Last month I had the fortunate opportunity to take several hundred pictures of a manuscript that is preserved at the Musée Guimet in Paris. It is a handwritten text of one of the first commenatries of the Same Intention (dGongs gcig), namely the sNang mdzad ye shes sgron me composed in the 1250s by one of Sherab Jungne’s direct disciples, Dorje Sherab. The manuscript has several exciting features, some of which I would like to briefly communicate here.

1. On the reverse of the first page we find two miniatures. The left one is most probably a portrait of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, showing the teaching mudra (you can click on all photos to enlarge them):

Jigten Sumgon
This is a very close copy of the Thanka decribed by Amy Heller in her article “A Thang-ka Portrait of ‘Bri gung rin chen dpal, ‘Jig rten gsum mgon (1143-1217)” published in JIABS no. 1 (October 2005): 1-10. The thanka was carbon dated to the early 13th century, and Amy concludes that it is likely “a commemorative portrait which was made shortly after the death of ‘Bri gung Chos rje Rin chen dpal in 1217.”

Sherab Jungne
On the right hand side of the reverse of the first folio we find another portrait of a Lama holding his hands folded in prayer, facing Jigten Sumgön. A probable suggestion is that it shows Jigten Sumgön’s disciple Sherab Jungne (1187-1255), who wrote down the vajra-sentences of the Single Intention of his teacher and taught them extensively after 1225. He was also the direct teacher of the author of the sNang mdzad ye shes sgron me.

The style of these miniature paintings is copying that of the thanka, which was dated to the early 13th century.

2. Several features of the handwriting suggest also an early date for our manuscript. One of them is the use of ancient orthography. Some examples:

bdeh
bde’ in bde’ legs

dmyigs
dmyigs for dmigs

myed
myed for med

Other ancient features are the way in which some of the letters are stacked, which resembles the writing style we find as early as in the Tibetan documents of Dunhuang:

dunhuang type stack
smras

dunhuang type stack 2
lta

dunhuang type stack 3
bsdus

These and other features of the manuscript could mean that it was written as early as the 14th century (according to a preliminary assessment by Sam van Schaik). Unfortunately, however, the knowledge of styles of Tibetan handwriting from the 11th century onwards is not much developed and thus the dating must remain open for further investigation.

3. Another interesting fact about this manuscript is that it was brought to Europe by the French explorer and dedicated Tibetophile Alexandra David-Néel. She is known to have spend several decades of the first part of the 20th century in and around Tibet. In 1911 she travelled to Sikkim where she became friends with Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal, the Maharaja and Chögyal of Sikkim. During her stay she met the 13th Dalai Lama twice and also traveled into Tibet to Shigatse to meet the Panchen Lama in August 1916. Later, in 1924 and after a fantastic journey through China, she reached Lhasa disguised as a beggar and stayed there for about two months. Again in 1937 she travelled in the Eastern Tibetan highlands and spend time in Tachienlu (Tib. Dar-rtse-mdo). It would indeed be very interesting to find out on which occasion she got hold of this manuscript. The answer might be buried somewhere in her extensive letters archived in Digne Les Bains in the south of France.

4. The photographic documentation of this rare manuscript is a crucial first step for editing the commentary. What makes this manuscript particularly valuable are its countless annotations between the lines. These contain specifications of quotations and alternative readings, some of which might go back to another transmission of the text. (click on the photo to enlarge it)

255r

In mantra practise, some people believe, the key to success is to gain certain experiences. They teach that by entering into samadhis of bliss, clarity, and non-thought, and by maintaining them for long periods of time, realisation arises. The only thing one is to avoid here is attachment to these experiences, because through attachment to bliss the yogi will be born within the realm of desire, through attachment to clarity he will be born in the realm of form, and through attachment to non-thought he will be born in the realm of formlessness.

Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, maintains that even the unattached experience of bliss, clarity, and non-thought is only a seed of samsara and does not even lead to the obtainment of arhatship, let alone Buddhahood (dGongs gcig 5.19). The reason for that is that as long as you make efforts to produce and maintain the states of bliss, clarity, and non-thought, you merely fabricate them. Thus even if you avoid attachment, these states are mere mental fabrication. Jigten Sumgön therefore maintains that realisation is the result of the process of purification, since the purification of those states from attachment and mental fabrication leads to the result of ‘freedom from proliferation.’

In the introduction to his commentary of the dGongs gcig, the Light of the Sun, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa quotes the Mahayana Sutralamkara (13.19, in Derge on fol. 188v):

The mind is held to be continuously luminous by nature.
It is flawed by adventitious defilements.
It is declared that there is no other mind
apart from the mind of true reality, naturally luminous.

Here the purified state is described in terms of luminosity. The luminosity of the mind, which is one side of the coin whose other side is freedom from proliferation, is the natural state of the mind. Not even the Buddha himself would be able change that state. Everything besides that is merely adventitious (Skt. agantuka, Tib. glo bur), that is, everything that is added to the luminous or non-proliferation nature is an affliction, like desire or mental activity, it does not belong to the original state, it is not essential or inherent to it, it is not a basic part or quality of the nature etc., and it is ‘newly arising,’ i.e. it is something in relation to which the nature is preexistent. Similarly the Hevajratantra (II iv 69) says:

Sentient beings are the Buddha.
They are, however, impeded by adventitious defilements.
If these are removed, that is Buddhahood.

Thus what stands between the samadhis of bliss, clarity, and non-thought on the one hand, and Buddhahood on the other, is the purification of these states. Having purified attachment to them, there is still the mental fabrication of those states to be removed. The result of that purification is called the “result of separation” (‘bral ba’i ‘bras bu). In particular, the result of the separation from the three afflictions (attachment, aversion, and delusion) by purification is the arising of the three bodies of a Buddha (Skt. trikaya), or if you count five afflictions, the result is the arising of five kayas, etc. Thus, as cited in 5.25: 1

By practising the purification of delusion
one will be Vairocana.
By practising the purification of hatred
one will be Akshobhya.
By practising the purification of desire
one will be Amitabha.
By practising the purification of envy
one will be the mighty Amoghasiddhi.
By practising the purification of arrogance
one will be Ratnasambhava.

