A Teaching on Vasubandhu’s The Thirty Verses: Day 10
8 February 2022
Karmapa began by offering his greetings to the Sangha members in the Shedras, spiritual friends and teachers, tulkus and all of the lay and monastic people who were listening. He said, “To all of my dharma friends who are listening over the webcast, and especially to those who live in Tibet, all of our friends and relatives in Tibet: I hope that you are all doing well.”
This was the last day of the teachings on the Thirty Verses for the annual Kagyu Gunchoe Winter Teachings.
Previously, Karmapa had spoken about texts related to the Mind Only tradition and described the sutras and treatizes in a general way. He said that in Tibetan, we traditionally describe them as the “twenty dharmas related to Maitreya.”
He continued by showing us a table of these texts, adding that it would be easier to understand if we could see them listed. Among them are the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” as introduced in previous teachings: The Ornament of Clear Realization, The Ornament of the Sutras, Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes, Distinguishing Phenomena and Dharmata, and The Sublime Continuum. Generally, within the Kamtsang tradition during the time of the 10th Karmapa, there were people who gained the degree of Rabjampa merely from studying the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” and taking the examinations, as described by Karma Chagme. Within the twenty dharmas, there are three written by Asanga—Yogacāra Levels, the Compendium of Abhidharma, and the Compendium of Mahayana. Then, there are the eleven works of Vasubandhu. That is the way described in the Tibetan tradition.
In the Chinese tradition, the School of Phenomenal Appearances, one of several Chinese Mind Only schools, is the most well-known. Later on, this was the only one remaining; the other schools had all disappeared. Six sutras and eleven treatizes form the basis of the School of Phenomenal Appearances. They are:
1. Avataṃsaka Sutra
2. The Sutra Unraveling the Intent
3. The Sutra of the Array of the Tathāgata’s Qualities
4. The Sutra of Mahayana Abhidharma
5. The Sutra of the Travels to Lanka
6. The Ghaṇa-vyūha sūtra
1. The Yogacāra Levels
2. The Treatise Clarifying the Teachings
3. The Ornament of the Sutras
4. The Compendium of Validity
5. The Compendium of the Mahayana
6. The Commentary on the Ten Levels
7. The Exposition of Yoga
8. The Examination of Objects
9. The Twenty Verses
10. The Commentary on Differentiating the Middle from Extremes
11. The Compendium of Abhidharma
Karmapa mentioned that the Thirty Verses is not included here because it is the root text, and then introduced each of the sutras.
1. The Avataṃsaka Sutra (The Extremely Long Sutra Called the Buddhāvataṃsaka)
He said, “The time that this dates from is probably around the fourth century CE, when the first manuscripts appeared, as contemporary scholars see it. The Sutra of the Ten Levels possibly dates from the first or second century CE. This is the estimate of current researchers.” According to the Avataṃsaka Sutra itself, the Buddha taught this two weeks after he awoke to perfect enlightenment. However, current researchers estimate that the written form did not appear until somewhere around the fourth century CE. “Is there a Sanskrit manuscript? Probably there is not a complete manuscript,” Karmapa noted, “There are several Chinese translations.”
These Chinese translations include:
1. Translation by Buddhabhadra from the Eastern Jin dynasty, which is sixty fascicles long.
2. Translation by Master Śikṣānanda from the Tang dynasty, which is one hundred and ten fascicles long.
3. Translation by Tang Prajñā, which is forty fascicles long.
Lotsawa Yeshe De and others translated it into Tibetan. According to the Pangtangma catalog, that is one hundred and fifteen fascicles; however, Karmapa added that we currently have one that is one hundred and thirteen fascicles long.
Next, His Holiness taught on the content of the Avataṃsaka Sutra. He explained that the sutra describes how the Buddha, having entered the ocean seal samadhi, teaches the dharma that he had realized under the Bodhi tree.
It is one of the earlier Mahayana sutras, extremely profound in meaning; it differs from other sutras and became really well known. Among the three Chinese translations, the first is sixty fascicles and the second is one hundred and ten fascicles, so it is a very long text. When we look at the time of the translations, we can see that the chapters The Ten Levels and Entering the Dharma Expanse probably date from an earlier time. The Ten Levels was extracted and called the Sutra of the Ten Levels, and was translated earlier. Likewise, in terms of their content, they are different from the other chapters. The chapter The Ten Levels is particularly important for the Mind Only school. It was taken out and became the independent Sutra of the Ten Levels, but in actuality, it is but a chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sutra.
The Avataṃsaka Sutra is an extremely important sutra in Chinese Buddhism. Among the various schools in China, one of the most important schools was the Avataṃsaka School, the indispensable text of which was the Avataṃsaka Sutra. It was well known throughout China and was also influential for the Yogacara school in India. How was it influential?
Karmapa reminded us, “The reason is that the Buddha taught this sutra while in the ocean seal samadhi. He was teaching the yogic experience, and the thought of the entire sutra is close to the thought of the Mind Only.” Within the chapter of the Emanation in Suyāma’s Realm and the chapter of the Ten Levels, there are two citations extremely important for the Mind Only:
The mind is like an artist;
The mind makes the aggregates.
All these worlds that there are
In the universe are painted by mind.
