The Introduction to the 'Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only' by Kuiji
2023 23rd Annual Kagyu Gunchoe
Kagyu Gunchoe Winter Teachings 2023 • Day 5
25 January 2023
On the last day of the teaching, His Holiness Karmapa explained the essential point of texts and commentaries in general, using Kuiji’s sub-commentary on the Treatise Proving MindOnly [also known as the Treatise Proving Consciousness Only] in particular. The treatise is actually a commentary, he said, on the original words of the Thirty Verses, by Master Vasubandhu. As the Chinese text is also a commentary, the commentary on it by Kuiji then becomes a sub-commentary, or we could call it a commentary and explanation. It’s a commentary from the notes Kuiji took when he heard the explanation from his master Xuanzang. The Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only is called a commentary to distinguish it from a new text or an invention. It indicates that Kuiji himself did not compose a new text.
There are two different styles of explanation. The first is notes taken on the meaning of each word. The second style is more cursory, like notes jotted down so as not to forget the meaning
The Japanese master Zenshu from the 8th century, wrote a commentary on just the introduction to Kuiji’s text, in which he said that there are seven parts, or seven topics, covered in the introduction.
The first part describes how the nature that the Buddha revealed is profound and difficult to fathom. The second states that the reason why Vasubandhu wrote the Thirty Verses is to explain the meaning of Mind Only as it appears in the scriptures. The third describes how Dharmapāla and other bodhisattvas (panditas) wrote commentaries to clarify the meaning of the Thirty Verses.The fourth points out how there were errors in the translations of the scriptures prior to Xuanzang. The fifth verifies the correctness of Xuanzang’s translation. The sixth explains the meaning of the title Treatise Proving Mind Only. The seventh is an expression of Master Kuiji’s personal modesty.
The first passage
“The middle way of the Mahayana is ineffable and needs to be illuminated.’’
The main thing in this first passage is that the nature revealed by the Buddha is extremely profound and difficult to fathom. For example, the Book of Changes, orI Ching, an ancient book of divination, is also profound and subtle, and its meaning is clarified by the Ten Wings or the ten commentaries on the I Ching by Confucius. Ordinary people cannot realize the meaning of the I Ching on their own.
What characterises the Buddha's dharma? The phrase: neither existent nor non-existent is integral to the Buddha's teachings. The Tang dynasty master, Ling Tai, writes that generally both the Mahayana foundation vehicles teach that phenomena are neither existent nor non-existent. Ling Tai writes: Imaginary phenomena are not existent, but the dependent and absolute are also not nonexistent. Another scholar, Luó shí xiàn, writes that “neither existent nor nonexistent” indicates the ultimate truth.In brief, the words of this passage imply that it is only through the commentaries by Confucius, Zhongzi, and Laozi’s Dao De Jing, etc. that we can understand the meaning of the Book of Changes.
Following on from this, the Buddha’s teachings are particularly hard to understand.The profound meaning of the Mahayana dharma is beyond words and the suchness of dharma-nature completely transcends any object of words or thought. To clarify: existent yet empty refer to the objects of words but the ultimate is not the object of a word, so it is neither existent nor nonexistent. It is beyond all extremes of conceptual elaborations. Similarly, “non-arising” and “unceasing” indicate the state of suchness. One cannot pinpoint where it begins,so it is ‘’non-arising.’’ That being so, there is no end. Thus, it is called ‘’unceasing.’’
If the I Ching is profound, then how much greater is the need to delve deeply into the Buddha dharma. The ultimate truth of this superior dharma is far more profound and subtle. The words of the text cannot convey the natural face of suchness; it transcends words, thought, and description. In order to make such a dharma manifest, one must rely on the extensive commentaries based on the treatises by innumerable bodhisattvas.
The Buddha realized the nature of Mind Only and awakened. The bodhisattvas illuminated the profound meaning of the exalted dharma, worthy of reverence. Jiāng shèng is similar in meaning to noble. The Buddha is called superior, and the Bodhisattvas are called Jiāng shèng “becoming noble.” The treatises written by the bodhisattvas, expressing the inexpressible, help the teachings flourish, just as great ministers help the king govern the kingdom.
In fact, the nature of all phenomena transcends words and expressions. Thus the bodhisattvas wrote the treatises to illustrate its meaning, using words to point to it. That is how to express the inexpressible.
In the edition from the China Buddhist Institute, the word jīng or wind appears.The bodhisattvas’ treatises are analogous to the cool wind that awakens people from sleep. The words of the Buddha and the treatises by the great masters are like a breeze, which cools all sentient beings and wakes them from sleep. The words and treatises are superior in terms of their literary qualities, like the breeze that clears away clouds and fog to expose the moon in the sky. Likewise, the Buddha’s words and the treatises lead us to realize the depth of Buddha-nature, the hidden meaning of the profound dharma.
“Neither existent nor nonexistent” refers to the two truths - relative and ultimate. All phenomena do not inherently exist by nature as people apprehend them, but they are not completely nonexistent like flowers growing in the sky or rabbit horns. Saying that they are categorically existent or that they are categorically nonexistent is a view that falls into the extremes. Therefore, “existent”yet“empty” taught in the Buddha’s sutras and the treatises, must be understood as existing while not existent and non-existent while not non-existent.
The great masters of the treatises wrote commentaries on the nature of suchness, according to their level of realization. Their words are like the swells in the ocean. If we see very large waves in the ocean, we can know that the ocean is very deep. If the waves are not large, we can determine that the ocean is not all that deep. As in that analogy, when we read the treatises that explain the Mind Only, we understand how profound are the Buddha’s teachings on the nature of suchness. The meaning is in there among its subtle and profound words, but invisibly. Like the deep ocean, it is difficult to fathom. If we do not read the commentaries and explanations by the commentators, we cannot realize the nature of suchness, As It Is.
Similarly, if we do not take refuge in superior individuals and if they had not proclaimed, explained and disseminated the most wondrous teachings of the Buddha, no one would be able to realize the profound meaning of Mind Only and the definitive dharma of emptiness would be close to extinction.
First of all, we must understand what is meant by the term superior individuals. According to Lingtai’s Notes on the Treatise Proving Mind Only, the first two characters juti refer to the Buddha. Lin zhi refers to the bodhisattvas, like Vasubandu and the noble Asanga. According to Ling Tai's notes, zhu ji refers to Buddha, because Buddha is the very nature of all qualities. But according to Luo Shijian, zhu ji means Sangha, and ling ji refers to Vasubandhu.
