Buddha-Nature, Day One of a Discourse on Uttaratantra
Bodh Gaya, India, January 17, 1982
Translated by Alexander Berzin and revised, January 2008
[with explanatory notes in violet between square brackets]
Part One: Background Discussion
Today, we are gathered in a very special place, Bodh Gaya, the site in India where the most skillful, compassionate, and kind universal teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, manifested his state of enlightenment. The Dharma teaching we shall be dealing with here on this occasion is one by the triumphant Maitreya, the Buddha who will grace the future, the guiding light who will be our Fifth Universal Spiritual Leader. He has composed what are known as The Five Dharma Texts of Maitreya, three long and two short. During these coming days, I shall discuss one of them, the treatise entitled The Furthest Everlasting Continuum ( rGyud bla-ma, Skt. Uttaratantra)
This hallowed text speaks about taking a safe direction in life (refuge) and about the basis on the mental continuums of all of us that allows for our actualizing a highest state of enlightenment, namely Buddha-nature. In other words, the topic it treats is the basis or womb that has allowed all the Buddhas of the past to have progressed toward and to have reached their states of attainment and which will allow, in the future, those such as us to become totally clear-minded and fully evolved as a Buddha. Thus, the technical terms for Buddha-nature are the source (dhatu), the womb containing a Thusly Gone One (tathagata-garbha), the womb containing a Blissfully Gone One (sugata-garbha), and the Buddha family-trait (buddhagotra). As it treats such a special and important topic as this, The Furthest Everlasting Continuum is truly one of the greatest Buddhist classics of all time.
All of us here today are individuals who want happiness and do not wish for problems. Moreover, however long we have lived, we have spent our lives until now making various efforts to bring about the peace and happiness we desire and to eliminate our unwished for problems. Not only that, but from beginningless previous lifetimes until now we have always lived without ever being parted from the thought of "may I be happy" and "may I be free from my problems." Based on that, then with each of us thinking that if I follow this method I will achieve this happiness and if I follow that method I will get rid of my problems, we have all until now been acting out our various thoughts and ideas concerning the skillful means for bringing this about.
Now we are alive as human beings and, within the scope of all the people who have ever lived, we are humans living at a time of great progress in the world, with advances on both an external physical level and on the internal level of humanity. As exemplified by the enterprising efforts made in various countries, there have been both external material progress and internal progress in knowledge and skills. Yet, despite all the progress on these two fronts, still the deepest level of mental happiness and peace of mind, with which we need never again be frightened or nervous and all our wishes for happiness will have been fulfilled, has not yet come about, has it? Even if we look at just ourselves, regardless of which course of clever techniques, which people in general might follow, that we have tried up until now, we have still not obtained a real, ultimate satisfaction of mind. Nor have we obtained the secure feeling of a deepest level of mental happiness and peace of mind with which we will never have any more problems or worries again. With this being the case concerning ourselves, then no matter to whom else we look as examples, we cannot see anyone who, through using the usual general methods for solving problems and gaining happiness, has actually reached the point of being satisfied about the happiness he or she wanted and never having to worry about any problems again. We cannot see anybody like that, can we? This is something we can decide for certain, can't we? This being the case, what we need to think about and investigate is whether any other methods exist besides the ones we see people trying in general for solving their problems and gaining happiness. Are these the only ones available or is there something else?
Now, we all want to be happy and do not want any problems or suffering. However, as for the methods for gaining happiness and eliminating problems, if there were no other means available other than amassing resources and wealth – on an internal level amassing knowledge and skills for the sake of one's own individual enterprises and efforts, and on an external level amassing money for bettering oneself materially – if we had to say there were no methods other than these, then there would be nothing we could do. For instance, you plant your fields and the crop fails. That is only natural; there is nothing you can do; and it does not help at all to fret. It is exactly like that example. So many problems and sufferings befall us and the happiness we wish never comes about. However, if there is nothing we can do about it, then there is no point in struggling over different methods or thinking up schemes. It is better just to accept it, no matter how miserable we are, and keep quiet. This, however, is not the case.
Let us not just think about one individual; rather, let us consider the way the world has come about. If we think a lot about this, the environment and all the life forms within it have evolved in dependence on causes and circumstances. When causes and circumstances conducive for its evolution have come together, things have come about; and when conditions not conducive for its sustenance have come together, they have perished. It is based on such a situation that things evolve and disappear, correct? It is in dependence on causes and circumstances that everything arises and perishes.
