Day 10: Mind Only Texts in Chinese

Day 10: Mind Only Texts in Chinese

A Teaching on Vasubandhu's The Thirty Verses

Day 10: Mind Only Texts in Chinese

 8 February 2022

Karmapa began by offering his greetings to the Sangha members in the Shedras, spiritual friends and teachers, tulkus and all of the lay and monastic people who were listening.  He said, "To all of my dharma friends who are listening over the webcast, and especially to those who live in Tibet, all of our friends and relatives in Tibet: I hope that you are all doing well."

This was the last day of the teachings on the Thirty Verses for the annual Kagyu Gunchoe Winter Teachings.

Previously, Karmapa had spoken about texts related to the Mind Only tradition and described the sutras and treatizes in a general way.  He said that in Tibetan, we traditionally describe them as the "twenty dharmas related to Maitreya."

He continued by showing us a table of these texts, adding that it would be easier to understand if we could see them listed.  Among them are the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” as introduced in previous teachings: The Ornament of Clear Realization, The Ornament of the Sutras, Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes, Distinguishing Phenomena and Dharmata, and The Sublime Continuum.  Generally, within the Kamtsang tradition during the time of the 10th Karmapa, there were people who gained the degree of Rabjampa merely from studying the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” and taking the examinations, as described by Karma Chagme. Within the twenty dharmas, there are three written by Asanga—Yogacāra Levels, the Compendium of Abhidharma, and the Compendium of Mahayana.  Then, there are the eleven works of Vasubandhu. That is the way described in the Tibetan tradition.

In the Chinese tradition, the School of Phenomenal Appearances, one of several Chinese Mind Only schools, is the most well-known.  Later on, this was the only one remaining; the other schools had all disappeared.  Six sutras and eleven treatizes form the basis of the School of Phenomenal Appearances.  They are:


  1. Avataṃsaka Sutra
  2. The Sutra Unraveling the Intent
  3. The Sutra of the Array of the Tathāgata's Qualities
  4. The Sutra of Mahayana Abhidharma
  5. The Sutra of the Travels to Lanka
  6. The Ghaṇa-vyūha sūtra


  1. The Yogacāra Levels
  2. The Treatise Clarifying the Teachings
  3. The Ornament of the Sutras
  4. The Compendium of Validity
  5. The Compendium of the Mahayana
  6. The Commentary on the Ten Levels
  7. The Exposition of Yoga
  8. The Examination of Objects
  9. The Twenty Verses
  10. The Commentary on Differentiating the Middle from Extremes
  11. The Compendium of Abhidharma

Karmapa mentioned that the Thirty Verses is not included here because it is the root text, and  then introduced each of the sutras.


1. The Avataṃsaka Sutra (The Extremely Long Sutra Called the Buddhāvataṃsaka)

He said, "The time that this dates from is probably around the fourth century CE, when the first manuscripts appeared, as contemporary scholars see it.  The Sutra of the Ten Levels possibly dates from the first or second century CE.  This is the estimate of current researchers." According to the Avataṃsaka Sutra itself, the Buddha taught this two weeks after he awoke to perfect enlightenment.  However, current researchers estimate that the written form did not appear until somewhere around the fourth century CE.  "Is there a Sanskrit manuscript?  Probably there is not a complete manuscript," Karmapa noted, "There are several Chinese translations."

These Chinese translations include:

  1. Translation by Buddhabhadra from the Eastern Jin dynasty, which is sixty fascicles long.
  2. Translation by Master Śikṣānanda from the Tang dynasty, which is one hundred and ten fascicles long.
  3. Translation by Tang Prajñā, which is forty fascicles long.

Lotsawa Yeshe De and others translated it into Tibetan.  According to the Pangtangma catalog, that is one hundred and fifteen fascicles; however, Karmapa added that we currently have one that is one hundred and thirteen fascicles long.

Next, His Holiness taught on the content of the Avataṃsaka Sutra.  He explained that the sutra describes  how  the Buddha, having entered the ocean seal samadhi, teaches the dharma that he had realized under the Bodhi tree.

It is one of the earlier Mahayana sutras, extremely profound in meaning; it differs from other sutras and became really well known.  Among the three Chinese translations, the first is sixty fascicles and the second is one hundred and ten fascicles, so it is a very long text.  When we look at the time of the translations, we can see that the chapters The Ten Levels and Entering the Dharma Expanse probably date from an earlier time. The Ten Levels was extracted and called the Sutra of the Ten Levels, and was translated earlier.  Likewise, in terms of their content, they are different from the other chapters.  The chapter The Ten Levels is particularly important for the Mind Only school.  It was taken out and became the independent Sutra of the Ten Levels, but in actuality, it is but a chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sutra.

The Avataṃsaka Sutra is an extremely important sutra in Chinese Buddhism.  Among the various schools in China, one of the most important schools was the Avataṃsaka School, the indispensable text of which was the Avataṃsaka Sutra. It was well known throughout China and was also influential for the Yogacara school in India.  How was it influential?

Karmapa reminded us, "The reason is that the Buddha taught this sutra while in the ocean seal samadhi.  He was teaching the yogic experience, and the thought of the entire sutra is close to the thought of the Mind Only."  Within the chapter of the Emanation in Suyāma's Realm and the chapter of the Ten Levels, there are two citations extremely important for the Mind Only:

The mind is like an artist;
The mind makes the aggregates.
All these worlds that there are
In the universe are painted by mind. 

Karmapa explained that a skilled artist can draw any type of drawing.  Similarly, the universe that we see with mountains and houses and all the different emanations of the world are all made or emanated by our mind.  For the Mind Only, this is an extremely important stanza.

Likewise, in the Sutra on the Ten Levels, there is an extremely important passage:

For these three realms are only mind. The tathagata described what the twelve links of becoming are. He said that they all dwell in a single mind.

Some translations begin differently: "Oh, Child of the Buddhas. The three worlds are only mind," or "These three realms are only mind.”  These passages teaching the Mind Only view are probably the earliest clear indications of the Mind Only among the different sutras.

"Another thing that deserves our attention," Karmapa added, "is that just as it teaches awareness only, the Avataṃsaka also emphasizes the conduct of a bodhisattva."  The chapter on the Ten Levels describes at length the stages of a bodhisattva's practice, and how their clear realization gradually becomes more profound.  Likewise, the well-known chapter on Entering the Dharma Expanse describes how Kumāra Sudhana famously followed fifty three spiritual friends, which is  discussed in various teachings.  The bodhisattvas were considered very important, as they had infinite courage to seek out the true dharma. "In this way," said Karmapa, "the Avataṃsaka Sutra really emphasizes the conduct of the bodhisattvas."

2. The Sutra Unraveling the Intent

Researchers believe the written form probably appeared in the fourth century CE.  No Sanskrit manuscripts have been found yet.

Karmapa explained, "When we talk about whether there is a Sanskrit manuscript or not, there is a difference between whether there is none at all, or if it hasn't been found yet.  In Tibet, during the time of the kings, Sanskrit manuscripts were collated and stored separately.  Tibet probably has the most Sanskrit manuscripts in the world, but they were not publicized.  So there is hope that more can be found. It is extremely important for researchers; it's like a wish-fulfilling jewel to them."

The words, terms, and style found in Sanskrit are much more helpful to researchers compared to those in other languages.  Karmapa added that there are probably thousands of volumes of Sanskrit manuscripts, with a great opportunity to research Sanskrit texts in the future, but we need to be able to read and understand Sanskrit to do so. "Perhaps some of the more intelligent among those in the Shedras, or Khenpos who have finished their education and don't have much work, could also study Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, or other languages," he encouraged. "The aim for studying these should be to research the dharma.   If you study the language with that aim, the effort you put into it will definitely be meaningful and fruitful."

Chinese translations:

  1. Translated by Bodhiruci from Northern Wei. Five fascicles.
  2. Translated by Tang Xuanzang. Five fascicles.
  3. Translated by Paramartha. One fascicle (partial translation).
  4. Translated by Guṇabhadra of the Sung. Two fascicles (partial translation).

In the Tibetan canon, there is one where the translator's name was not recorded.  It is four fascicles long and contains ten chapters, counting the introduction and the text.  There is no Sanskrit manuscript.

This sutra is the earliest and most well known text to teach the Mind Only philosophy.  Though this text takes the form of a sutra, in terms of its content, it tends towards thoroughly analyzing the dharma; it has a strong abhidharma flavor. The biggest difference is that it is taught in a way that really distinguishes the different types of phenomena, so it is more like a treatize.  Of the four Chinese translations, the School of Phenomenal Appearances primarily uses the translation by Xuanzang.

Next, Karmapa explained the two primary points that are very important to the Mind Only school.

  1. The chapter on Vast Intelligence teaches how there is a mind that is far more subtle than the six preceding consciousnesses. The name given for that is called the "mind of all seeds". Other names for it are the "grasping consciousness", the "ground consciousness", or the "mind".
  2. It very clearly explains the consciousness only view through the experience of samadhi.

"When you say that there is mind only, that all phenomena are mind, it is not just something that is proven logically, but something that you can experience with samadhi to realize that all phenomena are mind only," Karmapa stressed.  This is explained from the Maitreya Chapter, in which Maitreya asks the Buddha: "Bhagavan, what is the image that is the image of the samadhi that views? Is it separated from mind or not separated?"

Karmapa elaborated, "When you are meditating on samadhi and resting in samadhi, there is the image that you see, the image of external things. External things appear, right? Is that appearance separate from the mind in essence, or is it the same as the mind in essence? Is it different, or the same in essence?"

The Buddha then replied, "Maitreya, it is not separate in essence from the mind. Why is it not separate? That image is merely awareness. Maitreya, I have explained that consciousness is distinguished by mere awareness of the focus.  It is not something other than mind that is separate from it; it is a cognitive image in the mind itself."  Thus, the object experienced by samadhi is known to be awareness only, because of the experience of samadhi itself.

Likewise, the Sutra of Unraveling the Intent contains the discussion of the characteristics, the three essences, and the three lacks of nature, so it explains and emphasizes these as well.  Similarly, as mentioned earlier, it talks about how to differentiate the definitive and expedient meaning in the three wheels of dharma.

Regarding the views of the ground consciousness, three characteristics, and three lacks of nature, each of these views have their own individual sources.  Where did the ground consciousness come from?  What is the origin of the three characteristics?  What is the origin of the three lacks of nature?  Each presentation has its own sources.  However, Karmapa noted that what was taught in fragments in other sutras is gathered and taught together within the Sutra of Unraveling the Intent.  The sutra teaches that there is the ground consciousness, three characteristics, and three lacks of nature, but does not clearly explain them, nor discuss their relations or the boundaries between them.   In addition, in this sutra, the term "grasping consciousness" used for the eighth consciousness is considered more important and used more frequently than the term "ground consciousness".

He explained that because the three characteristics are mentioned, but the relations between them are not clearly taught, Unraveling the Intent must have been one of the early Mind Only sutras. The presentation and the relations between these features became increasingly clear, thus this sutra is estimated to have appeared earlier.

Likewise, one characteristic of this sutra is the strong influence of the Prajnaparamita sutras. How we know this is that within this sutra, the chapter of Characteristics of the Ultimate Truth determines the ultimate truth by way of five points.  In the chapter of the Characteristics of No Characteristics, it explains the meaning of the lack of nature (niḥsvabhāva) taught in the Prajnaparamita sutras by way of the teaching on the three characteristics.  This illustrates how the meaning of the lack of nature is taught in the third wheel of dharma.  In the chapter The Characteristics of All Phenomena, the three characteristics are also taught.  In essence, the Mind Only scholars say the primary meaning of the Unraveling the Intent is very similar to the Prajnaparamita sutras, so it shows that these sutras exerted a great influence on it.

After the intermission, Karmapa continued by introducing the third of the six sutras.

3. The Sutra of the Array of the Tathāgata's Qualities

Neither the Sanskrit name nor when it appeared is known.  There is no Sanskrit manuscript, and no translation into either Chinese or Tibetan.  We only know the existence of this sutra because a few quotations from it are in the Treatise Proving Awareness Only translated by Xuanzang.  Judging by its title, it seems it could be related to the chapter on the Origin of the Tathāgata or Teaching the Ocean of Names of the Tathāgata's Kayas in Tibetan, in the Avataṃsaka Sutra.  However, there is no way to say this definitively.

4. The Sutra of Mahayana Abhidharma

"We don't know its Sanskrit name or its origins.  There is no Sanskrit manuscript for this sutra, nor are there any Chinese or Tibetan translations.  Thus there is no way to know what its contents were," said Karmapa. "However, when we see the fragments that are cited in many other Indian treatizes, we can understand that this is actually an extremely important sutra."  This sutra must have predated and was well-known before Asanga, and some scholars say that this sutra served as the basis for Asanga's composition of the Compendium of the Mahayana.  Since we cannot read the sutra itself, we have just a few passages that are cited in other treatizes.  Nothing else of the sutra remains, so it is difficult to determine its entire thought.

Twelve different passages from this sutra are quoted in the Indian treatizes.  In terms of the number of citations, the first of the three most well-known quotes reads:

The expanse of beginningless time
Is the basis of all phenomena.
Because it exists, all transmigrations
And nirvana can be achieved.

This is a very important stanza, cited in many Indian texts, including those within the Tibetan canon.  It is not only important for the Mind Only, it is also important for the Buddha Nature school.

The second stanza teaches the ground consciousness:

The consciousness with all the seeds
Of all phenomena is the all-ground.
Thus I have taught to the noble beings
The all-ground consciousness.

The third quotation reads:

All phenomena are linked
To consciousnesses, and they to it.
The things that are mutually cause and result
Are always linked to each other.

When we look at these three stanzas, even though the interdependence of the ground consciousness is not clearly taught in the Sutra Unraveling the Intent, it is explicitly taught in this sutra.  In particular from this last stanza, "The things that are mutually cause and result are always linked to each other."  This teaches about the relation of interdependence within the ground consciousness very clearly.

"As mentioned previously, the first of the three stanzas is also considered important in the Sublime Continuum and the Buddha Nature school.  That's something we all need to understand," emphasized Karmapa.

5. The Sutra of the Travels to Lanka

This sutra is estimated to be from around the fifth or sixth century CE.  There is a Sanskrit manuscript.

Chinese translations are as follows:

  1. Translator: Dharmakṣema of Northern Wei.
    Length: Ten fascicles.
  1. Translator: Śikṣānanda of the Tang dynasty.
    Length: Seven fascicles.
  1. Translator: Guṇabhadra of the Sung dynasty.
    Length: Four fascicles.

We have two different versions of the Tibetan translations:

  1. Title: Travels to Lanka Sutra
    Translator: Unclear; said to be translated from Sanskrit or Chinese
    Length: Eleven fascicles
  2. Title: The Essence of the Teachings of All Buddhas from the Precious Travels to Lanka Sutra
    Translator: Gö Chödrup.
    Length: Eight fascicles

The Lanka of Travels to Lanka refers to present-day Sri Lanka.  Some claim it refers to the island of Sri Lanka, while others believe it is the name of a city there.  Travels to Lanka means that it is a sutra taught when the Buddha traveled to Sri Lanka.

This sutra primarily teaches the thought of the Mind Only.  Karmapa explained, "It is like a work that compiles all earlier Mind Only philosophy into one.  But when you look at the sutra, there is no formal order or structured presentation.  Everything is just said in the order it comes."  He went on to discuss the distinctive features of this sutra.

The primary topic of this sutra is the five dharmas, three characteristics, eight consciousnesses, and two types of selflessness.  In particular what it talks about is the assertions of the eighth consciousness, the ground consciousness, and buddha nature clearly being the same.  It teaches that the ground consciousness is the buddha nature.

Likewise, the sutra teaches that:

No external entities exist
The way that fools imagine.
The mind disturbed by imprints arises,
Appearing as entities.

This is quoted frequently in many Sanskrit treatizes.  Karmapa said, "The way it says that all phenomena are appearances is a little different, but it says that the external appearances arise from the power of the imprints, and in this way, they are mere awareness.  This is the way that it explains that everything is awareness only."

Since appearances are no more than mere appearances to mind, then it is very important to abandon our attachment to external objects.  This sutra emphasizes how to abandon that attachment.  Karmapa stressed, "Instead of teaching about the view, it primarily talks about practice—how to eliminate attachment.  So it is speaking more about the methods of practice and meditation."  Likewise, the philosophical basis for this Sutra was in fact influenced by the Middle Way.

Another feature is that the sutra speaks about the eight types of consciousness extremely clearly, which is very rare. Some sutras talk about them separately; they do not present them in a single way and explain them so clearly.

In brief, this sutra clearly teaches the Awareness Only view, but it can be seen not to have much of a structure for its content.  If we look at the Sanskrit manuscripts, the syntax and the style are very different than others.  For many other reasons, the people who compiled the sutra together seemed like they added a little about the Mind Only, and a little from the Middle Way.

The Sanskrit manuscript for this sutra, when examined, doesn't seem to have appeared at a single time, but the basis for it appeared somewhere around the third century CE.  There were many later additions, and it seems to have come to its present form in around the fourth century.  Another point is that there are no quotations from the Sutra of the Travels to Lanka in the works of Vasubandhu, so this sutra probably appeared after Vasubandhu.  However, one of the current assertions is that Vasubandhu lived in the fifth century, so if that is the case, then there is support for the idea that this sutra predates him.  At any rate, there are no citations of this sutra in the works of Vasubandhu.