What does Jīhū xī yǐ mean? According to Lingtai’s Notes, jī means a crux or secret, yī means the place where one rests in the mind essence. Thus Jīhū xī yǐ is the middle way of the Mahayana, the secret and crux of the Mind Only, the place of resting in the mind essence.
When we combine these two positions, it means that the Mahayana instructions on consciousness only are the most sacred and important dharma, a place where one can rest in the mind essence.
A Summary of the first passage from the Introduction to Mind Only
The main thing this first passage says is that the nature revealed by the Buddha is extremely profound and difficult to fathom.
Both the Book of Changes(I Ching) or the Dao De Jing are similarly difficult to understand, without the explanations of Confucius and others.
The dharma nature suchness that is neither existent nor nonexistent, non-arising and unceasing completely transcends the sphere of words, description, attributes, language, and thought. Thus innumerable bodhisattvas and scholars wrote treatises and commentaries. The Mahayana treatises are like the wind. When the clouds and mist are cleared away, the obscured points of the true dharma can shine like the moon in the clear sky. All beings are illuminated and wakened from the sleep of ignorance.
In particular, the two truths are as deep and unfathomable as the ocean, and the treatises that explain them are like the swells on the ocean. Without engaging the explanations taught by the authors of the treatises, we would be unable to realize the nature. They have all appeared because of the kindness of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. The place where we can rest in the nature of mind, is the crux of all Mahayana dharma enabling the definitive meaning of the emptiness of Mind Only to spread in this world. Had it been otherwise, the definitive meaning of emptiness would be close to extinction.
The Anniversaries of Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa
2023 23rd Annual Kagyu Gunchoe
Kagyu Gunchoe Conference
24 – 26 January, 2023
Each year at the Kagyu Gunchoe there is a three-day conference. This year the topic was establishing correctly the anniversaries of the Kagyu forefathers Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa.
A mix of monks and scholars joined together to discuss this. Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi and Khenchen Lodroe Donyo Rinpoche were present, along with khenpos and students from the Kagyu shedras, two lay scholars—the Tibetan historian Prof. Tashi Tsering, and Gen Karma Lodoe Rinchen—and representatives of Tsurphu Labrang which is sponsoring the Gunchoe.
The different aspects of the topic were addressed by various speakers: dates, biographical materials for determining the dates and the contributions that each of the forefathers made, followed by open discussions.
The Gyalwang Karmapa joined the conference by ZOOM on the 24th as well as the 26th January. On the first day, he spoke prelusively of his hopes for the conference: should the standardisation of dates and anniversaries prove unfeasible in its entirety during the very first conference, the aim was to at least have a comprehensive introduction to the project.
He said that to prove someone existed as an actual historical figure we need to be able to show the time when they lived so it's important for us to do this for the forefathers of the Kagyu lineage. Another benefit of this work is having standardised dates for everyone to celebrate the anniversaries at the same time.
One of the problems in the Indian histories is the difficulty of pointing to any time frame less broad than a century for any historical figure. We don't even really know the time of the Buddha's passing. Therefore, this is a project which is going to take some time as it requires much more research in the future, also owing to the fact that the scholars presenting had but a month to prepare.
After expressing his hopes and the relevance of having such discussions, he also cautioned against feelings of attachment to our own tradition, our own ideas and school. He advised everyone to look at it impartially.
His Holiness then brought up the issue of the various difficulties when calculating dates in Tibet, in part due to the different calendar systems denoting different times. He suggested that the accounts having different dates may well be ascribable to the implementation of different calendars.
He also suggested that, at the time in question, they must have used the Chinese calendar which was brought to Tibet by either one of the two empresses, Songtsen Gampo's or Trisong Deutsen's wife. During one of those two periods, the tradition of using Chinese astrology was brought in.
So, if we look at the names of the months and the names of the years, they all rely upon the Chinese system. Though that could be a starting point, it is possible that some changes have been made in Tibet. In any case, the important thing is to establish what system they were using at the time. Unless we know that, determining the dates is hard.
At the conclusion, on the 3rd day of the conference, 26th January, he opened with words of thanks to Prof. Tashi Tsering, describing him as a leading scholar among Tibetans in exile. And, he added, if he were in Tibet he would have been the leading scholar of the country. In fact, he would probably be more celebrated in Tibet than he is in exile. His scholarly contribution was of great help to His Holiness as they shared books, helped each other find manuscripts and so forth. He also thanked the other presenters who had worked very hard and found much useful material that would be helpful in the pursuit of further research. He expressed his hope of continuing this work in the future in a larger conference and, what is more, inviting some scholars from other lineages in order to make it into an undertaking of the entire Kagyu tradition. He didn't see this as the finish line but rather as a starting point for instituting the dates and anniversaries.
He spoke about the different calendar traditions. In Tibetan astrology there is some influence from India and some from China and he expounded on the correlation as well as differences between Chinese and Indian philosophy. He discussed the supporting documents, by Tang Xuan Zang and Amoghavajra, and the Chinese calendar traditions, going back to the origin before the common era and its establishment during the Tang Dynasty.
The Karmapa then mentioned the issue of differences in calendar system. In many old sources, the months are named by the astrological signs of the Chinese zodiac, for example, and it is necessary to calculate how the months correlate in different calendars to establish dates. Further, the tradition of calling the months as the first, second, and so forth (hor da or Mongolian month) is a Chinese tradition which likely came later, sometime in the 13th century, during the time of Drogon Chogyal Phakpa who went to the Mongolian court and was a lama to Kublai Khan before Karma Pakshi went there. So it's during his time (and this likely needs more research) that we started seeing months designated by a number.
There are also traditional ways of calculating months by observing the relative positions of the moon and the constellations during the lunar cycle. It is possible that the dates given in the various biographies of the three forefathers may have used this system, and this issue must be taken into consideration.
In essence, His Holiness spoke at length about different calendar systems and most importantly, the necessity to determine which calendar system was in fact used at the time of Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa in order to accurately institute the dates and anniversaries.
With this, the annual Gunchoe conference came to a close.
Kuiji: Extraordinary Being and Father of the Chinese Mind Only School
2023 23rd Annual Kagyu Gunchoe
Kagyu Gunchoe Winter Teachings 2023 • Day 4
21 January 2023
The Karmapa began the session by questioning whether the account of Kuiji becoming a monk in Lives of the Eminent Monks was an accurate record. It describes how Kuiji had been reluctant to become a monk but capitulated following Xuanzang’s dogged insistence. Even then, Kuiji made three conditions which contradicted the life of a monk—access to women, meat and food after midday. And when he set off to the monastery, he brought with him three loaded wagons of the things he needed and hence was nicknamed the “Three-Wagon Monk”.