Karmapa explained that a skilled artist can draw any type of drawing. Similarly, the universe that we see with mountains and houses and all the different emanations of the world are all made or emanated by our mind. For the Mind Only, this is an extremely important stanza.
Likewise, in the Sutra on the Ten Levels, there is an extremely important passage:
For these three realms are only mind. The tathagata described what the twelve links of becoming are. He said that they all dwell in a single mind.
Some translations begin differently: “Oh, Child of the Buddhas. The three worlds are only mind,” or “These three realms are only mind.” These passages teaching the Mind Only view are probably the earliest clear indications of the Mind Only among the different sutras.
“Another thing that deserves our attention,” Karmapa added, “is that just as it teaches awareness only, the Avataṃsaka also emphasizes the conduct of a bodhisattva.” The chapter on the Ten Levels describes at length the stages of a bodhisattva’s practice, and how their clear realization gradually becomes more profound. Likewise, the well-known chapter on Entering the Dharma Expanse describes how Kumāra Sudhana famously followed fifty three spiritual friends, which is discussed in various teachings. The bodhisattvas were considered very important, as they had infinite courage to seek out the true dharma. “In this way,” said Karmapa, “the Avataṃsaka Sutra really emphasizes the conduct of the bodhisattvas.”
2. The Sutra Unraveling the Intent
Researchers believe the written form probably appeared in the fourth century CE. No Sanskrit manuscripts have been found yet.
Karmapa explained, “When we talk about whether there is a Sanskrit manuscript or not, there is a difference between whether there is none at all, or if it hasn’t been found yet. In Tibet, during the time of the kings, Sanskrit manuscripts were collated and stored separately. Tibet probably has the most Sanskrit manuscripts in the world, but they were not publicized. So there is hope that more can be found. It is extremely important for researchers; it’s like a wish-fulfilling jewel to them.”
A mandala offering made to the Karmapa before the teachings started.
The words, terms, and style found in Sanskrit are much more helpful to researchers compared to those in other languages. Karmapa added that there are probably thousands of volumes of Sanskrit manuscripts, with a great opportunity to research Sanskrit texts in the future, but we need to be able to read and understand Sanskrit to do so. “Perhaps some of the more intelligent among those in the Shedras, or Khenpos who have finished their education and don’t have much work, could also study Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, or other languages,” he encouraged. “The aim for studying these should be to research the dharma. If you study the language with that aim, the effort you put into it will definitely be meaningful and fruitful.”
1. Translated by Bodhiruci from Northern Wei. Five fascicles.
2. Translated by Tang Xuanzang. Five fascicles.
3. Translated by Paramartha. One fascicle (partial translation).
4. Translated by Guṇabhadra of the Sung. Two fascicles (partial translation).
In the Tibetan canon, there is one where the translator’s name was not recorded. It is four fascicles long and contains ten chapters, counting the introduction and the text. There is no Sanskrit manuscript.
This sutra is the earliest and most well known text to teach the Mind Only philosophy. Though this text takes the form of a sutra, in terms of its content, it tends towards thoroughly analyzing the dharma; it has a strong abhidharma flavor. The biggest difference is that it is taught in a way that really distinguishes the different types of phenomena, so it is more like a treatize. Of the four Chinese translations, the School of Phenomenal Appearances primarily uses the translation by Xuanzang.
Next, Karmapa explained the two primary points that are very important to the Mind Only school.
1. The chapter on Vast Intelligence teaches how there is a mind that is far more subtle than the six preceding consciousnesses. The name given for that is called the “mind of all seeds”. Other names for it are the “grasping consciousness”, the “ground consciousness”, or the “mind”.
2. It very clearly explains the consciousness only view through the experience of samadhi.
“When you say that there is mind only, that all phenomena are mind, it is not just something that is proven logically, but something that you can experience with samadhi to realize that all phenomena are mind only,” Karmapa stressed. This is explained from the Maitreya Chapter, in which Maitreya asks the Buddha: “Bhagavan, what is the image that is the image of the samadhi that views? Is it separated from mind or not separated?”
Karmapa elaborated, “When you are meditating on samadhi and resting in samadhi, there is the image that you see, the image of external things. External things appear, right? Is that appearance separate from the mind in essence, or is it the same as the mind in essence? Is it different, or the same in essence?”
The Buddha then replied, “Maitreya, it is not separate in essence from the mind. Why is it not separate? That image is merely awareness. Maitreya, I have explained that consciousness is distinguished by mere awareness of the focus. It is not something other than mind that is separate from it; it is a cognitive image in the mind itself.” Thus, the object experienced by samadhi is known to be awareness only, because of the experience of samadhi itself.
Likewise, the Sutra of Unraveling the Intent contains the discussion of the characteristics, the three essences, and the three lacks of nature, so it explains and emphasizes these as well. Similarly, as mentioned earlier, it talks about how to differentiate the definitive and expedient meaning in the three wheels of dharma.
