1. Introduction: What Is Meditation?
While it will be readily admitted that ‘meditation’ has always played a major role in what is generically termed Buddhism, what the Buddhists themselves understood by ‘meditation’ is not so readily apparent.
2. Doxographies: The Role of Comparison and Classification in the Construction of Buddhism
2.1. Doxographies: Solving a Buddhist Hermeneutical Problem
Then [the Buddha] addresses the venerable Ānanda: “It may be, Ānanda, that some of you will think. ‘The word of the Teacher is a thing of the past; we have now no Teacher.’ But that, Ānanda, is not the correct view. The Doctrine and the Discipline, Ānanda, which I have taught and enjoined upon you, is to be your teacher when I am gone”.Mahāparanibbanasutta 6015
2.2. Indian Precedents
2.1.1. Bhāvaviveka’s Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā (500–570 CE)
2.1.2. Śāntarakṣita’s Tattvasaṅgraha (725–788 CE)
2.1.3. Buddhaguhya’s Commentaries to the Mahāvairocana-Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra (Eighth Century)
2.1.4. Vilāsavajra’s Spar Khabs (Eighth Century)
2.3. Chinese Precedents
2.3.1. Huiguan (慧觀)’s Five Periods Teachings (五時教) (d. 453)
- Sudden Teaching (dun jiao 頓教): corresponds to the Huayan Sūtra
- Gradual Teaching (jian jiao漸教)
- The three vehicles (as described in the Lotus Sūtra) were taught separately by the Buddha
- The Four Noble Truths to the Śrāvakas
- Interdependent Origination to the Pratyekabuddhas
- The Six Perfections to the bodhisattvas.
- The Buddha taught the common teaching of the three vehicles; mainly, the Perfection of Wisdom.
- In the third period, the Buddha made clear the inferiority of the teachings of the Śrāvakas and elevated the teachings of the bodhisattvas. This is mainly found in the Vimalakīrti Sūtra.
- During this period, the three vehicles were subsumed under one vehicle. This teaching was presented in the Lotus Sūtra.
- The final period, as presented in the Nirvāṇa Sūtra, taught the eternality of the Buddha.
2.3.2. Chegwan (諦觀)’s Four Types of Content of Buddhist Teachings (化法四教) (d. 971)
2.4. Early Tibetan Classifications
2.4.1. Padmasambhava’s Garland of the Views of the Esoteric Instructions (man ngag lta ba’i phreng ba)
- Outward Tantra
- Inward Tantra
- Great Perfection53
2.4.2. Pelyang’s Lamp for the Mind (thugs kyi sgron ma, Late Eighth—Early Ninth Centuries)55
3. Nupchen Sangye Yeshe: Writing the Lamp for the Eye in Meditation to Bring Light into the Darkness
At the time when King Langdarma was destroying the teachings of the Buddha [Nupchen] scared this evil king. The king asked him: “What powers do you have?” and Sangyé Yeshé replied: “Look at the power of my mantra!” […] He pointed his index finger towards a rock, and a lightning bolt destroyed it into pieces. Then, the terrified king said: “I will not harm your followers!” It is clear that due to Sangyé Yeshé’s kindness the mantrins with white robes and long hair were not harmed and, in general, [this was of] great benefit to the teachings of the Buddha.
The Lamp for the Eye in Meditation
4. Defining and Comparing: Meditation and Non-Conceptualization
4.1. The Avikalpapraveśa-Dhāraṇī and “Non-Conceptuality” in Tibet
In the first step of “perception” one cognizes all dharmas as the manifestation of “mere cognition” (rig pa tsam), that is, all dharmas are an expression of one’s own mind [...] In the second step one cognizes “non-perception” of objects, to which the ordinary apprehension generally adheres [...] In the following step of “non-perception of perception” one trains oneself in the non-perception of the perception that “mere cognition” is non-existent. Since cognition is not possible without an object, cognition itself is also impossible [...] In the final step of “perception of non-perception” one perceives neither an apprehending subject not an apprehensible object. As subject and object are not of separate natures, non-duality may be realized.
4.2. Non-Conceptuality and the Fourfold Structure of the Lamp for the Eye in Meditation
4.2.1. The Gradual Approach and “Non-Conceptualizing Appearances” (snang ba mi rtog pa)
As for the “tsen men93 Gradual Approach, when [the practitioner] gradually abandons the four characteristics [which are] conceptualizing the nature, (conceptualizing the antidote, conceptualizing suchness, and conceptualizing the attainment), [the practitioner] enters into the non-conceptual [state]. The Dhāraṇī of Non-Conceptuality (i.e., Avikalpapraveśa-dhāraṇī) says: “The people who want the wish-fulfilling jewels must use their minds to excavate under the extremely solid rock in order to see them. [So when people excavate] under these rocks they [find] the three precious stones: silver, gold, and emeralds. Under these four very firm rocks, all of them excavate [some more] and obtain the wish-fulfilling jewel, which emerges as the perfection of everything for the sake of self and others. [Similarly, those who want to reach] the non-conceptual [state] should free themselves from the four conceptualizations: conceptualizing the nature, conceptualizing the antidote, conceptualizing suchness, and conceptualizing the attainment. If [the practitioner] meditates about suchness without creating existents (yod pa) [the practitioner] will accomplish the three characteristics”. They gradually meditate on the three gates of emptiness itself (stong pa nyid), without signs (mtshan ma med pa), and without aspirations (smon pa med pa), and they also meditate [using the techniques] of Śamatha and Vipaśyanā.