The Tang dynasty monk Sēng Xiáng, a contemporary of Kuiji, mentions him in the History of the White Lotus Sutra but says nothing about the “Three-Wagon Monk” story. Neither do the authoritative Tang dynasty sources speak of it. In fact, the story only appeared more than 200 years later in manuscripts from the Sung dynasty onwards. Although many Buddhist manuscripts were destroyed during the Huìchāng persecution of Buddhism, it is doubtful whether a reliable source for the story exists.Putting it into context, in the latter part of his life, Kuiji taught the White Lotus Sutra, but his views conflicted with those of the Tiantai school, who considered the White Lotus Sutra to be paramount. This sutra contains an analogy about the Sravakas, the Pratyekabuddhas, and the Bodhisattvas, in which they are compared to three wagons. The Sravakas are compared to a wagon pulled by a goat, the Pratyekabuddhas to a wagon pulled by a deer, and the Bodhisattva path to a wagon pulled by a bull. Some contemporary scholars posit that the story of the Three-Wagon Monk was a deliberate misunderstanding of these analogies used by antagonists to discredit Kuiji. The Karmapa suggested that sources from the Tang dynasty and, in particular Kuiji’s own writings should be considered the most reliable.
Indeed, the History of the White Lotus Sutra by Sēng Xiáng paints a very different picture of Kuiji. It says that – known as Mahayana-ji–he was the crown jewel of all of Xuanzang’s 3000 students. It tells how there were many auspicious signs before his birth and his mother had a prophetic dream. He went forth when he was nine. According to the Karmapa, this means he began to feel revulsion towards samsara at that point. He entered a monastery when he was 17. Later, while he was teaching the White Lotus Sutra, he would write the commentary the night before teaching it the next day, and during this time there were many miraculous signs.
Kuiji’s own account in Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only says that he suffered much unhappiness and many woes in his life. When he was nine, his mother died, and from that time on, he lived in forests and mountains, with the wish to go forth. From a very young age, he grew further and further away from the busy world. Then at 17, he finally shaved his head and became a monk. Later at the emperor’s command, he was given the rank of menshi, which seems to have been some sort of servant to the sangha. At first, he was just one of Xuanzang’s 1000 students. Later he became one of the 70 excellent students. He prayed to be able to uphold Xuanzang’s lineage and to teach the dharma. He then began to work in Xuanzang’s translation school as a scribe.
Because he came from a powerful military family, he was well-educated, the Karmapa explained, and good at composition. He became especially skilled in writing, so he could have chosen to become a minister in the service of the emperor, in which case he would have achieved wealth and fame. Instead, he chose to become a monk. There were primarily three reasons for him to do this.
The first reason may have been seeing what happened to his elder uncle, the general Yu Chigong (or Yu Chijing). Yu Chigong was regarded highly by the Tang emperor Taizong, but he was very direct and quick to anger, wild, rough, boastful and arrogant. Once, when the emperor had arranged a feast for his ministers, Yu Chigong protested vehemently because he had been seated lower than others. He thrust out his arm hitting one of the high officials, almost poking out his eye. This angered Emperor Taizong, who made a barbed reference to the first Han emperor, Gaozu Liu Bang, who had murdered a very capable high official, Hanxin, and many others, making clear that it was their fault that they were killed, not the Emperor’s. In other words, Taizong gave Yu Chigong a severe warning: if you mess around again, you will be responsible for all the consequences. Later Yu Chigong had a falling out with the Gung minister. Consequently, he was expelled from the capital and given responsibilities in the outer regions. He was demoted and the emperor’s view of him diminished. Towards the end of his life, Yu Chigong felt disgust at having been a government official, and developed great faith in Taoism. He put much effort into practising it, and for 26 years declined to meet anyone from outside. This experience may have influenced Kuiji.
The second influence, the Karmapa surmised, may have been the consequences from his mother’s death when he was only nine. From that time on, he would have felt very much alone, and people would have looked down on him, so he saw through fame and secular achievements, and wished to become a monk.
In addition, during the Tang period, Buddhism spread rapidly. Especially after Xuanzang returned from India to Chang’an, Buddhism flourished widely. There was a lot of interest in translating Buddhist scriptures. In particular, the emperors Taizong and Gaozong and the empress Wu Zetian and others supported the teachings. The empress Wu Zetian’s son Li Xian even asked Xuanzang for refuge and became a monk. These are also important positive factors in Kuiji going forth.
The story of the Commentary on the Ascension of Maitreya
Kuiji wrote commentaries on many texts, and for this reason, he was known as the “Master of a Hundred Works”. He particularly wrote commentaries on the Mind Only school sutras and treatises. Not only was he a great scholar and a great master, but he also clearly showed in many different ways how he was not an ordinary person. Stories related to this are found in the Lives of the Eminent Monks, and the Karmapa recounted two of them.
The first one concerned the circumstances leading Kuiji to write a commentary on the Sutra of Maitreya’s Ascension to Tushita. In 674, Kuiji went to the Five Peaked Mountain (Wutai Shan). More than five hundred lay and monastic students became his students there, and he also founded a monastery, building many statues. In particular he erected a statue of Maitreya, and took the bodhisattva vow and made daily prayers before it. In any case, he became one of the well-known masters at Wutai Shan, and spread the Mind Only philosophy there.
According to a Sung dynasty biography of him, once when Kuiji was on his way to Wutai Shan, as he was crossing the Taihang mountains, he spent the night in an old monastery. While he was there, he dreamt that he was in the middle of the mountain and heard the sound of innumerable beings wailing and crying below. In the pitch dark, he felt a terrible sadness greater than any other. The sound was so unbearable that he went to the top of the mountain to see who was crying. He looked in all directions but could see no one. Everything appeared in the colour of blue beryl (vaidurya). Then, when he looked upward, he saw a city, and heard a voice say, “Master, wait a moment. What is it? Why have you come here today?” A few moments later, two young gods emerged from the city and said, “Did you see the sentient beings, the suffering sentient beings, at the foot of the mountain?” Kuiji replied, “I heard their sound but could not actually see them.”
Then, the two young gods gave Kuiji a sword or knife and said, “Slice your stomach open, look, and you will see.” Kuiji cut his stomach open and immediately two beams of light shone from it, illuminating the foot of the mountain. There he saw innumerable sentient beings tormented by great suffering.
The two young gods returned to the city in the sky and reappeared with two scrolls of paper and a brush which they threw down to him. Kuiji took them and immediately woke up with a start. It was the middle of the night, but Kuiji could see a light shining from somewhere in the monastery. He got up and went to see where the light was coming from and discovered that it came from some paper scrolls that were glowing in the dark. He opened the scrolls and found that they contained the Sutra of Maitreya Ascending to Tushita Heaven, and immediately he recalled his dream.
