The Mar Ngok Summer Teachings 2021
7 September 2021
The Karmapa continued his discourse on the burgeoning of Indian thought during the Age of Philosophy. Previously he had described the views of the six Darshana, the orthodox Hindu philosophical schools. He now moved on to consider the sixty-two philosophical views which are known from Buddhist texts.
He explained that religious practitioners at that time could be characterised as Brahmans who followed traditional Vedic views and practices, or spiritual practitioners known as śramaṇas who were non-orthodox renunciates, ascetics, and yogis. In Tibetan, the name means “someone who is making an effort, someone in training”, and it was translated as “training in virtue”. Their practice differed from that taught in the Upanishads. The śramaṇas would leave home to lead an itinerant lifestyle, as forest dwellers, dependent on alms. Their aim was to lead a meaningful human life and achieve the state of liberation by practising yoga or severe asceticism. The Karmapa explained that their existence was made possible by two factors—the flourishing culture of questioning about ultimate meaning at that time, which engendered new philosophies, and an abundance of food, which facilitated alms-giving.
During the Age of Philosophy it seems that many different philosophies emerged. However, there is a dearth of extant texts; all that remain are texts from the six orthodox Hindu philosophical schools—the Darshana—and from Buddhism and Jainism.
Although the original sources no longer exist, the evidence for other Indian philosophical schools is contained in Buddhist texts. There is mention of ninety-two different views, but this cannot be substantiated by reliable sources. However, one source from the Pali canon, the Brahma-Jala Suttānta, or the Brahma’s Web Sutra in English, mentions sixty-two wrong views. This sutra is a section from the Dīgha Nikāya [Collection of Long Discourses], and it is found in both the Southern and Northern traditions of transmission of Buddhism. It seems there is also a Brahma’s Web Sutra in the Tibetan Kangyur, but the Karmapa had not had time to compare them. If they proved to be the same, it would mean that this invaluable textual source has been preserved in the Southern, Northern, and Tibetan traditions, so the source is solid.
The Sixty-Two Views
The sixty-two views can be divided into two sections: eighteen views considering the beginning of the universe and forty-four views about the end.
The Eighteen Views About the Beginning
1. Four eternalist views. Non-Buddhists would also practice dhyana—profound meditation. They practised shamatha, and through practising this dhyana, they would develop the clairvoyance of remembering past lives and would use this clairvoyance to see the continuum of the past lives of other sentient beings as far back as many kalpas. They concluded that the continuum of the self of sentient beings was permanent and never interrupted, so believed in a permanent self. The ‘four’ refers to a division according to the different capacities of the clairvoyants, divided into four groups: some were able to see twenty aeons, some forty, and so forth. Thus they developed an eternalist view.
2. Four views of some being eternal. There were some who had been born into the retinue of Great Brahma and then reborn as humans. As humans they practised shamatha and through dhyana developed clairvoyance and remembered that they had been in the retinue of Great Brahma by dhyana and realised that as Great Brahma was still existing, he had not died. They concluded that Great Brahma was eternal and permanent. However, they regarded the world and sentient beings as creations or emanations of Brahma and concluded that though Brahma was permanent, these were impermanent. The division into four was according to higher and lower realms. Thus, they developed an eternalist view that was limited to some beings.
3. Four views of the infinite or not infinite. Some non-Buddhist sages with clairvoyance used it to examine whether the world was finite or not. However, when they saw ages of destruction of the universe, they concluded that it must be finite. When they saw the ages of formation, they concluded it must be infinite. They were unable to see the whole, only seeing part. Likewise, they would look up above and down below and see the hell realms as a finite end. But when they looked straight ahead, they thought it was infinite
4. The four who will not give up on the gods. “Not giving up on the gods” is a form of deception. When confronted by questions such as what is good and virtuous, is there a consequence to good and non-virtuous actions, is this world finite or not, these people avoid a direct answer by saying, “I will not give up on the gods.…”
5. Two denials of cause. There are two types of deniers of cause, those who reach the view from dhyana meditation and those who reach the view from speculation and logic. Although they have samadhi and clairvoyance, those who reach this view from dhyana meditation do not see a preceding cause and conclude that body and mind arise spontaneously from chance.
The Forty-Four Views About the End
6. Those who say they have ideas. This covers the following sixteen ideas about the future:
- I will have both a body and mind in the future.
- I will have neither a body nor a mind in the future.
- I will have a mind but not a body in the future.