Regarding the views of the ground consciousness, three characteristics, and three lacks of nature, each of these views have their own individual sources. Where did the ground consciousness come from? What is the origin of the three characteristics? What is the origin of the three lacks of nature? Each presentation has its own sources. However, Karmapa noted that what was taught in fragments in other sutras is gathered and taught together within the Sutra of Unraveling the Intent. The sutra teaches that there is the ground consciousness, three characteristics, and three lacks of nature, but does not clearly explain them, nor discuss their relations or the boundaries between them. In addition, in this sutra, the term “grasping consciousness” used for the eighth consciousness is considered more important and used more frequently than the term “ground consciousness”.
He explained that because the three characteristics are mentioned, but the relations between them are not clearly taught, Unraveling the Intent must have been one of the early Mind Only sutras. The presentation and the relations between these features became increasingly clear, thus this sutra is estimated to have appeared earlier.
Likewise, one characteristic of this sutra is the strong influence of the Prajnaparamita sutras. How we know this is that within this sutra, the chapter of Characteristics of the Ultimate Truth determines the ultimate truth by way of five points. In the chapter of the Characteristics of No Characteristics, it explains the meaning of the lack of nature (niḥsvabhāva) taught in the Prajnaparamita sutras by way of the teaching on the three characteristics. This illustrates how the meaning of the lack of nature is taught in the third wheel of dharma. In the chapter The Characteristics of All Phenomena, the three characteristics are also taught. In essence, the Mind Only scholars say the primary meaning of the Unraveling the Intent is very similar to the Prajnaparamita sutras, so it shows that these sutras exerted a great influence on it.
After the intermission, Karmapa continued by introducing the third of the six sutras.
3. The Sutra of the Array of the Tathāgata’s Qualities
Neither the Sanskrit name nor when it appeared is known. There is no Sanskrit manuscript, and no translation into either Chinese or Tibetan. We only know the existence of this sutra because a few quotations from it are in the Treatise Proving Awareness Only translated by Xuanzang. Judging by its title, it seems it could be related to the chapter on the Origin of the Tathāgata or Teaching the Ocean of Names of the Tathāgata’s Kayas in Tibetan, in the Avataṃsaka Sutra. However, there is no way to say this definitively.
4. The Sutra of Mahayana Abhidharma
“We don’t know its Sanskrit name or its origins. There is no Sanskrit manuscript for this sutra, nor are there any Chinese or Tibetan translations. Thus there is no way to know what its contents were,” said Karmapa. “However, when we see the fragments that are cited in many other Indian treatizes, we can understand that this is actually an extremely important sutra.” This sutra must have predated and was well-known before Asanga, and some scholars say that this sutra served as the basis for Asanga’s composition of the Compendium of the Mahayana. Since we cannot read the sutra itself, we have just a few passages that are cited in other treatizes. Nothing else of the sutra remains, so it is difficult to determine its entire thought.
Twelve different passages from this sutra are quoted in the Indian treatizes. In terms of the number of citations, the first of the three most well-known quotes reads:
The expanse of beginningless time
Is the basis of all phenomena.
Because it exists, all transmigrations
And nirvana can be achieved.
This is a very important stanza, cited in many Indian texts, including those within the Tibetan canon. It is not only important for the Mind Only, it is also important for the Buddha Nature school.
The second stanza teaches the ground consciousness:
The consciousness with all the seeds
Of all phenomena is the all-ground.
Thus I have taught to the noble beings
The all-ground consciousness.
The third quotation reads:
All phenomena are linked
To consciousnesses, and they to it.
The things that are mutually cause and result
Are always linked to each other.
When we look at these three stanzas, even though the interdependence of the ground consciousness is not clearly taught in the Sutra Unraveling the Intent, it is explicitly taught in this sutra. In particular from this last stanza, “The things that are mutually cause and result are always linked to each other.” This teaches about the relation of interdependence within the ground consciousness very clearly.
“As mentioned previously, the first of the three stanzas is also considered important in the Sublime Continuum and the Buddha Nature school. That’s something we all need to understand,” emphasized Karmapa.
5. The Sutra of the Travels to Lanka
This sutra is estimated to be from around the fifth or sixth century CE. There is a Sanskrit manuscript.
Chinese translations are as follows:
1. Translator: Dharmakṣema of Northern Wei.
Length: Ten fascicles.
2. Translator: Śikṣānanda of the Tang dynasty.
Length: Seven fascicles.
3. Translator: Guṇabhadra of the Sung dynasty.
Length: Four fascicles.
We have two different versions of the Tibetan translations:
1. Title: Travels to Lanka Sutra
Translator: Unclear; said to be translated from Sanskrit or Chinese
Length: Eleven fascicles
2. Title: The Essence of the Teachings of All Buddhas from the Precious Travels to Lanka Sutra
Translator: Gö Chödrup.
Length: Eight fascicles
The Lanka of Travels to Lanka refers to present-day Sri Lanka. Some claim it refers to the island of Sri Lanka, while others believe it is the name of a city there. Travels to Lanka means that it is a sutra taught when the Buddha traveled to Sri Lanka.
This sutra primarily teaches the thought of the Mind Only. Karmapa explained, “It is like a work that compiles all earlier Mind Only philosophy into one. But when you look at the sutra, there is no formal order or structured presentation. Everything is just said in the order it comes.” He went on to discuss the distinctive features of this sutra.
