Longchen Rabjam’s doctrine (3) [adapted from Profusion de la Vaste Sphère (Peeters, 2007)]

Publié le 5 Juin 2021

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2.1.2. General nature of Klong chen rab ’byams’ system

Klong chen rab ’byams’ system, like that of all the great philosophers of Tibet, combines many features borrowed from all the previous doctrinal developments of Buddhism. These elements are often very heterogeneous, at least in the eyes of the historian of religious ideas. The reading of classical Indian Buddhist scholasticism is already made difficult by an accumulation effect of the tradition (and by the practices of allusive writing that this implies); but this applies even more, of course, to such a late author.[1]

Moreover, one of the dimensions of Klong chen pa’s intellectual project was to produce a relatively homogeneous synthesis of all the materials transmitted in the rNying ma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It is true that he was the so-called exegete of the Great Prefection(rDzogs chen); it is also true that in this respect he was not primarily a philosopher. But a large part of his work is unquestionably devoted to demonstrating the orthodoxy, on the one hand, the internal coherence, on the other, and to elucidating the meaning, finally, of the rNying ma pas’ doctrines.

This demonstration of orthodoxy is not operated by surface reconciliations between heterogeneous traditional elements, but by a speculative reworking of both the materials proper to the rNying ma and rDzogs chen tradition and the general dogmatic fund of the Mahāyāna. It is not an hors d’œuvre in the writings of the master of Gangs ri thod dkar. One need only read the texts carefully enough, moreover, to see that it is not mere politics.[2] That is to say, it is not true that the essence of the author’s thought would necessarily be found in his treatises on the mystical heights of the Great Perfection, while writings such as, for example, the Treasury of Wish Fulfilling Jewels (Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod) or the Quietude in the Essence of Mind (rDzogs pa chen po sems nyid Ngal gso) and their commentaries or the Treasure of Philosophical Systems (Grub mtha’ mdzod), would only be instruments of persuasion, “war machines of faith,” constructed in order to protect the spirituality of the Ancient School against partisan attacks.

Klong chen pa was evidently fully convinced of the unity of general intent or basic thought (dgongs pa) of Buddhism in general.

This theme is developed in particular in the Chos dbyings mdzod and its auto-commentary using the comparison of the mountain peak. This metaphor not only signifies the overwhelming elevation of the rDzogs chen, in comparison with which other doctrines and practices would be null and void; it indicates in the clearest manner that the Great Perfection is doubly the key to the whole edifice of the Buddhist Dharma: key in the sense of a keystone, a crowning achievement that comes to found the edifice, to give it its fulcrum from above, and a key of reading, from which the meaning and function of the “Subaltern Vehicles” (theg pa ’og ma) opens up to our understanding.

Thus Klong chen rab ’byams posits both the overwhelming superiority of the rDzogs chen, and (it has not been emphasized enough so far) the fact that the lower paths find their explanation, and even their justification, in the Great Perfection.

This is, in my opinion, the meaning of the following passages. The first is found on pp. 45-46 of the Lung gi gter mdzod in the edition cited:

“Even though the essence of the mind (sems nyid) and the principial knowledge (ye shes) which in itself is produced for itself (Rang byung) are one and the same thing, on the diversity of the faculties depends [the] graduated variety of the mode of determination [of reality in Buddhist teaching]. Accordingly, it is set forth in various Vehicles, which succinctly boil down to nine.

According to the Ati Grand Deployment:

There are three levels of small [people];

The religion that fits their understanding

Is, [for those] who are tainted by fictitious ideas, that of the Auditors;

For those with awareness ('du shes), that of the Individual Buddhas;

And for those who access the conception, that of the Awakening Mind.

As for the exposition of the three [levels] of the average [beings],

As for those who are quite inferior, there is the Action (Krīya-tantra);

For those who are [merely] inferior, there is the Conduct (Cārya-tantra);

And for those who have consciousness, the Union (Yoga Tantra).

The great beings are divided into three levels:

For those who attain to what is beyond the mind, Development [otherwise known as Mahā-yoga];

For those whose minds have content (bcud), Achievement [i.e. Anu-yoga];

And for those who are eminent in that which is most secret, the Great Completion [Ati-yoga or rDzogs chen].

Thus, what forms the pinnacle of the nine Vehicles is the Ati-yoga, the Adamantine essence. Between the three headings of the latter [Sems sde, Klong sde and Man ngag sde], the unsurpassable drop (thig le) of the section of crucial instructions (Man ngag sde) is the pinnacle. Hence the words: ‘sovereign mountain [which overhangs] the sphere of the sun and the moon.’

Of course, this text emphasizes above all the superiority of the Ninth Vehicle, the rDzogs chen, and, within it, of the highest of its sections. It also relates the existence of the other teachings to the mental blindness of beings who are unable to perceive the truth in the dark. But at the same time it does not make the eight lower Vehicles, doctrines and practices, nor the two lower sections of the Great Perfection, mere expressions of the ignorance of the misguided. They are, in short, degraded reflections of the truth in the soiled and distorted mirrors of the ordinary individuals of the various degrees; but these warped refractions are nevertheless expressions of the compassion and superior discernment of the Awakened Ones, who proportion the one truth to the limited capacity of these various types of hearers.

