A Teaching on Vasubandhu’s The Thirty Verses: Day 7
2 February 2022
His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa began his teaching by noting that, according to the Tsurphu calendar, today is Losar, the first day of the Tibetan New Year. He wished everyone an auspicious new year, good wishes for the accomplishment of all our aims, and hoped that everything goes excellently for us. He also delivered a short New Year’s message in Chinese.
Today’s topic is the Mind Only school in Tibet. It’s a bit difficult to speak of how the Mind Only spread to the Snow Land of Tibet because of a lack of research in this area. To provide an overview, His Holiness had to look at many disparate sources. His conclusion from extensive research is that—although the key Mind Only texts came to Tibet—the school was never firmly established there.
Karmapa organized his presentation into five different topics:
- How Mind Only texts were translated into Tibetan
- The reasons why the school itself didn’t spread to Tibet
- The reasons why Vasubandhu and Asanga are Mind Only masters
- Different explanations in Tibet of the Mind Only
- Whether the “Dharmas of Maitreya” are Mind Only texts
As we will see, there’s been study and interpretation of Mind Only texts in Tibet from early days. But—as just mentioned—no school developed based on these texts, nor did Mind Only masters propagate that philosophy. In particular, the influence of Candrakirti’s Consequentialist school during the period of the later transmission predisposed Tibetans to think that Mind Only was not in accord with the Middle Way view; rather, they believed that Mind Only was opposed to it. A rigid, dictatorial way of looking at Mind Only developed.
In sum, Tibetans have not treated the Mind Only school fairly. As in the tradition of debating between schools, Tibetans insistently point out others’ faults and don’t look at their own. Tibetans treat the Mind Only in this way. The Karmapa said that if we want to study the Mind Only well, we need to be impartial and feel an appreciation and affinity for this school. Perhaps the Middle Way objections to this philosophy apply, or perhaps they don’t. His Holiness advocated a more open-minded attitude toward this school so that it can be properly understood.
How Mind Only Texts Were Translated into Tibetan
There are two different periods of Mind Only translations, those done during the ancient transmission and those that appeared during the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet. Most of the scriptures in the sutra sections of the Kangyur and Tengyur were translated during the ancient transmission, including the majority of important Mind Only texts. Tibetan histories of that period indicate that a predominantly Middle Way view was adopted, but when we look at the ancient catalogues—the Pangtangma and Denkarma (the Chimpuma is no longer extant)—we see that the compilers gave equal importance to the Mind Only and the Middle Way texts.
What translations were done during the ancient time? We can turn to the catalogues mentioned above for an answer. (Although some modern scholars opine that these catalogues were housed in palaces and are therefore not a complete record of all the translated texts in Tibet at that time.) Of the two extant catalogues, there’s a debate about which is earlier. Butön, Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa and others asserted that the Denkarma catalogue came first, whereas the Fifth Dalai Lama and Situ Chokyi Jungne felt that the Pangtangma catalogue preceded the other. There are more works listed in the former, which might argue for its later date. All the Mind Only texts that are in the Pangtangma catalogue also appear in the Denkarma, but the latter has some that don’t appear in the former. Therefore, the Denkarma was probably published later. To analyze in more detail, the Pangtangma catalogue contains numerous root texts of the Mind Only school; it includes only a few commentaries, whereas the Denkarma has many commentaries. It becomes apparent when looking at the catalogues that the early translators focused on the root texts; only later did they include the commentaries.
Since most of the important Mind Only texts were translated during the first diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet, later Tibetan translators produced fewer relevant manuscripts. When they did turn to the Mind Only, they focused on masters, like Santipa, who came after the progenitors of the school. There are some exceptions, however. The “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” were translated at that time, including the well-known treatise Sublime Continuum, its commentaries, and Distinguishing Phenomena and Dharmata. If we look at Butön’s catalogue of the Tengyur, we find important Mind Only commentaries of the later translation period: the Ornament of the Sutras, Compendium of the Mahayana, and the Compendium of the Abhidharma. To sum it up, most of the Tibetan translations of Mind Only texts appeared before the time of Butön [1290–1364]. There are no additional Mind Only texts in the later catalogue of the Derge Kangyur and Tengyur, which is reputed to be the most complete. Nothing is found there that didn’t appear in Butön Rinpoche’s earlier catalogue.
