Kagyu Gunchoe Winter Teachings 2023 • Day 1
14 January 2023
Before the first session of the 2023 Kagyu Gunchoe Winter Teachings began, His Eminence Kyabje Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi, and Khenchen Lodro Donyo Rinpoche made a mandala offering to His Holiness the Karmapa. Sweet dresil rice and tea were offered to all those present.
His Holiness offered his greetings and remarked that after a two-year wait due to the pandemic, we could now resume the Gunchoe. In addition, he explained that this year’s Gunchoe is especially memorable and fortunate for all, as Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche has given the oral transmission of Gampopa’s Collected Works from an unbroken lineage, passed directly through the Sixteenth Karmapa. He expressed deep thanks to Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche on behalf of himself and all of the teachers and students.
Starting today, he continued, we will be discussing and studying together the Thirty Verses or the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only. The Karmapa explained his reasoning for using the latter title.
The Sanskrit title Triṃśikāvijñaptikārikā, and the English title The Thirty Verses are clear and distinct. In Tibetan however, the title is similar to that of the grammar text the Thirty Verses, so there is a risk of confusing the two. In Chinese, the text is called the Wéi shí sānshí sòng, which includes the words “Mind Only” in the title, so it is apt to add these words to the Tibetan title, calling this text the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only.
Last year, the Karmapa continued, we began our teaching on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only. We discussed the importance of the Mind Only philosophy, the origins of this school, the history of its spread and propagation in India, China, Japan, and Tibet, the difference between the Shentong and Mind Only views, and the relation between the texts on epistemology and Mind Only.
Although there are only six days for the teachings this year, Karmapa is not suggesting that he abbreviate the topics covered. Mainly, he would like to begin discussing the topic of how the text has been commented on. He plans to continue the teaching on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only in Autumn if possible.
Before getting to the root verses of the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only, we must first discuss the following points:
- The origins of the root text of the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only
- How the commentaries on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only appeared
- The origins of the Treatise Proving the Mind Only and its commentaries
- The commentary to be used as the basis for this teaching
- An introduction to the topic of this year’s teaching and to the Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only
- A brief introduction to ancient translation methods
- An introduction to the master commentators Kuiji, Lingtai, and Shanzhu
How the Thirty Verses on the Mind Only was composed
His Holiness first spoke in general about how the text for the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only was written and how the commentaries on it came about.
The root text was written by Vasubandhu, the younger brother of Asanga. During his lifetime, Vasubandhu wrote many influential works; among them, the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only is the most profound, the most essential, the greatest, and also the last work that he wrote in his lifetime. In the Chinese translation, there are only six hundred syllables, while the Tibetan translation contains a little more than seven hundred syllables.
In regards to this, Karmapa explained the meaning of a Chinese quote from Kuiji’s A Commentary on the Difficult Points of the Proof of Mind Only. Kuiji described how in this work of only thirty short stanzas, Master Vasubandhu skillfully teaches the most profound and secret points of the Mahayana. Each word and syllable summarizes infinite topics and meanings. However, before Vasubandhu had time to write a commentary, he passed away. The thought of the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only is extensive and vast, so without a clear commentary, beginners or ordinary people have extreme difficulty in understanding the intent and profound meaning of the text. For this reason many later scholars in India explained the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only and wrote many commentaries.
The Commentaries on the Thirty Verses of Mind Only
According to one explanation, Karmapa stated, there were eighteen early authors in India who wrote commentaries on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only, followed by another sixteen authors later on, making a total of thirty-four authors. However, there are some who say that only twenty-eight authors wrote commentaries on this text.
Despite having so many commentaries, His Holiness explained, scholars were unable to teach the meaning of the text in its entirety. Later, there appeared ten great commentators who skillfully explained the meaning and intent of the text. These commentators, mentioned during last year’s teachings, were Bandhuśri, Citrabhāṇa, Guṇamati, Dharmapāla, Sthiramati, Śudhacandra, Jinaputra, Jñānacandra, Nanda, and Viśeṣamitra (also known as Jinamitra). Each of their commentaries was ten fascicles in length, amounting to around one hundred fascicles in total.
Dharmapāla’s Commentary on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only
Karmapa elaborated that among the ten great commentaries, most people regard Dharmapāla’s as the best. In his Commentary on the Difficult Points of the Proof of Mind Only, Kuiji gives a particular explanation of the manner in which Dharmapāla wrote his commentary on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only.