It is true that there are many texts where these subaltern ways are denounced as carrying dangers of deviation (gol sa); but, elsewhere, they are given as being as many preparations. Besides, one thing does not exclude the other: we know that “figure carries absence and presence, pleasure and displeasure” (Blaise Pascal,Pensées) – it belongs to the nature of the image at the same time to bring us closer and to keep us at a distance of what it is the representation.

An even more persuasive text is found at the beginning of the commentary on Chapter VII:

“The doctrine [that] the Awakening Mind [is] spontaneously established [by] nature,

[And which teaches that] the goal is reached without [doing anything, is] the peak of the sovereign mountain,

That surpasses all [other teaching], the supreme, great [and] royal Vehicle.

The sovereign mountain in the midst of the four continents towers above them. Similarly, the Ati, the Adamantine essence, [132] is said to be a peak above all the Vehicles.

According to the [Tantra of] spontaneously arising [Intelligence]:

The pinnacle of all views,

It is said to be the Ati, the Great Completeness.

What are the examples that illustrate [that it is] the pinnacle of all?

As well as, if you went to the top of the sovereign mountain,

You could see all the countries below at once,

While the highest of the lands is by nature invisible [from below],

Likewise, the Adamantine essence of the Ati

Is it the pinnacle of the Vehicles, [from which] the meaning [of] all is clearly perceptible,

While the [followers of the] lower vehicles do not see the significance of this.

This is why [such is] the moment when the spontaneously established peak is reached.

From the top of a mountain, all the lower regions are seen at once; but from these regions, the top of this mountain is not clearly visible. In the same way, all the meanings of the lower vehicles are seen at once from this one, while its meaning is invisible from the point of view of the less elevated, due to [an error of perspective which makes] the top and the bottom confused (mtho dman ’dzol ba). It is as explained in the Secret Assembly (gSang ’dus, Guhyasamāja), [in the verses]: ‘then, having reached the top...,’ [and so on].

This passage (p. 131 ff. of the quoted edition) implies that the Great Perfection alone gives us this “high point,” this “geometrical of all perspectives,” this right point of view from which the whole doctrinal edifice of Buddhism becomes intelligible, otherwise entirely distorted, as in an anamorphosis, as long as one aligns oneself with the subaltern perspectives. This is the meaning of Klong chen pa’s reinterpretation of all Buddhist literature from the perspective of rDzogs chen: not to show that the “Ninth Vehicle” is correct, insofar as it would conform to the content of the lower Vehicles - an undertaking that would be as absurd in its substance as it would be hazardous in its execution - but to make one see, conversely, that the entirety of Scripture and Reasonings of the subaltern philosophical systems is nothing but a web of obscurities and contradictions, as long as the key to the cipher, which is to be found in rDzogs chen alone, is not available.



[1]  Even if he is very late from the point of view of the general history of Buddhism, it can be said that Klong chen rab ’byams is, with regard to Tibetan thought, a pre-classical author. Indeed, roughly speaking, one could distinguish at least four phases in Tibetan philosophical production:

(1) An archaic phase, marked by curious, inventive thoughts, where creativity sometimes appears to be linked to misunderstandings of Indian sources (10th-12th centuries; sGam po pa and Rong zom, of which I shall speak, are good examples);

(2) A phase that I call pre-classical (13th-14th centuries, from Sa skya paṇḍita to Klong chen pa, Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan and Bu ston Rin chen grub, etc.);

(3) The classical phase (late 14th-16th centuries), beginning with Red mda’ ba and Rong ston and culminating with Tsong kha pa and his direct and indirect followers on the one hand, and Go rams pa on the other, or mNyam med Shes rab rgyal mtshan among the Bon po;

(4) And then a modern phase, in which, on the whole (but not without notable exceptions), the conventions established in the preceding phase dominate and become rigid.

The phase I call pre-classical is characterized, among other things, by a certain residual floating in the classification of Buddhist philosophical systems (Grub mtha’) and tantras (rgyud sde).

[2]  This aspect of pure and simple legitimization, in what is philosophically artificial, even specious, is suggested by M. S. G. Karmay, The Great Perfection (p. 13), rather in connection with Rong zom Chos kyi bzang po. More generally, it is not uncommon to find among scholars of the rnying ma pa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism the view that anything in Klong chen pa’s work that is original, seemingly contradictory, or irreducible to earlier recorded traditions could be explained by his attempt to show the compatibility of the doctrines of the rNying ma pas with the prevailing orthodoxy. This is particularly visible in the way in which several tibetologists deal with the complex problem of the relationship between the rDzogs chen and the Madhyamaka, which I shall try to clarify.

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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