He interpreted this as a sign that Maitreya was instructing him to write a commentary on the sutra. Without pausing, he took a brush and began to write the commentary. Once more, miracles accompanied this activity. Relics the colour and size of cherries fell from the tip of the brush, 27 relics in all. There were also innumerable yellow relics like kernels of the crop that grows without tilling. This is how Kuiji wrote the commentary on the Sutra of Maitreya’s Ascension to Tushita.
The Karmapa commented that Wutai Shan was a sacred site dedicated to Manjushri. It seems that it was Kuiji who built the first Maitreya statue there, because, as a follower of the Mind Only school, he considered Maitreya to be very important.
The story of the Vinaya Master Dao Xuan and the Divine Messengers
This second story is also from Lives of Eminent Monks. It tells how Kuiji met with the Vinaya master Dao Xuan. He was the founder of the Chinese Vinaya school, also known as the lineage of the Southern Mountain School, one of the eight great lineages of Chinese Buddhism. Dao Xuan was meticulous and highly disciplined, so each day the kings of the gods (perhaps the Four Great Kings) would send messengers to Dao Xuan to ask about various things. One day, when Kuiji went to meet Dao Xuan, it was at precisely the time when the messengers of the gods usually came to see Dao Xuan. That day the messengers did not come until after Kuiji had left.
Master Dao Xuan reprimanded the messengers, “You’re late today. Why?” The messengers replied, “A great Mahayana bodhisattva was here, and there were so many gods and their retinues we could not enter. We do not have the miraculous powers to do so, so we were late.”
What we can learn from these two stories is that Master Kuiji was not an ordinary person. His activity and influence also clearly show that he was not ordinary. It is said that the Maitreya statue that he erected at Wutai Shan began to radiate light. Later Kuiji made a jade statue of Manjushri at Wutai Shan, and an image of Prajnaparamita painted in gold. When they were finished, they also shone with amazing rays of light.
Kuiji’s death and legacy
Kuiji was only 51 when he passed away in 682 CE. He died at the translation school at Ci’en Temple and his remains were buried in front of a statue of Xuanzang. While he was alive, his disciples regarded him as indivisible from Xuanzang and took him as an example, someone to look up to. The Lives of Eminent Monks records that Tang Xuanzang spent over a decade teaching and translating the dharma and gathered innumerable students. Among them were many excellent disciples, but the one who remained at Ci’en Temple, writing many commentaries and propagating the Yocacara Mind Only philosophy widely was Kuiji. In one way, Xuanzang was the founder of the Chinese Yogacara Mind Only tradition, but it seems there was no autonomous Chinese Mind Only school during his lifetime. It was Kuiji who wrote the commentaries and established it firmly. The Karmapa described it as Kuiji was like the father and Xuanzang like the grandfather.He went from being a general’s son in the line of the Guogong family to being a “general” who guarded the teachings. It is rare for even one person like him to appear in a millennium, the Karmapa observed.
At the end of the Ming dynasty there were four great masters, Liánchí Zhūhóng (1535–1615 CE), Zibai Zhenke (1543–1603 CE), Hanshan Deqing (1546–1623 CE), and Ǒu yì zhì xù (1599–1655 CE). Hanshan Deqing was a master of the Chan or Zen school and the most well-known. He wrote a praise of Kuiji in his autobiography Tales of Old Hanshan Sleepwalking Through the World. It reads thus:
The school of the Mind Only, So deep and marvellous, Only you could spread Like sunlight in the sky.
You must certainly have received this From Maitreya in Tushita. Otherwise, how could you realise All of its difficult points?
It speaks of the profundity of the Mind Only school and praises Kuiji, the only one capable of propagating it, like sunlight spreading across the sky.
Kuiji’s introduction to his Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only
Kuiji lived 1340 years ago. Xuanzang chose him to be his assistant in translating texts, his scribe, and editor. It’s evident from this, that the level of his writing style, grammar, and composition was one in a million. Thus, when we hear the words of his introduction, they are authoritative. He wrote in Classical Chinese, which is hard to understand; his use of terms, syntax, grammar, and so forth are not easily accessible or translatable these days. In order to comprehend Kuiji’s introduction to his Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only it is necessary to rely on other commentaries, of which there are primarily three:
Notes on Proving Mind Only by Kuiji’s disciple Língtài.
An Explanation of the Introduction to the Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only by Zenshu (Ch: Shànzhū), an eighth-century Japanese monk from the School of Phenomenal Appearances.
The Revised Commentary on the Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only by Luō Shíxiàn, a contemporary Chinese scholar from the 1990s. As this is written in modern Chinese, it is easier to read and understand.
The first, Língtài, was a monk from the Tang dynasty and may have been Kuiji’s student. However, the Karmapa explained, finding a clear account of his life had not been possible.
The second author, Zenshu, was an eighth-century Japanese monk; once more, there is no detailed account of his life. It is said that his teacher was Master Genbo [Chin. Xuán Fǎng] and that he studied Mind Only and epistemology with him. Genbo was a Japanese monk and a student of Zhizhou [a disciple of Kuiji’s foremost disciple Huizhao]. Thus he was in the fifth generation of masters in the lineage of Tang Xuanzang: the lineage goes from Xuanzang to Kuiji to Huizhao to Zhizhou to Genbo (Japanese), and finally to Zenshu (Japanese). Genbo had been living in the Tang capital of Chang’an and returned to Japan in the sixth year of Tiānpíng’s reign (734 CE), bringing over five thousand volumes of sutras and treatises. He donated these to the monastery of Kōfukuji, which had the greatest library and the best facilities for study at that time in Japan. It’s not clear how Zenshu received teachings from Genbo but it’s probable that they were contemporaries at Kōfukuji. The commentaries Zhenshu wrote, particularly his commentary on the Explanation
to the treatise Proving Mind Only, cite quotations from many different eighth-century Chinese texts. Among them are more than a few manuscripts that are no longer extant. They are all excellent sources beneficial for research into ancient Chinese manuscripts. Although Zenshu never went to study in China, he was in the best environment for studying Buddhist philosophy in Japan at that time.
The third author, Luō Shíxiàn, was born in 1914 and graduated from Zhongshan University. He first studied with Master Baojing [Bǎo jìng fǎshī]. He later took refuge with the great Master Tàixū and studied the philosophy of the Tiantai Mountain school, Mind Only, and Middle Way. In 1965 he went to Hong Kong and founded the Dharmalakshana Buddhist Institute, which still exists. Later, he went to North America and spread the Mind Only and the school of Phenomenal Appearances there. In 1993 he returned to Hong Kong and passed away there.