Surveying all the works and writings by Mind Only scholars that were translated into Tibetan, there are:
- The “Dharmas of Maitreya”, by the Protector Maitreya, which teach either Mind Only or Middle Way views
- The works of Asanga and Vasubandhu that teach Mind Only philosophy
- The works on validity by Dignaga, Dharmakirti, and others that do not teach Mind Only philosophy at length but whose ultimate view is Mind Only, since they were written by Mind Only masters
- Texts on Secret Mantra by Mind Only scholars, such as Bhavabhadra, Santipa, etc.
- Commentaries on sutras by Vasubandhu, Sthiramati, etc.
In terms of subject matter, these texts fall into five or six categories. If we take the texts on validity and Secret Mantra off this list, as Butön did in his catalogue, we are left with three grouping: Mind Only view; Mind Only meditation; and Mind Only conduct and precepts. Within these categories, the “Dharmas of Maitreya”, the Yogacara Levels, and the Eight Treatizes teach the Mind Only view. Asanga’s Lamp of Dhyana, Dignaga’s Introduction to Yoga, etc., are works that teach meditation. Candragomi’s The Twenty Vows, etc., are works that primarily establish conduct.
There’s a lot of debate in Tibet about whether Ornament of the Sutras is a Mind Only text or not. But when we look at the catalogues of the Tengyur, we never find Maitreya’s texts grouped with the Middle Way school. They always appear in a Mind Only context. This tradition may have originated with Butön Rinpoche, although it’s possible the categorization had appeared earlier. In terms of the Derge Tengyur, the Sublime Continuum appears in the Mind Only section. Texts such as Unraveling the Intent, The Ten Levels and the Vajra Splitter are in a separate section of sutra commentaries mainly written by Mind Only masters. Among the new transmission translations are Dignaga’s Summary of the Eight Thousand Lines and Venerable Asvabhava’s Strings of Light.
This completed His Holiness’s brief introduction of Mind Only texts translated into Tibetan.
The Reasons Why the School Itself Didn’t Spread to Tibet
As we have seen from the beginning of the ancient period, many Tibetan scholars translated important Mind Only texts; it’s difficult to know whether any early manifestations of a Mind Only school developed, but later, there definitely were none. It’s hard to know why this is so. The causal and resultant vehicles spread widely, yet India’s second major Mahayana school did not take root in Tibet. The Karmapa put forth several possible reasons for this puzzling situation.
Prohibition by the dharma kings. According to the Tibetan history Ba Shad, there was the Tontsen debate between the Chinese Zen [Chan] proponents of the sudden awakening and Indian adherents of the gradual path in the eighth century. When those supporting the gradual path won the debate, King Trisong Detsen supposedly imposed an edict that Tibetans must follow Nagarjuna’s views. This might have inhibited the spread of the Mind Only. But a manuscript found at Dunhuang, Mahayana Instructions on Realizing the Nature Instantly, contradicts this. It holds that actually it was the proponents of sudden awakening who won the debate, and that the king wrote an edict establishing that path as a worthy one to follow. Similarly, Nup Sangye Yeshe’s Lamp of the Eye of Dhyana records that Zen practitioners were still residing in Tibet at the time of Langdarma. Such evidence calls into question the existence of edicts that may have inhibited the spread of the Mind Only school.
Most of the Indians who came to Tibet were Middle Way scholars. Although Buddhism was introduced to Tibet during the reign of Songsten Gampo, it spread most vigorously during the time of King Trisong Detsen. He brought Santaraksita to Tibet, who was an Autonomous Middle Way master. Later figures like Kamalasila were also adherents to the Middle Way philosophy; probably no Mind Only proponents made the journey from India, and so there were none to guide and encourage students in the school’s philosophy, practices and precepts.
Tibetans didn’t see a particular reason for studying the Mind Only philosophy. Santaraksita had firmly established the Autonomous Middle Way among early Buddhist practitioners in Tibet, and within that view was the Yogacarya Autonomous Middle Way. As explained in the Distinctions of the View by Yeshe De:
Based on Asanga’s Yogacara treatise explaining the awareness only, the khenpo named Santaraksita wrote the Middle Way treatise, The Ornament of the Middle Way, that proves, in harmony with that tradition, that relatively there is consciousness only, but ultimately consciousness too has no nature.