This being the case, then as in the example of the evolution of both the animate and inanimate worlds, it is not out of our own internal knowledge and skills that the world came to be or was made. It was not out of bringing together a mass of material objects that the world was created. The physical world and the beings within it came about not out of an enterprising effort on an internal level of knowledge and skill, nor out of a similar effort on an external level with material objects, did it?
This being so, then if we think further along the lines of this example of the evolution of the world, if there were no other causes and circumstances that could have brought it about, then it is not possible on merely the basis of presently followed methods as causes and circumstances that the world could have been created or could be destroyed. Well, maybe if massive nuclear weapons are employed it does seems possible we can destroy it. However, not counting that in the categories of either a simple material object or skill of knowledge, if we think about how the world first came about, it was not out of an enterprising effort of knowledge and skills; it was not out of an enterprising effort with material objects. This being the case, then by necessity there must have been other causes and circumstances. There must have been other factors that brought this about, this we can decide for sure, can't we?
We ourselves are, in general, phenomena that arise from circumstances, phenomena that change and then pass, phenomena that depend on circumstances. We have all come about and continue to live in dependence on many causes and circumstances. This being the case, then within this framework, in connection with us, our own desired happiness and our unwanted problems both are similarly based on causes and circumstances. Both are dependent on causes and circumstances.
Now concerning these causes and circumstances, as I have just explained, the attainment of happiness and elimination of problems simply on the basis of the power of material objects or simply on the basis of some knowledge or skill are things that do not exist. That being so, if we ask what method is there other than these, what situation can there be other than these – then in answer, when we come up with the situation in which there is a different way of thinking than that of general, ordinary people and which runs counter to it and goes beyond it, then we arrive at the presentation of Dharma, the preventive spiritual measures.
Now today, we have all come together here at Bodh Gaya in a great gathering and we have not done so because there is a grand show going on. You have not come here because I am going to put on a performance, because I am a skilled entertainer, an actor, or a musician. You have not come to see a show, have you? And you have not come, for example, because the Dalai Lama has rabbits' horns on his head, to see some strange form of human being in a zoo or a circus sideshow, have you? Nor have you come to collect some free goods that are being handed out, have you? You have not come because of the delicious food in Bodh Gaya or the comfortable hotels or beautiful picnic grounds either, have you? So, if we ask why is it that you have come here, it is to hear something about spiritual matters. You have heard about the Dharma; it has stuck in your minds; and you feel happy about it. It is for this reason that today you have all gathered here in Bodh Gaya.
As for the spiritual masters from whom I received the oral transmission of The Five Dharma Texts of Maitreya, I received that of A Filigree of Realizations (Abhisamayalamkara) and [Haribhadra's] Commentary Clarifying the Meaning both from Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche. Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche received the transmission of A Filigree of Realizations in conjunction with A Compendium of Sutras from Choney Lama Rinpoche, and that of [Haribhadra's] Commentary Clarifying the Meaning from Minyag Rinpoche f Kumbum. I received the other four Maitreya texts from Kunu Lama Rinpoche, Gen Rigdzin-tenpa, who received them from Morchog Rinpoche. That is my lineage.
I shall explain this classic from the root text and, as I did not have so much familiarity with The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, I have looked at some of its commentaries. For just explaining the meaning in brief, there are the short notes by [the Nyingma master] Kenpo Zhenga, which is an interlinear commentary. It is very condensed and, as it is so brief, it is difficult to come to a decisive conclusion about the meaning based on just that. Nevertheless, I have looked a little at these notes. The commentary by the Bodhisattva from Ngulchu, [the Sakya master] Togmey-zangpo, explains from the sutra point of view and treats just the root text itself. It is very good and I have also looked a little at that. Then, there is A Thorough Explanation of "The Furthest Everlasting Continuum" by [another Sakya master] Rongton Sheja-kunrig. He is really learned. There are various difficult points in relation to Buddha-nature on which various learned masters have held different opinions and explained somewhat differently, and the commentary by Rongton is really a learned and professional one. Thus, I have looked a little at that too.