The primary topic of this sutra is the five dharmas, three characteristics, eight consciousnesses, and two types of selflessness. In particular what it talks about is the assertions of the eighth consciousness, the ground consciousness, and buddha nature clearly being the same. It teaches that the ground consciousness is the buddha nature.
Likewise, the sutra teaches that:
No external entities exist
The way that fools imagine.
The mind disturbed by imprints arises,
Appearing as entities.
This is quoted frequently in many Sanskrit treatizes. Karmapa said, “The way it says that all phenomena are appearances is a little different, but it says that the external appearances arise from the power of the imprints, and in this way, they are mere awareness. This is the way that it explains that everything is awareness only.”
Since appearances are no more than mere appearances to mind, then it is very important to abandon our attachment to external objects. This sutra emphasizes how to abandon that attachment. Karmapa stressed, “Instead of teaching about the view, it primarily talks about practice—how to eliminate attachment. So it is speaking more about the methods of practice and meditation.” Likewise, the philosophical basis for this Sutra was in fact influenced by the Middle Way.
Another feature is that the sutra speaks about the eight types of consciousness extremely clearly, which is very rare. Some sutras talk about them separately; they do not present them in a single way and explain them so clearly.
In brief, this sutra clearly teaches the Awareness Only view, but it can be seen not to have much of a structure for its content. If we look at the Sanskrit manuscripts, the syntax and the style are very different than others. For many other reasons, the people who compiled the sutra together seemed like they added a little about the Mind Only, and a little from the Middle Way.
The Sanskrit manuscript for this sutra, when examined, doesn’t seem to have appeared at a single time, but the basis for it appeared somewhere around the third century CE. There were many later additions, and it seems to have come to its present form in around the fourth century. Another point is that there are no quotations from the Sutra of the Travels to Lanka in the works of Vasubandhu, so this sutra probably appeared after Vasubandhu. However, one of the current assertions is that Vasubandhu lived in the fifth century, so if that is the case, then there is support for the idea that this sutra predates him. At any rate, there are no citations of this sutra in the works of Vasubandhu.
6. The Ghaṇa-vyūha sūtra
This sutra appeared in approximately the fifth century. There is no extant Sanskrit manuscript, but there are two translations into Chinese by Divākara and Amoghavajra. There is also a Tibetan translation in four fascicles, but the translator is not mentioned, so it seems that a bit of it is missing. Whether parts of the original manuscript were lost or missing is not clear.
The School of Phenomenal Appearances held that this was an important sutra for the Mind Only view. “Later on, when modern researchers examined this, it was evident that it was not only considered important by them,” said Karmapa. “We have a commentary in Tibetan on the Yogacara Levels. It was translated into Tibetan from Sanskrit, and it gives citations from the Ghaṇa-vyūha sūtra, so we can see that even before in India, this sutra was considered very important. However, there has been little research into this sutra, so we can hope that future research will produce new results and conclusions.”
He then explained that the content of the sutra teaches the ground consciousness. Ghaṇa-vyūha is the name of a buddha realm, so the ground consciousness is this pure realm. It also teaches the five dharmas, three characteristics, and so forth, to show that they all are ground consciousness and that it is the basis of samsara and nirvana.
“Generally when we talk about the School of Phenomenal Appearances in China,” explained Karmapa, “We talk about the supporting treatizes and sutras. Among the six sutras, the Sutra of Unraveling the Intent is the most important. Of the eleven treatizes, the most important of them is the Yogacāra Levels.”
In Chinese, there is the treatize Proving the Mind Only, written by Dhammapala and translated by Xuanzang. Before we study this text, we have to begin by studying Vasubandhu’s One Hundred Gates to the Dharma. When we speak about this in terms of the Treasury of Abdhidharma, we speak of seventy five different types of dharmas, but in the Mind Only or Mahayana, we talk about the hundred different types of dharmas. So, this is an initial stage of the study of the Mind Only. Another primary introductory text for the School of Phenomenal Appearances is a text by Xuanzang called Delineating the Eight Consciousnesses. Karmapa mentioned that he has translated this text into Tibetan, but he is not entirely satisfied with the translation and hopes to share it with us in the future. These are the two introductory texts.
Having completed his introduction of the six sutras, His Holiness began teaching about several of the treatizes.
In the Chinese tradition, it is said to be written by Maitreya, while in the Tibetan tradition, the author is believed to be Asanga. However, said Karmapa, some Tibetan scholars say that it was taught by Maitreya and Asanga took notes.
The Chinese translation is called The Treatise Called the Yogacāra Levels, and was translated by Tang Xuanzang. It is one hundred fascicles long, a very large, very complete translation. There are many other translations of the sections, but the complete one was by Xuanzang. In Tibetan, it was translated by Yeshe De during the ancient translation period, and is one hundred and thirty fascicles in length.
Karmapa pointed out that another distinctive feature of the treatize is that it teaches the stages of practices that the Yogacāra meditated upon. It teaches seventeen different stages of the experience that they have, the stages of their paths and levels. Likewise, the Yogacāra Levels is the earliest organized and structured text that teaches the Mind Only philosophy. “As this text has one hundred fascicles,” he explained, “It is an extremely long text. From ancient times, this treatize has been called the ‘long commentary on all the sutras’. Thus it condenses the essence of the thought of many sutras that had appeared earlier and compiles them all in one, and so for that reason it is like a compendium of all Buddhist knowledge. It contains the teachings of the Foundational and Greater vehicles, the teachings for the Sravakas, and the bodhisattvas. So basically it’s a buddhist encyclopedia.”
