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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.