Santaraksita’s philosophy treats the Mind Only in terms of the conventional and the Middle Way in terms of the ultimate. He unites both schools, and at the same time, suggests that there is no reason to study the Mind Only separately. His teaching puts forth the idea that the Mind Only is not the final view. In this context, the Mind Only had little appeal because Tibetans like high views and schools, and this reduced their enthusiasm for studying the Mind Only philosophy. In terms of the later transmission, Lord Atisha was said to praise Candrakirti’s Consequentialist Middle Way view very highly. Later, the most influential Kadampa geshe of the time, Shang Sharawa, endorsed Patsap’s translation of Candrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way and its autocommentary. Such texts included many refutations of the Mind Only; all the Tibetan traditions then hurried to be Consequentialists. They wanted to follow Candrakirti, and the Mind Only was viewed in a worse light than ever before. Its status became that of a mistaken view.
Teaching and study of the “Dharmas of Maitreya” did flourish in Tibet, but only because of their association with Maitreya, not because they put forth a Mind Only philosophy. One could not critique anything in the works of someone like the Regent Maitreya, and since the Mind Only had fallen into disrepute, commentators did everything they could to explain his thought in terms of the Middle Way. The “Dharmas of Maitreya” are profound, and within them, features of the Mind Only are not particularly clear, so it was easy to explain them in accordance with the Middle Way view and to overlook their Mind Only content, or to see the text as an expression of the Shentong Middle Way view.
This completed His Holiness’s presentation of the four explanations of why the Mind Only never found a secure foothold in Tibet as a separate philosophical tradition.
The Reasons Why Asanga and Vasubandhu Are Mind Only Masters
On this topic, His Holiness began by noting that Tibetans have long debated whether Asanga and Vasubandhu are actually Mind Only authors. It’s possible that the thoughts of an author may not be fully reflected in a treatise written by him. In fact, a treatise could depart from the author’s thought. And so, it is appropriate to ask if Asanga and Vasubandhu are indeed Mind Only authors. We must be impartial in looking at this issue. It is difficult to say, but there are four major reasons to think of them as Mind Only proponents.
In India, they were regarded as such. When Bhavaviveka and Candrakirti wrote their refutations of the Mind Only, they quoted from the works of Asanga and Vasubandhu as representatives of that school. Candrakirti lists Vasubandhu, Diganga, Dharmarapala, and others in his autocommentary on Entering the Middle Way, asserting that these figures had not realized Nagarjuna’s view in their Mind Only philosophy.
They were known to be so in China. Tang Xuanzang and other Chinese pilgrims went to India and bowed at the feet of students in Vasubandhu’s lineage. They brought back what they learned to China, establishing a version of the Mind Only school in their home country.
In the ancient Pangtangma and Denkarma catalogues of Tibetan texts, the treatizes on consciousness/Mind Only are in a separate section. The “Dharmas of Maitreya”, the Yogacara Levels, and works by Asanga and Vasubandhu appear in the section on consciousness/Mind Only, not in the Middle Way section.
There is basically no dispute among contemporary international scholars that Asanga and Vasubandhu’s texts are Mind Only.
Once we have identified the corpus of Asanga and Vasubandhu’s Mind Only texts, we need to accept them as such. There’s no benefit in disputing such attributions in an effort to make ourselves look better. We do not want to contradict factual history. “If we make up our own opinion, it may look really nice. But if we look at the history of the past . . . and our positions and the actual history don’t match, then there’s a big problem there,” His Holiness concluded.