6. The Ghaṇa-vyūha sūtra

This sutra appeared in approximately the fifth century.  There is no extant Sanskrit manuscript, but there are two translations into Chinese by Divākara and Amoghavajra.  There is also a Tibetan translation in four fascicles, but the translator is not mentioned, so it seems that a bit of it is missing.  Whether parts of the original manuscript were lost or missing is not clear.

The School of Phenomenal Appearances held that this was an important sutra for the Mind Only view. "Later on, when modern researchers examined this, it was evident that it was not only considered important by them," said Karmapa. "We have a commentary in Tibetan on the Yogacara Levels.  It was translated into Tibetan from Sanskrit, and it gives citations from the Ghaṇa-vyūha sūtra, so we can see that even before in India, this sutra was considered very important.  However, there has been little research into this sutra, so we can hope that future research will produce new results and conclusions."

He then explained that the content of the sutra teaches the ground consciousness.  Ghaṇa-vyūha is the name of a buddha realm, so the ground consciousness is this pure realm.  It also teaches the five dharmas, three characteristics, and so forth, to show that they all are ground consciousness and that it is the basis of samsara and nirvana.


"Generally when we talk about the School of Phenomenal Appearances in China," explained Karmapa, "We talk about the supporting treatizes and sutras.  Among the six sutras, the Sutra of Unraveling the Intent is the most important.  Of the eleven treatizes, the most important of them is the Yogacāra Levels."

In Chinese, there is the treatize Proving the Mind Only, written by Dhammapala and translated by Xuanzang. Before we study this text, we have to begin by studying Vasubandhu's One Hundred Gates to the Dharma.  When we speak about this in terms of the Treasury of Abdhidharma, we speak of seventy five different types of dharmas, but in the Mind Only or Mahayana, we talk about the hundred different types of dharmas.  So, this is an initial stage of the study of the Mind Only.  Another primary introductory text for the School of Phenomenal Appearances is a text by Xuanzang called Delineating the Eight Consciousnesses.  Karmapa mentioned that he has translated this text into Tibetan, but he is not entirely satisfied with the translation and hopes to share it with us in the future.  These are the two introductory texts.

Having completed his introduction of the six sutras, His Holiness began teaching about several of the treatizes.

Yogacāra Levels

In the Chinese tradition, it is said to be written by Maitreya, while in the Tibetan tradition, the author is believed to be Asanga.  However, said Karmapa, some Tibetan scholars say that it was taught by Maitreya and Asanga took notes. 

The Chinese translation is called The Treatise Called the Yogacāra Levels, and was translated by Tang Xuanzang.  It is one hundred fascicles long, a very large, very complete translation.  There are many other translations of the sections, but the complete one was by Xuanzang.  In Tibetan, it was translated by Yeshe De during the ancient translation period, and is one hundred and thirty fascicles in length.

Karmapa pointed out that another distinctive feature of the treatize is that it teaches the stages of practices that the Yogacāra meditated upon.  It teaches seventeen different stages of the experience that they have, the stages of their paths and levels. Likewise, the Yogacāra Levels is the earliest organized and structured text that teaches the Mind Only philosophy. "As this text has one hundred fascicles," he explained, "It is an extremely long text. From ancient times, this treatize has been called the 'long commentary on all the sutras'.  Thus it condenses the essence of the thought of many sutras that had appeared earlier and compiles them all in one, and so for that reason it is like a compendium of all Buddhist knowledge.  It contains the teachings of the Foundational and Greater vehicles, the teachings for the Sravakas, and the bodhisattvas. So basically it's a buddhist encyclopedia."

Regarding the connections between this text and Mind Only philosophy, fascicles seventy five to seventy eight quote the entire Sutra Unraveling the Intent except for the introduction.  Karmapa pointed out that it is obvious how much of an influence that sutra must have had on it.

Similarly, when we think about the Yogacāra Levels, the most important sections are the main part of the levels and the Compendium of Ascertainments.  If we compare these two, the main part does not really give a structured presentation of the philosophy of the all-ground, and does not use the terms the "three characteristics" and "three lacks of nature".  In the Compendium of Ascertainments, there is a fairly structured presentation of the ground consciousness.  Karmapa explained, "It teaches in terms of eight reasons for the existence of the all-ground, and it also talks about the eight reasons of the way appearances arise from the all-ground, and in the end how they disappear into the ground consciousness.  It talks about the nature and functions of the ground consciousness, and examines them in detail."  The presentation of the all-ground consciousness was very clear in the Yogacāra Levels.  Likewise, it had a very strong influence on later masters.  Another thing we need to pay attention to is that although the three characteristics and three lacks of nature are taught in the Sutra Unraveling the Intent, there was not much development in this area until later on.

The Ornament of Mahayana Sutras

The verses were by Maitreya, and the prose was by Vasubandhu.  In the Chinese tradition, both are considered to be of equal importance.  There is a Sanskrit title.

The Chinese translation is from approximately the fifth century CE.  It is thirteen fascicles long, and was translated by Prabhākaramitra.  In Tibetan, both verses and prose are in three fascicles, and were translated by Paltsik.

Karmapa explained that the word "ornament" in the title is alaṃkāra in Sanskrit, and refers to a style of poetic composition, a type of verse.  A distinguishing feature is that it explains Mahayana thought through the poetic style of the alaṃkāra.  The words also follow the poetic structure, so it is something you would understand only by looking at the Sanskrit manuscript. "Translating poetry from another language is extremely difficult," he explained. "If you can translate fifty percent that is fine.  But to get the feeling and the poetry of it into another language is very difficult, because the way that the language works is completely different.  You have got really beautiful poetry in Chinese, and if you translate it into Tibetan, it's like there's no point to it. If you make it into something poetic in Tibetan, then it is a different matter.  But translating the poetry into another language is just something you can't do!  Likewise, it is taught through various analogies, so it gives a particular feeling.  This is a really distinctive feature of this text."

As he mentioned previously, only by putting the verse and the prose together can we get the complete meaning of this treatize.  In China, it is said that the verses are attributed to Asanga and the prose to Vasubandhu.  There are differing positions on this.  Within the eight hundred stanzas of prose, there are twenty one different sections, and there are different ways to divide it into sections.

Karmapa went on to point out that the basic framework of the text is the same as the Bodhisattva Levels from the Yogacāra Levels.  It is written based on the Bodhisattva Levels, but with great development and improvement in terms of the view.  One representative example is the many new terms and presentations such as “apprehended object” and “apprehending mind”, “incorrect conceptualization”, appearances, and nonappearance.  Because of this, it is giving a new explanation of the concept that there is no external object and all phenomena are merely mind, rather than mere awareness.

Within the Ornament of the Sutras, the ground and three characteristics are not given a particularly structured explanation.  Karmapa said that according to the Tibetan view, we can deduce it is the earliest among the five works of Maitreya.  This is because the later works give structured explanations of the ground consciousness and the three characteristics.

In Tibetan, there are commentaries by Asvabhāva and Sthiramati.  The commentary by Asvabhāva is a summary.  In comparison, Sthiramati's commentary is more detailed and useful for research.

Differentiating the Middle from Extremes

Of the two Chinese translations, the two-fascicle version is translated by Chen Zhen Di.  Xuanzang's translation is three fascicles in length.

There are two Tibetan translations, the first of which is the seventy verse translation by Yeshe De and others.  The other is a translation that is two fascicles long by Vasubandhu, Yeshe De and others.

As with the Ornament of Sutras, the verses are attributed to Maitreya and the prose to Vasubandhu.  The verses appear in both the Tibetan translation and the translation by Xuanzang.

This work has five sections and has probably one hundred and ten stanzas.  There is still a Sanskrit manuscript for this text, compiled by the Japanese scholar, and it is very beneficial for research.  The title itself talks about differentiating the middle from the extremes, with the word "middle" meaning the center, and "extremes" meaning falling into a bias.  It primarily teaches the middle way that discards the extremes of existence and nonexistence, or the topic of emptiness.  Thus one of its particular features is that it teaches the meaning of the Middle Way in terms of Mind Only philosophy.  From the very beginning of the text:

There is incorrect conceptualization.
The two (apprehender and apprehended) do not exist in (because of ) that.
Emptiness (only) exists in this (the middle);
In that (expanse of emptiness) as well, there is this (conceptualization).

Karmapa explained that this is saying there is incorrect conceptualization, and because of that, there are the apprehender and the apprehended.  Within the "expanse of emptiness" means there is emptiness and not emptiness as well; the meaning of neither being empty nor not empty is, that since there is both emptiness and conceptualization, it is not a complete blank void.  Because neither the apprehended object nor the apprehending mind exists in actuality; it is also not empty.  This explanation of the Middle Way is a little different compared to how it is described in the Middle Way school.

"The framework of Differentiating the Middle from Extremes is primarily about incorrect conceptualization like the apprehended object and apprehending mind, but it has a more organized nature than the Ornament of the Sutras," Karmapa explained, "so we can infer that it must have been later than the Ornament of the Sutras."  He added that unlike the Ornament of the Sutras, this work takes the form of a commentary; it is easier to understand.  The way it explains things is simpler and gives more detailed explanations.  Furthermore, another feature is that the view is presented in a structured form.

The Compendium of Abhidharma

This was written by Asanga, and although there is no complete Sanskrit manuscript of this text, there are many passages quoted in other texts.  Karmapa mentioned that if we combine all the passages, we can reconstruct around forty percent of the text.

In Chinese, there is a seven-fascicle translation by Xuanzang, and there is a Tibetan translation by Yeshe De in five fascicles.  Karmapa pointed out that in the Xuanzang translation, "Mahayana" is added to the title, while the Tibetan just says The Compendium of Abhidharma. "We can infer that this word was added by Xuangzang himself to differentiate it from Foundation vehicle abhidharma," he said.

This text has five sections, and Xuanzang divides the first section further into different sections, making a total of eight sections.  In the earlier abhidharma, there are many different summaries and terminology, and it is explained in a way that accords with the positions of the Yogacāra school.

There are two commentaries on this text; one is called the Explication of the Compendium of Abhidharma, and the other the Commentary on the Compendium of Abhidharma.  Both are composed by Jinamitra and translated by Yeshe De.  In Chinese, there are two commentaries compiled by Sthiramati and translated by Xuanzang.

The Compendium of the Mahayana

Karmapa began by mentioning that this is a very important text, authored by Asanga, but there is no Sanskrit manuscript.

There are three different Chinese translations, and the Tibetan translation, which is in four fascicles, is translated by Yeshe De.

He pointed out that it is different from the other texts by Asanga; not only is it related to the Mind Only, it is also considered a very important Mind Only text.  He said, "One reason it is so important is that, the Compendium school developed in China because of Paramartha’s translation of this text.  So this gives us an idea of how much influence the text has."

Tibetan scholars, including Butön Rinpoche, said that the Compendium of Abhidharma compiles the essence of all foundations, while this treatize compiles particularly the meaning of the Mahayana.  This is why these two texts are called the two summaries. 

"If we think about the origins of this, because this text explains all the stages and levels very clearly, it is probably a very early Mind Only text," said Karmapa. "At the beginning of the text, it says that the Mahayana is the words of the Buddha, and describes the aspects of Mahayana practice."

He continued by stating that the text is organized around many sections, including the all-ground consciousness and the three characteristics.  Among them, the first two sections are about the basis for knowledge of the Mahayana practice.  The third to the eighth explain the conduct of Mahayana practice.  The ninth and tenth describe the fruition, the result of the Mahayana practice. The ten sections summarize the Mahayana in a complete and organized way.  In particular, it speaks extremely clearly about the relationship between the all-ground and the three characteristics, which is not as evident in dharmas of Maitreya such as the Ornament of the Sutras and Differentiating the Middle from Extremes.  It is, for this reason, an important text.

In brief, the distinguishing feature of this text is that it compiles the Mind Only views taught in earlier sutras and treatizes and compiles them in an organized way.  In particular, it clearly identifies three characteristics of the ground consciousness—its specific, causal, and resultant characteristics.  The presentation of the seeds and imprints finds a really strong foundation in this text. "To sum it up," said Karmapa, "this work not only clearly identifies the characteristics of the ground consciousness, it also takes the interdependence of the ground consciousness and how the imprints occur, how the other consciousnesses put imprints in the ground consciousness, so it talks about the interdependence of the ground consciousness, and uses that to prove the essence of the Mind Only philosophy that all phenomena are mind only."  This is the distinguishing feature of the Compendium of the Mahayana, and it is the most important text written by Asanga.

There is a commentary on this text by Vasubandhu that was translated into Tibetan, and one by Asvabhāva that was translated by Yeshe De.  There are three translations of Vasubandhu's commentary, which were by Paramārtha, Gupta of the Sui dynasty, and Xuanzang.  In addition, the commentary by Asvabhāva was also translated by Xuanzang.  Therefore, both commentaries are in both Chinese and Tibetan.  There is another commentary that was translated into Tibetan with the translator not clearly identified, but it only speaks of about half of the first section, and does not speak about the part on the ground consciousness.

The Treatise Clarifying the Teachings

The Karmapa explained that this text is said by some to be composed by Vasubandhu, while others claim that Asanga wrote it.  There is no Sanskrit manuscript, but there is Xuanzang's translation in Chinese.  It was not translated into Tibetan. "The main point is that it extracts points from the Yogacāra Levels, and it explains them clearly," he said. "This is important for understanding the connections between the Yogacāra Levels and Asanga."

The Thirty Verses

Author: Vasubandhu

Chinese translation: Tang Xuanzang

Tibetan translation: Lotsawa Yeshe De

The Thirty Verses is a late work of Vasubandhu's. "After he finished writing this work, he did not live long enough to write a commentary on it.  When we look at this," said Karmapa, "it is like the final result of Vasubandhu's lifetime work of investigating philosophy and the most complete presentation of his philosophy."

Both the Twenty Verses and the Thirty Verses were written by Vasubandhu, but the Chinese include the words "Mind Only" in both titles, which are missing in Tibetan.  He mentioned, "I think it would be good if they were there, or else it could be confused for the grammar text which is also called the Thirty Verses.  There is a danger that we will confuse the two texts."

The Twenty Verses was written primarily to refute and disprove the assertions of non-Buddhist orthodox Hindu schools and Buddhist realist schools that there are objects other than mind.  It dispelled doubts and questions about the position of awareness only.

"In the Thirty Verses, all the natures and presentations related to Mind Only are taught in an ordered and organized fashion," said Karmapa. "It gives a structure to the thought that proves the position of awareness only.  It is a very clear presentation." Although it is only thirty stanzas long, the meaning is complete.  The text teaches the essence, the forms, the result, the aspect, and the path. It formulates all the stages of Mind Only in a very structured and ordered fashion. For that reason, Indian scholars of that time, later scholars, and modern researchers have made the Thirty Verses an indispensable text for investigation of Mind Only.

Of the three main sections in the Thirty Verses, the first (stanzas one to twenty-four) primarily explains the form of the Mind Only.  The second (the twenty-fifth stanza) explains its nature, and the third (stanzas twenty-six to thirty) primarily explains its result.

The first main section also has different parts.  The first part or subsection talks about the features, functions, and the essence of the three types of change: eight consciousnesses, the afflicted mind, and the six consciousness.  It talks about their features and their functions very clearly. The second subsection refutes the main doubts about the Mind Only position. "When we say that all phenomena are mind, doubts and questions come up," Karmapa explained. "This dispels them." The third subsection discusses the relation between the three natures and the three lacks of nature.

The second main section, teaching the nature of Mind Only, determines and summarizes the idea that all phenomena are mind only.  In emphasizing that they are all Mind Only, it teaches that there are no external objects, and nothing transcends mind.

The third main section teaches the result of the Mind Only.  Once one develops the correct Mind Only view, based on that, one progresses through the five paths and ten levels to reach buddhahood.

In brief, Karmapa said, the Thirty Verses is the pinnacle of Vasubandhu's works.  Next, he spoke of a few reasons why this work is extremely important:

1. It explains in detail what the relations are among the eight consciousnesses. Prior to the Thirty Verses, it was not clearly taught what the function of the seventh consciousness, the afflicted mind, or its nature is. There are different positions in different texts, but there was no consensus. Some texts even identify the afflicted mind as a conceptual isolate of the eighth consciousness, while others explain the afflicted mind as an independent consciousness.  From the appearance of the Thirty Verses on, there was a consensus; it describes how the afflicted mind is an independent consciousness, separate from the ground consciousness.  It explains the reasons for this clearly, and therefore the earlier situation where there was no consensus was rectified.

2. It unifies the three types of change as a single essence. The beginning of the text talks about how consciousness changes and how it works. There were many different and contradictory opinions on the changes of consciousness before the Thirty Verses appeared.  Some traditions, from the earlier period of the Schools, continued to hold the view of a single continuum of subtle consciousness, and because of this, all phenomena could arise.  There are other traditions that seemed to accept the presentation of the three types of change, but in a way that was not entirely clear.  Karmapa emphasized that in the Thirty Verses, the essence of the three types of change is clearly identified. "In the earlier position that the changes were of one consciousness, there is a danger of it becoming an assertion of an independent autonomous mind that is like the creator of everything, like a soul or a self," he said.  By clarifying this, Vasubandhu created a presentation of interdependence of the ground consciousness; instead of a single autonomous ground consciousness that does everything, there are different consciousnesses with different functions.

