smoke and so on are, and wisdom is that which is to be experienced personally. Following Nagarjuna’s verses, Naropa also quotes Aryadeva as saying that, once mental darkness has departed, mind’s luminosity is instantly very clear, having the nature of everpresent illumination.
Since the dharmadhatu is the actuality of the disposition, they are inseparable. Therefore, all beings are such that they possess the Tathagata heart, the result of that consequently being just a single yana. It is taught in the form of various yanas as means for realization that entail progressive stages.
Just as gold within stony debris
Does not appear to the eyes,
And then appears through being purified,
It is said that the Tathagata is seen in the world.335
Also noble Nagarjuna states in his Dharmadhatustava:
In a pregnant woman’s womb,
A child exists, but is not seen.
Just so, dharmadhatu is not seen,
When it’s covered by afflictions.336
Dharmendra’s Tattvasarasamgraha quotes verse 8 of the Dharmadhatustava in the context of establishing that the unborn and profound nondual wisdom of the mahayana is inexpressible and cannot be pinpointed as “this is it.” It is free from existence, nonexistence, permanence, extinction, not the sphere of sravakas, and free from all reference points.
Since this self-awareness is subtle,
The subtle seeing of the Buddhas beholds it.
Although it dwells within ourselves, fools like me
Do not see it because of their ignorance.337
Likewise, the Dharmadhatustava explains:
Unarisen is the dharmadhatu,
And never cease it will.
At all times without afflictions,
Stainless through beginning, middle, end.
These quotes are followed by further extensive citations from several texts by Nagarjuna, including his Paramarthastava, Acintyastava, Mulamadhyamakakarika, and *Niralambastava, as well as from the prajñaparamita sutras.338
As mentioned above, Atisa’s Ratnakara??odghatanamamadhyamakopadesa just lists the Dharmadhatustava as one of the many works by Nagarjuna,339 but his Dharmadhatudarsanagiti incorporates nineteen verses from the Dharmadhatustava.
The next two verses say that he will describe those who do or do not behold the dharmadhatu— unborn pure luminosity free from reference points, which is the natural nirvana realized by nonconceptual wisdom.
The following eighteen verses consist of most of the Dharmadhatustava’s examples for luminous mind being covered by adventitious stains (such as butter in milk, a lamp inside a vase, an encrusted beryl, gold in its ore, rice grains in their husks, a fireproof garment, and a baby in the womb);
After this, Atisa continues by saying that the nature of the dharmadhatu is space, being without birth, aging, abiding, and ceasing, thus being unconditioned. At the same time, it is inseparable from the qualities of a Buddha and accordingly bears their disposition.
His verse 25 says:
In accordance with the above description of the dharmadhatu in both affirmative and negative terms, Atisa’s subsequent presentation of the various Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools treats both the classical Madhyamaka approach to this dharmadhatu and what is taught on it in the Dharmadhatustava, the Uttaratantra, and many other Yogacara works as equally valid.
The former primarily focuses on the dharmadhatu as being the freedom from reference points that is to be realized, while the latter emphasizes the nonconceptual wisdom that realizes this freedom as well as the qualities that this realization entails.
In this way, the two approaches appear not as mutually exclusive but more like two sides of the same coin.
If the middle is completely liberated from extremes, Since there are no extremes, there is no middle either.
The view without middle and extremes Is the perfect view.
This is the unsurpassable view With which the intelligent constantly familiarize.
Once they have been exhausted, the undefiled dhatu
Is the vimuktikaya.
And thus the dharmakaya of those who grant refuge.340 </poem>
Naturally, the text is dealt with more frequently in those schools that emphasize the teachings on buddha nature and/or—at least in parts—subscribe to the view of “other-emptiness,” such as the Kagyü, Nyingma, and Jonang traditions (there is no known Nyingma commentary though).
In addition, since half of the presently known Tibetan commentaries on the Dharmadhatustava were written by Sakya authors—four of them during the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries—the text must have been regarded highly in parts of that school at least during that time as well.
Given the subject of the Dharmadhatustava and the manner in which it is taught, it is no surprise that quotations from this text are usually very rare, if not totally absent, in works by Gelugpa authors.
