The following articles were written by the Vidyadhara Acharya Mahayogi Sridhar Rana Rinpoche and published in various publications in Nepal over the past 30 years.
Khenpo Rigdzin is one of the closest disciples of one of the greatest Dzogchen yogis of this century, Chatral Rimpoche, who is also one of my Gurus. In 1994, Punya Parajuli and I went to the Nyingma College (Shedra) in Hati Gauda, Kathmandu, to interview him to refine and sharpen our own views from the Nyingma pespective. He was then the Dean of the College.
Ratnashree (Mahayogi Sridhar Rana Rimpoche): What is the conventional truth in the Nyingma system vis-à-vis Tsong Khapa (1357- 1417) the founder of the Gelug school, view of the conventional truth?
Khenpo: Different schools define the conventional truth in different ways according to the Madhyamika. According to Tsong Khapa, the conventional truth exists but according to the Nyimgma view, the conventional truth does not exist but appears like a magic, like an illusion, like a dream. We can see or experience but it’s not real. This is the main difference.
Ratnashree: So it does not have existence (Yodpa/Bhava or Satta)?
Khenpo: No. But Tsong Khapa says it exists by itself out there, out of the mind. But according to the Nyingma view, we say everything is empty, nothing exists outside, on its own side. Like a dream when we are dreaming, we can see, we can hear, we can experience everything but it does not really exist outside on its own independently.
Ratnashree: So it just appears?
Khenpo: Yeah, it just appears. It’s the appearance of the mind. But it is not the mind per se. Like the table is the appearance or vision of the mind but the table is not the mind per se (as it has no awareness).
Ratnashree: The conventional truth appears?
Khenpo: Yes, it appears but it is not the mind. We can say the table is the vision/appearance of the mind but the table is not the mind. I think when it comes to the conventional truth, only Tsong Khapa is different, other Sakya, Kagyu, Nyingmpa, they are all the same.
(NB: The Chittamatra School and those who start from the Chittamatra perspective as the starting point, however, say appearance is mind itself. The Zen School says appearance is mind itself, though not in this kind of terminology and the Sakya School begins from this position too.)
Ratnashree: Since the conventional truth is interdependently arisen (pratityasamutpanna) can we say that conventionally it is interdependently produced but ultimately not produced? Or is it not produced even conventionally?
Khenpo: You can say it is produced, in the same way it does appear, when there are causes and condition but it does not exist in itself/on its own/independently (swabhavasiddha or really existing). Like this table. We can see it, experience it but when we try to find the table then we can say that this is the limb, this is the wood, particles etc, but we cannot find the table. Just like that, we can see, hear etc., experience all phenomena but when we go down to its particles, atoms, to find it, we cannot find it. Therefore, we say it’s empty.
Ratnashree: Yes, but emptiness is the ultimate truth and in the conventional truth we say it is produced interdependently. So when we say produced, are we not saying it exists interdependently?
Khenpo: Yeah, it does not exist independently but we can say it exists interdependently or appears interdependently.
Ratnashree: Well, if we say ultimately it does not exist and conventionally also it does not exist, then isn’t that nihilism (ucchedvada)?
Khenpo: Not really. Because we say when we search for all the phenomena, we cannot find it but when we do not investigate/search, it appears. Therefore, we can say it is not the eternalist view or nihilist view. Why is it not eternalist? When we search we find nothing so it’s not permanent, it is not eternal. If we don’t investigate, everything appears. Therefore, we say it isn’t nihilist.
Ratnashree: In the Gelug system Tsong Khapa very clearly says that emptiness is the ultimate truth. Is this true from Nyingmpa point of view?
Khenpo: Yes, emptiness is the ultimate truth.
Ratnasrhee: But when we practice Dzongchen or Mahamudra, we say the ultimate truth is Sal Tong Sung Zug that is the indivisibility of luminosity and emptiness?
Khenpo: No, the emptiness aspect in the indivisibility is the ultimate truth. According to the second turning of the wheel, the emptiness is the ultimate truth, and according to the third turning of the Dharma Chakra, the pure vision and the wisdom are called the ultimate truth. For Sung Zug or indivisibility, we can say there are two kinds of Nang Tong Sung Zug, indivisibility of appearance and emptiness. TheNang tong Sung Zug or indivisibility of appearance and emptiness of the Prithagjana (ordinary unenlightened people) and the Nangtog Sung Zug, indivisibility of appearance and emptiness of the Aryas, the enlightened ones (those who have entered the Path of Seeing/Darshan Marga/Thong Lam). These are different, like a Buddha’s pure vision is itself emptiness and that we call Sung Zug. That is the perfect nature and according to the third turning of the wheel, we can say that it is the ultimate truth.
(NB: The Shentongpas interpret the third turning of the wheel slightly different from this official Nyingma view)
Ratnashree: According to the Karma Kagyu Shentong view, there are two luminosities (prabhaswhar). One is the conventional luminosity and there is an ultimate luminosity which exists beyond existing and non-existing. And the ultimate luminosity really exists (and by implication it is not empty which Dolpopa says as much).
Khenpo: According to the Nyingmpa, the luminosity can be experienced as pure or impure but the ultimate truth is emptiness. We have two types of conventional truth, one is pure and one is impure. The conventional truth of the ordinary man is impure, while the conventional truth of the Buddhas is permanently pure.
Ratnashree: So, salwa/luminosity/prabhashwar is still conventional. It is pure or impure but still conventional?
Ratnashree: Only emptiness is the ultimate truth?
Ratnashree: We have 1) self emptiness view, that is Rangtong/Swa Sunya view/Tawa/ Dristi and 2) other emptiness view Shentong/Para Sunya view/Tawa/ Drishti, etc. What is the official Nyingmpa view (Tawa/Dristi)? What is the view of Longchenpa, Mipham, Jigme Lingpa etc.?
Khenpo: According to the Nyingmapa, we are not Rangtong, we are not Shentong. If you believe only Rangtong, it becomes nihilistic (ucchedvad). If you believe only Shentong, it becomes eternalist (saswatvad). We believe in Sung Zhug/Yuganadh or Abheda (the indivisibility of or unity of clarity and emptiness/ Prabhaswar Sunyata Yuganadha). According to the second turning of the wheel, all the appearance itself is emptiness .That is Rangtong/Swasunyavadin. According to the third turning of the wheel, we can say that there is some pure vision which the Buddha can see. That is called Shentong/Parasunyavadin. But these two are united. Pure vision and emptiness are united primordially. And that is the Sung Zhug view, Abhedavadin or Yuganaddhavadin, ‘Indivisible-ist’ so to say. Therefore, we are not Shentong and not Rangtong.
(NB: Actually when it comes to actual meditation the Sakya meditation view is also what the Khenpo here calls Sung Zhug. Rangtong in the Sakya system actually means that the emptiness of the Prasangika is not abandoned in the ultimate truth and in Sung Zhug this emptiness (niswabhavata) or empty of real self existence is not abandoned. And regarding luminosity/clarity (prabhashwar) being the conventional truth, regardless of whether it is pure or impure, it is also the view of the Mahasiddha Virupa, which makes it the official Sakya view;( prabhaswar/luminosity/clarity/awareness by itself is the conventional truth)
Ratnashree: So pure vision is also empty?
Khenpo: Yes, it is also empty. Yes.
Ratnashree: In this case, when you say pure vision is also empty, is this emptiness the same emptiness that Rangtong is speaking about?
Khenpo: Yes, it is the same.
Ratnashree: It is not a different emptiness?
Khenpo: No, not different emptiness.
Ratnashree: Again, in Rangtong, we have the Svatantrika and the Prasangik. Which form of Rangtong is popular amongst the Nyingma?
Khenpo: the Madhyamika consider the Prasangik as the perfect Rangtong view. The Dzogchen trekcho view as Kadag (primordially pure view) and the Prasangik view is the same. The emptiness is the same, there is no difference.
(NB: It is important to understand that the words primordially pure/Kadag is the Dzogchen terminology for the Prasangic Emptiness)
Ratnashree: So can we say that ancient Nyingmapa Masters like Long Chenpa, Jigme Lingpa, Mipham were all Prasangikas(consequentialists)?
(NB: the Prasangik main view is that the ultimate truth is free from the Tetralemma, that is the four extremes, they are: 1) exists 2) doesn’t exist 3) neither exists nor doesn’t exist and 4) both exists and doesn’t exist)
Khenpo: Yeah, Prasangikas/Thalgyurpas
Punya Parajuli: Shantarakchita was Svatantric?
Khenpo: Shantarakchita was Svatantrika and Kamala Shila was Svatantrika. During the eighth century, when Shantarakchita came to Tibet he spread the Svatantrika view, but later that was gradually replaced by the Prasangik view. But we still study the Madhyamakalankara. But we teach that the Prasangik is the perfect view.
Ratnashree: According to Tsong Khapa’s Prasangik view, swalakshyana siddha (having a real self- characteristic), swabhava siddha(having self-existence), satya siddha (being real) etc., are the same, they are synonyms. Does Nyingma view agree with this?
Khenpo: Yes. According to the Prasangika, we say they are the same. They are different according to the Svatantrika.
Ratnashree: Does the Nyingma view also agree with that?
Khenpo: Yes, But Tsong Khapa says pramana siddha (logically established is different). But we don’t agree to that. We say they are all the same.
Ratnashree: Now the two expressions Nisprapancha (Tho Dral) and Antamukta (Tha Dral), which expression is used more often in the Nyingmapa School?
Khenpo: They are the same. We tend to use Tho Dral/Nisprapancha more but they are the same. They have more or less the same intent/meaning.
Ratnashree: In many English translations of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, they often use the word ‘beyond’ as in ‘beyond the two extreme’. In Sanskrit, we use the word ‘Para’ for beyond (akin to the prefix Para in English). But in Buddhist Sanskrit, the word ‘Mukta’, which means ‘free from’ is used rather than ‘Para’ as in beyond. When we use the word ‘beyond’, it implies there is something beyond the two. When we use the word ‘free from’, it does not imply there is something ‘beyond’ the two but just free from the two. Is the English translation wrong or does the Nyingma view actually says there is something beyond the two?
Khenpo: I think we should say ‘free from’ all the extremes of existing and non-existing. It is free from both without a centre beyond those two.
Ratnashree: No third thing beyond the two extremes?
Khenpo: No, no third.
Ratnashree: Could you elucidate what is the Rangtong view according to the Nyingma?
Khenpo: Actually, in Nyingma, we are not in Rangtong, not in Shentong, but according to Tsong Khapa and Sakya Pandita, they believe inRangtong. Rangtong means all the phenomena is primordially empty of swabhava (of itself). But there are differences between Sakya Pandit and Tsong Khapa. Tsong Khapa says that the conventional truth exists but Sakya Pandita does not agree to that. Sakya Pandita says everything is empty of swabhava and conventionally is only an appearance and does not really exist. And Tsong Khapa says this emptiness is the perfect nature but the Sakyas say that this emptiness is free from all the extremes and thoughts (Tho Dral/Tha Dral) and that is the perfect nature. So the two Rangtongs are a bit different. And according to Nyingma scholars like Mipham Rinpoche, we say every phenomena (Dharma) is empty from the beginning, even if it is Yeshe/Gyan (wisdom), whether it is permanent (tagpa) or impermanent (mitagpa). Everything is empty from the beginning, which is the same as the Sakya view.
Ratnashree: You said that Nyingma view is not Rangtong not Shentong. Is there a name for this view?
Khenpo: We can call it Sung Zhug or indivisibility view (yuganadh). Nangton Sung Zhug/Pratibhasa sunyata yuganaddha, that is indivisibility of appearance and emptiness; De Tong Sung Zhug/mahsukha sunyata yuganaddha, indivisibility of bliss and emptiness; Sal Tong Sung Zhug/Prabhashwar sunyata yuganaddha, indivisibility of clarity and emptiness; and Rig Tong Sung Zhug/ Vidhya sunyata yuganaddha, indivisibility of wisdom and emptiness etc. This view is called Sung Zhug view.
Ratnashree: Again, could you give a short explanation of Shentong from the Nyingma point of view?
Khenpo: According to Shentong, they say this view comes from the third turning of the wheel. They say that third turning of the wheel is the perfect teaching whereas the first and second turning of the wheel are not perfect or complete teaching. They say when the Buddha taught the first turning of the wheel, the disciples were new level beginners, so he taught accordingly. And when he taught the second turning of the wheel, the students were a little more advanced and finally when he taught the third turning of the wheel, the disciples were the best and of the highest level. This is what the Shentongpas believe.
They believe that the Sugata Garbha (Buddha nature) is free from all negative things like negative karma, klesha (emotional defilements) and thoughts. But there is the essence (swabhava) and it exists (has satta in Sanskrit). Shen or Para means “others” which means all negative karma, thoughts and emotional defilements (kleshas). According to Shentong, they believe that all sentient beings have this Buddha nature, which exists. But there are two major kinds of Shentongpa. One type of Shentongpa believe that all sentient beings have Buddha nature and it has all the qualities of the Buddha from the beginning, just as a sun is there behind the clouds with all its qualities, so too all the qualities of the Buddha like the three Kayas are already present in all sentient beings.
Another type of Shentong does not agree with that. They say that all sentient beings have the Buddha nature but it doesn’t exist by itself (swabhavasiddha). It is empty but there is Buddha nature. Sentient beings have Buddha qualities. So there are two kinds of Shentongpas. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Dolpopa etc., believe that all sentient beings have Buddha nature from the beginning and it exists by itself that is it is not empty.
(NB: Even though it appears that the Khenpo is saying that the Dolpopa Shentong and the Karma Kagyu Shentong of Jamgon Kongtrul are the same, Jonang Taranath (1575–1634) has given 21 differences between the Dolpopa Shentong , which does not seem different from the Hindu Vedantic view, and the Karma Kagyu Shentong view which is similar to that of Shakya Chogden. For after all, the seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso (1454–1506) was a disciple of the Sakya Master Shakya Chogden (1428–1507). Some Nyingma like Minling Terchen (1646-1714), call themselves Shentongpas but when we go through this philosophy, they are not really Shentongpas like Kongtrul Rinpoches (1813-1899) and Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361).
Dolpopa was born in the Dolpo region of Nepal and was affiliated to the Sakya School until he developed his Shentong view based on hisKalchakra experiences and proclaimed that no one before him got the correct view and joined and pushed the Jonang School started by the twelfth century master Yumo Mikyo Dorje. Dolpopa was among the first propagator of the Shentong view along with Yumo Mikyo Dorje who was a disciple of Somanath of Kashmir and the third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339), all of them were Kalachakra practitioners. However, the Kalachakra had always been interpreted with the Rangtong or Sung Zug view till then. It is educating to know that even hard core Karma Kagyu Shentongpas admit that Marpa and Milarepa were not Shentongpas).
Ratnashree: So they are the second types of Shentongpas?
Khenpo: Yeah, second type of Shentongpas.
Ratnashree: How is the view of Minling Terchen different from the view of Shakya Chogden (1428–1507), who is also like the Shentongpa? Some Sakyapas call Shakya Chogden, a Shentongpa, while some say he is not really a Shentongpa?
Khenpo: Shakya Chogden’s view is very close to the Kagyupa view and Gorampa has refuted him. According to Shakya Chogden also all beings have Buddha nature and it has all the qualities of the Buddha from the beginning. But Minling Terchen says that there are qualities but they do not really exist, they are also empty.
Ratnashree: The eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje (1507–1554) wrote on both Rangtong and Shentong. When he wrote on the Rangtong, he refuted the Shentong using the logic of the Sakya scholar Gorampa Senge and not the logic of Tsong Khapa. Also when the Nyingmapa scholars like Mipham Rimpoche refute Shentong, they also use Gorampa and not Tsong Kahapas. What is the reason?
Khenpo: Gorampa’s view and Nyingmapa’s view and Kagyu view is the same as far as emptiness goes. As far as the ultimate truth goes it’s the same. Tsong Khapa says Mayin Gag/Paryudas Pratishedha (negation with something(emptiness) remaining) is the perfect nature, but according to Sakya, Kagyu, Nyingma, it’s not perfect. That is nihilism. Therefore, Gorampa’s view of the Sakya, Kagyu, Nyingma view of the ultimate truth is the same (which is basically thadral/anta mukta that is free from the extremes).
Punya Parajuli: This view of Paryudas Pratishedha is not found in the Indian Schools?
Ratnashree: This view of Mayin Gag (Paryudas Pratishedha) is not found in Indian Buddhism. This seems to be created only by Tsong Khapa. Is that right?
(NB: Here we need to understand in the context that the concept of Paryudas Pratishedha did exist in the Indian schools as the Sravaka schools like the Sarvastivada and the Theravada do believe that the ultimate atoms of matter called asta kalap (eight-atom unit) remain even after negation and thus they do exist. As the verse found in Majjhima Nikaya Suyyata Vagga, Culla Suyyata Sutta says, ‘Yam hi kho tatta na hoti tena tam suyyam anupassati, yam pana tattha avassitham hoti, tam santam attheti pajanati’ which is found in the Sanskrit text Uttara Tantra also called RatnagotraVibhaga; and the Abhidharmasamuccaya of Asanga as, ‘Yad yetra nasti tam tena sunyam samanupasshyati, yat punar atravashistam bhavati, tad sad yiha sthiti yathabhutam prajanati’.
The above text means, whatever is not found know that to be empty but know whatever remains to be existing. But in this context, the view that emptiness remains after negation of all other things is what is meant as not existing in the Indian Schools. That is why Gorampa called Tsongkhapa’s view as a type of Shentong because the Shentonpas also use exactly this verse to validate their view that an ultimately existing ultimate truth remains after Rangtong has refuted everything else. It should be noted that the sixth canto of the ancient Brihadaranyak Upanishad (dated 800BC to 1200BC) and the Avadhuta Gita 1.25 both state exactly the same thing through the famous ‘neti neti’ logic (not this not this logic), which says that the Brahman is what remains after everything else, that it is not has been negated).
Ratnashree: What does Ma yin gag (Paryudas Pratishedha) exactly mean?
Khenpo: Me pa means nothingness. He says this nothingness or emptiness is the perfect nature. But we say there is no ‘nothingness’, no existence.
(NB: meaning neither “non-existence” nor “existence” This freedom from all these extremes is the perfect nature that is freedom from the Tetralemma or Chatuskoti vinirmukta).
Ratnashree: Who is the most famous Master who has written the most on the official view of the Nyingma, for example like Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429-1489) is for the Sakyas? In the Zung Zhug view, who are the Masters?
Khenpo: Longchenpa (1308–1364), Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798), Patrul Rinpoche and Mipham Rinpoche (1846-1912).
Ratnashree: So in Sung Zhug view, we have unity of Sal Tong (clarity/luminosity and emptiness). Salwa (clarity/luminosity/Awareness by itself) is always conventional (samvritti/kun dzob) and emptiness (sunyata/tongpa) is the ultimate (paramartha satya/don dam); and the unity of the two is Sung Zhug. Can we call the unity of the two the ultimate truth?
Khenpo: Yes, according to the Nyingma interpretation of the third turning of the wheel, we can call it the ultimate truth also.
Ratnashree: Do all Nyingmapas agree that Sal Tong Sung Zhug is the ultimate truth?
Khenpo: Well according to the Madhyamika Nang Tong Sung Zhug, unity of appearance and emptiness is the ultimate truth. According to the Maha Yoga texts Sal Tong Sung Zhug, unity of clarity and emptiness is the ultimate truth. According to the Anu Yoga texts, De Tong Sung Zhug, unity of bliss and emptiness is the ultimate truth and Rig Tong Sung Zhug, unity of wisdom and emptiness is the ultimate truth according to Ati Yoga.
(NB: All these indivisibility or Sung Zhug views are part of the total Lam Dre teachings and practices of the Sakyapa too. And the Nyingma categorization of Maha Yoga, Anu Yoga and Ati yoga are all included in the total Sakya Lamdre instructions. The ultimate result/fruit of the innate primordially pure awareness is the same in Nyingma Dzogchen and the Sakya Lamdre. It is in path that they differ from each other in fine points. This must be learned from a qualified lineage Master. It must be clarified that the innate primordially pure awareness does not mean a really existing awareness like the Hindu Chidghana / Chinmatra /Vigyanaghana but empty awareness and empty as in the Prasangic empty).
Ratnashree: In Ati Yoga, Ngo Tro is the pointing out the nature of mind and you just used the word Rig Tong Sung Zhug, unity of wisdom and emptiness (vidhya-sunyata yuganaddha). But can we say that Nang Tong Sung Zhug, unity of appearance and emptiness (pratibhasa-sunyata yuganaddha), Sal Tong Sung Zhug, unity of clarity and emptiness (prabhashwar-sunyata yuganaddha), De Tong Sung Zhug, unity of bliss and emptiness (mahasukha-sunyata yuganaddha) can also be called Ngo Tro (pointing out the nature of mind), equally?
Khenpo: Yes. In some Dzogchen texts, we do use these words too for the nature of mind and they mean the same although in Dzogchenwe usually use the term Rig Tong Sung Zhug or vidhya-sunyata yuganaddha, indivisibility of wisdom and emptiness or awareness and emptiness.
Ratnashree: And here the tongpanyid/emptiness is the same as sunyata/emptiness of the Rangtong view?
Khenpo; Yes, according to Mipham Rinpoche, the Prasangika Madhyamika sunyata/tongpanyid and the Dzogchen sunyata are exactly the same. There is no difference. One hundred percent same.
Ratnashree: Which ancient Indian monastic university did the Nyingma’s link with the most of all?
Khenpo: Nalanda. Shantarakshita, Kamalashila, Padmasambhava were all from Nalanda.
Ratnashree: After Guru Rinpoche, Shantarakshita, Kamalshila, before the starting of the Shyarma (new transmission) which includes Sakya, Kagyu and Khadampa, did many Nyingma Masters go to Nalanda etc. to study like the Shyarma Masters – Drogmi Lotsawa (992-1074), Marpa Lotsawa (1012–1097)?
Khenpo: After Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055), whatever was translated is called Shyarma (new transmission). Before Rinchen Zangpo, the last Lotsawa of the Nyingma was Smirti Gyan. Before that, whatever was translated was called Nyingma. During that time they were not separate as Nyingma or Shyarma. This separation into the old and new schools began later. During Rinchen Zangpo’s time, people would study from teachers of both schools and they did not debate with each other, because the Shyarma had just started and were the minority and most were of the old school. I cannot give you names but there must have been many scholars who went to India, Nepal to study. Many Kathog Lamas have been known to come to Nepal, Sikhim, India to study but we do not have the details. But I believe many Nyingma Gurus have studied in Nepal and India.
(NB: Kathog Monastery is listed in various enumerations as one of the six principal Nyingma monasteries, one of the main lineages ofTibetan Buddhism. It was founded in 1159 by the younger sibling of Phagmodrupa (1100-1170), Kathog Dampa Deshek. The originalGompa fell into disrepair and was rebuilt on the same site in 1656 through the impetus of Tertön Düddul Dorje (1615–72) and the TertonRigdzin Longsal Nyingpo (1625-1682/92 or 1685–1752). The monastery held a reputation for producing fine scholarship. It is held that prior to the annexation of Tibet by the Chinese in 1951 Katok Monastery housed 800 monks.
Kathog was long renowned as a center specializing in Kama (Kama as opposed to Terma are the Nyingma teachings that came from India or Indian-Nepali Gurus), and as a center for monasticism, although both of these features were disrupted under Longsel Nyingpo (1625–1692). Kathog Monastery became a bastion of the Anuyoga tradition when it became neglected by other Nyingmapa institutions. The ‘Compendium of the Intentions Sūtra’ (Wylie: dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo) the root text of the Anuyoga tradition was instrumental in the early Kathog educational system. Nubchen Sangye Yeshe wrote a lengthy commentary on the Compendium of the Intentions Sūtra rendered in English as ‘Armor against Darkness’ (Wylie: mun pa’i go cha) It is said that from the time of its founding in 1159 till 1959 when the monks of Kathog fled from Tibet more than 1,25,000 Dzogchen practitioners went into rainbow body/ja lus/indrachap kaya from Kathog alone).
Ratnashree: The Pema Kathang says Guru Rinpoche studied with Humkar Vajra, who was from Nepal (probably Patan). I think he received Vajra Bhairav (Dorje Jigjye) from Humkar Vajra. What else did he receive from Humkar Vajra?
Khenpo: I can’t say … I need to look into the history.
Ratnashree: The Bonpos also have Dzogchen. Would you like to comment on this?
Khenpo: Actually, Bon does not have Dzogchen. In ancient times, there were two types of Bon: black Bon and white Bon. The black Bon used black magic. Padma Sambhava and Yeshe Tsongyal had to face them in debates and magical displays etc. Finally, the king ordered them to leave Tibet. So they dispersed in all four directions. Even now, we have these kinds of black magic in Ladhak and Sino-Tibetan border regions, Kailash regions. This is not Nyingma. And according to Bon tradition itself, there were things like astrology, prayer rituals for land, for commencing building etc., which were useful for the people and were kept as white Bon. These white Bons got Dzogchenteachings from Guru Rinpoche, Vairochana (eighth century). That lineage has continued up to now. But now they claim they have their own Dzogchen. But this is wrong. In the Pema Kathang, we find all the Bon teachers debated with Guru Rinpoche. If they already had the same Dzogchen, then what was there to debate about? Not only Dzogchen, if you go through the Bon literature, you can find Mahamudraand Maha Madhyamika.
Ratnashree: Yes, that’s true. Anuttara Yoga also.
Khenpo. So if you say Dzogchen is Bon, then Madhyamika, Mahamudra, Anuttara Yoga also become Bon.
Ratnashree: Some Shyarma writers have claimed that the Dzogchen view is the same as the Ha Shang view. How would you like to comment on that?
(NB:There are a couple of points to be considered here regarding the Ha Shang view and the New transmission:
1)Ha Shang is the Tibetan misnomer for the Chinese Hva Shang which means monk. In the Tibetan context it refers to a specific Chinese monk or Master who debated with the Master Kamalashila from India (c. 740-795) and lost in the debate and ever since his view has been considered as the wrong view in Tibetan history. However , it also appears that because of this particular debate, most Tibetan’s through the centuries seem to believe that Ha Shang represented the entire Chinese systems and thus anything coming from China, Korea or Japan was wrong view. Therefore, many Tibetan Masters and their followers believe that present day Zen is the same as Ha Shang, which is historically a big blunder.
2) The main contention in the famous Samye debate was that Ha Shang’s view had no skillful means (upaya) but seem to imply that only on wisdom (pragya) was necessary. This is not true of present day Chinese systems like Chan/Zen, Tien Tai etc which do have many skillful means as part of their practice and follow the Prasangika Madyamika view. In the same note, many Nyingmapas believe that Sakya Pandit (1182-1251) criticized Dzogchen and many Sakyas believe that present day Dzogchen is what Sakya Pandita refuted but this too is a misunderstanding of what Sakya Pandita actually wrote. He too like Kamalashila refuted the Dzogchen without any skillful means which must have still existed in his time and he very specifically called it Gyanag Dzogchen (Chinese Dzogchen) and alongside called Ati Yoga the highest view.
3) It seems that some Nyingmas who had not really read Sakya Pandita properly, in a sectarian blind-spot attitude even went so far as to call Sakya Pandita a Mara Tulku by extrapolating this idea within the terma of Pema Lingpa (1450–1521). These Nyingmas did not seem to understand the far reaching implications of their ideas, because if Sakya Pandita is actually a Mara Tulku then that would automatically make the last Khenpo of Nalanda Sakya Sri Bhadra a Mara Tulku too as it is Sakya Sri Bhadra who honoured Sakya Pandita with the title of Pandita).
Since it was Khenpo Sakya Sri Bhadra who designated the first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa (1110-70) as the Karmapa, that would also make the Karmapa a Mara Tulku and thus the entire Karma Kagyu teachings as Mara teachings. Hence, that would link all former Khenpos and Masters of Nalanda including Guru Rimpoche and thus the entire Nyingma system as Mara Tulkus system extending all the way back to Sakyamuni himself as a Mara Tulku. Likewise, such an assumption would make Naropa, Marpa and thus the entire Kagyu system aMara’s system. Since Vikramashila stems from Sakyamuni all its teachers also become Mara Tulkus, including Atisha. Thus the whole of Buddhism stemming from Sakyamuni, the entire Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug would be Mara systems!
4) The form of Zen that the Ha Shang of Samye debate represented was called Nitou Zen (Northern Zen) whose views were close to what the Samye Ha Shang represented. Geographically too, Northern Zen was closer to Tibet than Canton where Southern Zen began. This is what Sakya Pandita meant by Gya nag Dzogchen (Chinese Dzogchen) which must have still existed in some parts of Tibet during Sakya Pandita’s time, despite the Samye debate. Today this Nitou Zen has been completely replaced by the Southern Zen of Hui Neng and does not exist even in China. The present day Zen in all its forms, which have become most popular in the West, were found in China as Chan Buddhism; Korea as Sahn Buddhism; Japan as Zen Buddhism; and in Vietnam as Thien Buddhism These are as different from Nitou Zen as present day Dzogchen is from Gya nag Dzogchen, in that both are replete with skillful means, which was the contention in the Samye debate and in Sakya Pandita’s refutations.
5) The second dissemination (Shyarma) also called the new transmission or the new translation, of Tibetan Buddhism was brought about by Yeshe O, who was the king in the western part of Tibet. The lineage of lay Vajrayana practitioners still survived after the dark age of Tibetan Buddhism, though the monastic and scholarly forms were severely destroyed. Many influential rulers in western Tibet desired to re-establish the entire Tibetan Buddhism. They sponsored translators to India as well. Thus, the second period of transmission of Buddhism in Tibet is often called “the period of the new translations”.
In 1042, the king invited the renowned scholar, Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana (AD 979-1053). He set out a graduated path to enlightenment, known as Lam-rim, stipulated in his book “The Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment”. He also reformed the monastic disciplines, particularly the mentor-student relationship of Lamas and disciples. Being the master of the second transmission of Buddhism in Tibet, his works had a great impact on Tibetan Buddhism, not just in the royal family but also the society. He transformed the warrior-like Tibetans into Buddhists seeking for peace. With his effort, Buddhism was firmly established in Tibet.
This period marked the development of major schools in Tibetan Buddhism and distinguished between the old and the new transmission periods. More sutras were translated, more monasteries were built and more Buddhists entered Tibet on pilgrimages).
Khenpo: This debate is very old. A few centuries ago, some writers said that but now it’s over. Those who did not understand the exact view of Dzogchen used to say that. But according to Ha Shang, their view is that if you want to meditate, don’t think anything. Just keep your mind free from all thoughts, just keep it quiet. That is the perfect meditation. Then we can understand the perfect nature. ButDzogchen is not like that. It is the same as Madhyamika. (NB: And it has many skillful means).
Ratnashree: So Dzogchen is not just being aware without thoughts or remaining in thoughtless non conceptual pure awareness but you have to know the nature?
Khenpo: Yes. Yes! It is not just that.
Ratnashre: Even in India, today we have many schools who say just remaining without thoughts, choice-less awareness, just awareness (chidghana), pure awareness by itself (chinmatra) etc. as the correct view. Many Western people think this is the same as Dzogchen. Do you agree?
Khenpo: Unless you have understood the nature of mind, just remaining thoughtless or choice less awareness is not Dzogchen. Remaining in the nature of mind is Dzogchen, not just remaining in thoughtless non conceptual awareness.
(NB: The Hindu Vedantic practice as advocated by perhaps the most respected and accepted Sri Sankaracharya (788 CE – 820 CE) instructs that the only way to enlightenment is to remain in the non dual, non conceptual awareness that is the watcher/witness/ knower (advaita nirvikalpa drasta) which is one’s true identity (Atman) and the only reality while everything else is an illusion. ‘Brahman satyam jagan mithya’, i.e., Brahman the non dual and non conceptual awareness is the real truth while the Samsara is an illusion. This view was not created by Sri Sankaracharya around the 8th century but already existed clearly in the Brihadaranyak Upanishad which is dated to be anytime from 800BC to 1200BC. In the Brihadaranyak Upanishad it says very clearly ‘Eko drastadvaito bhavati’ meaning ‘it is the one non dual awareness’ (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV, 3. 32). Dolpopa’s( 1292 – 1361) Shentong view appears to be ditto with slight modifications of this Vedantic view as his main thesis is that thoughts are not Mahamudra, that Samsara is not Nirvana and that Samsarais an illusion which does not exist and is therefore empty. But the ultimate non dual awareness exists and is therefore not empty and can never be one with Samsara and by implication thoughts can never be Mahamudra as the Karma Kagyupa teaching says.
This view makes the whole of Buddhist Tantra which is the way of transformation impossible since Samsara, and by implication thoughts, the five aggregates, the 12 faculty gates and the sixteen constituents (skandhadhatvayatanani) can never be transformed into the primordial wisdom or the five Buddhas. This view makes all of Buddhist Tantra irrelevant as Samsara which can never be indivisible withNirvana because one is empty of real existence (nisvabhava) and the other is not empty and really exists (sat); can never be transformed into primordial wisdom and thoughts can never become Mahamudra.