Karmapa explained, “After Dharmapāla and other acharyas had studied the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only, each wrote their own commentary. Among all the commentaries, each had its own extraordinary features, but the one that stood out and was an innovative teaching was the one written by Dharmapāla.”
At the age of twenty-nine, Dharmapāla felt renunciation for samsaric phenomena and sat under the Bodhi tree to practice dhyana meditation. Karmapa remarked that this probably meant that Dharmapāla went forth and became ordained. He meditated for three years and wrote his commentary on the Thirty Verses during breaks in his meditation practice.
Karmapa stated that in his writing, Kuiji elevates Dharmapāla and praises him greatly. In brief, Kuiji holds that, whether in terms of the style and composition, or in terms of the nature, his prajna, or any angle one looks at it from, such a commentary is difficult to come by. Each word of the commentary reverses clinging, and even half a stanza can resolve a dispute between different schools previously in conflict. His commentary is superior to those by a thousand scholars and is one of the hundred finest works there are.
However, His Holiness remarked that unfortunately Dharmapāla’s original Sanskrit manuscript has been lost. It is only because of Xuanzang’s Commentary on the Treatise Proving Mind Only that we are able to read about this treatise’s thought, since Xuanzang’s text is based on Dharmapāla’s commentary. Kuiji explained in his commentary how widely this commentary spread after Dharmapāla finished it and how Xuanzang came across it:
After Dharmapāla had finished his commentary, there was a Buddhist layperson named Xuán Jiàn who had extremely great faith as well as great knowledge and intelligence. Thus Dharmapāla entrusted him with the manuscript for the commentary. Not long before Dharmapāla passed away at a young age, he said, “After I have passed away, if anyone wants to read this, they have to pay two ounces of gold. But if it is a person with superior intelligence, give it to them freely.”
How Xuanzang Obtained Dharmapāla’s Commentary
Karmapa explained that this was exactly the period when Xuanzang was studying and on pilgrimage in India. He elaborated that if Xuanzang had not written about his travels, it would have been difficult for us to identify the different sacred sites in India. Returning to the question of how Xuanzang received Dharmapāla’s commentary, we can see that Kuiji recorded this in his Commentary on the Difficult Points of the Proof of Mind Only. The Karma paraphrased what Kuiji had written about Xuanzang.
Xuanzang’s innate intelligence was incomparable, and his prajna was superior. Thus, he could immediately distinguish between great beings and those who were not. If he knew someone was wise and learned, he would go to them in order to receive dharma teachings. Furthermore, there were no sacred sites in India that he did not visit, and no treatises that he had not read and recited. If an amazing dharma teaching was to be given in some location, he would immediately go with great enthusiasm to listen to the dharma. For such reasons, the layperson Xuan Jian thought to himself, “The person Dharmapāla had in mind when he mentioned a person with superior intelligence must definitely be Xuanzang.” He gave Xuanzang Dharmapāla’s commentary along with a commentary on Vasubandhu’s Five Aggregates (Skt. Pañcaskandhaka). As Xuanzang read them, he felt exactly the same as if he were seeing Dharmapāla in person and felt that he actually heard his words.
After Xuanzang received the commentary, he continued studying Mind Only with Acharya Śīlabhadra. “After Xuanzang returned to China, he took Dharmapāla’s commentary as the primary one and combined it with the commentaries of the other nine authors. This is how the Commentary on the Treatise Proving Mind Only came to be written,” explained Karmapa. Aside from the commentary by Sthiramati, available in both Sanskrit and Tibetan, the Sanskrit manuscripts of the other commentaries have all been lost.
Fortunately, Xuanzang’s commentary, which combines them all, is still extant. Karmapa remarked, “It is not an exaggeration to say this is a text from a time when the Mind Only in India was at its zenith. This is the most important, most complete, and most authoritative of the commentaries on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only that we currently have.”
The Origins of the Treatise Proving the Mind Only
As a result, Karmapa stated that the main basis for our teaching on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only is this Treatise Proving the Mind Only by Xuanzang.
What are the origins of this text? When was this translated from the Sanskrit? He explained that while Master Kuiji’s commentary does not clearly state the date of translation, we can determine from the Kaiyuan Catalog of Buddhist Works that the year was 659 CE.
This is clear in that catalog:
Proving Mind Only, ten fascicles. Refers to 内典录. Written by Bodhisattva Dharmapāla et al. In the latter tenth month of the fourth year of Zhongzong’s reign at Light of Cloud Temple at Yuhua Monastery. The scribe was Dacheng Ji.