4.2.2. The Sudden Approach—Non-Conceptualizing Non-Appearances (mi snang ba mi rtog pa)
From the beginning, without alternating [methods], they train in the unborn ultimate [...] The entrance gate to the Sudden Approach has been explained by many teachers [such as] the Great Master Bodhidharma, who said “Turn in the correct direction and abandon conceptuality”. When you abide in wall-gazing,96 there is no self and other. Common people and noble ones are one and the same. When abiding steadily, without moving, from then on, [you] will not go after words and teachings. [You] will abide in the state of the true meaning, where there is non-conceptualization, and no activity.
4.2.3. Mahāyoga—Non-Dual Non Conceptuality (gnyis su med pa’i mi rtog pa)
As for inner non-conceptual Thusness, the Mahāyoga tradition [proposes] that all phenomena have the radiance of intrinsic awareness [and therefore], the two truths do not exist, the agent does not act [upon phenomena], and it becomes luminous [naturally]. [All phenomena] are the non-dual sphere of wisdom. The Guhyasamāja Tantra says, “The object of meditation is not an object, the activity of meditation is not meditation, therefore, because objects do not exist, there is no object of reference in meditation.”
4.2.4. Atiyoya—Spontaneously Present Non-Conceptuality (lhun gyis grub pa’i mi rtog pa)
As for the spontaneously perfected Thusness of Atiyoga, the Supreme Yoga, all appearing and existing phenomena are primordially self-radiant since they remain perfect in the perfectly pure sphere of self-emergent wisdom. As for the cause and the result, which are spontaneously perfected without any need to search [for them], this is the Great Self, where there is no movement, no particles, no names. So what is to meditate in the clear radiance where there is an intrinsic awareness that is not established, does not waver, is not tainted, does not settle? What is there to recollect? There is nothing [...] Non-conceptuality is itself a [mere] concept.
4.2.5. Meditation and ‘the Rungs of a Ladder’
The differences between these [contemplative systems] are like the rungs of a ladder. Just as a ladder has higher and lower rungs, so are the differences between these four non-conceptualizations [of the Gradual, Sudden, Mahāyoga, and Atiyoga traditions].
5. Conclusions: Comparison, Classification, and the Construction of Tibetan Buddhism
… bring differences together within the space of the scholar’s mind for the scholar’s own intellectual reasons [...] Comparison provides the means by which we ‘re-vision’ phenomena as our data in order to solve our theoretical problems. Comparison, as seen from such view, is an active, at times even playful, enterprise of deconstruction and reconstruction which gives the scholar a shifting set of characteristics with which to negotiate the relations between his or her theoretical interests and data stipulated as exemplary.
Conflicts of Interest
References and Notes
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See the entry for “Dhyāna” in Buswell et al. (2014): “Dhyāna. (P. jhāna; T. bsam gtan; C. chan/chanding; J. zen/zenjō; K. sŏn/sŏnjŏng). In Sanskrit, ‘meditative absorption’, refers to specific meditative practices during which the mind temporarily withdraws from external sensory awareness and remains completely absorbed in an ideational object of meditation.” Gómez, in his definition of meditation in the Encyclopedia of Buddhism, equates “meditation” with “dhyāna”: see “meditation” entry by Gómez in Buswell (2004).
See the entry for “Bhāvanā” in (Buswell et al. 2014): “(Tib. sgom pa; Ch. xiuxi; Jap. shujū; Kor. susŭp). In Sanskrit and Pāli, “cultivation” (lit. “bringing into being”), a Sanskrit term commonly translated into English as “meditation.” It […] has a wide range of meanings including cultivating, producing, manifesting, imagining, suffusing, and reflecting. It is in the first sense, that of cultivation, that the term is used to mean the sustained development of particular states of mind.” Germano and Waldron equate “meditation” with bhāvanā in their entry to “Buddhist Meditation” in the Encyclopedia of Religion. See (Jones et al. 2005).
The classic biographies of the Buddha, such as Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddhacarita, and the Lalitavistara Sūtra, maintain a dramatic tension between his birth already as a Buddha, and his life as a human and ultimate experience of enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Despite a tradition of the Buddha as an already-enlightened being, as found in those narratives, there is no doubt that the experience of enlightenment marks a before and after in the life narrative of the Buddha. On this particular tension, see (Silk 2003).