The Karmapa concluded the session by wishing everyone a Happy New Year in the Chinese tradition. He mentioned that in some regions of Tibet, Tibetans also celebrate this day as the new year. It is said that a Chinese astrologer brought Chinese astrology to Tibet during the Tibetan imperial period. It seems that the Tibetan white astrology and so forth of the Kalachakra [derived from the Indian Kalachakra system] was mixed with the Chinese black astrology system.
The Legacy of the Chinese Translators
2023 23rd Annual Kagyu Gunchoe
Kagyu Gunchoe Winter Teachings 2023 • Day 3
19 January 2023
The Gyalwang Karmapa greeted everyone, saying it was the third day of the winter teachings. He began by continuing as he had in the last teaching, to speak about the ancient Chinese translation methods. He reviewed their methods, explained the order, and how the translators and their assistants allocated their work. He divided the history of the Chinese translation of scriptures into four historical periods. To make it easier for everyone to understand it fully, the Karmapa presented a breakdown of each period:
1. Han Dynasty period
During the Han dynasty, Buddhism began to spread in China.
Two translators of that period are:
Shuòfú who translated Pratyutpanna-buddha-saṃmukhāvasthita-samādhi-sūtra [by Lokaṣema] in 179 (1,844 years ago)
Buddhavarman who translated the Great Exposition of the Abhidharma in 383 (1,640 years ago)
2. Before the Sui Dynasty
During the period before the Sui Dynasty, translation schools had hundreds or even thousands of people gathered together engaged in translation. The well-known translators of that period are:
Kumārajīva 344–413 CE. (1,650 years ago)
Buddhabhadra translated the White Lotus Sutra in 421 CE. (1,600 years ago)
Paramārtha who translated the Treasury of Abhidharma 563 CE. (1460 years ago)
All these translators were from over 1000 years ago.
3. Sui and Tang Dynasties
During this period, only twenty or thirty people who were specialists would work together. The most well-known translator of this era was Tang Xuanzang, who began translating in 645 CE. (1,370 years ago)
4. Song Dynasty
The fourth period was the Song Dynasty. (1,100 years ago)
The translation of the Buddhist scriptures that occurred in China from the earliest period took place over 900 years, from the Han Dynasty to the Song Dynasty. This had been covered in detail during the last session.
The Karmapa explained that there were different ideas about when Buddhism first spread into China. Most contemporary researchers discussed a book called TheHistory of theThree Kingdoms. [Sanguo Zi, by Chen Shou, also translated into the English with the title of the Records of the Three Kingdoms]. Later there were references to stories about The Three Kingdoms. However, TheHistory of theThree Kingdoms is an actual history, and The Story of The Three Kingdoms is a literary work based on the History of the Three Kingdoms;the books are not the same.
The historian Pei Songzhi made annotations to The History. He noted that in the first year of the reign of the Han Emperor Ai, in 2 BCE, the Kushans [known in Chinese as Da Yue Ji] sent a messenger. This Kushan master had a highly qualified Han student, called Jin Yu Liu, and he taught him “a sutra of the Buddha”. This is the most authoritative source for the beginning of the spread of Buddhism in China by the year 2 BCE. more than 2000 years ago.
Thus, in China, Buddhist texts were translated for hundreds of years, and then they were passed down for over a thousand years, during which time many developments and changes occurred. The history of scriptural translation into Chinese has deep and reliable sources.
The three principal steps of translation during the Tang dynasty
The Karmapa then discussed in more detail the Tang dynasty, the time of the great translator Xuanzang:
In his translation school, Xuanzang only had twenty-three assistants. All of them were the most learned of scholars and the greatest of beings of the time. Everyone had their own clear division of labor, along with their responsibilities, and each had strict rules and procedures to follow. What were the rules and procedures they used when translating the scriptures?
Within the translation school, the main translator (Chin. ju yi, or yi ju,;Tib. lochen or kabgar) was extremely important; he bore the responsibility of the translation. He needed to have mastered all three baskets of the scriptures and be learned in both sutra and tantra. His main responsibility was to explain the thought, the meaning, or the difficult points to all the assistants in the translation school. The assistants were specifically chosen scholars, the best of the scholars and the best of the great beings. They already understood the main points, so it was not necessary to explain every word. They had deep discussions about the points that were difficult to understand and were profound. These discussions were based on the Sanskrit manuscript itself.
After the day’s translation work was accomplished to a fair degree, all the notes about the day’s explanations and discussions were taken to the composition office where the first draft was made in Chinese by dedicated writers who paid attention to the meaning but not the style of the composition. It was then taken for further editing. In an aside, the Karmapa referred to his own experience when translating from Tibetan into Chinese or from Chinese into Tibetan. The first stage was always to establish the meaning of each word very clearly and then translate it literally. The literal translation could then be taken as a basis to refine syntax, grammar and style. Likewise, with these early translators. This first step created the basis for the first draft.
The draft was then taken to the “Proofing for meaning” office, where there were three different types of specialists: an editor knowledgeable about the topic (Chin. Zheng yi), an editor for Chinese (Chin. zhi ju), and a Sanskrit scholar (Chin. fan yu fan wen). They checked the translation against the original to see whether it expressed the meaning and whether there were any gaps between the meaning of the translation and the original. When they saw a mistake in the translation, they would change it and send it back to the composition office.Once the proofreaders for the meaning had revised the translation, they sent it back to the editors who would revise the composition. These editors would take the corrected manuscript and once again evaluate the comments of the editors for meaning and improve the style and syntax. The reason for this was that the editors proofing for meaning needed to see if the translation matched the Sanskrit. These editors would send the manuscript back and forth many times. If the improvement for style made the meaning harder to understand, they would again return the translation back until it was as clear as possible. Until the editors for style and the editors for meaning were satisfied, they would send the translation back and forth countless times. In this way, the second and third steps helped each other.
This method was called, “the repeated analysis of the profound meaning.” (Chin: Yán fù yōu zhǐ). This was a continuation of the old tradition of assiduous editing from the pre-Sui dynasty period in the Qin dynasty.
This was a continuation of the old tradition of assiduous editing from the pre-Sui dynasty period in the Qin dynasty.
