dGongs gcig 1.1

Although there is much more to be introduced regarding the dGongs gcig and its commentaries, its about time to introduce one of its vajra-state- ments. And what would be more appropriate than the first vajra-statement of the first chapter?

In general, the first chapter of the dGongs gcig deals with the Buddha’s three turnings of the wheel of Dharma. The very first statement, however, is not referring to any particular wheel, but to the nature of the teachings as such. It is therefore one of the most fundamental statements, if not the most fundamental one, of this treatise. As you will see, it has to do with the (false) expectations people have, in particular when they perceive the Buddha as a kind of a deity, a creator, or a powerful magician. As a remedy to that, Jigten Gonpo taught:

1.1. All the teachings of the Buddha are the revealing of the ultimate true nature

In his commentary of this first point, Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa right at the beginning draws attention to the perspective of the Buddha’s awakening.♦ 1 What is it he has woken up to? What was dream-like before, and is now without delusion? The commentary says he has “awakened with regard to the essence of the complete purity of all phenomena.”

That is, (1) the Buddha has not created a world according to his wishes or ideas, he hasn’t discovered the power to decide the beings’ destinies, and he has not turned into a powerful or divine magician or god. He has simply discovered reality just as it is.

(2) He was not teaching “his philosophy” or anything he is speculating about, and when he taught, he didn’t invent any principles or rules and so forth that have to be followed because he is the teacher, but, as the commentary says, “he revealed the ultimate true nature of all phenomena out of great love.”

(3) He also has not gained through his awakening the power to manipulate in any way the nature of reality that he discovered. When he said that something is wholesome, it is so because that is the nature of reality, not because he ruled that. And when he said that something is unwholesome, it is so because that is the nature of reality, not because he prohibited it. This is actually one of the most profound topics of the dGongs gcig, and we will find it presented again and again in Jigten Gonpo’s teachings–in short, things happen or exist in a certain way because of the law of dependent arising. The Buddha did not obtain a special power through which he can change this law, he has only discovered it in all of its fine details and is revealing it to the world.

(4) While the previous point deals with the aspect of dependent arising being a law, i.e. its “Gesetzhaftigkeit,” next it is pointed out that causation and the arising of results never make exceptions, neither for beings of high rank nor of low rank. This, too, is a very profound point in Jigten Gonpo’s teachings that we will meet with again and again, for instance in the context of his teaching (dGongs gcig 8.22) that even a bodhisattva of the tenth and highest level can fall back into the lower realms when that bodhisattva produces the causes for that–no matter what some other scholars may have claimed to be the case in their philosophical writings.

(5) And finally, since the Buddha awakened with regard to true reality, he possesses the primordial wisdom or gnosis (Skr. jñana, Tib. ye shes) that “perceives what is and what is not appropriate.” This particular gnosis is the first of the ten powers of the Tathagata (dashatathagatabalani). It is a power that is in general explained as the knowledge that karma and defilement are the cause that give birth to beings, or are responsible for the type of birth they take and thereby excludes all possibilities that a self or a soul or a creator are that cause. Through this power it is furthermore clearly understood which types of causes lead to which types of results. This type of relationship will be referred to in several other vajra-statements as well and is another essential recurring topic in Jigten Gonpo’s teachings.

All the commentators add to these statements a number of quotations from authoritative scriptures, but I’d like to point out here simply that the general and very fundamental statement that the Buddha awakened to a reality that is, independent from his discovery of it, the true nature of things, can also be found in the teachings of other Buddhist traditions, such as in the Pali tradition. See for instance the Dhamma Niyama Sutta (A i 286), according to which the properties of the teachings exist whether a Tathagata arises or not.