Thus, as Dorje Sherab explains, the result of the purification—Buddhahood—is “the result of the maturation of practising all the virtuous white antidotes that purify the afflictions, and of the separation from afflictions.” In our present context of the three samadhis, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa summarises :

Realisation arises from the purification of these three experiences, but not from those [experiences themselves]! It must be understood that realisation obtained through [purified] experience is very different from a realisation that is first experienced and then lost again.

And Phagmodrupa said: 2

Even if first experience arises,
that is similar to an impermanent cloud and to lightning.
It is the cause for the arising of the mental affliction of pride.

And Dorje Sherab says elsewhere (in dGongs gcig 6.1) that if an experience arises which is just like a full stomach, it is not reliable and it will soon perish. When it perishes, one’s mental continuum quickly reverts to its previous state. Thus, how is the purification of fabricated experience achieved? Again, Phagmodrupa said (quoted in dGongs gcig 5.19):

Having abandoned attachment to bliss and clarity,
you should practise the realisation of the mind as the Buddha.

This is, according to the teachings of Phagmodrupa and Jigten Sumgön, only possible through the practise of the purest form of guru devotion, namely by perceiving the Guru as the dharmakaya. In his Cintamani (vol. 1, fol. 21r1), Jigten Sumgön says that Phagmodrupa taught him the following:

If one does not understand the guru to be the dharmakaya,
the realisation of oneself as dharmakaya is just babble.
If one does not understand the guru to be the form kaya,
one may [see] oneself clearly as the deity of meditation,
but is carried away by dead matter (peg/beg po).
If you see the guru as an ordinary being,
no matter how high one’s realisation, one will go astray in the experience.

And Dorje Sherab quotes Jigten Gönpo (in 6.6):

The former [gurus] have taught
that the qualities of all of samsara and nirvana
arise certainly from the excellent guru devotion.
If one is without devotion, there is no chance.

Thus through the ultimate devotion of seeing the guru as the dharmakaya, the mind is realised, and by practising the mind, all fabricated experiences are purified and Buddhahood is achieved. Thus Phagmodrupa teaches (as quoted in dGongs gcig 7.1):

E ma ho! This king that is the mind
—if it is realised, that is nirvana,
if it is not realised, that is the ocean of samsara.

Thus it is evident that in the context of mahamudra Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön follows the special practise method of Gampopa. Such a practise is mantra practise in so far, as there is an element of deity practise and a form of guru devotion that is more typical for mantra than for general mahayana sutra. Yet it is not exclusively mantra in the sense of other yoga practises of mantra that are exclusively tantric, such as the six yogas of Naropa. As it is practised within the Drikung Kagyüpa tradition, namely as the Fivefold Path of Mahamudra, it furthermore involves important mainstream mahayana sutra practises such as the cultivation of the resolve for awakening (bodhicitta) that precedes everything, and the dedication for the benefit of all sentient beings that always follows, and that is practised in a state that is free from the hypostatic entities known as the ‘three components’ or ‘three spheres’ (Tib. ‘khor gsum, Skt. trimandala) that characterise the functioning of the dualistic mind, namely the notions of an agent, an intended beneficiary, and an activity of merit transference. And the nature of the mind is here not identified through indirect analytical means, but through a direct investigation of the nature of the mind together with a guru yoga that identifies the nature of the guru as dharmakaya and that dharmakaya and the guru’s mind as inseparable from one’s own mind. Through such a practise, too, there may be intense experiences made of bliss, clarity, and non-thought, yet these experiences need to be purified from all attachment and fabrication, since these would become an impediment as they only lead to further birth in extremely long lasting high states of samsara.

Notes
1Although I was unable to find this exact quote in the canon, I found several very similar ones.

2This quote is attributed in the Dosherma to the Rin chen them skas.

Much could be said about the possible translations of this term. Mostly in use are ‘consecration,’ ‘initiation,’ and ‘empowerment.’ The first, ‘consecration,’ is certainly the most literal of these translations — at least from the perspective of the Sanskrit term — since abhisheka means “anointing, inaugurating or consecrating (by sprinkling water), inauguration of a king (…) religious bathing, ablution” etc. 1 “Inauguration of a king” may seem strange to some of you, but one aspect of inauguration ceremonies of ancient India was indeed the sprinkling of water over the head of the prince by ministers and brahmin priests, 2 and the same term was in fact used for both the king’s inauguration and the ritual for introducing the tantric adept to the mandala. This fact, however, demonstrates also the limitation of the literal translation ‘consecration,’ because it shows that while it does fit well the tantric vase-abhisheka, it does not fit well with the remaining three abhishekas of the highest yoga tantras, namely the secret, the wisdom, and the word (or fourth) abhisheka, which employ other tools and images than the vase abhisheka.

‘Initiation,’ though vastly popular as a translation for abhisheka, is problematic, since the term, having undergone an enormous inflation in ethnography, is used for so many different phenomena that it has lost all its distinctive functions. Its use for abhisheka may be more confusing than helping to convey the meaning of the term.

The Tibetans have decided to go for ‘empowerment’ (dbang), which is usually described as a process of removing impediments (sgrib pa gtor ba), pouring in wisdom-power (ye shes kyi nus pa blugs pa), and planting the seeds (sa bon gdab pa) of the four resultant Buddha bodies (‘bras bu sku bzhi) and initiating the process of their maturation (smin par byed pa). 3 It must be borne in mind, however, that the conceptions and images that are evoked by such a terminology happen on the surface level of truth, since, according to mahahyana philosophy, in the true sense nothing from the outside is really placed in the mental continuum that has not already been there. Therefore it is said in the Guhyasamajatantra (17.50):

In short, the five psycho-physical constituents of the person (skandha)
are well known as the five Buddhas (…),

and in the Samputi Tantra (D fol. 78v):

One’s own body is the Buddha himself —
the Buddha does not exist anywhere else!
Obscured by ignorance [some] hold
Buddhahood to be something different from their body.

