It amazes me again and again how the dGongs gcig 800 years ago engages in topics that are still discussed in the present day. The commentary of Dorje Sherab of the middle of the 13th century has the wonderful habit to always describe at the beginning of each new topic the general views of Tibetan Buddhists at that time. This serves directly the purpose to introduce the reason why Kyobpa Jigten Gönpo found it necessary to provide a correction of that view. But it also helps us to understand what the general understanding of Buddhism has been at that time. 1 And most often we find exactly those same views that are criticised by Kyobpa Jigten Gönpo still current today. The dGongs gcig has in eight centuries not lost its freshness and topicality.
The topic I want to introduce today is found in the fifth chapter (5.9) and discusses the relation between the disciple’s faculties and the nature of the rituals that fit with those faculties. The general view is as follows. Engagement in vajrayana requires trainees of highest faculties. Within that supreme category there are again supreme, medium, and lower types. Those of lowest faculties among the persons of supreme faculties are to be consecrated into a coloured dust particle mandala, the medium types are consecrated with the help of a drawing on a piece of cloth, and the supreme ones only need to be supported by a mandala made of small heaps. Furthermore, those of lowest faculties will have to practise the complete stage of cultivation, the medium ones are to perform cultivation based on the seed syllable, and for the supreme ones instantaneous perfect awareness (skad cig dran rdzogs) suffices (which is synonymous with ‘instantaneous cultivation,’ dkrongs bskyed, i.e. ‘sudden’ and ‘all-at-once’ cultivation of the deity). Still furthermore, the lowest ones have to perform detailed practise rituals, the medium ones medium rituals, and the supreme ones do not need a ritual at all, because without mental constructions and having exhausted mind and phenomena, instantaneous perfect awareness practise is enough, or, if necessary, an abbreviated ritual can be performed. So far the general view.
Kyobpa Jigten Gönpo does not agree. In fact, he maintains the exact opposite (5.9): “All the detailed rituals are especially necessary for those of highest faculties.”
Rigdzin Chökyi Dragpa explains that those trainees of medium and lowest faculties (among the supreme ones) hardly have the ability to comprehend detailed rituals. But for those of highest faculties, detailed rituals are indeed very important, since if someone in the best case has realised emptiness as cause and result, he will produce each individual quality through all of the various dependent originations of the ritual. Now, in order to begin to comprehend this point, we have to digress a little.
Ritual in the context of cause, result, and emptiness
Mahayana Buddhism, of which vajrayana is a special form, does not only aim for personal liberation. In fact, personal liberation can only be a preliminary step necessary to achieve the liberation of all sentient beings. The bodhisattva’s bodhicitta—the resolve to obtain awakening for the sake of all sentient beings—is a defining characteristic of the mahayana, and it stands at the beginning of that path. At the end of that path the bodhisattva has, motivated by loving kindness, compassion, and bodhicitta, cultivated inconceivably many qualities, which are necessary to be able to carry out those equally inconceivably many activities that achieve the benefit of the beings. In short, it is often said that one strives to accomplish the dharmakaya for one’s own sake and the two form-kayas (the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya) for the benefit of others.
All of our commentaries stress the fact that the inconceivable qualities and activities (embodied through the two form-kayas) arise as the result of the detailed rituals. But these qualities do not arise merely by reading those rituals out aloud. If that would be the case, there would be no need for supreme faculties in order to perform detailed rituals. Instead even a well trained parrot would be able to achieve those Buddha qualities. According to Dorje Sherab, however, the qualities only arise when the ritual is performed within a state of realised emptiness, since from within that state, all the specific dependent originations of cause and result will manifest that cause the Buddha qualities and activities to arise. This understanding is based on Kyobpa Jigten Gönpo’s teaching known as “the vital point of entering into cause and result as emptiness, and of emptiness arising as cause and result.”