This Hindu Vedantic type of thesis of Dolpopa contradicts the root Tantras like the Hevajra Root Tantra which says, ‘precisely this is known as Samsara, and precisely this is Nirvana itself. After rejecting Samsara, Nirvana will not be realized elsewhere.’ The two part Hevajra Tantra 2.4.38 states ‘ami Dharmas tu nirvanammohat samsararupina,’ meaning all these Dharmas (Samsara) are Nirvana but because of delusion they appear as Samsara. Dolpopa’s view also contradicts the teachings of the Aryas (enlightened ones) of Jambudvipa like AryaNagarjuna who says in his Magnum Opus the Mulamadhyamaka Karika, chapter 25, Nirvana Parikshya (examination of nirvana verses 19-20) ‘there is no special distinction of Samsara from Nirvana and there is no special distinction of Nirvana from Samsara. There is not the slightest difference between Nirvana and Samsara.’ Also, ‘you do not accept a Nirvana where Samsara has been rejected.’ In the Dharmadhatu Stava, it is said that ‘total transformation is explained as dharmakaya,’ therefore the question arises, what is totally transformed in the Shentong thesis of Dolpopa. If Samsara which is unreal cannot be transformed into Nirvana that is “really existing”, there is nothing to transform but only to realize the ever separate ultimate wisdom like the Hindu Brahman.
This is exactly the view of Sri Sankaracharya. It must also be clarified that these concepts were not taken by Sri Sankaracharya from the Mahasiddhas as some misinformed Buddhists would like to believe, but already existed in the Chandogya Upanishad and Brihadaryanaka Upanishad, dated from 800BC to 1200 BC by Ranade based on linguistic and ideological development and even earlier by some. These texts mention very clearly that Dwitiyam Nasti meaning there is no second but only this Brahman/Atman. And this is the Non dual Awareness/‘Eko drastadvaito bhavati’. All else is an illusion. Sankaracharya based himself on these Upanishads most of which were older than the Buddha himself and definitely did not learn these view from Buddhist Mahasiddhas, as some Western Shentongpas try to push forth.}
Ratnashree: So remaining only in the awareness, thoughtless, choiceless without knowing the nature of mind is the Ha Shangview?
Khenpo: Yes! That is what Kamalashila refuted about the Ha Shang. Kamalshila said that remaining in such a blank, thoughtless awareness is ignorance (moha). You have to discriminate or distinguish the nature of mind, nature of phenomena.
(NB: This is exactly what Sakya Pandita meant when he refuted what he called hinese Dzogchen and said that due to cultivating this Moha/Ignorance predominated awareness state , it can become a means to be born either as a Naga or in the Formless Realm/Arupa Dhatu, which is something that every bodhisattva tries to avoid.This is avoided in modern Zen through Koans/Kung ans/ Kong ans which is a unique form of Vipashyana/Lhag thong within the Zen school. Even the Soto school which seems to lean towards remaining quietly in a thoughtless non conceptual mind does have what the founder of Japanese Soto School, Dogen Zenji (1200 – 1253), calls Genjo Koans or everyday Koans)
Ratnashree: So it is not enough to be just thoughtless, non conceptual?
Khenpo: No, being non conceptual, thoughtless is not enough. Even a small child is also concept free; Samadhi (one pointed absorption related to samatha) is also concept less, the unconscious state is also thoughtless, non conceptual, a piece of stone is also concept-less/thoughtless. That’s not the correct Dzogchen view. In Dzogchen teaching, the teacher asks the student where is the mind etc, and you should search, the same as in Madhyamika. There is no difference.
(NB: In Zen too the Master asks “show me your mind “and one has to “show” one’s mind to the Master after intensive searching and one is corrected if one is wrong in a typical Zen style)
Ratnashree: The main difference here is there must be Vipashayana. Without Lhagtong (Vipashayana) togme (concept-less/non conceptual) is not enough?
Khenpo: Yes, that is not enough.
(NB: according to the Abhidharmic classification there are two types of avikalpa/tog me (non conceptual state), they are the anashrava avikalpa that is the non conceptual state free from the outflows or defilements and sashrava avikalpa, that is the non conceptual state withflows or defilements. Many people are hopelessly confused by the word “non conceptual” assuming that just being “non-conceptual” is enough. The Abhidharmika teachings make it clear that one cannot jump from defiled conceptual knowledge directly to undefiled non conceptual knowledge but rather one has to move from defiled conceptual knowledge to undefiled conceptual knowledge and from there to undefiled non-conceptual knowledge. The metaphor used is that a larva cannot fly directly but must first transform itself into a butterfly before it can fly into the sky of undefiled non conceptual knowledge. Vajragarbha the lord of the tenth bhumi in his commentery on the Hevajra Tantra called the Satasahasrika Hevajratika 1.51 says very clearly that in the beginning we go by using concepts to conceptual emptiness and finally to the non conceptual emptiness of all the Buddhist ‘adau vikalpadheto savikalpam sunyata phalam bhavet.ante cha sarva Bauddhanam akalpata sunyata phalam. ’There are many kinds of non conceptual states and experiences and they are not the same simply because they are non conceptual experiences. We can have a non conceptual experience of a sour lemon’s taste and also of a sugar candy. Simply because they are both direct non conceptual experiences they do not become the same. In the same way the non conceptual experience of the Brahman is definitely not the same as the non conceptual experience of Emptiness nor do they produce the same results.)
Ratnashree: Thank you very much for your time.
Khenpo: Thank you for coming. I’m very happy.
(All Nota Benes and commentaries are by Ratnashree. All Tibetan words are spelled as they are pronounced)
Sarvarasam Dharmaraso Jayati
His Eminence, Khenchen Rigzin Dorjee Rinpoche is a full lineage holder of the Nyingma tradition. He is the founder and Director of Taktse Nyingma Institute and few retreats and Dharma centers in countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and USA where he has been teaching extensively over the past 30 years. He has taught in Thailand, Greece, Holland and Canada.
He was highly educated and trained in all major lineages of Nyingma tradition by over 30 well-known Buddhist teachers such as Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche, and especially Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche. He is highly proficient in literature, philosophy and religion. After his graduation in 1978 from the Tibetan Institute of Higher Studies in Sarnath (Varanasi) he spent almost ten years as a Khenpo (Professor of Buddhist Philosophy) at Ngagyur Nyingma Institute, founded by Kyabje Pema Norbu and Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
Most of his students later became Khenpos, Lopons (Masters of Buddhist Philosophy) and Vajra Masters (Masters of Buddhist Meditation), who now teach all over the world. After founding the Taktse Nyingma Institute in 1988, Rinpoche moved it from Nepal to Sikkim, India in 1996 where he continues to direct it. He spends most of his time teaching at his Dharma centers in USA and Taiwan. Rigzin Dorjee Rinpoche has established two traditional retreat centers in Yolmo, Nepal, with provisions for house eight monks and nuns in separate facilities. He has also founded another retreat center in Martam, Sikkim with facilities for 15 retreatants. He aims to establish more than 100 such small retreat centers.
Famous Indian Hindu scholars like the ex-President of India the late Radhakrishnan state ‘The Buddha did not feel that he was announcing a new religion. He was born, grew up, and died a Hindu. He was restating with a new emphasis the ancient ideals of the Indo-Aryan civilization.’ (2500 Years of Buddhism, 1971, Government of India, foreword, p.ix). Swami Vivekananda said that the Buddha was a great Vedantist for Buddhism was really only an offshoot of Vedanta (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, volume 7, p. 59 and Inspired Talks, volume 3, p. 527). Likewise, Nepalese scholars like Mr. Chudanath Bhattarai, Swami Prapannacharya and scores other Nepalese and Indian scholars, too numerous to be mentioned here, have written that Buddhism is a reaction, a reformation of Hinduism. The Buddha tried to reform some of the malpractice within Hinduism and he never wanted to create a new religion. In short, according to these scholars, Buddhism is correct Hinduism without any malpractice and evils and what is called Hinduism is the malpractice and distorted form of the Vedas.
There are three problems with this interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching. One is that if these authors really believe that the Buddha came to reform evils, malpractices and wrong interpretation of the Vedas, then why are they still following these “evils and malpractice” (in their own words) and not practicing the Buddha’s teachings, the reformed form of the Vedas? How warped and distorted are the minds of people who, in one breath, proclaim the Buddha as the great reformer of Hinduism and then turn around and call Buddhism (what the Buddha taught) wrong.
Swami Vivekananda contradicts his own statement by stating that he does not agree with the doctrines of the Buddha as the Vedanta is far superior to his doctrines (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, volume 3, p. 572). However, he doesn’t give any reasons or proper refutations to justify how his Vedanta is superior to the Buddha’s doctrines. At least ancient Hindu scholars like Sankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madvacharya et al attempted to refute the Buddhist thesis to show how their view was superior, which is fair and the correct thing to do. But these later swamis simply proclaim that their “view” is superior and call it the “Lion’s Roar”. Of course, these authors contradict the Buddha’s own words as found in Pali canons where he has explicitly mentioned that what he taught was new even though it was taught by former Buddhas, but their teachings were completely lost (Pubbesu Ananussutesu Dhammesu, The Dharma Unheard Before, vin. I, 10, v. 420).
The Vedas were certainly not lost at the time of the Buddha as they continue to exist even now. Some of these scholars, including Vivekanada, have gone to the extent of claiming that the Buddha actually only wanted to reform the Vedas, but his disciples misunderstood him and created a new religion. He states that ‘Shankara came, a great philosopher, and showed that the real essence of Buddhism and that of the Vedanta are not very different, but that the disciples did not understand the Master and have degraded themselves, denied the existence of the soul and of God, and have become atheists’ (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: The Sages of India, vol. 3, p. 264).
How illogical it is to believe that the Buddha’s own disciples who were validated by the Buddha himself and the unbroken lineages stemming from them did not understand him. Whereas, Hindu swamis and panditas 2,500 years later really understood the Buddha’s message! Of course it is not totally the fault of these swamis because during their time facts about Buddhism had vanished from the Indian subcontinent and only hearsay and myths remained based on which these swamis picked whatever they liked. A good example of how mixed up their knowledge of Buddhism was, is evident in the claims made by Swami Vivekanda that what was said in the Kalama Sutta (and that too improvised in a rather confused and mixed up way by him) were the last words of the Buddha (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Buddhistic India, Volume 3, p. 528). Such totally confused ideas about Buddhism and its history et al are found aplenty in the teachings of Swami Vivekanda and hundreds of such Hindu swamis, panditas and yogis from ancient times to date.
The second problem with the above interpretation made by the Hindu swamis is that it implies that the Buddha was born a Hindu. Simply because Suddhodana was a King and, therefore, called a Ksatriya (warrior class), does not prove that he was a Hindu. First of all, what we call Hinduism did not exist at the time of the Buddha, but rather Vedic Brahmanism existed. Hence, the next question that naturally arises is that if the Buddha was really a follower of the Vedic system, why did he not call himself the great Brahmin or Maha-Brahmin like the great Ksatriya Vishvamitra? It is strange to call the Buddha a proponent of Brahmanism, when he called himself the “Great Sramana” or Maha-Sramana.
Whilst Sramanism is as old as Brahmanism, a lot of research still remains to be done about it. Nonetheless, it can certainly be said that aSramana is not a Brahmin. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, also called himself a Sramana. However, if the Buddha was merely reforming the Vedas, why did he not call himself a Neo-Vedic, Neo-Brahmin or true Brahmin, i.e., Maha-Brahmin? Instead, why did he call himself a Maha-Sramana?
I would like to ask those scholars and their followers these questions. Nowhere in the Hindu Shastras (teachings) are Sramanasconsidered a part of the Vedic tradition. In fact the Smritis (a category of Hindu scriptures) even go so far as to say Brahmins should not take initiations from Sramana systems like Shaivism. It appears that Shaivism was intergrated into the Vedic fold later on. It was customary in India from ancient times to call Kings Ksatriyas (rulers or warriors), regardless of whether they belonged to the Sramana orBrahmana group. Even if Suddhodana belonged to the Brahmin school (of which there is absolutely no proof as yet), and the Buddha may have studied the Brahmanic literatures (The Buddhist scripture the Lalita Vistar implies that he studied Brahmanic literature. Besides other schools, he studied even the Kirata script. The Kiratas who are called Ksatriyas in the Vedic literature were not part of the Indo Aryan fold and thus in no way proves they were Brahmanical). He certainly did not seem to have taken after Brahmanism but rather after Sramanism, which are not the same thing by any historical standards and neither is Sramanism a means to reform Brahmanism.
The third problem is that the teachings found in Buddhism do not in any way appear to be a reformation of Hinduism. Anyone who has studied Buddhism (I am not talking about prejudiced Hindu oriented scholars), can see that there is a major paradigm shift between Hinduism and Buddhism; in fact, between all other religious systems and Buddhism. The post modern and new age concept of universalism regarding spirituality, no matter how romantically beautiful, fails miserably when it comes to addressing Buddhism. A paradigm shift cannot and should not be misconstrued as a reformation. Reforms are changes brought about within the same paradigm. Hence, paradigm shifts are changes in the very foundations or parameters. Therefore, the basic foundations of these practices are completely different.
In such cases, it is completely confused thinking to state that one paradigm is a reformation of another. So Sramanism is a system of religion based on a completely different paradigm than the Vedic-Brahmanism or its offspring Hinduism. Therefore, it would be a gross error to say Buddhism is a reformation of Vedic Hinduism or Vedanta as Swami Vivekanda asserts. First of all, what we call Hinduism today, or even in the time of Swami Vivekanada did not exist at the time of the Buddha, which was the Vedic period. Vedic-Brahmanism was heavily influenced by older Sramanic schools and later on by newer ones like Buddhism and Jainism. We find in the ancientBrihadaranyak Upanishad, Gargi (a female) challenging the Brahmin Yagyavalkya. A critical study of the literature clearly shows that the mode of questioning that Gargi applied was very different from the type that many other Brahmins used to question Yagyavalkya. For instance, all the Brahmins used the same style of questioning in that they were simply asking the correct interpretation of some things found in the Vedas. But Gargi challenged the Vedas and thus she could have been a Sramana, even if she were Brahmin by caste. As Yagyavalkya was not able to answer her questions, he had to stop her by saying ‘Do not ask anymore or else your head will fall off’ (Brihadaranyak Upanishad 3.6.1).
It is these kinds of interaction between Sramanism and Brahmanism that produced the Upanishads and it is the interaction between Buddhism and Vedic Brahmanism (with some influence from Jainism too) that produced what is today called Hinduism. It is in the Upanishadic period that theories identifiable with Shramanas came in direct contact with Brahmanical ideals (Padmanabh S. Jaini (2001), Collected Papers on Buddhist Studies , Motilal Banarsidass Publications, p. 47).
According to Ananda Guruge, a renowned Buddhist leader, the Sramana movement impacted Vedic education through the Upanishads, with debate and discussion replacing parrot-like repetition of the Vedas (Ananda W.P.Guruge (2005), Buddhist Answers to Current Issues, Author House, p. 119). Therefore, it is not a reformation but a shift in paradigm. Even if the Vedic paradigm was older, they are still different from one another. However, whether the Vedic paradigm is really older than the Sramana paradigm is questionable. After all, even though Buddhism began with Shakyamuni, Sramanism is much older. According to the findings of the Indus Valley civilization (3000-2000 B.C.), Sramanism existed in the Indian sub-continent even before Brahmanism entered the region and the Buddha himself has clearly said that there were many Buddhas before him.
It is the purpose of this paper to show how Brahmanism or its offshoot Hinduism and Buddhism are built on two totally different paradigms, even though they share the same language and cultural matrix. It is this sharing of the same language and cultural matrix that has fooled many scholars, especially Hindu biased scholars, who have failed to understand these are two completely different paradigms with very little in common, except the same cultural background, and their language, metaphor, analogy, and words. But as we shall see, the same analogies express two different conceptual structures (paradigms).
I would like to clarify that this is a differentiation between the two paradigms and not a denigration of Hinduism or the Vedanta which are wonderful creations of humanity. It is a refutation of the outdated and baseless notion that Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism or a reformation or based on Hinduism et al and not a denigration of Hinduism. This kind of healthy refutation and rebuttal existed between Buddhism and Hinduism from the time of the Buddha till around the twelfth century when Buddhism collapsed in India after the Islamic invasion. According to the diary of one of the invaders Bakhtiar Kilji (1193 AD), the armed forces specifically targeted the Buddhist monasteries mistaking them to be military centers rather than academics.
Until then it was Buddhism that kept expanding throughout India and Asia. It is said that seventy five per cent of India was Buddhist. Here too, the general Hindu concept put forth by many Hindu scholars like Vivekananda et al that Hinduism took back Buddhism into its fold and that is how Buddhism vanished from India is totally misleading and historically unfounded (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: The Sages of India, volume 3, p. 265). Also, virtually all famous Hindu Vedantic scholars like Madhvacharya (1238-1317) interpreted Buddhism incorrectly. Madhvacharya states that ‘Madhyamiko vivartam akhilam, sunyasya ene jagat.’ That is ‘The Madhyamics believe that all this Samsara is an illusion and the Samsara/jagat comes out of emptiness.’ (Sarva Darshan Sanghraha). Likewise, hundreds of Hindu scholars after him just assumed this was the true interpretation of the Madhyamic. They have used it either to refute the Madhyamic or to validate that the emptiness of the Madhyamic is just a negative way of stating the Brahman out of which the universe comes out. However, the Hindu scholars have not had the opportunity to face real Buddhist refutation of their notions for a long time till now, mainly due to language barriers. As they say, the mice will play when the cat is away.
When we compare the Advaita Vedanta, especially as interpreted by Shankara, and the Madhyamika, whether it is the Svatantric form ofBhavya or Prasangic form of Candrakirti, the sharing of the same language, culture and analogies, (while talking about two different paradigms), become obvious. I have chosen Sankara Vedanta because of all sub paradigms within Hinduism, it is the Sankara Vedantathat appears to come closest to Madhyamic Buddhism. Even Vivekananda seems to think the same with a slight Hinduistic twist as he mentions in his Buddhism and Vedanta that the Vedanta philosophy is the foundation of Buddhism and everything else in India. However, what we call the Advaita philosophy of the modern school has great many conclusions for the Buddhists.
For instance, the Upanishads themselves are a mix of different concepts susceptible to many interpretations as have been made by various famous interpreters such as Ramanuja, Madhava, Vallabha, Bhaskara, Nimbarka and Yamuna. These are obviously so different from Buddhism that they do not warrant a comparison. The Shaivadvaita of KashmirShaivism also is similar to Sankara Vedanta in many ways. Even though there are fine differences, which we cannot go into here, however, they too use similar words to point at different paradigms.
Because the same language structure (be it Pali or Sanskrit) and the same analogies are used to express two different paradigms, many Vedantins or scholars of Buddhism with Vedantic backgrounds have been fooled into thinking Buddhist Madhyamika is a re-interpretation of Hindu Vedanta. For example, many like Vinova Bhave the guru revered by the late Prime minister of India Indira Gandhi, perceive Buddhism as a negative way to attain the same goal (via negativa), whereas Hindu Vedanta is the positive way (via positiva). Likes of Bhave and others argue that the Buddhists use negation, whereas the Vedantis use affirmation and therefore the Shunyata of Buddhism is a negative way of talking about the Brahman of the Vedanta.
The issue here is not via negative or positive, but rather approaching two different goals based on two different paradigms, or addressing two diametrically opposed answers to the burning issue of mankind developed from diametrically opposed paradigms. In fact, the Buddha, after engaging in long years of Brahmanic as well as Sramanic meditations, found the concept of Brahman (an ultimately real, unchanging, eternal substratum [paramartha satta] to this ephemeral transient world) inadequate to solve the basic issue of humanity, i.e., suffering (dukkha ). He questioned the very existence of such an eternal substratum and also declared that a search for such an imagined Brahman ( parikalpita atman) was a form of escapism and, therefore, not really spiritual but “Spiritual Materialism”.
Since the concept of Brahman, the truly existent (paramartha satta) is the very foundation of Hinduism (as a matter of fact some form of an eternal ultimate reality whether it is called God or Nature is the basis of all other religious systems). When Buddhism denies such an ultimate reality (paramartha satta) in any form, it cuts at the very jugular veins of Hinduism and all other Theistic systems. Therefore, it cannot be ontologically, epistemologically, and soteriologically said that Buddhism reforms Hinduism.
The affirmation of a ground (asraya) which is really existent (paramartha satta) and the denial that such an existent ground (satta) can be found anywhere, within or without, immanent or transcendent, are two diametrically opposed paradigms, not simply variation or reformations of each other. The Webster Dictionary defines re-form as ‘to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuse.’ The example I have given above of an eternal base without which Hinduism in its own language would be called atheistic (Nastik). Therefore, the denial (without any implied affirmation prasajya pratisheda) of such an eternally existing unchanging base by Buddhism cannot be said to be a reformation, but a deconstruction of the very roots of the Hindu thesis. That is why Buddhism is not a reformation of Hinduism but a paradigm shift from the foundations on which Hinduism is based.
Hindu scholastic polemics assert that without an ultimate eternal reality (pramartha satta), there can be no liberation from the changing, transient Samsara which is an illusion. Therefore, even though the Buddha denied such an ultimate reality, he could have meant only conceptually really existing reality/relative reality, not the eternal ultimate reality, which is beyond concepts. Otherwise there cannot be liberation. The fault with this kind of thinking is that it is measuring the thesis of the Buddha (which is no thesis), or interpreting the Buddha from within the Hindu paradigm, within which, an eternal ultimate reality (paramartha satta) is a necessity for soteriological purpose, i.e., for liberation as Samsara itself is merely an illusion (maya) and cannot liberate us. However the Buddha saw this as a necessary dead-end. Since according to the Buddha, there is no Brahman, such a concept being merely an acquired fabrication (parikalpana) learned from wrong (mithya ) scriptures, hankering after or searching for such a Brahman leads nowhere, let alone liberation. Hence, the Buddhist paradigm if understood correctly, does not require an eternally existing something or other for liberation.
In Buddhism liberation is not about realizing such a ground but rather letting go of all grounds, i.e., realizing the “groundlessness” ofSamsara which is not really an illusion per se but “like an illusion” (mayavat). As Nagarjuna puts it aptly in his Magnum Opus, Mulamadhyamakakarika ‘sarva drishti prahanaya yah saddharmam adeshayet.’ That is ‘the Buddha taught out of compassion the true dharma for the sake of letting go of all views.’ (Drishti Parikshya, Investigation of view, chapter 27 verse 30). In the Theravadin Majjhima Nikaya, Dighanakha Sutta and the Aggivacchagotta Sutta , the Buddha himself says that ‘all others leave one view only to hold on to another view but the Tathagata let goes all view and does not grasp to any other view.’ The Phenopindopama Sutra states very clearly that the five aggregates ( pancha skandha), which is the Samsara, is like a bubble, like foam, like an illusion. It does not say the five aggregates are an illusion but “like an illusion”. In fact, according to Buddhism, holding on to any ground is ignorance and is called innate clinging to the concept of a truly existing self (sahaja atman graha).
Therefore, in the Buddhist paradigm, it is not only ‘not necessary’ to have an eternal ground for liberation, but in fact, the belief in such a ground itself is part of the dynamics of ignorance. We now move to another major difference within the two paradigms.
In Hinduism liberation occurs when this illusory Samsara is completely relinquished and it vanishes; what remains is the eternalBrahman, which is the same as liberation. Since the thesis is that Samsara is merely an illusion, when it vanishes through knowledge (jnana) only an eternally existing self called the Brahman remains and if there were no eternal Brahman remaining, it would call for a disaster. So in the Hindu paradigm (or, according to Buddhism, all paradigms based on ignorance), an eternal unchanging, independent, really existing substratum/ base (Skt: Ashraya, Zhi in Tibetan) or the ‘great substance’ (Mahavastu) is a necessity for liberation, otherwise one would fall into Nihilism. But since the Buddhist paradigm is totally different, the question posed by Hindu scholars: how can there be liberation if a Brahman or the first cause does not remain after the illusory Samsara vanishes into wisdom/enlightenment (jnana/yeshe) is not relevant within the Buddhist paradigm and does not hold any ground in its enlightenment, Bodhi or Nirvana. The fact that all Dharmas are interdependently originated (pratityasamutpanna) implies that there can be no first cause/creator God unless these too can arise interdependently. This is why many Hindu scholars from ancient times considered Buddhism as a nihilistic system (nastika), which actually means non-believer.
First of all, to the Buddha and Nagarjuna, Samsara is not an illusion/maya but like an illusion (mayavat) as the Phenopindopama Sutta found in both Theravadin, Mulasarvastivadin and Mayahayana texts make it clear. To Sankara, the Samsara is an illusion as his famous verse quoted from the Puranas state ‘Brahman satyam jagan mithya’, which means ‘Brahman is the truth meaning really existing (Sat)and the jagat/Samsara is false/illusion.’ According to the rest of the verse, this is the main essence of the thousands of Hindu scriptures described in half a verse: ‘Shlokardhena pravachhyami yaduktam grantha kotibhi’. Also, Sankara repeatedly calls the Samsara illusion (maya) in his commentaries of the Prasthan Trayi (The three pillars of Vedanta –viz- The Brahman Sutra, the eleven or so main Upanishads and the Bhagavat Gita). There is a quantum leap in the meaning of these two statements. If Samsara is merely an illusion, it cannot be the basis for liberation as it does not exist at all in any way whatsoever. How can a barren woman’s son or a vixen’s horn be the basis of our liberation when there is no such thing?
However, if it is interdependently arising and appears like an illusion, it can become the source of our liberation. Secondly, because it is only “like an illusion”, i.e., interdependently arising like all illusions, it does not and cannot vanish. So, Nirvana does not arise whenSamsara vanishes like mist and the Brahman arises like a sun out of the mist, but rather when seeing that the true nature of Samsara is itself Nirvana. That is, Samsara transforms into Nirvana as the Hevajra Tantra 2.4.38 clearly states ‘ami dharmas tu Nirvana mohatSamsararupina’, meaning ‘all Dharmas/phenomena (Samsara) are essentially Nirvana but because of delusion they appear as Samsara.’ It further mentions that ‘amudah Samsaran shuddhaya samsaro nirvrittayate’, that is ‘the undeluded one functions in the world purifying theSamsara into Nirvana.’ Whilst Brahman and Samsara are two different entities: one real, the other unreal; one existing (Sat) and the other non- existing (asat). Just like Samsara being superimposed on the Brahman like a snake on a rope, the two can never be one. Hence, Samsara and Nirvana in Mahayana Buddhism are one and not two separate things.
Nirvana is the nature of Samsara or in Nagarjuna’s words Shunyata is the nature of Samsara. In the Mulamadhyamaka Karika, chapter twenty five verses 19-20, Nagarjuna writes there is absolutely no difference between Samsara and Nirvana and the same concept is also found in the Hevajra Tantra section two, chapter four, verse 38, as mentioned earlier ‘ami dharmas tu Nirvana mohat Samsara rupina’, that is all these Dharmas (Samsara) are Nirvana but because of delusion (moha) they appear as Samsara. It is the realization of the nature of Samsara as empty which cuts at the very root of ignorance and results in knowledge not of another thing beyond Samsara but of the way Samsara itself actually exists (vastusthiti), knowledge of Tathata (“as it-is-ness”) the Yathabhuta (“as it-really-is”) of Samsaraitself. It is this knowledge that liberates from the wrong conceptual and conditioned experience of Samsara to the unconditioned “experience” of Samsara just as it is. That is what is meant by the indivisibility of Samsara and Nirvana (Skt.: Samsara Nirvana Abhinnata, Tib.: Khor De Yer Me).
Nirvana being the Mind (Tathagatagarbha), in the context of Mahasandhi/Dzogchen, Mahamudra/Chyagchen and Anuttara Tantra, Samsaracould be substituted by the dualistic mind. The Hevajra Tantra 2.4.77 states ‘chittam eva hi sambuddho, na buddho’nyatra darshita’ meaning ‘mind itself is perfectly enlightened and nowhere else is the enlightened one to be perceived.’ Krisnacharya comments in his Yogaratnamala Commentary, ‘chittam evahi bodhichittam’ meaning the ‘Chitta means the Bodhichitta (Enlightened Mind).’ Ratnakarashanti also comments on the verse in his commentary called the Muktavali, stating ‘chittameva bodhih satvanam tatha pragapi tesham tesham chittasamataya’ meaning ‘by mind itself is meant the mind of enlightened beings and also before enlightenment because the mind is the same/similar. The Hindu paradigm is world denying, affirming the Brahman .The Brihadaryanaka Upanishad 2.4.12 says ‘na pretyasangyastityare’ that is ‘there is no more consciousness of the particular’ and Sankaracharya in his commentary of this verse further states ‘…. how can the knower of Brahman who is established in his nature as pure awareness (vigyanaghana) possibly have any such particular consciousness…..even when the man is in the body, particular consciousness (Samsara) is impossible at times, as in deep sleep, so how can it ever exist in a man who has been absolutely freed from the body and organ (Samsara).’
The commentaries on Yogavasitha mentions that a realized yogi loses all consciousness of the external world and is immersed in theBrahman so much so that the yogi is incapable of looking after him/herself and has to be fed by other people. According to the HinduAvadhuta system, an avadhuta is someone who has lost all contact with this world and lives in the inner world could be called an eccentric who does not care anymore for social norms. Whereas, the Buddhist meaning of Avadhuta is closely related to kusulipa orchodpa, which means a person who practices offering him/herself including the body (the most cherished aspect of a person) to all sentient beings through special meditational practices called chod/chedan or Kusuli Yoga.
The Mahayana Buddhist paradigm does not deny the world; it only rectifies our wrong vision (mithya dristi) of the world. Therefore, of what use would a Bodhisattva who has lost all contact with this Samsara be to anybody? And how could any Bodhicharya/Bodhisattvaactivity be conducted in such a state? In fact, discriminating knowledge (pratyavekshyana gyana) of the particular (pratya) is part of the Bodhisatva’s enlightenment. The Buddha never lost contact with the “here and now” (Samsara) except when he was in samadhis. The Mahayana does not give importance to a dream beyond or a separate transcendence from Samsara. According to Buddhism, such a dream is part of the dynamics of ignorance and to present such a dream would be to perpetuate ignorance. In Buddhism, any system or paradigm which propagates such an unproven and not provable dream as an eternal substance or ultimate reality, be it Hinduism or any other “ism”, is propagating spiritual materialism and not true spirituality. In contrast, in Hinduism such a Brahman is the Summum Bonumof its search goal, the peak of the Hindu thesis. The Hindu paradigm would collapse without it. Since Buddhism denies this, it cannot be honestly said that the Buddha merely meant to reform Hinduism. As I have repeatedly said, it is a totally different paradigm. Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism are all variations of the same paradigm, although Jainism is non theistic like Buddhism it is also based on theAtman-Brahman concept or an ultimately truly existing self/reality. So truly speaking, you could speak of them as reformations of each other. But Buddhism has a totally different paradigm from any of these, not merely from Vedic- Hinduism. This leads us naturally to the concept of the two truths (satya dvaya).
Both Hindu Vedanta and Madhyamika Buddhism (and for that matter all forms of Buddhism), use the above concept to clarify its paradigm. But again the same words point at two different paradigms. First of all, the concept of the two truths clearly stated in Buddhism, that the Buddha himself used, penetrated Hinduism only after Shankaracharya (seventh/eight century) Even though Patanjali had appropriated a lot of Buddhist concepts and words in his Patanjala Sutra, he did not speak about the two truths per se. According to Surendra Nath Dasgupta the first three main chapters of the Patanjala Sutra which deals mainly with meditation, is just a Hinduized rehashing of Buddhist meditational concepts and the last chapter where Buddhism is criticized is the work of somebody else who wrote it later as the style is different (A History of Indian Philosophy, vol 1.7.pp.229-30).
However, even though Sankara copied these words from Buddhism and also copied many other conceptual words from Nagarjuna to elucidate his Vedantic paradigm (that is why he was accused of being a crypto-Buddhist [Prachhanna Bauddha] by Bhaskaracharya), the meaning of the paradigm that he tried to clarify using the same words is different. So he was never really a crypto Buddhist but rather a virulent critique of Buddhism. In his Sariraka Bhasya ( Brahman Sutra 2.2.32) he has called the Buddha ‘an incoherent babbler who showed his malevolence towards all creatures acting under delusion…giving contradictory views.’ So much for those western disciples and some western Buddhists who claim that the Sankara Vedanta/Hinduism and the Madhyamic/Buddhism are essentially the same!
In many places these conceptual wordings and analogies are forced to produce the meaning that is required for the Vedantic paradigm. In the Vedantic context, the relative truth (Vyavahar Satya or Samvritti Satya in Buddhism) is that this Samsara is an illusion and the ultimate truth ( paramartha satya) is that there is an ultimately existing thing (paramartha satta) transcending/immanent in this world. Therefore, the relative truth will vanish like an illusion and both the transcendent and immanent Brahman (the ultimate truth/paramartha satta) will appear as the only truth, hence the world/Samsara being false: ‘Brahman satyam jaggan mithya’ that is ‘Brahman is really existing and the Samsara is an illusion.’