Regarding the connections between this text and Mind Only philosophy, fascicles seventy five to seventy eight quote the entire Sutra Unraveling the Intent except for the introduction. Karmapa pointed out that it is obvious how much of an influence that sutra must have had on it.
Similarly, when we think about the Yogacāra Levels, the most important sections are the main part of the levels and the Compendium of Ascertainments. If we compare these two, the main part does not really give a structured presentation of the philosophy of the all-ground, and does not use the terms the “three characteristics” and “three lacks of nature”. In the Compendium of Ascertainments, there is a fairly structured presentation of the ground consciousness. Karmapa explained, “It teaches in terms of eight reasons for the existence of the all-ground, and it also talks about the eight reasons of the way appearances arise from the all-ground, and in the end how they disappear into the ground consciousness. It talks about the nature and functions of the ground consciousness, and examines them in detail.” The presentation of the all-ground consciousness was very clear in the Yogacāra Levels.
Likewise, it had a very strong influence on later masters. Another thing we need to pay attention to is that although the three characteristics and three lacks of nature are taught in the Sutra Unraveling the Intent, there was not much development in this area until later on.
The Ornament of Mahayana Sutras
The verses were by Maitreya, and the prose was by Vasubandhu. In the Chinese tradition, both are considered to be of equal importance. There is a Sanskrit title.
The Chinese translation is from approximately the fifth century CE. It is thirteen fascicles long, and was translated by Prabhākaramitra. In Tibetan, both verses and prose are in three fascicles, and were translated by Paltsik.
Karmapa explained that the word “ornament” in the title is alaṃkāra in Sanskrit, and refers to a style of poetic composition, a type of verse. A distinguishing feature is that it explains Mahayana thought through the poetic style of the alaṃkāra. The words also follow the poetic structure, so it is something you would understand only by looking at the Sanskrit manuscript. “Translating poetry from another language is extremely difficult,” he explained. “If you can translate fifty percent that is fine. But to get the feeling and the poetry of it into another language is very difficult, because the way that the language works is completely different. You have got really beautiful poetry in Chinese, and if you translate it into Tibetan, it’s like there’s no point to it. If you make it into something poetic in Tibetan, then it is a different matter. But translating the poetry into another language is just something you can’t do! Likewise, it is taught through various analogies, so it gives a particular feeling. This is a really distinctive feature of this text.”
As he mentioned previously, only by putting the verse and the prose together can we get the complete meaning of this treatize. In China, it is said that the verses are attributed to Asanga and the prose to Vasubandhu. There are differing positions on this. Within the eight hundred stanzas of prose, there are twenty one different sections, and there are different ways to divide it into sections.
Karmapa went on to point out that the basic framework of the text is the same as the Bodhisattva Levels from the Yogacāra Levels. It is written based on the Bodhisattva Levels, but with great development and improvement in terms of the view. One representative example is the many new terms and presentations such as “apprehended object” and “apprehending mind”, “incorrect conceptualization”, appearances, and nonappearance. Because of this, it is giving a new explanation of the concept that there is no external object and all phenomena are merely mind, rather than mere awareness.
Within the Ornament of the Sutras, the ground and three characteristics are not given a particularly structured explanation. Karmapa said that according to the Tibetan view, we can deduce it is the earliest among the five works of Maitreya. This is because the later works give structured explanations of the ground consciousness and the three characteristics.
In Tibetan, there are commentaries by Asvabhāva and Sthiramati. The commentary by Asvabhāva is a summary. In comparison, Sthiramati’s commentary is more detailed and useful for research.
Differentiating the Middle from Extremes
Of the two Chinese translations, the two-fascicle version is translated by Chen Zhen Di. Xuanzang’s translation is three fascicles in length.
There are two Tibetan translations, the first of which is the seventy verse translation by Yeshe De and others. The other is a translation that is two fascicles long by Vasubandhu, Yeshe De and others.
As with the Ornament of Sutras, the verses are attributed to Maitreya and the prose to Vasubandhu. The verses appear in both the Tibetan translation and the translation by Xuanzang.
This work has five sections and has probably one hundred and ten stanzas. There is still a Sanskrit manuscript for this text, compiled by the Japanese scholar, and it is very beneficial for research. The title itself talks about differentiating the middle from the extremes, with the word “middle” meaning the center, and “extremes” meaning falling into a bias. It primarily teaches the middle way that discards the extremes of existence and nonexistence, or the topic of emptiness. Thus one of its particular features is that it teaches the meaning of the Middle Way in terms of Mind Only philosophy. From the very beginning of the text:
There is incorrect conceptualization.
The two (apprehender and apprehended) do not exist in (because of) that.
Emptiness (only) exists in this (the middle);
In that (expanse of emptiness) as well, there is this (conceptualization).