Monks, whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands – this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are inconstant … painfull … not the Self.! ♦ 2

This theme can also be found in the earliest strata of Mahayana sutras, for instance in the Shalistambasutra (7–14), summarised by Potter (1999: 195):

Understanding dependent origination is to understand Dharma, and one understanding Dharma sees the unsurpassable body of factors of the Buddha. Why is it called “dependent origination”? Because it arises from causes and conditions. Whether or not Tathagatas arise, or questions are asked, etc., the nature of factors (dharmata), suchness, reality, truth are constant.! ♦ 3

Notes

1 Let me point out here that the often used term “enlightenment” is in the Buddhist context not very appropriate. First of all, it is a term that in Western thought is connected with the so-called Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason, an intellectual movement of the 18th century in Europe and America, aiming at reforming society and advancing scientific knowledge, with roots in the thoughts of Spinoza, John Locke, Voltaire and so forth. One of its aspects was to fight superstition and religious intolerance. I’m not saying that these could not also be Buddhist ideals, but they do not exhaust the Buddha’s contribution and thus these ideas, represented by the term “enlightenment,” are too narrow. Secondly, the Sanskrit term buddh- and bodhi have to do with knowledge, understanding, wisdom, etc. and with waking up, thus “awakening,” “the Awakened One” etc. are a much better match.

2 Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight, 10 December 2011, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.134.than.html . Retrieved on 5 May 2012.

3 Potter, Karl H. (1999) Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Buddhist Philosophy from 100–350 A.D., vol. 8, Delhi: Motilal.

 

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2 comments
  1. awesome blog Jan! i have a question that it may, or may not be for you to answer: in the above (2) it is stated that the Buddha did not invent any principle or rule, but only stated what is in accordance with ultimate nature. does this mean that ultimate nature in Buddhism have inherent conceptions of right and wrong? and if this is not the case, isn’t it fair to say that the Buddha did indeed invent rules and principles (in accordance with his experience) since these are held to have been spoken by him?

    • Dear Franko, thank you for your interesting question! As I understand the matter, the emphasis is that the Buddha did not invent or make rules–they were already there. There are no principles apart from the nature of reality. Having realised that true reality, the Buddha was able to explain how it works: “this is wholesome and leads to wholesome results,” “this is unwholesome …” etc. What is wholesome is already established by nature, not by the Buddha, and the fact that wholesome causes lead to wholesome results is also already established by nature, not by the Buddha. In that sense I think it is clear that one cannot say that he invented or made any rules or principles. He just communicated them.
      Another question is whether we want to say (as you imply) that “true nature in Buddhism has [or has not] inherent conceptions of right or wrong.” I would like to split this question up. (1) I don’t think that one can say that the true nature of reality has inherent conceptions. If one would say so, it would follow that the nature was produced by a being, because something that involves a conception must be produced by a being. And from that follows automatically that (2) there can be no inherent “right and wrong” in the nature, because “right and wrong” are necessarily conceptions.
      What makes your question interesting and indeed important is that when we speak of right and wrong in this context, we have the moral question of “what shall I do” in mind. Usually in the philosophy of ethics we try to establish principles that guide us in the question of what we should do, how we should act. Having established these principles, we can begin to formulate our ethical principles drawn from that. It is for that very reason that I (usually) refrain from speaking of “Buddhist ethics,” because in Buddhism we cannot establish principles–they are already established by nature, we can only discover them.
      The most fundamental already established principle of Buddhism–and again: I mean established by nature, not by the Buddha–is the universal law of dependent origination. From a perspective of living beings, that law is called karma, i.e. when there is an intention involved. Both the law of dependent origination and the law of karma can only be discovered, and there is no chance of modifying them in any way. Thus, is it “good” to follow the law and “bad” not to follow it?
      This is what is at stake. I, personally, since this cannot really be compared to Western ethics, rather stick to the idea of “wholesomeness” and “unwholesomeness” rather than “good” or “bad.” Jigten Gonpo made a big point out of this when he said that anyone who wants to realise the true nature of reality is well advised to live in accordance to what is wholesome. For him wholesomeness and true reality are one and the same point, which is expressed in several vajra-statements, such as in dGongs gcig 6.13: “That mahamudra and disciplined conduct (shila) are one is an unsurpassed special teaching of ‘Jig-rten-mgon-po,” and 6.19: “Having the highest regard for disciplined conduct is the specially distinguished conduct of awareness [holders].”
      Thus, no, I don’t think that Jigten Gonpo would agree that the Buddha invented the rules when he formulated them according to his experience. The Buddha simply communicated true reality. Thus his first statement in chapter one: “All the teachings of the Buddha are the revealing of the ultimate true nature.”

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