Karmapa explained that the “et al” here indicates that the Treatise Proving the Mind Only is a compilation of ten different commentaries. The scribe’s name means ”Mahayana”, which is another name for Kuiji. When Master Kuiji mentioned his own name, he would use “Dacheng Ji” or simply “Ji”. The use of the name “Kuiji” became prevalent after the Song dynasty, remarked Karmapa.
In his Difficult Points of the Treatise Proving Mind Only, Kuiji wrote this about the compilation and translation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only. His Holiness summarised what was written.
In the fourth year of Zhongzong’s reign (659 CE), the great master Xuanzang began to compile and translate the Treatise Proving Mind Only. His initial plan was to translate all the commentaries by the ten authors into Chinese. He had four helpers: Shén Fǎng was to edit it for style, Jiā Shàng was the scribe, Pǔguāng was the proofreader, and Kuiji was to check the accuracy of the translation’s meaning. Among these four, Kuiji was the youngest, and the other three were senior scholars with a great deal of experience. For example, Shen Fang was the first scholar to participate in Xuanzang’s translation work. He was learned in all the scriptures and commentaries of the Mahayana and Foundation vehicles, so he was held in high esteem by all the students there at that time.
Jia Shang had been Xuanzang’s scribe three times, and Puguang had done so twenty-five times. For Xuanzang to choose Kuiji, the youngest, to participate in the compilation and translation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only showed his confidence and high regard for Kuiji. However, only a few days after Kuiji began work on this important translation project, he asked to resign. Xuanzang found this surprising. Only after asking him why several times, did he understand that Kuiji had a particular idea about Xuanzang’s plans for the translation.
Kuiji raised an objection to Xuanzang’s intention of translating all ten authors’ commentaries individually. Karmapa explained, “The reason is that there were many different assertions and positions among the ten authors’ explanations of the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only. He believed that unless all their interpretations were compiled into a single authoritative text, Chinese students would not have a clear focus. In addition, because human life is short and our capacities and intelligence are limited, it is difficult to master the interpretations of all of the authors. Thus it would be best if they could be compiled to establish an authoritative standard.”
After considering this for a long time, Xuanzang accepted Kuiji’s idea and persuaded Shenfang, Jiashang, and Puguang to withdraw from the translation project. Kuiji became his only assistant. And that was the origin of the Treatise Proving Mind Only.
Other commentaries on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only
His Holiness then brought up the next point: Is this Treatise Proving Mind Only the only extant commentary on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only in Chinese or are there others as well?
As he explained earlier, there were many commentaries on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only in ancient India, but it was very rare for them to be preserved; most have been lost. Thus, there are only a handful of extant commentaries on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only. The only remaining extant Chinese language commentary on the root text is:
A Commentary on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only in one fascicle by the Ming Dynasty master Zhìxù (Ji Wook)
Among the old Japanese texts that have now been translated into Chinese, there is a short commentary on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only written by Jōkei in the tenth century CE. There are two other outlines of the text by early Japanese masters, one by Hirose Shuichi and the other by Sakai Daien.
Among modern texts, there is a Teaching on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only by the Japanese scholar Genshin Inoue.
Karmapa then remarked that there are only a few commentaries on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only in Tibetan, and the ones he knows of by older masters include Differentiating the Main Points of the Thirty Verses by the fifteenth century Shakya Chokden, and an annotated commentary by Ju Mipham Rinpoche written in the nineteenth century.
The Reasons for using the Treatise Proving Mind Only as the Basis for Discussion
His Holiness continued by providing two reasons for having this text as the basis for the teachings.
The First Reason
When Vasubandhu wrote the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only, he established in simple verses a general presentation of the Mind Only philosophy, which is extremely complicated. The two main texts Vasubandhu wrote about the Mind Only are the Thirty Verses and the Twenty Verses, the latter being primarily a text that refutes other traditions, whereas the Thirty Verses presents his own position.
Generally speaking, Karmapa explained, after writing root verses it was customary to write commentaries on them. Although Vasubandhu wrote a commentary on his Twenty Verses, he did not have time to complete a commentary for the Thirty Verses before passing away.
During the two hundred years after Vasubandhu’s death, the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only was recognized as a main focus for study in Indian Buddhism, and, as mentioned earlier, many masters must have written commentaries on this text. Unfortunately, most of these are no longer extant. The only ones that we can read in Tibetan are the text by Sthiramati, and a sub commentary on it. In Chinese, there are no texts available other than the Treatise Proving Mind Only. As the text contains such complex ideas, it is difficult for us to understand the full meaning based on the root verses alone. The Treatise Proving Mind Only is different from the other commentaries in that it is very complete and authoritative, and thus quite indispensable for those wanting to study the meaning of the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only.