Karmapa explained that this is saying there is incorrect conceptualization, and because of that, there are the apprehender and the apprehended. Within the “expanse of emptiness” means there is emptiness and not emptiness as well; the meaning of neither being empty nor not empty is, that since there is both emptiness and conceptualization, it is not a complete blank void. Because neither the apprehended object nor the apprehending mind exists in actuality; it is also not empty. This explanation of the Middle Way is a little different compared to how it is described in the Middle Way school.
“The framework of Differentiating the Middle from Extremes is primarily about incorrect conceptualization like the apprehended object and apprehending mind, but it has a more organized nature than the Ornament of the Sutras,” Karmapa explained, “so we can infer that it must have been later than the Ornament of the Sutras.” He added that unlike the Ornament of the Sutras, this work takes the form of a commentary; it is easier to understand. The way it explains things is simpler and gives more detailed explanations. Furthermore, another feature is that the view is presented in a structured form.
The Compendium of Abhidharma
This was written by Asanga, and although there is no complete Sanskrit manuscript of this text, there are many passages quoted in other texts. Karmapa mentioned that if we combine all the passages, we can reconstruct around forty percent of the text.
In Chinese, there is a seven-fascicle translation by Xuanzang, and there is a Tibetan translation by Yeshe De in five fascicles. Karmapa pointed out that in the Xuanzang translation, “Mahayana” is added to the title, while the Tibetan just says The Compendium of Abhidharma. “We can infer that this word was added by Xuangzang himself to differentiate it from Foundation vehicle abhidharma,” he said.
This text has five sections, and Xuanzang divides the first section further into different sections, making a total of eight sections. In the earlier abhidharma, there are many different summaries and terminology, and it is explained in a way that accords with the positions of the Yogacāra school.
There are two commentaries on this text; one is called the Explication of the Compendium of Abhidharma, and the other the Commentary on the Compendium of Abhidharma. Both are composed by Jinamitra and translated by Yeshe De. In Chinese, there are two commentaries compiled by Sthiramati and translated by Xuanzang.
The Compendium of the Mahayana
Karmapa began by mentioning that this is a very important text, authored by Asanga, but there is no Sanskrit manuscript.
There are three different Chinese translations, and the Tibetan translation, which is in four fascicles, is translated by Yeshe De.
He pointed out that it is different from the other texts by Asanga; not only is it related to the Mind Only, it is also considered a very important Mind Only text. He said, “One reason it is so important is that, the Compendium school developed in China because of Paramartha’s translation of this text. So this gives us an idea of how much influence the text has.”
Tibetan scholars, including Butön Rinpoche, said that the Compendium of Abhidharma compiles the essence of all foundations, while this treatize compiles particularly the meaning of the Mahayana. This is why these two texts are called the two summaries.
“If we think about the origins of this, because this text explains all the stages and levels very clearly, it is probably a very early Mind Only text,” said Karmapa. “At the beginning of the text, it says that the Mahayana is the words of the Buddha, and describes the aspects of Mahayana practice.”
He continued by stating that the text is organized around many sections, including the all-ground consciousness and the three characteristics. Among them, the first two sections are about the basis for knowledge of the Mahayana practice. The third to the eighth explain the conduct of Mahayana practice. The ninth and tenth describe the fruition, the result of the Mahayana practice. The ten sections summarize the Mahayana in a complete and organized way. In particular, it speaks extremely clearly about the relationship between the all-ground and the three characteristics, which is not as evident in dharmas of Maitreya such as the Ornament of the Sutras and Differentiating the Middle from Extremes. It is, for this reason, an important text.
In brief, the distinguishing feature of this text is that it compiles the Mind Only views taught in earlier sutras and treatizes and compiles them in an organized way. In particular, it clearly identifies three characteristics of the ground consciousness—its specific, causal, and resultant characteristics. The presentation of the seeds and imprints finds a really strong foundation in this text. “To sum it up,” said Karmapa, “this work not only clearly identifies the characteristics of the ground consciousness, it also takes the interdependence of the ground consciousness and how the imprints occur, how the other consciousnesses put imprints in the ground consciousness, so it talks about the interdependence of the ground consciousness, and uses that to prove the essence of the Mind Only philosophy that all phenomena are mind only.” This is the distinguishing feature of the Compendium of the Mahayana, and it is the most important text written by Asanga.
There is a commentary on this text by Vasubandhu that was translated into Tibetan, and one by Asvabhāva that was translated by Yeshe De. There are three translations of Vasubandhu’s commentary, which were by Paramārtha, Gupta of the Sui dynasty, and Xuanzang. In addition, the commentary by Asvabhāva was also translated by Xuanzang. Therefore, both commentaries are in both Chinese and Tibetan. There is another commentary that was translated into Tibetan with the translator not clearly identified, but it only speaks of about half of the first section, and does not speak about the part on the ground consciousness.
The Treatise Clarifying the Teachings
The Karmapa explained that this text is said by some to be composed by Vasubandhu, while others claim that Asanga wrote it. There is no Sanskrit manuscript, but there is Xuanzang’s translation in Chinese. It was not translated into Tibetan. “The main point is that it extracts points from the Yogacāra Levels, and it explains them clearly,” he said. “This is important for understanding the connections between the Yogacāra Levels and Asanga.”