Dorje Sherab dwells on this point in his introduction to the dGongs gcig. 2 There he explains three aspects, of which the second one is the vital point mentioned above:
(1) applying cause and result to emptiness on the path (lam la rgyu ‘bras stong nyid du ‘jug pa)
(2) the arising of emptiness as cause and result on the path (lam la … stong nyid rgyu ‘bras su ‘byung ba)
(3) the non-dual existence of emptiness, cause, and result on the path (lam la … de gnyis su med par gnas pa)
(1) Applying cause and result to emptiness on the path
Of these three the first is the understanding that whatever arises from causes and conditions is unborn and empty of own existence. This is the truth of dependent origination of causes and conditions that is understood when one dwells in the nature, practising free from proliferation. That realisation is the ‘entering into the state of emptiness-equipoise’ (mnyam gzhag stong nyid). And that entering into the meditative state is called ‘the ground at the time of freedom from proliferation,’ which, as shall be clear, refers to the second of the four yogas of mahamudra (the meditative state of freedom from mental proliferation). 3
(2) The arising of emptiness as cause and result on the path
Secondly, and this is the relevant point for our discussion of detailed rituals, when one experiences the ‘one-taste’ (ro gcig) within the reality of dependent origination of causes and conditions, then all the fine details (spu ris) of causes and results each arise without loss from the state of emptiness. This is really a core of Kyobpa Jigten Gönpo’s teachings, namely, in short, that within emptiness nothing is lost. That is the reason why based on the two accumulations realisation is possible, and that is also the reason why the Drikungpa insists (like his teachers Phagmodrupa and like Gampopa) that whoever has realised emptiness has to pay greatest attention to cause and result. And that is also the reason why Mipham Rinpoche praised Kyobpa Jigten Gönpo, saying:
May as long as the world exists
the teaching of the victorious Drikungpa,
the Omniscient Lord and master of dependent origination,
continue through listening, reflecting, and practising.
This “arising of the fine details of cause and result” is the great stage of unity, and it is for instance called the ‘unity of the path’ (lam gyi zung ‘jug) or the ‘unity of [the stage of] learning’ (slob pa’i zung ‘jug). It is achieved on the path at the time of ‘single taste,’ which is the third of the four yogas of mahamudra.
(3) Non-dual existence of emptiness, cause, and result on the path
Thirdly, since such a unity, or ‘single taste,’ or non-dual existence is non other than ‘dependent origination,’ one understands that the ultimate original nature of the dependent origination of cause and result arises perfectly without mixing up all the individual ways of the arising of “this result from that cause.” Thus when that beginningless non-dual inseparability of ground, path, and result in all respects is actualised, the non-duality of meditative equipoise and post-meditative equipoise is achieved, which is also known as the ‘union of the result’ (‘bras bu zung ‘jug) or the ‘union of [the stage of] no more learning’ (mi slob pa’i zung ‘jug).’ And that union is also described as ‘the result at the time of no more learning,’ which is the fourth of the four yogas of mahamudra.
Ritual approach of beginners and advanced practitioners
The principle point of performing detailed rituals is, according to all our commentaries, to cause the arising of inconceivable many qualities and activities. There is, however, one further interesting aspect that is mentioned in some detail by Dorje Sherab. He states that with regard to the manners of practising the path, there is a principle (gtso bo) and an ancillary way (read: zhar ‘byung). The principle practise done by a beginner is the direct realisation of discriminating awareness (shes rab mngon [gsum du] rtogs [pa]). Those who have not yet obtained stability in that should perform the deity practise as an ancillary to their main practise. In that ancillary practise they merely remain aware (dran tsam) of the deity, while they chiefly work to realise discriminating awareness. For that purpose the stages of the ritual should be condensed. Then, once they have mastered emptiness, actualising all phenomena to be like space, they directly perceive within that state the dependent origination of cause and result (as explained in our digression above). And in that state they practise through detailed rituals the support of the celestial palace and the supported, namely the deities of the mandala with all the different body colours and their various attributes. To sum it up, Dorje Sherab says “thus through the vital point of entering into cause and result as emptiness, and of emptiness arising as cause and result, there is no chance that [the result] will not appear.”
1 You might object here that the presentation of the opinions of others in Tibetan texts is often quite polemical in nature and rarely a fair description of the actual view that is to be criticised. The purpose of citing them is usually that thereby they are presented in such a way, that they can be attacked more easily. Therefore, as a rule, it is always important to double check with the actual writings of the criticised ones. But here in our commentary by Dorje Sherab, the views that are cited are rarely of a particular opponent. Instead they are rather fairly widespread opinions that can occasionally even be found among his own fellow Kagyüpas.
2 Khog dbub, p. 231 f. of the 2007 Kagyu College edition.
3 The four yogas of mahamudra are (1) one-pointed concentration, (2) freedom from mental proliferation, (3) one-taste, and (4) no more practise/training.