Longchen Rabjam’s doctrine (7) [adapted from Profusion de la Vaste Sphère (Peeters, 2007)]

Publié le 9 Juin 2021

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***2.2.2. The two realities in the idealist system according to ’Ju Mi pham, or the absolute as anirreducible residue

There is no need to go into the details of the various positions of Indian and Tibetan authors[1] on this question at this point. But it is essential to observe, as ’Ju Mi pham points out at several passages of his writings, that there are, in short, two correct but fundamentally different ways of defining the two realities in principle, and, correlatively, of understanding their relationship. A first point that should be made is that there is no common definition in the various systems of the Hīnayāna and the Mahāyāna. ’Ju Mi pham gives a useful summary of the various Brahmanical and Buddhist views on this question in his commentary on the Madhyamakālaṅkāra ;[2] we need only concern ourselves here with the Buddhist doctrines of the Mahāyāna.[3]

Mi pham’s text is particularly clear and synthetic; he abbreviates the various parallel texts of Klong chen pa by integrating the fruit of the research of the dBu ma spyi ston of Go rams pa bSod nams seng ge ; it gives us, moreover, the opportunity to present the differences between rDzogs chen and the idealism of the Vijñānavādins, while recalling the theory of the three natures (trisvabhāva), of which, once again, a clear understanding is crucial to grasp the points of divergence between Klong chen rab ’byams and Dol po pa. This is why I thought it appropriate to make it the framework of this first part of our development. The substantial paratantra under the unreal parikalpita

Here is ’Ju Mi pham’s text:

“[22] As for the Idealists (Sems tsam pa), [according to them,] the dual appearance of the prehensible [object (grāhya)] and the prehensile [subject (grāhaka)] is the nonexistent, wholly imputed (parikalpita) superficial (saṃvṛti) [reality]. Its basis of appearance is the heteronomous (paratantra) consciousness, which ultimately [reduces to] the simple clear aperceptive consciousness by itself.[4]  [The fact that] it [is] void of an external prehensible [objet] and of an apprehensive [subject] is the perfectly established (pariniṣpanna), [in other words] the absolute (paramārtha).[5] Saying to themselves, ‘If there were not even consciousness as the basis of appearance of the manifestations of the saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, then it would be like the flower of space,’[6]they profess that mere consciousness is the absolute.[7] In this respect, as they refute matter [allegedly, supposedly] essentially different from consciousness, by reasonings such as that which refutes [the existence of] atoms,[8] [for them,] external objects are not established.[9]

- But, one may ask, what are the axial mountain, the houses, etc., which manifest themselves infallibly and without error ?[10] - Although these things [23] do not exist externally [and are not] of a material nature, they seem to exist from the point of view [of a deluded consciousness].[11] It is, for example, like the appearances of a dream.[12]

As to the reason for such an appearance, [it is to be known that] the clear and perceptive consciousness (shes pa gsal rig) is comparable to a crystal devoid of defilements, and that it changes its appearance (kha bsgyur ba) by the coloring that [it is given by] the various impregnations (vāsanā), pure and impure.[13] Thus this consciousness manifests itself in the aspect [of those things it thinks it perceives], which is called ‘heteronomous (paratantra) consciousness’, roughly synonymous with ‘dependent [arising]’ (rten 'brel, Skt. pratītyasamutpāda)[14] . This being so, even when one meditates on the ‘destruction of desire’ or on the ‘horrible’,[15] the body, possessions, abodes, which [arise] from conditions [consisting in] the impregnations to which one has been accustomed since [time] without beginning, will be apprehended by the ordinary childish beings, who have not assimilated [the fact that] these [things are] of the nature of their own minds, as if the prehensile and the prehensible were objectively established and split, the object there and the subject here.[16]Such is the deluded [state], the wholly imputed (parikalpita) which is not [in accordance with] the mode of being of things (dngos po’i yin lugs).[17]

It is as in the case where one does not recognize the dream elephant[18] for a self-manifestation [of the mind to itself], and holds it for an elephant externally [existing] in a substantial way.[19] The ultimate nature of heteronomous (paratantra) consciousness, though it manifests itself in this way in the form of the prehensile and the prehensile, is nothing more than mere self-clear apperception.”[20]


[1]  This is the subject of a chapter in the dBu ma spyi ston of Go rams pa, p. 106 ff. of the edition used. One will note a curious and interesting overview of the ideas of the ancient Tibetan authors (snga rabs pa) on this point. This General Exposition of the Madhyamaka is not only of great clarity in unraveling the intricacies of the Madhyamaka in particular and the Mahāyāna in general, but also, it is an almost inexhaustible mine of useful insights into Tibet’s early philosophers.