The Thirty Verses
Chinese translation: Tang Xuanzang
Tibetan translation: Lotsawa Yeshe De
The Thirty Verses is a late work of Vasubandhu’s. “After he finished writing this work, he did not live long enough to write a commentary on it. When we look at this,” said Karmapa, “it is like the final result of Vasubandhu’s lifetime work of investigating philosophy and the most complete presentation of his philosophy.”
Both the Twenty Verses and the Thirty Verses were written by Vasubandhu, but the Chinese include the words “Mind Only” in both titles, which are missing in Tibetan. He mentioned, “I think it would be good if they were there, or else it could be confused for the grammar text which is also called the Thirty Verses. There is a danger that we will confuse the two texts.”
The Twenty Verses was written primarily to refute and disprove the assertions of non-Buddhist orthodox Hindu schools and Buddhist realist schools that there are objects other than mind. It dispelled doubts and questions about the position of awareness only.
“In the Thirty Verses, all the natures and presentations related to Mind Only are taught in an ordered and organized fashion,” said Karmapa. “It gives a structure to the thought that proves the position of awareness only. It is a very clear presentation.” Although it is only thirty stanzas long, the meaning is complete. The text teaches the essence, the forms, the result, the aspect, and the path. It formulates all the stages of Mind Only in a very structured and ordered fashion. For that reason, Indian scholars of that time, later scholars, and modern researchers have made the Thirty Verses an indispensable text for investigation of Mind Only.
Of the three main sections in the Thirty Verses, the first (stanzas one to twenty-four) primarily explains the form of the Mind Only. The second (the twenty-fifth stanza) explains its nature, and the third (stanzas twenty-six to thirty) primarily explains its result.
The first main section also has different parts. The first part or subsection talks about the features, functions, and the essence of the three types of change: eight consciousnesses, the afflicted mind, and the six consciousness. It talks about their features and their functions very clearly. The second subsection refutes the main doubts about the Mind Only position. “When we say that all phenomena are mind, doubts and questions come up,” Karmapa explained. “This dispels them.” The third subsection discusses the relation between the three natures and the three lacks of nature.
The second main section, teaching the nature of Mind Only, determines and summarizes the idea that all phenomena are mind only. In emphasizing that they are all Mind Only, it teaches that there are no external objects, and nothing transcends mind.
The third main section teaches the result of the Mind Only. Once one develops the correct Mind Only view, based on that, one progresses through the five paths and ten levels to reach buddhahood.
In brief, Karmapa said, the Thirty Verses is the pinnacle of Vasubandhu’s works. Next, he spoke of a few reasons why this work is extremely important:
1. It explains in detail what the relations are among the eight consciousnesses. Prior to the Thirty Verses, it was not clearly taught what the function of the seventh consciousness, the afflicted mind, or its nature is. There are different positions in different texts, but there was no consensus. Some texts even identify the afflicted mind as a conceptual isolate of the eighth consciousness, while others explain the afflicted mind as an independent consciousness. From the appearance of the Thirty Verses on, there was a consensus; it describes how the afflicted mind is an independent consciousness, separate from the ground consciousness. It explains the reasons for this clearly, and therefore the earlier situation where there was no consensus was rectified.
2. It unifies the three types of change as a single essence. The beginning of the text talks about how consciousness changes and how it works. There were many different and contradictory opinions on the changes of consciousness before the Thirty Verses appeared. Some traditions, from the earlier period of the Schools, continued to hold the view of a single continuum of subtle consciousness, and because of this, all phenomena could arise. There are other traditions that seemed to accept the presentation of the three types of change, but in a way that was not entirely clear.
Karmapa emphasized that in the Thirty Verses, the essence of the three types of change is clearly identified. “In the earlier position that the changes were of one consciousness, there is a danger of it becoming an assertion of an independent autonomous mind that is like the creator of everything, like a soul or a self,” he said. By clarifying this, Vasubandhu created a presentation of interdependence of the ground consciousness; instead of a single autonomous ground consciousness that does everything, there are different consciousnesses with different functions.
3. It explains in great detail what the relation is between the dependent and the imaginary natures. In the Thirty Verses, it is taught that without stopping the grasping of the imaginary, yogis are unable to realize the actual meaning of the dependent. It also makes distinctions between the apprehending part and the apprehended part, exhibiting the understanding of the True Image Mind Only school.
“Thus it would be reasonable to say the Thirty Verses was like the field where the sprouts of the True Image and False Image schools could grow,” Karmapa said. “Later Mind Only scholars primarily wrote many commentaries about the Thirty Verses, and there were differences in how they understood its thought, and thus the True Image and False Image schools formed.”
Vasubandhu did not have enough time in his life to write a commentary on the Thirty Verses, but ten masters composed of his students and their students wrote commentaries on it. After the appearance of the Thirty Verses, it immediately became the root text of the Mind Only school. “The reason is,” Karmapa explained, “Vasubandhu really investigated the meaning of the Mind Only, thought and pondered on it. He studied it through listening, contemplating, and meditation. He did a lot of practice on the idea of Mind Only, and this is the result of that.” After he wrote it, he did not live very long before he passed into nirvana.