To sum it up, the Vedantic ultimate truth is the existence of an ultimate existence or ultimate reality called Atman-Brahman. Reality here is used as something which exists (satta/sat). Sri Sankaracharya defines Sat or real existence in his Tatva Bodha as that which remains the same and unchanged in all the three times (kala trya api tishtatiti). The three times means the past, present and the future. Thus the ultimate reality has to remain unchanged and that reality is the ultimate truth.
However, the Buddhist ultimate truth is the absence of any such satta, i.e., and ultimately existing thing or ultimate reality. The significance of Shunyata is the absence of any real, independent, unchanging existence (svabhava) and that fact is the ultimate truth of Buddhism, which is diametrically opposite of the ultimate truth of the Hindu Atman-Brahman. So Shunyata or emptiness can never be via negativa, a negative way of describing the Atman-Brahman of Hinduism as Vinoba Bhave and such scholars would have us believe. The meaning of Shunyata found in Sutra, Tantra, Dzogchen and Mahamudra is the same and officially accepted by all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism (except those who adhere to the Shentong view) and that is the Prasangic emptiness of Chandrakirti, i.e., the unfindability of any true existence or simply unfindability (unupalabdhi).
Some writers of Dzogchen and Mahamudra or Tantra think that the emptiness of Nagarjuna is different from the emptiness found in these systems, but such an idea contradicts the view presented by Acharya Tripitaka Kamala in his Vinaya Pramod and Advaya Vajra in his Advaya Vajra Sanghraha. Both authors state (an oft quoted verse in Tibetan texts too) that ‘Ekartha tve apya asammohad buhu upaya duskarad,’ meaning ‘even though the view/goal of Tantra and Sutra are the same Tantra is special in having many skillful means.’ Since the goal of sutra is the non dual realization of emptiness which is not different from luminosity (as per the Pragyamaramita Sutras) and the emptiness of Sutra is as elucidated by Nagarjuna and his sons, the emptiness of Tantra and Dzogchen has to be the same emptiness.
Therefore, to claim that the Emptiness of the Dzogchen and Tantra are different from the emptiness found in the Sutra is false. The Hevajra Tantra 2.5.67 itself states very clear that ‘this is that great bliss where there is neither ‘no-self’ (anatman/sunyata) nor other’ (ehu so paramamahasuha nau para nau appana). So it is not only empty of others but also of the self (svabhava). However, I would like to ask them whether their emptiness is findable or unfindable? Whether the significance of emptiness in these systems point towards the ‘unfindability’ that is free from the four extremes (tetralemma) or ‘no seeing’ as it could also be expressed? Also some Shentong scholars (by Shentongpas I mean the Dolpopa Shentongpas specifically, who seem to have abandoned the Prasangic emptiness and not those who have not abandoned the emptiness, like the Minling, Terchen and Shakya Chogden) seem to imply that the Shentong system is talking about a different emptiness. They say that the Buddha nature is not empty of qualities therefore, Buddha nature is not merely empty, it also has qualities.
First of all the whole statement is irrelevant as the issue is not about qualities or the Buddha nature being empty of quality or not. The Buddha nature is empty of “real existence” (svabhava). Because it is empty of real existence and because it is nishwabhava or “non-real-existent” (another name for emptiness), it has qualities. As Arya Nagarjuna has said in the Mulamadhyamikakarika ‘all things are possible (including qualities) because they are empty.’ The Samadhiraj sutra says ‘know all things to be like this: a mirage, a cloud castle, a dream, an apparition, without essence (meaning empty) but with qualities that can be seen.’ The Theravadin Majjhima Nikaya 1.297 and Samyutta Nikaya IV 296-97 further state ‘sunnam idam attena va attaniyena va’, meaning ‘this Samsara is empty of self or anything pertaining to self.’ Therefore, the mind is an integral part of what Buddhism calls Samsara/world and this mind is Buddha (Tathagatagarbha), which is also empty in the same way and not in some other way.
If the Buddha nature (Tathagatagarbha/Sugatagarbha) was really existing (sat) and not empty (nishwabhava), in the Sutra sense, like theBrahman of the Hindus, then the same fault that ancient Buddhist masters blamed on the Hindu Atman-Brahman would boomerang on these Buddhists too. An unchanging really existing thing cannot function in any way as function implies change (Tatva Sanghraha, chapter 7, section E, text 332-335 of Shantarakshita commentary by Kamalashila). Therefore, how can such a Tathagatagarbha that is unchanging have any qualities as it cannot function in any way. If it is answered that the function of
the Buddha’s qualities are inconceivable (acintya/sam gyi mikhyab), a further question arises that is, how can a conceivable Tathagatagarbha (as to say it exists is to bring it down to the level of conception and thus conceivable) have inconceivable qualities? For the Tathagarbha to have inconceivable qualities, it would also have to be inconceivable. We now come to the point of Nagarjuna that the Tathagarbha must also be free from the four extremes (tetralemma) which means empty of real existence. Therefore the whole Shentong/Rangtong issue is superfluous. And if theTathagarbha becomes really existing then Buddhism loses its main thesis that differentiated it from Hinduism from its very inception.
We find even Hindu scholars as early as 300 AD like Vatsayana through Bharahar Sutra (Sutta) trying to prove that the Buddha actually taught the Atman but the Buddhists did not understand. This statement implies that there were no Buddhists who understood the Buddha. It further implies that until the time of Vatsayana, Buddhists did not agree with the Atman theory. However, in most kinds of Shentong (except the Dolpopa Shentong), Buddha nature is also empty and emptiness means unfindable that is free from the four extremes as per Nagarjuna-Chandrakirti.
In the tradition of the Mahasiddha Lord of Yogins (Yogeshwar) Virupad, who is one of the famous eighty four Mahasiddhas as well as a great scholar and an abbot (Upadhyaya/Khenpo) of Vikramashila; luminosity (prabhashwar), clarity or pure awareness is the store house consciousness (alaya vigyana) which is the relative truth and the Tathagarbha is emptiness and the ultimate truth. The unity of the two is the unity ofSamsara and Nirvana which is inexpressible and experienced only by Aryas (Aryasamahita), those who have attained theBhumis. In short, the unfindability of any true existence is the ultimate truth (paramartha satya) in Buddhism, and is diametrically opposed to the concept of a truly existing thing called Brahman, the ultimate truth in Hinduism.
There is also another problem with a really existing Tathagatagarbha that is not empty. If it is “really existing” then it cannot be indivisible with Samsara which is empty. Then the mind (Chitta) cannot be a Buddha and even worse is that the whole of Buddhist Tantra/Vajrayana would be subverted, as Samsara which is empty cannot be transformed into Nirvana, which according to the Shentong theory is not empty. The whole of Buddhist Tantra is based on the principle of transformation and that is why it is called the way of transformation (parinati marga). Vajrayana would become redundant and Sankara Vedanta would be the true Buddhist Way .
Now let’s examine relative truth (samvritti satya). In Hinduism, the relative truth is the fact that this world is an illusion (maya), which has no existence. As Sankara points out ‘Rajjau sarpa bhramana aropa tadvat Brahmani jagat aropa.’ Meaning ‘just as the snake is imputed on the rope so too is the Samsara imputed upon the Brahman.’ This means that the Samsara is entirely false, an illusion, like the snake on the rope. However, in Buddhism, Samsara is interdependently arising. According to Tsong Khapa it has relative existence (samvritti satta), or it appears conventionally and according to Gorampa Senge and Mipham, it appears like an illusion (mayavat). Like all illusions, it appears interdependently based on various causes and conditions (hetu pratyaya). It may be like an illusion but it is the only thing we have; there is nothing behind it or beyond it, which can be called an ultimate thing or reality. It does not have a base or ground that is “really existing”, like the Brahman, as it is groundless, meaning empty. The ultimate ‘reality’, truth or fact, in the Buddhist sense, is the mode of existence of this illusion – like Samsara, i.e., “empty of real existence” (nihsvabhava).
So here too we can find two different parameters for two different paradigms using similar words. Now let us investigate some of the Sanskrit words shared by both paradigms. One word that has created great confusion is “non- dualism”. First of all, Hindu Vedanta isAdvaita, and Madhyamika, Advaya. Even though they are sometimes used interchangeably by both systems, their meanings are, as used in the two paradigms, different. In Hindu Vedanta, “non dualism” (advaita) means “one without a second” (dvitiyam nasti) as interpreted by Sankara Chandogya Upnishad .Also Chandogya 6.2.1 states very clearly ‘Sad eva….Asid ekam eva advitiyam,’ that is ‘the one and only really existent (sat), the only one, one without a second.’ The Chandogya Upanishad predates the Buddha by a couple of centuries- many scholars place it between 800BC and 1200BC. What does this mean? That there is only Brahman, which really exists and nothing else really exists. In other words, the world does not exist at all, it is only an illusion. The true English word for this is “Monism”, which according to the Webster Dictionary is ‘the view that there is only one kind of ultimate substance.’ Swami Vivekanda himself uses the exact word “Monism” for his Advaita Vedanta (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 3, Buddhistic India). Since, as we have already seen, there isn’t any kind of ultimate substance according to the Madhyamika Buddhism, the meaning of advaya (non- dualism) cannot be like in Hinduism.
The Madhyamika scriptures very clearly define Advaya as ‘dvaya anta mukta’, that is ‘free from the two extremes’ of existing and non-existing. The extremes are the extreme of eternalism (saswatanta) to which the Hindu Vedantic Atman-Brahman fall (the BuddhistTathagatagarbha is not a synonym for the Hindu Atman-Brahman and should not fall into this category. Therefore it should not be interpreted as really existing (sat). On the contrary according to the Pragyaparamita Sutras and in the interpretation of the Yogeshwar Virupa, Tathagatagarbha is a synonym for emptiness), and Nihilism (ucchedanta) into which many materialistic systems like Charvak fall. But it goes deeper. Non dual knowledge (advaya jnana) is the state of mind which is soteriologically free from grasping at the two extremes of knowing in terms of “is” and “is not” and is itself ontologically free from “existing” or “non existing” (which is the same as saying it is empty). Because it is non conceptual (avikalpa), free from conceptual proliferation (nisprapancha), beyond thoughts (acintya), inexpressible (unabhilapya) and free from the four extremes (chatuskoti vinirmukta), it is the true meaning of emptiness.
Hence,to say that the Tathagarbha exists is to make it conceivable, expressible and within the domain of concepts. As the inimitable Sakya Pandita says, that would be like bringing the Tathagarbha down to conceptual proliferation (prapancha). Or, in the context of this essay, it is to make the Tathagarbha just another synonym for the Hindu Atman-Brahman which it is not. In the Mulamadhyamaka Karika, Nagarjuna very clearly mentions ‘tathagato nisvabhavo….’ that is ‘the Tathagata is empty (nisvabhava) of real existence’ (Mulamadhyamaka Karika, Tathagata Parikshya, chapter 22, verse 16). If the Tathagata is empty (nisvabhava), how can theTathagatagarbha be really existing like the Brahman of the Hindu?
Advaita jnana is however the knowledge of the one and only truly existing substance or reality called Brahman in Hinduism. It could also be called by any other name. Even if the Brahman is defined as beyond “is” and “is not”, as in the Yogavasistha and the Astavakra Gita and the Avadhuta Gita, it is only a another way of saying that there is an ultimate reality that really exists, i.e., it has an ultimately real existence (paramartha satta/ Brahman), which is beyond concepts of existing and non existing. Therefore, it still falls within eternalism (saswatvada), conceptual proliferation (prapanca), conceivable (cintya) and verbal thinking (vikalpa). It is difficult to see how one can say it is the ultimate existence which exists and it is beyond all concepts and thoughts (avikalpa) in the same breath as ‘existence’ is a concept (vikalpa).
There is also the use of “free from the existence and non existence/ free from the two extremes or two ends (dwaya anta mukta)” in Buddhism, and “beyond (para) existence and non existence or without existence and non existence (as the Avhaduta Gita says without existence and non existence ( bhava abhava vivarjita). “Beyond” or “without/excluding” implies a third something which is neither; but “free” does not necessarily imply a third something which is neither.
Some Shentongpas define the Tathagatagarbha exactly like the Brahman of the Vedanta, without realizing it and even claim it as a higher meditator’s view which is not accessible to lower class logicians. Well this type of view has two faults:
First, it implies a kind of hubris that these Shentonpas are some kind of higher logicians or meditators who do not require the lower logic, and such hubris is non Buddhist in tone and nature. The Buddha very clearly said that the panditas and meditators should go hand in hand and respect each other in a Sutta of the Theravadin Anguttara Nikaya. The Lord of the tenth Bhumi Vajragarbha in his Satasahasrika Hevajratika (a commentary on the Hevajra Tantra 1.51) mentions very clearly ‘Adau vikalpadheto savikalpam sunyata phalam bhavet. Ante cha sarvabauddhanam akalpatah sunyata phalam’, that is ‘in the beginning, the conceptual cause brings about the fruition of conceptual emptiness and finally, for all Buddhists, the fruition will be non conceptual emptiness.’
Second, this implies that these meditators believe that the lower logicians do not understand the higher view and only they understand it. Well, Milarepa, Phagpa Rimpoche, Sakya Pandita, Marpa of Tibet and Sarahapa, Virupa and many others of India were great meditators and evidently they did not understand their higher meditators’ view otherwise they would have subscribed to it. It must be noted that even Karma Kagyu Shentongpas admit that Milarepa and Marpa were not Shentongpas.
In fact, according to Dolpopa the grand patriarch of Shentong, nobody before him got it right, implying that they were all inferior logicians who didn’t get the Shentong view. This would implicate all the Aryas of India too. But the Dohas of the Mahasiddhas like Sarahapa and Virupa and many others clearly show that they didn’t really get this Shentong view as they never left the unfindable sunyata in their dohas. They never left emptiness (Sunyata) and ‘like an illusion’ even for innate wisdom (sahaja jnana) which is another name for the realization of the Tathagatagarbha. In his Yogaratnamala, a commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, the great Mahasiddha and Mahapandita Krishnacharya/Nagpopa (one of the eighty four Mahasiddhas) commented, ‘mahasukhalakshanam sarva dharma sunyatyeti… sarvabuddhadharmadhartvena mantra mahayane tvanu vrnyate,’ which means ‘the mantra-mahayana tradition describes the great bliss to be the emptiness of all dharmas which is the basis of the nature of all Buddhas.’(Yogaratnamala, Commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, 2.2, verses 30 -31).
Another of the eighty four Mahasiddhas, Ratnakarshanti, who was also a Mahapandita further commented on the same verse of the Hevajra Tantra in the Muktavali,‘in this way after showing the importance of emptiness the importance of the great bliss (mahasukha) is elaborated with the word Mahamudra (evam sunyatayah khyatimuktva mahasukhakhyatimahah- mahamudretyadi). This means the emptiness which is the great bliss is the Mahamudra. So Mahamudra is emptiness (sunyata) as in emptiness of all dharmas (sarva dharma sunyateti). It is definitely not a different kind of emptiness. Since the Hevajra Tantra 2.8.10-11 clearly advises to study the Madhyamic (and the commentary called Satasahasrikahevajra Tika of the Hevajra Tantra by Vajragarbha who is dasbhumishwar, meaning Lord of the tenth bhumi, says study Madhyamic and Pragyaparamita on this point) before embarking on the Tantras. Nowhere in the Tantra does it say that the emptiness here is different from the emptiness found in the Pragyamaramita or Madhyamic. We cannot claim that the emptiness of the Tantra is a different emptiness. Vajragarbha also says very clearly in the same commentery 1.86-88 that theChakrasamvara Tantra and the Chatupitaka Tantra and the Paramadibuddha Tantra and the Mahasamvara Tantra all have the same intent and meaning.
Some Dzogchen (I mean Buddhist Dzogchen here and not the Bonpo Dzogchen) writers claim that Dzogchen is not Vajrayana but rather another “yana” by itself. Vajragarbha in his Satsahasrika-Hevajra Tika commentary 1.39 on the Hevajra Tantra clearly says ‘Shravakam Pratyekanchatra Mahayanam tritiyakam chaturtham nasti baudhanam panchamancha matam Mune,’ that is ‘that there are only three yanas taught by the Buddha not a fourth or fifth. They are the Sravakayana, Pratyekbuddhayana and Mahayana. Now, Advaya Vajra says in his Advaya Vajra Sanghrah that ‘Mahayana is of two kinds (Mahayanam Dvividham), the Paramitayana and the Mantrayana (Paramitanaya cha Mantranaya).’ Therefore, there is no third form of Mahayana as per Advaya Vajra and there is no other fourth or fifth “yana” either according to Vajragarbha.
Perhaps it is most apt now to talk about two other words used commonly by both paradigms: nisprapanca (Tib.: thro-me) and avikalpa(Tib.: tog-me). Nisprapanca means “non-fabricated” or “without conceptual proliferation” and avikalpa means “non-conceptual”. In the context of Hinduism, it is the Brahman (the ultimate reality, the ultimate real, the ultimate existing) that is beyond concepts and non-fabricated. It also means a non- fabricated and non-conceptual knowledge of that Brahman. When I use ultimate reality as a synonym for the Brahman, I am using reality to mean something that exists per se (Webster’s Dictionary). I am aware that reality also connotes “fact” that is truth and such a meaning could be used in Buddhism to mean ultimate fact/truth. But as one of its connotations is “existing”, it is hazardous to use the word “ultimate reality” in any Buddhist context and it is always safer to use the word “ultimate truth” instead. Some English translations of Dzogchen and Mahamudra have used the words “ultimate reality” for Rigpa, co-emergent wisdom (sahaja jnana),Tathagatagarbha rather indiscriminately without the authors even realizing that the use of such lax wording brings them not only dangerously close to Vedantins of one form or the other, but also they are actually using Buddhist texts to validate the Vedantic thesis. If some of them object that their ultimate reality is empty, while the Hindu ultimate reality is not, the Hindu can ask, then how is it an ultimate reality in the sense of ultimate existence?
By definition, accepted by all systems within the Indian subcontinent (Buddhism/Hinduism/Jainism) something that really exists (sat) cannot be empty and cannot be in a flux that is ever changing and cannot be interdependently originating. To avoid this confusion, it is safer and semantically closer to the Buddhist paradigm to use only “ultimate truth”. In fact there is no word for ultimate reality as inparamartha satta (really existing thing) within Buddhism as this is a Hindu word but there is paramartha satya (ultimate truth) fact within Buddhism. It is interesting to note that there is no Tibetan word for ultimate existence (paramartha satta) in the way it is used for theBrahman-Atman complex because such an Atman (or whatever name you give it) is alien to Buddhism of all forms- Sravakayana, Paramitayana and Vajrayana.
Coming back to nisprapanca and avikalpa, in Buddhism, the first verse of Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamikakarika clarifies that the “pratityasamutpada” or the “interdependent origination” is nisprapanca and beyond concepts and it is the wisdom that realizes that this isnisprapanca and avikalpa. No Hindu Vedanta would agree that the Brahman is either interdependent origination or interdependently originated. The same can be said for words like acintya (“inconceivable”), anupamya (“inexpressible”) or apratistha (“non- established”), for which we need not to write separately.
This naturally leads us to three crucial words and concepts used in the two paradigms: Emptiness (Shunyata), Interdependent Origination ( Pratityasamutpada) and Brahman (the ultimate, infinite, eternal, unchanging, truly existing, non conceptual, unfabricated reality).
Many Hindu writers from the fifth and sixth century onwards until today have tried to show that the Brahman and Shunyata mean the same thing. The Yogavasistha (seventh/eighth century) has explicitly stated that the Brahman, Shunyata and Chittamatra are the same reality (chapter 3-5 and 5-6). Modern authors like Dr.S.P. Radhakrishnan, Swami Vivekananda and Vinova Bhave have also tried to prove that they mean the same reality. However, Sankaracharya in his refutation of the Vigyanvada in his Sariraka Bhasya of the Brahman Sutra 2.2.27-31 implied that the Chittamatra of the Vigyanvadin and our Brahman are very similar but there is a difference. Their Chitamatra is impermanent (as it is a continuum/santan/gyu) whereas our Brahman is unchanging really existing thing (paramartha satta). The Buddhist Guru Shantarakshita who played a key role in transferring Buddhism to Tibet, along with Guru Padmasambhava, says exactly the same thing from a Buddhist perspective in his Tatvasanghraha: ‘there is a small fault with their non-dual awareness/cognition as opposed to ours due to the assertion of eternity of the non dual awareness/cognition. Their non dual awareness (jnana/yeshe) is permanent, unchanging and an eternal thing whereas our Chittamatra is a changing eternal process or continuum (santaan) (Tatvasanghraha, Chapter 8, section E, text 330-331- 335). Je Tsong Khapa mentions in his Pratityasamutpada Stuti Subhasita Hridaya: ‘whatever is dependent on conditions is empty of real existence. A continuum (santaan) is by nature a flow of interdependent origination (hetu-phala prabha)’. This statement makes it clear that dependent origination and Shunyata are two labels for the same condition or two sides of the same coin.
Therefore, I would like to ask these Hindu authors is Brahman (which according to them is the same as Shunyata), dependently originated or origination? Even here in the two words there is a difference. The Brahman can never be a dependent origination because it is a really existing thing (Mahavastu or the great thing). It can only be a dependently originated thing but I am sure no Hindu would like to say this of the unchanging eternal independent Brahman. On the other hand, the significance of Shunyata is “dependant origination”, or nisvabhava(“non real existence”). The Tathagatarbha, Mahamudra and Rigpa (vidhya) cannot also be empty, but not without real existence (nisvabhava). Such a definition of Shunyata (as not nisvabhava) would not only contradict with the entire Buddhist paradigm but would also force such so-called Buddhist writers to fall into the “all-embracing” arms of the Vedantin Brahman. Something Brahmanism and later Hinduism have been trying to do since the inception of Buddhism and Buddhism has been refuting ever since too. An historical fact most Western Shentongpas seem to be blissfully unaware of to date.
Unfortunately when we analyze all the refutations of Buddhism by every single Hindu scholar modern or ancient, we find that they always distort the Buddhist teachings and then refute it, but not single one of them have got it right. After distorting the Buddhist view in various ways they claim either one of these things:
This clearly signals that they never really understood what Buddhism was all about and Swami Vivekananda states ‘Well, I do not understand his doctrine — we Hindus never understood it.’ (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Buddhistic India, volume 3, p. 529). This is what I mean, remaining fixed within the Hindu paradigm you just cannot understand Buddhism. Even Sankaracharya in hisSariraka Bhasya of the Brahman sutra 2.2.31 clearly shows that he never really understood what the Buddhists meant by emptiness and assumes it means a vacuous nothingness in his refutation and calls it nonsense as it is opposed to all valid means of knowledge (sarva pramana vipratisiddha). This applies to Western students of Hinduism and Hindu swamis too who claim that Buddhism and Hinduism are essentially the same. Well, Sankaracharya, in contrast to his Sariraka Bhasya 2.2.32, accuses the Buddha of teaching incoherent theories and malevolently coursing people and that the Buddhist view should be abjured in every way by all who desire the highest good. Likewise, Ramanujacharya and Madvacharya et al also think in the same way.
From the Buddhist side Shantarakshita in his refutation of the Vedantic non-dual awareness/cognition (Advaita Jnana) in his Tatvasangraha does not agree that the two are the same in essence (Tatvasangraha, Chapter 7, text 328-335). So do hundreds of Buddhist mahasiddhas, yogis and panditas. Denying the possibilities of other different paradigms by forcefully trying to subsume all paradigms within one’s own personal paradigm is not open mindedness, but rather a subtle kind of closed mindedness and a danger to the creativity of human kind. If Rigpa and Mahamudra are described without the correct emptiness, then words such as Mahamudra, Dzogchen, Rigpa, Tathagatagarbha are only new names given to the ancient concept of Brahman as found in the Upanishads (some of which are 800 to 1200 years earlier than the Buddha himself). Such misconceptions of the Tathagatagarbha do not come from Buddhists, but actually from Hindu Brahmins in the garb of Buddhist scholar monks.
Some Buddhist writers give lame excuse about meditative experience and theory being different. Well, the Buddha himself taught that the correct view ( samyag drishti) is an integral part of the Buddhist eightfold path and placed it as top priority even before meditation. I would like to reiterate that such a meditative experience, not based solidly in the correct Buddhist view (samyag drishti/tawa) is not Buddhist but Hindu because it fits perfectly with the Hindu view/theory of reality. If meditative experiences are going to be different from the theory/view on which they are based, that would be tantamount to saying that the base has no relation to the path and fruit. Or, that path is one and the actual experience of the fruit (meditative experience) is another. At least the Hindu base-path-fruit is more consistent. They do not begin with non-real-existence and end up with some kind of subtle existence that is beyond existence and non existence.
The Buddhist meditation experience must coincide with its base (basic paradigm). Yes, there is a shift from conceptual to non-conceptual during meditation but that does not necessitate a shift from non-real existence to real existence from nisvabhava to svabhava. If reality is conceptually non-real existent it does not become real existence non-conceptually, but rather it should become the true Buddhist meditative experience of the non conceptual experience of the “non-real -existence”, or more correctly of the state free from thetetralemma. Vajragarbha states exactly the same thing in his commentary Satasahasrika Hevajratika on the Hevajra Tantra (quoted in the next paragraph). It may be added here that we can have a non conceptual (avikalpa) experience of a sour lemon or a sweet candy. Just because these two experiences are non conceptual (avikalpa), it does not mean that they are the same. But this is implied by most Hindu and New Age meditators who claim that since both the Vedanta or other Hindu meditations and the Mahayana meditations reach the non conceptual state, in essence they are the same. They assume that once it becomes non- conceptual, it is all the same, so they are essentially the same.
Some may say that non real existence is only a concept; however the same can be said of real existence. This concept is used to cut through the grasping of a real existence (sahaja atman graham), which is nescience (avidhya) to arrive at the freedom from the four extremes (tetralemma ). The Lord of the tenth bhumi, Vajragarbha writes in his commentary to the Hevajra Tantra, Satashasrika Hevajrapanjika ‘in the beginning, based on concepts, we attain conceptual emptiness and in the end the non-conceptual emptiness of all the Buddhists…..through which the supportless compassion ( analambana kuruna) of the Sugata will arise’ (Satashasrika Hevajrapanjika, 1.51).
What purpose would a really existing Tathagatagarbha have from a Buddhist point of view? Since Brahman is real existence by itself and independent, it cannot be a synonym for Shunyata. Some Shentong Buddhist writers who have not studied Hindu philosophy well enough and try to give invalid excuses by implying that the Atman -Brahman of Hinduism is imagined, fabricated, whereas the ShentongTathagatagarbhas is non conceptual (e.g., Jamgon Kongtrul Lordo Thaye, gaining certainly about the view 18.104.22.168.). If one has read the Vedanta Shastra one finds that the Atman (Self) of the Hindu is also free from mental elaboration (nisprapancha/thodral) like theTathagatagarbha and non-conceptual nirvikalpa. So the crux of the difference lies in emptiness (anatman) not in non- elaboration, non conceptual and luminous awareness. The Atman of the Vedanta is also not accessible to inferior logicians and not negated by logic because it is uncreated, unconditioned, self-existing, self-luminous and beyond concept (found all over the various Upanishads too numerous to enumerate here). So just stating that the Hindu Atman is fabricated and our Tathagatagarbha is not, does not really solve anything. The Hindus also say exactly the same thing that their Atman is a non-conceptual experiential thing whereas the emptiness of the Buddhist is a thing of the lower logician (tarkikas). Actually, kutarkikas means false logicians. The Atman is what remains after everything else that is not Atman has been negated (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad canto 6).
Lastly, the Atman is not the ego (Skt.: ahamkar, Tib.: ngak dzin), which is what the Shentong logic negates. This view of the Brahman-Atman as non dual, free from existing and non existing, non conceptual were not taught by Buddhist Mahasiddhas to Hindus, as some Western Buddhist scholars or Tibetan Masters seem to imagine. These views were already elaborated in the ancient Upanishads like the Chandogya Upanishad, quoted above and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad where it states ‘Eko drastadvaito bhavati’ meaning ‘it is the one non dual awareness’ (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV, 3. 32). These Upanishads predate the Buddha himself and this seems to be a gross misunderstanding of the sophistication of Hinduism as a whole.
Another word that has confounded many Hindu swamis, is the “unborn” (ajat or anutpada) or “unproduced”. In the context of the Hindu Vedanta, it means that there is this ultimate reality called the Brahman, which is unborn, that was never produced by anything or at any time and which means it always was and will always be the same unchanging substance. A thing, or super-thing, even a non- thing, that always existed and was never ever produced at any period in time, which is separate from this born, illusory Samsara. Whereas, in the Buddhist context, it is the true nature of Samsara itself which although relatively appears to be “born” ultimately is never born. Advayavajra in his Tatvaratnavali states ‘the Samsara is unborn says the Buddha.’ The Buddha Ekaputra Tantra (Tib.: Sangye Tse tsig tantra) mentions that the base of Dzogchen is the Samsara itself stirred from its depth. Since the Samsara stirred from its depth is interdependently originated, i.e., not really originated or unborn, and since the Samsara is only relatively an interdependently originated thing, but ultimately neither a thing, nor a non-thing (bhava or abhava) that truly exists. The term “unborn” for Brahman (which is definitely not Samsara) and for Samsara in Buddhism are diametrically opposed. The true meaning of unborn (anutpada) is dependently originated ( pratityasamutpanna), which as mentioned before is the meaning of nisvabhava (non real existence) or Shunyata. None of these terms are a synonym for Brahman or anything that has this kind of ultimate real existence, even if it were to be called Tathagatagarbha. There is no acceptance of an ultimate existence in any Buddhist Sutra.
It is interesting that an exact word for paramartha satta in Tibetan Buddhism is very rarely used. It shows how non-Buddhist the whole concept is. One has to differentiate between satta (existence) and satya (truth), although they are so close and come from the same root in Sanskrit. Even in the Ratnagotra there is one single sentence ( Yad yatra tat tena shunyam iti samanupasyati yat punartravasistam bhavati tad sad ihasthiti yathabhutam prajanati): ‘whatever is not found, know that to be empty by that itself, if something remains, know that to exist as it is.’ This statement is straight out of the Vaibhasika Sutras and the Theravada Majjhima Nikaya, Cullasunyata Sutta,Sunnatavagga and Sautrantik Abhidharma Samuccaya and it seems to imply an affirming negative. First of all, this statement contradicts the rest of the Ratnagotravibhaga if it is taken as the ultimate meaning in the Sutra (as Shentongpas have done). Secondly, since it is a statement of the VaibhasikaSchool (stating than an ultimate unit of consciousness and matter consisting of eight atoms [the asta kalapas] of matter and consciousness remain after everything else is negated), it cannot be superior to the Rangtong Madhyamika. Thirdly its interpretation as what remains is the ultimately existing Tathagatagarbha contradicts not only the interpretation found in other Buddhist sutras as ‘itar etar Shunyata’ (emptiness of what is different from it), but also the Shentong interpretation of Tathagatagarbha. It contradicts all the other definition of the Tathagatagarbha found in the Ratnagotravibhaga itself. Finally, such an interpretation of an ultimately existing Tathagatagarbha that remains after everything else has been negated and this is exactly the same as in the ancient Brihadaryanaka Upanishad Canto 6, the famous Neti, Neti (Not this, not this).
This brings us to the word nitya, i.e., “eternal” or “permanent”. The Hindu use of the word nitya for its ultimate existing reality, viz,Brahman is kutastha nitya, which means something remaining, or existing unchangingly eternal and something that is statically eternal. However, whenever the word nitya is used for the ultimate truth in Buddhism, the Great Pandit Shantarakshita has made it very clear in his Tatvasamgraha that the Buddhist nitya is parinami nitya, which is ‘changing, transforming, eternal’, in another words, “dynamically eternal”. The Buddhist nitya is more accurately translated in English as “eternal continuum” rather than just “eternal”.
I would like to remind some Western translators of Nyingma and Kagyu texts that it is either the view of Shantarakshita’s Svatantrik Madhyamika or the Prasangika that is given during the “Tri” instruction of Yeshe Lama as the correct view of Dzogchen. In the official Nyingmapa view, tongpanyid/sunyata as elaborated by Chandrakirti is never abandoned as per Khenpo Rigzin Dorje, a close disciple of the greatest Dzogchen Yogi of the last and this century Chatral Rimpoche. Mipham Rimpoche of the nineteenth century is also very clear about this point. For further elaboration, please refer to my interview with Khenpo Rigzin Dorje in www.byomakusuma.org.
Now finally I would like to show how the same analogies are used in the Vedantic Hinduism and Buddhist Madhyamika to illustrate a different thesis. The most famous analogy in both Vedanta and Madhyamka is that of the snake seen in the rope. In Vedanta, according to the famous Shankaric verse ‘rajjau sarpa bhramanaropa tadvat Brahmani jagataropa’, the snake is imputed/superimposed upon a piece of rope just as Samsara is imposed upon the Brahman. The statement implies that only the rope or the Brahman is real and the snake –Samsara is unreal and does not exist at all. They are only illusions. If one studies the analogy one realizes that it is not an accurate analogy. The rope is not eternal like Brahman. Furthermore the rope is not asamskrita (unconditioned like Brahman) so it is not a good example or proof of a truly existing independent Brahman. It is a forced analogy. After all, it is a Buddhist analogy squeezed in order to give Vedantic meaning.