In particular, in their texts I have not come across any citations of the Dharmadhatustava’s verses that speak about buddha nature in positive terms, such as the examples for luminous mind and adventitious stains in the beginning of the text.
In Chapter One, quoting verse 37, he says that mind in its impure phase is referred to by the names “mind,” “mentation,” and “consciousness,” while it is designated as the kayas and wisdoms once it has become pure.341
He says that adventitious stains are nothing but one’s own stainless and naturally luminous mind as such, but by virtue of this mind being ignorant of itself, cognizance appears in a dualistic way as if it were a separate apprehender and apprehended.
(3) the alaya-consciousness; and
(4) sentient beings.
From among these, he says, (2) is taught in many texts by Nagarjuna, such as the Dharmadhatustava, Cittavajrastava, and Bodhicittavivara?a, as well as in many sutras of the third turning of the wheel of dharma.346 Throughout his commentary, Gö Lotsawa quotes forty-nine verses (!) of the Dharmadhatustava and also comments on most of them,347 sometimes linking his explanations to Mahamudra and its key notion of ordinary mind (tha mal gyi shes pa). He also clearly states that the dharmadhatu— mind beyond affirmation and negation—is not a nonimplicative negation. In terms of practice, he emphasizes that the Tathagata heart cannot be found anywhere else than right within one’s own mental afflictions.
The Seventh Karmapa’s commentary on the Abhisamayalamkara quotes Dharmadhatustava verse 22 together with Uttaratantra I.154–155 as supports for the dharmadhatu’s stains being adventitious, while its enlightened qualities are inseparable.
This occurs in the context of describing the ultimate reality of “Great Madhyamaka” as naturally luminous dharmadhatu or tathagatagarbha, which is never tainted by the stains of apprehender and apprehended.
This is said to be treated both in Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka texts and his other works, such as the Dharmadhatustava, with the latter extensively ascertaining mind as such, which is lucid and empty in an inseparable way and the utter peace of all reference points. It is also explained in the texts of Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, and Dharmakirti.349
The first is in the context of discussing the unfolding disposition, explaining that this term is used from the perspective of it looking as if enlightened activity unfolds through accomplishing the roots of virtue.
The second reference is indirect, through quoting Rangjung Dorje’s DSC on verses 24–26 as support for explaining the meaning of “dharmadhatu” as the entirety of dualistic phenomena, such as sansara and nirvana, or factors to be relinquished and their remedies, being of equal taste with the essence of nonduality.351
The Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje’s Lamp That Excellently Elucidates the System of the Proponents of Other-Empty Madhyamaka 352 discusses buddha nature becoming progressively revealed from its cocoon of adventitious stains during the path.
This definitive meaning of the mahayana, which is taught in the final turning of the wheel of dharma, the Karmapa says, is summarized by the invincible Lord Maitreya in the nine examples and their meanings in his Uttaratantra and is also explained extensively through the Dharmadhatustava’s examples of a lamp inside a vase (verses 5–7) and the moon becoming full (verses 74–76).
As for the Eighth Karmapa’s commentary on the Abhisamayalamkara, the general presentation of the dharmadhatu as the “disposition”—which includes verses 62–63 of the Dharmadhatustava—was already presented above.
At the end, he presents the question of whether the third “wheel of prophecy” in Maitreya’s classification and the third “wheel that puts an end to all views” in Nagarjuna’s come down to the same essential point.
He quotes the Third Karmapa as saying that these two cycles share the same essential point in a general way through the implication that any final dharma cycle must necessarily be one that teaches freedom from reference points.
On the other hand, in terms of a particular feature being included or not, these two cycles do not come down to the same essential point.
For, Nagarjuna’s “wheel that puts an end to all views” speaks about nothing but the mere freedom from reference points, while “the wheel of prophecy” explains that the distinctive feature of what is to be experienced by personally experienced wisdom is the wisdom free from reference points.
Later, the commentary’s extensive discussion of the way in which realization evolves progressively on the ten bhumis quotes the Dharmadhatustava’s verses 74–76 on the moon becoming full as a support.354