Then, there is a commentary by the precious [Sakya encyclopedist] Buton Rinpoche [ A Filigree to Clarify the Womb Containing a Blissfully Gone One] which, although not an actual commentary on The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, yet quotes many of the sources from Buddha's sutras that discuss its subject matter. These include The Sutra on the Womb Containing a Thusly Gone One (Tathagatagarbha Sutra, The Sutra on Buddha-Nature) and The Sutra of the Great Silk Ribbon for the Three Thousand (World-Systems). Based on these quotations, Buton refutes that Buddha-nature is something that abides permanently, stably, and with true imputed existence. I have looked into that too.
Then there is the all-knowing [Gelug master] Gyaltsab Jey's Commentary to "The Furthest Everlasting Continuum", which is on both the root text and its commentary by the highly realized Arya Asanga. This is the most extensive and decisive one. In addition, there is The Irrepressible Lion's Roar: A Commentary on "The Furthest Everlasting Continuum" by [the Rimey master] Kongtrul Yonten-gyatso, which discusses the text by taking other-voidness (zhentong) as its main point. Basically, he says that those of the past who have explained in connection with the sutras are good, but the view of other-voidness as explained by the Omniscient [Third Karmapa] Rangjung-dorjey and [the Jonang masters] Dolpopa and Taranatha is supreme.
Many exalted, learned Tibetan masters of the past have composed grand refutations of the other-voidness view. Likewise, even many learned masters of the Sakya lineage [within which the Jonang tradition developed] have composed refutations. For instance, the most learned Panchen Shakya-chogden [who asserted a view similar to other-voidness] said that the view of other-voidness does not pertain to the presentation of the three everlasting continuums in the glorious Sakya teachings of the paths and their results (lamdray). Thus, even in the Sakya line, many learned Sakya masters have composed refutations of it. In any case, the fact is that many unbiased, learned masters of Tibet have refuted a position given the name other-voidness.
Now, the omniscient Dolpopa and so on, and the source from whom this view originated, Yumo Mikyo-dorjey, who was renowned as a yogi of Kalachakra, were hallowed masters. They had their own individual ways of inner practice. Nevertheless, the ways in which they indicated their realizations are a completely different matter. What the actual meanings were that they had in mind, we cannot say. The intended meaning behind a text can differ greatly from the meaning conveyed by the words with which the text is written. Also, there are many persons who, through back-to-front practices, have gained high realizations.
For instance, Jonang Taranatha was really a hallowed master, someone who had reached a high level of realization. This is clear from his enlightening biography by [the Gelug master] Saygyu Konchog-yarpel. Later generations remembered him as Taranatha the Realization Body, meaning someone of very high realizations, with actual powers of extrasensory perception, someone beyond the bounds of imagination. Although the realizations in the enlightening minds of such hallowed masters as exemplified by him are beyond the realms of imagination, yet if we look at their manners of speech, it is another matter.
For instance, I have seen a text on Kalachakra written by Dharmeshvara, the spiritual son of Yumo Mikyo-dorjey. In this text, he says that the explanations and commentaries of the most learned Nagarjuna, which are in accordance with the intention of the middle round of transmission of the Dharma, present a most vile view of reality. He spoke of them with such bad words. Thus, in works on other-voidness such as those by the spiritual son Dharmeshvara, it seems as though except for the final round of Dharma, the intentions of the middle round will not do. They say that the self-voidness presented at the occasion of the middle round of Dharma transmission is a voidness or absence of absolutely everything, in other words, a total nothingness. That is why they consider it something despicable. They then assert Buddha-nature, the source of accordant progress to enlightenment, to be static, stable, and truly unimputedly existent. This will not do at all. It is on these points, then, that many unbiased, learned masters of Tibet have written refutations.
[The Nyingma master] Kenpo Zhenga, for example, also refuted this view of other-voidness. Because some learned masters of old wrote something that was unreasonable, I think it was difficult to make it fit together, in an acceptable manner, with the intentions of the Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug, and Nyingma dzogchen traditions. These learned masters of old [who refuted the way in which some masters had explained the other-voidness position] had realized the point of the Buddhas' enlightening speech. Because of that, they regarded specific assertions as superior and inferior based on their knowing which were supreme and which were abysmal. To discriminate as superior and inferior without knowing which were supreme and which were abysmal is not the way they would write refutations, is it? That is the situation concerning the view of other-voidness.