3. It explains in great detail what the relation is between the dependent and the imaginary natures. In the Thirty Verses, it is taught that without stopping the grasping of the imaginary, yogis are unable to realize the actual meaning of the dependent. It also makes distinctions between the apprehending part and the apprehended part, exhibiting the understanding of the True Image Mind Only school.

"Thus it would be reasonable to say the Thirty Verses was like the field where the sprouts of the True Image and False Image schools could grow," Karmapa said. "Later Mind Only scholars primarily wrote many commentaries about the Thirty Verses, and there were differences in how they understood its thought, and thus the True Image and False Image schools formed."

Vasubandhu did not have enough time in his life to write a commentary on the Thirty Verses, but ten masters composed of his students and their students wrote commentaries on it.  After the appearance of the Thirty Verses, it immediately became the root text of the Mind Only school. "The reason is," Karmapa explained, "Vasubandhu really investigated the meaning of the Mind Only, thought and pondered on it.  He studied it through listening, contemplating, and meditation. He did a lot of practice on the idea of Mind Only, and this is the result of that."  After he wrote it, he did not live very long before he passed into nirvana.

Karmapa emphasized that everything Vasubandhu knew was included in the Thirty Verses, making this a root text of the Mind Only school. "Everyone recognized this, so if you wanted to consider yourself as a scholar of the Mind Only school, then there was no choice but to write a commentary on this, to show you were learned in the school," he said.

The two most exemplary commentaries are by Sthiramati and Dharmapāla.  The main difference comes down to how they explained the presentations of the Thirty Verses.  Karmapa then gave some examples:

1. The assertion of a single part:

Sthiramati asserts that cognition has a knowing apprehending part that knows an object, and a known apprehended part.  The apprehender is like the knowing mind, and there is the known aspect of the object.  So when you have an eye consciousness apprehending blue, the cognitive blue is the apprehended aspect.  And then you have the apprehending, the part of the apprehending mind, that is  apprehending the image.  This is just a result of the imprints of thought from beginningless time, but ultimately, the apprehending and apprehended parts do not exist in actuality.  The appearance is confused; the mind that sees it is also confused, because they can't exist without each other.  The merely clear knowing mind, in terms of the self-isolate, actually exists.  This is the assertion of a single part.  This asserts that the self-isolate is the dependent nature and the parts of the apprehended and apprehender are imaginary.

2. The assertion of two parts:

Guṇamati and Nanda assert that if we have a single consciousness, for example if a consciousness apprehending blue appears, there is the apprehending aspect that apprehends the cognitive image of blue, which is the apprehended part.  They arise together and simultaneously, otherwise, there could not be a knowledge or awareness of blue; if they do not arise together, then we have to say that consciousness does not know an object.  Therefore, both the apprehending part and the apprehended part have to be dependent.  This is what we call the assertion of two parts, explained Karmapa.

3. The assertion of three parts:

Dignāga's position is that of the two parts asserted above, the apprehending part is divided into two parts: a part looking outward at a focus, and a part turning inward and knowing itself.  The part that is looking outside is the sensory awareness of blue, and the part that is looking inside is the self-awareness of the apprehension of blue.  This is a presentation of self-awareness, dividing the apprehending part into two, one directed outward looking out at the apprehension of blue, and the self-awareness that is looking inside.

4. The assertion of four parts:

Dharmapāla held that in addition to the three parts, there is an additional fourth part that is an awareness of self-awareness.  Here the apprehending aspect is the valid means, and the result of that is the awareness of the blue, and you have to have a self-awareness of the result.  Who knows there is that awareness?  You have to present that there is an awareness of the self-awareness, otherwise you cannot prove there is any self-awareness that is aware of the awareness of blue.

The apprehended part being knowable is proven based on the apprehending part, and the apprehending part being knowable is based on self-awareness.  Similarly, self-awareness being knowable also must be proven by awareness of self-awareness.  Self-awareness again looks inward and proves the existence of awareness of self-awareness.  A fifth part is not necessary, or else it would be an infinite regress.

What this comes down to, pointed out Karmapa, is that in the Thirty Verses, Vasubandhu divides the apprehender and the apprehended into two different parts, defining the apprehending part and the cognitive image in two parts. When you have a sensory consciousness of blue, there is the question of whether the cognitive image is true or not. Is it a nonconcurrent formation? Is it consciousness? It is very complicated. "There is no blue itself, but we have the cognitive image of blue that appears to mind; when we say 'blue' in society, there is just that cognitive image of blue, but there is no actual blue that is an external object. If the cognitive image is blue, and it is also mind, then it is also confusing. For example, is the cognitive image of a vase a vase? If it is, then there would be a common locus between cognition and vases," he explained.

This concluded the Gunchoe teaching on Mind Only.

Karmapa added that he would speak about the philosophy next year, after he had done extensive studies, particularly on the texts that are in Chinese.  He expressed his hope to translate Xuanzang's translation into Tibetan.  He had already done a rough translation, but it needed to be edited further.  He concluded by saying the teachings on the Thirty Verseswould continue next year.

After the dedication prayers, Karmapa gave a brief recitation of the mandala offering while various monasteries made their offerings.  Afterward, Khenpo Thubten of Zurmang Monastery offered a few words of praise and appreciation.

The Gyalwang Karmapa thanked the Khenpo for his speech, and Zurmang monastery and Gharwang Rinpoche for organising the Gunchoe.  He also thanked the Shedra students for attending the teachings and taking part in debate sessions.  He then gave details of the upcoming Special Kagyu Monlam , Karma Pakshi Lhadrup, and Thousandfold Offering to Devi Marichi.

"As I said before, I have done everything I could to study, and spent this year studying, and so next year I can teach the actual Thirty Verses, so it will be as good and as correct and as proper as it should be.  I think, if I can go through five or ten stanzas a year, it will take up to five years, but that won’t be a problem if, at the end, it is really complete and in depth," he said.  He then emphasized that once we understand why the text is important, it will not be so difficult for us to study it. "Like when we were little, we did know what we were doing.  If you do not know the reasons why you should study, what the purpose of it is; if you don't know the history and you just look at a text and just study it, then it will be difficult.  But once you do want to study, then it is easy.  So that is how it is.  Thank you, thank you very much."

The last day of the Kagyu Gunchoe Winter Teachings on the Thirty Verses concluded with a recitation of The Aspiration of Mahamudra.

Day 9: The Lasting Influence of Mind Only and the Position of the Buddha Nature School

Day 9: The Lasting Influence of Mind Only and the Position of the Buddha Nature School

A Teaching on Vasubandhu's The Thirty Verses

Day 9: The Lasting Influence of Mind Only and the Position of the Buddha Nature School

6 February 2022

Karmapa began by reviewing the point he had made in the previous day's teaching – that no independent Mind Only school ever developed in Tibet and that it was held in low esteem.

In Candrakirti's root text and commentary on Entering the Middle Way, which spread in Tibet, Mind Only was the main opponent. In addition, proponents of the Shentong view appropriated all the Mind Only texts as their own, thus lowering the reputation of the Mind Only view in Tibet. Defending the Mind Only view, Jetsun Rendawa wrote in his Dialogs with Loppon Chögyal:

If Asanga, Vasubandhu, and their followers are not Mind Only, then who is? If I say that, what is there to say? Nothing makes them worse because of being Mind Only. Do you assert that you know the Mind Only school? I do not see anyone in Tibet who comprehends the Mind Only fully.

And Taktsang Lotsawa said in his texts on the All-Knowing philosophical schools:

In Tibet, some say that the Mind Only positions have been refuted by glorious Candrakirti and that they are Buddhist extremists, so saying that is really terrible is like saying it is not good.

"It seems it was necessary to say this," commented Karmapa.

Since the Kagyu assert that appearances are mind, some Sakya and Gelukpa scholars have argued that Kagyu are Mind Only. Many Kagyu scholars say that appearance and mind are the same in substance, making them seem closer to the True Image than the False Image school. In Tibet, many say that those who hold the Mind Only view can achieve the level of forbearance on the path of joining's four phases (warmth, the peak, forbearance and supreme dharma), but they cannot achieve the path of seeing.

However, Drikung Jikten Sumgön says in his Single Intent of True Dharma:

The clear realisation of Mind Only is also present on the seventh level, Far Progressed.

There are different interpretations of what this means, but some commentators say it means that the view elicited by the Mind Only school is present in the meditative wisdom of the seventh level.

In terms of the view, the Mind Only was not considered as important as the Middle Way, but in terms of conduct and practice, the Mind Only became very significant. As the Karmapa had pointed out previously, from its beginnings, the Yogacara Mind Only school was a school of practitioners. Hence, the conduct of the six transcendences and the meditations of samadhi, shamatha and insight were explained at length in the "Dharmas of Maitreya", the Yogacara Levels, the works of Asanga and Vasubandhu, and the Stages of the Paths and Levels of the Mahayana, but they are not taught in Middle Way texts. Therefore, those who wish to practice Mahayana have little choice but to study Mind Only texts.

Mind Only and the Mind-Training tradition

Among all the noted Indian scholars who travelled to Tibet, the one with the most activity was Atisha. His greatest impact was in the teaching of the Mahayana practice, including the gradual path of the three types of individuals; the pith instructions on mind-training; and practical advice on how to practice Mahayana dharma.

In his auto-commentary on the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, Atisha writes that the source for the presentation of the three types of individuals is the Autocommentary on the Treasury of Abhidharma. The three types of individuals are mentioned frequently in the Yogacara Levels. There are also related passages in the sutras and treatises of the Mind Only, such as Asanga's commentary on the Sublime Continuum and the Sutra of Mahaparinirvana. It seems that the teaching of the 'three types of individuals' was an oral tradition preserved in the Mind Only school's lineage of vast conduct.

Likewise, the pith instructions on mind training were mainly transmitted from Lord Serlingpa, who was known to be from the Mind Only school. Similarly, the Kadampa asserted three lineages: the lineage of profound view, the lineage of vast conduct, and the lineage of the blessings of practice. The lineage of vast conduct can be traced back to Asanga and Vasubandhu.

Mind Only and the Bodhisattva Vow

There are two transmission lineages of the bodhisattva vow, one from the lineage of vast conduct and one from the lineage of profound view. The former is called the Mind Only bodhisattva vow because it goes back to Asanga and Vasubandhu's lineage of vast conduct. The latter is called the Middle Way bodhisattva vow because it goes back to the lineage of profound view. In his Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, Jowo Atisha describes the vows using those terms. So, when giving the bodhisattva vows of the lineage of vast conduct, it is done according to Maitreya's Bodhisattva Levels, and the Middle Way tradition is done according to Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva.

When discussing the bodhisattva vows, the Sakya Pandita maintained that the Mind Only view is lower. Hence, its rituals and conduct are more restrictive, whereas the Middle Way view is higher, so the rituals and conduct are more relaxed. He gave many reasons why the Middle Way tradition is better. But there are many objections to the Sakya Pandita's positions in Khedrup Je's Three Vows and Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa's commentary on the Way of the Bodhisattva. In any case, the Sakya, Geluk, Kagyu, and Nyingma all have a tradition of taking the vows from the Mind Only and the Middle Way traditions.

Mind Only and the Kadampa tradition

Even though the Mind Only school did not spread in Tibet, their conduct and teaching did. For example, one of the three Kadampa forefathers, Geshe Potowa Rinchen Sal, initiated the study of what became the six Kadampa texts. These included two very important Mind Only texts —the Bodhisattva Levels and the Ornament of the Sutras. The Bodhisattva Levels is the most crucial text for the study of the bodhisattva vow, and there have been many Tibetans who wrote commentaries about it, including Je Tsongkhapa in the Great Path to Enlightenment (བྱང་ཆུབ་ལམ་རིམ་). In his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment and other works, he quotes heavily from the Shravaka Levels.

"These texts such as the Bodhisattva Levels became well-known and are generally accepted to be Mind Only texts, but there was a great tradition of studying and teaching them in Tibet. The main reason is not because of their philosophical outlook but primarily in terms of practice and meditation," the Karmapa commented.

Mind Only and Validity

The achievements of the Great Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherab

One specific type of literature in the Mind Only corpus are the texts on Validity. Prior to the great Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherab (1059–1109 CE), only a few texts on validity had been translated into Tibetan. There were no explanations of the texts other than general ones. Considering them important, he went to study these texts with the Kashmiri panditas Parahitabhadra (Tib.Shenpen Sangpo)] and Bhavyaraja (Tib.Kalden Gyalpo)though there is some debate whether the latter was a Buddhist or a Hindu. [At that time in Kashmir, there was an intermingling of Hindu with Buddhist panditas.]

Furthermore, because the Prajnaparamita sutras were complex and profound, the earlier translations into Tibetan had many faults and had not been translated accurately. Ngok Lotsawa realised how in order to study them, it was essential to receive instructions from the lineage. To this end, he underwent many hardships and travelled to central India, where he studied the texts on Prajnaparamita with the most well-known Indian scholars of that time, Pal Gomi Chime and the Mahapandita Bumtrak Nyipa [Tibetan translation of their names].

Having studied these texts on validity and Prajnaparamita, Ngok Lotsawa made new translations and overhauled and corrected the old ones. Among his translations from Sanskrit into Tibet are many texts on validity, including the Commentary on Validity, Ascertainment of Validity, Drop of Reasoning, and commentaries by Master Dharmottara. He also translated many texts on prajnaparamita, including most of the 25,000 Verse Prajnaparamita, the Ornament of Clear Realisation with Asanga's commentary, the 8000 Verse Prajnaparamita with Haribhadra's commentary,  and many other texts on  Prajnaparamita. He also translatedthe Sublime Continuum, the Compendium of Sutras, the Compendium of Trainings, the Way of the Bodhisattva, and the commentary on the problematic points of the wisdom (prajna) chapter in the Way of the Bodhisattva. In total, it is said that he did new translations or revised translations of over 8400 sutra texts and translated several thousand tantra texts.

One of his main aims for going to India was to study the literature on validity, as is explained in the biography by his disciple Drolungpa. When he returned to Tibet, he mainly taught texts such as the Ornament of the Sutras, Differentiating the Middle from the Extremes, Root Verses of the Middle Way and texts on the Middle Way by Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla. "As the Tibetan saying goes, 'In the centre between the roaring lions of Middle Way and Validity'—there developed a manner of study that unites the view of Middle Way with the logic of validity. And this can be traced back to Loden Sherab," the Karmapa explained.

However, Candrakīrti's works had not yet spread widely. Studies focused on the Ornament of the Middle Way, the Two Truths of the Middle Way, and the Light of the Middle Way, which were primarily Autonomist Middle Way [Svātantrika Madhyamaka] texts.

Later, after Sakya Pandita (1182 –1251 CE), Dharmakīrti's  Commentary on Validity became more widespread, but prior to that, they primarily studied Dharmakīrti's Ascertainment of Validity. Basically, the Ascertainment is a more straightforward text to study because there is an auto-commentary making the meaning more understandable, the words are unambiguous, and it is easy to memorise. Many passages written in verse in the Commentary on Validity were written in prose in the Ascertainment. The long commentary on the Ascertainment which Ngok Loden Sherab wrote is one of the earliest commentaries on validity in Tibetan.

Ngok Lotsawa's Legacy

Ngok Lotsawa had four main students: the upholder of his body, the monastery, Shangtse Pongwa Chökyi Lama; the holder of his teachings Drolungpa Lodrö Jungne; the holder of his teachings on prajnaparamita Drechenpo Sherap Bar; and the holder of his teachings on Middle Way and validity, Khyung Rinchen Drak.

Shangtse Pongwa became the abbot of Sangpu. Drolungpa, the most renowned of the four, composed many texts, especially the Great Stages of the Teachings. Je Tsongkhapa considered this text extremely important, and it is said that it was the principal basis for his Great Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Drechenpo established the prajnaparamita tradition, which descends from Loden Sherab. The Karmapa joked that 'dre' doesn't mean ghost! He explained that it's a clan name from the Kham region of Tibet, so this is a Khampa prajnaparamita tradition.

The main student of both Drolungpa and Khyung was Chapa Chökyi Senge. He wrote commentaries on some forty different texts. He was especially learned in validity and wrote commentaries on both the Commentary of Validity and Ascertainment of Validity. He wrote three collections on Validity and logic—short, medium and long—the "collected topics" du-dra [བསྡུས་གྲྭ] as they are called in Tibetan. Similarly, it is said that it was he who instituted the tradition of the presenter standing, stamping their foot, and clapping their hands when making points in debate. He was not Mind Only; he was a  Svatantrika (Autonomist Middle Way). He refuted the Prasangika tradition (Consequentialist Middle Way) of Candrakīrti, saying it had eight great faults. He famously debated with and defeated the Indian pandita Jayananda, a Prasangika. Gyalwang Karmapa commented that he had read some of Chapa Chökyi Senge's works on the Middle Way, and he had used very complex and precise logic in his refutation of the Prasangika view.

He had eight main disciples, including two of the "Three Men from Kham", the three principle disciples of Lord Gampopa. Pakmodrupa Dorje Gyaltsen, who founded the Phagdru Kagyu, studied the Middle Way and Validity with him. As did Lord Dusum Khyenpa, founder of the Karma Kagyu.