According to Buddhism the rope stands for pratityasamutpada and is a good example because it is interdependently originated from pieces of jute and other materials. Whilst, the snake imputed upon it stands for real existence which is imposed on the interdependently existing rope appearance. Here it is the interdependently appearing rope that is the true mode of existence of the Samsara (unlike the snake representing Samsara in Vedanta). Hence, the snake is our ignorance imputing Samsara as really existing instead of experiencing it as interdependently arisen. This interdependence or emptiness is parinami nitya, i.e., an eternal continuum, and this is applicable to all phenomena.
Of course, this interdependence is the conventional truth whereas nisvabhavata, which is synonymous to emptiness, is the ultimate truth in Madhyamika. Even though I have consistently used the word non real existence, it must be understood as a short hand for free from the tetralemma, or free from the four extremes (chatuskoti vinirmukta), which is the true meaning of niswabhava. Whilst interdependence is itself conditioned, in reality it is unborn and empty and its true nature is unconditioned. But this is not an unconditioned reality like Brahman, but rather an unconditioned truth, that implies that all things are in reality empty, unborn and uncreated.
Likewise the mirror reflection analogy is used to show that just like images which have no existence at all, appear and disappear on the permanent surface of the mirror. So too Samsara, which is an illusory reflection on the mirror of Brahman, appears on the surface of the Brahman and disappears there. In Buddhism this metaphor is used to show that Samsara is interdependently arising like the reflection on the mirror. The mirror is only one of the causes and conditions and no more real than the other causes and conditions for the appearance of the reflection of Samsara. Here too the mirror is a very poor metaphor for the Brahman, because it is interdependently arisen like the reflection on it. Actually, such analogies are good examples for pratityasamutpada and not for some eternal Brahman or any other eternally really existing thing. The mirror Brahman metaphor is only forced. The same can be said of the analogies of the reflection of the moon on the pond and rainbow in the sky.
In conclusion, I would like to sum it up by stating that Buddhism (especially Mahayana/Vajrayana) is not a reformulation of Hinduism or a negative way of expressing what Hinduism has formulated positively. Hinduism and Buddhism share a common cultural matrix and therefore tend to use the same or similar words. Even though they share certain concepts like karma and re-incarnation, their interpretations differ. Hindu concepts of karma and reincarnation tend to be rather linear, whereas the Buddhist concept is linked withpratityasamutpada. The Theravada concept of pratityasamutpada is also rather linear compared to the Mahayana/Vajrayana concept, which is more non-linear, multi-dimensional, multi-leveled, interdependent and inter-latched. However, all similarities to Hinduism end there. The Shunyata of the Buddha, Nagarjuna and Candrakirti is by no means a negative way of describing the Brahman of the Upanishad, Samkara and Vidhyaranya groups.
I would like to dedicate this article for the long lives of Ven. H. E. Urgyen Tulku, His Eminence Chobgye Trichen, His Holiness Sakya Trizin and Ven. Karma Thinley Rinpoche and to the 17th century Siddha Vajracharya Surat Vajra of Nepal, Tache Baha. May his lineage be re-instated again.
This article was first published on 25th December 1989. It was revised and annotated on 25th December 2012.
The word mandala (dkyil ‘khor) in Tibetan actually means centre and periphery, i.e. a circle: the circle of a king, a magician’s circle, an organization with a centre (chairman) and periphery, and so on.
In Buddhist meditation there are many kinds of mandala, A mandala is the way we experience the world (samsara), inclusive of a kind of centre (the experiencer) and the periphery (the experienced). It includes the tone (emotional/intellectual) of that experience; it is both quantitative and qualitative – albeit the purpose of Buddhist meditations is to change/transform the qualitative aspect. This would mean change in the perceiver/experiencer, the quality of the experience thereof and the experienced. It can be said that a restructuring of emotional and thinking patterns takes place in this kind of mandala change.
A mandala is one’s existential situation, with oneself as the centre and one’s experience as the periphery of the mandala. The way we see/feel/experience our situation this very moment, here and now, is our mandala. Of course this bring us to the problem that we do not experience this moment in all its fullness/completeness/perfection. That is why it is called Ignorance Mandala. It is painted by ignorance, so we are incapable of experiencing the richness of the moment. If we could, every moment or experience would be the great perfection – nothing to add, nothing to subtract. Thus the purpose of Buddhist meditation is to transform the Ignorance Mandala into the Wisdom Mandala.
Besides these two basic varieties of mandalas, i.e. the Ignorance Mandala and Wisdom Mandala (ajnana mandala and jnanaa mandala), we as individuals have an infinite number of mandalas – the poet mandala, the artist mandala, the father-mother mandala, the lover mandala, the husband-wife mandala, the school teacher/managing director mandala etc. We are constantly moving from one mandala to the other, but due to individual grasping the transitions may not be so smooth or we may even transmute a give mandala through our fixation on it into a perilous “me” mandala, the ajnana mandala, imagining it to be our basic identity. But samsara is in flux, and so a fixed identity mandala is untenable. Thus there is friction – sorrow. The first tenet of Buddhism is to realize the need to be able to let go of any fixation on any mandala or group of mandalas and to be able to flow freely within the infinite dimensions (mandalas) of the mind. This is the purpose of all Buddhist meditation. As Zen master say, “When hungry I eat, when tired I sleep.” When we can really do that, without memories of the past, imaginations of the future distorting the moment mandala, we are in the jnana mandala. This is the state without grasping or rejecting, without hope for a better situation mandala or fear of a worse mandala. In other words of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, this state is completely hopeless, i.e. free of hope and fear. Such a state is free of meditation or no-meditation; this is why it is called non-meditation. All Buddhist meditation techniques aim towards this state. In fact, non meditation is the only true meditation. All other forms of meditation are only attempts to meditate.
To transform the ajnana mandala into the jnana mandala we need to let go, stop fixating. In order to let go or stop fixating, it is crucial to gain insight (vipashyana) into the fact that the centre of the mandala is centreless or, in more orthodox terms, empty (shunyata) or anatma (no-self). Centre-less-ness is the centre and the periphery is peripheryless, i.e. again empty. As the Pali text says, sabbe dhamma anatta, i.e. all dharmas (centre and periphery) are empty of a self. In Mahayana language, this is called pudgala nairatmya and dharma nairatmya. This is the jnana mandala in Vajrayana. The mandala is thus a true existential application of the Buddha’s teachings. This is the mandala as the ground/bhumi.
The mandala as the path/marga can be divided into three types. The first is the body mandala of the Mahayoga. The deities in thangkas belong to this group. These mandalas are used to transform the conception of ordinary bodies and their mandalas into Deity bodies and their mandalas through meditation. This Mahayoga-level mandala is a whole and restructured way of perceiving the perceiver and the perceived, inclusive of emotional tones, language structures, thinking patterns and styles of interpreting. For example, diseases are diagnosed or interpreted in terms of male spirits, female spirits and nagas. Devas, nagas etc. are the language structure and though patterns of this group of mandalas.
The second class of mandalas is called Anuyoga or the mandalas of nadi chakras. Here, samsara again is reconstructed into a new pattern of vision. The language structures etc. again change even though it is the same samsara, that is, even though we are still talking about the same thing. All the deities become seed mantras. Diseases now are diagnosed or interpreted as imbalances in the channels and winds. We have to understand that this is just a user of another vision (language structures, thinking patterns) for the same thing as the male spirits, female spirits and nagas of the Mahayoga.
The third class of mandalas is that of the Atiyoga. Its members could also be called mind mandalas. Here, everything is treated in terms of the mind, or as unity of emptiness and luminosity. Diseases are seen as an imbalance of emptiness and luminosity etc.
These three mandala categories are not exclusive but are three different ways of perceiving samsara. They are used s the path (meditation) to bring about a transformation from Ignorance Mandala to Wisdom Mandala.
In the Digghanikaya Udumbarika Sihanada Sutta of the Pali Tripitaka, the Sasta (master) has told Nigrodha that it was not necessary to relinquish everything in his culture to become a Buddhist. He could continue to follow those cultural elements if they did not contradict the Samyag Drishti (correct view) view. For instance, it is not possible to continue animal sacrifice and still remain a Buddhist; however it is possible to perform the rites and rituals and symbols of the culture one grows up in if they do not contradict the basics of Buddhism.
Because through the centuries after the Buddha, millions of Indians, Bràhmins and otherwise became Buddhists, it is natural that the rites and rituals, the symbols and many such things were continued on as they did not contradict or distort the Samyag Drishti (correct view). These rites and symbols were taken from the general Indian socio-cultural milieu that existed then – be they Sramanic or Brahmanic or from some other local culture. As the Buddha himself has vouchsafed for such use of rituals and symbols, to see Hindu influence in all such rites, rituals and symbols is not only short sightedness, but specially if this criticism comes from another Buddhist denomination, it is a clear sign of idamsatyavinivesa. Idamsatyavinivesa is one of the Kayagrantha-s (bodily knots) that tie us to Samsara and it means holding on to a belief that “only the forms of symbols, rites and rituals, beliefs, ideas, that i believe, only my interpretations of the words of the Buddha, only my Master etc. only the form of Buddhism I follow, only the form of Vipasyana my teacher or my sub-sect teaches are the truth, all others are false.” In the Majjhima Nikaya, Canki Sutta, the Sasta has very clearly told Canki that to think –
Idameva saccam moghannam
i.e. “only this is the truth, all else is false” is not a thing that a learned wise man does.
So the teachings given by the Sasta to Canki and Nigrodha themselves sanction very clear use of any cultural elements like symbols and rites and rituals of any place and time as part of Buddhism if they do not contradict the Samyag Drishti (correct view).
A close study of such symbols and rites and rituals within Vajrayana / Mahayana shows that not only have such symbols and rites and rituals been taken from the background cultures be it Indian, Tibetan or Chinese etc., the use of such symbols etc. in Vajrayana / Mahayana is quite different from the use of these same or similar symbols and rites and rituals in other non-Buddhist systems. So not only were those symbols innocuous as far as Samyag Drishti (correct view) was concerned but also Vajrayana / Mahayana have remolded their meaning to make them closer to the Buddhist weltanschauung, to the Buddhist Samyag Drishti (correct view). This is a sign of healthy creativity rather than a sign of degeneration or muddling up or even influence of non-Buddhist systems.
Here, it is important to distinguish a very important point. Those who have tried to make Buddhism concord with Modernism have constantly harped on the point that the Buddha revolted against all rites and rituals. There are two things wrong with this view. Firstly, this is an attempt to fit the Buddha in a ‘modernist weltanschauung’ as if the Buddha’s view of the world was exactly like what came into existence in the cultures of the Western world after the 17th century due to scientific developments and the Industrial Revolution. Till about 1950, the whole of the Western culture was under the sway of Modernism. Modernism believed that only what was scientific or looked scientific was true, real, fact, un-superstitious; anything else that didn’t look scientific or similar to Physics and Chemistry was false, untrue, and superstitious. Needless to say, many Buddhist scholars and educated Buddhists of that time (especially those Buddhist monk scholars of the British colonial Ceylon) fell for this consensual hypnotic illusion and subscribed rather vociferously to this view. So anything within Buddhism that didn’t look scientific, was not analytically linear, didn’t fit the Cartesian Reductionist linear paradigm was thrown out the window and declared that the Buddha did not actually teach such a thing but rather was brought into Buddhism by latter-day decadent Buddhists.
Symbols and rites and rituals were among those most valuable psychotherapeutic elements which didn’t fit the Modernist paradigm. So they were declared as wholesale non-Buddhist; and they were actually things the Buddha himself actually taught against. However, after the Cognitive Revolution in the West in the 1950’s, Modernism has lost its stranglehold on Western cultural weltanschauung and is no longer considered as the whole and sole criteria to decide what is true and what is not. After the 1950’s, Post-Modernism began to fan out across the Western cultural horizon and Modernism gradually died out. Post-Modernism upholds the fact that the scientific view of life is only one mode of gauging reality and is by no means the whole and sole determinant of what is true or false; and there are alternate modes to experience / evaluate and interpret the world / reality etc. which are equally valid. Now, if we subscribe to these quaint ideas that the Buddha had the same view as the Modernists whose ideas began only after the 17th century and that too in the West; today we automatically make the Buddha outdated in this Post-Modernist world. It is also absurd to believe that the Buddha in the 6th century BC taught what the Modernists believed in the 17th century and refuted whatever these Modernists refuted or saw as false.
Secondly, in all the Sastra-s (even the Theravada Sutta-s) we don’t find the Buddha revolting against any rites and rituals or cultural elements – be they even Vedic. He only decried those parts of those rituals which were either meaningless or against the Samyag Drishti (correct view). He often re-interpreted those rituals giving them a new meaning or transformed those rituals to make them more meaningful, but he did not revolt against rites and rituals and symbols per se. In fact, in the Sutta Nipata, Magandiy Sutta, the Sasta says, “I do not say one attains purification by view, tradition, knowledge, virtue or ritual, nor is it attained without view, tradition, knowledge, virtue or ritual. It is by only taking these factors as a means and not grasping onto them as ends in themselves that one so attains and consequently does not crave for re-becoming” In this Sutta, the Sasta has clearly shown that he does not revolt against all rituals per se as useless mumbo jumbo but rather says very clearly that rituals can and should be used properly to attain purification etc. This certainly does not fit the ideas of those Modernist Buddhist scholars mentioned above. So it is clear that the Buddha has not taught against rites, rituals and symbols. In fact, he does even say very clearly, “I do not say one attains purification…without rituals etc…It is by only taking those factors (rituals etc.) as means….that one attains….” This Magandiya Sutta is certainly not very Modernist is it?
In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Sasta has mentioned in two different places (the 4th and the 5th Nipata) that offerings should be offered to those deities requiring offerings (Skt. bali grahaka devata). Now, this again is certainly a rite and ritual that the Sasta himself sanctioned. If this ritual was not so important, why would he say it at two different places or why would it be repeated at two different places in the same Nikaya? The Vajrayana / Mahayana still maintain this ritual to date. In the Majjhima Nikaya Saleyyaka Sutta, the Sasta says that it is Mithya Drishti (incorrect view) to believe that there are no Dana, Yajña and Havana. All three are rituals. The Sasta himself prescribed the worship of the Cetiya. In the Parinibbana Sutta, Diggha Nikaya, the Sasta himself has preached that the remains of the body of a Tathagata should be encased in a Caitya / Stupa and those who worship such Stupa-s with wreathes, perfumes, colors (sindura, avira etc.) with devout hearts will reap benefits and happiness for a long time. This is certainly very ritualistic and such types of offerings were offered in temples in India long time before the Buddha and they still continue even among non-Buddhists. In the same Parinibbana Sutta, the Buddha commands that his body be cremated like the body of a Cakravarti Emperor. He certainly did not say, “Do not perform any rituals at all because that is not a Buddhist thing to do” We find the Buddha himself sanctioning the worship of a tree (a transplantation from the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya) as a symbolic representation of the Tathagata. The Tathagata himself helped make the Stupa / Caitya / Cetiya for Sariputra’s remains saying such Stupa-s of arya-s should be worshipped. Any kind of worship is a ritual, and when rituals are accepted, symbols are accepted too.
As far as symbols go, there are no fixed meanings attached to any symbol according to the world famous psychologist C.J. Jung. That means, the same symbols can be given different meanings by Hindus, Buddhists, Jainas or Christians. Whether any symbol like ‘om’ etc. is Buddhist or Hindu or Jaina depends on what meaning you give to it, as they do not have any fixed meaning according to the world famous religious historian Mircea Eliade. So it is spurious to call Vajrayana / Mahayana influenced by Hinduism simply because there are some outward similarities in some symbols or rituals etc.
I would like to end this article with a quote by David Brazier, a psychotherapist and a Zen Buddhist from his book, ‘The Feeling Buddha’ – “When skillfully used, ritual is moving and transformative, reaffirming the connection between the particular individual experience and the larger drama in whole we all share. Ritual, properly employed is a therapeutic re-affirmation of the meaning and mystery of life.”
Ityapi Sa Bhagwānstathāgato’rhan Samyaksambuddho Vidyācaranasampannah Sugato
Lokavidanuttarah Purushadamyasārathih Shāstā Devamanushyanam Buddho Bhagavāniti
Some Theravada scholars accuse Nāgārjuna of interpreting the Buddha’s teachings and thus distorting the teachings. Some other scholars think Nāgārjuna re-interpreted the Buddha’s teaching [Bhikkhu Rahula Walpola, 1978, pp.79] but did not really create a new philosophy. To the first group of scholars, the psychological fact must be pointed out that to read or study the Buddha Vacana is already to interpret it. Man does not study a thought of anybody without giving it a meaning. Even if such thoughts had no meaning, it is in the nature of mind to give it meaning. The mind does not take in what is out there like a simple mirror, it always recreates on the basis of the patterns available to it [Jerome Bruner, 1986, pp.47, 79-92, 95 & Humberto R. Matarana PhD & Francisco Varela PhD., 1987, pp.169]. So the question is who hasn’t interpreted or reinterpreted the Buddha’s teachings? Isn’t the Theravada Milindapanna an interpretation of the Buddha Vacana? Aren’t the commentaries of the Pāli Abhidhamma interpretations of the Buddha Vacana? If Nāgārjuna has interpreted the Buddha Vacana, he has done us a service for otherwise each individual would automatically interpret the Buddha Vacana in accordance with his own individual conditionings (Sanskaras).
Now let us see if Nāgārjuna’s interpretation is really his own conditioned ideas or tallies with the Buddha Vacana found even in the Śrāvaka Pitaka. We shall use the Theravadin Pāli Nikāyas and the Sarvāstivādin Sanskrit āgamas vis-à-vis Nāgārjuna’s main thesis which is his hermeneutics. The magnum opus of Nāgārjuna, the Mūla Mādhyamika Kārikā begins with a homage to the Buddha. But the homage itself contains succinctly the Samyagdristi of the Buddha and Nāgārjuna’s hermeneutics. It shows clearly that Nāgārjuna’s hermeneutics is based squarely on the words of the Buddha. Nāgārjuna extols the Buddha thus in his homage which begins the Mūla Mādhyamika Kārikā.
Professor Ram Chandra Pandey and Mañju translates it thus : “I pay respect to the best among speakers who, having attained Enlightenment, has taught relative origination (Pratītyasamutpāda) which is no-cessation, no-origination, no- annihilation, no-abiding, no-one-thing, no-many-thing, no-coming-in, no-going-out; being the termination of linguistic description (Prapañcopashamam), it is the good (Shivam) [Ram Candra Pandey & Mañju, 1999, pp.1]. Mervyn Sprung in collaboration with T.R.V. Murti and U.S. Vyas has translated it thus: “Neither perishing nor arising in time neither terminable nor eternal, neither self-identical nor variant in form, neither coming nor going, such is the true way of things (Pratītyasamutpāda), the serene coming to rest of the manifold of the named things (Prapañcopashamam), as taught by the perfectly Enlightened One whom I honor as the best of all teachers.” [Mervyn Sprung in collaboration with TRV Murti and U.S. Vyas, 1979, pp.32-33].
Now the Pāli Samyutta Nikāya (SN) 12:15 Nidāna Vaggo Kacchāngotta Sutta says: “Dvenissito Khvāyam, Kacchāna, Loko Ye Bhuññena – Atthitanche va Natthitancheva” This world, Kaccana, for the most part depends upon a duality upon the notion of existence and the notion of non-existence.
“Lokasamudayam Kho Kacchāna, Yathābhutam Sammappaññaya Passato Ya Loke Natthitā Sa Na Hoti” But for one who sees the origin of the world as it really is (Yathābhutam) with correct wisdom, there is no notion of non-existence in regard to the world (Anirodham).
“Loka Nirodham Kho, Kacchāna, Yathābhutam Sammappaññaya Passato Ya Loke Atthitā Sa Na Hoti” And for one who sees the cessation of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of existence in regard to the world (Anutpādam).
“Sabbam Atthi’ti Kho, Kacchāna, Ayameko Anto Sabbam Natthi’ti Ayam Dutiyo Anto. Ete te, Kacchāna, Ubho Ante Anupagamma Majjhena Tathagato Dhamman Deseti” All exists: Kacchāna, this is one extreme. All does not exist, this is another extreme. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma by the middle [Bhikkhu Bodhi (tr.), 2000, pp.544].
The Attakathā Sāratthapakāsini of Buddhaghosa says: “Atthitantisassatam, Natthitanti Ucchedam” The Atthianta is Shāswat and the Natthianta is Uccheda (translation: Bhikkhu Bodhi, Samyutta Nikaya).
Since the Tathāgata teaches the middle way without falling towards either of the two, what the Tathāgata teaches is Anirodham Anutpādam Anucchedam Aśāsvatam. This is what Nāgārjuna teaches. This same Sutta is also found in the Sarvāstivāda Samyuktāgama 301 (SA 301) (The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism: Choong Mun Keat). Ananda tells Channa exactly the same thing in SN 22.90 Khandasamyutta Channa Sutta. The same Sutta is found in SA 262 also.
In SA 300, the Buddha says, “To declare that the one who acts is the same as the one who experiences the result is to fall into the Shāsvat view. To declare that one acts and another experiences the result is to fall into the Uccheda view….I avoid these two extremes. I teach the dharma of the middle way…… This same point is found in SN 12.17 and 12.46 i.e. Nidānavagga Acela Kassapa Sutta and Aññatarabrāman Sutta. Again theShāstā himself says he avoids Shāsvatvāda and Ucchedavāda (Anucchedam Asāsvatam) “Ubho Ante Anupaggama Majjhena Tathāgato Dhammam Deseti”. As the Attakathā says that ‘Ubho Ante’ means “Sassatucchedasankhāto Ubho Ante”, ‘Anupagamma’ means “Pahāya Analliyitvā” (to drop or let go, not to grasp) and ‘Majjhena’ means “Majjhimāya Patipadāya” (Skt. Madhyamāpradtipadā) the Middle Way. Nāgārjuna calls his view Dvayāntamukta and Madhyamāpratipadā.
In the Nidānavagga, Avijjyāpacchaya Sutta (SN 12.35-36) the Shāstā says, “Tam Jivam Tam Sariranta va, Bhikkhu, Ditthiyā Sati Bramacariyavāso Na Hoti. Aññam Jivam Aññam Sariranti Va, Bhikkhu Ditthiyā Sati Bramacariyavāso Na Hoti…… Ubha Ante Anupagamma Majjhena Tathāgato Dhammam Deseti” – If there is the view ‘the soul and the body are the same (Ekartha), there is no living of the holy life, and if there is the view ‘the soul is one thing and the body is another’ (Anyārtha), there is no living of the holy life….. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma of the middle. This same Sutra is to be found also in the SA 297. Chandrabhāl Tripāñhi has reconstructed the Sutra into Sanskrit from the fragmentary Sanskrit text. It goes thus,
“Yaj Jivas Tacchariram Iti Dristau Satyām Bramhacaryavāso Na Bhavati Anyajjivo Anyacchariram Iti Bhikchuvo Dristau Satyām Bramhacaryavāso Na Bhavati Iti Etāva Ubhāva Antāva Anupagamyasti Madhyamāpratipat”
So, the Buddha Vacana itself says what the Shāstā teaches is free from the two Antas i.e. he teaches Anekārtha Anānārtham which is exactly what Nāgārjuna says.
Now the Samyuktāgama 335 (SA 335) & 273 (SA 273) both describe the ‘Shadayatanas’ as not coming from anywhere, not going anywhere. The French scholar Etienne Lamotte has reconstructed the Chinese Sutra into Sanskrit (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, v.36, pp. 313-323, 1973, University of London).
“Cakshur Bhiksava Utpādayamānam Nakutascid āgacchati / Nirudhyamānam Ca Nakvacit Samnicayam Gacchati….Evam Strotram Ghrānam Jihva Kāyo Mano Vācyam Anyatradharmasamketad iti.” Monks, when the eyes arise, there is no place from where it comes (Anāgamam); when it ceases, there is no place to which it goes (Anirgamam)….. The same teaching applies to the ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. They are exceptions to the conventional dharma.
The Sutra says that ‘conventional dharma’ means, “Yadutāsmin Satidambhavati, Asyotpādād Idam Utpadhyate (The meaning of conventional dharma is: because this exists that exists, because this arises that arises). Although the Pāli for the above is – “Ismamsmim Sati Idam Hoti, Imassupādā Idam Upajjhati”, there is no counterpart in the Pāli literature for SA 335. Here too we have Anāgamam, Anirgamam of Nāgārjuna in the Sarvāstivāda Srāvaka Pitaka itself. We can also easily interpret the SN 12.17 & 12.46 and SA 300 given above as Anāgamam, Anirgamam too, as ‘the person who acts’ is not ‘the one who experiences the result’. It is not ‘A’ itself that goes on to ‘B’ to experience the result (Anirgamam); nor is it that ‘B’ itself came from ‘A’ (Anāgamam)
Nāgārjuna’s main thesis was Śūnyatā or Nisvabhāvatā. His thesis was that Śūnyatā was the other side of the coin of Pratityasamutpāda. In SN 12, 20 and its Chinese counterpart SA 296 and SA 299, it is stated that Pratityasamutpāda is not something made by the Buddha himself or by others: whether or not a Buddha arises in the world, this is the mode of being of Dharma (P. Dhammaññhitatā / Skt. Dharmasthitatā), the certainty of Dharma (P. Dhamma-Niyāmatā / Skt. Dharma- Niyāmatā), the fact of causal connection (P. Idappaccayatā / Skt. Idampratyatā) or the nature of Dharma (Dharmadhātu). In other words, both the Pāli literature and the āgama-s agree that Pratityasamutpāda is a principle of nature of Dharma as it really is (Yathābhuta).
Now the SN 20.7 Nidānvagga Opammasanyutta, āõisutta and the Anguttara Nikāya 5th Nipāta Anāgata Bhaya Sutta says, “In the future when the Sutras (Suttāntas) taught by the Tathāgata which are profound (Gambhãr), supramundane (Lokottara), dealing with Śūnyatā (Śūnyatāprātisanyukta) are expounded, the Bhikkhus will not listen to them….” (Ye te Suttantā Tathāgatabhāsitā Gambhirā Gambhiratthā, Lokuttarā Śūññatāppatisañyuttā, Tesu BhaññamānesuNa Sussusissanti…..)
Since it need not be proven that the Shāstā teaches the teaching of the Pratityasamutpāda, the above verse (SN 20.7) makes it clear that that teaching of the Pratityasamutpāda is Śūññatāppatisañyuttā which is Gambhira, Lokottara and taught by the Tathāgata. So here too Nāgārjuna is one on one with the Tathāgata.
Thus we find that the Dvayāntas (two extremes) which Nāgārjuna has enumerated are all to be found as words of the Shāstā himself. The concept of ‘Dvayānta Mukta’ (free from the two extremes) are also found as the very words of the Shāstā, and Śūnyatā was what the Tathāgata taught. Nāgārjuna certainly did not create a philosophy of his own. All he did was bring out the deeper implications already inherent in the Shāstā’s words. The result was a more powerful hermeneutical tool to bring out all the aspects of the Shāstā’s teachings which Srāvaka hermeneutics failed to bring out.
Before ending, it is paramount to clarify that the word ‘Advaya’ as used by Mahāyāna in general and Nāgārjuna in specific is a synonym of ‘Dvyayānta Mukta’, whose meaning has already been clarified above; and is not a correlate of the Vedāntic ‘Advaita’ which means ‘Dvitiyam Nāsti’ i.e. there is only this One and there is no other or second – according to the Chāndogya Upanisad and also according to the commentaries of Shamkarācārya.
As both Hindu Tantra and Buddhist Tantra (also known as Vajrayana) are profound subjects and I am neither a Siddha nor a Pandit, I have great trepidation in writing about these topics. However, many writers have stated that both Tantras are basically the same, when in fact they are very different. Hindu Tantra is based on the Hindu Advaita which means view of one form or the other of Monism. Vajrayana is based on Advaya or non-dual. This Buddhist tenet comes from the expositions of Nagarjuna and his followers (known as Madhyamika), and the Asanga/Vasubahndu (Chittamatra) group. Hence, to extricate Vajrayana from the wrong views surrounding its meaning, I feel compelled to write.
The main point is not whether Hindu Tantra has influenced Buddhist Tantra or vice-versa. The cited influences have always depended on which school the writers belonged to. If the writer was a non-Tantric Hindu and felt uneasy with Hindu Tantra, he has written about Tantra entering Hinduism through Buddhism. If he was a Hindu Tantric, he expressed that Vedas contain Hindu Tantra and the Buddhists copied them. If he was a non-Tantric Buddhist, he has written that later day Buddhists copied Tantra from Hinduism. However, these are all hypotheses. No solid historical proof exists to verify these claims.
Coming back to our main topic, since all spiritual systems can be divided into Ground, Path, and Fruit (Bhumi, Marga, Phala), we shall attempt to show how Hindu Tantra and Buddhist Vajrayana are totally different from each other in these aspects.
But first, let us examine the meaning of word Tantra. The definition itself is different in the two systems.
The Hindu Tantra (as stated by Sir John Woodroffe and Dhana Shumsher) is etymologically split up into tananat and trayate iti tantra. Tananat means to expand or expansion. Trayate means to liberate or become free. Putting them together, the meaning comes out as to become free or liberate by expansion.
Expansion of what? It is the expansion of the limited consciousness into the infinite Brahman, Chit, Chidshana, Chit Shakti, Mahamaya, Parasamvit, Paramshiva, Parabindu and so on. In a very simplified form, a Jiva (being) is limited by the various constrictions (Kancukas) and the eight bonds (called Asta pasa). When the consciousness of the Jiva breaks through these Kancukas and Pasas by expansion, he becomes Shiva.
He who is bound by Pasa (bond) is Jiva. He who is free of the Pasas is Sadashiva. So this is the definition of Tantra within the Hindu network.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, the practice and teachings are not limited to Tantra alone. Vajrayana is also known as Upayayana, Guhyayana, and Mantrayana. Upayayana signifies a way of skillful means. Vajrayana has infinite methods to suit each individual’s temperaments, situations, conditions, and predilections in the attainment of Buddhist Enlightenment. It includes non-Tantric (technically called Sutra) and Tantric techniques also. So Vajrayana is not limited to the use of mantras and deities only, as is sometimes implied. Methods and techniques of Sutra meditation are also found in Vajrayana, as well as Vipassyana meditations of all four types of mindfulness as practiced in Pali Buddhism. But we also find Tantric Vipassyana within Vajrayana, which uses mantra and deity visualization for Samatha and Vipassyana practices.
Let us now examine the definition of Tantra as used in Buddhist Vajrayana context. Buddhism uses the etymological meanings of the word Tantra, which is continuum or continuity. Sanskrit word for Tantra, i.e. continuum, is Santaan. The Tibetan word for Tantra is rgyud, which also means continuum. The Guhyasamaja Tantra defines Tantra as: a continuity and this is threefold: Ground, Path and Fruit.
The Guhyasamaja Tantra also calls Tantra – Prabandha. Though both Hindus and Buddhists use the word Prabandha, here too the meaning is different.
Within Buddhism, Tantra is so multi-faceted that a single word or meaning like integration or continuum cannot fully explain its true significance. It requires multiple definitions.
Long Chen Rabjyam-pa (1308-1363), a great Nyingma Tibetan Master, in his Thegpai Chog Rinpoche Zo (Uttama Yana Ratna Kosha) has written a series of definitions of Tantra. In brief, it is:
The great Master Jigme Tenpai Nyima defines Tantra as:
In this way, Ground, Path, and Fruit are within the same continuum i.e. Tantra. The Base (Bhumi) is primordially pure. This however is not Brahma or Parasamvit of Hindu Tantra, described as something really existing. Nor is it beyond existing and non-existing like the Brahma of Sankara. It is free of such concepts as existing or non-existing (chatuskoti vinirmuktam). It is non-conceptual wisdom but does not have an inherent existence (niswabhava siddha).
The Bhumi is also spoken of in terms of the Two Truths (satya dwaya), as expounded by Nagarjuna. These are the Ultimate Truth and the Conventional/Relative Truth. These Buddhist Two Truths are not the same as the two truths of Sankara. Sankara Ultimate Truth is an ultimate existent (Paramartha Satta), whereas in all forms of Buddhism, there is no such ultimate existent. The Universe is baseless, groundless. This groundlessness is a more refined form of Anatma, as it is inclusive of Anatma.
The path is the skillful blending of means and wisdom (Upaya and Pragya) to actualize the Bhumi, which is groundless wisdom. This actualization of the groundless wisdom, also called Vidya (Rigpa in Tibetan), Sahaja Gyana (Lhan Chigkye Yeshe in Tibetan), Prakrita Agrah Gyan (ma cho thamal gyi shepa in Tibetan) etc., is the fruit (Phala).