- I will have a body but not a mind in the future.
- The self has an end.
- The self does not have an end.
- The self has both an end and does not have an end.
- The self has neither an end nor not an end.
- I will experience pleasure.
- I will experience suffering.
- I will experience both pleasure and suffering.
- I will experience neither pleasure nor suffering.
- The self is alone.
- The self is separate.
- The self is small.
- The self is immeasurable.
7. Those who say they do not have an idea. These do not have a conception of whether they will have a body and mind in the future, and so forth, applied to the list.
8. Those who say they neither have nor do not have an idea. These declare that “I neither have nor do not have an idea that…” for the same list.
9. The seven views of annihilation. This is the view that when you die, the continuum ceases. This applies to humans and gods in the Desire Realm, gods in the Form Realm, and gods in the four levels of the Formless Realm—seven in all. They have sickness and pain until death, but once dead, they are annihilated.
10. Those who say they are liberated in this lifetime. This includes five categories:
- liberation through unrestrained enjoyment of sensory pleasures;
- liberation through achieving the first dhyana;
- liberation through achieving the second dhyana;
- liberation through achieving the third dhyana;
- liberation through achieving the fourth dhyana.
Apart from the first one, they believe they will achieve liberation having achieved these samadhis.
Summing up the section, the Karmapa said that we should focus particularly on the views of those who avoided answering directly, those who denied causality, those who held a nihilistic view, and those who said that they had achieved liberation in this lifetime because these themes would continue in the section on the six teachers.
The Six Non-Buddhist Teachers or the Six Logicians
During the time of the Buddha, there were six non-Buddhist teachers: Pūraṇa Kāśyapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Keśa-kambala, Pakudha Kaccāyana, Sañjaya Belaṭṭhiputta, and Nirgrantha Jñatiputra. According to Buddhist texts, they lived in the environs of Rajagriha and gathered students. They would also go to the palace of King Ajataśatru and hold discourses on philosophy. A sutra called the Samanna-phala Suttanta, The Sutra of the Results of the Spiritual Way, found in the Long Discourses of the Northern tradition, describes in detail the dialogues between King Ajatashatru and the six teachers. When the king asked what the results of practising the spiritual path were, the teachers gave their answers, and these were recorded. The position of the Jain, Nirgrantha Jñatiputra, however, was not recorded. This text is the oldest surviving source, so it is very difficult to research them. They do appear in Tibetan Buddhist texts. For example, they are mentioned in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, but that is a much later text. However, there is also a Sutra of the Results of the Spiritual Way in the Southern Buddhist tradition, and when compared, these two are mostly the same.
1. Pūraṇa Kāśyapa
He is a nihilist. His position was that taking life, taking that which is not given, sexual misconduct, and lying are misdeeds but will not result in suffering. Likewise, gathering many things and working to protect the poor have no virtuous result. He asserts there are no past and future lives, no karmic cause and effect, and no arhats. Basically, he holds a nihilist view.
2. Makkhali Gosāla
He holds a sceptical view. He doubts that there are such things as virtuous actions or misdeeds. There are no past or future lives; no parents; no gods; no sentient beings. All is confusion and illusion. There is nothing in actuality.
3. Ajita Keśa-kambala
He holds the view that the continuum ceases. When someone dies, the four elements dissolve and cease, so no matter who they are or what they have done, they will die, and that’s it.
4. Pakudha Kaccāyana
He denies cause and effect. He maintains that there are no powers and that practising the spiritual path is pointless. There is no way in which sentient beings can be freed of stains and no way to remove the cause that brings about the stains because there is no cause. There is no point in spiritual practice because they cannot be eliminated.
5. Sañjaya Belaṭṭhiputta
He also holds a deceptive view.
6. Nirgrantha Jñatiputra
“The self is prajna by nature, so there is nothing I do not know. When going, walking, lying down, or sitting, I know how to rest in equipoise. Prajna is always right there before me”.
However, The Sutra of the Results of the Spiritual Way does not present Nirgrantha Jñatiputra’s views clearly. Though they are recorded in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, as His Holiness had explained previously, this was written much later than the sutra and thus is often regarded as less authentic by researchers.
When we compare the teachings of the sixty-two views with the six teachers along with the Cārvāka and the Jain religion, we can gain a new understanding. We see that the Cārvāka is actually the school that preserved the remnants of the destructive, sceptical, and nihilistic views among those mentioned above. Likewise, the Jain religion primarily follows the teachings of Nirgrantha Jñatiputra. Though his views are not described in this sutra, from other sources, we can see his position was very similar to that of the Jains. Though they are recorded in the sutras from the time of the Buddha, other than Nirgrantha Jñatiputra’s tradition, the teachings of the six teachers did not spread widely, and there is no further mention of them.