Now, following Kongtrul Yonten-gyatso's work, the omniscient [Nyingma master] Mipam composed A Commentary on "The Furthest Everlasting Continuum" and likewise The Lion's Roar: The Great (Collection of) Thousands of Points Concerning the Womb Containing a Blissfully Gone One. In these classic works, Mipam explains in terms of a combination of the middle and last rounds of Dharma transmission. He speaks of Buddha-nature as possessing a Buddha's enlightening qualities as potential abilities or seeds and as having an actual nature that is unaffected by anything. Yet, other than such a Buddha-nature being devoid of true unimputed existence, he does not at all assert that it is established as being truly and unimputedly existent. Because Mipam's explanation combines in it the intention of the middle round of transmission, then since in the middle round Buddha explained that all phenomena are devoid of inherently findable existence, this omniscient master makes no exception for the essential factors of Buddha-nature. Thus, he says the Buddha-nature factors are, by actual nature, devoid of true unimputed existence. Because of that, his explanation is reasonable and is not something that needs to be purged of unreasonableness.
I have looked at such commentaries as these, but only roughly, and I really do not know them in all their profound detail. Moreover, I have not had the time and my intelligence is not up to it. Nevertheless, I have looked at them roughly with the little time that I have had. The way that I shall explain, then, during the next days will be a word-for-word commentary based in some places on the omniscient Rongton's explanations, since they are easy to put together. In some places, I shall explain in terms of what the all-knowing Gyeltsab Jey has said, since that is conclusive. These are the commentaries upon which I shall base my explanations and how they will derive from them.
The precious Gyeltsab Jey's work deals primarily with the essential factors of Buddha-nature and discusses them in a manner that is solely in terms of the sutras. It does not address itself to these factors as discussed in the secret mantra tradition, or more specifically in the tradition of the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga.
The term everlasting continuum (tantra) has many meanings. When the secret mantra tradition mentions everlasting continuums, it is referring to phenomena that go on with continuity. Thus, there is the presentation of three everlasting continuums, isn't there – the basis, path, and resultant continuums. For instance, when the glorious Sakya teachings of the paths and their results present three everlasting continuums, they include the causal everlasting continuum of the alaya, the all-encompassing foundation. Of course, among the works of the learned Sakya masters, for instance in Notes on the Paths and Their Results by Kyentsey-wangchug and in the text of the same name by Mangto Ludrub-gyatso, some differences arise. When it comes to the point of identifying or recognizing the all-encompassing foundation, the learned masters of old apparently differed in their explanations. In any case, there are manners of discussing everlasting continuums in connection with the tantras and one in connection with only the sutras. What the precious Gyaltsab Jey has presented is a discussion solely in terms of the sutra tradition. Therefore, I shall explain this classic roughly, by following these commentaries.
The sacred works delivered orally by the triumphant Buddha's staid, our guiding light Maitreya, such as A Filigree of Realizations and A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras, have their own special uncommon way of expression, don't they? Almost in the manner of an outline having first a brief indication of the subject matter and so on, they first give summary verses. Then, when they treat each point in the summary verses, they give a brief indication, an extensive explanation, and finally an abbreviated review of the meaning. This is not the case with every section in A Filigree of Realizations; but, except for a few instances, the text treats most points in this outline form.
The Furthest Everlasting Continuum is like this as well. Each chapter presents its main points as if with an outline and then goes on to comment on them. Each of Maitreya's works proceeds like this; but especially in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, Maitreya explains with a brief indication, an extensive explanation, and then an abbreviated review of the meaning. When you are reading the text, it is as if all of a sudden a notice appears of the next section, making it easy to understand and clear. Consequently, this classical scripture is excellent.
The text is in five chapters. The first chapter indicates the source. It speaks of the three sources of safe direction and then Buddha-nature as a source, as a womb containing a Thusly Gone Buddha. The second chapter is on enlightenment. It presents the resultant state of a Buddha, in which all fleeting stains associated with the Buddha-nature womb have been removed. It discusses the situation of what the womb contains being totally purified and fully grown. After that, comes the chapter on a Buddha's enlightening qualities, which, free of stains, are corrections of all inadequacies. The chapters on enlightening influence and then on the benefits follow that. The actual nature of the text is that it has these five chapters.
As for the way in which this classic came about, its actual compiler was the highly realized Arya Asanga. To realize the meaning of the extensive and profound Mahayana classics on far-reaching discrimination (prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom), Asanga understood that he would have to rely fully on our guiding light Maitreya. Moved by this necessity, he meditated for many years and finally, when he developed true love for all beings, he was able to actualize this exceptional Buddha-figure. Maitreya actually appeared before him. Through the force of Maitreya's compassionate extraphysical powers, Asanga was then miraculously transported to the joyous Buddha-field Tushita, and there he listened to the stages of the profound and extensive Mahayana paths from Maitreya himself. When he reappeared on our southern island world, Asanga revealed The Five Dharma Texts of Maitreya. Such a description comes from the grand tradition of the learned Indian masters.