The founders of the tradition of Validity were Dignāga and his student Dharmakīrti. Both are generally accepted to be Mind Only masters. In Tibet, the literature on validity was very influential. There were even people who studied only the collected topics of logic and then they would go on debate tours of the great monastic colleges. These days the collected topics are considered to be basic texts in shedra study but, in fact, they contain some very complex points and people would spend many years studying them.

Returning to Drechenpo Sherap Bar, the Karmapa spoke of his continuing influence. One of his students was Ar Jangchup Yeshe Jung who wrote commentaries on the long, medium, and short prajnaparamita sutras, the Light of the 25,000, and the 8000 Verses. In Tibet the saying goes "Prajnaparamita comes down to Ar." So, in Tibet, most of the Prajnaparamita traditions can be traced back through Ar Jangchup to Drechenpo. Another of Drechenpo’s students was Ja Dulwa Dzinpa Tsöndru Bar. He was very learned in the Vinaya and renowned for studying and teaching it, so another saying goes, "Vinaya comes down to Ja." Hence, the study and practice tradition of Vinaya in Tibet can be traced back to Dzinpa Tsöndru Bar

Thus, during the later transmission of the teachings in Tibet, all of the teaching lineages on the "Five Dharmas of Maitreya", the three great works of the Autonomist masters, and the Ascertainment of Validity can be traced back to Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherab. Before him, there had been a fair amount of teaching and study on Vinaya and Abhidharma, but there had not been any presentations of proof and refutations based on logical methods according to the works of Dharmakīrti. The tradition of using validity to examine and analyse the texts had not developed in Tibet prior to that.

The study of the "Five Dharmas of Maitreya" spread widely in all four major lineages of Tibet— Sakya, Geluk, Kagyu, and Nyingma. For example, the great Sakya scholar Rongtön Sheja Kunrik (1367-1449 CE) wrote commentaries on all five of them, and countless other authors wrote commentaries on particular ones. The greatest number of commentaries is on the Ornament of Clear Realization, then the Sublime Continuum, and after that, the Ornament of the Sutras. The fewest commentaries are on Differentiating the Middle from Extremes and Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata.  Although the "Five Dharmas of Maitreya" and the twenty dharmas related to Maitreya spread widely in Tibet, there is no evidence that Tibetan scholars developed any great interest in the Mind Only view, the Karmapa commented. Shakya Chokden took an interest in Mind Only philosophy, but his explanations of them were different.

Rendawa Zhonnu Lodro and Je Tsongkhapa

The Karmapa suggested that the one who took the keenest interest in Mind Only philosophy was Je Tsongkhapa. The evidence for this is in the root text and commentary he wrote on Difficult Points of the Mind and the All-Ground.  When you examine the root text, you can see the similarity to Vasubandhu's Twenty Verses and Thirty Verses. Some of the lines are very close. Je Tsongkhapa primarily speaks about the eight consciousnesses in detail. Later he wrote the well-known Essence of True Eloquence: Distinguishing the Definitive and Expedient. While he was writing this, he compared the texts of the Sutra Unraveling the Essence, the commentary on it attributed to Asanga, the Bodhisattva Levels, the Compendium of Ascertainments, Differentiating the Middle from the Extremes and the Ornament of the Sutras along with their commentaries, the Compendium of the Mahayana, the Compendium of Abhidharma, Dignāga's Examination of Objects, Dharmakīrti's Commentary on Validity, Dignāga's summary of the 8000 Verse Prajnaparamita, Śāntipa's Pith Instructions of Prajnaparamita and Destruction of Harm, as well as others. He used all these texts to examine the difficult points of the Mind Only and concluded that in order to differentiate the definitive and expedient in the Mahayana scriptures, both Nagarjuna and Asanga are important. This is not only in terms of the sutras but also in terms of the Vajrayana. The tantric mahasiddhas also were similar to either Asanga or Nagarjuna, so there is no other path to realising suchness than these two.

One reason why Tsongkhapa took such interest in the Mind Only was probably the influence of his teacher, Rendawa Zhonnu Lodrö, who taught him philosophy. He was a Prasangika and was very influential in spreading the Consequentialist view. Previously, most Tibetans followed the Autonomist view.

Karma Könshon wrote, "These days in the Snow Land, the fact that the wise and foolish all say they speak Middle Way and breathe Middle Way is Rendawa's kindness. Before him, the Middle Way was a corpse in Tangsak."

As a  Consequentialist, Rendawa held the rangtong view. However, at that time the Jonang shentong view was spreading widely, and they were in conflict with those who upheld the rangtong view. Further, the Jonangpas claimed that the Mind Only texts were shentong. Rendawa strongly opposed both the Jonangpas and the shentong view and particularly disliked how they had appropriated the Mind Only texts. He also expressed doubts about the main Jonang practice of the Six Yogas, which is basically the practice of the Kalachakra tantra, and questioned whether the Jonang Kalachakra practice was pure or not. The situation was further complicated because his criticism of the Jonangpa led to a break with one of his own teachers, Nyawon Kunga Pelwa [who, having been miraculously healed by Dolpopa, had great faith in him and later became the abbot of Jonang monastery].

Rendawa was concerned for the integrity of the Mind Only texts and considered it crucial to know the pure Mind Only tradition. He even wrote a commentary on Śāntipa's Ornament of Mind Only. Je Tsongkhapa, at the end of his commentary on the ground consciousness, pays tribute to the role Rendawa played in awakening his mind to the scriptures. They did disagree, however, on the nature of the "Dharmas of Maitreya". Rendawa maintained that all five were Mind Only whereas Tsongkhapa said that some were Mind Only and some were Middle Way.

Though some Tibetan scholars such as Tsongkhapa did what they could to clarify Mind Only philosophy and to present it in its purest form, the biggest difficulty in Tibet was lack of texts. Many of the clearest Mind Only texts written by scholars after Vasubandhu have not been translated into Tibetan. For this reason, the Karmapa said, it was important to translate the Mind Only treatises which exist in Chinese into Tibetan, such as the commentaries by Dharmapāla and so forth on Proof of Awareness Only and their commentaries.

"If we can translate them into Tibetan, since we have a strong tradition of studying the great texts, and in particular since we have very strong studies in validity and logic…we had so few Mind Only texts…if we could have clear and complete expositions of the Mind Only view, I think that without a doubt we could develop a superior study and superior teaching of the philosophy," the Karmapa observed.

A Summary of Mind Only and Middle Way Traditions

The Karmapa began by explaining to the shedra students and their teachers that he would be examining this topic from the perspective of modern research rather than the traditional way of treating Buddhist texts.

Simply put, the Mind Only asserts that mind truly exists, and the Middle Way asserts that all phenomena do not truly exist. They do share some common ground. However, there have also been endless disputes between them, and from this perspective, it seems that they are antagonists.

An example of this is the debate over emptiness and existence between Dharmapāla and Bhavaviveka, which is described in Huizhao's Lamp of the Definitive Meaning Proving Awareness Only. Dharmapāla asserted that the dependent nature (གཞན་དབང་) arising from the interdependence of causes and conditions exists while Bhavaviveka asserted it does not exist. It is difficult to say whether this debate actually happened or not. The account probably originates in the oral tradition from Xuanzang. However, it does suggest that conflict between the two schools could not be avoided. According to Yijing's accounts of his travels to India in the late seventh century, at that time it was already commonly accepted that there were two Mahayana schools, the Middle Way and the Mind Only. It seems that the Middle Way spread first, and then the Mind Only grew until they were equally influential. But, from the beginning, the two schools came into conflict. When Xuanzang and Yijing were at Nalanda in the seventh century, students studied the Mind Only, Middle Way, and Foundation vehicle texts. Not only did they study the different philosophical texts, but they also engaged in spirited debates, holding their own school's position. There was even a tradition of taking another school's position and incorporating it into your own. The Mind Only, for example, very skillfully adopted the detailed presentation of the Sutra school Abhidharma. They also incorporated some of the Middle Way views to establish their own positions. This became harmful to the Middle Way because it created too great a similarity between the schools. At the same time, some in the Middle Way school incorporated Mind Only positions into their philosophy, and they became known as the Yogacara Middle Way.

The mixing of different positions led to a variety of schools. The Karmapa used a diagram to illustrate the various combinations of the views of the Mind Only, Middle Way and Sutra schools.

After Nagarjuna had passed away, the Middle Way divided into two schools called the Consequentialist (Prasaṇgika) and the Autonomist (Svatantrika). Some scholars maintain that these are Tibetan terms and were not used in India, but the Karmapa questioned this. He asserted that there are mentions of these schools in Indian texts and gave several examples, including Śāntarakṣita, who mentions the debate between Prasangika and Svatantrika. Buddhapālita is recognised as the founder of the Prasangika. They used the presentation of negations [ Skt prasaṅga, which means "logic consequence"; hence, they were known as Prasangika /Consequentialists]. The Autonomists recognised Bhāvaviveka as their founder. They used the logics of validity—autonomous syllogistic reasoning (Skt svātantra) — both when presenting their own positions and also when refuting others' positions. Hence, they were called Svatantrika /Autonomists.

If they held the Foundation Vehicle Sutra school position [the Sautrantika school] within the Middle Way school, they were called the Sautrāntika Madhyamika. This term included Bhāviveka and Jnanaprabha.

At the time of Śāntarakṣita and Kamalasila, there were those who held the Mind Only view mixed with Madhyamika and they were called the Yogacāra Madhyamika.

Also, within the Mind Only tradition, Dignāga founded the True Image school, but he also accepted many propositions of the Sutra school. Dharmakīrti, following in Dignāga's footsteps, added even more Sutra school positions, so after that people who held that particular view were called the Sautrantika Yogacāra. Jñāna Śrī Mitra and Ratnakīrti upheld this tradition.

The Buddha Nature School and Mind Only

The Buddha Nature school holds that, although all sentient beings have the obscurations caused by the stains of the afflictions, they have within their continuums the tathāgatagarbha meaning the essence (garbha) of the Tagathata, one who has just gone, i.e. the essence of a buddha or buddha nature.

To explain it from one perspective, this means that any sentient being, no matter who they are, has the opportunity to achieve buddhahood. The seeds of this philosophy have been present from the time of original Buddhism,  before the development of the eighteen schools. In Pali texts, there is the term "luminous mind" or pabhassara citta. It is also present in Sanskrit as prabhāsvara-citta.

The earliest usage of the term tathāgatagarbha or "buddha nature" occurs in the Sutra of the Essence of the Tathagatas. (Tathāgatagarbha-sūtra). How was this established? The Karmapa explained that modern research tries to distinguish which sutras were earlier and which were later by the date when they were first translated into another language. Since the Chinese canon was translated from an early time, they often look at the earliest translation of a sutra into Chinese. Or they search for an even earlier translation into another language. Alternatively, if a Sanskrit manuscript exists, the type of script indicates which century it was written.

The term is also found in the Sutra of No Increase and No Decrease and in the Sutra of the Glorious Lion's Roar. The Karmapa commented that there were some quotations from the former in some Tibetan texts. The latter had not been translated, but as it was a short sutra, he thought it might be good to translate it into Tibetan if he had the time, continued to uphold this view. In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, buddha nature is taught to be the same in essence as the dharma expanse (dharmadhātu), and the sutra says that all sentient beings are said to be permeated by the dharma expanse. The text that gives the complete framework of the Buddha Nature philosophy is Distinguishing the Family of the Jewels, known as The Sublime Continuum (the gyu-lama) in the Tibetan canon.

Most scholars maintain that the Buddha Nature school was established earlier than the Mind Only school. By the time the Mind Only school developed, the Buddha Nature school had spread, and it is indisputable that it exerted influence on the Mind Only from its beginnings. The evidence is found in Mind Only texts that clearly state the Buddha Nature view. For example, one can immediately see in Maitreya's Differentiating the Middle From Extremes, Ornament of the Sutras, and so forth, a discussion of the "stainless nature" and the "naturally luminous mind", terms which reflect the view of the Buddha Nature school. Later, the influence of the Buddha Nature school on Mind Only becomes even more apparent in the texts of Vasubandhu. Of equal importance to The Sublime Continuum is the Treatise on Buddha Nature attributed to Vasubandhu, though some modern scholars question his authorship because it contains some refutations of the Mind Only. This text is not in the Tibetan canon, only in Chinese.

As the interconnection between the Mind Only and Buddha Nature schools developed, some began to identify the all-ground consciousness of the Mind Only with the tathāgatagarbha of the Buddha Nature. The seeds of this view can be seen in the Ornament of the Sutras, Commentary on the Ten Levels, Differentiating the Family of the Jewels, and other treatises. By the time of the Travels to Lanka Sutra, it is stated that the ground consciousness and buddha nature are one. Then, by the time the treatise Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith was written, which was translated into Chinese by Yìjìng, the tradition of the Buddha Nature school had become very organised and had a robust framework. The main point to note is that of the three most important treatises of the Buddha Nature school, only one—the Sublime Continuum— is available in Tibetan. The other two are the treatise on The Family of the Buddha, attributed to Vasubandhu, and Awakening the Mahāyāna Faith, attributed to Asvabhāva, an Indian pandita who travelled to China. This text is considered extremely important in the Chinese Buddhist tradition.

The Third Mahayana Tradition: Distinctions within Chinese Buddhism between Mind Only, Middle Way and Buddha Nature

The Gyalwang Karmapa began by pointing out that most contemporary researchers now maintain there were three distinct schools within Mahayana Buddhism: Middle Way, Mind Only and Buddha Nature. Though this may seem a new idea, this distinction is, in fact, an ancient tradition found primarily in the Chinese Avatamsaka tradition.

The third patriarch of the Avatamsaka tradition was the master Xiánshǒu Fǎcáng (643–712 CE), who lived during the Chinese Tang Dynasty. He wrote a commentary on Sthiramati's Treatise on the Indivisible Dharma Expanse. In it, he notes that Aśvaghoṣa and Sthiramati had founded a new Mahayana school, the Buddha Nature school, that was different from either the Mind Only or Middle Way. This is the earliest written reference to an actual independent Buddha Nature school.

The fifth patriarch of the Avatamsaka school, the Chinese master Guīfēng Zōngmì (780–841 CE), also distinguished three Mahayana schools. He spoke about three schools—the School of Phenomena [Mind Only], the School Negating Phenomena [Middle Way], and the School of the Nature of Phenomena [Buddha Nature]. He compared the School of Phenomena [Mind Only] with the School of the Nature of Phenomena [Buddha Nature] and made ten distinctions between them.

  1. Asserting that ultimately there are three vehicles (ཐེག་པ) versus one. The Mind Only said that there were three enlightenments and three vehicles, whereas Buddha Nature said that ultimately there was only one.
  2. Asserting that there are five families (རིགས་ལྔར་) versus one family. The Mind Only asserted five families of beings with five different potentials, including one family that can never achieve Buddhahood. Buddha Nature maintained that ultimately there is only one family, that of the Buddha. All sentient beings will attain buddhahood because the buddha nature permeates them.
  3. Asserting that the nature of mind is confused versus asserting it is not. Primarily, the Mind Only holds that all phenomena arise from the expanse of the ground consciousness. It is the nature of the ground consciousness to be confused. The Buddha Nature school teaches that the nature of the mind is suchness which is unconfused.
  4. Asserting suchness is not consequent to causes and conditions versus asserting it is consequent. Mind Only identify suchness as an unchanging nature of selflessness, a no negation. Buddha Nature explained suchness as the unchanging nature of the dharma expanse. But within the dharma expanse various appearances such as virtue and misdeeds can appear; there are actors, actions and results.
  5. Among the three characteristics, asserting that the dependent is ultimately established versus asserting it is not.
  6. Asserting that there is increase and decrease among sentient beings and buddhas [the Mind Only position] versus asserting there is none [the Buddha Nature view].
  7. Asserting that the two truths are different in essence versus the same in essence. Mind Only says that the relative is confused, but the ultimate is not, so they are different in essence. Buddha Nature says that within suchness they are not separate in essence.
  8. Asserting that arising, remaining, changing, and perishing occur at different times versus at the same time. The Mind Only posits different phases, whereas Buddha Nature says that they exist simultaneously.
  9. Asserting that the obscurations to be discarded and antidotes are separate in nature versus the same in nature. The Buddha Nature school says that the obscurations to be discarded are confusion, whereas the antidotes are wisdom. Within the obscurations there is also the nature of wisdom so even the nature of that confusion is wisdom.
  10. Asserting that a buddha's body is conditioned versus asserting it is unconditioned. This concerns whether both the form body and the dharmakaya of a buddha are conditioned or not.

In conclusion, the Karmapa spoke about contemporary research into the history of the Mahayana schools.

In ancient times, the existence of a separate Buddha Nature school was acknowledged by the Avatamsaka school in China but the view was not held generally. In modern times, Japanese scholars have led the way, and their research has also influenced Chinese Buddhists.

Traditionally, Western academics recognised only two Mahayana schools, the Mind Only and the Middle Way. Then, in 1931, the Russian scholar E. Obermiller translated the Tibetan version of the Sublime Continuum into English. In 1935, the British Orientalists E.H. Johnston and H.W. Bailey published fragments of the Sanskrit text of the Treatise Differentiating the Family of the Jewels (i.e. the Sublime Continuum). Then, in 1950, Johnston published a complete Sanskrit edition of the text. Because of these three manuscripts, interest among Western academics increased significantly, and they began to write articles about tathāgatagarbha, the buddha nature. In 1956, the Austrian Erich Frauwallner presented the reasons why there must have been a separate Mahayana Buddha Nature school, distinct from the Mind Only and Middle Way. His explanation accorded with the explanations of Japanese scholars. Basically, most contemporary scholars of Buddhism accept that the Buddha Nature school was a third major Mahayana school.