As can be seen, the whole purpose of Hindu Tantra is to realize the basic ground of Samsara. This is known by various names like Brahma, Parasamvit, Mahamaya. They are all extensions of a belief in an Atma. Buddhist Tantra on the other hand is geared towards the realization that Samsara and Nirvana both are groundless or baseless. This is an extension of the belief of Anatma, also known variously like Sunyata, Pragyaparamita, Nairatmya Devi. Thus, the definition and the usage of Tantra in the Hindu and Buddhist systems are very different.
Difference in Base, Path and Fruit – Part I
We shall attempt to see how the two systems are very different from each other in their base, path and fruit.
The base of Hindu Tantra practice is of Non-dualism (advaitism) in one form or the other. The Kashmir Shaiva Tantra calls itself very clearly Shaivadvaita and the Shakta tantra calls itself Shaktadvaita. Needless to say, Hindu Tantra is not all unanimous in vouching for Advaitavada. So there are forms of Hindu tantra which border on the Visistadvaita (special non-dualistic) of Ramanuja and Dvaitavada (dualistic) of Madavacharya. But for lack of space we shall not deal with Visistadvaita and Dvaitavada schools of Hindu Tantra as no effort is required to show that such forms of Hindu Tantra are totally different from Buddhist Tantra. The base (Bhumi) of the Hindu Tantra can be summed up in the words Shiva Shaktyatmakam Visvam i.e., Shiva and Shakti are the essence of the universe. In other words Shiva Shakti is/are the base, the ground of the base. The Universe is the lila (play) of the two. The universe is based or grounded in Shiva Shakti, comes out of Shiva – Shakti as its lila (play) and remains grounded in Shiva-Shakti in the end. Anyone who knows the Advaita Vedanta can see that if Shiva-Shakti are replaced by Braman – Maya, this view is not very different from the Advaita Vedanta of Sankaracharya. Of course, since there are many forms of Hindu Tantra, like Shakta Tantra, Shaiva Tantra and even within Shaiva Tantra there is Chumma Sampradaya, Pratyabhigya Sampradaya, Kuala Sampradaya, the Trika Sampradaya and within the Shakta Tantra there are the Dachinachara and the Vamachara and the Siddhantachara and Kualachara, there are slight variations to the Base as given above. But basically and broadly speaking they would all agree to Shiva-Shaktyatmakam Viswam. So it becomes necessary to understand what Shiva and Shakti means.
Shiva is the static aspect of the Universe and Shakti is the dynamic in the microcosmic sense. In the microcosmic sense Shiva is the basic awareness aspect of Mind (as per Shiva Sutra) which in being only aware and not able to do anything else but be a witness (Sakchi of the Upanishadas) is static. Shakti are the moving thought, emotions etc. of the Mind which is ever in movement (Spandana of the Spandana Karika).
The base of man is the interplay (lila) of these two (Kama Kala Vilasa i.e., Erotic play of Kama-Shiva and Kala-Shakti).
Likewise, the base of the cosmos is the same Shiva-Shakti evoked in a macrocosmic scale. In the words of the Pratyabhiga Sastra the base of the ultimate reality is Prakash – Vimarsamaya. Prakash is the eternal light without which nothing can appear and it is Shiva. Vimarsa is the Shakti, the Swabhava (characteristic) of Shiva. It is so to speak, the mirror in which Shiva realizes his own grandeur, power, beauty. Vimarsa is the Kartitva Shakti of Shiva. The ultimate reality is cit or Parasamvit, the non-relational consciousness which is Kama Kala, Shiva Shakti, Prakash-Vimarsa.
Whether the emphasis is given to Shiva or Shakti depends on whether one is seeing the ultimate reality from the eyes of the Shiava Tantra or Shakta Tantra. So this is the ultimate reality ( the Paramartha Satta) of the Hindu Tantra which substitutes only in the name the Vedantic Braman and is two rather than only one (Brahma) as in the Vedanta. However, like the Braman, these two Shiva and Shakti are actually one. Therefore they truly exist; otherwise they could not be the Paramartha Satta, the ultimate reality.
The Buddhist Base is totally different. The Base (ground) of the Buddhist Tantra can be described in various ways. The Sutra Mahamudra and the Mahasandhi traditions define the Ground as Primordially Pure which is just a technical way of saying Primordially Empty which again in Theravada language would boil down to Anatma (no-soul). Of course Primordially Pure goes deeper than just Anatma, but again this is another subject. In the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, it is said Sal tong zung juk rgyu yee chen key dang or in Sanskrit Prabhaswar sunyata yuganadha cha sahaja hetu which means Clarity, emptiness and their two in one are the spontaneously born Cause-Base. Another term used is Groundless Awareness, which means Empty Awareness. What all the above words (and many others) mean is that the ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate reality/existent (Paramartha Satta) that one can grasp or hold on to as something. It is exactly this non-graspability because there is nothing to grasp because everything is ultimately empty of real existence or that there is no Atman (truly existing self) whether in the personal (Pudgal Nairatmya) or in the phenomenal (Dharma Nairatmya) world that is the ground of Buddhist Tantra.
So Hindu Tantra has a Paramartha Satta by the name of Parasamvit, which is the union of Shiva and Shakti as its base, which is to be actualized, as its Phala (fruit). But Buddhist Tantra has Anatma or emptiness of real existence of all Dharma and Pudgal. Including the mind which is technically in Tantric terminology called groundless or unity of Emptiness and Clarity, Emptiness and Appearance, emptiness and Bliss or Primodially Pure as its base to be actualized as its fruit. In other words, Buddhist Tantra is based on the non-existence of any Paramartha Satta and is geared towards the realization/actualization of this existential fact, whereas Hindu Tantra is based on Paramartha Satta and its actualization.
It is obvious that the very ground or base (Bhumi) on which these two systems of Tantra are based are diametrically opposed.
One on the realisation by a Wisdom Consciousness of the non-findability of any sort of Paramartha Satta (Ultimate Reality) anywhere and the other on the actualization or realization of some Paramartha Satta (an ultimate reality that truly exists). Needless to say this is the basic difference between Buddhism and Hinduism as a whole.
Difference in Base, Path and Fruit – Part II
Since Vajrayana and Hindu Tantricism both use mantra and deities in their practices, many people confuse this fact into thinking that their practices are basically the same. This is, however, based only on the surface understanding of Hindu Tantricism and Buddhist Vajrayana.
The very base, i.e., the foundation on which Hindu Tantric practices is based, is to realise the Ultimate Real / Existent (Paramartha Satta). The foundation of the Buddhist Tantra, whereas, is to realise no Paramartha Satta. Anybody can see that to realise these two diametrically opposed bases would require an almost equally diametrically opposed path.
Just because both happen to use mantras and deities, it is naive to state that their practices are the same or even similar. To Buddhism, all other practices (meditation, mantra-visualization), no matter what name you give them, are perform to actualize some â€˜thingâ€™, be that for some material gain or for some subtle form like the Braman/Atma of Vedanta, or the Shiva-Shakti of Shaiva, and Shakta Tantra. They are only the extended versions of materialism. All of them are geared towards the achievement of one thing or the other, be it gross or subtle.
The strategy to free oneself from this sorrowful world by creating/fabricating (Parikalpit) on Absolute/Really Existing/Eternal Unchanging is merely a subtle version of the strategy of escaping from the problems and boredom of life with the help of money or other such things. All of these are escapist strategies and are thus labelled materialistic solutions. In Buddhism, spiritual materialism (Adhyatmic Bhautikavada) isthe search for the Eternal Unchanging Atman/ Shiva Shakti, and escaping to them from the sorrows of life.
The only true freedom is facing the actual situation of the world as it is (Tathata),without creating escapist dreams or fabricating dream realities unlike the world, like believing in unchanging, really existing thing.
The whole of the Buddhist path is geared towards teaching or re-learning to face the actual reality (Yathabhuta) and not to see the world according to a conditioned vision, whether they are ordinary human conditioning or conditionings learned through religions, for example – an Eternal Atman of the Upanishadas. According to Buddhism, the whole Hindu Tantricism is geared towards the realisation of a fabricated (albeit refined) dream like Atman.
Here, it is important to notice that it is possible that Hindu Tantricism, which is based entirely in search of an Ultimate Reality separate from this Samsara, can have the same practices as Buddhism. Hindu Tantric practices are based on the belief that the ten Mahavidyas (Ten great wisdom deities) really exist and by continuousJapa of their Mantra, one will slowly get their grace through which one will slowly identify with them, become the Mahavidyas, and be liberated. The progress of the practice starts from Dasoham (I am slave), where the practitioner believes in the deity as his/her Master or Lord. With continuous Japa of the deity (as the saying goes, â€˜ japad siddhi, japad siddhi, japad siddhi nasamasaya â€™ meaning, siddhi is attained through Japa …. no doubt ) one slowly merges into the deity (like Kali, Tara or Tripurasundari ) and becomes one with the deity. At this stage, it is called Soham ( That I am i.e., I am Shiva/Kali etc.)
Then, with more Japa, or more accurately, more Japa of the Mantras in series called Karma Dikcha, he/she becomes completely dissolved into Kali/Tripurasundari so that there is no â€˜Iâ€™ and only the deity is left. This stage is called Naham (no me), and this is the Acme of Hindu Tantra where the personality has completely dissolved into one of the ten (dasa Mahavidya) and what is left is the ultimate reality called by whatever name – Kali, Dhumavati, so on.
In Mahanirvana Tantra, it’s written: Karma dikcha yuttor devi, kramat sambhur bhver’ (As the person becomes endowed with Krama Dikcha – serial mantra initiation, gradually he becomes Shiva).
The actual modus operandi begins when the disciple first receives the initiation of one of the Mahavidya from a Guru. He learns the Mantra and Dhyana (visualization). He then does Japa Dhyana of the deity, i.e., he visualizes the deity in front of him and repeats the Nyasa and Mantra. Nyasa is placing the deities in different parts of the body and varies with different Kramas. So one imagines various deities (who are part of the Krama of the Mula Devata, main deity) in different joints of the body with one’s fingers and repeats the Mantra. Exactly how it is done differs with the various Kramas. The rest depends on doing more and more Japa (as said above) and completely getting oneself absorbed into the visualized deity until their unity. Finally, only the deity is left.
In Buddhist language, this is more and more Samatha (absorption) until identification and loss of self occurs.
It has to be mentioned that all forms of Hindu Tantra are not unanimous in their basic concepts, unlike all forms of Buddhist Tantra (who are all unanimous in their basic concepts).
1. Some forms of Hindu Tantra ( Kashmir Shaivism) believe that Shiva is in one’s own mind, but the majority believe that deities exist independently and the personality which is unreal dissolves into the Real Deity. All forms of Buddhist Tantra believe the essence of all deities is one’s own mind.
2. Whereas visualization and Mantras in Hindu Tantra are limited to the ten Manavidyas as the highest forms of deities, but in Buddhist Tantras these are relegated to the positions o only protectors of the Dharma (Dharamapalas) who can only clear obscurations in a practitioner’s practice but not really give Enlightenment.
But besides these Dharamapalas like Mahakala or Mahakali, Buddhist Tantras also have visualizations and Mantras of Gurus, Bodhisattvas like Manjushree, Avalokiteswor, Vajrapani and Ista Devas. These, it is made clear especially the Ista Devas (called Yidam in Tibetan ) are your own Mind and not something separate. And it is only the proper use i.e. Samatha – Vipassyana of Mind Deities (the word Yidam in Tibetan means Mind Bond) that can liberate. Simply repeating Mantras and visualizing is not only said not to liberate automatically, but can also lead to more subtle forms of Spiritual Materialism according to Buddhist Tantra.
Difference in Base, Path and Fruit – Part III
Hindu and Buddhist Tantras are not only diametrically opposed to each other in meaning given to the word Tantra, but they are also radically different in their base or ground. The concept of eternally existing ground (Paramartha Satta) is the basis of Hindu Tantra, while Buddhist Tantra is based on the groundlessness of the Samsara, especially the mind, which is the basis of Samsara.
In the previous article, we dealt with the path of Hindu Tantra, which is basically to actualize the Paramartha Satta (by whatever name it is called as per the sub-schools). We also saw how Hindu Tantra is based in the Japa of Mantra, in what is technically called Krama Dikcha (serial initiation). The practitioner slowly climbs up from Dasoham through Soham. Naham is the ultimate state where there is no self but only the ultimate reality. This reality is the God (by whatever name one gives it). It is called Dibyachara (the divine practice/conduct). Hindu Tantra is fully theistic (believes and is based on the existence of a God who is the Ultimate Reality).
Now, we shall compare this with the Buddhist Path. First of all, Buddhist path is radically different in practice and theory from what I have written about Hindu Tantra. Even the classification of Dasoham, Soham, Naham does not apply at all to Buddhist Tantra. This classification is fully theistic (and akin to Jalaluddin Rumis Hu al Haque, An al Haque, Haque), whereas Buddhism as a whole and Buddhist Tantra especially, is non-theistic. I beg for you to notice the use of the word non-theistic rather than atheistic as that word is used for materialistic systems. Buddhism has always claimed itself to be the true spiritual system. Throughout the centuries, it has refuted Hinduism and Jainism (which would automatically include all religious systems) view as being spiritual materialism.
Buddhism does not have a God to cling to or grasp as a source of Ultimate Happiness. It also does not give any conceptual reality, i.e., some eternal Braman (eternal, unchanging existence – Saswat aparinami sat), or the concept of total nothingness (Ucchedvada) after death to hold or grasp as the Ultimate Reality. All these are considered different forms of materialism where one reaches out to or pushes for something in hope or fear of achieving something. To Buddhism, the difference between pure materialism and these forms of spiritual materialism is the difference between an iron chain and a golden chain. Both are in effect chains which bind one to conditioned existence.
Buddhism does not give any false hopes or dreams as the Ultimate El Dorado. Buddhism teaches each man to see through his dreams and, in effect, shatters all conceptual dreams so that the man can face reality naked, or, as it is (Tathata, Yathabuta). Buddhist Tantra is geared to somersault the man, so that he can totally re-orient himself and land firmly on his feet, on the solid ground.
The only way to achieve this is to make each person re-learn to face the reality as it is, without adding or subtracting his conceptual dreams, imageries, images to it. Man thinks his dreams are wonderful, but when a pin is pricked into the bubble of his dream, he realizes that the actual world is grander and more marvellous than his wildest dreams. This is the importance of the poem by a famous Zen Master of China.
This poem encapsulates what Vajrayana means when it says Samsara and Nirvana are not different (Khor de yer med in Tibetan; Samsara Nirvana Abhinnata in Sanskrit).
How does Vajrayana do it? There are infinite methods that Vajarayana uses to achieve the above non-achievement. But perhaps, we must first make clear, about Vajrayana especially and the Buddhism as a whole, that the only true achievement is non-achievement. The only true meditation is non-meditation, the only true attainment is non-attainment. This is poles apart from the attainment of Braman.
Now, coming back to the path used by Vajrayana, as we have already said Vajrayana uses infinite methods to achieve this. The eight great practice lineages, which still exist in Tibetan Buddhism and to some extent in Newar Buddhism also are: Lam Dre (Sanskrit: Marga Phalam), Chöd (Sanskrit: Chhedan ), Shi Je (Sanskrit:Shantikarana), Na ro’i Chos Drug (Sanskrit: Narapada Shad Dharma, i.e., The Six Dharmas of Naropa), Nigu Chos Drug (The Six Dharmas of Niguma), Dzog Chen (The Great Perfection Yoga , Sanskrit: Mahasandhi), Chyag Chen (Sanskrit: Mahamudra), Uma Chenpo (Sanskrit: Mahamadhyamika).
Needless to say, they are mostly various forms of Vipassyana of the Chittanusmriti categories. But the Six Yogas of Naropa and Niguma also use Vedananusmriti. It is not possible to go into all the details of these practices, but we shall take Deity Yoga (Deva Yoga) as an example of how Vajrayana does Samatha and Vipassyana through the use of deities and mantras to arrive at the Phala, i.e., the actualization of the ground, which as we have said is groundlessness.
First of all, all deities used in Deity Yoga are one’s own mind and not something different, and are, therefore, by nature luminous and empty. The practitioner takes one of the deities from the Anuttara Tantra (there are six or four Tantra categories in Buddhism according to the Old and the New schools respectively). The Anuttara Tantra means in Sanskrit, the Unexcelled Tantra, i.e., there is non-higher than this category of Tantra. The practitioner has to be initiated into it by a master who must belong to an unbroken pure lineage. Incidentally, there are four major schools of Vajrayana within Tibetan Buddhism. Their practices contain Eight Major practice lineages, which have come from the great Indian University Monasteries like Nalanda and Vikramashila. Within them, the lineages continue unbroken and in its pure form (as was practiced in these Indian Universities) till the master living today. These schools are called the Nyingmapas, the Sakyapas, the Kargyupas, and the newest school among them, the Gelugpas.
Back to the main topic, before we can understand how these deities of the Anuttara Tantra (or for that matter any other types of Tantra) are used, it is necessary to understand four things.
What are deities in Vajrayana, their types, and how they are used How Vajrayana in all its practice methods embraces what is called The Way of Transformation, i.e., Parinama Marga How all of Vajrayana practices Samatha – Vipassyana How the experiential aspect of Tantric practices is integrated in two ways called Rang Tong (Sanskrit: Svabhava Sunya) and Shen Tong (Sanskrit: Parabhava Sunya). The subject of Rang Tong and Shen Tong is a big subject and needs to be dealt with separately.
Difference in Base, Path and Fruit – Part IV
Among the Newars, the Hindu Newars priests are called Deobhaju, whereas Gubhaju are the Buddhist Vajrayana priests. It shows clear difference in emphasis. To Hinduism, Devas are the supreme, and represent various forms of Gods, that is why the priest is called Deobhaju. But in Buddhism, Devas are manifestations of the mind, and the mind and the Guru are one. So the Guru is the supreme. He creates the Devas and introduces them to the disciple. He and one’s own mind are not really two.
Furthermore, there is no God (Ishwar) in Buddhism, so the question of the Devi/Devatas in Vajrayana as manifestations of God (Ishwar) is completely out of the question. That is why the Vajrayana priests are called Gu(ru)bhaju. It is also not surprising that many western scholars called Tibetan Vajrayana as Lamaism. Although this is inaccurate and wrong, since there actually is no such thing as Lamaism, it is however true that the word Lama means Guru and the Lama is Supreme in Tibetan Vajrayana.
Lama is the Tibetan word for the Sanskrit Guru. The Buddha himself in all forms of Buddhism is the Supreme Guru and not by any means some sort of replacement for God of the other religions. So the Devas are manifestations of the mind itself, and given archetypal forms for quick purification and Samatha (called Shiney in Tibetan, i.e., to make the mind quite). They are never really independent of the nature of mind that in Tantric terminology is called Empty and Luminous. So all the deities, their consorts, and sons are only metaphoric ways of expressing manifestations. It is totally stupid to say, as some so called Vajracharyas influenced by Theravad have written, that Vajrayana has created many Buddhas out of the one Sakyamuni Buddha and given them wives and children. Vajrayana has not created replacements of the historical Sakyamuni. What Vajrayana has done is discovered two things: easier ways to purification, and perform Samatha through visualization of metaphoric forms of the Enlightened mind of Sakyamuni.
As I have already mentioned, Chittanusmriti, i.e., mindfulness of the mind, is the form of Vipassyana most common in Vajrayana. Visualizing of various Mandala, like forms and spontaneous appearance of Devas in meditation, is found not only in Vajrayana but also in the Theravad Buddhist traditions existing in the mountains of Laos. So these Theravadin â€œVajracharyasâ€ who have tried to make fun of the Mandalas of Vajrayana are also criticising their own Theravad traditions as practiced in the mountains of Laos. I believe this is breaking the Theravada tradition (creating disturbance in the Sangha).
Hindu Tantra certainly does not use the Devi / Devata in this way except in the Kashmiri form of Shaiva Tantra as mentioned before.
As mentioned earlier, the ten Mahavidyas are the ultimate deities in Hindu Tantra, and they represent God or the Ultimate Reality, depending upon which Amnya(way) of Hindu Tantra one follows. However, as already mentioned, in Buddhist Tantra none of the visualized represent either God or the Ultimate Reality (Paramartha Satta), and this has already been clearly explained in the earlier articles.
As already said, what they request is the Mind or the Guru (which are one). There are various classes of deities (â€˜visualizable formsâ€™ would be more accurate in Buddhist Tantra) whose concept of Devis/Devas is so drastically different from that of Hindu Tantra that they cannot in any way be called even remotely similar. The various classes of forms used for meditation in Vajrayana are :
2. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
3. Istadeva (Yidam)
4. Dakinis and Dharmapalas
Who represent the entire lineages from Sakyamuni till now. Since every teacher that comes from an unbroken lineage represents every other in the lineage, their Enlightenment being the same, it is not necessary that only Sakyamuni represents the Guru. So in the Vajrayana tradition not only Sakyamuni but also Padmasambhava, Naropa, Milarepa, Virupada, Karmapa and a host of others who represented the Enlightenment of Sakyamuni are also used as Guru-Visualization. this is totally non-existent in Hindu Tantra which has only Guru Puja which is done to ones own Guru on certain days like Guru Purnima; but no meditations which uses the Guru for Samatha-Vipassyana is found. Furthermore the concept of a pure lineage, unbroken so that any one living Guruâ€™s mind is the same as any other before him (which is a technical way of saying that they have all experienced the same true Enlightenment and not different states as per each Guru and certainly does not mean they have lost their individuality or identity) – such a concept does not exist in any form to Hinduism except those influenced by Buddhism. What I and talking about is the transmission from generation to generation of exactly the same Enlightenment state without distortive changes, not transmission of concepts or ideas from generation to generation which is found in Hinduism also. This concept of the same (pure) Enlightenment state â€œbeing transmittedâ€ generation to generation without any breakage (which would otherwise open up distortion) is very important for all forms of Buddhism which emphasizes meditation and the experience of Enlightenment, and especially for Vajrayana which is one of the most practically oriented forms of Buddhism.
2. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
Although Buddhas and Bodhisattvas technically came under the heading Guru, here, we are talking about forms like the five Tathagatas (called by the misnomer pancha Dhyani Buddhas) and Manjushree. Avalokteshvara, Vajrapani etc. Of course all of these represent the Guru too. The panch Tathagata represent the essence (which is primordially pure) of the five passions in us enumerated as Akshobhya for krodha/aggression, Vairochan for moha/stupidity, narrow-mindedness, Amitabha for Kama/passion/desire. Amogha Siddhi for paissunya/jeolousy. Ratnasambhava for manas/pride. If these passion (kleshas) were not primordially pure (which can be seen as either empty of real existence (Niswabhavasiddha) for begining less time or as non-dual widsom (advaya jnana) from beginingless time, one could never be free of them as they (the kleshas) would really exist eternally. This primordial purity of each passion is represented by the five Tathagatas. The pancha Tathagata also represent the five skandhas in their true nature (not as how they appear to the deluded mind) which again can be called as non-dual wisdom or emptiness (which, when understood, property are not contradictory but this is a subject by itself). It is also important to mark the use of the word advaya as opposed to the Hindu advaita which are contradictory concepts and not the same at all – as many Hindu and Buddhist scholars have believed. So coming back to the pancha Tathagatas, anybody can now see that they are not subdivisions of Sakyamuni nor can you speak of them as personalities who have wives and children. The consorts and sons are also equally metaphorical automatically. Furthermore these kinds of devas (Bodhisattvas and Buddhas) are used again like the Gurus for specialized forms of Samatha- Vipassyana: and needless to say such methods are not found in Hindu.
3. Istadeva (Yidam in Tibetan)
The word Yi-dam translates something like Mana bandha in Sanskrit. All these dieties are Mind-Bonds/Mind Bound. So evidently the use of the word Istadeva is not the same as in Hinduism. Although in both Hinduism and Buddhism you can speak of Istadeva as personal deity, in Hinduism he is someone who is the god and master above one and the one into which one dissolves ones little self whereas in Buddhism the Ista being a personal deity symbolizes ones own mind, the true nature (svarupa nof the deity) is the same as the nature of mind on which one does vipassyana of the chittanusmriti group. So Istadevas are merely ones own mind given visualizable forms and vipassyana on them is therefore Chittanusmriti. Using what is called the Utpattikrama and Sampannakrama (often translated into English as generation and completion stage), creative stage which is the tantrik way of doing Samatha and uses the Buddhist meditative principle called devanusmriti (called Devanussati in the Pali canons, and fulfillment/completion/perfection stage which is doing vipassyana on the true nature of mind. This vipassyana on the true nature of mind is the ultimate meditation in all forms of Buddhism-Theravada, Mahayana Sutra or Mahayana tantra traditions.
Hinduism has no concept of practice similar to the Yidam practice of Vajrayana. All Yidams (Istadevas) belong to the five families (pancha Kula) i.e. the family of the five Tathagatas since the five Tathagatas are linked with the five predominant defilements practitioners are also divided into these five kulas.
So each person chooses an Istadeva out of the Kula he belongs to or is chosen by his guru. The deity, his emotional tone, the practice related to him are suitable emotionally for that particular practitioner who belong to the same family. That is why the Istadeva practice is very swift in ripening in the mind to make it ready to recognize or realize or actualize the nature of mind fully. Whereas in Hindu Practice, it is the deity that gives liberation through his grace, in Vajrayana the Yidam (Istadeva) is the major support or aid for the spontaneous arising of the actualization of the nature of mind and it is only the actualization of the nature of mind that gives liberation. The various deities used for Yidam practice depends on which of the four tantras (or six tantras as per the old schools) is used to practice Samatha-Vipassayana. The six/four tantras are a topic by themselves; but the fourth tantra called the Anuttara tantra (unexcelled tantra) is usually used as the quick way to enlightenment. Some of the Istadevas of the Anuttara tantra are Kalachakra, Mahamaya. Guhyasamaja. Chakrasamvara, Hevajra and so on, none of which are found in any Hindu tantric scriptures.
4. Dakinis and Dharamapalas
The fourth group of devas used are dakinis, dharmapalas and lokapalas. These deities correspond to the devas found in Hindu tantra, Mahakala/Kali etc: but they are used as protectors and clearer of obscurations on the path of enlightenment. So the 10 Mahavidyas (with the exception of Tara) are not givers of enlightenments, but rather helpers on the way who clear away obstacles to practice and enlightenment in Vajrayana. So even with the group of devas (which seem to converge and to a greater degree to Hindu dieties) their use is totally different. They are not even similar. But even Sri Lanka Theravada uses Indra as a Dharmapala (protector of dharma), so such use of Hindu deity is found in all Buddhist tradition.
Vedànta is based on the Upanishads, some of which are as old as the Buddha and others are four to eight hundred years older than the Buddha himself. Shankaràcàrya (also known as Sankara), who was from the 8th century, is the most famous commentator of the Upanishads, and today, the majority of the Hindus follow his commentaries. In the Bodhàyana commentary, according to him, the hermeneutic of the Upanishads existed even before his time.
Although he was from around the 8th century, he became popular among the Hindus only after the 10th century when one of his lineage holders, Vàcaspati Misra, wrote a sub-commentary (Tib. ’grel-wa) on his commentary. Today, Shankaràcàrya is considered among the greatest Hindu philosophers and even educated Hindus in India subscribe to him. However, since he became well known only after the 10th century, no Buddhist scholars like Sàntideva, Śāntarakṣita, Ratnàkarasànti, Jñànagarbha, etc., seem to mention him or refute him in their work.
Śāntarakṣita has however refuted the Upanishadic non-dualism in the Tattva Sangraha’ chapter 7, section 5. In his refutation of the Upanishadic view he has referred to the followers of the Upanishad as those who postulate that the âtmà is eternal, one and of the nature of knowledge/conciousness/ Jñànasvaråpa. Kamalaśīla has also commented on this view describing it as,
“That is the âtmà is of the nature of one eternal consciousness / knowledge.”
Indeed both Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla are refuting almost the same view that Sankaràcàrya postulates although neither Śāntarakṣita nor Kamalaśīla mentions his name or his work. It is important to understand that according to Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla, the Upanishadic view (which is older than the Buddha and the most common and popular view held by Hindus today) is that there is a non-dual consciousness or a non-dual knowledge which is eternal and this is the âtmà or this is called the âtmà. It is important to understand that Śāntarakṣita himself has refuted 6 different interpretations of the âtmà as accepted in Hinduism in his time. This non-dual cognition / consciousness / knowledge which is eternal (nitya / rtag-pa) is one of the âtmà-s refuted by Śāntarakṣita in his ‘Tattva Sangraha’. This âtmà is not dualistic; therefore it is not Vijñàna (Tib. rnam-shes). It is non-dual and it is eternal. It is called Gyana (ye-shes) by Śāntarakṣita, who used the very word the Upanishad and Sankaràcàrya uses.
This is how Śāntarakṣita refuted this view:
“The error in the view of these philosophies is a slight one – due only to the assertion of eternality of cognition.”
There is, however, a slight difference between this Upanishadic view refuted here by Śāntarakṣita and Sankaràcàrya’s Upanishadic view. Sankara’s view is called Maya-Vivartavàd – i.e. the illusionist. The view refuted by Śāntarakṣita is called parinàmavàda – modificationist. The difference is that this view considers the 5 elements, etc., and the world as illusory modifications of this non-dual eternal cognition / consciousness, while Sankara interprets the world and its 5 elements, etc., as illusory and therefore non-existent and this non-dual eternal cognition as separate from the illusion. What Khunkhyen Dolpopa states in his ‘bka sdus bshi pa’ of the Shentong Ultimate Reality is exactly this âtmà view.
I have not seen, to date, any Shentong Tibetan Master refute this âtmà view. Is it because the only difference between the view of Sankara and the Shentong is the use of the word ‘âtmà’, which Buddhists do not like to use?
Although Sankaràcàrya refuted the Vaibhàbika, Sautàntrika, Cittamàtra, and Màdhyamika, he never mentioned anything that is even similar to the Shentong view. If a view similar to Shentong had existed in India and if that had been the view of Asanga, he would have certainly mentioned it. Hindus from ancient time until today have always wanted to prove that Buddhism is just a branch of Hinduism and what the Buddha taught is just another way of teaching the same teachings as already found in Hinduism. If anything similar to the Shentong view had already existed in India by 600 AD, Sankaràcàrya would have certainly used it to prove that Buddhism is just a type of Hinduism. Since Asanga was at least 200 years older than Sankaràcàrya, why has Sankaràcàrya mentioned Vaibhàbika, Sautàntrika, Cittamàtra, and Màdhyamika only and refuted them only?
Sankaràcàrya even mentions the exact opposite view of what Śāntarakṣita mentioned above and refutes him. In exact opposite of what Śāntarakṣita says, “The error in the view of these philosophers is a slight one – due only to the assertion of eternality of cognition.” Sankara says about the Chittamatra “The error in the view of these philosophies is only slight – they believe the non-dual mind as changing moment to moment; we believe it as unchanging eternal.”
If the meaning of the Uttara Tantra is what the Shentongpas make it out to be, it would have existed in the Indian sources too. Sankara would certainly have written that the view of these Buddhist philosophers as what the Vedas had always taught and that Buddhism is just a branch of Hinduism. Even today, if any Indian Hindu philosopher comes across the Shentong view, they would be most happy to embrace it as the correct view and take it as a solid proof that Buddhism is just a branch of Hinduism and the Buddha did not teach anything new. This of course blatantly contradicts what the Buddha himself said in Mahayana, Theravada, and Sarvàstivàda Sutras and Sàstra-s. The Buddha said that he taught something that had been lost for a long time. But the Vedas and the Vedic Bràhmins of the Buddha’s time, whom the Buddha met, had been and are still teaching the existence of true âtmà, and ‘eternal non-dual cognition’ as the Ultimate Reality.
If we glance through the Jain literature, we again find that no Jain scholar mentions that the Buddhists believed in an eternal / permanent non-dual cognition as the ultimate reality. At least, those Jain scholars after Asanga should have done so, if that was how the Uttara Tantra had been interpreted in India.
If we analyze both the Hindu Sankaràcàrya’s and the Buddhist Śāntarakṣita’s, we find that both agree that the view of the Hindu Advaita Vedànta is that the ultimate reality (âtmà) is an unchanging, eternal non-dual cognition. The Buddhists as a whole do not agree that the ultimate reality is an eternal, unchanging non-dual cognition, but rather a changing eternal non-dual cognition. These statements found in the 6th century Hindu text and the refutations of the Hindu view found in the 9th century Buddhist texts (both of which were after the Uttara Tantra and Asanga), show that the Hindu view of the ultimate reality as an unchanging, eternal non-dual cognition is non-existent amongst the Buddhists of India. Not only was such a view non-existent amongst Buddhists of India, but it was also refuted as a wrong view by scholars like Śāntarakṣita. He even writes that if and when Buddhists use the word ‘eternal’ (nitya), it means ‘parinàmi nitya’, i.e., changing eternal, and not the Hindu kind of eternal, which always remains unchanged.