Taking these teachings of the highest yoga tantras into consideration, the term ‘empowerment’ appears to be quite appropriate, as it also allows for an understanding where the adept receiving the empowerment is in fact empowered to awaken and cultivate until full maturation the inherent seeds of the Buddha bodies through gradual practise. I think that the term ‘empowerment’ does in fact convey both levels of understanding, namely that of outer ritual activities such as invocation, worship, and transference of powers from master to disciple, and the level of an inner process that in truth occurs only in the adept’s own mind. The existence of a few adepts who awaken to Buddhahood all at once when they receive empowerment is no dent in the above explanation, since for Jigten Sumgön even ‘all at once awakening’ is always based on gradual cultivation in former lifetimes. In sum one might say that empowerment is in essence an awakening of the practitioner’s potential, involving both a complete purification of impediments and a complete transformation and cultivation of the inherent potential.

The question therefore arises, how one can know that empowerment has been successfully received. Many writers stress in their discussions the correct procedures of the ritual and the appropriate qualifications of the vajra master and the disciple. Thus, for instance, the minimum requirement for a vajra master is according to Rinchen Jangchub that “entering the stages of cultivation in a state of clear and stable awareness, [he] has obtained stability on the stage of cultivation and has obtained ‘warmth’ on the stage of completion.” The marks of the disciples to be empowered, too, must be at least that “they have purified their mental continua through [practices] starting with taking common refuge [up to] the preliminaries, have supplicated the vajra master three times, and have abandoned adverse conditions.” Yet, Rinchen Jangchub says, even though someone with those qualities may have undergone the correct ritual as prescribed and presided over by a qualified master may think “[now] I have obtained the empowerment,” can ritual correctness and certain qualifications alone cause the meaning of the empowerment to really arise in the mental continuum? He provocatively states: “Sometimes merely the ritual has been performed!” In the same manner Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa summarises the most problematic point of the general opinion by stating that people believe that if all conditions are fulfilled, then “thereby the meaning of tantric empowerment must arise.” Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, maintains with this regard that “[tantric empowerment] is [only] obtained when the [true] meaning of tantric empowerment arises in the mental continuum” (dGongs gcig 5.2).

Only when the complete result of purification and transformation arises in the mental continuum is the understanding of empowerment complete, and this may occur only after a long process. Rinchen Jangchub and Dorje Sherab state the example of Geshe Putowa Rinchen Säl (1031-1106), who was fully ordained already for thirty years when he said: “Today the disciplined conduct of renunciation arose in me. My preceptor is that layman at Radreng.” This refers to his master Dromtön Gyalwe Jungne (1005-1064), indicating that the meaning of ordination (similar to the meaning of empowerment) may only arise long after the ritual has been performed, and independent from the usual conditions, as here the preceptor is said to be Dromtön, who actually cannot confer ordination, as he was only a layman (and he was also not alive anymore at that time). Likewise Gampopa obtained the full realisation of empowerment only after “practising, based on the teaching of Jetsün Mila, for six years in the Nyälgyi Sewa valley without leaving his seat.” Therefore, true empowerment is obtained when the realisation that evolves from the blessing of practising the pith instructions of the authentic guru and from the disciple’s own devotion and practise arises. In such a case vase empowerment is obtained when a strong conviction arises that the five constituents of the personality (skandha) and the six senses, their objects, and the six sensory perceptions (dhatu, ayatana) are the five Buddhas and so forth. Secret empowerment is obtained when the samadhi arises that is endowed with the joy of the purification of the eighty innate thoughts 4 as dhatu. The empowerment of discriminating knowledge is obtained when one experiences clear light through the stages of the four naturally inborn joys, namely the ‘surface level bliss of melting’ (kun rdzob zhu bde). 5 The fourth empowerment is obtained when the actual gnosis of mahamudra—the vajra yoga endowed with the seven limbs—arises. 6

Notes
1 The definition is taken from Monier Williams’ dictionary.
2 See Ronald Davidson, Indian Esoteric Buddhsm, p. 123.
3 The elements of this definition can be found in the Tibetan-Chinese-Tibetan dictionary Yisun (1985).
4 rang bzhin brgyad cu’i [kun] rtog pa’i sems: These eighty thought patterns are rooted in aversion, attachment and delusion. Cf. Lati Rinbochay (1979: 38 ff.: “eighty indicative conceptions”).
5 As Kongtrul states, except for in the Kalacakratantra great bliss is considered to be relative because “it must be realized by relying on the method of bliss from the melting of the relative [vital essence]. It is therefore considered relative owing to its connection to the relative” (Guarisco 2008: 134).
6 This topic is further discussed in vajra-statement 5.4.

One of the topics discussed in the second chapter of the Single Intention is the manifestation of results in relation to the periods of time. The general context is first of all the period during which the teachings exist in this world after the Buddha has taught them, and, more particular, within that longer period the sub-category of the so-called ‘period of results.’ According to a system that is in the Dosherma connected with an Acarya called “Bumtik Khenpo,” the ten periods of the Buddha’s teachings are the following:

(A) The period of results (‘bras bu’i dus)

1. The period of obtaining the result of Arhatship

2. The period of obtaining the result of a non-returner

3. The period of obtaining the result of a once-returner and a stream-enterer

(B) The period of accomplishment (sgrub pa’i dus)

4. The period where vipashyana predominates and where discriminating knowledge is sharp

5. The period where shamatha predominates and samadhi is practised

6. The period where of disciplined conduct

(C) The period of authoritative scripture (lung gi dus)

7. The period where abhidharma spreads

8. The period where sutras spread

9. The period where vinaya spreads

(D) The period of mere signs (rtags tsam ‘dzin pa’i dus).