Luis Gómez uses this notion of “shifting sands” to define a different key Buddhist concept, “Nirvāṇa”, but his ideas equally apply to our exploration of the concept of meditation. For Gómez, “Nirvāṇa” “has acquired a patina that makes many assume its meaning is obvious. Yet, it is a word about which Buddhists themselves have never reached agreement.” Following Gómez, “it may be that when we ask: ‘What is Nirvāṇa?’ [or in our case, “What is Meditation”?] we seek to answer the wrong question. Instead we need to ask: How have Buddhists used the term? With what polemical or apologetic purposes? What human aspirations might these uses reveal?” See his “Nirvāṇa” entry in the Encyclopedia of Buddhism in (Buswell 2004).
Before I continue with my argument, let me add a caveat: I am not suggesting here that “meditation”, or “meditative experience”, is the essence of Buddhism. Robert Sharf has pointed out in his work the dangers of reconstructing the Buddhist tradition through what he considers a Western obsession with the notion of experience that he traces back to William James and his The Varieties of Religious Experience. For Sharf, “[W]hile meditation may have been important in theory, it did not occupy the dominant role in monastic and ascetic life that is sometimes supposed.” See (Sharf 1995). What I do argue, though, is that the concept of “meditation” has functioned as an important marker that has helped define boundaries between various Buddhist traditions.
He also adds: “Although this judgment is surely one-sided—ignoring as it does many rich areas of more ‘popular’ developments—it is certainly no exaggeration when applied to Chinese Buddhist scholastic writing. Doctrinal classification is one of the most striking features of Chinese Buddhist scholasticism, and it is impossible to understand how medieval Chinese Buddhist scholars thought without understanding panjiao.” (Gregory 1987, p. 93).
Henceforth referred to as ‘the Lamp’.
I would like to add, though, an important terminological clarification. Following most of the scholarship on this subject, this article will use the term doxography in order to describe these Buddhist systems of doctrinal classification. Doxography means etymologically to “write the views”, and its origins are attributed to the Greek tradition. The term describes a literary genre in which views of past philosophical systems are organized, usually, in some sort of historical fashion. The use of this term in the context of Indian, Tibetan, and Chinese classification of views, quickly shows that the term does not always describe accurately the nature and goals of these texts. In India the term used for this genre of literature is siddhānta, in Chinese panjiao (Ch. 判教), and in Tibetan they are called grub mtha’. In all cases the meaning generally refers to the description of systems of practice (of realization, literally). There are some general similarities among these Buddhist terms, but there are also important differences. In some of the early classifications (especially in the Indian ones) the main goal was not to classify hierarchically, but to argue specific doctrinal or philosophical views. That is why some scholars are proposing that the term summa may be more accurate to describe the siddhānta or grub mtha’ literature. On these issues see (Mestanza 2005, p. 85). To clarify these issues is beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to point out that we need to be careful when using Western terminology to describe Buddhist categories, since they bring with them unintended meanings to the object of our study. Another issue related to the use of the term doxography is the problem of determining what counts as one. In most of the scholarship reviewed, we find that the study of classificatory Buddhist systems usually begins with the earliest one that has survived, Bhāvaviveka’s Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā. But what about the classification of Buddhist systems found in the earlier Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra? This sūtra presents a hierarchical classification, in the form of the Three Turnings of the Wheel, and it is also polemical, arguing the superiority of Yogācāra over other Buddhist teachings. The point here is not to deconstruct the notion of doxography (or siddhānta, or grub mtha’) to the point that it is not useful anymore. The goal is just to make us aware of the constructed nature of the term, and the fact that we need to be aware of the fluidity of the category as it was used differently in different historical and cultural contexts. Dalton also makes an interesting point when he says that another important difference between Western doxographies and Indian ones is that “whereas the former are generally philosophical works and restrict themselves to the views held by each school, the tantric classification systems of India […] are largely concerned with differences in ritual practice”, see (Dalton 2005, p. 119). Additionally, for important studies of the doxographical genre in Buddhism, see (Hopkins 1996; Mun 2006; Eimer 1992; Gregory 1987).
Regarding some of the most important hermeneutic strategies developed by Buddhism to solve this tension, see (Lopez 1988).
For an understanding of history as narrative, see (Jenkins 2003).
Here, I will not discuss Japanese doxographies since they did not have a direct influence in the Tibetan world, which is the focus of my article. The doxographical genre, nonetheless, also played a major role in the process of assimilation of Buddhism in Japan. In Kūkai’s works (Kūkai 1972, 774–835 CE), for example, we see the use of doxography as a way to articulate the superiority of the Shingon tradition over the Tendai school. For Kūkai’s use of doxography, see (Hakeda 1972). In his discussion of Kūkai and Shingon, McMullen also argues that “esoteric Buddhist scholasticism emphasized the tools of doxography, taxonomy, and lineage in an effort to explicate the secret teachings of the buddha. However, which texts, teachings, and lineages were ‘esoteric’ has always been a matter of debate.” See (McMullen 2016). Kūkai’s contemporary and founder of the Tendai school, Saicho (767–822 CE), will also use doxographical classifications in order to argue the superiority of Tendai over that of rival schools. I want to thank Prof. Paul Groner for his insights on the use of doxographies in Japan.