Jìngzōng, a prime minister of the Tang Dynasty, wrote a very clear preface in classical Chinese about Xuanzang’s translation of the Yogacara Levels (In Tibetan this text is called The Yogacara Levels.) The Karmapa gave a rough translation:
Xuanzang was the main translator: he had six scribes as assistants, one Sanskrit proofreader, one editor for the text, eight editors or proofreaders for the meaning, and seven to edit the style of the entire Yogacara Levels. These seven divided the chapters amongst themselves. In the end, the great minister of the Tang dynasty, Xǔ Jìngzhōng, read it carefully, as the Emperor required. In total there were twenty-four people involved in the translation. Through this new method in the Tang dynasty, the translation work improved greatly from before.
This new method brought great improvements in the translation in two different areas:
Although there were only a couple of dozen people involved in the translation; each had a clear responsibility. In the previous translation times, only three people did the work. Everyone else came to listen to the Dharma. Compared to this, in the Tang dynasty, the main translator had different specialists who discussed each stage of a translation repeatedly to improve the quality for understanding the translation.
Because the correction and checking continued, the quality improved. Sometimes there were disagreements between the scribes and the editors. For example, Xuanzang’s assistant Fazang (His name means ‘Essence of Dharma’ in English; he was known as the Third Patriarch of the Avatamsaka school, and as Xianshou) later resigned from the translation school because of the differing opinions of the scribes, editors, and style editors. While engaged in the translation, there was a frequent turnover of people at the translation schools. The people in the translation school were very learned in Buddhism as well as in grammar and composition. Since all were eminent masters of Buddhism and composition, any disagreements came down to how to translate the words and the meaning of the text. They were not disagreements arising from individual grudges. The main translator had to resolve the disputes and pacify everyone. These disputes and debates were beneficial for the translation.
At this point, the Karmapa said he would not speak about translation during the Song dynasty because there was no time.
A Summary of Ancient Translation Methods
The Karmapa explained why he had spent so much time describing translation methods.
Translating dharma texts is not at all easy. First, the translators must be highly qualified. For example, the main translator must be learned in the three baskets of the Buddhist scriptures, sutra and tantra. The translator’s assistants must also be trained in their own specialties and skills. There must be a Sanskrit specialist, a specialist in Classical Chinese or ancient Chinese writing, and a specialist of Buddhist learning in the literature of the sutras and treatises. The translation schools of those times were places where scholars gathered, and these were gatherings of great beings. Even if only a single word from the ancient translations was used, it required detailed thought, a careful choice, and examination before the right word was determined. It was a collaborative effort of many scholars from different areas.
Xuanzang’s translation school had different specialists: a specialist who was an upholder of the vinaya lineage, a patriarch of the school; Kuiji was the founder of the Mind Only school in China, the upholder the founder of the Dharma Appearance school; Fazang was the third patriarch of the Avatamsaka lineage, and many others like that—all of these great beings were founders of schools and upholders of lineages (this was comparable to Sakya Pandita, Longchenpa, or Lord Tsongkhapa in Tibet).
Among them, even the assistants on the lowest level were khenpos and great masters from great Chinese monasteries. It was not an exaggeration to say that all the scriptures were the product of the education and practice of those bodhisattva great beings from their entire lives.
The Karmapa then emphasized that these scriptures need to be cherished and regarded very highly, and we should recognize what is precious and important:
For example, in Tibet, whether it was with the Kangyur or Tengyur, the scriptures had two titles. They gave the name in Sanskrit, and then in Tibetan. There were two primary reasons.
The first is so the readers could understand a little about the translation, they could see, “this Sanskrit word stands for this word, and this for that” they could know a fair amount from that and understand a little about the correlation of the language.
The second reason is to remember the kindness of the translators, bringing difficult-to-understand texts in Sanskrit into languages that we could read and understand easily.
The Karmapa emphasized, “These are not points that we just utter. They must be put into practice.” We remember and feel grateful for them. He then explained the second point.
We need to understand how it is not easy to translate the scriptures. We should appreciate how the ancient scriptures have a different potency and blessings when we read them. There is a different feeling that comes to your mind when you read them. As is often said, “There is not a single word of the scriptures that is not the path to achieve liberation.” If you know how to practice and know how to take the understanding, there is not a single word that is not a path to liberation.”
To illustrate this, the Karmapa recounted a story of Je Tsongkhapa and Chennga Rinchen Pal. They had a discussion about the meaning of the word “Kadam” as in the name of the Kadampa school [Tib. བཀའ་གདམས་པ] Chennga Richen Pal explained that not even a single word of the Buddha can be discarded or eliminated; they must all be regarded as instructions. He defined a Kadampa as “Someone who sees that all the words (Tib. བཀའ་/ ka) of the Buddha, without leaving out even a single letter, are instructions/advice (Tib. གདམས་པ་ /dam) to be practised.” If you understood that, you were a Kadampa. At that point, Tsongkhapa was extremely pleased. He went outside and told his students, “Today our spiritual friend, Chennga Rinchen Pal, has really taught me something. When I asked him what “Kadam” means he replied, ‘It is not being able to discard a single letter of the Buddha’s word.’ “
For each word of the Kangyur and the Tengyur, “there is not a single word that is not a means to achieve liberation,” the Karmapa stated. If the great beings were not satisfied until they made the scriptures as excellent as possible, how could the scriptures have the power of blessings? There were two reasons: 1) the translators of the past were able to express the best meaning of the words; 2) they had the experience and realizations combined, so this produces a different feeling.
There is an example of a famous master, Huineng, the sixth patriarch of the Chan lineage. His Holiness explained that Tibetans refer to this school mistakenly as the Chinese Haxiang (Ha-shang) view because it was the view propounded by the Chinese monk Haxiang Mahayana during the famous debate with Kamalashila at Samye monastery in Tibet. Its correct name is the Chan school. Huineng was a great being and highly intelligent, the Karmapa explained, but he was illiterate, so he dictated the Liuzi dai ning, one of the most important Buddhist treatises in Chinese, and his students wrote it down. He had the realization and recognition of the nature of mind at the same time. It is said that when he heard the words of the Vajra Cutter Sutra, “Rouse bodhichitta without abiding,” he achieved realization. This demonstrates the uncommon power of the words in the Chinese translation of the Vajra Cutter.
The Karmapa then said it was not necessary to say too much, but there were two main points:
When we see translations from ancient times, we need to have gratitude and deep appreciation from our hearts. When we read, we should think that we have such great merit ourselves. Those great beings made efforts over their entire lives and because of that we can read their translations. We can experience the Dharma that is unmistaken, the true Dharma with the undiminished flavor and scent of the Dharma, we can understand the unmistaken meaning of the scriptures.