The Cārvāka or Lokāyata School
At that time, there was an extreme anti-religious movement called the Cārvāka. Researchers dispute how the tradition developed—there is no source that decisively indicates whether it appeared before Buddhism or after. It was a combative and disruptive school, and it is clear that disputes involving this school arose during time of the initial spread of Buddhism.
According to Buddhist texts, the movement was founded by a sage known as the “Eye of the World”. However, the non-Buddhist explanation differs. It mentions a teacher called Devaguru, “teacher of the gods” [also known as Brihaspati]. According to one myth, Devaguru went to the land of the asuras (demi-gods) and taught them wrong views to counter their bounty and pleasures.
As it focuses on this life only, the school is also known as the Hedonist school. It is also known as the Lokāyata school. There are said to be some Cārvāka who, through practicing dhyana, developed a belief in past and future lives but not liberation. The school is also linked to Ajita Kesakambali [the first proponent of Indian materialism in the 6th century BCE].
There are no extant root texts from the Cārvāka school, so it is difficult to describe their fundamental view with certainty. However, there are fragments in other sources. For example, in Tibetan there is Kamalashila’s commentary on the Tattvasamgraha which speaks about Devaguru and details some of his positions. There are also references to the Cārvāka in Kamalashila’s Commentary on Entering the Middle Way [Skt. Madhyamālaṃkāra-panjika].
Both Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophers agree that the Cārvāka school holds the worst among the views. In his Compendium of All Views [Skt. Sarva-Darsana-Sangraha], Madhava Acharya counts sixteen schools, and among them considers the Cārvāka to be the furthest from the correct view.
Some scholars dispute whether the Cārvāka was an independent philosophical school. It seems that Cārvāka may have been the generic name for all materialist traditions.
This school’s position was that aside from perception, there are no other valid means of knowledge. The four elements of earth, water, fire, and air truly exist, and everything arises from the four elements. Matter and mind arise from the same cause. The world was produced by coincidence and luck. There is no creator or hidden powers. Basically, the Cārvāka view is a compilation of all the skeptical views, denials of cause, and so forth from the sixty-two views. It represents the extreme position of the extremist view.
The Karmapa pointed out that the Cārvāka view is one held by most people these days. Whether this represents an evolution or a regression is difficult to say, he commented. He then gave a rough rendering of a Cārvāka song which illustrates their view:
There are no gods. There is no ultimate aim of liberation. There is no liberation. There is no ultimate nature. Likewise, there are no other worlds, no heavenly realms, and no other lives. There are no rituals, no karmic cause and effect. Performing sacrifices, confessing misdeeds, and so forth is pointless. It’s just people who lack courage and skills made them up in order to pass the time.
When you sacrifice animals you are committing cruel deeds. If you think that these animals will then be reborn as gods, why don’t you sacrifice your parents and put them in the fire? If making a burnt offering fills your ancestors’ stomachs, then there’s no need to carry provisions when you travel. Just get your family to make offerings for you. If the offerings given on the earth can be eaten by the gods in the heavens, can the people who live on the top floor live off the offerings given by the people on the bottom floor? It doesn’t happen that way.
While you are still alive, you should enjoy all pleasures and happiness. You only have this lifetime. If you can borrow money from a friend, borrow it and eat the best food you can and wear the best clothes you can. When you are dead and buried underground, you won’t be able to repay the debt.
If the consciousness survives death and could go to another world, why wouldn’t it come back to the family for their sake? Spending so much wealth on making sacrifices for the deceased is the deception of the cruel Brahmans; it has no benefit other than making money for them. The authors of the three Vedas are bad. They are all performers. Thus reciting mantras and sutras and the like is pointless and fruitless work. It’s better to just do what you enjoy.
At that time, these views were regarded as heterodox and too extreme, one that had crossed the boundaries. His Holiness reiterated how the Cārvāka views mirror how many people think these days. People focus on enjoyment and material possessions. No one seems to care about future lives or liberation.
In ancient India, it seems that these views had existed for some time. A story in the Mahabharata tells how a demon possessed a Brahman who went to see King Yudhishthira. When he returned, he spread wrong views that violated the Brahmanical laws and consequently was executed. Generally, this is just a story, but it is possible there is a true event behind it. If it is true, then there were people with no religious beliefs in India from ancient times.