Although there were also non-Buddhist examples such as Śaṅkarācārya’s Brahmasūtrabhāṣya, which “sets forth the views of nāstika (heterodox) and āstika (orthodox) schools and shows the weaknesses and strengths in each as a strategy to demonstrate the superiority of Śaṅkara’s own Advaita Vedāṇta philosophy. None of these Indian works were written simply as informative textbooks about the tenets of different Indian schools of thought. They instead have clear polemical agendas: namely, demonstrating the superiority of their own position, and showing how the lesser philosophies are either a hindrance or a stepping stone to their own philosophy, as revealed by the Buddha in the case of Buddhist siddhānta, and by the Vedas in the case of non-Buddhists.” See Śaṅkarācārya entry in (Buswell et al. 2014).
For a thorough analysis of the doxographical genre, particularly in the Indian and Tibetan contexts, see (Dalton 2005).
His work has been translated by (Eckel 2008).
Chp. 4 is an analysis of the determination of reality according to the Śrāvakas; Chp. 5 is an analysis of the determination of reality according to the Yogācārins; Chp. 6 is an analysis of the determination of reality according to the Sāṃkhya; Chp. 7 is an analysis of the determination of reality according to the Vaiśeṣika; Chp. 8 is an analysis of the determination of reality according to the Vedānta; Chp. 9 is an analysis of the determination of reality according to the Mīmāṃsā. See (Eckel 2008).
Although Bhāvaviveka and Buddhapālita disagreed on the nature of Madhyamaka, I am aware that the categories of Svātantrika vs. Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka were created only retrospectively and were still not defined as philosophical systems during Nupchen’s time. For further discussion on this issue, see (Hopkins 1987; Dreyfus and McClintock 2002).
Dalton has this to say about the influence of Bhāvaviveka: “[A]t first the doxographic paradigm was resisted by many within Buddhism, but it was part of a deep and irresistible trend that was sweeping through Indian thought; by the seventh century Candrakīrti could have argued against doxography, but only on its own terms.” In (Dalton 2005): “A Crisis of Doxography: How Tibetans Organized Tantra During the 8th–12th Centuries”, p. 119.
Kamalaśīla (740–95), Śāntarakṣita’s most important student, wrote an important commentary to Śāntarakṣita’s Tattvasaṅgraha, the Tattvasaṃgrahapañjikā, although he did not add any major doctrinal changes to Śāntarakṣita’s text. He became a relevant figure in Tibetan history due to his role in the so-called Samyé Debate in which he defended the views of the gradualist tradition, represented by his teacher Śāntarakṣita, against the ‘Sudden Approach’, represented by Chan and defended by the Chinese monk known as Hashang Mahāyāna. The historicity of the debate has been called into question by some scholars, see (Van der Kuijp 1984, 1986; Ruegg 1989, who called it a “dehistoricized topos”), but there is no doubt that the narrative about the debate framed what was considered an important tension in early Tibetan Buddhism, mainly the methods by which to achieve enlightenment. Some important sources for the debate are (Demiéville 1952; Tucci 1956; Houston 1980; Faber 1986). On the issue of the Samyé Debate and its connection to doxographical classifications (see Ruegg 1989).
Ruegg provides the following description of Śāntarakṣita’s classification: Chapters 1–3 offer discussion of the Sāṃkhya prakṛti and theory of causation and discuss the concept of God; Chapter 4 examines the doctrine of a world endowed with own being; Chapter 5 is an examination of the theory of śabdabrahman; Chapter 6 explores the theory of puruṣa; in Chapter 7, Śāntarakṣita examines the views of Nyāya, Mīmāṃsā, Sāṃkhya, Jainas, and the Aupaniṣadikas, as well as the Buddhist Vātsīputrīya’s pudgala ideas; Chapter 8 is an analysis of the doctrines of permanent and stable entities; Chapter 9 deals with Karma and the result of actions; Chapter 10 outlines the six categories (padārtha) of Substance (dravya); Chapter 11 is devoted to the notion of Quality (guņa); Chapter 12 focuses on Action (karma); and the Chapter 13 discusses the notion of the Universal (sāmānya) (see Ruegg 1989).
To be more specific, Buddhaguhya divides the Buddhist teaching in two: the teachings of the Mahāyāna, focused on the practice of the perfections (pāramitā), and the teachings of Tantra, focused on mantra recitation, which Buddhaguhya subdivides into Kriyā (focused on outward practice or “objective supports”) and Yoga Tantras (focused on inward techniques or on the “practice of the profound and vast”). See (Hodge 2003; Dalton 2005, pp. 121–24).
In a very different context this inward vs. outward categorization found an echo in the earlier denigration by the Mahāyāna of all the early Buddhist traditions, using the label Hinayāna, or inferior vehicle, to refer to it. The use of these categories in order to articulate ideas can be very powerful since they affect the way we look at those earlier teachings. There is no doubt that earlier Buddhist practitioners did not consider their early practices and rituals as merely outwards and were, probably, a complete soteriological path of their own.