The Karmapa explained that this raised some issues for Tibetans. Within the Tibetan tradition, discussion of the buddha nature is based on the Sublime Continuum. If Tibetans were to maintain the division into only four philosophical schools, the teachings on buddha nature would have to be categorised as Mind Only. But placing Buddha Nature school's philosophy into the Mind Only framework restricted the breadth of its philosophy, all its power and capacity. "Like a bird that can't spread its wings and fly," he commented. "We need to open the cage and let it out, and let it fly with its own wings." As the Middle Way is based on the teachings of Nagarjuna as recorded in the Root Verses of the Middle Way, if a philosophy doesn't fit with these teachings, it's difficult to label it Middle Way, he argued and suggested that, in his opinion, the Buddha Nature school deserved to be recognised as an independent tradition.

Day 8: The Spread of Mind Only Treatises in Tibet

Day 8: The Spread of Mind Only Treatises in Tibet

A Teaching on Vasubandhu’s The Thirty Verses

Day 8: The Spread of Mind Only Treatises in Tibet

4 February 2022

The Dharmas of Maitreya and how the study of them developed

The Gyalwang Karmapa began the morning by greeting everyone with wishes for auspiciousness and good health.  Since it was the eighth day of the winter teachings, he briefly summarized how he would continue to discuss the spread of the Mind Only in Tibet, or more specifically, the spread of the Mind Only treatises in Tibet.

Previously, the Karmapa had divided the spread of Mind Only into five different sections, but now he had added a sixth: the connection between the Shentong and the Mind Only, which he would discuss in the next session.

Since the Karmapa had already explained the origins of the “Dharmas of Maitreya” during previous days generally, he now wanted to draw particular attention to the Indian treatises in the Tengyur that seemed to have differing explanations of the origins of the “Dharmas of Maitreya”.

For example, in his great commentary on the Eight Thousand Line Prajñāramitā, Haribhadra said that Asanga had realized the entire meaning of the scriptures but had not fully realized both the meaning and the words of the Prajñāramitā sūtras, so Asanga was dissatisfied.  Because of being dissatisfied, Maitreya taught the explanation of the sutras and wrote the root verses of Ornament of the Sutras.  After hearing this, Asanga and his brother Vasubandhu taught it.  This was one explanation of how Maitreya wrote the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”.

Abhayākaragupta wrote in the Pith of Moonlight (Ārya aṣṭa sahasrika prajñāramitā marmakaumita nāma, another commentary on the 8000-lines) that after the Buddha passed into nirvana, Vajrapani wished to compile the Prajñāramitā, so Maitreya and other bodhisattvas gathered and compiled the Prajñāramitā.  However, the meaning of the Prajñāramitā was too difficult and profound to be realized, so in order for people to realize it, Maitreya wrote the root text of the Ornament of Clear Realization.  Abhayākaragupta concluded that Haribhadra was mistaken when he said that the text was written later because of Asanga.

Another explanation was that Maitreya did write the “Five Dharmas” later, and he taught it later to Asanga.  Other people also held this position, refuting Haribhadra.. Looking within the Tengyur itself, and at the Sanskrit texts in the Tengyur, there were many different positions.  The Karmapa emphasized the importance of researching this.

Since the Karmapa had spoken about which school the “Dharmas of Maitreya” belonged to the previous session, he decided to explain further.  Regarding which school the debates of the “Dharmas of Maitreya” belonged to—whether they were Middle Way or Mind Only—there was not much debate in India or China, but there was a lot of debate in Tibet.  Because of this, many different explanations had arisen, but there were primarily three.  The three positions the Tibetans held were: (1) the “Dharmas of Maitreya” were a mixture of Mind Only and Middle Way; (2) they were all Middle Way; or (3) they were all Mind Only.

(1) The “Dharmas of Maitreya” were a mixture of Mind Only and Middle Way:

Those who generally accepted that the “Five Dharmas” were a mixture of Mind Only and Middle Way were: Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherap, Chomden Rikral, Rongtön Sheja Kunrig, and Gorampa, along with most other scholars.  Specifically, these scholars asserted that the Ornament of Clear Realization was a Middle Way view; the Ornament of the Sutras, Differentiating the Middle from Extremes, and Distinguishing Phenomena and Dharmata were Mind Only, and the Sublime Continuum was Middle Way.

In the commentary on Entering the Middle Way, according to Mikyö Dorje’s Chariot of the Siddhis of the Practice Lineage:

The first “Dharma of Maitreya” is common to both Middle Way and Mind Only, and the last Dharma of Maitreya is a treatise common to both sutra and tantra, he said.

This was very similar to the generally accepted position of mixing the Middle Way and Mind Only positions.

(2) The Dharmas of Maitreya were all Middle Way:

Yak Mipham Chökyi Lama (known as the one of whom it is said “Prajnaparamita comes down to the yak), Dolpopa Sherap Gyaltsen, Panchen Shakya Chokden and most other Shentong advocates asserted that all “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” were Middle Way in their view.

(3) “The Dharmas of Maitreya” were all Mind Only:

What was that tradition?  Rendawa Shönnu Lodrö wrote in his collected works, the Dialogue with the Greatly Loving Abbot:

Asanga, Vasubandhu, and their followers taught that the “Dharmas of Maitreya” are Mind Only, and this is what is said in the Dharmas, and if one does not teach the “Dharmas of Maitreya” as Mind Only, it is the same as teaching that the works of Asanga, Vasubandhu, and their followers are not Mind Only.  If you say that, you will not find anyone who upheld the Mind Only school.

From the Dialogues of Lama Öser Gyaltsen, also by Rendawa:

Of the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”, what is the assertion that Clear Realization is Middle Way, and the other four are Mind Only?  If they are Middle Way, it seems they should be equally Middle Way, and if they are Mind Only, they should be equally Mind Only.

They could not say some were Middle Way, some were Mind Only, and they could not say there were some which were both:

It clearly distinguishes thus in the traditions of both Ārya Vimuktisena and Haribhadra, and most earlier Tibetan scholars also explained it so.

Rendawa did not think this to be logical, for Rendawa considered all the “Dharmas of Maitreya” to be Mind Only.

Next, the Karmapa asked where the “Five Dharmas” fitted.  Were they Mind Only or Middle Way?  What commentaries were there on the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”?

Of the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”, Asanga and Vasubandhu wrote commentaries on the Ornament of the Sutras (Asanga and Vasubandhu), Differentiating the Middle from Extremes (Vasubandhu), Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata (Vasubandhu), and the Sublime Continuum (Asanga).  In Tibet, it was well-known and accepted that the Sublime Continuum was written by Asanga, but modern researchers have investigated whether or not Asanga wrote it.  The Karmapa said he would discuss this later when talking about the Sublime Continuum.

There was also a debate on whether a commentary on the Ornament of Clear Realization by Asanga and Vasubhandu existed.

The Karmapa said that when speaking about the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”, there were the twenty Indian commentaries, but since they were already well-known to the shedra students, he would not discuss them further.

Among the Indian commentaries were those that combined the Ornament and the sūtras.  These were commentaries that combined the Ornament of Clear Realization with the 100,000-line Prajñāramitā, the 25,000-line Prajñāramitā, the 8,000-line Prajñāramitā sūtras and other sūtras.  For example, Śantivarman wrote his commentary combining the 25,000-line Prajñāramitā Sūtra with the Ornament of Clear RealizationThe most powerful of these commentaries was Haribhadra’s Short commentary with Clear Meaning.

The Karmapa then spoke specifically about how the sutras came to Tibet.

Engaging with the shedra students, he said that we often talk about the mother (longer) and child (shorter) sutras.  Sometimes we said there were twenty sutras, and sometimes we said there were seventeen and that they were translated during the time of King Trisong Detsen.  However, during the time of the Tibetan empire, it was said that seventeen sūtras were translated but that didn’t necessarily mean there were only seventeen sūtras.  At that time those seventeen sūtras were generally accepted so scholars said that was so, but it was not necessarily so that only seventeen sūtras were translated.  Other sūtras were translated later during the time of Butön Rinpoche.

There were commentaries on the other “Dharmas of Maitreya”, such as An Explanation of the First Two Stanzas of the Ornament of the Sūtras by Master Parahita, and the Summary of the Ornament of the Sūtras by the Kashmir Mahapandita Jñāna Śrī Bhadra.  These were the Indian commentaries on the Ornament of the Sūtras.  Likewise, there was also an explanation of the Differentiation of the Middle and Extremes by Sthiramati.  

The Twenty Dharmas related to Maitreya:

The Five Dharmas of Maitreya (1-5):

The Two Ornaments: The Ornament of the Sutra and The Ornament of Clear Realization (1, 2)

Two Differentiations: Distinguishing the Dharma and Dharmata, Differentiating the Middle from Extremes, (3, 4)

Sublime Continuum (5)

Five Sections of the Yogacara Levels (6-10)

Two Compendiums: the Compendium of the Mahayana and the Compendium of Asanga (11, 12)

Vasubandhu’s The Eight Prakarana, or The Eight Treatizes (13-20) ]; Twenty Verses;  Thirty Verses; the Treatise Proving Karma; the Treatise on the Five Aggregates; the Commentary on the Sūtra of Interdependence; the Commentary on Distinguishing the Dharma and Dharmatu; the Commentary onDistinguishing the Middle from Extremes; the Commentary on the Ornament of Clear Realization.

Tāranātha’s History of Dharma in India suggested that it was difficult to call the commentaries on the Sūtra ofInterdependence, Differentiating the Middle from Extremes, and the Ornament of Clear Realization treatises, as they were commentaries on the words.

Chomden Rikral said that the “Twenty Dharmas related to Maitreya” and the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” were terms used by Tibetans and did not originate in India.  The Karmapa said this was another point to investigate.

The Karmapa then discussed the earliest Tibetan commentaries on the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”.  The Five Dharmas were translated by Tsen Khawoche and Ngok Lotsawa who both went to Kashmir in India study the text.  They studied with the same teacher, though two different traditions arose from them.

Although he was quite old, Tsen Khawoche went to Kashmir to study the Five Dharmas of Maitreya with the Indian Pandit Sajjana. [Tsen Khawoche didn’t know Sanskrit so Zu Gawa Dorje, one of Sajjana’s disciples translated for him.] Tsen Khawoche took notes and wrote a commentary.  He described the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” as a practice text.  Pema Senge, a student of Tsen Khawoche, wrote a long commentary on theOrnament of the Sutras, which is no longer extant.

It is generally accepted that the earliest commentary was written by Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherab.  [He studied the text in Kashmir under the Pandits Ratnavajra and Sajjana.] He wrote a commentary, a summary, and a long explanation on the Ornament of Clear Realization.  He also wrote commentaries on the Ornament of the Sutras, the Sublime Continuum, commentaries on Differentiating the Middle from Extremes, and Differentiating the Dharma and Dharmata.

So these are the earliest commentaries on the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”.  However, the lineage of the tradition descending from Tsen Khawoche, known as the ‘Tsen tradition’ or the ‘meditation tradition’ of the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”, seems to have been broken.

The current transmissions were mainly passed down from Ngok Lotsawa.  On his return to Tibet, he developed the Kadampa Sangpu monastery, which had been founded by his uncle Ngok Lekpe Sherab.  He instituted a shedra there, and it became famous as the highest center for learning in the Kadampa tradition.  It was the very first of the Tibetan shedras and produced quite a few scholars.  They primarily studied the Ornament of Clear Realization, as well as the others.  They taught it extensively, and it spread very widely.  The transmission from Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherab was very beneficial for the tradition of the “Dharmas of Maitreya”, as well as for the Middle Way school and other texts.  It was extremely influential in Tibet, establishing a community for study, a tradition of study and propagating study.  The study of these texts in all the practice lineages is heavily influenced by this tradition.

All the practice lineages regard their own traditions as important, the Karmapa observed, but when we consider the early phase when this was just beginning, during the two transmission periods, the early translation and later translation, these people worked tirelessly to start the study.  They laid the foundations for everything to turn out well and flourish.  Without the kindness of Ngok Sherab and his disciples, we would not be here.

Mind Only and Shentong

The Karmapa admitted that the relationship of Mind Only and Shentong was a complicated topic, and that this section would be of the nature of a discussion; he was not speaking categorically but rather gathering different questions for consideration.

The tradition of dividing the Middle Way into rangtong and shentong was a later development in Tibet.  The Karmapa explained that rangtong is a view that emphasizes the thought of Nagarjuna’s Root Verses of the Middle Way and Candrakīrti’s Entering the Middle Way.  Shentong is a view that emphasizes the Sublime Continuum and the rest of the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”.

The rangtong view asserts that all phenomena are empty of their own essence, or empty of true existence.  The shentong view asserts that the essence of buddha nature is unstained or empty of adventitious stains, and, at the same time, buddha nature is not empty of its own essence.

It is said that the shentong view first developed out of Tsen Khawoche’s emphasis on the Sublime Continuum.  Later, the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, also emphasized the shentong view.  After that, Dolpopa Sherap Gyaltsen determined an entire presentation of the ground, path, and fruition and founded an independent Shentong school, which later became known as the Jonang school, whose primary sūtra view is the shentong view.

Rangjung Dorje’s explanation of the Shentong predates Dolpopa Sherap Gylatsen’s.  Historically, Dolpopa went to visit Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, and they had many discussions about the view.  At that time, Karmapa Rangjung Dorje held the shentong position and Dolpopa held the rangtong position.  They had many discussions and debates.  Gyalwang Karmapa recounted the story, found in Jonang and old Karma Kagyu texts, how Rangjung Dorje made a prediction to Dolpopa: “Now you are rebutting me, you are refuting my shentong view, but in the future, there will come a time when you will have to uphold this Shentong school.”

Thus, it was believed that Rangjung Dorje must have had some degree of influence on Dolpopa becoming Shentong.

After the break, the Karmapa explored the evidence of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje’s shentong view.  Did his written works reflect this view?  Karmapa Rangjung Dorje wrote commentaries on Nagarjuna’s In Praise of Dharmadhatu, and the commentary Distinguishing Phenomena and Dharmata, as well as the root text and auto-commentary of the Profound Inner Principles, and an outline of the Sublime Continuum.  He wrote many such works that, instead of an emptiness negation, taught the buddha nature.

Likewise, he also said that all those who wanted to enter the profound Vajrayana needed to first understand the meaning of the words of the Sublime Continuum and his own Profound Inner Principles.  If they did not, then it would be difficult for them to enter the profound Vajrayana and completely understand its profound and vast mantra.  He said that before you study the mantra, you should study those two texts.

Because of this instruction, to this day, in the Kagyu lineage, we have a continuous lineage of teachings on the Profound Inner Principles, Two Books of Hevajra, and the Sublime Continuum, and this is primarily because of the resolve and the intention of the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje.

The Karmapa next discussed the differences between Rangjung Dorje’s shentong view and that of Dolpopa.  A comparison of the works of Rangjung Dorje and his disciple Sherap Rinchen with the works of Dolpopa illustrates this.  Rangjung Dorje said that ultimately, buddha nature transcends both extremes of existence and nonexistence; he did not say that it is categorically truly existent, but Rangjung Dorje did identify the ultimate as the perceiving wisdom.  So, he was identifying the position of existing more than the position of not existing.  He also considered the thought of Nagarjuna and Asanga to be the same, meaning that the rangtong and the shentong views were the same.  It also seems that the two groups were not unhappy with each other.  Many scholars maintained that the Rangtong and Shentong were not contradictory, among those, Rangjung Dorje was probably the earliest Tibetan scholar to say so.  It appears that he influenced other Tibetan scholars.  For example, Longchenpa [c.1308 – 1363, regarded as the greatest scholar yogi of the Nyingma] also held this view.  Later, another great scholar, Mipham Rinpoche (1846–1912), also spoke about the rangtong and shentong as being non-contradictory, so he also considered Rangjung Dorje to be very important.

Another important point to be considered is that it is generally accepted that Jomo Nangpa [Dolpopa] said that the buddha nature was truly existent.  But surely the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma teaches the lack of the truly existent?  So this “truly existent” is something that needs to be identified.

In the Mountain Dharma: The Ocean of Definitive Meaning, Dolpopa speaks of the “truly existent” as meaning the true existence of the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.  And in the Middle Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, Jonangpa said, “When you examine things, we cannot find anything true, so therefore they are not said to be truly existent.” But this was merely not finding true existence.

When talking about the self-existing self-aware wisdom, it was not the lack of true existence taught in the Middle Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.  And when saying that “the self-aware wisdom dwells in the buddha nature that exists and is unchanging from the beginning of samsara until now, it abides in an unstained manner.” For this reason, Rangjung Dorje distinguished between “truly existent” and “truly abiding”.

In discussing Dolpopa, the “truly existent” meant it was truly abiding from the very beginning, and so forth.  Adventitious phenomena were sometimes present and sometimes not.  They were uncertain.  They were changeable phenomena and deceiving phenomena, so, therefore, there was a presentation of whether they were truly existent or not truly existent.

Generally, Rangjung Dorje had studied and contemplated the Five Sets of Levels and many other Mind Only texts, but he primarily emphasized the “Dharmas of Maitreya”.  He was basically the first Kagyupa to spread the teachings of the “Dharmas of Maitreya” and so left a very strong impression through his activities.