The Hindu âtmà is not only non-dual cognition but is also unchanging, eternal, and truly existing. Sankaràcàrya defines existence (sat) in his Tattvaboda as that which remains the same in all the 3 times (past, present, future). In the commentary by Gaudapàda (who was Sankaràcàrya’s Guru’s Guru), of the Màndukya Upanishada, in verse number 96, he calls the eternally really existing non-dual cognition is non-relational, i.e., free from reference points. In the 37th verse of the same work it is said that this non-dual, eternal, really existing cognition is free from all sense organs, i.e., free from the dualistic mind (namshe). So the Upanishadic view is that the really existing, eternal / permanent, non-dual, non-referential cognition is the âtmà, and this is not dualistic mind. This Upanishadic view existed even before the Buddha, and this was what Sankaràcàrya expounded very clearly and most powerfully around the 6th century. This view, similar to this Sankara view, was refuted by Śāntarakṣita as a wrong view.
The Vedàntic Sutras and Sàstra-s are full of statements like:
If you have understood what I have written above, it is easy to understand why when Ringo Tulku presented the Shentong view in an Indian symposium, all the Hindu Indian scholars happily agreed with it and told him happily, “This is the same view as our Vedanta!.” Also, a few centuries ago, Jonangpa Kunga Drol Chog, a throne holder of the Jonangpa, had visited Muktinàth, where he presented his views to the Hindu yogis present there. These Hindu yogis also called him a genuine Hindu yogi after they heard his Shentong view.
Now I have some questions that I would really like to ask the Shentong Buddhists:
Can any Shentongpa please show me how the Shentong view is different from the Hindu Upanishadic view as explicated above?
If you have any comments or queries please contact to the following address:
The Vidyadhara Acharya Mahayogi Sridhar Rana Rinpoche
Byoma Kusuma Buddha Dharma Sangha
Bishalnagar, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel no: 4416352
In this critique, I would like to make general Nepalese scholars aware that Austine Waddell’s “Buddhism & Lamaism of Tibet” cannot and should not be taken as an authoritative book on “Tibetan Buddhism”, the common appellation for what I call the Vajrayana of Tibet. Waddell’s book contains literally thousands of mistakes, wrong information, misinterpretations, and perhaps even purposeful distortions. We cannot consider the entire book in this critique but I shall take the preface and the first 75 pages, which will give a sufficient idea of the whole. The edition used for pagination in this critique is Gaurava Publishing’s 1993 edition.
Before I take them up page by page, a little background seems necessary. First of all, Waddell wrote the book over a hundred years ago when general information about Buddhism was minimal, not to mention that of Buddhism of Tibet. Written in 1894, “Buddhism & Lamaism of Tibet” was first published in 1899 as “The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism”. At that time, the Anglo-German school of Buddhist studies was the dominant school of Buddhist studies, and its conclusions were based solely on Pali texts and Theravada Buddhism, which were more easily available to the English colonials and to English scholars like Waddell. Thus, his views are heavily influenced by the views of this school. For instance, the name he mentions in XIII: Rhys Davids, Oldenberg and Beal, all of belong to Anglo-German school – (Joshi: 1983 Page 1).
This school of Buddhist scholars view the Pali Theravadins tradition as the only true form of Buddhism. All other forms of Buddhism were distortions or adulterated. This notion has been proven inaccurate and misleading in the last 100 years of scholarship, but owning to the enormity of the subject, we shall not deal with that issue here. Furthermore, Waddell nowhere distinguishes between High religion and Folk religion, which are found in all religious traditions. He mixes them into a single pot-pouri, further confusing things.
If Waddell were today to interview even educated Hindus of Kathmandu Valley, asking them what their religion’s main scripture was, he would most likely hear, “Our Veda is the Srimad Bhagavat”, or something similar. Very few would actually mention Rig Veda/Sama Veda/Yajur Veda or Atharva Veda. If he further asked, “Do you believe in Sankaracharya?” they would reply, “Yes, he was one of our greatest saints and I agree to everything he says, which Hindu would not?” Many Hindu scholars would completely agree with this statement. However, were Waddell to persist, asking these educated Kathmanduites, “But in his Sarirak Bhasya of the Brahma Sutra, Sri Sankaracharya has refuted the Bhagavata philosophy as being against the Vedic system [2.2.42]. So how can you both agree with Sri Sankaracharya and the Srimad Bhagavata in the same breath? And furthermore, in the light of Sankara’s refutation of the Bhagavata philosophy, how can you even give it the status of a Veda?” The educated Hindus would be completely non-plussed. We are not talking here of uneducated country folks. So should Waddell write that the Veda of the Hindus is the Srimad Bhagavata? He has made this type of mistake with his “Lamaism”.
Secondly, Waddell was a son of a clergyman (a Christian missionary). At the time he wrote, the Christian clergy studied and wrote on other religious systems to show to the world how they were inferior to Christianity. They showed how all religions, except Christianity, were forms of devil worship or sorcery. As a Christian missionary’s son, Waddell had these blinders on when he wrote about “Lamaism of Tibet”.
Waddell never met any proper Rinpoches, Geshes or Khenpos, the people truly qualified to interpret Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. Most of his research was performed in Sikkim [preface XII] and he nowhere mentions that his informants were educated scholars or Rinpoches. He seems to have come in contact only with ordinary monks of the “Pujari” type, “Grantha Dhuras”, in Buddhist terminology (Chopen [Chos-dpon] in Tibetan). The book was written before the Younghusband Expedition to Tibet, in which Waddell also took part.
Now to a consideration of the book itself:
In Preface page IX – Waddell claims that the Lamas convinced themselves that he (Waddell) was a “reflex” (Tulku) of the Western Buddha Amithabha. No genuine Tibetan Buddhist accepts anybody as an incarnation of anybody unless they are certified by high lamas like H.H. the Dalai Lama, or H. H. the Sakya Trizin, or H. H. the Karmapa, or H. H. Penor Rinpoche. He does not seem to have understood anything of Eastern politeness despite living many years in the Indian subcontinent. For a Tulku [sprul-sku] (Sanskrit-Nirmanakaya, called by Waddell a “reflex”) to be recognized by Tibetans in general, he must first be recognized by a very high lama. This has been the tradition for over a thousand years.
Page X – Waddell inaccurately considers Padmasambhava as the founder of Lamaism. Although Guru Padmasambhava played a key role in establishing Vajrayan Buddhism in Tibet, what he established became only one lineage in Vajrayana of Tibet. The lineage is called Nyingmapa. He did not establish the other lineages, although he is generally considered the first to bring Buddhism to the land. In the same page, Waddell says, “He is considered by the Lamas of all sects to be the founder of their order and by the majority of them to be greater and more deserving of worship than Buddha himself”. This statement contains two gross mistakes:
1) All lamas of all sects do not consider Guru Padmasambhava as their founder. This is historically wrong. The Kagyupa was founded by Marpa; the Sakyapa was founded by Khon Konchog Gyalpo and his son Sachen Kunga Nyiingpo; and the Gelugpa was founded by Tsong Khapa. All educated lamas know this very well. Guru Padmasambhava founded the Nyingma order and not the others [Dudjom:1991: 468, Thinley:1980:23-2, Trichen:1983:14-15, Trungpa:1982:XLX and Roerich 1949/79:44:215-216/399-405].
2) The respect and value accorded to Guru Rinpoche by his followers is no more and no less than that given by the Agra Sravaka Sariputra to his Guru Aswajit. Sariputra used to sleep with his head turned towards wherever Aswajit was, even when Sariputra slept in the same Vihara where the Buddha was staying. He did not sleep with his head turned towards the Buddha, a behavior sanctioned by the Buddha himself.
Page XI – “Lamaism lives mainly by the senses and spends its strength in sacerdotal functions…..” Another half-baked idea of Tibetan Vajrayana, since only one group of monks spends most of their time in such rituals. The monks in colleges (Shedra [bShad-grwa]) and retreat centers (Drupda [bGrub-grwa]) do not largely engage in ritual activity. The above two quotes (X and XI) show that Waddell’s informants were mostly uneducated “pujari” types, and not real Khenpos, Geshes or Rinpoches. Moreover, monks reading out Dharanis, or Parittis, for laymen are found in all forms of Buddhism. This activity was sanctioned by the Buddha himself. This is not sacerdotal in the sense of a Christian priest coming in between God and the devotee, for whom the priest can become a go between, and no form of Buddhism accepts any God.
On page XI, Waddell writes, “But the bulk of the Lamaist cults comprise much deep-rooted devil worship and sorcery, which I describe with some fullness. For Lamaism is only thinly and imperfectly varnished over with Buddhist symbolism, beneath which the sinister growth of poly-demonist superstitions darkly appears” Here, Waddell goes beyond his bounds and shows clearly the main motive for his writing this book. As a clergyman’s son and missionary, he was conditioned to see all other forms of religion as devil-worship. He was in no way trained to understand the metaphors of Vajrayana, which is the way of Allegory. In his Christian vision, all the Mandalas of wrathful deities found in Vajrayana were “devil-worship” and “poly-demonist superstitions”.
Almost 100 years later, a more sophisticated scholar, Dr. Daniel Goleman (Ph.D. Psychology, Harvard University), an award-winning journalist who reports on behavioral sciences for the New York Times, wrote the following about Waddell’s “devil-worship” and “poly-demonist superstition” (Mind Science (1991: 91). “As a student of psychology at Harvard, I had come to assume, as is the tacit assumption in the West, that psychology is a scientific topic that originated in America and Europe within the last century. So, when I got to Asia and really started to look into Eastern systems of thought, I was astounded to find that cradled within every great religious tradition there is a psychological system, the esoteric part of the religion. And of those that I studied, it seemed to me that TIBETAN BUDDHISM CONTAINED PERHAPS THE MOST SOPHISTICATED OF SUCH PSYCHOLOGY” (emphasis mine). Likewise, Geoffry Samuel in his “Civilized Shamans” calls Tibetan Buddhism “one of the great spiritual and psychological achievements of humanity” (Samuel:1995:5).
The famous psychologist C.J. Jung, a student of Freud who broke off from Freud because he found Freud’s excessive linear modes inadequate, also finds the mandalas of wrathful and peaceful deities used in the Tibetan system a sophisticated method of integrating the mind (Jung:1998:59-76). Professor Herbert Guenther of Canada’s Saskatchewan University, in his “Introduction to the Translation of Bskyed-pa’i Rim-pa cho-ga dan sByar Bai gSal Byed Zun jug sNye-Ma (Utpatti Krama Vidhi) called ‘The Creative Vision’ says of Sravakayana, Pratyekabuddhayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana thus:
“In general, the first two pursuits, constitute of the Hinayana, a rather conservative movement that, philosophically, represents a naive realism. The third pursuit constitutes the Mahayana, a more comprehensive movement embracing all the varieties summed up by the term idealism. However, from the holistic viewpoint that gained precedence in the development of Buddhist thought, these three pursuits rank rather low because they tend, precisely because of their excessively rational and reductionist character (realism being as reductionist as idealism), to diminish and ultimately even eliminate one’s humanity. Certainly a world minus ourselves is a contradiction in itself, and a human being as a barren abstraction sheds little illumination on his or her concrete enworldedness and, to say the least, remains emotionally and spiritually unsatisfactory.
Once we understand the inadequacy of logical inductions and deductions as a way to impart meaning to our lives, we can “move on” to probe the forces working in and through us and to create a world in which we can live because it encompasses more than mere thinking. This moving on is the concern of …..the approach, referred to by the term Vajrayana.” [Guenther:1987:VIII-IX].
‘The Creative Vision’ is a translation of a Tibetan book dealing with profound creative mandala meditations, which Waddell characterizes as polydemonist magic circles. Professor Guenther lectured at Lucknow University from 1950-58. In 1958, he became Head of the Department of Comparative Philosophy and Buddhist Studies at the Sanskrit University in Varanasi. In 1964, he became the Head of Department of Far Eastern Studies at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
Professor Guenther, in his forward to S.B. Dasgupta’s “An Introduction of Tantric Buddhism”, says Waddell, like most scholars of his time, including the Indian scholars of until the 60’s and 70’s, educated in the prevalent Western education structure, was suffering the “Kant/Hegel/Bradley syndrome”. This was the result of an excessively linear educational system that trains/conditions people to see only what is linearly rational as correct/true/fact/non-superstit
There is no longer a feeling that the foundations of science are clear, definite, solved, no problem. As we saw, there was this certainty up until 1900. And again, following roughly a quarter of a century of shaking foundations, from 1930-1960 a new feeling of certainty arose, based on logical empiricism. And that false sense of certainty still goes in some quarters…. Nevertheless, there is now a great debate among people who think about science as an activity. In the early 1970’s there was a major conference on the structure of scientific theories. In the proceedings of the conference, one of its organizers, Fredrick Suppe said: “The situation today, then, in philosophy of science is this: the positivistic analysis of scientific knowledge erected upon the Received View [logical empiricism] has been rejected, or at least highly suspect. For more than fifty years philosophy of science has been engaged in a search for philosophical understanding of scientific theories. Today it is still searching.”
“Mind Science” was a record of a seminar celebrating 10 years of collaboration between the Tibetan scholars under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Harvard Medical School’s Department of Continuing Medical Education. “Gentle Bridges” is a continuation of that symposium by some scientists. Dr. Fransisco J. Varela, PhD, Biology, Harvard, who was one of the main organizers of both the symposiums with H. H. the Dalai Lama as the guest of honor, is presently trying to use the Tibetan meditational tradition to open up new avenues and new insight within cognitive sciences.
Waddell, stricken by the Kant/Hegel/Bradley syndrome of his time, and because of non-linear and highly metaphoric Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, thoroughly misunderstand and misinterpret his so called “Lamaism”. This is the exactly the same reason science, having found the limitations and failures of linear rational thinking, today is discovering the value of non-linear, metaphoric Tibetan Buddhism.
This outdated excessive linear education is also the reason behind why Nepalese professors are failing to understand Nepalese cultural elements like Vajrayana. In short, Waddell was not trained to understand the deep psychological value system of Tibetan Vajrayana. If anything, he was trained by the Kant/Hegel/Bradley syndrome milieu to misunderstand it, and he did so with the thoroughness of an Englishman. Interestingly, his bibliography even includes Kant’s disciple Schopenhauer’s “The World as Will and Ideas”. On page 111, he interprets the Buddha in a very Kantian way as replacing “A Supernatural Creator” by interpreting the universe as will and idea. So he saw only idolatry, poly-demonistic worship and silly jumbo-mumbo in his “Lamaism”, whereas today’s Western scientists see the profoundest “mind science” in it.
Now let us go to the main text:
Page 10: “The point of divergence of these so-called Northern and Southern schools was the theistic Mahayana doctrine which substituted for the agnostic idealism and simple morality, a speculative theistic system with a mysticism of sophistic nihilism in the background.”
First of all, Mahayana incorporates no God/Ishwar. Calling it theistic not only reveals a huge lack of knowledge, and is also a gross distortion of Mahayana philosophy. Nagarjuna himself wrote a small text on “Ishwar, Kartrika Nirakarana”; and Gyanasrimitra in the 7thchapter “Ishwaravada” of Gyanasrimitra Nibandhavali [K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute], and his disciple Ratnakirti in the 8th chapter, “Ishwarsadhana Dushanam” [Ratnakirti-Nibandhavali, K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute] have all refuted the concept of Ishwar. Hundreds of other Mahayana Acharyas, too numerous to mention here, have refuted Ishwarvada. So how can Mahayan be theistic?
As for the “Agnostic Idealism” of the Southern school, the Pali Diggha Nikaya – Brahma Jala Sutta itself refutes agnosticism as one of the 62 wrong views. So to call Southern Buddhism “Agnostic Idealism” is a gross misinterpretation of Southern Buddhism (although it is the interpretation of Rhys Davids, an Anglo-German scholar). As for the “simple morality” (Sila, Pratimokcha Samvara), this is also fully observed in Northern Buddhism, including Waddell’s Lamaism. There were and are even today Bhikchus in the Vajrayana tradition following The Bhikchu Pratimokchhya Samvara. As for the sophistic “Nihilism” of the Northern School, both the view of Sunyata and the view that things are neither existent nor non-existent, are found in the Pali texts of the Southern Schools.1
In the same page, Waddell writes, “The Mahasangika or “the great congregation” – a heretical sect which arose among the monks of Vaisali” – calling the Mahasangika a heretic sect is a clear influence of Anglo-German school’s concepts, and is based on the chart given in the Pali Katha Vatthu, which shows the Mahasangika and all other 18 Nikaya as heretical schools branching out of Mother Theravada. At that time, studies in Chinese and Tibetan sources had not yet been conducted. Today, this theory of “mother Theravada” and “heretical Mahasangika” has been challenged after the study of the charts found in the Tibetan and Chinese traditions, written by ancients writers: Vasumitra, Bhabya, and Vinitadeva.
These days, the belief that the Theravada alone represents the original Buddhism and that all others branched out from it no longer exists. First of all, the Southern Buddhism itself is a branch of the Vibhajjyavad, which branched out of the Sthabirvada, which had separated from the Sarvastivada. Yin Shun quoted this in Keat [1999: Page 100, also Bapat: 1987 page 98 chart]: The so-called Southern School is a branch out of original Buddhism as much as Mahayana.
Stanislav Schayer (Leningrad School) in his “Pre-Canonical Buddhism” says, “We now know that Mahayan does not necessarily represent a younger stage of evolution and that in many respects it has preserved old elements more truthfully than Hinayanism.” [Schayer: 1935: page 121-132].
The Mahasangikas were convinced that their decision conforms with the teachings of the Great Master and claimed more orthodoxy than the Theravadins [Bapat: 1987 page 88]. The famous Theravadin Bhikku, Mahathera Sangharakchita, remarks that, “The Mahayana schools have on the whole been more faithful to the spirit of the Original Teachings” [Sangharakchita:1966: page 117-187].
Dr. Edward Conze (Franco-Belgian School) says, “In so far as the Mahayana derives from anything, it is from the Mahasangikas. Even this is only partly true and it appears that at first, far from introducing any innovations, the Mahayana did no more than place a new emphasis on certain aspects of the commonly accepted traditional materials” [Conze: 1962: page 203].
Richard Robinson says, “The Elders (Theravadins) claimed to be conservative, but in fact distorted the primitive teachings considerably….The Mahasangikas admitted Upasakas and non-Arhat monks to their meetings, and were sensitive to popular religious values and aspirations. They were progressive innovators; two out of three basic strands in the Mahayana are of Mahasangika origin…. Yet in some ways, they remained truer to the primitive teachings than did the Elders (Theravadins) [Robinson: 1970: page 37-38].
Thus, Waddell’s concepts are completely out of date and wrong.
Page 11: “This Mahayana doctrine was essentially a sophistic Nihilism and under it the goal of Nirvana or rather Pari-Nirvana, while ceasing to be extinction of life, was considered a mystical state which admitted of no definition.”
And in footnote #2 on the same page, he writes, quoting Rhys Davids, that the Buddha called his system, “The Middle Way….” To avoid the two extremes of superstition on one side and worldliness or infidelity on the other.”
First of all, the “Middle Way” in Pali Suttas is defined not only as avoiding superstition on one hand and the worldliness on the other, but also strongly mentions the way between the excessive worldliness and the excessive asceticism.
In the Samyutta Nikaya [12:15], the Sasta (teacher) has called the Mahayanist so-called “Sophistic Nihilistic” view as the middle way (Majjena). The view is to be free from “Sabbam Athi” i.e. all exists, and “Sabbam Nathi” i.e. all do not exist. Here, both Waddell and Rhys Davids are wrong in the interpretation of “Middle Way” (Madhyama Pratipada).
Page 12: “Mahayana is said to introduce innumerable demons…..with their attendant idolatry and sacerdotalism.”
I have already dealt with this ‘demons’ concept and sacerdotalism, so I shall not repeat it here.
Page 13: Waddell claims that Asanga (500 AD) imported Yoga system of Patanjali to Buddhism. This is again the influence of the Anglo-German school that have portrayed the Buddha as some kind of an ancient pure and simple rationalist – that meditation was not really what the Buddha did. I don’t feel it necessary to refute this self-evident nonsense. The way of the Buddha was not some dry rational, logical linear thinking. Although logical thought is used, it is mainly based on meditation. The Buddha has clearly said that there is no Klesha Chhyaya without Bhawana [Anguttara Nikaya]. The Buddha’s teachings are for Klesha Chhyaya and not mere intellectual sophistry as Rhys Davids and Waddell would have us believe. Furthermore, Dr. S.N. Dasgupta says the opposite, that the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is nothing but the Hinduization of Buddhist meditational methods [Dasgupta:1975:Vol I: Page 236-238]
Page 14: He claims that, “distinct traces of Yoga are to be found in modern Burmese and Ceylonese Buddhism.”
This is already refuted above.
Page 15: He says, “Such was the distorted form of Buddhism introduced into Tibet; and during the three or four succeeding centuries, Indian Buddhism became still more debased.”
Here, Waddell is propagating a myth still propounded by many Indian writers and their Nepalese followers that the Tantric period in Indian Buddhism was a period of decline of intellectual and moral standards in Buddhism. Actual historical research, however, has shown to the contrary. It was exactly between the 3rd/4th centuries and the 12th century that Indian Buddhism reached the acme of its creativity in all fields. Most of the theories, sharpest logical, intellectual development, and philosophical books in India were written during this period. Most of the authors were Tantric practitioners. Professor Herbert Guenther, in his forward to S. B. Dasgupta’s “An Introduction to Tantric Buddhism” says that Sashi Bhushan “continues the myth of a gradual decline of intellectual and, possibly moral standards in Buddhism.”
As all Hindu scholars, Sashi Bhushan believes in the virtual identity of Hindu and Buddhist Tantras. A. Bharati, in this Tantri Tradition [Page 21F], aptly terms this attitude detrimental to the study of Indian Absolutistic philosophy irrelevant to any Tantric study.” [Dasgupta:1974:Page X- Preface]. Furthermore, Benoytosh Bhattacharyya calls Tantra the greatest contribution to mankind that India gave [Bhattacharyya:1989:165]. As for meditation in Burma and Ceylon, they are a continuity of what the Buddha himself taught and not vestiges of yoga influence upon these Buddhist traditions.
Continuing on page 15, Waddell writes, “and this so-called ‘esoteric’ but properly ‘exoteric’ cult was given a respectable antiquity by alleging that its real founder was Nagarjuna…”.
Again, he is giving a distorted version of what the Tantric Buddhist texts claim. In the Buddhist Trantric texts, it has never been claimed the Tantra began from Nagarjuna. The Tantras were all taught by the Buddha, and were brought in later from various places on earth or other lokas, by different Mahasiddhas like Luipada, Savaripada, Krishnacharya and Nagarjuna [Taranath: History of the 7 Lineages & History of Buddhism in India]. As in most places, Waddell has not shown any source (as he did not have any genuine sources with him) which claims that Tantra began from Nagarjuna. On the other hand, it is a highly likely that he failed to understand what his Sikkimese informants were trying to tell him. All of Buddhist Tantric practice is based on Nagarjuna’s Madhyamic view, the Samyakdristi, which is the 1st limb of the Astangika Marga based Buddhist Tantra. So while Buddhist Tantric meditation is based on either the Prasangika view or the Svatantric Madhyamic (Sanksrit. Dristi, Tibetan. Tawa) of Nagarjuna, Tantra itself did not begin from Nagarjuna.
He continues on this page to say, “In the 10th century AD, the Tantric phase developed in Northern India, Kashmir and Nepal into the monstrous and poly-demonist doctrine, the Kalachakra, with its demoniacal Buddhas, which incorporated the Mantrayana practices and called itself the Vajrayana……”
Again, he provides no historical sources for such a fantastic statement. There is no difference in the base, the path, the fruit and the view used in Kalachakra or Guhyasamaja or Hevajra or Chakrasamvara. Kalachakra is no more or less ‘poly-demonic’ than the older others. Furthermore, it is complete nonsense to accuse only the Kalachakra Vajrayana, and reveals a remarkable lack of knowledge on the field. I re-iterate here that it is exactly these Kalachakra types of mandala, which Waddell, in his uneducated fashion called ‘poly-demonist’ that C.G. Jung finds powerful means to re-integrate the mind in his Vol. II, Psychology and Religion: East and West: 1958.
Jung says in his psychological commentary on ‘The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation’ – “The gods are archetypal thought forms belonging to the Sambhogakaya. Their peaceful and wrathful (according to Waddell ‘poly-demonic’) aspects, which play a great role in the meditation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, symbolize the opposites. In Nirmanakaya, these opposites are no more than human conflicts; but in the Sambhogakaya, they are the positive and negative principles united in one and the same figure” [Jung, C.G:1958/1978:123].
Page 17: Waddell makes a gross historical error, calling Jainism an offshoot of Buddhism. I need not refute such a gross error as according to both Buddhist and Jain sources, Jainism (Nirgrantha Natha Putras) already existed a century or more earlier than the Buddha himself. [Winternitze: 1983:19-25].
At the end of Page 17, Waddell contradicts himself by writing, “still it (Lamaism) preserves there as we shall see, much of the loftier philosophy and ethics of the system taught by the Buddha himself.” Refer to XI of the preface where he had just written, “But the bulk of the Lamaist cult comprise much deep rooted devil-worship and sorcery….”, and “For Lamaism is only thinly and imperfectly varnished over with Buddhist symbolism, beneath which the sinister growth of poly-demonist superstition darkly appears.”
Page 24: Here, we find three major errors. Shantarakshita was not, as Waddell claims, the family priest of King Tri Song Detsen. He was a Pandita of Nalanda called to Tibet to spread Buddhism. A few lines below, Waddell claims that before being invited to Tibet, Guru Padmasambhava was a resident of Nalanda. This is inaccurate. The students of Nepalese cultural history should find this part interesting, as all Tibetan sources including, the Pema Kathang [Tarthang: 1978: 364, Kunsang: 1993: 59, and Roerich:1949/1979:43], say clearly that although he had been a teacher at Nalanda, he was residing in the Yanglesho when he was called. This place is an Asura Cave complex above Vajrayogini one at Pharping, Nepal. He may also have been in a cave in the Himalayas where he was said to be enlightened. As Guru Padmasambhava initiated the Nyingma school, for the predominant followers Vajrayana system and amongst ethnic groups of the Himalayas and lower Himalayas, this place is as holy as Bodhagaya.
It is lamentable that even so-called professors of Nepali Culture lack knowledge of such culturally important place. Subsequently, Waddell calls Guru Padmasambhava: “the founder of Lamaism…. And is more deified and celebrated in Lamaism than the Buddha himself.” This is not only historically wrong, and it also grossly misinterprets the Buddhist culture of revering one’s Guru as the Buddha’s representative. Psychologically, the Guru is more important to an individual than the historically distant Buddha. This reverence to the Guru is modeled after Sariputra2 (one of the two main disciples of the Buddha). It is simply following the same principles when thirteen hundred years later Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Tibet, is being revered as equal to a Buddha.
Secondly, Guru Rinpoche did not establish “Lamaism.” What Waddell called “Lamaism” has four major schools (1. The Nyingmapa, 2. The Sakyapa, 3. The Kagyupa, 4. the Gelugpa), each with its own founder, and their traditions goes back to Indian Buddhist Gurus. It is historically and technically correct to say that Guru Rinpoche was the first to introduce Buddhism to Tibet. He is the founder of the Nyingma tradition, and is also highly revered by the other traditions.
Page 26: Here, Waddell incorrectly says ‘sLobdPon’ is the Tibetan equivalent of ‘Guru’. It is the Tibetan equivalent of ‘Acharya’. The ‘Guru’ in Tibetan is ‘Lama’. In the same page, he quotes Marco Polo calling the magical powers (Pratiharya/Siddhi) as devilries. It is not surprising that 19th century Christians, along with the even older Marco Polo, calling all magical display by other religions works of devilry, while with the same breath, calling Christ’s magical display divine. This point need not be elaborated now in the 21st century.
Page 27: Here, Waddell discusses how Guru Rinpoche incorporated local deities as “defenders of his religion” (Dharmapala) by subduing them. He goes on to write how Kobo Daishi also incorporated Shinto deities, again showing a remarkable ignorance of Buddhism as a whole. For example, in the Anguttara Nikaya, in the 4th and the 5th Nipat, the Sasta has clearly said that Bali should be given to Bali Grahak Devas. These are Devas favorable to Buddhism. Many Devas took refuge in the Buddha when the Buddha was alive, and these are the Bali Grahak Devas or Dharmapalas. But this does not mean that later Gurus could not subdue and convert other Devas and turn them as protectors of Buddhism. Nowhere, even in the Pali Nikayas, this activity is forbidden. In fact, it is in the true spirit of the Buddha that through the centuries, as Buddhism has spreads to other lands, new deities were subdued to protect Buddhism. It is natural to do so. Otherwise, Buddhism would be meant only for the people and culture of Madhya Desha.
In the Pali Digga Nikaya and the Udumbarika Sihanada Sutta of the Southern Schools, the Sasta gave clear permission to Nigrodha, and thus to all Buddhists, to continue whatever is in their culture, as long as it does not contradict the basic Buddhist tenets like the Samyag Dristi and so on. One could not continue cultural elements like animal sacrifice and call it Buddhist. The Digga Nikaya clearly permits Buddhists to continue other cultural elements. What Waddell and Rhys Davids have in mind are Christian models, where an entire culture must be supplanted by Christian culture. Buddhism does not operate like that. Using local deities and offering them Bali, not animal sacrifice, is perfectly Buddhist and does not create a mixed, impure Buddhism. “Buddhism has never refused to accept, rework and transform the ideas of other people” [Tucci:1980:15]. This is true to the Buddhist spirit.
Page 28: “The Guru…..with Shantarakshita…..instituted the order of the Lamas….” This is completely misleading. The Guru and Shantarakshita instituted no new thing that could be called “the order of the Lamas”. They ordained Bhikshus according to the Mula Sarvastivada Vinaya, the most common Vinaya in India at the time. They instituted the 1st Bhikshu order based on the Mula-Sarvastivada Vinaya and not some “order of the Lamas”.
In the note on the same page, Waddell writes that Shantarakshita belonged to the “Svatantra School”. This is an inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading statement. There is no “Svatantra School”. Waddell or his informants apparently confused few things. Shantarakshita was a Bhikshu of the Mula-Sarvastivada school, and his writings like the “Tatva Samgraha” indicate that he subscribed to the Svatantrika Madhyamika school, that is his philosophical hermeneutics was based on this tradition. The Svatantrika Madhyamika lineage began with Bhava Viveka, also called Bhavya, missing from Waddell’s list in the footnote. Furthermore, all Madhyamika lineages end in Nagarjuna. Since Waddell does not mention his sources, we cannot know why he also included Sariputra and Ananda in the Svatantrika Madhyamika school lineage, although this school developed only after Nagarjuna and Bhava Viveka.
Page 29: Here, Waddell correctly writes that the word “Lamaism” has no Tibetan counterpart. It is a complete misnomer and should certainly not be used by Nepalese scholars since Vajrayana is very much an integral part of Nepalese culture, both Newar and Himalayan. We should call it Himalayan Vajrayana, Newar Vajrayana, Tibetan Vajrayana.
Page 29: Waddell here refers to ‘Termas’ as, “the fictitious scriptures of the unreformed lamas”, without even seeming to know why they are called Termas (Sanskrit Nidhi). He provides no proof of their falsity, leading one to believe that Waddell himself is the supreme authority deciding what is real and what is ‘fictitious’. This statement is based on his Christian clergyman prejudices rather than on impartial scientific scholarship. For Christians like himself, only Christ’s miracles are genuine, all others are either ‘fictitious’ or works of ‘poly-demonist sorcery’.
Tulku Thondup Rinpoche in his book “Hidden Teachings of Tibet” writes,
“In both the Mahayana sutras and tantras, there is the tradition of concealment and rediscovery of teachings through the enlightened power of realized beings. The tradition has two aspects- first, appropriate teachings can be discovered by realized beings or they will appear for them from the sky, mountains, lakes, trees, and beings spontaneously, according to their wishes and mental abilities; second, they can conceal the teachings in books and other forms and entrust them to Devas, Nagas and other powerful beings to protect and hand over to the right person an the proper time. Other realized persons will rediscover these teachings in the future [Thondup: 1986:57].
Tulku Thondup is a Tibetan lama of the type wrongly called ‘Avatari Lama’ by Nepalese laypeople. The more scholastically accurate term is ‘Nirmanakaya’, the translation of the Tibetan term ‘Tulku [sprul-sku]’. Tulku Thondup was a lecturer in Indo-Tibetan studies at Lucknow University from 1967-1976, a Reader at Vishwa-Bharati University from 1976-1980, and a visiting scholar at Harvard University from 1980-1983.
Page 30: Waddell defines Lamaism thus: “Primitive Lamaism may therefore be defined as a priestly mixture of Shaivite mysticism, magic and Indo-Tibetan demonolatry overlaid by a thin varnish of Mahayana Buddhism. And to the present day Lamaism still retains this character.”
First of all, Waddell contradicts what he said on Page 17: “It preserves there, as we shall see, much of the loftier philosophy and ethics of the system taught by the Buddha himself.”
Secondly, he nowhere validates his claim of Shaivite mysticism influencing Lamaism. Again, he makes himself the supreme authority on these things, while on the contrary, Benoytosh Bhattacharyya, in his ‘An Introduction to Buddhist Esotericism’, writes, “It has been made abundantly clear that Vajrayana was a direct development of the Yogachara philosophy of Mahyana Buddhism….” Likewise:
“The development in Tantra made by the Buddhist and the extraordinary plastic art they developed, did not fail to create an impression also on the minds of the Hindus, who readily incorporated many ideas, doctrines, practices and gods, originally conceived by the Buddhists for their religion. The literature which goes by the name of Hindu Tantras, arose almost immediately after the Buddhist ideas had established themselves…..” [Bhattarcharyyya:1931:35 & 50-51].