The great pioneer of Tibetan and Buddhist studies, the Hungarian Csoma de Körös (1834 app.4, 194 f.) has described these periods quite nicely in the following way: 1

- ‘bras bu’i bstan pa, or ‘bras bu’i dus, the time of the wonderful effects of the doctrine for immediately becoming perfect or possessed of supernatural powers. This period of 1,500 years commenced with the death of Shakya, and was again divided into three smaller ones, each of 500 years, according to the three different degrees of perfection. In the first period, upon hearing his doctrine, some became immediately possessed of superhuman powers, or overcame the enemy, became a dgra bcom pa (arhan). In the second, many, though less perfect, proceeded unhindered in their course to perfection, so as not to turn out of the right way, i.e. they became phyir mi ‘ong pa (anagami), that turns not out of his commenced race or course. In the third, though less perfect, yet there were many that entered into the stream, i.e. became rgyun du zhugs pa (shrota panna), one that has entered the stream (that will carry him through life to felicity).

- sgrub pa’i bstan pa or sgrub pa’i dus, that period of the Buddhistic doctrine, in which yet many make great exertions to arrive at perfection. This period contains again 1,500 years, and is divided into three smaller ones, each of 500 years, according to the three diminishing degrees of diligent application. They are called lhag mthong / ting nge ‘dzin dang / tshul khrims kyi sgom pa, the exercise or practice 1. of high speculation [which I think we must correct to ‘superior insight’], 2. of deep meditation, 3. and of good moral conduct.

- lung gi dus, i.e. that period of 1,500 years of the Buddhistic doctrine, in which the volumes are yet read and explained, though the precepts which they contain are little followed. This period, according to the contents of those books (read or studied in each respected period), is sub-divided into the following three: 1. mngon pa, 2. mdo sde, 3. ‘dul ba gsum lung gis dus, i.e. 1. the period, in which the metaphysical works are studied, 2.in which the Sutras or common aphorisms, and 3. in which only books on the discipline of the religious men, and on the rites and ceremonies are read.

- rtags tsam ‘dzin pa’i dus, that period of 500 years, in which, though learning and good morals have declined, yet some signs of the Buddhistic religion are still to be found, as the dress of priests, holy shrines, relics, offerings, and pilgrimages to holy places.

According to such classifications into periods of the teachings, some people say that since the period of results is right at the beginning of the span during which the Buddha’s teachings abide in the world, after that initial period the teachings may abide, but results are not obtained. This is rejected by Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, who maintains that (2.12) “except for mostly larger and smaller [numbers], the obtaining of results occurs continuously.”

The essential argument is that the arising of results does not depend on the period of time, but on the continued presence of the three jewels. As long as the Dharma is taught and a Sangha exists, results arise from practise and accomplishment. According to the Kalacakra system of calculation, which was transmitted to Tibet by Khache Pänchen, the teachings will abide for a long period of time. 2 Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön seems to have followed this calculation of the doctrine and expressed his happiness about the long abiding of the teachings (Collected Works, vol. 3, p 551):

Great joy arises with regard to that!
The teachings abide for a long time
and those of us who practise
will obtain the vast results!
Which master wouldn’t be overjoyed?

In general in the Mahayana the continued presence of the Buddha is ensured since it is said that at the end of the five hundred year period the Prajnaparamita Sutra will perform the activity of the Buddha. But not only will results continue to arise, but according to the mantra tradition they will arise even very quickly in the present period of controversies. The reason is that although there are not many people during this period that are able to abandon the afflictions according to the sutra vehicle, but those who take them as the path through the practise of mantra are many. It should be noted, however, that in accordance with other teaching of the Single Intention this remark of Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa cannot be interpreted as meaning that in the period of degeneration the afflictions are not purified. The intention here is merely to say that the number of people who purify afflictions by abandoning them on the sutra path is smaller while the number of people who purify them by taking them as the path is larger. The purification of afflictions by taking them as the path is for instance explained in the Single Intention 5.5:

With regard to the stage of completion, too, it is maintained that within birth, death, and intermediate state, the three bodies are taken as the path; and since [this] has in mind the means of purification of the three poisons of a person’s mental continuum, i.e. the principle deity [and] retinue [with] however many or few faces and arms, it is necessary to teach the antidote of delusion, namely the dark blue colour of the body, etc., the antidote of desire, namely the deity in union with the consort, and the antidote of hatred, namely holding weapons, or about the pure nature of these.

Thus the meaning of “chiefly larger and smaller [numbers of achievers exist]” (as mentioned in vajra-statement 2.12) is that there are larger and smaller numbers of people practising according to the sutra and the mantra way. And finally, no matter whether the state of the Dharma is good or not, results are always achieved through practise. The Rinjangma states: “If the practise is done from the heart, the result is obtained—since [that] is dependent origination, we maintain that this is infallible and certain.”

Notes
1 See also Lamotte (1988: 192-8) History of Indian Buddhism, (Publications de L’Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 36), (English Translation); Obermiller (1931: 103 f.) History of Buddhism by Bu-ston, (Materialien zur Kunde des Buddhismus, 18), 2 vols., Heidelberg; Vogel (1991) “Bu-ston on the Date of the Buddha’s Nirvana. Translated from His History of the Doctrine,” H.Bechert (ed.), The Dating of the Historical Buddha, (Symposien zur Buddhismusforschung IV, 1), pp. 403-414; and Seyfort Ruegg (1992) “Notes on Some Indian and Tibetan Reckonings of the Buddha’s Nirvana and the Duration of His Teaching,” H. Bechert (ed.), The Dating of the Historical Buddha, (Symposien zur Buddhismusforschung IV, 2), pp. 263-290; Csoma de Korös, Alexander (1834) A Grammar of the Tibetan Language, in English, Calcutta, I-VII, 1-145. p., with six appendices.