I want to thank an anonymous reviewer of an earlier version of this article for some clarifications on the problematic nature of the attribution of influence of Chegwan’s system on Nupchen’s doxography.
This is particularly clear in the alternative doxographical classification he wrote in his Armor Against Darkness (Mun pa’i go cha).
“In Tibetan, ‘Ancient’, is the name of one of the four major sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The name derives from the sect’s origins during the ‘early dissemination’ (snga dar) of Buddhism in Tibet and its reliance on translations of Tantras made during that period; this is in distinction to the new (gsar ma) sects of Bka’ brgyud, Sa skya, and Dge lugs, all of which arose during the later dissemination (phyi dar) and make use of newer translations. The Rnying ma is thus ‘ancient’ in relation to the new sects and only began to be designated as such after their appearance.” (Buswell et al. 2014).
There are other doxographies, both from the eighth century: Yéshé Dé (ye shes sde)’s Differentiating the Views (lta ba’i khyad par) and Kawa Peltsek (ska ba dpal brtsegs)’ Esoteric Instructions of the Stages of the View (lta ba’i khyad pa’i man ngag) that I will not be discussing here for lack of space and because they are less relevant for my argument. For Yéshé Dé’s text, see (Ruegg 1981). Van Schaik also has argued that Kawa Peltsek’s text may not be by him and of later composition, making it irrelevant for our discussion. See (Van Schaik 2004, p. 188).
Dalton claims that the text is “our earliest extant text entirely devoted to setting forth a tantric classification system” (Dalton 2005, p. 132). According to Dalton, there is substantial evidence for the attribution of the text to Padmasambhava, see (Dalton 2005, p. 132, n. 41). Ruegg thinks that the first Tibetan doxography is the lta ba khyad par, see (Ruegg 1981), and Takahashi, in her dissertation, proposes Pelyang’s Lamp of the Mind (see Takahashi 2009).
For an excellent study of Pelyang’s life and works, see (Takahashi 2009).
The final classification looks like this: (1) Gods and humans, (2) Śrāvakas, (3) Pratyekabuddhas, (4) Bodhisattvas, (5) Tantras (these divided in (a) Kriyā, (b) Upāya, (c) Yoga, (d) Mahāyoga). See (Dalton 2005, p. 137).
Takahashi agrees with this portrayal of Pelyang’s classification: “The first half of the Lamp of the Mind is a Buddhist doxographical presentation of non-Buddhist and Buddhist systems, refuted or criticized in the standard hierarchical progression of lower to higher systems, ending with a summation of the highest system. In this light Dpal dbyangs’s work is nothing out of the ordinary. However, while most Indian Buddhist tantric doxographies center on distinctions in the rituals of the various Tantras, Dpal dbyangs’s Lamp of the Mind hardly mentions ritual. The distinctions that concern Dpal dbyangs are exclusively related to view; he does not comment on the role of ritual in distinguishing whether a system is effective. Furthermore, although later Tibetan doxographies resemble Dpal dbyangs’s Lamp of the Mind in relying upon view and perspective, rather than practice or ritual for their rankings, it appears that Dpal dbyangs’s Lamp of the Mind is among the first, and perhaps the oldest, extant Tibetan doxography to do so. Once again, Dpal dbyangs appears to have been an innovator among Tibetans in this field.” (Takahashi 2009, p. 104).
One of the first problems we face when studying the life of Nupchen is the uncertainty surrounding his dates. For a detailed discussion of this issue as discussed in Tibetan as well as Western sources, see (Manuel Lopez 2014).
For a history of the Mind Series literature, see (Manuel Lopez 2018).
The Tibetan is “khyad par du rgyal po glang dar mas sangs rgyas kyi bstan pa bshig pa’i dus slob dpon ‘dis rgyal po sdig can skrag par mdzad de/rgyal pos khyod la nus pa ci yod zer bas ngas sngags tsam bzlas pa’i nus pa ‘di la gzigs shig ces […] da dung nus pa ‘di la gzigs shing zer nas sdigs mdzub kyis thog phab ste pha ri’i brag la bsnun pas tshal bar song/der rgyal po ‘jigs shing skrag nas khyed ‘khor bcas la gnod pa mi byed do zer nas btang ste/sngags ‘chang gos dkar lcang lo can rnams la gnod pa ma byung na khong gi drin du mngon te sangs rgyas kyi bstan pa spyi la’ang phan pa cher byung ngo.” In Guru Tashi: 167.
For more on the connection of Nupchen to black magic see (Cantwell 1997, pp. 107–8, n. 5).
See bka’ shog rgya bo che 20a-21b.
For the complex intersection of Buddhism and violence see (Dalton 2011).