Different Explanations in Tibet of the Mind Only
Was there no discussion of the Mind Only in Tibet? Tibetan scholars in fact recognized it as one of the well-established four Buddhist schools: Great Exposition, Sutra, Mind Only, and Middle Way. Although the first three schools never attained independent status in Tibet, scholarly study included in-depth discussions of their tenets regarding ground, path, and fruition. Before engaging with the Four Great Texts, a Tibetan dharma student considers each philosophical school separately and in general terms. Particularly for the Ornament of Clear Realization and the Prajnaparamita, one studies Mind Only and Middle Way explanations in the context of distinguishing the expedient from the definitive. In the context of validity, many points related to the Mind Only come up in the discussion of valid means, its result and the known object. The main opponent in Entering the Middle Way is the Mind Only, so lots of research centers around that topic. One must know the differences between the Foundation and Mahayana Abhidharma, their lists and elaborations. In the “Five Great Texts” (other than the Vinaya), there are many passages related to the Mind Only. Therefore, each Tibetan scholar explains these references and engages in unending refutations and clarifications. It is not at all the case that these scholars have no knowledge of the Mind Only.
Over the years, different ways evolved to designate the Mind Only school. To give an example: later Tibetan scholars replaced the terms “Yogacara” and “Proponents of Awareness” or “Proponents of Consciousness” with “Mind Only.” This may have developed because in Middle Way texts, the latter designation is used most often. There’s a text on the Philosophical schools by Upa Losal that states: “Those who explain that known objects are internal or whose Abhidharma scriptures follow the Yogacara Levels are called Yogacara Mind Only.”
In Tibet, there are three main assertions regarding the school’s founders:
- The founders were earlier masters
- It was founded by the Protector Maitreya
- It was founded primarily by Asanga and Vasubandhu
Jonang Taranatha, in his History of Dharma in India, asserts that earlier masters founded the Indian school of Mind Only, mentioning in particular Venerable Nanda, Dampay De, and Paramartha. Taktsang Lotsawa identifies Maitreya as the founder, and Lord Tsongkhapa and most others claim that Asanga initiated the school. A few identify both Asanga and Vasubandhu as foundational figures.
The True Image and False Image Schools
Next, His Holiness considered divisions that developed within the Mind Only school itself. Among the most important of these was the distinction between the True Image and the False Image sub-schools. Some hold that this division rests on whether proponents assert that appearances are true/real as the character of the mind—the true image—or whether they assert appearances are a projection of the mind—the false image. Alternatively, the division concerns whether appearances of relative truth appear to a buddha’s wisdom or not. In the Tuu Ken text on the schools, those who assert that the essence of mind is not stained by faults belong to the Stainless False Image school, and those who assert that it is stained are adherents to the Stained False Image school. In general, the terms True Image and False Image, as described the other day, do not appear in the works of earlier masters such as Asanga and Vasubandhu, but they surface in later Mind Only thought, such as in the works of Kamalasila and the Elder Bodhibhadra. Likewise, there’s commentary on the Chorus of Manjushri’s Names attributed to Candragomi that uses the terms False Image, True Image, Stained, and Unstained. That text refutes the Mind Only and in addition says that there are two different schools: the illusory and the non-abiding. He deems the latter to be the logical one. Because Candragomi is generally thought to be a proponent of the Mind Only, we have to look at this text to see if it was actually written by him.
Thus, the terms “True Image” and “False Image” have a source in Indian texts, but the question arises: who belongs to which sub-school? The earliest clear identification appears in Ja Chekhawa’s text on the Philosophical schools. He says that Dignaga, Dharmakirti, Dharmapala, Prajnakaragupta, Jnanamitra, etc., belong to the True Image school. They hold to the traditional framework of six consciousnesses. The False Image school includes Asanga, Vasubandhu, Santipa, etc., who assert the eight consciousnesses model. Chomden Rigral’s text on schools cites passages from the Twenty Verses and the Ascertainment of Validity to show that Vasubandhu and Dharmakirti hold aspects of both the True and False Image positions. Taktsang Lotsawa writes that Asanga and his disciples did not distinguish between True Image and False Image, but their teachings are implicitly False Image. Apparently the True and False Image sub-schools separated later.
The True Image view is also sometimes divided further into the Split Egg, Equality of Apprehender and Apprehended, and Nondual Plurality sub-schools. Some scholars claim that Tibetan authors invented these further categorizations, that they are not found in Indian texts. However, Santarakṣita’s Ornament of the Middle Way discusses all three in passages on the Sutra and Mind Only schools. Taktsang Lotsawa writes in Knowledge of All Schools that the positions of each were found in India, citing passages from undisputed well-known texts. However, these divisions are not easy to understand in Tibetan scholarship. Later, His Holiness will give a Gelukpa interpretation.