2The Kalacakra system fixes the date of Buddha’s parinirvana to 875 B.C. Khache Pänchen, i.e. Shakya Shribhadra, also transmitted a system calculating the Buddha’s parinirvana to 2134 B.C.(!) The results of Sakya Pandita’s calculations and some of his sources were documented some time ago by Seyfort Ruegg (1992) and Vogel (1991), later Davidson (2000 “Gsar ma Apocrypha,” Brill’s Tibetan Studies 2/10, 209 f., ) added a few remarks. These systems require still further attention.

It has been more than a year now that this blog has gone online. Since then, a steady stream of visitors with more than 3600 views from 58 countries has been coming in to read about the Single Intention of Drikung Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön. Thank you for your ongoing interest!

The reason why I haven’t posted anything since March 28 is that, through a generous grant, I was able to interrupt my teaching duties and (most of) the administrative work at Copenhagen University to go on a research semester. During this semester I have been in Dehradun, India, and in Vienna to meet with the ven. Khenpo Rangdrol. We have worked very intensively on Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa’s commentary of the Single Intention. I have still until the beginning of September to try to transform as much as possible of these collaborative efforts into the book that I hope to publish next year.

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The Single Intention has a number of key themes. One of them is the unity of all teachings. Jigten Sumgön has made this point in numerous of his teachings, and within the Single Intention it also occurs many times, for instance in the first chapter on the three wheels of the Dharma.

For the sake of easy reference, the Buddha’s teachings are divided into different sections. There are 84.000 Dharma heaps, the three baskets of vinaya, sutra, and abhidharma, the four tantra classes, the three wheels of the teachings, the teachings of definite meaning (nitartha) and the teachings of meaning requiring further interpretation (neyartha), the teachings of ‘mind only’ (cittamatra) and the ‘middle way’ (madhyamaka), the teachings of relative (samvirti) and absolute truth (paramartha), the teachings of the five paths (marga) and the ten bodhisattva levels (bhumi), the teachings of gradual and simultaneous engagement (Tib. rim gyis, cig char), the teachings of disciplined conduct (shila), meditative concentration (samadhi), and discriminating knowledge (prajna) and so on … Usually scholars make a lot of effort to differentiate these categories and to show how one category is superior to the other, or how one element has to precede another. Some people become very great scholars in this respect, and they debate skilfully, revealing their superiority over other scholars. Sometimes they go so far as to argue that their opponents, who have different opinions regarding the above categories, are not Buddhist at all!

Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, makes great effort to show how all these teachings are just one teaching, namely the teaching of the Buddha, with one purpose, namely to liberate sentient beings from suffering. His key theme of the unity of all teachings is especially visible in the first chapter of the Single Intention. We could easily fill pages and pages with examples of how Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön establishes the unity of all teachings. I will summarise here some of the key points of the first chapter.

One of the first things he discusses are the 84.000 ‘heaps of Dharma.’ Very often scholars group them into three or four categories, saying that 21.000 of them are antidotes for this affliction and 21.000 are antidotes for that affliction, etc. From this some scholars conclude that since people are dominated by particular afflictions, they would need particular antidotes. Thus they say that not all antidotes are necessary for everyone. Some go even so far as to claim that a being is liberated through a particular group of antidotes, or even by a single antidote alone. Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, maintains that although some afflictions might be dominant in a person, generally all antidotes are required for achieving Buddhahood, because each being possesses all 84.000 afflictions ( Single Intention 1.2).

These 84.000 antidotes are organised in three baskets and four tantra classes. Some people claim that each basket or tantra class is intended for a particular group of people. They say that the shravakas have to practise the vinaya and the tantric adepts have their tantras. And within the vehicle of mantra they say that each class of tantra is for a particular kind of person. These opinions often imply that a person belonging to a certain group would not need (or not be allowed) to practise other practises than those belonging to “their own” kind of teaching. Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, maintains that all these baskets and tantra classes are stages of the path for everyone. And not only are they stages leading to more and more subtle teachings and practises, but the full range of elements of practise is necessary for everyone. As the shravaka will not achieve great awakening without the bodhisattva and mantra practises, the bodhisattvas and tantric adepts, too, will not achieve great awakening without the vinaya ( Single Intention 1.3).

One of the most fundamental differentiation of the teachings is that into the three wheels. According to the general opinion, the first wheel is the teaching of the four truths of the Noble Ones, teaching suffering, its cause, the end of suffering, and the path for ending suffering. This is called the Dharma of the shravakas. Accordingly, the other two wheels are the teachings of mahayana, and there is a lot of discussion in the mahayana which one of these two remaining wheels contains the sutras of definite meaning and which the sutras that need further interpretation (see also below). Furthermore, there is of course the big distinction into hinayana (first wheel) and mahayana (second and third wheel). Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, maintains that the three wheels are not different by their teaching, but by their recipients. The teachings of the three wheels are like the rain falling from the sky, which is always the same, yet by virtue of the different qualities of the ground upon which it falls, the water acquires different tastes ( Single Intention 1.4). Furthermore he maintains that within each of the wheels all the three other wheels are complete (1.5) and that the seeds of each of the later wheels exist in each of the earlier ones (1.6). This is shown in great detail and very clearly in these and some others points of the first chapter.

Furthermore, some people say that within the three wheels those sutras that teach chiefly cause and result, namely the four truths of the Noble Ones which are taught within the first wheel, require further explanation. They say that only the sutras that teach emptiness and belong to the second wheel are of definite meaning. There are also many scholars who say that the sutras that teach the existence of Buddha nature in all sentient beings, which belong to the third wheel, require further interpretation. Others again say that just these sutras of Buddha nature are the definite meaning, while the sutras teaching emptiness, i.e. of the second wheel, require further interpretation. Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, does not except that one wheel requires interpretation while another wheel is of definite meaning. He maintains that the teachings of definite meaning are taught in all vehicles ( Single Intention 1.9). According to him, despite the fact that different beings have different realisations, natures, faculties, motivations, and inclinations, and even though the wheels reflect that to some extend, what is taught in all the vehicles has all the time been the definite meaning and has a single intention.