Although Bhattarcharyya’s theory of Buddhist Tantras deriving from Yogachara is also inaccurate, since all Buddhist Tantras follow the Madhyamika, that issue is beyond the scope of this article.
Page 32: Waddell locates Gung Thangla in Mangyul “on the Northern confines of Tibet”, whereas it is just north of the Kyirong pass above Trisuli and in west Tibet. Here, he says Guru Rinpoche “After residing in Tibet for almost 50 years (say the chronicles, though it is probable he only remained a few years)…..” Again, he neither names the ‘chronicle’ from which he quotes, nor gives any proof why he thinks “it is probable he only stayed a few years”. No single record in Tibet agrees with Waddell, and no other outside records about Guru Rinpoche exist.
Page 32-40: There are many errors repeated from former points or based on former points.
Page 40: Here, Waddell, thinking that the Dalai Lama was the first incarnate Lama, says, “They (the Kagyu, Sakya and Nyingma) also adopted the plan of succession by re-incarnate lamas….” In fact, the institution of the Dalai Lama began only after Tsong Khapa, after the 15th century, and only after the 5th Dalai Lama, because he became the head of state. The Second Karmapa had been recognized in 1206 as the incarnation of Dusum Khenpa. By the time of the 1st Dalai Lama, who died in 1474, there had already been seven Karmapas. It is historically inaccurate to claim that the other sects copied the system of Incarnate Lama from the Gelugpas.
Page 45: Waddell calls the Tanyik Serten the most reliable authority on Guru Padmasambhava. He even, in typical Christian fashion, calls Tanyik Sertin, ‘St. Padma’. This is incorrect, as no Nyingma Khenpo of any scholastic repute, has even heard of such text called the Tanyik Serten.
Page 47: Waddell translates Dzog Chen as ‘The Great End’, a totally incorrect translation. The name means ‘The Great Completion’ or ‘The Great Perfection’ and is translated by all modern authors. Dzog Chen is the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit ‘Maha Sampanna’, or the probably Prakrit, ‘Maha Sandhi (Maha-Chen, Sampanna=Dzog)’ [Tantric Practices in Nying-ma: Sangpo:1982:185-193].
Page 56: The chart of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism presented here is very faulty. Waddell makes it appear as if all sects (Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug) derive from the Nyingma, which is simply wrong. The Nyingma, the oldest, began from the Indian Guru Padmasambhava; the Sakya school from the Indian Guru Virupada; the Kagyu from the Indian Guru Tilopada and Naropada; and the Gelug from the Khadampa, initiated by the Indian Guru Atisha.
Waddell incorrectly lists Lhatsunpa, Kartogpa, Nadakpa, Mindrolinpa, Dorje Tugpa and Orgyenpa as different sects of Nyingpma. Here, he is mixing up names of Tertons and monasteries to represent so-called sub-sects. Mindroling is the name of a monastery in Central Tibet, whereas Lhatsunpa was a Terton. Over a hundred Tertons exist. So if each Terton’s teachings are to be taken as a separate school, Waddell’s history of only six is incomplete. However, even within the Nyingma tradition, these are not considered as separate schools.
Similarly, Waddell has divided the Sakyapa into (1) Sakyapa, (2) Ngorpa, (3) Jonangpa. He has completely missed the Tsarpa, the more important sub-school of the Sakya than the Jonangpa. The Jonangpa does not exist today, except for one monastery in Zamthan, and was virtually extinct long before Waddell wrote his book.
As for his chart of Kagyupa, it is simply arbitrary and a collection of whatever names Waddell could get. It completely lacks the “Four Major and Eight Minor Lineages” of the Kagyupa. He even shows ‘Kagyupa’ itself as different from Karmapa, Drukpa, Taglung and Drikung. A separate Kagyupa from the Four Major schools never existed, and he has missed the Tsalpa and Baram. The Four Major are:
(1)The Karma Kagyu, also called Kamtshang Kagyu (and not Karmapa, as Waddell has written), which was started by the Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa.
(2) The Tsalpa Kagyu, started by Zhang Yudrakpa Tondru Drakpa.
(3)The Baram Kagyu of Baram Darma Wangchuk, and
(4) Phagmo Drukpa Kagyu, started by Phamo Dru Dorje Gyalpo.
The three names Waddell lists: Lower, Middle and Upper Drukpa, are minor lineages of the Drukpa Kagyu, which itself is one of the Eight Minor Kagyu lineages from Phagmo Drukpa. The Eight Minor Kagyu lineages stemming out of the Phagmo Drugpa Kagyu are:
(1)Drigung Kagyu, (2)Taglung Kagyu, (3)Trophu Kagyu, (4)Drukpa Kagyu, (5)Martshang Kagyu, (6)Yelpa Kagyu, (7)Shugseb Kagyu, and (8)Yamzang Kagyu, of which only the Drikung, and Drukpa exist as separate entities today [Thinley:1980:24].
Thus, Waddell has completely muddled the Kagyu lineage. A clear picture of the entire Kagyu lineage is to be found in “The History of the 16 Karmpas of Tibet” by my own root Guru, the Very Venerable Karma Thinley Rinpoche [Thinley:1980:21-30, See also Thondup: 1984:17-25, Dudjom: 1991:475-501, and Thondup: 1987:48-56.].
Page 57: Here too, again without citing his sources, Waddell gives a completely imaginary chart of the new schools with no relevance to real lineage history. He has Sakya lineage starting from Nagarjuna through Vasuputra to Konchog Gyalpo. Actually, the Sakya LamDre lineage did not starts from Nagarjuna but from Virupada, one of the 84 Mahasiddhas; and no Vasuputra is mentioned in either the Sakya Kabum (the collected works of the Sakyapa) or in the Blue Annals. This may be an imaginary name created by Waddell himself, as no sources are mentioned. Also, the first Tibetans to receive these teachings were Sherab Tseng and Drogmi Lotsawa, who spent many years in India. Between Drogmi and Virupa, there are five Indian Siddhas. They have been completely ignored by Waddell. They are: Krishnacharya, Dombi Heruka, Damarupada, Avadhutipada and Gayadhara. Gayadhara went to Tibet and met Drogmi.
Waddell calls the Tantra of the Sakya, “Gambhira Darshan”, and even gives the Tibetan name, “Zabmo ta”. He seems hopelessly confused about Tantras and their classification. The main Tantra of Sakyapas is the Hevajra Tantra, but also includes Kalachakra Tantra, Chakrasamvara Tantra, Vajra Bhairava Tantra, and many others. In the classification of Tantras, the Hevajra Tantra is called Gambhira Tantra (Waddell’s Zabmo), and the Kalachakra Tantra, the Vaipulya Tantra. Waddell has completely muddled up these issues. Also, he translated LamDre as “Phala Marga”, Tibetan for the system of meditational Krama called Marga Phalam. He is confused with the fact that all Sakya hierarchies are considered as incarnations of Manjushree because the 1st Sakya patriarch was inspired by Manjushree. He claims that the whole lineage pre-existing Nagarjuna was inspired by Manjushree.
Likewise, he completely mixes up the meditative doctrine and Tantra of the Kagyu lineage. He seems unaware that Naropa was not the only Guru of Marpa. Naropa had sent Marpa to Maitripada, Kukkuripada, and many others Gurus. Mahamudra is not the only Kagyu meditative doctrine. It also contains ‘Naro Sad Darma’ (Naro Cho drug). The Tantra of Naropa is Chakrasamvara and the Six Yogas of Naropa, and not Mnam-Len-Byin-Labs, which is unheard of and seems to be Waddell’s own creation. It is not at all clear what these words mean but the Kagyu lineage is famous for meditative blessings, known in Tibetan as ‘Nyam Len Jin Lab’ (‘Byin Labs’ is pronounced Jin Lab). The songs of expression often chanted by Kagyupas are called ‘Jhinlab Char Web’. Waddell is probably just hopelessly confused about the Kagyu lineage being a special meditative lineage of blessing (‘Nyamlen’ is taking into experience, and ‘Jinlab’ is ‘adhistan’ or blessing), and he calls it a special Tantra. The Tantras of the Kagyu lineage are Chakrasamvara, Mahamaya, Hevajra and especially Vajra Varahi as related to the Chandali Yoga (Tibetan Tummo [gTum-Mo]). Furthermore, Kagyupa Mahamudra does not come from Naropa, but from Maitripa to Marpa, and before them, from a long lineage that included Nagarjuna and Sarahapada.
Page 58: Waddell claims that about 30 ‘Revelations’ have been discovered. He is hopelessly wrong. Over a hundred had been discovered by the time Waddell wrote his book. Altogether 278 or more Tertons are prophesied in the “Baidurya’I Phreng Ba” – The Precious Garland of Lapis Lazulis”, The Brief History of the Profound Termas [gTer-Ma] and Tertons [gTer-ston] (1813-1899), published by Ngodrup and Sherab Drimed 1977. V Waddell also thinks these Termas relate only to Guru Padmasambhava.
While most Tertons (‘Revealers’ as Waddell calls them), are connected to Guru Padmasambhava, many other ‘Shyarma [gSar-Ma]’ i.e. New School Tertons, also brought out Termas not related to Guru Padmasambhava, something Waddell is totally ignorant of. These include:
(1)Lord Tsangpa Gyare (1161-1211),
(2)Gyud Chen Sangye Gyatso,
(3)Rechung, the disciple of Milarepa (1084-?),
(4)Drogon Chogyal Phagpa, the 4th Sakya Hierarch (1255-1280),
(5)Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, the 3rd Karmapa (1281-X-1334),
(6)Buton Rinchen Drup (1290-1364),
(7)Gyalwang Gedun Gyatso, the 5th dalai Lama,
(8)Lodro Rinchen Senge.
They all discovered Termas not related to Padmasambhava, while Nyalpa Nyima Sherab and Nyem Lo Darma Trag were teachers of New School, who brought out the Termas of Guru Padmasambhava [Thondup:1986:167]. Two famous Indian Panditas who went to Tibet also discovered Termas. They were:
(1) the famous Bengali Siddha and Mahapandita Atisha, and
(2)the last abbot (Upadhyaya/Khenpo) of Vikramashila, Sakya Sri Bhadra, the Kashmiri Pandita who saw Vikramashila destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji’s hordes, in front of his own eyes and wept saying, “Now Buddhism is finished from India”. He went to Tibet with nine Mahapanditas, some of them were Nepalese.
Waddell recklessly makes a totally false allegation that these Termas deal with “codes of demon worship”. Large sections of many Termas, like the Nyin Thig and Chokling Tersar, have been already translated into English and they deal with profound meditational techniques called ‘Chittanusmriti’, which is related to Vipassyana. None of them have anything of demon-worship. Waddell is either blatantly lying, or his mind is so constricted by Christian missionary vision that he perceives all but Christianity as devil-worship; nor he has never seen a Terma.
Page 62: Waddell calls ‘Sangwa Du’ ‘Guhya Kãla’, mistaking ‘Du’ for ‘Kala’ or time, when it is actually ‘Guhya Samaja Tantra’. He fails to recognize that the six armed ‘Gonpo’ is the Mahakala, called ‘Sad Bhuja Nath’.
Page 66: Here, in the chart, Waddell confuses and mixes up many names below the name of Dvagpo Lharje, who is the same as Gompopa. He incorrectly lists Karma Bakshi as the direct disciple of Dvagpo Lharje. Dusum Khenpa, the 1st Karmapa, was the disciple of Dvagpo Lharje, while Karma Bakshi was the 2nd Karmapa. In fact, Waddell lists the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Karmapas (Dusum Khenpa, Karma Bakshi and Rangjung Dorje) as if they were three different names of the same person. As noted above, the rest of the chart has no relation to the Four Major and Eight Minor lineages that developed within the Kagyu [Thinley:1980:21-58].
Page 69: Waddell states, “The hermit feature of this sect rendered it so unattractive that several sub-sects soon arose which dispensed with the necessity for hermitage. Thus appeared the sub-sects of Karmapa, Di-Kungpa, Talungpa and Dukpa….”.
First of all, he is making a very wild guess about why new sub-sects arose. His supposition is totally inaccurate since all Kagyu sub-sects are renowned for their hermit style life, even today in India and Nepal. Secondly, he inaccurately calls the Kamtsang Kagyu or Karma Kagyu as Karmapa. Thirdly, he calls the Dukpa Kagyu a major sect with the other three. Actually, the next major is Tsalpa, as seen earlier, and the Drukpa Kagyu is one of the Eight Minors. The reason why so many sub-sects arose is due to the many dynamic meditator, who led a hermit life and taught to their disciples. It has nothing to do with the avoidance of hermitage.
On the same page, Waddell continues, “The Karmapa sub-sect was founded in the middle of the 12th century by Karmapa Ran Chun Dorje also named Dusum Khyenpo”.
Dusum Khyenpa (not Khyenpo as Waddell wrote) is the 1st Karmapa, who started the Kamtshang Kagyu. “Ranchun Dorje” of Waddell is Rangjyung Dorje, the 3rd Karmapa. They were not the same person.
Further down he says, “This Karmapa (that is Dusum Khenpa and Rangjyung Dorje rolled into one by Waddell) does not appear to be identical with the famous ‘Karma Bakshi’….”
He does not seem to even know that Dusum Khenpa was the 1st Karmapa, Karma Bakshi was the 2nd Karmapa, and Rangjyung Dorje was the 3rd Karmapa.
Page 69/70: Waddell incorrectly states that the first Sakya monastery built in Sakya is in Western Tibet. Sakya is in the Tsang district of Central Tibet, not in western Tibet, although it is west of Lhasa. Then, he continues with complete nonsense unheard of by any Sakya Khenpo or Rinpoche or Lopon or written in any Sakya records. He writes. “Its founder was K’on dKon mChog rGyalpo, a pupil of Kugpa Lha-bTsas, who claimed inspiration from the celestial bodhisatva of wisdom, Manjshree, through the Indian sages ranging from Nagarjuna to Vasuputra…” and he mixes together the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Tantras, calling his new doctrine the “new-old” occult mystery of the ‘deep sight’. Its mystic insight is called the ‘Fruitful Path’. Its special gospels are Nagarjuna’s Avatansak, Vasubandhu’s Paramartha. Its tutelary demon is Vajra Phurpa, borrowed from the Nyingma book ‘Dorje Phurpa chi Choga’, and from the newer school were taken Dem-Chok, Dorje Khando, Den zi, Maha-Mahama yab, Sangye Topa and Dorje Dutsi. Its demonical guardian are ‘The Guardian of the Tent’ and ‘The Face Lord’. But now, except in a few externals, it is practically indistinguishable from the Nyingma.
That the lineage mentioned here is completely mixed up I have already discussed above. Drogmi Lotsawa is the teacher of Konchog Gyalpo, and not of Kugpa Lha bTsas [Roerich 1949/1979:208, Trichen:1983:IX / Thondup: 1987: 57)
In the note, Waddell incorrectly translates yab-sras as ‘Vasuputra’, whereas it means ‘Father and Son’ (Pita-putra). The yab-sras is used for Nagarjuna and Aryadeva, for each Sakya hierarch and son, for the Karmapa and the four sons, and for Tsong Khapa and his disciples. He goes so far as to make a wild guess with no proof that Vasuputra is probably Vasubandhu.
Then, he makes even more peculiar statements, saying that Vasuvandu was the special transmitter of Nagarjuna’s purer Sautrantic doctrines. This is like a completely entangled ball of wool. Nagarjuna is renowned as the founder of Madhyamic, not Sautrantic. Vasubandhu is renowned to have left the Sautrantic philosophy for the Yogachara. He is not a transmitter of Nagarjuna’s purer Sautrantik doctrines. Nor is Yab Sras the Tibetan for Vasu bandhu, who in Tibetan is known as Yig Nyen [dByg-gNyen], and the Sakya do not hold any special lineage coming down from Nagarjuna to Vasubandhu or Vasumitra (whoever that may be). All four schools of Tibetan Buddhism study both Nagarjuna’s Madhyamic philosophy and Vasubandhu’s Vaibhasika/Sautantrika doctrines (Abhidharma Kosha). It is not a special lineage that distinguishes the Sakya from the others.
The tutelary deity of the Sakyas is not Vajra Phurpa (Sanskrit, Vajra Kilaya) but Sri Hevajra [Trichen:1983:7-23]. The Sakyas also use Vajra Kilaya, taken from the Nyingma, but not from the book “Dorje Phurpa chi Chopa”, which is the “Puja Vidhi of Vajrakilaya”. An entire Tantra in there relates to Vajra Kilaya, the Vajrakilaya Mula Tantra (Khanda/Tib. RDorje Phurpa rTsa-ba’I rGyud Kyi Dum Bu).
Waddell must have seen the Pujari (Chopen) type lamas in Sikkim use this text to perform the Vajrakilaya puja and merely guessed that it was the book from which it was taken by the Sakyas. This conclusively proves that the informants he met were Pujari type lamas and he actually never met either real scholars, or real meditators, called Champas or Gomchenpas. No Avatamsaka of Nagarjuna, or Paramartha of Vasubandhu exists so far either in Indian sources or Tibetan sources. The Avatamsaka Sutra was not a work of Nagarjuna, and there does not seem to be any work of Vasubandhu called Paramartha.
Neither the Avatamsaka Sutra nor any text called Paramartha are special texts of the Sakyapas, as Waddell claims. They are not even studied in the nine-year scholastic curriculum of the Sakyas, now followed in Dehradun, India. Dem Chog is the Chakrasamvara common among our own Newars. Dorje Khando is Vajra Dakini, also found amongst the Newars. The Maha-Mahama yab is a muddling up of Mahamaya Tantra as there is no such Tibetan deity. ‘The Guardian of the Tent’ is Vajrapanjar Nath Mahakal, whose iconography is found in Swayambhu, and the ‘Face-Lord’ is again a mistaken for Chatur Mukha Mahakal (4-Faced Lord), all of which Waddell has called ‘demons’.
Waddell fails to mention the two major deity cycle for which the Sakyas are well known, the Lamdre Hevajra and the Kalachakra [Trichen:1983:6 & Roerich:1949/1979:210-240]. He wrongly says the Ngorpa (written ‘Norpa’ by Waddell), the Jonangpa, and the Sakyapa differ from each other only in the founder. The Jonangpa practices the Kalachakra, the Ngorpa practices the Hevajra, while the Sakyapa, in addition to Hevajra, also take up the Nyingma Vajra Kilaya. He incorrectly calls the Jonangpa founder Kun gah Dol Chog, and writes in the footnote that Kunga Dol-chog is also called Dol-bu Sherab gyen. As in many other instances, he has confused a couple of names into one. The founder of Jonangpa was Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292-1361), not Jonangpa Kunga Drolchok (1507-0566). Neither man is called Sherab Gyen. Sherab Gyaltsen is Tibetan for Pragya Dhwaja. Sherab Gyen is Tibetan for Pragya Alankara.
The founder of the Jonang School is of special interest to Nepalese culture and history students, since he was from Dolpo, and is therefore called Dolpopa. The word ‘Dolbu Sher gyen’ in Waddell’s footnote is apparently a mix up of Dolpopa and the Sherab of Sherab Gyaltsen. As usual, Waddell does not show the source for this name [Stearns:1999:11-39, Lhair Gyal mTsen:1971:15-19, Chos 1580, KunsPangsPa:Cho:1962, Kapstein:1971:15-19, 1992:7-21, Roerich 1976:-745-777, Ruegg:1963:80-81, Erhard:1993:23-39, Grol Chog:1507-1566:125 fol., dZad-pa and mKhenpo:trans. Chatopadhya:1993:100, 123, 199)
Page 71: The sketch Waddell provides captioned “A Sa-skya Lama” is worthless, having nothing special to distinguish him from any average Tibetan or an individual of any Nepalese Himalayan ethnic group. The hat or cap he wears is not a special Sakya hat.
Page 72: Here, Waddell discusses Nyingma meditation: “Its mystic insight is Maha Utpanna (Dsog-Ch’en)”. I mentioned above that the correct translation of Dzog Chen is ‘Maha Sampanna’, or ‘Maha Sandhi’, or ‘Maha Shanti’. Waddell writes, “Its tutelary are ‘The Fearful Vajra (Vajra = phurba) and Dubpa Kah-gye.” In the footnote, he calls Dubpa Kah-gye, a tutelary deity of the Guru St. Padmasambhava (notice the singular noun: ‘the tutelary deity’). Vajra Kilaya (Tib. Dorje Phurba) is only one of Nyingma tutelary deities. Waddell translates Dorje Phurba as ‘Fearful Vajra’. ‘Dorje’ is ‘Vajra’ and ‘Phurba’ is ‘Kilaya’. None of the words translates as ‘Fearful’. Kilaya or Kila is a common Sanskrit term for nail or for nailing down. So Dorje Phurba, Vajra Kilaya, could be translated as ‘Adamantine Nailer’, never ‘Fearful Vajra’. Waddell does not realize that ‘Kah-gye’ is a short name for eight different deities [Dudjom:1991:475-483]. ‘Kah’ means commandments (Vachan in Sanskrit) and ‘gye’ means eight. So calling the ‘Kah gye [bKah-brgyad]’ “a tutelary deity of St. Padmasambhava”, as if it were a single deity, clearly indicates that he does not know what he is talking about.
Page 73: Here, Waddell writes that Guru Padmasambhava’s Guru is the Kashmiri, Sri Simha, and Sri Simha’s Guru is Garab Dorje. Sri Simha was a Tibeto-Chinese, born in Shokyam in China, not in Kashmiri. Sri Simha’s Guru is Manjushrimitra and not Garab Dorje. Garab Dorje (Sanskrit, Prahe Vajra) is the Guru of Manjushrimitra, and is from Uddiyana near Kashmir. Furthermore, the Dzog Chen Ati Yoga teachings of Sri Simha did not arrive in Tibet through Padmasambhava, but from Sri Simha’s disciple, Vimalamitra (an Indian). Waddell is totally unaware of the three different meditational lineages of the Nyingma lineage: Maha, Anu and Ati. Guru Padmasambhava transmitted the Maha Yoga lineage. His Guru for this lineage was Prabha Hasti and not Sri Simha. The main Guru of this Maha Yoga lineage is Humkara Vajra and not Garab Dorje. Humkara Vajra was a Brahmin of Evam Vihara of Nepal. Some people identify the place with E-Vihara of Patan today, but this is yet unproven [Dudjom:1991:475-501, Thondup:1984:13-35. Roerich:1949/1979:102-240].
Page 75: In this page, Waddell claims, “In the four centuries succeeding the reformation, various sub-sects formed, mostly as relapses towards the old familiar demonolatry” [Para one]
“And since the fifteenth century AD, the several sects and sub-sects, while rigidly preserving their identity and exclusiveness, have drifted down towards a common level where the sectarian distinction tend to become almost nominal.” [Para two]
“But neither in the essential of Lamaism itself, nor in its sectarian aspects do the truly Buddhist doctrine, as taught by Sakya Muni play a leading part”. [Para three]
On the contrary, the history of Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug show that each sect has zealously and ardently attempted to maintain the purity of its teachings. This period was marked by intense and often heated debate between the different schools about what constituted the correct view and the correct modes of meditation (Samyag Darshan) that came from India. A long history of very high level polemical debates has continued for centuries between the Panditas of the various schools and persists even today amongst Tibetan refugees. These debates and texts are well recorded and are of no less a standard than the debates between Dharmakirti (Buddhist) and Udyotkar or Kumaril Bhatta (Hindu). Waddell has completely missed the high standard of study characterizing the various lineages in Tibet continuing from Nalanda, Vikramashila, Odantapuri etc. He is not even aware of the heated debates between Sakya Pandita, Gorampa of the Sakya, Tsong Khapa, Khedrup, etc., of the Gelug, Mipham of the Nyingma, and Mikyo Dorje, etc., of the Kagyu. The heat is still felt in the Sakya, Kagyu, Nyingma and Gelug colleges outside Tibet, amongst the refugees.
Waddell seems to have mistaken the Chopen [Chos dPon] (Pujari) as the perfect and the only representative of his “Lamaism”. He was completely ignorant of the fact that, he when wrote the book, over 5000 students were studying in a single college called Sera in Tibet the philosophy of Nagarjuna, the Abhidharma Kosha of Vasubandhu, Dharmakirti’s, one of the world’s greatest logicians in all history, the Pramana Vartikain. Many such colleges dotted the Tibetan landscape from Ngari in the west, to Kham in the East. He was totally unaware that thousands of profound commentaries were being written even up to his time on profound Sutras and Sastras that came from India, which contained all the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha. For instance, Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara alone has over hundred commentaries in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, written by Tibetans throughout the centuries. The famous debate initiated by Sakya Pandita still continues between the Sakyapas on the one hand, and the Kagyu and Nyingmapas on the other. This shows that great sensitivity was shown in maintaining the purity of lineages coming from India. Great sensitivity was also shown to avoid wrong types of Chinese meditations, with uncertain pedigree, from mixing up with the pure lineages. Of this, Waddell remained blissfully unaware.
Besides the scholastic lineages, which continued to produce brilliant Panditas like Sakya Pandita, Gorampa, Rong Tong of the Sakya; Mipham, Rong Zom, etc., of the Nyingma; Tsong Khapa, Khendrup, etc., of the Gelug; and Rungjung Dorje, Mikyo Dorje, Pema Karpo etc., of the Kagyu, profound meditators in all lineages continued to practice in caves scattered all over Tibet for 6, 10, 12, 20 years, and in some cases, all their lives. These meditators and Siddhas were revered throughout the centuries by all Tibetans and they belong to all the schools, each practicing its special style of Samatha-Vipassyana, which came down from the lineage of Indian Siddhas of the past. Thousands continued to have deep realizations of the Buddha’s teachings up through Waddell’s time. This meditative tradition continues today amongst Tibetan refugees in Nepal, India and Western countries. Because Waddell relied solely on Chopen type lamas, and since all Pujas look alike to an untrained mind, he concluded that “all the sub-sects….have drifted down to a common level where the sectarian distinctions tend to become almost nominal”. An untrained Nepali would say the same thing if he attended a Catholic and Protestant Sunday Mass.
From Page 169-185: While talking of the Great Monastic learning centers like Sera, Waddell seems unaware of the scholastic curriculum. The curriculum he discusses belongs to Chopen, and is not of scholarly nature. He mentions debates, but does not know the subjects debated. During Waddell’s time, only a few Europeans who managed to enter Tibet, had any idea what happened there. Very few Tibetan texts or commentaries had been translated into European languages. The only two that Waddell used for reference were the Tibetan translation of the ‘Lalitavistara’, the ‘Gyacher Rolpa’; and ‘The History of Indian Buddhism’ by Taranath, both were first translated into German. An analysis of Waddell’s bibliography reveals no Tibetan works of significance. The list is dominated by works of the Anglo-German school of Buddhist studies, based solely on Pali studies. Therefore, Waddell considers the Pali tradition to be the pure Buddhism of Sakyamuni, and thinks any deviation from the Pali literature a divergence. I have already discussed this concept is false. The curriculum Waddell provides on pages 174 and 183 are all different types of Pujas. He was completely unaware of the curriculum of Sutras and Sastras.
In reality, the curriculum of the Sakya institutions consisted of the following: [Trichen:1983:27]
The Sakyapas divided the explanation (Byakhya) and study of treatises on the Tripataka into the following six sections:
This works were studied in Sakya learning centers like Nalendra during Waddell’s time. Today, the study continues in the Sakya College in Dehradun.
The same curriculum, minus the Pramana group and the Trisamvaraprabheda, were studied in Nyingma and Kagyu institutions, and are still studied in Nyingma and Kagyu institutions in Nepal and India [Norbu:1986:167].
The Gelug tradition also follows the same Sakya curriculum, minus the Trisamvaraprabheda, the Sakya specialty. In large monastic universities like Sera, Ganden, and Drepung, such course like “Five Great Texts” (Pancha Maha Sastra) was studied for 20-25 years. Today, they still continue to do that in India. [Gyatso:1987:30]
The rest of Waddell’s book is no different in quality and standard from the first 75 pages that I have analyzed. It is astonishing that the Culture Department of Tribhuvan University recommends such a totally misleading book. Some well known Nepali scholars have quoted this “masterpiece of misinformation” to authenticate their writings, while others have quoted Waddell in what the Buddha would have called “Andhavenuparampara” i.e. the blind leading the blind [Pradhan:2044 BS & Khatri:2054 BS:13 and others].
This issue becomes particularly sensitive when one understands that Waddell’s misinformation directly relates to the culture of the entire Nepalese Himalayan and sub-Himalayan regions, and indirectly relates to Newar culture. How can Nepalese professors recommend a book that calls ‘Dem Chog’, which is Chakrasamvara, the main practice of the Buddhist Newars, a “poly-demonic practice”? Geoffrey Samuel calls Waddell’s book a crude caricature [Samuel:1995:11].
Some scholars have remarked that ‘Samvara’ is a name of an Asura in the Vedic literature. A couple of points should be considered here.
First, this proves that the Vedics call all non-Aryan deities, Asuras (unless they had been integrated into Hindu fold). That does not make ‘Samvara’, a Rakshasa.
Second, nothing indicates that this ‘Samvara’ is the same as the ‘Samvara’ in Sri Chakrasamvara. Without further proof, the equation is unwarranted.
Third, even if it was the same ‘Samvara’, this only proves that the deities used by Buddhist Tantriks are non-Vedic, non-Aryan (probably Sramanic). But it still does not prove that ‘Samvara’ is actually a demon. The most probable reason why the Vedics called it a ‘demon’ is because ‘Samvara’ is not a Vedic ‘Deva’. In that case (assuming the above to be correct), Buddhist Tantra is totally non-Hindu influenced.
Fourth, because ‘Samvara’ is called Asura in Veda doesn’t validate Waddell’s Christian idea that Chakrasamvara, etc., are ‘demons’. Waddell, however, probably had no idea of all this in any case.
Finally, any word, symbol, or metaphor has value, meaning, and sense assigned by its users, practitioners, or culture within a certain context only. The same word-sound, symbol, or metaphor can mean, or have different values, and sense in different cultures and systems. A very innocuous word in one language-culture may have a very coarse-erotic connotation in another. It is astonishingly naïve, therefore, to conclude that the first language-culture is a sexually oriented one. Likewise, a metaphor symbolizing devilry and ‘poly-demonist’ ideas in one cultural paradigm could actually have the value of an angel attached to it in another.
A single culture does not have the copyright to any metaphor and the meaning-value attached to it. According to Jungian psychology, “No individual symbolic image can be said to have a dogmatically fixed generalized meaning” [Jung, C. G.: 1964:30]. We cannot take the Sri Chakrasamvara or Kalachakra of the Buddhist Vajrayana and assume that Buddhist practitioners of Vajrayana give these metaphors the same value, meaning, and connotation as the Vedic or the Christian would. The Vedic and Christians who equate with Buddhist metaphor-values might think that Vajrayana Buddhists take, believe, and understand that Sri Chakrasamvara, etc., are demons and worship them as such. This shows an abject insensitivity to cultural norms other than one’s own.
In the Buddhist Tantric texts, Sri Chakrasamvara, Kalachakra, etc., are called ‘Devatideva’ and ‘Bhagawan’, and not ‘Daitya’, or ‘Rakshasa’, or ‘Asura’. This is the meaning-value attached to these metaphors by those who use or practice them. For instance, ‘Sri Hevajra Tantra’ begins with “Evam maya srutam ekasmin samaye Bhagavan….etc”. A metaphor that symbolizes compassion (Sunyata Karunabhinnam Hevajranatham Namayahma), Maitri, freedom of Klesha, defeat of Mara (Hevajraya namastubhyam maramayapramardiney). This cannot and should not, by any cultural standards, be considered ‘poly-demonic’, even if similar metaphors are used in other cultures as a symbol of ‘demonship’.
Today, thousands of Western scholars like Prof. Robert Thurman, Prof. Jeffery Hopkins, Prof. Herbert Guenther, Dr. Elizabeth Napper, Professor Mathew Kapstein, and so on, find those same ‘poly-demonic practices’ as one of the most subtle and profound psychological methods to achieve integration of the mind, i.e. freeing the mind from Klesha. As it is, the Hindu populace of Nepal and India generally misunderstand Buddhism. Swami Vivekananda himself once admitted, “We Hindus never understood it” [Vivekananda:1965:3rd Vol.:528-529]. We do not need Waddell to create further misunderstanding.