If we know the Chinese tradition, we can better understand these nuances in the Mind Only subdivisions. There, the False Image is explained in either a narrow or more expansive way. The narrow approach focuses on dependent nature; consciousness arises from seeds in the ground consciousness. But consciousness has two aspects: the subject and the object, the apprehender and the apprehended. Everything that is apprehended is imaginary, and because it is imaginary, it is confused appearance and does not exist in actuality. The cognitive images are all imaginary. The broader understanding of the False Image school is that the apprehending aspect of consciousness is cognition itself, so it is dependent. But the apprehended aspect—or the image of the apprehended object—is imaginary, so therefore it is confused. This is another explanation. How does this dynamic work in the True Image school? In it, both the subjective and objective aspects of mind are dependent. Therefore, they do not have an imaginary nature. This is the position of the Indian schools [as interpreted by Chinese masters].
According to Tibetan interpreters, all Mind Only masters insist on the mind’s true existence, but this is overly broad. Not all Mind Only proponents would assert that cognitions are true. For example, as we have seen, the Mind Only holds multiple views regarding apprehensions of external entities. If we are attached to thinking that all Mind Only views of the internal mind are identical, we don’t fully understand this school. The Tibetan interpretations are too general. Chinese scholars have made its distinctions very clear, but in Tibet, scholars think incorrectly that the Mind Only school is unified.
Followers of Scripture and Followers of Logic
Another classification system in the Mind Only school involves the Followers of Scripture and the Followers of Logic. This division had an influence on the development of the Mind Only in China. Later, Tibetans began to use these categories as well. Examples of the Followers of Scripture are Asanga and others who held to the Five Sets of Levels (Yogacara Levels), whereas Dignaga, Dharmakirti, etc., are classified as Followers of Logic. This resembles the way Chinese Buddhists divided the early from the later Mind Only. According to Taktsang Lotsawa, one marker of this division is that Dignaga and the other logicians did not accept the ground consciousness; they only asserted the six consciousnesses. But because Travels to Lanka Sutra and Unraveling the Intent teach the ground consciousness, no Mind Only follower would doubt its existence. If we look at Dignaga and Dharmakirti’s texts, the absence of the ground consciousness can be explained because it’s not relevant to their topics. Just because the eight consciousnesses do not appear in a text does not mean that the author doesn’t accept them.
Furthermore, Vimala Gupta cites a text by Dignaga that does mention the engaging consciousness and the ground consciousness. Devendrabuddhi and Sakyabuddhi’s Commentary on Validity clearly discusses the ground consciousness. Sakyabuddhi explains that an individual continuum of consciousness refers to the ripening (or ground) consciousness. Likewise, Vinitadeva’s commentary on Vasubandhu’s Twenty Verses and Dharmakirti’s commentary on Proof of Other Continuums clearly teach the ground consciousness and its imprints. Even within the seven texts on validity, there are some authors who mention the ground consciousness and some that don’t.
Next, Karmapa turned to Changkya Rolpay Dorje and other Geluk scholars who say that the Followers of Scripture and Followers of Logic take positions within both the False Image and True Image schools. To illustrate this with one text, the Commentary on Validity, Devendrabuddhi and Sakyabuddhi explain it as an example of True Image philosophy, while Prajnakaragupta interprets it as False Image. And Master Dharmottara asserts that it is from the Stained False Image school. Gyaltsap Je also identifies the Commentary on Validity as a False Image text, but Khedrup Je argues that it propounds True Image philosophy. All of these views are from the perspective of Tsongkhapa’s teachings, so here we have an example of how difficult it was for Tibetans to parse the various subdivisions of the Mind Only school. The treatizes in Chinese are much clearer on this point.