Why do people say that some sutras need interpretation and others are of definite meaning (which does not need further interpretation)? In general, there are several interpretative tools for the analysis of a teaching. A teaching can be classified as (1) intentional (see below) and (2) non-intentional, it can have (3) a provisional meaning requiring to be further or otherwise interpreted (i.e. it teaches a meaning that is not the ultimate one), and (4) the definite (i.e. ultimate) meaning, and it can be understood (5) literally (i.e. exactly as expressed) and (6) non-literally. “Intentional” can for instance mean that a teaching promises a certain time frame for the success to be achieved, but that promise has the particular intention to urge the disciple to enter into the practise, or the way a teaching is formulated has the particular disposition of certain kinds of disciples in mind. All these categories have a lot of overlap, of course. Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön, however, does not accept that anything that is taught in this way does not have the definite meaning in mind. In other words, the purpose or function of teaching a ‘meaning requiring further interpretation’ is not to establish an independent, autonomous meaning that is different from the definite meaning. According to our commentaries, the Buddha would be incapable of pronouncing such false and misleading teachings. Whenever a teaching is spoken that requires further interpretation, it is always done with the intention to ultimately establish sentient beings in the great happiness of higher births and well being. Thus ‘definite meaning’ means here ‘definite purpose.’ In that sense, i.e. within the perspective of a single vehicle for all disciples and the unity of the teachings, there is no difference between these two categories (Single Intention 1.10).

In his commentary, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa is mostly interested in the implications of this tenth vajra statement of the first chapter for the mantra teachings. His concern are the people of his time who explain the tantras using categories such as ‘the intentional’ and ‘the non-intentional.’ There is, however, according to Jigten Sumgön, no separate intention to be sought, since mantra is taught chiefly through symbols (Tib. brda) and signs (rtags). That is to say that a statement, according to which one would have to “kill enemies of the teachings,” is not made with an intention to establish a separate Buddhist path on which ‘killing’ would be permitted. And it is also not meant in any literal way. Instead, ‘enemy’ symbolises ‘wind and thoughts’ and ‘killing’ signifies the taming of the mind. Thus the mantra teachings of the tantras are by way of a code, with the code obviously being a ‘signifying sign’ and the meaning being ‘the signified.’ The crucial point here is not whether the tantras need to be interpreted literally or figuratively, or as having an intention or not having an intention. According to Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön’s understanding, the Buddha’s teachings always have only a single definite meaning, namely the end of suffering, and in the above case of “killing enemies of the teachings” that definite meaning is the taming of the mind. In the same manner the tantric expression “attend to your sister” (with a sexual connotation) signifies to be never separate from discriminating knowledge (prajna), “knocking down the central pillar” (of a tent) signifies transformation of the impure channels etc., and “killing the kind parents” signifies the accomplishment of the body of inseparable means and discriminating knowledge. Since the meaning is precisely what is taught in the exoteric mahayana tradition, there is nothing else intended and there is no need to clarify any further meaning, beyond that which is accepted in the general mahayana.

One might therefore ask: if the meaning is the same as in the openly taught exoteric tradition, what is there to be kept hidden by using a symbolic language? I think that what is meant here to be kept hidden is the method, i.e. the manner in which thoughts and wind are stopped, prajna is kept inseparable, the impure channels are purified and so forth, because these methods are potentially harming when practised without proper guidance. In any case, what is clear from many statements in the Single Intention is that Jigten Sumgön is not accepting a mantra path that would have a meaning that is different from the exoteric general mahayana path. Therefore he says (5.24): “What is virtuous in the vinaya is also virtuous in mantra and what is non-virtuous (in the one) is non-virtuous (also in the other).” The example given there is alcohol. According to Jigten Gönpo, the intention in mantra and in the vinaya is the same, namely to abandon alcohol. When, however, the correct method is ably applied and alcohol is really transformed into nectar, with its smell, taste, power etc. actually transformed, then, since it is not alcohol anymore, but nectar, it can (and must!) be taken. Here, too, there is no secret intention as to permitting alcohol in the mantra and prohibiting it in the vinaya. In both alcohol is prohibited and nectar is permitted. What is kept hidden is only the method of transformation, since it is to be transmitted, learned, and practised under the close guidance of an authentic guru.

Thus this is also an example for Kyobpa Jigten Sumgön’s general approach of seeing the Dharma as a unity: The teaching of the vinaya and the mantra have the same definite meaning, namely to end suffering and to establish happiness.

Regarding those people who differentiate the Dharma a lot, debate with Dharma opponents, and develop the attitude of looking down on ‘lower’ teachings or wheels, and who, for instance, follow the teachings of emptiness according to the second wheel and abuse those who follow only the teachings of the first wheel, Jigten Sumgön and all the commentators say that such an attitude is to be understood as the origin of the ‘Self of the person.’ Such people only abuse the teaching that they themselves should follow in order to abandon the ‘Self,’ and they have not understood the Buddha’s Dharma as a unity. This is taught in many of Jigten Sumgön’s teachings, and in particular also in Single Intention 1.5.