Researchers have different positions on when the Jain religion began. Some hold the position that the Jain and Buddhist faiths began to spread at about the same time. Some hold that Jainism arose from within Buddhism.
Most contemporary scholars say the founder was Nirgrantha Jñatiputra, mentioned in Buddhist scriptures as one of the six non-Buddhist teachers. The Jains themselves say the founder was Vardhamāna Mahavīra.
The Karmapa showed a picture of Mahavīra, in which he wears similar robes and adopts a similar posture to Shakyamuni Buddha, and explained that people do get confused between representations of the two teachers. Mahavīra’s life story is also similar. He went forth at the age of twenty-nine, and after twelve years practicing the path of meditation and austerities, he reached the level of jina, victor over the afflictions. For the latter thirty years of his life, he gathered students and taught dharma. The name “Jain” is derived from the Sanskrit word for “victor” and means “the victorious ones”. The Jains are sometimes called the “naked ascetics” because the religion has two different sects, one of which—the Digambaras—was naked, but in Tibetan, both sects of the religion are referred to in that way.
According to Buddhist texts, at the time when Buddhism first developed, Nirgrantha Jñatiputra was teaching dharma in Vaisali, and his was the largest religion in that region at the time. Later, after he passed away, his students split into two factions and were in continual conflict amongst themselves. This is described in the Long Discourses (Dīrgha Āgama) and the Pasadika sutra. Within two hundred years, they had split into two sects—the Digambaras and the Svetambaras.
The Two Sects
During the reign of the Mauryan king Chandragupta, there was a famine in Magadha. At that time, though there were two factions, the Jain sangha was undivided.
One faction, the followers of Bhadrabāhu, went to the region of Karnataka in South India. The other faction, under Sthulabhadra, stayed in Magadha. When the ones who went to Karnataka returned to Magadha, those in Magadha had adopted white clothing, whereas those from Karnataka insisted on being naked. Thus they split into the white-robed Svetambara and the naked Digambara sects. Although they share a root text, there are many differences in their tenets and beliefs. The Digambara maintain that the teacher Nirgrantha did not have a wife; the Svetambara say that he had a wife and daughter. The Digambara say that women cannot achieve liberation; the Svetambara say that women can achieve liberation.
The Svetambara and Digambara share a root text, which is in fifty volumes. There are two different recensions. The text is half in Sanskrit and half in colloquial. Later the Jains accepted many ideas from Buddhist teachings and incorporated them into the Jain religion. By the 5th century CE, they had completed the compilation of their texts. In terms of the times, there are great similarities between Buddhists and Jains. It is possible to consider the Jains as a type of Buddhist because of the great influence Buddhism had on them. Because their scriptures were compiled later, it is difficult to ascertain which of their texts represent the teachings of Mahavira and what he actually taught.
The Jain Tenets
Both Buddhism and the Jain school reject the Vedas and the idea of a creator god, so both are heterodox. However, there are also significant differences between their philosophies. Jainism agrees most with the views of the Sāṃkhya. It holds that the world is created out of two constituents, the primal nature and the puruṣa. They consider ascetic practice extremely important. Within Buddhism, ascetic practices are not so important. So Jainism could be described as a bridge between Buddhism and Hinduism.
The Three Jewels in Jainism
These are not the Three Jewels of Buddhism. They are right prajna, right faith, and right conduct. Right prajna is being able to distinguish what is from what isn’t, what the nature is and what it is not. It is not the prajna of understanding the five areas of knowledge. Right faith is having complete, heartfelt belief in the teacher and not doubting the scriptures, not even a single word. There are five aspects to right conduct. The core practice is ahiṃsā (non-violence) at a level that ordinary people would find difficult. Mahatma Gandhi, who also emphasised ahiṃsā, frequently quoted from the Jain scriptures. The second is satya (truth), not telling lies. The third is asteya (not stealing) i.e. not taking that which is not given. The fourth is brahmacharya (chaste conduct or celibacy). The last one is aparigraha, (not possessing anything), which entails not having more than you absolutely need, not wearing elaborate clothes, and giving up sensory pleasures. These are the five vows that Jains take.
At the end of the session, the Karmapa led everyone in reciting a long-life prayer for Sakya Gongma, the 42nd Sakya Trichen, on the occasion of his birthday.