Now the Jonang master, Dolpopa Sherap Gyaltsen, did not say he was Mind Only, even though he accepted what were commonly identified by Buddhists as Mind Only texts and used them as the main source for his view.  From one perspective, this had a great effect of propagating Mind Only texts in Tibet, but, from another perspective, though he never saw himself as Mind Only, because he had emphasized Mind Only texts, there were many who objected to his view.

For example, in the Blue Annals:

There are those who say that the Omniscient Jomo Nangpa’s [Dolpopa’s] assertion that buddha nature is permanent is mistaken, but there are many in Ü and Tsang who take the Sublime Continuum as a yidam, and this is his kindness.

This credits the kindness of Dolpopa Sherap Gyaltsen for the spread of the Sublime Continuum.

In contrast, Gorampa Sonam Sengye wrote:

…The name of the Mind Only has been changed into Shentong and is said by the Jonangpa to be the Great Middle Way tradition…

There were also many such criticisms.

In terms of the entire Buddhist school, those texts that were well-known as Mind Only were not explained by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen as Mind Only texts.  What other people labelled Mind Only texts he did not accept as Mind Only texts.  In his Mountain Dharma: The Ocean of Definitive Meaning, he said that all the works, including the sutras of the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, all “Five Dharmas of Maitreya”, theCompendium of Abhidharma, the Five Sets of Levels, Vasubandhu’s Thirty Verses and Twenty Verses, and so forth were not Mind Only.  And not only were they not Mind Only, but they also were not Rangtong Middle Way— they were Shentong Middle Way.  He proved this with many quotations.  He wrote many letters to disciples saying in these letters it was definitely not true that the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma was known as Mind Only.  It was known that way, but it was definitely not true.  There were people who said all “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” were Mind Only texts, and some people said they were a mixture of Mind Only and Middle Way, but he said it was not true, all five “Dharmas of Maitreya” were definitely Great Middle Way texts.  Dolpopa said that sutras that were said to be Mind Only sutras and the source of Mind Only, such as the Avatamsaka and Mahaparinirvana, were not Mind Only but definitely Shentong Middle Way sutras.  Similarly, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dignāga, and everyone else generally known as a Mind Only pandita, were definitely Middle Way panditas.  It was said that they had commented on the Prajñāramitā from the Mind Only view, but Dolpopa decisively denied this.

The Karmapa commented that the Jonang tradition did not clearly identify which texts were Mind Only or which scholars were Mind Only, and even when they were identified, there were only one or two Mind Only scholars and only one or two Mind Only texts.  Dolpopa maintained that none of the texts or scholars that are internationally recognized as Mind Only these days were Mind Only.

After Dolpopa, the most well-known Jonang scholar was Jonang Jetsun Tāranātha.  He was very different from other Tibetan scholars.  He had a very broad knowledge of history.  His history of India—The History of Buddhism in India—is used by many contemporary scholars as a source when researching Indian history.  He had a fair and impartial way of examining things.  The way Tāranātha explained things and the way Dolpopa explained things is slightly different.  Tāranātha said that when Bhavaviveka and others criticized Asanga as being Mind Only, they were generally characterizing Mind Only as “mind-only”.  Tāranātha did not use the term “Mind Only” for Asanga and his followers; he used  the terms “Awareness” and “Proponents of Awareness” when he talked about “Middle Way Proponents of Awareness.” However,  when we look at the way he used these terms, he was not always very clear.  In terms of the view, Tāranātha described Dignāga, Sthiramati, Dharmapāla, Candragomi, Vinītadeva, and Asvabhāva as if they probably were Mind Only, but it seems that deep down, he believed they were Shentong Great Middle Way.  The Karmapa said that this was another thing that needed to be examined.

Next, when speaking about the shentong view, after Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, the Panchen Shakya Chokden had the most different explanation.  Panchen Shakya Chokden was one of the three most learned scholars of sutra and tantra among Sakya scholars.  He had a deep relation, or connection with the Seventh Karmapa and Fourth Shamarpa and others.  He also had a greater influence on lineages besides the Shakya, including the Kagyu and the Jonang.  In the earlier part of his life, Panchen Shakya Chokden was rangtong, but in the latter part, he became shentong.  He maintained that there were two types of Middle Way: the Yogacara Middle Way and the Middle Way Proponents of Essencelessness.  The Proponents of Essencelessness could be divided into the Consequentialist and Autonomist Schools.  The Yogacara Middle Way could be divided into holders of the rangtong or shentong view.The example he gave for Rangtong Yogacara Middle Way was Śāntarakṣita, his disciples and descendants, and the example he gave for Shentong Yogacara Middle Way were Asanga and his disciples.  Generally, the term Yogacara Middle Way is used, but this classification into shentong and rangtong was probably Panchen Shakya Chokden’s own particular explanation.

Another complication in his use of terminology was that Mind Only could be understood as the Mind Only of the four schools.  But when talking about Proponents of Awareness and the Yogacara, this was not necessarily only Mind Only, because, with Proponents of Awareness (vijñaptimātratā-vada), there were both Mind Only and Middle Way parts.  Generally, in the Mind Only there were the two sub-schools, the True Image and False Image school.  However, Shakya Chokden said that though the meaning of the True and False Image Schools were present in Mind Only texts from India, the term did not occur at all in India.  Another important point he made was that the definition of the False Image Mind Only school best fitted the Yogacara Middle Way Shentong School.

Panchen Shakya Chokden said that the difference between Mind Only and Yogacara Middle Way Shentong was that the Mind Only asserted consciousness was ultimate truth, and Yogacara Middle Way Shentong asserted that consciousness was not ultimate, but only discriminating self-aware wisdom was ultimate.  Likewise, in the Mind Only tradition, wisdom was also said to be consciousness, but in the Yogacara Middle Way, one had to distinguish between wisdom and consciousness: wisdom was not consciousness.  In the Mind Only tradition, the dependent nature does truly exist, but it does not according to Yogacara Middle Way; the Ornament of the Sutras says that the dependent is illusory and thus not truly existent, he says.

There are other differences between Shakya Chokden and Dolpopa’s explanations.  Shakya Chokden said that there were many aspects of the Mind Only that are similar to the Middle Way. 

Dolpopa said that the Middle Way acharyas neither called Asanga and Vasubandhu  Mind Only nor refuted them, but Shakya Chokden says that Bhavaviveka and Candrakīrti did refute Asanga and his followers.  However, this was not refuting the Yogacara Middle Way thought but the many explanations of the Mind Only thought found in Asanga and his disciples’ works.  Similarly Bhavaviveka, Candrakīrti and so forth did say that Asanga and his disciples were not Middle Way, but if that is all that is needed to not be Middle Way, then, when Asanga and his disciples explain that the Proponents of Essenceless fall into a nihilist extreme, the same consequence would apply to them.  As Candrakīrti says that Bhavaviveka is a realist, consequentially all autonomists would be realists—but this is illogical.  When Candrakīrti says that Asanga did not realize the thought of Nagarjuna and was, therefore, not Middle Way, it is not necessarily so that he was not Middle Way.

There are many refutations of Panchen Shakya Chokden’s words from Geluk scholars, Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, and so forth.  In any case, in Tibet, Shakya Chokden’s manner of explaining the False Image as Middle Way and of distinguishing the Mind Only Proponents of Awareness is a very particular explanation.  It is important to understand that even among Shentong masters, there are different explanations.

Finally, the Karmapa summarized the relationship between the Mind Only, the Shentong and Tibet.  The Mind Only did not actually spread to Tibet.  There was no autonomous Mind Only school or lineage in Tibet, but the Shentong relied exactly on the same textual sources as the Mind Only.  Consequently, though we cannot say that the Shentong are Mind Only, the Mind Only view and the shentong view are extremely closely related.  However, the Karmapa said, not only did the Shentong refuse to accept their connection with Mind Only, they did not like the Mind Only and kept their distance from them.  Why?

First, in Tibet if you said you were a Mahayana school, you must be either Mind Only or Middle Way.  That’s the way it was thought in Tibet.  You had to be one or the other.  It was not necessarily so generally, but if you were going to choose between Mind Only and Middle Way, who would you choose?  You chose the Middle Way because that was accepted to be the highest and ultimate view.  Likewise, during the period of the later transmission the Middle Way was incredibly influential, particularly the Consequentialist schools.  Under peer pressure, everybody wanted to be considered Middle Way.

Secondly, no famous or influential Indian Mind Only scholars came to Tibet, and no one went from Tibet to India to specifically study Mind Only.  This contrasts with what was happenening in Chinese Buddhism, for example Tang Xuanzang who went to India to study the  Mind Only presentation and then took it and the texts back to China.  This never happened in Tibet.  There was never a clear distinction of which texts were Mind Only.  Texts such as the “Dharmas of Maitreya” could be stretched in any-which-way, “like goatskin being pulled up and pulled down”, rather than taught as a clear and succinct presentation of the complete Mind Only view.

Thirdly, in China the Mind Only had a strong affinity for the Buddha Nature school.  Modern academic research has shown this.  False Image Mind Only scholars such as Sthiramati had a strong relation to the Buddha Nature school.  Historically, the connection between the Mind Only and the Buddha Nature school was very deep, so if one did not understand the Mind Only tradition completely, there were many places where the view could be mistaken with the Buddha Nature school.  There were so many similarities that if you didn’t understand your own school completely fully, you could actually be presenting the position of the other school.

These were three of the reasons the Tibetan Middle Way Shentong school were unable to accept themselves as close to Mind Only and were averse to Mind Only. I think that if the Shentongpas had not been so insistent on being Middle Way, but instead had asserted themselves as a separate Mahayana school, the Buddha Nature school, the situation would have been different, the Karmapa suggested.  

He gave as evidence the Buddha Nature school in China. For example, in China international researchers said there was an actual third school.  At first international researchers accepted the traditional explanation that there were two Mahayana schools in China—the Middle Way and the Mind Only. But when they continued their research, they established that there must have been a third school, and their evidence was in the Sublime Continuum.  Researchers found an old Sanskrit text of the Sublime Continuum and discovered that it contained small differences from both the Mind Only and Middle Way schools.  It is a Mahayana text so it must represent a separate school.

If we accepted there was a Buddha Nature school, the Karmapa suggested, we wouldn’t have to have so many debates on rangtong and shentong.  The Karmapa said he would speak about this later when teaching the Sublime Continuum.

In brief, the shentong view spread widely not only in the Jonang but also in the Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma.  There were many Kagyu and Nyingma scholars who adopted the shentong view.  Drakkar the Gelukpa scholar also wrote some good texts supporting the shentong view, though it’s not possible to say he was a Shentong master.

We speak of four traditions in Tibet, plus the Jonang makes five.  The Shentong was not Mind Only but it used Mind Only texts and was very beneficial for spreading the most important Mind Only texts in Tibet.

Day 7: The Spread of Mind Only in Tibet

Day 7: The Spread of Mind Only in Tibet

A Teaching on Vasubandhu’s The Thirty Verses

Day 7: The Spread of Mind Only in Tibet

2 February 2022

His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa began his teaching by noting that, according to the Tsurphu calendar, today is Losar, the first day of the Tibetan New Year. He wished everyone an auspicious new year, good wishes for the accomplishment of all our aims, and hoped that everything goes excellently for us. He also delivered a short New Year’s message in Chinese. 

Today’s topic is the Mind Only school in Tibet. It’s a bit difficult to speak of how the Mind Only spread to the Snow Land of Tibet because of a lack of research in this area. To provide an overview, His Holiness had to look at many disparate sources. His conclusion from extensive research is that—although the key Mind Only texts came to Tibet—the school was never firmly established there.

Karmapa organized his presentation into five different topics:

  1. How Mind Only texts were translated into Tibetan
  2. The reasons why the school itself didn’t spread to Tibet
  3. The reasons why Vasubandhu and Asanga are Mind Only masters
  4. Different explanations in Tibet of the Mind Only
  5. Whether the “Dharmas of Maitreya” are Mind Only texts

As we will see, there’s been study and interpretation of Mind Only texts in Tibet from early days. But—as just mentioned—no school developed based on these texts, nor did Mind Only masters propagate that philosophy. In particular, the influence of Candrakirti’s Consequentialist school during the period of the later transmission predisposed Tibetans to think that Mind Only was not in accord with the Middle Way view; rather, they believed that Mind Only was opposed to it. A rigid, dictatorial way of looking at Mind Only developed.

In sum, Tibetans have not treated the Mind Only school fairly. As in the tradition of debating between schools, Tibetans insistently point out others’ faults and don’t look at their own. Tibetans treat the Mind Only in this way. The Karmapa said that if we want to study the Mind Only well, we need to be impartial and feel an appreciation and affinity for this school. Perhaps the Middle Way objections to this philosophy apply, or perhaps they don’t. His Holiness advocated a more open-minded attitude toward this school so that it can be properly understood.

How Mind Only Texts Were Translated into Tibetan

There are two different periods of Mind Only translations, those done during the ancient transmission and those that appeared during the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet. Most of the scriptures in the sutra sections of the Kangyur and Tengyur were translated during the ancient transmission, including the majority of important Mind Only texts. Tibetan histories of that period indicate that a predominantly Middle Way view was adopted, but when we look at the ancient catalogues—the Pangtangma and Denkarma (the Chimpuma is no longer extant)—we see that the compilers gave equal importance to the Mind Only and the Middle Way texts.

What translations were done during the ancient time? We can turn to the catalogues mentioned above for an answer. (Although some modern scholars opine that these catalogues were housed in palaces and are therefore not a complete record of all the translated texts in Tibet at that time.) Of the two extant catalogues, there’s a debate about which is earlier. Butön, Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa and others asserted that the Denkarma catalogue came first, whereas the Fifth Dalai Lama and Situ Chokyi Jungne felt that the Pangtangma catalogue preceded the other. There are more works listed in the former, which might argue for its later date. All the Mind Only texts that are in the Pangtangma catalogue also appear in the Denkarma, but the latter has some that don’t appear in the former. Therefore, the Denkarma was probably published later. To analyze in more detail, the Pangtangma catalogue contains numerous root texts of the Mind Only school; it includes only a few commentaries, whereas the Denkarma has many commentaries. It becomes apparent when looking at the catalogues that the early translators focused on the root texts; only later did they include the commentaries.

Since most of the important Mind Only texts were translated during the first diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet, later Tibetan translators produced fewer relevant manuscripts. When they did turn to the Mind Only, they focused on masters, like Santipa, who came after the progenitors of the school. There are some exceptions, however. The “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” were translated at that time, including the well-known treatise Sublime Continuum, its commentaries, and Distinguishing Phenomena and Dharmata. If we look at Butön’s catalogue of the Tengyur, we find important Mind Only commentaries of the later translation period: the Ornament of the Sutras, Compendium of the Mahayana, and the Compendium of the Abhidharma. To sum it up, most of the Tibetan translations of Mind Only texts appeared before the time of Butön [1290–1364]. There are no additional Mind Only texts in the later catalogue of the Derge Kangyur and Tengyur, which is reputed to be the most complete. Nothing is found there that didn’t appear in Butön Rinpoche’s earlier catalogue.

Surveying all the works and writings by Mind Only scholars that were translated into Tibetan, there are:

  1. The “Dharmas of Maitreya”, by the Protector Maitreya, which teach either Mind Only or Middle Way views
  2. The works of Asanga and Vasubandhu that teach Mind Only philosophy
  3. The works on validity by Dignaga, Dharmakirti, and others that do not teach Mind Only philosophy at length but whose ultimate view is Mind Only, since they were written by Mind Only masters
  4. Texts on Secret Mantra by Mind Only scholars, such as Bhavabhadra, Santipa, etc.
  5. Commentaries on sutras by Vasubandhu, Sthiramati, etc.

In terms of subject matter, these texts fall into five or six categories. If we take the texts on validity and Secret Mantra off this list, as Butön did in his catalogue, we are left with three grouping: Mind Only view; Mind Only meditation; and Mind Only conduct and precepts. Within these categories, the “Dharmas of Maitreya”, the Yogacara Levels, and the Eight Treatizes teach the Mind Only view. Asanga’s Lamp of Dhyana, Dignaga’s Introduction to Yoga, etc., are works that teach meditation. Candragomi’s The Twenty Vows, etc., are works that primarily establish conduct.

There’s a lot of debate in Tibet about whether Ornament of the Sutras is a Mind Only text or not. But when we look at the catalogues of the Tengyur, we never find Maitreya’s texts grouped with the Middle Way school. They always appear in a Mind Only context. This tradition may have originated with Butön Rinpoche, although it’s possible the categorization had appeared earlier. In terms of the Derge Tengyur, the Sublime Continuum appears in the Mind Only section. Texts such as Unraveling the Intent, The Ten Levels and the Vajra Splitter are in a separate section of sutra commentaries mainly written by Mind Only masters. Among the new transmission translations are Dignaga’s Summary of the Eight Thousand Lines and Venerable Asvabhava’s Strings of Light.

This completed His Holiness’s brief introduction of Mind Only texts translated into Tibetan.

The Reasons Why the School Itself Didn’t Spread to Tibet

As we have seen from the beginning of the ancient period, many Tibetan scholars translated important Mind Only texts; it’s difficult to know whether any early manifestations of a Mind Only school developed, but later, there definitely were none. It’s hard to know why this is so. The causal and resultant vehicles spread widely, yet India’s second major Mahayana school did not take root in Tibet. The Karmapa put forth several possible reasons for this puzzling situation.