In the discussion of another vajra-statement of the sixth chapter it is mentioned that people within the sutra vehicle hold Great Madhyamaka to be the pinnacle of all systems, people within new mantra hold the Great Seal, i.e. the stage of completion without characteristics within the highest yoga tantra to be the highest realisation, and people within ancient mantra declare that nothing can match the ultimate ninth vehicle of Great Perfection. Holding the pinnacle of their system to be superior to the highest level of other systems, they do not go beyond the mentally fabricated, because they cultivate the apprehending mode of ‘being great’ and ‘I’ and thereby they do not even touch the accomplishment of the nature of mind at all ( Single Intention 6.8). But the accomplishment of the nature of mind is beyond the mentally fabricated, free from an apprehending mode, and beyond the sphere of examples and words. Yet this accomplishment of the nature of mind is the intention of all the Buddha’s teachings, of all 84.000 Dharma heaps, of all wheels, vehicles, and paths. As I have quoted in another posting before, Jigten Sumgön said:

For someone who, after taking refuge to the three jewels, has entered the gate of the precious teachings of the Tathagata, completely all the practises of the different trainings are similarly ‘Dharma.’ But some people defame the instructions of the Tathagata by claiming “only this teaching of mine is Dharma, what others are practising is not Dharma,” or “Nyingmapa-mantra is not Dharma,” or “the practise of the siddha Vajrapani is not Dharma,” or “amanasikara (“mental inactivity”) is not Dharma,” etc. This causes only desire, hatred, and cognitive misorientation for them! The maturation of such activity is the result ‘samsara’ and ‘lower realms.’ Since such results are wailful, you should never denigrate any teaching!

In general, a view is a particular way of considering something. It is an opinion that is held by someone, and often bias plays a role in forming views. In philosophy or religion, the principles underlying views and opinions form tenets (“what is held”). Not everyone must hold a view, not to speak of forming tenets. Dorje Sherab points out that two types of people don’t: those who don’t know what is to be accepted and what is to be abandoned have no view. And, as we will see, those who have realised the original nature have, as a consequence, abandoned all views. We will return to these latter group in a moment.

Among those who hold views are non-Buddhists and Buddhists. It is often said that non-Buddhists hold views of eternalism or nihilism. From a Buddhist perspective, eternalists hold the opinion that phenomena and consciousness are inherently existing, either by their own nature or due to a god’s creative activity. Many Indian ascetic groups belong to this category. Nihilists, on the other hand, are in the Buddhist context defined as people who hold that there are no previous or future existences. As a consequence they don’t see a reason to believe in karmic causes and results. Among Buddhists there are those who base their philosophical views on an analysis of the mind into moments and of appearances into atomic particles. Other Buddhists hold the view that all phenomena are only one’s own mind. Still others hold in addition to that the view that neither phenomena nor mind itself exist. Among all these there are many sub-groups, and each of them have created their own system of tenets, where they place their own view above all others.

All such views that are cultivated through hearing teachings and reflecting on them, and through investigation and analysis by means of logic and arguments, produce, according to the understanding of the founding fathers of the Kagyüpas, only an “object-universal” (don spyi)—a ‘mind made,’ ‘fabricated,’ ‘conceptualised’ idea or image of the object, which is then made again an object of the mind for the sake of further examination and/or meditative practice. But the object-universal is not the actual thing. Or, when we talk about reality, the object-universal is a conceptualised idea of reality, but not the actual, true, ultimate reality.

Dorje Sherab says in the context of dGongs gcig 6.9 that you create a mental object of the moon by analysing it as “made of water-crystal and having the aspects of being white and cooling” (which also shows that object-universals are based on the specifics of a culture). But this conceptualised image in your mind will only be an object-universal, it will never be like looking directly at the moon itself. In this illustration, the ‘looking directly at the moon itself’ is compared to the practise of the Kagyüpas, where the realisation of the guru, who is endowed with all the characteristics, is imprinted in a spontaneous non-conceptual manner on the mind of the disciple, who has gathered the accumulations of merit and wisdom and who has cultivated the ultimate devotion of seeing the guru as the dharmakaya. Phagmodrupa is quoted, saying:

Even if you realise [emptiness through] listening and reflecting [to be] like space,
there is no occasion when [that emptiness] is pure, since it is covered by the clouds of thoughts.
Even if you practise a mind made emptiness for eons,
there is no occasion when you will be free from being entangled in golden fetters.
Whichever thing objectified and [endowed with] characteristics you may practise,
how will you [thereby] be able to realise the sphere of reality (dharmata) that is without proliferation and appearance?

Coming back to the question of what the Drikungpa’s view is, Jigten Gönpo himself says in the dGongs gcig (6.7): ‘[Holding] a view’ is ‘[to be] endowed with realisation.’

In his opinion, views concerning ultimate reality that are ascertained through philosophical tenets, authoritative quotations, and reasoning, are merely a theoretical understanding. Since such an understanding does not even touch the realisation of the nature of mind, they are “the thing to be abandoned.” Even though the Drikungpa accepts the authoritative quotations and analytical arguments of the view of emptiness, he maintains that the actual view cannot be cultivated through conceptualisation, since such a view is “bound through the fetters of grasping as real and attachment to a truth” (rDo sher ma 6.7). Acarya Nagarjuna is quoted (Mulamadhyamakakarika 27.30), saying:

I prostrate to Gautama,
who, out of loving compassion,
taught the excellent Dharma
in order to relinquish all views.

This, Dorje Sherab states, is like Milarepa, who, having been asked what his view is, replied “I have no view.” As Phagmodrupa said:

The ultimate view is free from anything to be seen and any seeing.

Therefore, concludes Dorje Sherab, “our tradition does in general not apply the label ‘view,’” and he quotes Jigten Gönpo, saying:

All views are certainly just grasped and grasping. Grasped and grasping is delusion and cognitive misorientation. … Since all views are particulars of the minds of people, we do not maintain a view.

But aren’t all the teachings of the Buddha taught as the triad of view, practise, and conduct? Dorje Sherab replies:

[Here ‘view’] refers to having realisation, which arises from the gathering of the dependent origination of [authentic] master and [devoted] disciple. It is the realisation that all phenomena of samsara and nirvana are one’s own mind and that the mind is the dharmakaya free from the extremes of proliferation.