[2] dBu ma rgyan 'grel ’jam dbyangs bla ma dgyes pa’i zhal lung, Complete Works, vol. XIII. p. 18 ff.

[3] Pp. 21 sq.

[4] Sems tsam pa ni | gzung 'dzin gnyis su snang ba 'di med bzhin du kun tu btags pa tsam yin pa'i kun rdzob | de dag gi snang gzhi gzhan dbang gi rnam shes mthar thug pa shes pa rang rig rang gsal tsam | – Cf. the beautiful image given by Stcherbatsky, La Théorie de la connaissance et la logique chez les bouddhistes tardifs (p. 169) : “...as the objectified representations are not other than the consciousness itself, having no external objects which would correspond to them, the consciousness appears (...) like a lamp which shines in an empty space and illuminates only itself.”

[5] Phyi rol gzung ba dang der 'dzin pas stong pa ni yongs grub ste don dam pa yin la |

[6] This argument is developed in particular in the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga attributed by the Tibetans to Maitreya: cf. the gloss by Mi pham, Writings, ed. cit. IV, pp. 616-617:

“...If there were no such [means of bringing about] the synthesis of the nothingness of objectivity on the one hand and the manifestation of what is not, on the other, if any of these two terms, [non-existence and appearance,] were not [posited], then delusion and non-delusion would be impossible in all respects, as would the entirely defiled [state] and the entirely purified [state]. If, without the objective nonexistence [of what is perceived, things] were as they appear in dual form [and were] established [as such], it would not be appropriate [for one to consider] holding them as such as [pertaining to] delusion, in other words, as contrary [to the truth]. There would [therefore] be no way to reverse this misunderstanding [since it would not be one]; hence, there would be absolutely no nirvāṇa either. Also, if there were not [this] appearance [of things] in spite of their objective nonexistence, it would be impossible for anyone to be subject to the illusion [of the prehensile-prehensible duality]. The completely defiled [state] would therefore be groundless, and, since it would not exist, the non-existence of its opposite, which is called the completely purified [state], would follow; just as a hare’s horn, which does not exist, cannot be broken. Therefore, because of this synthesis (zung du tshogs pa) of nothingness and appearance, the wholly defiled aspect, [which consists of] a bewilderment that holds as existent that which is not, is possible, and the nirvāṇa is no less possible, which is achieved by means of the path of disillusionment, through the recognition of the nothingness of that which is not.”

(Don du med pa <617> dang med bzhin snang ba gnyis po zung du tshogs pa de lta bu min par de gnyis las gang rung zhig med na 'khrul pa dang ma 'khrul pa dang de bzhin du kun nas nyon mongs pa dang rnam par byang ba zhes-bya ba gnyis yod par rnam pa kun tu mi 'thad par 'gyur te | don la med pa ma yin par gnyis su snang ba ltar yod cing grub na de ltar 'dzin pa de 'khrul pa'am phyin ci log tu mi 'thad la | 'khrul pa de las bzlog pa'i thabs med pas myang 'das kyang rnam pa kun tu med par 'gyur ro | | don la med pa ltar snang ba yang med na su yang gzung 'dzin gyi 'khrul pa can du 'gyur mi srid pas kun nyon gzhi med par 'gyur la | de med pas de las ldog pa rnam byang zhes-bya'ang med par 'gyur te ri bong gi rwa med pa la bcad du med pa bzhin no | | Des na med snang zung du tshogs pa de'i phyir med pa la yod par 'dzin pa'i 'khrul pa la kun nyon phyogs srid cing | med pa la med par shes pa'i sgo nas ma 'khrul pa'i lam gyis thob pa'i myang 'das kyang srid pa yin no |).