The Lamp also offers an invaluable widow to the textual world of Buddhism in Tibet before the collapse of the Empire. The Lamp includes close to 750 quotes from almost 150 different sources, many of them no longer extant, or that have only survived in a fragmentary state. Nupchen quotes from sūtras like the Laṅkāvatāra, Avataṃsaka, and the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras (Prajñāpāramitā); Nupchen also quotes more than 50 different Chan masters whose names only survive in the Lamp and in Dunhuang sources. There has been some scholarly work on some of these sources, particularly by Japanese scholars on the Chan chapter, and by others on the Great Perfection one, but there has not been a systematic attempt to trace all of the quotes of the text back, at least when possible, to their original sources. Donati (2006) and Esler (2018) have both translated this massive work.
See bka’ shog rgya bo che 20a-21b. See a discussion and a translation of this critical passage from the Bka’ shog rgya bo che in (Lopez 2014, pp. 79–80).
On Sakya Paṇḍita’s attacks to the Great Perfection see his Clear Differentiation of the Three Vows (Tib. sDom gsum rab dbye), fol. 25b.
For a discussion on periodization in Tibetan history see (Cuevas 2006; Dalton 2011; Lopez 2014). On the use of the label ‘Dark Age’ to describe this period of Tibetan history see (Snellgrove 1987, p. 464; Kapstein 2000, pp. 10–17; Denwood 2010, p. 1; Manchester 1992, pp. 3–5; Lopez 2014, pp. 35–58).
See (Van Schaik 2004, p. 188). Germano has suggested that the nine vehicle doctrinal classification may be a Tibetan indigenous interpretation of the Buddhist path that is based on the Tibetan myth of the nine-runged ladder that connects heaven and earth (in David Germano’s unpublished manuscript Mysticism and Rhetoric in the Great Perfection (rDzogs Chen}). For the Tibetan indigenous myth, see (Karmay 1998, p. 252).
Higgins, discussing non-mentation (amanasikāra) in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, a concept that is closely connected to the notion of non-conceptuality, argues, “The first widespread use of amanasikāra (‘non-mentation’) as a specific description of Buddhahood occurs within the Indian Siddha movement, although the term is not unknown in the Pali canon. The term and its Apabhraṃśa variant amaṇasiāra are associated in particular with the mystical songs (dohā or vajragīti) of Saraha, the most famous of the early Siddhas, and a cycle of texts attributed to his commentator Maitrīpāda (aka Maitrīpa, b. 1007 or 1010) referred to in Tibet as the Yid la mi byed paʼi chos skor or “The Cycle of Teachings on Non-mentation.” See (Higgins 2009, pp. 255–56).
For a recent account of early discussion of “non-conceptuality” in Buddhism, see (Sharf 2018).
Tib. rnam par mi rtog par ‘jug pa’i gzungs kyi rgya cher ‘grel pa. See (Jha 1937).
Ueyama argues that Hashang Mahāyāna’s interpretation of non-conceptuality “took as the basic cause of birth-and-death the fact that thoughts (想xiang) grasp external objects, that is, that mental impulses arise. He held that awakening consists of cutting off the thoughts which are the cause of delusion and entering into no-examining/no-thought (Ch. 不思不观)”, (Ueyama et al. 1983, p. 36).
Ueyama argues that Kamalaśīla “held that to deny all thoughts (manasikāra) is to deny even the correct examining or investigation (pratyavekṣā=so sor rtog pa) which is necessary for arriving at non-discriminative wisdom, that is, awakening. His criticism was that subsuming the conditions for becoming a Buddha under insight alone neglects the good practices of upāya and contradicts the Mahāyāna” (Ueyama et al. 1983, p. 36). Higgins writes in his discussion of the related issue of mentation (manasikāra) vs. non-mentation (amanasikāra) in the Samyé Debate that Kamalaśīla’s critique of Hashang Mahāyāna (although the Chinese master is not mentioned in the text, scholars agree that he is the recipient of Kamalaśīla’s criticism) “is that amanasikāra does not imply the suppression or cessation of mental activity but rather its progressive refinement through the gradual elimination of subjective distortions [...] Thus, Kamalaśīla singles out mistaking amanasikāra for the absolute non-existence of manasikāra as the major misinterpretation of this concept, a point he further clarifies in his Nirvikalpapraveśadhāraṇī-ṭīkā [...] Conceptual meditation, in other words, is a necessary condition for non-conceptual realization”, in (Higgins 2009, pp. 258–59). Gómez (2004) has defended a more nuanced understanding of Mahāyāna’s positions that do include what some may call an acceptance of the Gradual Approach.
This is, in fact, the doxographical approach used by Nupchen in his Armor Against Darkness (mun pa’i go cha).