Or in the words of Rinchen Jangchub:

We maintain that the condition on one’s own side is to attend with the culmination of devotion to the guru who is endowed with characteristics, that the condition on the side of others is the blessing of the guru who is endowed with characteristics, [and that that which] arises from the gathering [of such a] dependent origination is that one realises all phenomena of samsara and nirvana as one’s own mind, and one realises that mind as the dharmakaya that is without the extremes of proliferation.

In English, French, German etc., the word ‘profound’ goes back to Latin profundus , meaning ‘deep.’ It is made up of the two elements pro ‘before’ and fundus ‘bottom.’ From earliest times it was used in the sense of “showing deep insight.” In that sense it is most often used referring to a subject or thought that demands deep study or thought. A “profound truth” is usually something that is not visible on first sight, is hidden or deep, and needs much study and thought to be understood. The Tibetan term for the noun is zab pa (adj. zab mo ). So we may speak of a ‘profound instruction’ (zab khrid ), a ‘profound view’ (zab mo lta ba ), a ‘profound meaning’ (zab mo’i don ), or a ‘profound path’ (zab lam ). Such a usage indicates depth and subtlety at the same time.

In the dGongs gcig we find a discussion of profoundness in the fifth chapter, where the general opinion is cited that “pith instructions of [the tantric practises of] channels and winds are more profound than [other teachings] such as the three vows.” Obviously the opinion is chiefly based on an understanding of profoundness as ‘most subtle.’ In this sense, the instructions on practises of the vehicle of mantra, such as on the channels and winds of the vajra body are considered profound, because they are extremely subtle practises. Here Jigten Sumgön says (5.14): “What is profound for others, is not profound [for us]; what is not profound [for others] is profound [for us],” and, as we shall see, he seems to build on an understanding of profoundness as something that reaches deep, is deeply grounded, and is therefore something that everything else is based upon, and without which other things could not even exist.

Thus Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa says in his commentary: “As the later result does not arise without a cause that is accomplished earlier, and as all the fortunes of the Cakravartin king first depend on his birth in the royal family and the gradual perfection of his physical and mental faculties, so, too, the vajrayana path of maturation and liberation, which is profound in [the view of] others, has no support if it lacks the vows of refuge, pratimoksha, and of the bodhisattvas, and so forth, which are not profound for others, and for the mantra vows to arise, the two lower vows are indispensable.”

The same idea is very clearly expressed in the Indian tantric siddha Advayavajra’s Kudrshtinirghatana with regard to the preliminaries (adikrama ) of tantric practise. 1 According to Advayavajra, the preliminaries, consisting in this case of such things as taking refuge and the refuge vows, water offerings to Jambhala, cultivation of love, compassion, rejoicing and equanimity, mandala offering, etc., are not merely preliminary, but also primary, in the sense that they are a continuously constituted foundation of tantric practise (Wallis 2003: 204). That is certainly also Jigten Sumgön’s intention, as is clearly stated in dGongs gcig 2.14: “All stages of the path are practised in [each] single session.” Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa explains: “In that manner each session is preceded at the beginning by the [first part of the] stages of the path of the three [kinds of] beings, namely the [contemplation of] death, impermanence, the leisures and endowments that are difficult to find, cause and result, and the disadvantages of samsara.” The Rinjangma commentary refers in this context to a teaching by Jayülwa Zhönu Ö (1075-1138), received by Gampopa, according to which it is necessary to practise in the first morning session death and impermanence. Jayülwa is quoted with the words: “Forgetting to practise death and impermanence once in the morning, during that day you will aim only at this life!” Thus Rinchen Jangchub states that it is necessary to cultivate these thoughts from the depth of the heart, and then one contemplates karma, cause, result and the disadvantages of samsara, until all the higher and the lower realms of samsara are understood to be something like a fire-pit or filthy hole. Then one continues the session by cultivating, love, compassion, and the resolve for awakening, etc. Only after such profound fundamentals at the beginning of a session should one continue in the sutra vehicle with the actual practise of the two kinds of selflessness and in the mantra vehicle with the two stages of cultivation and completion.

Our commentaries disagree with those people who claim that such a way of practise came to Tibet only after Atisha. They say that such a method of practising is deeply rooted in the Kagyüpa teachings transmitted by Marpa Lotsava and Ngog Chöku Dorje.

Coming back to the general theme of profoundness, it is also a general opinion that the three higher tantric empowerments are profound, while the vase empowerment, that precedes them, is not. Here Jigten Sumgön maintains that the vase empowerment is the root and the higher empowerments are its branches. He said:

Even though [others] say that the higher supreme empowerments are profound,
I value the vase empowerment greatly.
It is like a basis, a container, and a body,
The other [empowerments] are its particulars.

“Therefore,” says Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa, “as middle and old age do not occur without childhood, similarly the intention is that what is not profound for others is profound [for us, and] it is the supporting ground of the other [subsequent teachings], and the higher storeys are not raised without the lower.” And Dorje Sherab sums up his comments saying: “The dGongs gcig teaches throughout just this topic. (…) If you understand it in this manner, you will understand all the topics of the dGongs gcig .” And Rinchen Jangchub summarises that if the lower Dharmas are lacking, one will not be able to pass beyond samsara even if one practises the profound topics of mantra. The best is certainly that all Dharmas are assembled, but even if the mantra elements that are held by others to be profound are lacking, one may still obtain happiness of samsara and nirvana based only on the pratimoksha. Thus, how profound can those practises of the channels and winds of the vajra body be, when they are useless without the preliminaries? And do we not have to value the preliminaries and pratimoksha most highly, if through practising only them one may obtain nirvana? “Therefore,” he says, “we teach that the lower is profound.”

Note
1 See Glen Wallis (2003), “Advayavajra’s Instructions on adikarma ,” Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies , pp. 203-230. For Sanskrit editions of the text contained in his Advayavajrasamgraha , see Annual of the Institute for the Comprehensive Studies of Buddhism , Taisho University,” no. 10, (March 1988): 255-198, and Gaekwad’s Oriental Series , vol. 40, Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1927.

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