Longchen Rabjam’s doctrine (5) [adapted from Profusion de la Vaste Sphère (Peeters, 2007)]

Publié le 7 Juin 2021

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2.1.3. A system of systems

This dimension of hierarchical tiering of doctrines exists within Klong chen pa’s work. But here again, we must be careful not to take things naively, confusing what should be distinguished. For example, it is not entirely accurate to say that the presentation of the whole teaching according to the scheme of the “nine graduated vehicles”[1] means that there are nine levels of doctrine – or even more, if we count the hierarchical subdivisions of each stratum – each of which would wipe out the lesser ones.

To take just one example, but a perfectly typical one : it appears that the author never renounces the scheme of the eight consciousnesses (vijñāna, tib. rnam shes), even though the elaboration of this scheme is the proper, at bottom, of one of the systems (the Vijñānavāda) pertaining to the third of the nine Vehicles (the Bodhisattvayāna). It may be said, in short, that, like Śāntarakṣita, Klong chen rab ’byams implicitly posits that there is no determination of surface reality (kun rdzob bden pa’i rnam bzhag) that is superior to that of Buddhist Idealism.[2] But, like this author, and even more so, he will integrate this approach at a subordinate level, without making it the ultimate doctrine. It will remain with him as a bypassed moment, almost in the Hegelian sense of the term. The same will be true of the Mādhyamika emptiness,[3] which he cannot be said to reject, but which, in his view, is not the final word of the ultimate view, – and not any more, moreover, would be the simple position of the unity of emptiness and appearance.

Nevertheless, some doctrines he develops seem logically incompatible with others. Thus, what sense to give to his abundant cosmological developments,[4] when the very idea of a common world is incompatible with idealism? We will see, in the end, that the doctrine is logically consistent, by means of a radical overcoming of idealism[5] (according to a mode certainly quite foreign to naive realism). In any case, it is not excluded that certain assertions found in the treatises of Klong chen rab ’byams must be considered provisional and only expedient (drang don).

In addition to what is bypassed, but not preserved, except as a preparation for the use of beginning students, there are also, apparently, a certain number of evolutions, in the course of the various texts dealing with the same subjects. This can be seen, in particular, in the classification of tantras, which is taken up in various treatises, in several forms, which are not logically compatible.[6] There is also a certain amount of confusion in the classification of the philosophical systems (Grub mtha’) of Indian Buddhism[7]. In this case, there is probably no reason to seek any other interpretation to account for these contradictions than the evolution of the author’s thought. We must certainly take into account the variations that arise from the fact that Klong chen pa adapts to the system of the corpus he is commenting upon: thus, the elements of classification of doctrines outside the rDzogs chen, which can be found, for example, in Theg mchog rin po che’i mdzod, are more valid as an exegesis of the tantras of the sNying thig than as an expression of Klong chen rab ’byams’ own thought. From these doctrinal variations, we can draw a number of additional clues as to the chronology of the works.[8]

If we leave aside these two categories of “provisional theses” (those which would be purely expedient and those on which the author’s thought has evolved), there remains a whole corpus of definitive statements, the general arrangement of which we will sketch out in the following pages.




[1] Let us briefly recall that the first three “Vehicles” (theg pa, skt. yāna) are those of the Listeners (śrāvaka), Prayekabuddha, and Bodhisattva; the last six are the six classes of tantra, of which the rDzogs chen forms the summit.

[2]  This is a point explained at length by ’Ju Mi pham in his commentary on the Madhyamakālaṅkāra. Cf. Mi pham, dBu ma rgyan gyi rnam bshad ’Jam dbyangs dgyes pa’i zhal lung, in the cited edition of the Works : vol. 13, especially pp. 25-26, 40, 43-44, 54, etc. This is, moreover, the constant doctrine of Mi pham, who, on many points, is the faithful continuator of Klong chen rab ’byams.

[3]  The dGe lugs pa like to quote some passages from Klong chen rab ’byams’ work where he seems to give the Prāsaṅgika doctrine as the culmination of Buddhist thought. These passages are certainly not invented: Klong chen rab ’byams does, indeed, assert the superiority of the Prāsaṅgika system over all other Buddhist philosophical systems, for example, in the Theg mchog mdzod (p. 91). However, it will be seen a little later that in Padma dkar po, the great commentary on the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod, the author, faithful to Rong zom mahāpaṇḍita (whom he does not quote in this connection, but it is visible, from reading his cycle on the gSang ba snying po, that he was familiar with Rong zom’s work), clearly posits that, precisely on this question of the two realities (bden gnyis), only the Vajrayāna gives the final word and resolves the aporias of the Pāramitāyāna. A few chapters earlier, however, he claimed that the Prāsaṅgika doctrine was the ultimate version of the Mahāyāna. Clearly, it was to be understood as the highest doctrine of the “Causal Vehicle of Characteristics.” Finally, in the Lung gi gter mdzod (p. 150, for example), he clearly presents the distinction of the emptiness of the Prāsaṅgika and the view of the rDzogs chen.

[4] There are two major pieces of cosmology in the work of Klong chen rab ’byams, besides some more minor developments: the first chapter of the Theg mchog rin po che’i mdzod, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, chapters II-III (on the various worlds), IV (on the beings that populate them), V-VI (on the kalpas and their subdivisions), in the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod and its commentary Padma dkar po.

[5] The shift from a kind of subjective idealism to what we hardly dare to call an absolute idealism has, as its pivot, a meditation on the question of the omniscience of the Buddhas. This is one of the main axes of my interpretation. The real world will not be a material world external to the consciousness that perceives it, but the Dharmadhātu without subject or object.

[6]  On the classification of the tantras, the main texts are the following, in supposed chronological order of composition:

  1. Theg mchog rin po che’i mdzod, end of chapter IV;
  2. the whole beginning of chp. IX of the Shing rta chen po (great commentary on the Sems nyid ngal gso);
  3. part of the Legs bshad rgya mtsho (Ngal gso skor gsum, no. 47);
  4. sNgags spyi don tshang dbyangs ’brug sgra;
  5. almost all of Yid kyi mun sel [if it is authentic];
  6. chapters VI and VII of Grub mtha’ mdzod;
  7. Finally Yid bzhin rin po che'i mdzod (no. 258)
  8. And its commentary (no. 259), end of chp. XII.

Some elements also in the Byang chub lam bzang (n° 219) show an evolution still in progress during the composition of the Ngal gso skor gsum on the question of male, female and non-dual tantras in the Anuttara-tantra class.

[7] The main texts, also in supposed order of composition, are the following:

  1. Theg mchog rin po che'i mdzod, middle of chp. IV;
  2. Grub mtha' mdzod (n° 33), chp. III in particular;
  3. Yid bzhin rin po che'i mdzod 'grel, chp. XII.

There are other minor texts here and there in the work.

[8] Other clues could be drawn from a close examination of my index of the citations in the writings of Klong chen pa.

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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