1.  Prohibition by the dharma kings. According to the Tibetan history Ba Shad, there was the Tontsen debate between the Chinese Zen [Chan] proponents of the sudden awakening and Indian adherents of the gradual path in the eighth century. When those supporting the gradual path won the debate, King Trisong Detsen supposedly imposed an edict that Tibetans must follow Nagarjuna’s views. This might have inhibited the spread of the Mind Only. But a manuscript found at Dunhuang, Mahayana Instructions on Realizing the Nature Instantly, contradicts this. It holds that actually it was the proponents of sudden awakening who won the debate, and that the king wrote an edict establishing that path as a worthy one to follow. Similarly, Nup Sangye Yeshe’s Lamp of the Eye of Dhyana records that Zen practitioners were still residing in Tibet at the time of Langdarma. Such evidence calls into question the existence of edicts that may have inhibited the spread of the Mind Only school.

2.  Most of the Indians who came to Tibet were Middle Way scholars. Although Buddhism was introduced to Tibet during the reign of Songsten Gampo, it spread most vigorously during the time of King Trisong Detsen. He brought Santaraksita to Tibet, who was an Autonomous Middle Way master. Later figures like Kamalasila were also adherents to the Middle Way philosophy; probably no Mind Only proponents made the journey from India, and so there were none to guide and encourage students in the school’s philosophy, practices and precepts.

3.  Tibetans didn’t see a particular reason for studying the Mind Only philosophy. Santaraksita had firmly established the Autonomous Middle Way among early Buddhist practitioners in Tibet, and within that view was the Yogacarya Autonomous Middle Way. As explained in the Distinctions of the View by Yeshe De:

    Based on Asanga’s Yogacara treatise explaining the awareness only, the khenpo named Santaraksita wrote the Middle Way treatise, The Ornament of the Middle Way, that proves, in harmony with that tradition, that relatively there is consciousness only, but ultimately consciousness too has no nature.

    Santaraksita’s philosophy treats the Mind Only in terms of the conventional and the Middle Way in terms of the ultimate. He unites both schools, and at the same time, suggests that there is no reason to study the Mind Only separately. His teaching puts forth the idea that the Mind Only is not the final view. In this context, the Mind Only had little appeal because Tibetans like high views and schools, and this reduced their enthusiasm for studying the Mind Only philosophy. In terms of the later transmission, Lord Atisha was said to praise Candrakirti’s Consequentialist Middle Way view very highly. Later, the most influential Kadampa geshe of the time, Shang Sharawa, endorsed Patsap’s translation of Candrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way and its autocommentary. Such texts included many refutations of the Mind Only; all the Tibetan traditions then hurried to be Consequentialists. They wanted to follow Candrakirti, and the Mind Only was viewed in a worse light than ever before. Its status became that of a mistaken view.

    4.  Teaching and study of the “Dharmas of Maitreya” did flourish in Tibet, but only because of their association with Maitreya, not because they put forth a Mind Only philosophy. One could not critique anything in the works of someone like the Regent Maitreya, and since the Mind Only had fallen into disrepute, commentators did everything they could to explain his thought in terms of the Middle Way. The “Dharmas of Maitreya” are profound, and within them, features of the Mind Only are not particularly clear, so it was easy to explain them in accordance with the Middle Way view and to overlook their Mind Only content, or to see the text as an expression of the Shentong Middle Way view.

    This completed His Holiness’s presentation of the four explanations of why the Mind Only never found a secure foothold in Tibet as a separate philosophical tradition.

    The Reasons Why Asanga and Vasubandhu Are Mind Only Masters

    On this topic, His Holiness began by noting that Tibetans have long debated whether Asanga and Vasubandhu are actually Mind Only authors. It’s possible that the thoughts of an author may not be fully reflected in a treatise written by him. In fact, a treatise could depart from the author’s thought. And so, it is appropriate to ask if Asanga and Vasubandhu are indeed Mind Only authors. We must be impartial in looking at this issue. It is difficult to say, but there are four major reasons to think of them as Mind Only proponents.

    1. In India, they were regarded as such. When Bhavaviveka and Candrakirti wrote their refutations of the Mind Only, they quoted from the works of Asanga and Vasubandhu as representatives of that school. Candrakirti lists Vasubandhu, Diganga, Dharmarapala, and others in his autocommentary on Entering the Middle Way, asserting that these figures had not realized Nagarjuna’s view in their Mind Only philosophy.

    2. They were known to be so in China. Tang Xuanzang and other Chinese pilgrims went to India and bowed at the feet of students in Vasubandhu’s lineage. They brought back what they learned to China, establishing a version of the Mind Only school in their home country.

    3. In the ancient Pangtangma and Denkarma catalogues of Tibetan texts, the treatizes on consciousness/Mind Only are in a separate section. The “Dharmas of Maitreya”, the Yogacara Levels, and works by Asanga and Vasubandhu appear in the section on consciousness/Mind Only, not in the Middle Way section.

    4. There is basically no dispute among contemporary international scholars that Asanga and Vasubandhu’s texts are Mind Only.

    Once we have identified the corpus of Asanga and Vasubandhu’s Mind Only texts, we need to accept them as such. There’s no benefit in disputing such attributions in an effort to make ourselves look better. We do not want to contradict factual history. “If we make up our own opinion, it may look really nice. But if we look at the history of the past . . . and our positions and the actual history don’t match, then there’s a big problem there,” His Holiness concluded.

    Different Explanations in Tibet of the Mind Only

    Was there no discussion of the Mind Only in Tibet? Tibetan scholars in fact recognized it as one of the well-established four Buddhist schools: Great Exposition, Sutra, Mind Only, and Middle Way. Although the first three schools never attained independent status in Tibet, scholarly study included in-depth discussions of their tenets regarding ground, path, and fruition. Before engaging with the Four Great Texts, a Tibetan dharma student considers each philosophical school separately and in general terms. Particularly for the Ornament of Clear Realization and the Prajnaparamita, one studies Mind Only and Middle Way explanations in the context of distinguishing the expedient from the definitive. In the context of validity, many points related to the Mind Only come up in the discussion of valid means, its result and the known object. The main opponent in Entering the Middle Way is the Mind Only, so lots of research centers around that topic. One must know the differences between the Foundation and Mahayana Abhidharma, their lists and elaborations. In the  “Five Great Texts” (other than the Vinaya), there are many passages related to the Mind Only. Therefore, each Tibetan scholar explains these references and engages in unending refutations and clarifications. It is not at all the case that these scholars have no knowledge of the Mind Only.

    Over the years, different ways evolved to designate the Mind Only school. To give an example: later Tibetan scholars replaced the terms “Yogacara” and “Proponents of Awareness” or “Proponents of Consciousness” with “Mind Only.” This may have developed because in Middle Way texts, the latter designation is used most often. There’s a text on the Philosophical schools by Upa Losal that states: “Those who explain that known objects are internal or whose Abhidharma scriptures follow the Yogacara Levels are called Yogacara Mind Only.”

    In Tibet, there are three main assertations regarding the school’s founders:

    1. The founders were earlier masters
    2. It was founded by the Protector Maitreya
    3. It was founded primarily by Asanga and Vasubandhu

    Jonang Taranatha, in his History of Dharma in India, asserts that earlier masters founded the Indian school of Mind Only, mentioning in particular Venerable Nanda, Dampay De, and Paramartha. Taktsang Lotsawa identifies Maitreya as the founder, and Lord Tsongkhapa and most others claim that Asanga initiated the school. A few identify both Asanga and Vasubandhu as foundational figures.

    The True Image and False Image Schools

    Next, His Holiness considered divisions that developed within the Mind Only school itself. Among the most important of these was the distinction between the True Image and the False Image sub-schools. Some hold that this division rests on whether proponents assert that appearances are true/real as the character of the mind—the true image—or whether they assert appearances are a projection of the mind—the false image. Alternatively, the division concerns whether appearances of relative truth appear to a buddha’s wisdom or not. In the Tuu Kentext on the schools, those who assert that the essence of mind is not stained by faults belong to the Stainless False Image school, and those who assert that it is stained are adherents to the Stained False Image school. In general, the terms True Image and False Image, as described the other day, do not appear in the works of earlier masters such as Asanga and Vasubandhu, but they surface in later Mind Only thought, such as in the works of Kamalasila and the Elder Bodhibhadra. Likewise, there’s commentary on the Chorus of Manjushri’s Names attributed to Candragomi that uses the terms False Image, True Image, Stained, and Unstained. That text refutes the Mind Only and in addition says that there are two different schools: the illusory and the non-abiding. He deems the latter to be the logical one. Because Candragomi is generally thought to be a proponent of the Mind Only, we have to look at this text to see if it was actually written by him.

    Thus, the terms “True Image” and “False Image” have a source in Indian texts, but the question arises: who belongs to which sub-school? The earliest clear identification appears in Ja Chekhawa’s text on the Philosophical schools. He says that Dignaga, Dharmakirti, Dharmapala, Prajnakaragupta, Jnanamitra, etc., belong to the True Image school. They hold to the traditional framework of six consciousnesses. The False Image school includes Asanga, Vasubandhu, Santipa, etc., who assert the eight consciousnesses model. Chomden Rigral’s text on schools cites passages from the Twenty Verses and the Ascertainment of Validity to show that Vasubandhu and Dharmakirti hold aspects of both the True and False Image positions. Taktsang Lotsawa writes that Asanga and his disciples did not distinguish between True Image and False Image, but their teachings are implicitly False Image. Apparently the True and False Image sub-schools separated later.

    The True Image view is also sometimes divided further into the Split Egg, Equality of Apprehender and Apprehended, and Nondual Plurality sub-schools. Some scholars claim that Tibetan authors invented these further categorizations, that they are not found in Indian texts. However, Santarakṣita’s Ornament of the Middle Way discusses all three in passages on the Sutra and Mind Only schools. Taktsang Lotsawa writes in Knowledge of All Schools that the positions of each were found in India, citing passages from undisputed well-known texts. However, these divisions are not easy to understand in Tibetan scholarship. Later, His Holiness will give a Gelukpa interpretation.

    If we know the Chinese tradition, we can better understand these nuances in the Mind Only subdivisions. There, the False Image is explained in either a narrow or more expansive way. The narrow approach focuses on dependent nature; consciousness arises from seeds in the ground consciousness. But consciousness has two aspects: the subject and the object, the apprehender and the apprehended. Everything that is apprehended is imaginary, and because it is imaginary, it is confused appearance and does not exist in actuality. The cognitive images are all imaginary. The broader understanding of the False Image school is that the apprehending aspect of consciousness is cognition itself, so it is dependent. But the apprehended aspect—or the image of the apprehended object—is imaginary, so therefore it is confused. This is another explanation. How does this dynamic work in the True Image school? In it, both the subjective and objective aspects of mind are dependent. Therefore, they do not have an imaginary nature. This is the position of the Indian schools [as interpreted by Chinese masters].

    According to Tibetan interpreters, all Mind Only masters insist on the mind’s true existence, but this is overly broad. Not all Mind Only proponents would assert that cognitions are true. For example, as we have seen, the Mind Only holds multiple views regarding apprehensions of external entities. If we are attached to thinking that all Mind Only views of the internal mind are identical, we don’t fully understand this school. The Tibetan interpretations are too general. Chinese scholars have made its distinctions very clear, but in Tibet, scholars think incorrectly that the Mind Only school is unified.

    Followers of Scripture and Followers of Logic

    Another classification system in the Mind Only school involves the Followers of Scripture and the Followers of Logic. This division had an influence on the development of the Mind Only in China. Later, Tibetans began to use these categories as well. Examples of the Followers of Scripture are Asanga and others who held to the Five Sets of Levels (Yogacara Levels), whereas Dignaga, Dharmakirti, etc., are classified as Followers of Logic. This resembles the way Chinese Buddhists divided the early from the later Mind Only. According to Taktsang Lotsawa, one marker of this division is that Dignaga and the other logicians did not accept the ground consciousness; they only asserted the six consciousnesses. But because Travels to Lanka Sutra and Unraveling the Intent teach the ground consciousness, no Mind Only follower would doubt its existence. If we look at Dignaga and Dharmakirti’s texts, the absence of the ground consciousness can be explained because it’s not relevant to their topics. Just because the eight consciousnesses do not appear in a text does not mean that the author doesn’t accept them.

    Furthermore, Vimala Gupta cites a text by Dignaga that does mention the engaging consciousness and the ground consciousness. Devendrabuddhi and Sakyabuddhi’s Commentary on Validity clearly discusses the ground consciousness. Sakyabuddhi explains that an individual continuum of consciousness refers to the ripening (or ground) consciousness. Likewise, Vinitadeva’s commentary on Vasubandhu’s Twenty Verses and Dharmakirti’s commentary on Proof of Other Continuums clearly teach the ground consciousness and its imprints. Even within the seven texts on validity, there are some authors who mention the ground consciousness and some that don’t. 

    Next, Karmapa turned to Changkya Rolpay Dorje and other Geluk scholars who say that the Followers of Scripture and Followers of Logic take positions within both the False Image and True Image schools. To illustrate this with one text, the Commentary on Validity, Devendrabuddhi and Sakyabuddhi explain it as an example of True Image philosophy, while Prajnakaragupta interprets it as False Image. And Master Dharmottara asserts that it is from the Stained False Image school. Gyaltsap Je also identifies the Commentary on Validity as a False Image text, but Khedrup Je argues that it propounds True Image philosophy. All of these views are from the perspective of Tsongkhapa’s teachings, so here we have an example of how difficult it was for Tibetans to parse the various subdivisions of the Mind Only school. The treatizes in Chinese are much clearer on this point.

    Whether the “Dharmas of Maitreya” Are Mind Only texts

    In Tibet, commentaries on the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” are among the most well known. If we want to understand the Mind Only view, we must penetrate the wisdom in Maitreya’s thought. There are many different interpretations of these volumes and multiple disagreements. For example, some assert that the Ornament of the Sutras and Differentiating Middle from Extremes is Mind Only, while Sublime Continuum and Ornament of Clear Realization are Middle Way. Some designate Distinguishing Phenomena and Dharmata as Mind Only, while others assert it as a secondary aspect of the Sublime Continuum and therefore Middle Way. Those holding to the latter view are Dolpopa and Shakya Choken. Redawa Shonnu Lodro initially asserted that all five Dharmas are Mind Only. However, Redawa later went into retreat and realized that the Sublime Continuum is Middle Way, as is related in the Blue Annals. Tsongkhapa proposed that Differentiating the Middle from Extremes and Ornament of the Sutra are Mind Only, Ornament of Clear Realization is mostly Autonomous Middle Way and ultimately Consequentialist, and that Sublime Continuum is entirely Consequentialist Middle Way. If we look at the consensus of international scholars, the “Dharmas of Maitreya” are Mind Only texts, but a minority of Tibetan scholars categorize all five volumes in this way. The Tibetan inclination was to categorize these texts as primarily Middle Way.

    Here we return to the fact that the “Dharmas of Maitreya” vigorously spread throughout Tibet but the Mind Only school did not. Tibetan scholars concluded that Mind Only philosophy saw consciousness as truly existent, and therefore disregarded the school. If we look at Sthiramati’s commentary on the Thirty Verses, he clearly explains the nature of consciousness in this way. Therefore, most scholars identify Sthiramati, Devendrabuddhi, etc., as Mind Only. Likewise, if an author asserts that appearances are mind, he is categorized as Mind Only. However, the Ornament of the Sutras, Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes, and Asanga’s Compendium of the Mahayana do not clearly state that consciousness truly exists. One might therefore conclude that these texts are not in fact Mind Only.

    Another difficult point concerns the question of whether dependent nature is truly existent or not. According to Tsongkapa, all Mind Only proponents assert that this is so. But in the Mind Only school, there are two traditions regarding the ultimately existent: true existence by its own characteristics and that which is determined to be the ultimate existence because it is the object of meditative wisdom. The Bodhisattva Levels and Compendium of the Mahayana put forward the former view. Tsongkhapa held that Differentiating the Middle from Extremes denies altogether that the dependent ultimately exists.

    Some scholars of the Mind Only say that in general, the school asserts that the dependent is not truly existent; only the absolute is. The Kamtsang scholar Pal Khang Lotsawa writes that the True Image and the False Image are the same in asserting that the imaginary does not exist while the absolute does, but the True Image school holds that both the pure and impure dependent are relative, while the False Image school sees the pure dependent as ultimate.

    The Spread of the “Dharmas of Maitreya” into Tibet

    During the ancient transmission period, not all five of the “Dharmas of Maitreya” were translated. So the term, “Five Dharmas of Maitreya,” did not appear at that time. It was only during the later period that all of these volumes became well-known and undisputed. The “Five Dharmas” are: Ornament of Clear Realization, Ornament of the Sutras, Differentiating the Middle from Extremes, Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata, and Sublime Continuum. Are these separate works or interrelated volumes that should be considered as one entity? The Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje noted that only the Ornament of Clear Realization has an opening homage, and except for the Sublime Continuum, the volumes lack dedications. Because of this, he asserted that each text was a different section of a single whole. But some dispute this, arguing that the homage in the Ornament of Clear Realization is for that work alone, and similarly, the dedication for Sublime Continuum only pertains to that volume. Geluk scholars noted that the description of the thirty-two marks appears in both the Ornament of Clear Realization and Sublime Continuum. If the “Five Dharmas” were a unified work, why would that redundancy occur?