I wish to end this emic critique of Waddell’s book by quoting a few lines from Dr. Radmilla Moacanin, a practicing psycho-therapist of the Jungian school in Los Angeles. Dr. Moacanin’s writing is a sort of critique of Waddell’s interpretation and conclusions on Tibetan Buddhism, one hundred years after Waddell. “It could be said that the aim of Buddhist Tantra is to penetrate into, harness, and transform the dynamic forces of the universe, which are no different from the psychological forces and archetypal constellations of our own psyche. This cannot be done through the exercise of discursive thought or application of abstract theories but only by being deeply immersed in actual practices. Due to the enormous wealth of these practices, Tantra has given rise to much misunderstandings and misconceptions. In the Western world it has often been equated with magic [Waddell’s sorcery] and exotic sexual practices.” [Moacanin:1986:17]
[This article was published in the Journal of CNAS, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal, issue 27 (2), July 2000]
It must be understood that Hinduism and Buddhism have shared the same culture for the last 2500 years, which means they’ve also shared common language/s (Sanskrit or Pali). Because of this historical situation, there are many words that are used commonly in both traditions. This has led many scholars, especially Hindu scholars, to think that words and symbols mean exactly the same thing in both the traditions. By extending this thinking, they arrive at the wrong conclusion, mainly that Buddhism is another form, or revision, or reformation of Hinduism.
First of all, it is wrong to say that Buddhism is either a branch or a formation of Hinduism. Buddhism is actually a paradigm shift from not only Hinduism but also from all other religious systems. Secondly, words used commonly in both Hinduism and Buddhism do not mean the same thing. In fact, very often they mean almost the opposite, and certainly at all times they point at two different paradigms.
I would like to elucidate some of these points that will affect the meaning in the two systems directly or indirectly.
First of all, in the Hindu context, we always find the theory that if illusion is removed, Brahman will reveal. Thus, samsara is illusion and Brahman is the only thing behind samsara, or is the base of the samsara, that truly exists. Only when the illusion-samsara vanishes, the Non-dual Brahman manifests.
However, in the Buddhist context, illusion is not removed but rather seen as knowledge itself – or is transformed into knowledge. And this knowledge is not something that is the support or base of samsara. It is the knowledge of the true mode of existence of samsara itself. And furthermore, samsara is not an illusion which will vanish and only the Brahman will remain. In Buddhism, samsara is interdependently arisen (pratityasamutpann), like all illusions. So it is only like an illusion and cannot end. What ends is the wrong experience of experiencing it as really existing (skt. svabhava siddha). The knowledge (Gyana), that is synonymous with liberation, is not of an eternal, unchanging Brahman beyond samsara, but rather of the true mode of existence of samsara itself.
Difference between Advaya and Advaita
Although both experiences are called non-dual, here too, they mean two different things. Non-dual (advaita) in the Hindu context means non-existence of the second (divitiyam nasti). There is no second substance except the Brahman; it is the only thing that exists. This should be called Monism rather than Non-dualism. The phrase ‘eka vastu vada’ (one thingism) would be close to ‘advaita’.
However, Buddhism usually uses ‘advaya’ (only sometimes is advaita used). Here, it means ‘not two’, i.e. free from the two extremes (skt. dvaya anta mukta) – of samaropa (the tendency to see things as really existing) and apavada (the tendency to see things as non-existing) – which include the existence of the grasper and the grasped (grahaka and grahya) too. Advaya is not of a thing (the one and only thing) like Brahma but a description of the form of samsara. That is why the samsara that is like an illusion transforms into Advaya Gyana in Buddhism. In Hinduism, the illusory samsara vanishes and the true eternal, unchanging Brahman dawns. That is why Buddhist Gampopa says, “May illusion dawn as wisdom…”
There are two traditions of explaining ‘advaya’ in Buddhism. One is called the Vast Lineage (skt. Vaipulay parampara) of Asanga-Vasubandyhu. This is based on the ‘Five Works’ of Maitreya that emphasizes subject-object (skt. grahaka-grahya) duality. But unlike the various forms of Vedanta, they neither merge into one whole, nor does the grasper (subject) vanishes, and the illusion and only the eternal grasper remains. Here, they are found to be untenable from the very beginning. What remains is emptiness. This system had many great teachers like Dingnaga-Dharmakirti.
The second lineage, called the Profound Lineage (skt. gambhira parampara), started with Nagarajuna, and was passed down through famous teachers such as Aryadeva, Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka, Chandrakirti, Shantideva and Atisha. Other famous teachers, like Shantarakshita and Kamakashila, gave synthetic interpretations of ‘advaya’ using both traditions.
Any Buddhist hermeneutics must be based on one of these hermeneutics or their various branches like ‘Sakara Yogachara’, ‘Nirakara Yogachara’, ‘Yogachara’, ‘Sautrantic Madhyamik’, ‘Prasangic Madhyamika’, and ‘Svatantric Madhyamika’, etc. Just because one understands Sanskrit or Tibetan, one cannot interpret the ‘Sastras’ (texts) as one likes, giving straightforward meanings to them. Any interpretation must belong to, or be in conformity with one of these hermeneutical methodologies. Otherwise, it becomes one’s own private idea of what these texts are teaching. That is why many Hindu scholars have misinterpreted the Buddhist texts and claimed that they are teaching the same thing found in the Hindu texts. But it is even more unfortunate that even so-called Buddhist scholars or those who are favorable to Buddhism, have not studied under any lineage masters belonging to any of the above hermeneutics, and have interpreted the texts simply on the basis of understanding the Sanskrit language. Such interpretations are personal ideas and not true Buddhist hermeneutics, and if analyzed, one will find many contradiction and inconsistencies.
There are some who say that they are meditators and they are not interested in such theories. Some say such theories are only intellectual pleasures, and others say that the lineage of meditation and the lineage of text studies have no relationship. Such statements prove that such so-called Buddhist teachers are only half-baked.
First of all, I would like to remind them that Asanga, Vasubandhu, Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Shantideve, and Atisha were all great meditators and they are considered among the greatest Buddhist masters in history. Such masters believed that it is necessary to acquire the correct philosophies to be able to truly practice the Buddhist meditation properly. Of course, H.E. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche said that this correct view could be presented in the form of a simple pith instruction from a qualified master, instead of an elaborate and detailed study of the religious texts. But one must still listen, think, discuss, and finally understand clearly the importance of the pith instruction, which is the same thing elaborated in the texts. So, to say that to meditate one does not need to study at all is utter nonsense. It is only after understanding the view correctly that correct Buddhist mediation can take place. Otherwise, there would be no difference between Hindu, Sufi, Christian, Tao, and Buddhist meditations.
Some Newar Vajracharyas think that just taking the initiation of Cakrasamvhara, chanting its mantras, performing channel and chakra practice (nadi-chakra yoga) related to it is enough and there is no need to study. If that was so, why does the Hevajra Tantra, etc., say very clearly that one must study first the Vaibhasika, then the Sautrantic, then the Yogachara, and then the Madhyamika, then only be initiated?
Secondly, if doing just Nadivayu-tilak yog would lead to Mahamudra accomplishments, then thousands of Hindu masters, who practice Kundalini Yoga, would achieve Buddhahood. Such thinking completely contradicts the very basic concept found in Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Meditation progresses from wisdom gained through hearing (Srutamayi), to wisdom gained through contemplation (Cintamayi), to wisdom gained through meditation (Bhavanamayai). How can there be hearing and contemplation without a valid study of valid religious texts?
Notice when I say valid study. Valid study means study with valid lineage teachers, not just somebody who knows Sanskrit or Tibetan and happens to be a lama or Vajracharya by caste, as is found among Tamangs and Newars. Valid lineage Masters teach according to historically accepted Buddhist hermeneutics and do not give their own personal self-contradictory interpretations. Such a Master has studied with someone who belongs to one or more of these hermeneutical lineages. Such a study is not merely intellectually entertainment but is also a proper base for acquiring wisdom gained through listening and contemplation, and this creates an understanding of the correct view. This is the proper foundation for proper Buddhist meditation, i.e. the third wisdom gained through meditation. Simply doing ‘nadi-vayu-tilak yoga’ without such a base is the same as doing Hindu meditation, even if it is part of Hevajra, or Cakrasamvara, or Vajrabhairava, or Kalacakra practice.
It is true that there are different lineages to study and meditate, but to say that the two are not interrelated, is simply showing ignorance.
Now, I would like to deal with the concept of ‘Sugatagarbha’, or ‘Tathagatagarbha’, or ‘Dharmadhatu’, or ‘Dharmakaya’. Many Hindu scholars think that these words prove that Buddhism is basically speaking about Hindu Brahman. If one studies the Ratnagotravibhaga, and the Srimala Sutra, it is easy to see that they make it very clear that Sugatagarbha and Sunyata (emptiness) are cognate words. Sunyata is the mode of existence of all phenomena, including the mind, which knows this; whereas Brahman is a separate entity altogether from all phenomena. Brahman is something that truly exists (absolutely existing / Parmartha Satta). Sunyata is not a thing or a ‘Super Thing’ but the mode of existence of all things. Therefore, it is nonsense to speak of it as knowable epistemologically but not as a thing ontologically except interdependently. The Brahman, according to Hinduism, is not existing interdependently, but truly existing – the one and only truly existing substance. The Brahman is svabhavasiddha (inherent), whereas Sunyata is nisvabhavata (non-inherent); the Brahman is svalaksana siddha, whereas Sunyata is a Laksanata. The Brahman is Paramartha satta (ultimate existence), whereas Sunyata is the unfindability of such a parmartha satta anywhere.
Since the Ratnagotra makes it clear that sugatagarbha is just a cognate word for emptiness (Sunyata), Sugatagarbha and Brahman cannot be the same. The confusion is often created by the statement that the Sugatagarbha or the Buddha nature exists in all sentient beings. The word ‘exists’ is the perpetrator of confusion here. The ‘exists’ is only for conventional usage, or giving way to conventional usage. Without its use here, one cannot express the fact that this is the mode of abiding of the true nature of mind of all sentient beings. ‘Exists’ here is a synonym of ‘is the mode of abiding’, so ‘exists’ here does not mean ‘abide’ (skt. sthita) but rather ‘non abidingness’ (skt. asthita). This is the mode of abiding, or the sugatagarbha present in all sentient beings. Even in the last sentence, the word ‘present’ can create the same confusion. ‘Present’ here would mean presence of the absence of self-existingness or self-characteristicness, etc. What is positively named ‘Sugatagarbha’ is that it is said to exist in all sentient beings. This ‘exists’ is qualitative rather than existential. It is also more epistemological, whereas the Brahman is more ontologically truly existing. The Brahman is not non-abiding but rather ‘kutastha’, which mean self-abiding.
I have already elaborated the differences of Sunyata Sugatagarbha and Brahman in my article in the Buddhist Himalaya, Vol. VI, 1994-95. The word ‘Samantabhadra’ used in the DzogChen tradition can often mislead people to believe that Samantabhadra is some kind of a god in this system. However, there is no God in any form of Buddhism. Great Buddhist Masters like Nagarjuna, Odiana Acharya, Kalyana Rakshita, etc., have written books proving that such beliefs are only for children. So Samantabhadra cannot be some substitute for God. Samantabhadra is a poetic, metaphoric expression for the enlightened state, i.e. the Sugatagarbha all sentient beings already possess. This is the way things really are, the way things really exist from the very beginning. However, it is called primordial enlightenment, because this state is always there and never was not. We, sentient beings, have apparently wandered from the knowledge, which is already there as our true mode of existence. Therefore, we have to be re-enlightened, i.e. come to recognize the primordial enlightened state already present in us, and through practice become established in it.
Buddhism does not believe, and this applies to the DzogChen, which is considered relatively quicker or sudden path, that simply because Samantabhadra – the primordial enlightenment already present in us from the beginning – we can just recognize that fact and become enlightened. We have to become re-enlightened because we have already wandered off the path and need to be re-enlightened. One needs to remove the cause of our wandering. The cause is ignorance. Ignorance is basically cognitive but includes the conditioning produced by the cognitive mistake. These conditionings validate further the mis-cognition, which further produces more conditioning.
Conditioning has two forms: conceptual defilements (kleshavarana) and emotional defilements (jñeyavarana). Therefore, to have correct cognition, i.e. true recognition of Samantabhadra, requires clearing off of the conditionings to some extent. Since cognition itself is moulded by these conditionings, true recognition cannot take place unless the hold of the conditionings has been relaxed to some extent; but even this recognition can only become a pin-prick opening, which will naturally be conditioned by the still extant conditionings. So it is only through years of clearing off the conditionings, through accumulation of merit (skt: punya sambhara), and having glimpses of the true nature over and over again through accumulation of knowledge (jñanasambhara) that one is finally re-established in the state of re-enlightenment. Just recognizing one’s true unconditioned state is not re-enlightenment. This is the major difference between the teachings of DzogChen and those of Punja Svami, Ramana Maharshi, Adrew Cohen, Krishnamurti, Nisargadutta Maharaja, and Sadyo Vedantic Systems like Astavakra Gita, Jivan Mukta Gita, etc. They believe that just recognizing one’s true nature is primordially unconditioned enough to free a man. As we have seen earlier, no form of Buddhism agrees with that concept. The glimpse is only of the seed of enlightenment and is not the full enlightenment, or the enlightened state itself. There is a difference in the Tathagatagharbha and the Tathagata himself. But there is another difference too. What they call the unconditioned is the Atman as found in the texts of Hinduism. What the DzogChen of the Nyingma, the Mahamudra of Kagyu, and Lamdre of Sakya, the texts of the ‘Profound and Vast’ tradition call the unconditioned, is the Tathagatagharbha, Samantabhadra, Emptiness, Nisvabhavata, Anatma. As we have seen, these are diametrically opposed paradigms.
There are, however, two schools, some Nyingma and Kagyu schools, based in the ‘Vast Lineage’ (skt. vaipulya) of Asanga, which interpret Tathagatagarbha as being present in full form (not as a seed), but the veils covering it is gradually unveiled through practice. Some Sakyapas based in the ‘Profound’ tradition of Nagarjuna, however, interpret it only in seed form, and it has to be developed into its full form through practice.
So what can be said in the Buddhist language is that people like Ramana Masharshi and Krishnamurti have only the base but no path related to that base, therefore, logically no fruit too. Many of these teachers teach about an indifferent state, i.e. choice-less, to be the base, or the enlightened state. It must be understood very clearly that this is not the state of Mahamudra or DzogChen. ‘Choice-less Awareness’ (as taught in the Shiva Sutras and in the Kashmiri Shaiva school), to any form of Buddhism is such a state of ignorance (skt. moha) and not an enlightened state. Being indifferent and untouched by pain, happiness, anger, attachment, and remaining in a king of ‘Choice-less Awareness’ is not DzongChen or Mahamudra, although, they may sound very close to each other. Such a state is a state of ignorance or delusion. DzogChen or Mahamudra is free from not only attachment or aversion but also from the choice-less state.
That is why the Mahapandita and Siddha of the Sakya lineage, Sakya Pandit, warned, “Everybody speaks about Mahamudra…Mahamudra, but if one has not properly understood or experienced them with the help of a genuine lineage Master, such a state (indifferent, choice-less state of awareness) is a sure way to reborn as an animal”.
It is also not a question of merely eschewing all conceptuality and just remaining in a non-conceptual state. When non-conceptuality is used in the context of Dzogchen or Mahamudra, it is the Yogi pratyaksa, the unity of Sunyata Prabhasvara, in which Sunyatra Prabhasvara and the consciousness become one, like water poured into water.
This is the Tathagatagarbha, which is very different from the non-conceptual experience of a choice-less awareness, or a Brahman or Parasamvit. Many so-called teachers are confused by the word ‘non-conceptual’. When describing their experience, they believe everything must be the same, without realizing that there are many kinds of non-conceptual states. Perhaps things get clearer if one understands that in the Buddhist context, non-conceptual is synonymous with pratyaksa- especially Yogi pratyaksa – and it is always an experience of something which becomes non-dualistically one with the experiencing consciousness. So it is not just a ‘non-conceptual’ state that Buddhist traditions are talking about; but a particular type of non-conceptual experience of emptiness or the Tathagatagarbha (skt. avikapla or nisprapanca).
Concept of Trikaya
I would now like to take up the concept of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. One way of looking at it is Daharmakaya is Emptiness, Rupakaya (Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya) is interdependent origination (pratityasamtpada). We can divide all the three doors of body, speech and mind (skt. kaya, vak, citta) into the three Kayas. A very god metaphor is the crystal ball. The crystal ball is colourless representing emptiness. Even though it is colourless by itself, it has the capacity to reflect all the seven colours, if the right causes and conditions are present. This capacity is the capacity of emptiness to appear as interdependent origination. This is the Sambhogakaya, and if the right causes and conditions appear, i.e. if a torch light is flashed into the crystal ball, multi-coloured light will project out of it and appear on the wall. This is the actual appearance of the empty Samsara. This is called Nirmanakaya.
It is of utmost importance to understand these three Kayas to fully comprehend what Enlightenment means in Mahayana-Vajrayana Buddhism. We find Enlightenment used in Hinduism and also by teachers such as Punja Svami, Andrew Cohen, Nisargadutta, J. Krishnamurti, and U.G. Krishnamurti, but they do not mean the same Enlightenment as the Enlightenment of Buddhism. In Mahayana Buddhism, Enlightenment means full realization and anything else is an inferior state.
The popular Hindu definition of Enlightenment is Mukti, which means taking no more birth in samsara. This definition is also found in Mahayana and Theravada. Because of this, many people confused the Buddhist Enlightenment with Hindu ‘Mukti’. ‘Mukti’ is no returning to samsara anymore. It is not enlightenment.
In Buddhist Mukti, a person who attains it goes to one of the pure realms like Sukhavati, etc. This is achieved through Theravada and some Mahayana practices. He is not born again in this world until he becomes enlightened. But Enlightenment means that he has realized total reality as it is (skt. Yathabhuta), which means he has actualized all the three Kayas. Actualizing the three Kayas means attaining the three Vajra Kayas. Dharmakaya is the realization of emptiness (anatma / non-self), and there is no birth and death anymore after it, because there never was one who had taken birth. It is not destruction of some really existing Self. It is the realization that from the beginning, there never was any Self. This means there never was anyone who took birth from the very beginning.
However, true and in-depth realization of Dharmakaya also leads to the realization of Rupakaya. Just as true realization of emptiness also entails true realization of interdependent origination (pratityasamutpada). Therefore, even though there is no birth, through the proper causes and conditions of compassion, etc., Nirmanakaya emanates continuously to help all sentient beings. It is this Nirmanakaya which is wrongly called ‘Incarnated Lama’ by Nepalese Buddhists, due to the influence of Hinduism. But technically, they are not ‘incarnations’ but ‘emanations’. Nirmanakayas are not personalities born again but rather emanated (skt. nirmita) from causes and conditions due to the innate capacity of Dharmakaya. This innate capacity is Sambhogakaya. A personality if reborn can be only one. Nirmanakayas can be infinite.
Only such a person, who although is never born, emanates continuous emanations for the sake of sentient beings. The person has realised Totality, and only such a person is enlightened. People who have not manifested such capacities are merely conceptually enlightened not truly enlightened.
This is the meaning of the statement made by the Eight Karmapa when he was born. He had turned around to his mother and stated, “I am the unborn Karmapa”. The unborn is the empty Dharmakaya. However, the apparently born Karmapa, who made this statement, is the Nirmanakaya of this very unborn empty Dharmakaya. If you have understood Madhyamika well and understood that interdependent origination itself is un-produced (skt. anutpada), then you’ll realize there is no contradiction.
Sambhogakaya is the capacity of the unborn empty Dharmakaya nature of Enlightenment. It consists of all the qualities like omniscience, etc.
If a person does not possess these qualities, he has not manifested Sambhogakaya. Therefore, he has not truly manifested the Dharmakaya, which according to Mahayana Buddhism is not truly enlightened.
There are many such Masters around, especially coming from Hindu backgrounds, who later claim to be Buddhist masters but they have no realization of the Three Kayas. Such people cannot be considered as enlightened Buddhist Masters. Some of them do not even have the faintest idea what three Kayas are about. Those who want to practice Buddhist practices and attain Buddhist Enlightenment must be sensitive to these issues. They must not get confused by sweet talks and oratory skills.
There are many degrees of Enlightenment in Buddhism. That is the significance of the concept of the ‘Ten Stages’ (skt. dasha bhumi). A person who is in the First Stage is already Enlightened and they are very different from an unenlightened person. This person already has begun to manifest the Three Kayas to some extent. The actualization deepens as he moves to the Second Stage, the Third Stage, and so on until the Seventh Stage. The First to the Seventh Stage are still considered impure. It is only from the Eighth onwards that the Nirmanakaya begins to manifest more visibly. From the Eight to the Tenth are the pure Stages. It is said that many gods (devas) who have taken refuge in Buddhism and have practiced according to Buddhist texts, are found between the First and the Seventh Stages; but only Masters are found from the Eight upwards. It is only when a person crosses over the Tenth Stage to the No-Learning stage (skt. asaiksapada), or the state of Vajradhara according to Tantra, that the person is fully Enlightened. Often in Tantra, we find thirteen Stages instead of ten, but again, this is only a question of categories which can be classified in many ways.
But, even a person who achieves the state of Vajradhara is still only what is called a Mind Buddha. This means his mind is the mind of full Buddha, like that of the Buddha Shakyamuni. His body, however, still does not possess the 32 superior and 80 secondary marks present in the body of Buddha Shakyamuni. So, although, he can be called a Buddha and there is no difference between his mind and the mind of the Buddha Shakyamuni, or any other Buddha, he has not perfected the Rupakaya yet. It is only after collecting vast amounts of merit, by emanating countless emanations, for the benefit of others, that he will also achieve the perfect Nirmanakaya, like Buddhas Shakymuni, Krakuchchanda, Kashyapa, etc.
It is said that it took three uncountable eons (asamkhya kalpa) for Shakyamuni to collect enough merit to have the perfect Nirmanakaya. According to the Tantra, if the Sambhogakaya is developed using the Tantra methods, countless emanations can be sent to collect merit. This can be achieved much quicker and at faster rate than by following the Sutra system or method that the Buddha Shakyamuni used.
If you understand the Buddhist Enlightenment correctly, based on what has been said, one begins to realize that ordinary people, nowadays, who have no such qualities and claim to be enlightened Masters, are like clowns sitting on the thrones of emperors caricaturing an emperor. However, people have the freedom the define Enlightenment in other ways; but in such a case, it is not the Enlightenment of Buddhism, especially Mahayana-Vajrayana.
People like Milarepa, Longchempa, Marpa, Sakya Pandita of Tibet; Surata Vajra, Humkara Vajrea, Sasvat Vajra, Vak Vajra, Jamuna Gubhaju of Nepal; Naropada, Tillipada, Virupada, Nagarjuna, Atisha of India of the Vajrayana tradition; and Linchi, Hogen, Sungsan, to San Unmen of China; Dogen, Haquin Banke of Japan achieved at least one of the higher Stages, if not the Mind of the Buddhas.
All of them manifested the display of Sambhogakaya throughout their lives, and especially during death. The death process of an Enlightened being is a very special occasion, and one can gauge his depth of realization. If he is Enlightened, there is no doubt that Sambhogakaya will manifest during and after his death. Some of the many manifestations are: rainbows appearing in the sky or around the house of the dead body, the body shrinking to the size of a 8 to16 year old, or in very advanced cases, the body either vanishing or transforming into light. Mantras and statues of deities engraved in their bones, special forms like stupas, etc., are also found in the ashes. Earthquakes, storms, animals, and birds beings disturbed, some parts of the body remaining intact after cremation are some others manifestations. There have been many well known Masters who have claimed to be Buddhas or Enlightened in the past whose death showed absolutely no manifestations. Such people cannot be considered enlightened in the Buddhist sense. As Karme Chagmed put it, “the corpse of an ordinary man is the bed of a great Scholar Master”
Faith and Devotion
There is no god in Buddhism. Devotions found in Mahayana-Vajrayana are not the same as that of the devotional cults of Hinduism. First of all, a person in Vajrayana shows great devotion towards their Guru. This is because a Guru plays a very special role in Vajrayana. In Theravada and Mahayana, a Guru is only a Kalyanamitra, i.e. some body that points the way. In Vajrayana, a Guru is also the way itself. This second role, teaching the way, is more important role of a Guru in Vajrayana. The Guru is the State of Enlightenment. But unlike Sutrayana, which is a cause-vehicle, he is not just a representative of the goal; he is used as the path itself.
Vajrayana is also called effect-vehicle (skt. phalayana). It uses the effect in the path, instead of creating causes and conditions (skt. hetu-pratyaya), as in the cause vehicle to attain the effect one day. Since the Guru is the Enlightened state (he beings enlightened), he is used as the Path. He reflects one’s own true nature and all of one’s defilements (skt. Klesha) and obstructions (skt. avaranas). It is when one truly sees the Guru as primordially pure that one recognizes one’s own primordial purity, and also sees the Guru was always one’s own primordially pure Sugatagarbha.
Therefore, devotion here is dedication and devotion to the path. It is devotion, faith, and dedication towards one’s own Sugatagarbha. That is why in Tantra, a Guru who gives you initiations is not an individual but a Buddha. More accurately, he is one’s own Buddha Nature, reflected in the personality of the initiation giver. This is very important for the path of Tantra, which uses the principle of effect-vehicle (using the fruit itself in the path to make the path quicker). Devotion is, there, to one’s own Buddha Nature. That is why the first samaya (law, rule, bond) is to see the Guru as the Buddha, no matter through what kind of personality it may crystallize. And that is also why one must be very careful to make sure that the Guru is genuine.
A genuine Guru in Vajrayana does not depend on how his personality is because most of the personality we see in him are our own characteristics we see reflected on him. We have to use this as our path. A genuine Master is someone who has received instructions from a genuine lineage teacher, belonging to pure, unbroken, realized lineage. Such lineages are not decided by caste or family, although families can preserve such lineages. Such a lineage must produce enlightened and learned masters in every generation. Then, only can it be considered as a pure and unbroken enlightened lineage.
After having received all the theoretical and practical instructions from such a lineage master, he himself must have practiced those teachings and experienced them in his own mental continuum. He must also be certified by his own masters as a teacher, or as an Acharya, or a Vajracharya, or a Vidyadhara. Only such a Master, no matter how his personality is, can be considered worthy of being called a Master in Vajrayana.
It is not necessary in Vajrayana Buddhism to have only one master. This concept of one guru only is a Hindu concept and not a Buddhist one. But I have found most Newars have only one master. This is a Hindu influence and such a concept is not found in true Buddhism. If we study the life stories of all the Indian, Nepalese, and Tibetan masters, we find that the majority of them had many masters. Some of them even had up to 300 masters. It is also a wrong and narrow minded thinking to think if you have a Nyingma master, you should not have a Sakya master at the same time. Nyingma and Sakya are names found only in Tibet. If you study the history of the lineages, you find the same Indian or Nepalese Masters taught both Marpa Lotsawa, the founder of the Kagyupa, and Drogmi Lotsawa, the founder of the Sakya lineages. To Phamthingpa or Humkara Vajra, Guru Padmasambhava or Bharo Bajracharya, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya or Gelug had no meaning.
I would like to dedicate the article:
To deny Vajrayana is to deny the very roots of Nepalese culture, especially if you understand that even the forms of Tantric Hinduism flourishing in Nepal since the ancient times has been strongly influenced by Vajrayana.
Recent renaissance of Theravada Buddhism in Kathmandu Valley has produced an upsurge of some writers who are eager to prove that Vajrayana is a decrepit form of Buddhism and that Theravada is the only true and original form. As part of their weak reasoning, they are always excited to show that the Newari Vajrayana has caste systems etc., alien to Buddhist ethics and the Tibetan Buddhism (also wrongly given the misnomer Lamaism) is influenced by Bon and thus not a pure form of Buddhism.
Needless to say none of these amateur writers have given any solid proof as to why they feel Tibetan Vajrayana is influenced by Bon. In my own studies I have found that it is actually the other way around in that Bon has through the centuries been influenced by Vajrayana to the extent that their dress, rituals etc., have become quite similar (though still different).
Of course I am not saying that Vajrayana was never even touched by Tibetan culture which pre-existed even before Buddhism went to Tibet but then the same can be said of the Theravada of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Burma too. It has been the nature of compassionate Buddhism to accept the cultures of the areas it spreads to without destroying either the culture or itself. So this characteristic is not found solely in Vajrayana but in all forms of Buddhism, be it Zen of Japan, Tien Tai of China or the Theravada of the Laotian mountains.
As far as the basics of Buddhism go, all forms of Buddhism – Zen, Tien Tai, Jodo, Vajrayana and Theravada have the same principles. All forms of Buddhism agree in the concept of Anattma, impermanence, and that conditioned existence is sorrow. The only difference is the depth or subtlety in interpreting these concepts and in the methods of integrating. Since the Sunyata of Nagarjuna is basically talking about the Anattma of the Theravada in a more refined and subtle way and since the basic view of Vajrayana is the basic view of Nagarjuna, Vajrayana does not contradict the basic philosophy of the Buddha in any way whatsoever. It is only in the depth of interpretation and mode of implementation of the Buddha’s teachings that they vary, but not in the teachings themselves. So it is utter nonsense to say that Vajrayana has changed or distorted the teachings of the Buddha.
Also all forms of Buddhism still practice Vipassyana (Pali: Vipassana) and Samatha. It is not true, as some Theravadian teachers have wrongly proclaimed that only the Theravadian form of Buddhism has Vipassyana. All of the various form of meditations found in Vajrayana are Vipassyana. The forms of practices called Mahasandhi, Mahamudra, The Six Yogas of Naropa, The Six Yogas of Niguma, Marga Phalam (Called Lam Dre in Tibetan) etc. are all forms of Vipassyana. The very word Lhag Thang in Tibetan is a technical word for the Sanskrit term Vipassyana. In Japanese Buddhism, it is called Kan, in Chinese Buddhism Kuan. Out of the four mindfulness practices that the Buddha taught, Chittanusmriti (mindfulness of mind) is the form of Vipassyana mostly used in the Vajrayana tradition, whereas the Theravada tradition seems to concentrate mostly on Vedanannusmriti (mindfulness of sensation). Of course you can find all the four forms of Mindfulnesses in all traditions of Buddhism; I am merely explicating the general tendency within the tradition. So to proclaim that Vajrayana is not pure Buddhism, because it does not have forms of Vipassyana meditation is to prove one’s own ignorance and narrow mindedness (to use a classical Buddhist word, Moha).
To claim that since the Newar Buddhists have castes, Vajrayana has caste system and therefore is not a pure form of Buddhism is utter nonsense because no text or form of Vajrayana Buddhism vouches for the caste system. That the Newars have a weird caste system of their own even though they claim to be true Buddhists is a result of Newari culture and not Vajrayana Buddhism. Anybody with even an inkling of Nepalese history knows that the Newari culture was forced to accept the caste system.
Proclaiming that Vajrayana has all sorts of deities and therefore cannot be a pure form of Buddhism is another mistake of the unthinking critics. Firstly, deities like Indra, Braham etc. are found all over the Pali texts which claim that they too became Arhats after receiving teachings from the Buddha. Secondly, all the Theravada countries have one or the other form of deities as their protector of Buddhism, for example Sri Lanka has a festival of Lord Indra where he is considered as the protector of Buddhism. Thirdly, the Abhidharmakosha has Devannuati as one of the meditations. So if Vajrayana is an impure form of Buddhism for the above reasons, then the Buddhism of the Pali texts are also impure, the Buddhism of Sri Lanka etc. are also impure. And fourthly, only amateur writers who have absolutely no idea how these deity practices are used as skillful means for Vipassyana itself write that Vajrayana uses Gods and Goddesses like Hinduism. It is surprising to see how even some so called Vajracharyas think that Vajrayana has made all sorts of Pancha Buddhas and given them wives and children. I would like to advise them to study the significance of Utpanna Krama (Development Stage) and Sampanna Krama (Completion Stage) in deity practices before they give naive interpretations which show their own ignorance. I challenge any scholar to prove how the Utpanna Krama and the Sampanna Krama of deity practice are not the Vipassyana and Samatha of Chittanusmriti of the Buddha.
To make the deity practices of Vajrayana like the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism is to show ones own ignorance about these practices.
Some have even gone so far as to claim that the Vajrayana and Mahayana have substituted the Buddha for God the Creator as in other religions. It must be made clear that neither form of Buddhism has made the Buddha an Ishwar.
The claim of some Theravadian writers that in Vajrayana Buddhism, the Buddha has been made into some kind of Super Human whom they worship like God is totally non-valid. First of all, to claim in Theravada Buddhism that the Buddha was born with the thirty-two characteristics and then to say he was just an ordinary human being is a flagrant contradiction. I would like to ask how many ordinary people are born with the thirty-two characteristics. Secondly, the Buddha is not worshipped as a God in Mahayana but as a Revered Teacher – Guru.
Some writers have tried to point out that the Pali texts talk about a man being reborn immediately after he dies whereas the Tibetan Buddhism talks about a Bardo (Intermediate State in English and Antarabhava in Sanskrit ). They say this is the influence of Bön. But again, they seem to lack enough studies of Buddhist history as many of the eighteen schools of Early Buddhism believed in the concept of Antarabhava.
The Theravad is a true form of Buddhism as taught by the Buddha and there is no doubt about it, but so are Zen and Vajrayana. It is interesting to note that Vajrayana, which is our Nepalese culture, has the openness (Amoha) to say, he who criticizes Hinayana criticizes Vajrayana. The Hinayana is the foundation on which Vajrayana is built.