Non-conceptuality also plays a very important role in a text quoted by Nupchen in the Lamp, Vimalamitra’s Stages of the Path: “One who wishes to dispel obscuration and quickly achieve omniscience should concentrate on achieving quiescence and insight, thereby generating the altruistic mind. I, like a blind person, cannot demonstrate this, but relying on the words of Buddha and other scriptures, I will explain it. By right cultivation of quiescence and insight, non-conceptual intuition arises. Through the arising of this [non-conceptuality], one can abandon all obscurations and attain omniscience that is the result of the longtime practice of quiescence and insight. Therefore, one should strive for quiescence and insight. If one dwells in the state of non-conceptualization, one can see the reality of all things. It is certain that the purification of all obscuration and the achievement of omniscience is dependent upon causes; therefore, one should contemplate non-conceptualization. As one who reaches the top of a lofty mountain can see almost all the surrounding places, similarly, one who dwells in the state of non-conceptualization can see all things without obstacle or impediment. Therefore, one should contemplate on quiescence and insight.” In (Jamspal 2000, p. 1).
In this same chapter, Nupchen sketches an alternative threefold non-conceptual classification that does not develop in the text. For a brief discussion of this alternative system, see (Dalton and van Schaik 2003, p. 154).
It is interesting to point out that Nupchen uses the Tibetan (rim gyis), as well as the Chinese term (tsen men), to designate the Gradual Approach. For the Sudden school he also uses both languages (Tib. cig car; Ch. ton mun).
Lamp 55.6–57.1: de la tsan med rim gyis ‘jug pa ni/rang bzhin (56.1) la rtogs pa’i mtshan ma la sogs ba <dang gnyin po rtog pa dang/de kho na nyid la shrtogs pa dang/thob pa la rtog pa dang/> bzhi rim gyis spangs nas/mi rtog pa la ‘jug pa ste/de yang mi rtog pa’i gzungs las/yid bzhin gyi nor bu rin po (56.2) che ‘dod pa’i mis brag shin tu rsa zhing ‘greg pa’i ‘og na yid kyis rkos shig//rin po che ‘di lta ste//(56.3) brag de’i ‘og na/dngul rin po che dang/gser dang/rdo’i snying po’o//de dag la rin po che’i brag gsum//brag shin tu sra ba dang bzhi’i ‘og nas/de yo brkos (56.4) pa dang/yid bzhin nor bu bdag dang gzhan don thams cad rdzogs par ‘byung ba ‘thob pa de bzhin tu/rnam par mi rtog pa ‘dod pas/rang bzhin la rtog pa’i mthan (56.5) ma dang/gnyen po la rtog pa’i mtshan ma dang/de kho na nyid la rtog pa’i mtshon ma dang/thob pa la rtog pa’i mtshan ma de bzhi dang bral bar byas nas/mtshan (56.6) ma gsum po la de kho na yis yod la ma byas par bsgom na ‘grub bo//zhes gsungs pas/rim par bsgom pa dang/gzhan stong pa nyid dang/mtshan (57.1) ma med pa dang/smon pa med pa’i sgo gsum rim par bsgom pa dang/zhi gnas lhag mthong la sogs pa bsgom pa’o//.
Nupchen describes it as a process in which the three types of conceptualization are gradually abandoned. These three types of conceptual discrimination (trivikalpa) are described in the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism as: “(1) Intrinsic discrimination (svabhāvavikalpa), which refers to the initial advertence of thought (vitarka) and the subsequent sustained attention (vicāra) to a perceived object of the six sensory consciousnesses (vijñāna), that is, the discrimination of present objects, as when visual consciousness perceives a visual object. (2) Conceptualizing discrimination (abhinirūpaṇāvikalpa), which refers to discursive thought on ideas that arise in the sixth mental consciousness when it adverts toward a mental object that is associated with any of the three time periods of past, present, or future. (3) Discrimination involving reflection on past events (anusmaraṇavikalpa), which refers to discriminative thought involving the memory of past objects.”
The term “wall-gazing” (lham mer gnas pa) refers to the Chinese term biguan (壁觀), a key concept for the early Chan tradition as found in Bodhidharma’s The Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices (Ch. 二入四行论). As McRae has pointed out, though, “this concept has bedeviled the Chan tradition ever since its introduction [in that text]”, since “ultimately, no one really knows what the term means. It only occurs in one other more-or-less contemporaneous source, a list of meditation practices recommended for beginners, where it occurs without explanation. (McRae, p. 30). As McRae points out, “eventually, the term came to be interpreted in the Chan tradition as referring to the act of sitting in meditation facing a wall, but as indicated in the discussion of Bodhidharma’s hagiographical evolution above, it took some time for this meaning to take hold.” (McRae 2003, p. 30). Meinert has argued that the Tibetan “lham mer gnas pa” should be translated as “abiding in luminosity”, and offers a compelling case as to why this should be. In this case, though, I prefer to use “wall-gazing” since the term is used in the context of the Sudden teachings of Bodhidharma, and wall-gazing is the most common term to translate the Chinese biguan, which is what I think the Tibetan term is trying to translate (as Meinert herself acknowledges in her article). See (Meinert 2007, p. 255). I want to thank an anonymous reader for pointing out the need to clarify my use of ‘wall-gazing’ to translate the Tibetan ‘lham mer gnas pai.’