Of The Five Dharma Texts of Maitreya, it seems that Asanga publicly taught only A Filigree of Realizations, A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras, and Differentiating the Middle from the Extremes. Later, he concealed The Furthest Everlasting Continuum and Differentiating Phenomena and Their Deepest Nature as hidden treasure texts (terma). Masters could teach them only inside a stupa relic monument from these treasure texts and not speak of them outside. So it has been said. Several eye-opening translators in Tibet seem to have translated these classics during the earlier transmission period.
A Filigree of Realizations, which, as I just mentioned, constitutes one of The Five Dharma Texts of Maitreya, makes clear the stages of realization of both what is hidden and what is obvious in The Mother (Prajnaparamita) Sutras, namely far-reaching discrimination, and is a remarkable, excellent explanation. Corrected of anything wrong, it is extremely broad and extensive - a truly remarkable explanatory work. As for its philosophical view or outlook on reality, in certain places it indicates the ultimate point according to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka position, although basically, of course, it explains [from the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka viewpoint] in terms of the ways of practice of three families of disciples. Thus, it is something extremely extensive.
The Furthest Everlasting Continuum explains in the manner of the ultimate Madhyamaka view of reality, whereas A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras and the two Differentiating texts treat primarily the Chittamatra view. Some learned scholars have said that Differentiating Phenomena and Their Deepest Nature is like a commentary on Buddha-nature as explained in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, and so there is that way of discussing this text as well.
In any case, because these classics are really substantial works and very vast, then for example, just as Aryadeva's Four Hundred Stanzas has commentaries written from the Chittamatra as well as Madhyamaka viewpoints, so too the works spoken by our guiding light Maitreya, being likewise substantial and deep, also have various types of commentaries. This is the presentation of The Five Dharma Texts of Maitreya.
A Filigree of Realizations takes as its subject matter the levels of voidness (the absence of impossible ways of existing) as what The Prajnaparamita Sutras manifestly indicate and the levels of their realization as what they indicate in a hidden manner. The hidden way in which these sutras indicate these levels of realization that arise from meditating on the manifestly indicated levels of voidness is that they explain them as bases that are devoid of these levels of impossible ways of existing. A Filigree of Realizations elucidates these obscurely indicated stages. In other words, it explains clearly the distinguishing features and the ways to develop these stages of realization from one to the next as levels of awareness of things, doesn't it?
The Furthest Everlasting Continuum deals with the root from which these stages of realization can arise as levels of awareness of things, namely Buddha-nature, the source or womb containing all the core factors for becoming a Buddha. With this womb, as a basis or foundation, one can actualize oneself as someone in whom previously undeveloped good qualities newly arise and as someone in whom faults, which only fleetingly abide, are removed by opponent forces. It is probably, then, because the text explains about how, on the basis of the everlasting mental continuum of a practitioner, good qualities are developable and faults are removable that it is called The Furthest-Reaching or Superlative Everlasting Continuum. Thus, we can understand something from the title.
Out of a distinguished method of great compassion, the universal teacher Buddha set flow three rounds of transmission of the Dharma concerning the two true phenomena (two truths). Whether we call the three rounds simply the first, second, and third, or the rounds concerning the four true facts (four noble truths) and so on, we have many ways of asserting and dividing the three. One way is in accordance with what Buddha explained in The Sutra Unravelling What Is Intended (Samdhinirmocana Sutra) and elsewhere with respect, for instance, to developing bodhichitta.
In any case, in order to tame wild undisciplined minds, Buddha taught in the beginning for the sake of ordinary or common persons. He taught in terms of the four true facts in accordance with the level of mind of ordinary disciples needing to be tamed. That constituted the first round of Dharma transmission.
As for the middle round, at the distinguished place of Vultures' Peak, in the presence of sharp-witted disciples with pure karma, Buddha indicated with one set of enlightening words the extensive, intermediate, and abbreviated classics on prajnaparamita, the far-reaching attitude of discriminating awareness. Each disciple understood these enlightening words in varying levels of elaborateness in accordance with his or her disposition and capacity. In teaching far-reaching discrimination like this, Buddha presented voidness, the absence of impossible ways of existence, by way of showing that all phenomena are devoid of true unimputed existence and thus totally pure by self-nature.