Karmapa emphasized that everything Vasubandhu knew was included in the Thirty Verses, making this a root text of the Mind Only school. “Everyone recognized this, so if you wanted to consider yourself as a scholar of the Mind Only school, then there was no choice but to write a commentary on this, to show you were learned in the school,” he said.
The two most exemplary commentaries are by Sthiramati and Dharmapāla. The main difference comes down to how they explained the presentations of the Thirty Verses. Karmapa then gave some examples:
1. The assertion of a single part:
Sthiramati asserts that cognition has a knowing apprehending part that knows an object, and a known apprehended part. The apprehender is like the knowing mind, and there is the known aspect of the object. So when you have an eye consciousness apprehending blue, the cognitive blue is the apprehended aspect. And then you have the apprehending, the part of the apprehending mind, that is apprehending the image. This is just a result of the imprints of thought from beginningless time, but ultimately, the apprehending and apprehended parts do not exist in actuality. The appearance is confused; the mind that sees it is also confused, because they can’t exist without each other. The merely clear knowing mind, in terms of the self-isolate, actually exists. This is the assertion of a single part. This asserts that the self-isolate is the dependent nature and the parts of the apprehended and apprehender are imaginary.
2. The assertion of two parts:
Guṇamati and Nanda assert that if we have a single consciousness, for example if a consciousness apprehending blue appears, there is the apprehending aspect that apprehends the cognitive image of blue, which is the apprehended part. They arise together and simultaneously, otherwise, there could not be a knowledge or awareness of blue; if they do not arise together, then we have to say that consciousness does not know an object. Therefore, both the apprehending part and the apprehended part have to be dependent. This is what we call the assertion of two parts, explained Karmapa.
3. The assertion of three parts:
Dignāga’s position is that of the two parts asserted above, the apprehending part is divided into two parts: a part looking outward at a focus, and a part turning inward and knowing itself. The part that is looking outside is the sensory awareness of blue, and the part that is looking inside is the self-awareness of the apprehension of blue. This is a presentation of self-awareness, dividing the apprehending part into two, one directed outward looking out at the apprehension of blue, and the self-awareness that is looking inside.
4. The assertion of four parts:
Dharmapāla held that in addition to the three parts, there is an additional fourth part that is an awareness of self-awareness. Here the apprehending aspect is the valid means, and the result of that is the awareness of the blue, and you have to have a self-awareness of the result. Who knows there is that awareness? You have to present that there is an awareness of the self-awareness, otherwise you cannot prove there is any self-awareness that is aware of the awareness of blue.
The apprehended part being knowable is proven based on the apprehending part, and the apprehending part being knowable is based on self-awareness. Similarly, self-awareness being knowable also must be proven by awareness of self-awareness. Self-awareness again looks inward and proves the existence of awareness of self-awareness. A fifth part is not necessary, or else it would be an infinite regress.
What this comes down to, pointed out Karmapa, is that in the Thirty Verses, Vasubandhu divides the apprehender and the apprehended into two different parts, defining the apprehending part and the cognitive image in two parts. When you have a sensory consciousness of blue, there is the question of whether the cognitive image is true or not. Is it a nonconcurrent formation? Is it consciousness? It is very complicated. “There is no blue itself, but we have the cognitive image of blue that appears to mind; when we say ‘blue’ in society, there is just that cognitive image of blue, but there is no actual blue that is an external object. If the cognitive image is blue, and it is also mind, then it is also confusing. For example, is the cognitive image of a vase a vase? If it is, then there would be a common locus between cognition and vases,” he explained.
This concluded the Gunchoe teaching on Mind Only.
Karmapa added that he would speak about the philosophy next year, after he had done extensive studies, particularly on the texts that are in Chinese. He expressed his hope to translate Xuanzang’s translation into Tibetan. He had already done a rough translation, but it needed to be edited further. He concluded by saying the teachings on the Thirty Verses would continue next year.
After the dedication prayers, Karmapa gave a brief recitation of the mandala offering while various monasteries made their offerings. Afterward, Khenpo Thubten of Zurmang Monastery offered a few words of praise and appreciation.
The Gyalwang Karmapa thanked the Khenpo for his speech, and Zurmang monastery and Gharwang Rinpoche for organising the Gunchoe. He also thanked the Shedra students for attending the teachings and taking part in debate sessions. He then gave details of the upcoming Special Kagyu Monlam , Karma Pakshi Lhadrup, and Thousandfold Offering to Devi Marichi.
“As I said before, I have done everything I could to study, and spent this year studying, and so next year I can teach the actual Thirty Verses, so it will be as good and as correct and as proper as it should be. I think, if I can go through five or ten stanzas a year, it will take up to five years, but that won’t be a problem if, at the end, it is really complete and in depth,” he said. He then emphasized that once we understand why the text is important, it will not be so difficult for us to study it. “Like when we were little, we did know what we were doing. If you do not know the reasons why you should study, what the purpose of it is; if you don’t know the history and you just look at a text and just study it, then it will be difficult. But once you do want to study, then it is easy. So that is how it is. Thank you, thank you very much.”
The last day of the Kagyu Gunchoe Winter Teachings on the Thirty Verses concluded with a recitation of The Aspiration of Mahamudra.