From another perspective, in the future if we can engage in translation ourselves, it is of course possible. Among all of us who are listening to the teachings, it is definite that some of us will have the opportunity to translate scriptures, and when we have that opportunity, we should follow the methods used by the great scholars and translators of the past. We should be very careful and precise about each word of the text and be modest and careful in reciting them. Just reading some dictionaries and commentaries, knowing some foreign languages and then translating is unacceptable. We should be extremely assiduous. We must try to be the best we can, the highest we can, the best of the best, and the greatest of the greatest. We must have courage to uphold the lineage of this tradition so that the efforts of the translators of the past do not go to waste.
We need to translate bearing the responsibility for future generations, not for our own fame or for minor ends. The instructions and fine explanations by authors of the scriptures, the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and root and lineages, will not go to waste.
With that the Karmapa said he would leave the topic of translation.
His Holiness then returned to the topic of the first day of the teachings on the Thirty Verses when he mentioned he would be speaking primarily about Xuanzang’s Treatise Proving Mind Only or the Treatise Proving Consciousness Only as the main topic for the teaching. In addition, he would also take Kuiji’s Explanation of theTreatise Proving Mind Only for supplemental points.
In order to set the background, His Holiness gave a brief introduction to Kuiji’s guru, Tang Xuanzang, the most famous and influential figure in Chinese Buddhism and translator of the Treatise Proving Mind Only:
There is probably not a single Chinese person who has not heard of Tang Xuanzang because of The Great Travels to the West [English title is Journey to the West], a literary account of Tang Xuanzang’s pilgrimage to the west [ i.e. to countries west of China]. There, Tang Xuanzang met the monkey and the pig and became a Buddhist master, so no one was more well-known to the Chinese than he.
The Life of Kuiji
The Circumstances of Going Forth as a Youth
Shi Kuiji was born in 632 CE and died in 682 CE. His name as a layperson was Hóng dào. His family name was Yu chi. He came from Chang'an (present-day Xian, Shanxi province). He was one of the great masters of the Tang dynasty, and the founder of the Chinese Mind Only school (FaxiangZhong, the school of Phenomenal Appearances). He had many different names; he was also known as Ling Ji, Zhan Ji, Da Zhong Ji, Ji Shi, or simply Ji. Later he was well known by the name Kuiji. His most honorific title was Ci’en Da shi (Great Master of Ci’en Temple). He came from an important military family. His grandfather, his father and his uncle were all generals in the imperial army. His paternal uncle, Bo Fu, was especially well-known; he was the Tang Dynasty General Yu Xie Jin. In Chinese culture, protector gods were placed each side of an entrance gate and Yu Xie Jin became one of them as the protector general.
Kuiji’s life story is written in the Song dynasty book, Lives of Eminent Monks, which describes the miraculous events around his birth. His mother Pei Sang dreamed she swallowed a moon the size of her palm and then she became pregnant with Kuiji. After he was born, he was unlike other children. He was very smart and bright. He memorized many different old Chinese texts and verses when he was young. These were not dharma texts but worldly texts. Given that he came from a military family, he had memorized many texts about being a general. It was the nature of generals to be very straightforward and direct because they were commanders and quite violent, so Kuiji himself was a very direct and forthright person. He lacked the social graces of ordinary, non-military people.
Xuanzang saw Kuiji for the first time when he was walking on a narrow path between fields. He noted that Kuiji had a very attractive face, and his behavior and comportment were appropriate, so Xuanzang thought, “He does not look like a general’s son. There is a deep dharma karmic connection between us. If I can take him as a student, I will have someone to pass my lineage to.” Xuanzang recalled an earlier event when he was returning from India. At that time, a Jain ascetic made a divination and said, “After you return to China, you will meet a student with innate brilliance and intelligence.” He thought this Kuiji was probably that student.
Xuanzang felt very happy and went to the general, gave some advice, and expressed the hope that this child might become a monk and become his student. Since this child came from the lineage of generals that protected the Tang Dynasty, Kuiji’s father had hoped that his son would follow the family tradition and go into the military too. However, because Xuanzang was very famous and highly-respected, the general was unable to deny his request immediately. Instead, he suggested that Kuiji was not suited to a monk’s life. “My child behaves very badly, we’re all from a family of generals, so generals have very harsh violent actions. It’s difficult for someone like him to be receptive to the true dharma,” he said.
Xuanzang countered that it was because he had been born into the general’s family and the general was his father that Kuiji had such skills and a wide perspective. He really liked Kuiji’s character. Finally, the general capitulated and agreed that Kuiji could become a monk. However, Kuiji himself objected. Xuanzang returned to the household many times, and in the end Kuiji had no choice but to agree to his request, but not gracefully. He was angry and said, vehemently, “I have three conditions. I will only become a monk if you agree to these. Otherwise, I won’t. First, I will not give up desire. I will not give up women, and so forth.” Because he was so handsome and from a high-ranking family, he probably enjoyed sensory pleasures. “Second, I must eat meat.” Monastics in China did not eat meat. They were also forbidden to eat after midday, so Kuijis’ third demand was, “I must eat in the afternoon. Otherwise, I can’t become a monk.”
Xuanzang agreed to these three conditions so that Kuiji could go forth and tame his mind through the dharma. So the story goes that Kuiji filled three whole wagons with the things he needed and went off to become a monk. The first wagon was full of beautiful women, the second had meat and alcohol, and the third was filled with worldly, non-dharma books. Although monks usually give up everything, Kuiji brought three wagons with him, and was nicknamed “the three-wagon monk.”
However, Kuiji’s own account of his life contradicts this rather. The Song dynasty book, Lives of Eminent Monks, quotes what Kuiji himself wrote in his own book, Difficult Points of the Treatise Proving Mind Only. He said he experienced many ups and downs in his life, and when he was nine, one of his close relatives died—some say his mother died—so he grew up alone. Then at fourteen, he gradually grew further away from the bustling, busy world. At the age of seventeen, he felt the wish to go forth, and so he became a monk. If what he wrote is true, then nicknaming him the “three-wagon monk” was baseless slander, because from the time he was young he had some revulsion toward worldly ways.
In any case, at the age of seventeen, Kuiji went forth and became Xuanzang’s student. He first entered the Guǎngfú Temple (Extensive Merit Temple). Later, because he was so intelligent, he went with Xuanzang to the Great Ci’en Temple (Great Temple of Compassion and Loving Kindness) where Xuanzang lived. At the age of twenty-three, he took the Mahayana bodhisattva vows and learned Indian languages. He was so intelligent and diligent in studying the scriptures and the meanings that, in a very short time, he was able to learn and understand them. Many people praised him highly. When he was twenty-five, he began working on translating scriptures, probably at the emperor’s decree. Although Kuiji was the youngest, he was allowed to participate in the work of the translation school. If he did not have innate intelligence, he would not have been allowed in.