Whether the “Dharmas of Maitreya” Are Mind Only texts
In Tibet, commentaries on the “Five Dharmas of Maitreya” are among the most well known. If we want to understand the Mind Only view, we must penetrate the wisdom in Maitreya’s thought. There are many different interpretations of these volumes and multiple disagreements. For example, some assert that the Ornament of the Sutras and Differentiating Middle from Extremes is Mind Only, while Sublime Continuum and Ornament of Clear Realization are Middle Way. Some designate Distinguishing Phenomena and Dharmata as Mind Only, while others assert it as a secondary aspect of the Sublime Continuum and therefore Middle Way. Those holding to the latter view are Dolpopa and Shakya Choken. Redawa Shonnu Lodro initially asserted that all five Dharmas are Mind Only. However, Redawa later went into retreat and realized that the Sublime Continuum is Middle Way, as is related in the Blue Annals. Tsongkhapa proposed that Differentiating the Middle from Extremes and Ornament of the Sutra are Mind Only, Ornament of Clear Realization is mostly Autonomous Middle Way and ultimately Consequentialist, and that Sublime Continuum is entirely Consequentialist Middle Way. If we look at the consensus of international scholars, the “Dharmas of Maitreya” are Mind Only texts, but a minority of Tibetan scholars categorize all five volumes in this way. The Tibetan inclination was to categorize these texts as primarily Middle Way.
Here we return to the fact that the “Dharmas of Maitreya” vigorously spread throughout Tibet but the Mind Only school did not. Tibetan scholars concluded that Mind Only philosophy saw consciousness as truly existent, and therefore disregarded the school. If we look at Sthiramati’s commentary on the Thirty Verses, he clearly explains the nature of consciousness in this way. Therefore, most scholars identify Sthiramati, Devendrabuddhi, etc., as Mind Only. Likewise, if an author asserts that appearances are mind, he is categorized as Mind Only. However, the Ornament of the Sutras, Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes, and Asanga’s Compendium of the Mahayana do not clearly state that consciousness truly exists. One might therefore conclude that these texts are not in fact Mind Only.
Another difficult point concerns the question of whether dependent nature is truly existent or not. According to Tsongkapa, all Mind Only proponents assert that this is so. But in the Mind Only school, there are two traditions regarding the ultimately existent: true existence by its own characteristics and that which is determined to be the ultimate existence because it is the object of meditative wisdom. The Bodhisattva Levels and Compendium of the Mahayana put forward the former view. Tsongkhapa held that Differentiating the Middle from Extremes denies altogether that the dependent ultimately exists.
Some scholars of the Mind Only say that in general, the school asserts that the dependent is not truly existent; only the absolute is. The Kamtsang scholar Pal Khang Lotsawa writes that the True Image and the False Image are the same in asserting that the imaginary does not exist while the absolute does, but the True Image school holds that both the pure and impure dependent are relative, while the False Image school sees the pure dependent as ultimate.
The Spread of the “Dharmas of Maitreya” into Tibet
During the ancient transmission period, not all five of the “Dharmas of Maitreya” were translated. So the term, “Five Dharmas of Maitreya,” did not appear at that time. It was only during the later period that all of these volumes became well-known and undisputed. The “Five Dharmas” are: Ornament of Clear Realization, Ornament of the Sutras, Differentiating the Middle from Extremes, Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata, and Sublime Continuum. Are these separate works or interrelated volumes that should be considered as one entity? The Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje noted that only the Ornament of Clear Realization has an opening homage, and except for the Sublime Continuum, the volumes lack dedications. Because of this, he asserted that each text was a different section of a single whole. But some dispute this, arguing that the homage in the Ornament of Clear Realization is for that work alone, and similarly, the dedication for Sublime Continuum only pertains to that volume. Geluk scholars noted that the description of the thirty-two marks appears in both the Ornament of Clear Realization and Sublime Continuum. If the “Five Dharmas” were a unified work, why would that redundancy occur?
In any case, not all the Dharmas were translated into Tibetan at the same time. Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata and Sublime Continuum do not appear in the catalogues of the ancient period. According to Go Lotsawa Shonnu Pal’s Blue Annuals, these two texts were little known in India as well. The Indian master Simhabhadra quotes liberally from the other Dharmas but does not include a single passage from Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata or Sublime Continuum. Similarly, the story of Maitripa finding these two texts inside a light-filled stupa indicates their rarity; but even so, we can’t say they were nonexistent in India. Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata was not translated into Chinese until the 20th century. But the Sublime Continuum (with the title Distinguishing the Family of the Jewels) appeared in that country very early, around the 6th century, although it was attributed to another author, Sthiramati. Therefore, the text must have circulated in India before that time.