    In any case, not all the Dharmas were translated into Tibetan at the same time. Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata and Sublime Continuum do not appear in the catalogues of the ancient period. According to Go Lotsawa Shonnu Pal’s Blue Annuals, these two texts were little known in India as well. The Indian master Simhabhadra quotes liberally from the other Dharmas but does not include a single passage from Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata or Sublime Continuum. Similarly, the story of Maitripa finding these two texts inside a light-filled stupa indicates their rarity; but even so, we can’t say they were nonexistent in India. Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata was not translated into Chinese until the 20th century. But the Sublime Continuum (with the title Distinguishing the Family of the Jewels) appeared in that country very early, around the 6th century, although it was attributed to another author, Sthiramati. Therefore, the text must have circulated in India before that time.

    Atisha and Naktso Lotsawa produced the first translation of the Sublime Continuum into Tibetan. Atisha was the scholar and Naktso Lotsawa did the actual translation. Later, Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherap wrote the most common and widespread translation. Tsen Khawoche passed down the famous story about the origins of the Sublime Continuum. This text, along with Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata, was hidden like a treasure for a long time; no scholars knew about it. As mentioned above, Maitripa saw a golden light shining between the bricks of a stupa, went inside and found these two texts. He supplicated Maitreya and had a vision of the deity in the sky riding on a cloud, who gave Maitripa a transmission of the texts. Maitripa taught them to his student Gaway Drakpa, or Nanda Kirti, who later went to Kashmir and imparted this wisdom to Jnana. Later two translators— Ngok Lotsawa and Tsen Khawoche—who were students of Drapa Ngonshe, went to Kashmir together. Ngok Lotsawa studied many texts, while Tsen Khawoche focused only on the Dharmas of Maitreya. He returned to Tibet before Ngok Lotsawa and spread the teachings, primarily of the Sublime Continuum. A meditative tradition from the “Five Dharmas” arose from his efforts.

    Before Ngok Lotsawa returned to Tibet, most Kadampa scholars used Atisha and Nagtso Lotsawa’s translations of Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata and Sublime Continuum. Once Ngok Lotsawa’s version was available, most people preferred it over the earlier translation, which is apparently no longer extant. (Geshe Sharawa criticized his students for disregarding a version associated with the great Atisha.) In addition to Ngok Lotsawa, Patsap Lotsawa, Yarlung Lotsawa and Drakpa Gyaltsen also translated the Sublime Continuum in Tibetan, but these too probably no longer exist. Only one translation of this text went into the Tengyur.

    The ancient technology of hand-cutting wood blocks prevented multiple versions of a text from appearing in the Kangyur and Tengyur; it took too much effort and expense to include more than one translation. But these days, using modern digital technology, it’s easy to have various versions of a text available. Karmapa’s plan is to recompile the Kangyur and the Tengyur, and within that, to include all the different translations of a single text. In addition, some handwritten texts in the early Kangyur and Tengyur don’t appear in the later block-printed versions, nor do many Buddhist texts in other languages. These could be translated into Tibetan and included. His Holiness wants to produce a complete Kangyur and Tengyur in one edition. This would be very beneficial for researchers and teachers, because comparing different versions of texts is helpful.

    His Holiness then returned to his account of how Maitreya’s “Five Dharmas” spread in Tibet. According to Tsen Khawoche, Maitripa revived and propagated the Sublime Continuum and Differentiating Phenomena from Dharmata in India. If this is true, we need to consider the fact that Maitripa and Atisha were contemporaries. How did Atisha get these texts? Perhaps a connection existed between the two, even though they didn’t share a master/student relationship. It’s important to find out how these texts came into Atisha’s hands.

    Likewise, we need to consider the two translations of Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata. Atisha and Nagtso Lotsawa’s translation of the text was in prose, but the most well-known version—translated by Zhama Lotsawa—is in verse. (Zhama Lotsawa received philosophical instruction from Ngok Loden Sherap and pith instructions from Dampa Sangye. He later went to the Five Peak Mountain in China and never returned to Tibet. Zhama Lotsawa was also the translator of Dignaga’s Compendium Validity and its auto commentary.) In comparing Zhama Lotsawa and Atisha and Nagtso Lotsawa’s versions of Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata, the same text is rendered in both prose and verse. Since it is very unlikely that it would have been translated from prose into verse, perhaps the original Sanskrit text existed in these two different styles.

    Later, among the most important Indian masters to go to Tibet was the Kashmir pandita, Sakya Sri. It is said that he taught pith instructions based on the “Five Dharmas”, but this lineage has been lost. With this, Karmapa concluded today’s discussion of the spread of the “Dharmas of Maitreya”, promising to continue his consideration of the Mind Only school in Tibet next time.

    Day 6:  The Mind Only School of Phenomenal Appearance in China, Japan and Korea

    Day 6:  The Mind Only School of Phenomenal Appearance in China, Japan and Korea

    A Teaching on Vasubandhu’s The Thirty Verses

    Day 6:  The Mind Only School of Phenomenal Appearance in China, Japan and Korea

    30 January 2022

    The Dharma Characteristics School can be called the school of phenomenal appearance, the Karmapa explained, as he continued to explore the scientific basis of the Mind Only School as it spread from India to China, Japan and Korea. Why is it given that name - the school of phenomenal appearances?

    The short answer is, it dissects exactly what happens when external phenomena appear, from the smallest object to the entire universe.  There are two distinct aspects: the manner of appearance of both the subtle aspect and the aspect of the substratum, or the material reality of phenomena; and secondly, the nature of appearance, or the way in which appearances abide.

    Take for example the way that scientists explain that this entire world is comprised of atoms, or their recent discovery of subtle particles such as electrons or quarks. These combine to form gross objects. This is like the first analysis. If there is something behind this manner of appearance or some other nature or internal way they abide, that is similar to the second analysis.

    Although the Mind Only school, propagated by Xuanzang and Kuiji in China, is given the name Dharma Characteristics school, if we were to be very precise, it should be called the “School of the Nature and Appearance of Phenomena.” This is a better name,” the Karmapa concluded.

    One of the most important aims of Mind Only philosophy is to identify the way things appear and the way they abide distinctly and individually. The starting point is the way things appear to our mind every day, the cognitive image. How do they appear, how do we focus on them, what are the confused appearances, what is the distinction between the way phenomena are and the way they appear?  The examination of the way phenomena appear through actual experience is similar to scientific methodology. The Mind Only School, though extremely complicated, vast, profound, and detailed, is a philosophy backed up by a strong logical tradition.

    The Spread of Mind Only in China

    The great monk of the Tang Dynasty Xuanzang, or as he was called in the Chinese kingdom, “The Tang Master of the Tripitika”, brought the Mind Only philosophy from India to China. (He has been revived recently as one of the characters in a Chinese TV series, the Karmapa added.)

    Xuanzang was driven by an appetite for knowledge no matter what topic, but he was especially drawn to the Commentary on the Ten Levels translated by Paramartha. In order to get all the works related to the Yogacara, he traveled eight thousand kilometres to India, disregarding the prohibition on travel. His diary, The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, describes how he overcame hardships, (even the spirits played up) and arrived in India in 624 CE. There he fulfilled his primary aim: to study the Mind Only treatises with the great abbot of Nalanda, Śīlabhadra, His studies included the dharma of the Mahayana and Foundation vehicles as well.

    During his sojourn of 17 years in India, Xuanzang journeyed to many of the Buddhist sites and recorded it in Travels to the Western Region. The record became an invaluable guide in identifying Buddhist sites. In 645 CE, the 19th year of the emperor Taizong’s reign, he returned home to Chang-an the capital of China, bringing with him the precious Indian Buddhist texts.

    The emperor Taizong was so pleased, he founded a center for translating Buddhist texts, and supported Xuanzang’s translation projects. He devoted all his physical and mental energy working without rest to translate the sutras and treatises he had brought from India. During the remaining 18 years of his life his output was formidable: 74 different dharma texts in 1350 bundles—translated into Chinese. These became known as the “new translations” as distinct from earlier translations called the “old translations.” His translations from this period include many Mind Only texts such as the Sutra Unraveling the Intent, Yogacara Levels, Treatise Clarifying the Teachings, Compendium of Abhidharma, and the Compendium of the Mahayana, along with the Hundred Thousand Stanzas of the Prajnaparamita Sutra, Treasury of Abhidharma, Samayabhedavyūhacakra, and more.

    In particular, his translation of the 10-part Treatise on the Proof of Mind Only into Chinese marks the beginning of a new era of Chinese Buddhist history. This text compiles all the explanations of the Thirty Verses by the ten commentators. Instead of translating the entirety, he took the main points of the commentators and compiled them using Dharmapāla’s explanations as his source; hence the Dharma Characteristics school is also called the Dharmapala school.

    Xuanzang’s foremost student was Kuiji, who collaborated on translations with his master. There are amazing stories about Kuiji. He went forth as a monk at the age of 17.  It is said that he first developed realization when translating the Treatise on the Proof of Mind Only with his master Xuanzang. With the support of Xuanzang, he wrote commentaries on the Treatise on the Proof of Mind Only, Differentiating the Middle from Extremes, and commentaries on sutras including the Praise of the White Lotus Sutra, and other important texts, such as The Teaching of Vimalakīrti, and even a short commentary on the Yogacara Levels. He was hailed as the ‘Author of a Hundred Commentaries.’  He surpassed his master and thus it is said that Kuiji was actually the founder of the Dharma Characteristics school, not Xuanzang.

    The Three Mind Only Commentaries

    The master who followed Kuījī as the second holder of the Dharma Characteristics lineage, Huìzhǎo (650–714 CE) wrote a text called the Definitive Meaning of the Proof of Mind Only. The third holder of the lineage, his student Zhì zhōu  (668–723 CE), wrote a text called Secret Teachings of the Proof of Mind Only which re-systematized and propagated the Mind Only thought of Dharmapāla. These commentaries are called the “Three Mind Only Commentaries,” and their work is called the ‘’analysis of the three forefathers.’’ They are considered authoritative classics. In addition, Zhizhou wrote two texts called the Treatise of the Shining Wisdom Sun of the Middle and Extremes and Selected Inspirations for Bodhichitta.

    In comparison, the Mind Only philosophy taught in the Ten Levels and Compendium of Mahayana Schools is only partial; they did not have an opportunity to study the entire Indian Mind Only philosophy.  Without the influence of Dharmapala it was as if these two earlier schools had discarded the trunk and were clinging only to the branches.

    It was only because of Xuanzang’s great resolve to go to India to study the Mind Only views transmitted in a pure lineage from Maitreya, Asanga, and Vasubandhu to Dharmapāla that the lineage survived intact. The Dharma Characteristics school thus flourished widely during the Tang dynasty both in religious and political terms, exerting such great pressure on the Ten Levels and Compendium schools that in the end, those two schools merged with the Dharma Characteristics school.

    Decline and Revival

    After the Tang Dynasty the Huichang persecution of Buddhism marked the decline of the Dharma Characteristics school in China, and later during the time of Zhizhou, (the third holder of the Dharma Characteristics lineage) the texts related to it were lost. At that point the transmission was broken.

    The Avatamsaka school, which had the aim of uniting the old and new translations (unifying the Buddha nature and Mind Only), began to spread, and the practices of dhyana (Zen or Chan) and Pure Lands schools spread widely. Among the practices of Zen and Pure Lands that flourished during the Yuan Dynasty, there were many scholars who referred to the Mind Only philosophy when teaching about the Pure Lands.

    Eventually the Dharma Characteristics school, which upheld the philosophy of the pure Mind Only tradition, came to an end in China. The Japanese scholar Takemura Makio presents three reasons for its demise. First of all, the emphasis on a very high level of philosophy was so strong that other than a few scholars, it was above the common person’s level. Secondly, it asserts that some people will awaken to Buddhahood and some never will. This did not fit with the hopes that many faithful Buddhists held in their hearts. Finally, since it explains a progressive and gradual path to reach the ultimate goal, it did not match the inclinations of Chinese people, Naturally, everyone wants to get there quickly, the Karmapa added.


    However, in spite of this, the Mind Only School did not entirely disappear from China.

    During the Ming Dynasty, Hānshān Déqīng, wishing to revive the Dharma Characteristics school, authored a text called the Xìng Xiāngtōng Suō explaining the union of appearance and nature in Mind Only philosophy, but in spite of his efforts, it failed to stir up much interest in the Mind Only School. The texts to back it up were no longer extant.

    At the end of the Qing Dynasty, some new sparks rekindled when the lay practitioner Yáng Rénshān went to Japan and collected many texts of the Dharma Characteristic schools which he brought to China. His find resounded like the rumble of an earthquake in scholarly circles, because these texts were thought to have disappeared.

    Similarly, during the time of the Republic of China, the Shina Buddhist Institute in the south of China revived their research into Mind Only using texts of the Dharma Characteristics school obtained from Japan. In Beijing, through the efforts of Hán Qīngjìng, Mind Only philosophy was revived in China after several centuries. Also Tibetan Buddhist texts, and Mind Only Sanskrit manuscripts that had been brought to Europe and America revived contemporary research into the Mind Only.

    The Spread of the Mind Only in Japan

    The Dharma Characteristics school was brought to Japan by Japanese scholars who had gone to study in China. In 653 CE, Doshoh arrived in Tang and studied with Xuanzang and Kuiji. returning to his homeland in 661 CE.  In 658 CE, Chitatsu arrived and also studied with Xuanzang and Kuiji. The scholars Chihoh, Chiran and Chiyuh arrived in 703 CE and studied with the third master of the lineage, Zhizhou.. Then there was Genboh who arrived in 717 CE and studied with Zhizhou returning to Japan in 735 CE.

    The Dharma Characteristics school introduced to Japan flourished widely. During the Nara period (710–794 CE), it became a sub-school of Buddhism in the southern capital of Nanto. There was a great rivalry between the Northern and the Southern temples in their philosophical positions, which produced famous scholars and many treatises. This continued until the Edo period (17th -19th century).

    In the early Edo period the tradition for many monks of all lineages, was to go to Nara to study Dharmapala’s Proof of the Mind Only and Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Abhidharma. It was said, “Three years for Mind Only, eight years for Abhidharma.” In other words, monks who wanted to learn Mind Only properly had to spend 11 years immersed in its study. The reason for this is that Mind Only thought had developed into a systematized Buddhist philosophy.  The name given jointly to the Treasury and Mind Only was “Science of Nature and Appearance.” In historical terms Mind Only is the last and most sophisticated presentation of Buddhist philosophy.

    The French ‘Mind Only Einstein’ and the Belgian Polymath

     In the late 19th century modern European research methods led to discoveries of the original Sanskrit texts of the sutras and treatises on the Mind Only. The evaluation of Mind Only gradually changed with this discovery, together with the study of Tibetan translations. In the early twentieth century the works and translations of the French scholar, Sylvain Levi in France (whom the Karmapa dubbed ‘the Mind Only Einstein‘)  and the polymath Louis de la Vallée Poussin in Belgium, introduced the foundations of traditional Mind Only to Europe. With the achievements of these two scholars, the new study of Mind Only suddenly flourished in Japan. Later, two pioneering scholars, Hakuju Ui and Susumu Yamaguchi, published a variety of original studies, and many scholars followed. They established new ways of studying the Mind Only school. The situation was so unprecedented, it was like a river flooding in the summer, the Karmapa remarked. 

    The spread of Mind Only in Shilla (Korea)

    The establishment of Mind Only in Korea has to be attributed to an outstanding student or dharma friend of the master Xuanzang, a Korean polymath called Woncheuk, living in the Chinese capital. Together Xuanzang and Woncheuk were complementary, like the right and left hand. Woncheuk’s reputation as a scholar was already well established. He was familiar with the Chinese scriptures and proficient in six languages, including Sanskrit and Tibetan; so much so that he was able to point out the mistranslation of the Master Xuanzang’s translation of the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra. Woncheuk was not only a respected monk, but also an original thinker.

    His views and thoughts differed slightly from those of Xuanzang and Kuiji. Woncheuk was deeply influenced by his study of the Ten Levels, and Paramatha’s translations whereas Xuanzang and Kuiji inherited the lineage of Dharmapala and Silabhadra. Through his deep understanding of the Mind Only school, Woncheuk was able to integrate and extend the doctrine of Mind Only. Thereafter, the school of Mind Only in Korea differed.

    After Xuanzang's death, Woncheuk continued to teach the doctrine of Mind Only at Ximing Temple in China. It was around this time that the Sutra Unravelling the Intent was written. The temple became a hub for students studying the Mind Only philosophy and Woncheuk’s reputation grew so great that the Korean King Sunmon repeatedly sent messengers to request he return to his homeland; but the Empress Wu refused to accept his departure. Although Woncheuk returned to Korea for a brief time, he soon relocated to China and lived out his life there.

    His commentary on the Sutra Unravelling the Intent made a great contribution, filling in for the many commentaries that had been lost from the time of the Tang dynasty. Only this ancient Chinese commentary by Woncheuk survived. This commentary was translated into Tibetan in the 9th century by Gö Chödrup and was a primary source for Tsongkhapa’s Essence of Fine Explanations of the Definitive and Expedient.