The third round of transmission has as its source several sutras, such as The Sutra on the Womb Containing a Thusly Gone One and others in this family. With the second round, Buddha had presented the abiding nature of all phenomena, namely voidness, the very nature of reality, clear light as an object apprehended by a mind. Having done that, in the last round Buddha explained, with a very extensive presentation, the mind that apprehends as its object this clear light (voidness) – the mind based on which all faults are removable and all good qualities developable. It seems as though Maitreya composed this treatise, The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, by taking as its sources or roots the sutras that had this subject matter, such as The Sutra on the Womb Containing a Thusly Gone One and others. So, that is that.
Our guiding light, the highly realized Arya Nagarjuna, composed Collections of Logical Reason in connection with the intended meaning of the middle round of Dharma transmission and Collections of Praise in connection with the intended meaning of the final round. Within the Collections of Praise composed by Nagarjuna, in Praises to the Sphere of Reality, Praises to the Vajra Mind, and so on, a manner of discussion very similar to that in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum appears, doesn't it? Kunu Lama Tenzin-gyeltsen used to say that Collections of Praise were in connection with the intended meaning of the last round of transmission, didn't he?
Thus, when we speak of the last round of transmission of the Dharma, there is no need to identify it exclusively [as most Gelug commentaries do] with The Sutra Expressing Clearly What Is Intended. Many teachings are to be included in the last round; and here we are dealing with The Sutra on the Womb Containing a Thusly Gone One. Within the literature concerning Buddha-nature, various texts such as this Sutra on the Womb Containing a Thusly Gone One need commentary as having interpretable meanings intended to guide us deeper.
If, before assembling here, we could have read the Kangyur (The Translations of Buddha's Enlightening Words) on this topic and had a good look, we could have discovered a great deal. However, I personally did not have the time. I have only two eyes, no more; and it would not do for me to take time off. I have a great interest in reading and if I had a quiet, isolated place and some free leisure time, I would love to read further. It never happens, however, does it? The Dalai Lama is always kept busy without any spare time. There are quite a few Geshes here, however; so, you have to look at these. Look with burning eyes, now, you hear? (Much laughter) You understand me?
In short, then, I shall speak merely from tradition, whatever comes to my mind. I have not prepared anything professional. In the first place, the material is very tough and, secondly, as I have not had the time to look at all of it, there is not too much that I can explain. Nevertheless, as I have to say something, this is how my explanation has derived.
As frequently appears in the sutras, "Mind does not have a mind; the functional nature of mind is clear light." When we come to identify the mind or awareness of objects, we see that the mind is what gives rise to all uncontrollably recurring phenomena (samsara) as well as all phenomena released from such strictures (nirvana). When the mind is tamed, happiness comes about; and when the mind is untamed, problems arise. Therefore, since taming the wild, undisciplined mind comes from pondering the main points of what is to be adopted or rejected in light of the four Noble Truths or four true facts, Buddha explained the four facts at the occasion of the first round of transmission.
Then, concerning the "mind does not have mind," Buddha explained the essential nature of the reality of the mind as voidness: it is devoid of all impossible ways of existing. Thus, in the middle round of Dharma transmission, Buddha explained the essential nature of mind as voidness with such words as "mind does not have a mind."
As for "the functional nature of mind is clear light," there are two ways to understand this clear-light functional natur of mind. We can think of clear light as the actual nature encompassing everything [in other words, as voidness] or clear light as something having this actual nature, in other words, as a mind [that is void by nature]. Buddha commented on these two ways of understanding "the functional nature of mind is clear light" in an uncommon manner at the occasion of the last round of Dharma transmission. It was like that. The last round was undoubtedly with such texts as The Sutra on the Womb Containing a Thusly Gone One and so on, which are the scriptural sources for the subject matter discussed in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum.
This being the case, first we need to ponder the main points for taming the gross faulty behavior of the mind. Next, we need to try to see the abiding nature of the reality of the mind. The ultimate endpoint we need to understand about mind is in relation to secret mantra, the hidden measures to protect the mind, in other words in relation to tantra. Thus, for an accurate and total understanding of Buddha-nature, the subject matter indicated here in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, I think we undoubtedly have to depend on the classic texts of tantra. For example, just as it is said that for the explanation of what is perfect and accurate, one must depend on the classics of tantra, likewise for the most deep-reaching and complete explanation for understanding Buddha-nature, I think we also need to explain it in connection with tantra.