Atisha and Naktso Lotsawa produced the first translation of the Sublime Continuum into Tibetan. Atisha was the scholar and Naktso Lotsawa did the actual translation. Later, Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherap wrote the most common and widespread translation. Tsen Khawoche passed down the famous story about the origins of the Sublime Continuum. This text, along with Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata, was hidden like a treasure for a long time; no scholars knew about it. As mentioned above, Maitripa saw a golden light shining between the bricks of a stupa, went inside and found these two texts. He supplicated Maitreya and had a vision of the deity in the sky riding on a cloud, who gave Maitripa a transmission of the texts. Maitripa taught them to his student Gaway Drakpa, or Nanda Kirti, who later went to Kashmir and imparted this wisdom to Jnana. Later two translators— Ngok Lotsawa and Tsen Khawoche—who were students of Drapa Ngonshe, went to Kashmir together. Ngok Lotsawa studied many texts, while Tsen Khawoche focused only on the Dharmas of Maitreya. He returned to Tibet before Ngok Lotsawa and spread the teachings, primarily of the Sublime Continuum. A meditative tradition from the “Five Dharmas” arose from his efforts.
Before Ngok Lotsawa returned to Tibet, most Kadampa scholars used Atisha and Nagtso Lotsawa’s translations of Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata and Sublime Continuum. Once Ngok Lotsawa’s version was available, most people preferred it over the earlier translation, which is apparently no longer extant. (Geshe Sharawa criticized his students for disregarding a version associated with the great Atisha.) In addition to Ngok Lotsawa, Patsap Lotsawa, Yarlung Lotsawa and Drakpa Gyaltsen also translated the Sublime Continuum in Tibetan, but these too probably no longer exist. Only one translation of this text went into the Tengyur.
The ancient technology of hand-cutting wood blocks prevented multiple versions of a text from appearing in the Kangyur and Tengyur; it took too much effort and expense to include more than one translation. But these days, using modern digital technology, it’s easy to have various versions of a text available. Karmapa’s plan is to recompile the Kangyur and the Tengyur, and within that, to include all the different translations of a single text. In addition, some handwritten texts in the early Kangyur and Tengyur don’t appear in the later block-printed versions, nor do many Buddhist texts in other languages. These could be translated into Tibetan and included. His Holiness wants to produce a complete Kangyur and Tengyur in one edition. This would be very beneficial for researchers and teachers, because comparing different versions of texts is helpful.
His Holiness then returned to his account of how Maitreya’s “Five Dharmas” spread in Tibet. According to Tsen Khawoche, Maitripa revived and propagated the Sublime Continuum and Differentiating Phenomena from Dharmata in India. If this is true, we need to consider the fact that Maitripa and Atisha were contemporaries. How did Atisha get these texts? Perhaps a connection existed between the two, even though they didn’t share a master/student relationship. It’s important to find out how these texts came into Atisha’s hands.
Likewise, we need to consider the two translations of Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata. Atisha and Nagtso Lotsawa’s translation of the text was in prose, but the most well-known version—translated by Zhama Lotsawa—is in verse. (Zhama Lotsawa received philosophical instruction from Ngok Loden Sherap and pith instructions from Dampa Sangye. He later went to the Five Peak Mountain in China and never returned to Tibet. Zhama Lotsawa was also the translator of Dignaga’s Compendium Validity and its auto commentary.) In comparing Zhama Lotsawa and Atisha and Nagtso Lotsawa’s versions of Differentiating Phenomena and Dharmata, the same text is rendered in both prose and verse. Since it is very unlikely that it would have been translated from prose into verse, perhaps the original Sanskrit text existed in these two different styles.
Later, among the most important Indian masters to go to Tibet was the Kashmir pandita, Sakya Sri. It is said that he taught pith instructions based on the “Five Dharmas”, but this lineage has been lost. With this, Karmapa concluded today’s discussion of the spread of the “Dharmas of Maitreya”, promising to continue his consideration of the Mind Only school in Tibet next time.