Lamp 57.1–58.2: “ston mun ni cig car (57.2) ‘jug pa ste/dang po nas re mos pa med par don dam pa ma skyes pa nyid la cig car slob te/shes rab kyi pha rol du phyin pa’i mdo las//dang po sems bskyed pa (57.3) nas rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa nyid la yid bya’o//[...] mkhan <gzhung bstan/> po chen (57.6) po bo dhe dar mo ta ras bshad pa las/yang dag pa la phyogs shing rtogs pa spangs te/lham mer gnas na/bdag kyang med gzhan yang med/ma (58.1) rabs dang ‘phags pa mnyam zhing gcig ste/mi ‘gyur bar brtan par gnas na/de phan chad yi ge dang bstan pa’i rjes su mi ‘brang ngo//’di ni yang dag (58.2) pa’i don gyi rnal du phab pa rnam par rtog pa med pa/zheng zhing bya ba med pa ste/de ni don la mi ‘jug pa’o//”.
In the chapter dedicated to the Mahāyoga tradition, Nupchen criticizes the Sudden tradition for thinking that their view is “free from activity”, but theirs is only a partial understanding of that concept, since it is not grounded in the superior non-dual view of Mahāyoga: “tshe de nyid la dbang bsgyur chen por ‘gyur ba dang ‘dra ste/ston mun dang (226.6) nga lta bas bya ba dang bral ba skad zer yang/theg pa chen po gnyis su med pa’i de bzhin nyid/mtha’ yang ma mthong ste/don dam pa ‘ba’ zhig la mi stsol du zad de/(227.1) ‘jag pa non bgrong pa mthar phyin nas de bzhin gshegs pas dbang bskur nas bzod rdo rje lta bu gnyis med shar nas sngags mthong ba dang/(227.2) de bzhin du da lta blo la brtan par cud zhig ‘dug du ma btub kyang/gnyis su med pa rdo rje lta bu’i ye shes la slob pas/tshe ‘di nyid la mthar thug pa’i phyir rol kyang (227.3) mi ‘byi char yang mi phod de/de ni lta ba’i don gzhi nas khyad par du ‘phags pas rgyu’i theg pas thob pa’i byang chub sems dpa’ nyid/’dir dang po sems bskyed pas (227.4) zil gyis gnon par gsungs yang/sems dang po skyes pa nas gnyis su med pa’i don la sems bskyed pas/stobs de las gyur pa ste/zhib tu phyis ‘chad (227.5) do/”.
Lamp 59.3–59.6: “nang pa’i mi rtog pa de bzhin nyid ni/mah’a yo ga’i gzhung gis/chos thams cad ni rang rig par gsal ba nyid bden pa gnyis med pa/byed pa pos ma byas pa dang/yong gis ‘od gsal ba/dbying ye shes gnyis su med pa ste/gsang ba ‘dus pa las/dngos po bsgom pa med pa’i dngos//bsgom par bya ba bsgom pa med//de ltar dngos po dngos med pas//bsgom pa dmigs su med pa’o//zhes gsungs pas”.
Lamp 60.3–60.6: “a ti yo ga lhag pa’i rnal ‘byor gyi lhun rdzogs de bzhin nyid ni//snang srid gyi chos so cog rang byung gi ye shes rnam par dag pa’i (60.3) klong du sel med par ye nas rang gsal ba la//rgyu dang ‘bras bu ril ma btsal bar lhun gyis rdzogs pa ni/bdag nyid chen po pas/de la g-yo rdul ming (60.4) yang med pas/rang rig pa ma bzhag ma g-yos ma bslad ma zhugs par lhan ne lhang nge ye gsal bar ci zhig bsgom/ci zhig dran par byar yod de med/(60.5) med pa’i don de nyid kho na yod/de dang du len pa su zhig ste/ye mi rtog pa chen po la/snang ba bkag pa yang med la/de la rtogs pa med de/mi rtog pa (60.6) nyid kyang bla dwags so//”.
Lamp 60.6–61.1: “de dag gi khyad par skas gyi gdang bu bzhin te/dper na skas gdang la mtho dman yod par dang ‘dra ste/mi rtog pa ‘di bzhi yang khyad par yod <ston tsen mah’a a ti/>//.” The same notion is repeated in the final colophon of the text in Lamp 500.4: “tsen ston mi dmigs nang pa’i mi rtog de bzhin nyid//lhun rdzogs mi rtog khyad par skas bzhin chud par bya’o//” Bold and italics are mine.
In his unpublished 1996 lecture, “Why Imagine Religion”, Smith offers a useful metaphor to understanding the function of Nupchen’s text by saying that “maps are structures of transformation, not structures of representation”. I believe this is a very useful image to apply to Nupchen’s classification, since it really operates as an intellectual map that it is not simply trying to reproduce the Buddhist reality of Nupchen’s time, but also to actively transform it.
(rnal ‘byor chen po)
(ston mun cig car ‘jug pa)
(tsen men rim gyis ‘jug pa)
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