The Second Reason
The main aim of our Winter Teachings is to study the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only. The main purpose or aim of this study is to understand the entire philosophy and nature of the Mind Only school in a systematic fashion. However, Mind Only is a very large school. Karmapa explained, “If you think about it in terms of the Mahayana, we talk about the Middle Way and the Mind Only, the two largest philosophical schools. Within the Mind Only school, there are many profound assertions, so we might wonder, where should we begin our studies?”
In order to prepare a complete framework for the study of the Mind Only school, we would need to look for sources in the six sutras and eleven treatises. The eleven treatises are often referred to as the “one trunk and ten limbs.” Generally, there are many sutras and treatises related to Mind Only philosophy, but the most important for establishing the Mind Only view are the two foundational texts the Sutra Unraveling the Intent and the Yogacara Levels. His Holiness highlighted, “The Treatise Proving Mind Only teaches the entire framework of these two texts, so if we want to study Mind Only philosophy in a complete and systematic manner, there is no choice but to study Xuanzang’s translation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only. There is no other way to do it.”
Commentaries on the Treatise Proving Mind Only
The Treatise Proving Mind Only is a Sanskrit commentary that compiled all the best points of several authors. Karmapa explained that Tibetan scholars have commentaries in Tibetan to help them better understand the Sanskrit commentary. Similarly, Chinese commentaries were also required for this Sanskrit text.
Beginning from Kuiji in the Tang dynasty, many sub-commentaries were written on the Treatise Proving Mind Only. The most important among them is the Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only in ten fascicles by Kuiji. It became the basic textbook for study of the Mind Only in China; in Japan as well, it was highly regarded by many schools, including the School of Phenomenal Appearances. In China, however, the text was lost during the Yuan or Mongol dynasty. At the end of the Qing dynasty, the lay master Yang Wenhui (Yang Renshan) found a manuscript in Japan and brought it back to China once more.
In addition, Kuiji also wrote the Difficult Points of the Treatise Proving Mind Only. Later Huìzhǎo wrote the Lamp on the Definitive Meaning of the Treatise Proving Mind Only, and Zhìzhōu wrote The Secrets of the Treatise Proving Mind Only. These three are recognized as the source for the Chinese Mind Only school, and they are known collectively as the “Mind Only commentaries.”
A List of Commentaries Used in this Teaching
In summary, the main topic of this year’s teaching is the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only, and the main commentary being used is the Treatise Proving Mind Only. Another commentary Karmapa will consult is the Explanation of the Treatise Proving Mind Only, along with some main points taken from the three aforementioned commentaries. In addition, we will look at research in modern Chinese by scholars from the period of the Republic of China and the present day.
Karmapa further elaborated on the reasons for this arrangement:
- The root verses of the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only are vast in nature, yet, due to the extremely simple language used, it is difficult to study and gain an understanding of them from reading the verses alone. Thus there is no choice but to study according to a commentary.
- Internationally, the Treatise Proving Mind Only is the most complete, authoritative, and widely accepted of the commentaries on the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only, thus it is appropriate as the basis of the teachings.
- Since the Treatise Proving Mind Only is a compilation or compendium of all ten Indian commentators’ works, it is difficult to understand in terms of both the nature of the topic discussed and the words used to discuss them. Thus, His Holiness will refer to the other commentaries and supplement with commentaries in the vernacular. He added that the old commentaries are written in classical Chinese which requires a very high level proficiency in Chinese to understand, thus the need to refer to texts in modern Chinese.
Karmapa concluded the teaching with the above discussion of the methods and list of materials for our study of the Thirty Verses of the Mind Only.
He added that this year during the Gunchoe, we are conducting the Hayagriva deity practices. There will be a grand puja of the Hayagriva, which is one of the Five Sets of Five Deities of Dusum Khyenpa. Karmapa reflected on having performed this puja a few times in the Mahakala shrine room at Gyuto monastery with a small group, and that Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche was present at the first puja. The Gunchoe, on the other hand, would be the first time this many Sangha members have gathered for the puja.
Karmapa emphasized, “The Five Sets of Five Deities of Dusum Khyenpa are very important deities for us in the Karma Kamtsang. To be able to establish it again is actually very fortunate for us.”