When the learned Sakya masters explain the causal everlasting continuum of the all-encompassing foundation – one group of their learned masters gives the name all-encompassing foundation (alaya), or causal everlasting continuum of the all-encompassing foundation, to the mind's mere clarity and awareness – then, ultimately, they take this to be the primordial, simultaneously arising mind of clear light. This is because the clear light mind is precisely that which abides as the foundation for all phenomena of samsara and nirvana. Every phenomenon of samsara and nirvana is founded on clear light mind as its basis.
In the context of mahamudra, the great sealing nature of mind, the root phenomenon to be ascertained is also that which comes from recognizing or identifying the primordial, simultaneously arising clear-light mind. In the explanation of dzogchen, the great completeness, as well, the root is the primordial, simultaneously arising mind of clear light, recognized as inseparable pure awareness (rigpa) and voidness.
That being the case, then since the middle round indicated voidness and the last round the situation of pure awareness, we may conclude that what is to be understood by the combination of these two – whether in [the Old Translation (Nyingma)] terms of the unity of pure awareness and voidness, or inseparable sphere of reality (dharmadhatu) and pure awareness – and what is to be understood by what the New Translation tantras call inseparable blissful awareness and voidness, come down to exactly one and the same thing.
When the tantras speak of greatly blissful deep awareness or simultaneously arising blissful awareness, we need to think of blissful awareness within the context of the deep awareness (yeshey) of the primordial, simultaneously arising mind of clear light. Blissful awareness in this context applies only to that level of mind. Thus, whether we say [in Gelug] the unity of blissful awareness and voidness, [in Sakya] the unity of clarity and voidness, or [in Nyingma] the unity of pure awareness and voidness, the basic point all of them revolve around comes down to the same thing.
Nevertheless, even though the explanation of Buddha-nature found in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum comes down to the same ultimate endpoint as the intention of what anuttarayoga tantra explains, still the way it indicates it is slightly different. For example, in A Lamp for Illuminating the Five Stages (of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage), the ennobling Tsongkhapa, discussing as he does in A Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Secret Mantra Path, explains that when the charya tantra Vairochana-abhisambodhi speaks of the rainbow body, the ultimate endpoint of what is intended comes to the illusory body. Thus, Tsongkhapa quotes a source for [the exclusively anuttarayoga tantra topic] illusory body from a practice from [the second class of tantra] charya tantra. On its surface value, however, the charya tantra text is not speaking about illusory body, is it? Nevertheless, we can understand the ultimate endpoint of its intention as illusory body. As this is the case with a text from the charya class of tantra, in the same way here, the ultimate endpoint of what is intended concerning Buddha-nature undoubtedly needs to be understood in relation with the classic texts of tantra.
Therefore, if I explain this text in accordance with what is proper to understand on the levels of sutra and tantra, and make a clear-cut distinction between the two, then this is a manner of explanation that does not mix and confuse two distinct ways of understanding. On the other hand, to explain the text by mixing the two would, in many ways, turn out to be nothing but some sort of quasi-eclecticism of lumping together as harmonious two contradictory things.
When I explain, as I usually do, that Sakya, Gelug, Kagyu, and Nyingma all have the same intended point, I am thinking of this. The Gelug masters take what the classic Madhyamaka texts discuss and explain it as the topic on which to meditate with respect to the correct view of reality, but they do this usually only in the manner of sutra meditation. On the other hand, mahamudra and dzogchen explain ways to meditate on this view in connection with the highest classes of tantra. This being so, then to say that the way of asserting and meditating on this view of reality in terms of the sutras and the ways of doing it in terms of the highest classes of tantra are equivalent is a bit uncomfortable.
Therefore, if you ask how do you explain this, it is like this. When we take the Gelug explanation of how to meditate on the Madhyamaka view of reality in connection with the methods of anuttarayoga tantra and put them together with the methods used in mahamudra, dzogchen, and the glorious Sakya tradition of the view of the inseparability of samsara and nirvana, then we are speaking of methods that are all on the same level. It is in this way that Sakya, Gelug, Kagyu, and Nyingma all come to the same intended point in their discussions of the methods for asserting the correct view of reality.
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