From the time he began to study, he was able to learn in their entirety some thirty texts from the Foundational and Mahayana vehicles. When the master was teaching, there was a tradition of making a note of the master’s comments, so Kuiji was able to be the note-taker on the text given at that time.
The Master of One Hundred Teachings
Of the many names he had, Kuiji also received the title of “The Master of One Hundred Teachings” because of his diligence and determination in note-taking. He was also very skilled at taking notes, writing treatises and explanations. As described in the historical resources, working on translations of scriptures, Kuiji would write detailed notes on all Xuanzang’s teachings, and, in this way, he wrote many commentaries. Every day, Xuanzang would begin to teach at mid-morning, and all the sangha members would take notes and transcribe the teachings. Kuiji was very determined at the notetaking and transcribing, and was the most diligent. He was able to write commentaries on Xuanzang’s view, those texts Kuiji wrote, or authored, were primarily his notes on what Xuanzang had said.
Later, after Xuanzang passed away, people held Kuiji’s notes and commentaries as the most authoritative source for Xuanzang’s words. An excerpt from a text by Kuiji called Miscellaneous Essays (Zá jí lùnshù jì) says:
The wonderful excellent teachings have now become nothing, I will now put down what I heard before into notes.
After Xuanzang passed away, his translation school at the Yuhua (Jade Flower) monastery was disbanded. Kuiji returned to the Great Ci’en monastery and began writing commentaries on philosophical texts, as well as nurturing his students. He spread Mind Only philosophy widely and many began to call him the Ci’en Master.
Chinese historians call Kuiji the founder of the Chinese autonomous Mind Only school, but this is rather awkward to say because Kuiji was merely recording the teachings he received from Xuanzang. However, it is true to say that while Xuanzang was still alive, there was no established autonomous Chinese Mind Only school.Known as the school of Phenomenal Appearances, it only developed during the time of Kuiji.
Over the course of his life, Kuiji wrote a great many treatises, and for that reason, he was also called the “Master of One Hundred Texts,” or “Master of One Hundred Commentaries.” Among these, forty-four were the most well-known, of which twenty-four are still extant.
The Karmapa said that he had wanted to show a list of them, but he had not translated all the titles into Tibetan for it was not easy to translate some of them.
Kuiji’s works are numerous and cover a very broad range of topics. Some were on the foundational vehicle, some Mahayana, some epistemology, some Mind Only. The Karmapa said the main thing he focused on was the Yogacara Mind Only philosophy. There was no Mind Only sutra or treatise related to the Mind Only that Kuiji did not explain—not only did he write single explanations, he wrote commentaries on each of the texts that Xuanzang had translated and moreover added commentaries on older translations by Paramārtha.
When looking at the catalog of his works now, Kuiji’s commentaries primarily concentrated on the Mind Only treatises by Maitreya, Asanga, and Vasubandhu.
Likewise, when he was writing these commentaries, Kuiji primarily held the positions of the tradition held by the master Dharmapāla. Kuiji himself translated them, compiled the ten commentaries proving the treatise, and he also wrote four commentaries on this treatise. Together they take thirty-six volumes.
Among them, the longest commentary was a sub-commentary which is an explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only. Depending on the edition it is either ten or twenty volumes long. Kuiji’s commentaries take Xuanzang’s explanations as their basis for and present Xuanzang’s positions as they are, but his own works combine the thought of both the master and disciple. These works represent the Ci’en school view. In brief, Kuiji wrote many commentaries on sutras and treatises and propagated Mind Only philosophy. Within these, there were more than a few of his own innovations and ideas.
Kuiji wrote commentaries on two texts of logic and epistemology that Xuanzang had translated. The first was the six-volume Commentary on the Introduction to Logic, written by Shankara, and considered very important. Kuiji wrote a six-volume commentary on that, although Tibetans do not consider that text as particularly significant. The other commentary was the Notes on the Introduction to Logic a commentary on Dignaga’s Niyayamuka, or Introduction to Logic. Kuiji propagated widely the teachings on logic and epistemology, and his lineage of epistemology was held by his student, Huizhao, who then passed it on to Zhizhou. After that it spread into Japan, and into the tradition of epistemology right up to the present.
Restoring Karma Kamtsang Traditions: Hayagriva
2023 23rd Annual Kagyu Gunchoe
Bokar Shedra Öbar Chime Ling
17/18 January 2023
At the request of H.H. Gyalwang Karmapa, Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi, Kyabje Khenchen Rinpoche, faculty members of participating Shedras, tulkus, khenpos and all the monks at the Kagyu Gunchoe joined to offer the two-day ritual of Hayagriva.
In recent years, one of the 17th Karmapa’s aims has been to restore the traditions and rituals of the Karma Kamtsang, and from early on in his time in India, he assigned various rituals to be performed annually by particular monasteries.
This Hayagriva ritual is an important and precious tradition within the Karma Kamtsang. It had very nearly been lost—almost nobody was practising it, even though it had been one of the main practices of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. The lineage of this tradition originated with Jowo Atisha, passed through Naktso Lotsawa Tsultrim Gyelwa [who studied closely with Atisha] to Gampopa, and then directly from Gampopa to Dusum Khyenpa. It is one of the Five Sets of Five Deities practices of Dusum Khyenpa; the other four deities are Chakrasamvara, Vajravarahi, Hevajra, and Tara. Given its importance within the Karma Kamtsang, the Gyalwang Karmapa thought it urgent to preserve this lineage and restore the tradition.
The sadhana being used during the puja was composed by the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Dönden (1416–1453) with some additional material by the 17th Karmapa.
The Karmapa believes that this is probably the first time this ritual has been practised publicly for several hundred years.
Within the Vajrayana, three qualifications are essential before performing certain rituals. The first qualification is to receive the empowerment and initiation into that practice (Tib. wang). The second is to receive the reading transmission of the ritual within the lineage of transmission (Tib. lung). The final qualification is to receive the instructions (Tib. tri) which have been passed down through the lineage from a qualified teacher.
The Gyalwang Karmapa received the wang for this practice from Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche and, as he was unable to attend the Gunchoe personally, he requested Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche to give the empowerment to the Gunchoe monks. The Karmapa himself, however, gave the lung and the tri, paying particular attention to the mudras specific to the ritual, over ZOOM.
Additionally, because this ritual falls into the category of kriya tantra practice, the monks took Mahayana sojong each morning.