[7] ’Khor ’das gnyis kyi snang cha 'di rnams la snang gzhi rnam shes zhig kyang med na nam mkha'i me tog ltar 'gyur ro snyam du rnam rig tsam don dam du smra'o |

As we shall see, this (according to Tibetan doxographers) is the trait that Buddhist idealism shares with the realist schools of Hīnayāna: the prejudice that all delusions require a real basis, like the mother-of-pearl mistaken for silver or the rope appearing as a snake. It is this prejudice that Madhyamaka will essentially overcome, that of an irreducible residue remaining at the end of the deconstruction of misconceptions. This is a point that Go rams pa had already emphasized, and even more finely: for this author, all “substantialist” systems (dngos smra ba) have in common the existence of a “basis of imputation” (gdags gzhi) of the two realities (op. cit., pp. 108-109). He reminds us very clearly (p. 109) that, in the idealists, the difference between the two realities is, however, as in the Mādhyamika, essentially due to something subjective (blo, yul can). But, in the former, the difference is, in sum, practical: the vision of the absolute is both the index and the cause of the “wholly purified” state (rnam par byang ba), while the consideration of the superficial is the mark and the cause of the “wholly defiled” state (kun nas nyon mongs pa). In the Madhyamaka (p. 110), things are presented in a less directly ethical or practical way, since the distinction of the two realities is reduced to that of the misplaced or unmisplaced cognitive faculties.

[8] An  argument that reduces atomism to absurdity by means of a dilemma: either the atom is thicknessless (cha med), but in that case the accumulation of atoms, even in infinite numbers, will never constitute an extended body; or the atom is extended, but then it is divisible and compound (cha yod), which is repugnant to its definition. This argument is found, for example, in Vasubandhu, Viṃśatikā-kārikā, 11-14.

[9] De la de dag gis 'di ltar shes pa las ngo bo tha dad du gyur pa'i bem po ni rdul phran 'gog pa'i rigs pa sogs kyis khegs pas phyi don mi 'grub la |

[10] ’O na ri rab khang khyim la sogs bslu med bsnyon med du snang ba 'di ci yin snyam na |

[11] ’Di [23] rnams ni phyi rol na bem po'i bdag nyid du med kyang 'khrul pa'i ngo na yod pa ltar snang ba ste |

[12] dPer na rmi lam gyi snang ba bzhin no |

[13] De ltar snang ba'i rgyu mtshan yang shes pa gsal rig gi ngo bo tsam nor bu dri ma dang bral ba lta bu la | dag dang ma dag pa'i bag chags sna tshogs kyi tshon gyis kha bsgyur bas...

The comparison of the immaculate crystal that seems variously colored by the hues of the backgrounds on which it is placed is found in the Saṃdhinirmocana sūtra, VI, 8-9, precisely in this sense, cf. French trans. Lamotte (pp. 189-190) [what follows is an English rendering of the French text]:

“It is like the case of the transparent crystal. In contact with blue, it takes on the appearance of a sapphire or ‘great blue’ jewel and, as it is mistaken for sapphire or ‘great blue,’ it deceives all beings. In contact with red, green or yellow, it respectively takes the appearance of ruby, emerald or gold, and, as it is mistaken for a jewel of this kind, it deceives all beings.

The impregnations of the common, essentially fanciful language affecting the dependent character (paratantra [what I call the heteronomous]) can be compared to the proximity of the colors affecting the transparent crystal. To falsely attribute imaginary characters [what I call “wholly imputed” or “fictitious,” parikalpita] to the dependent character is equivalent to falsely attributing to the transparent crystal the nature of a jewel of sapphire, ‘great blue,’ ruby, emerald and gold. The dependent character can be compared to the transparent crystal. Finally, the absolute character [pariniṣpanna, ‘perfectly established’] is the non-reality, the perpetual non-existence of the imaginary characters [attributed] to the dependent character; just as [the absolute character of the crystal] is the non-reality, the perpetual non-existence of the characters of the sapphire and other gems, [attributed] to the crystal.”

[14] Shes pa nyid de dang de’i rnam par snang ba ni gzhan dbang gi rnam shes zhes bya ste rten 'brel dang don ’dra’o |

[15] Forms of meditation aiming at eradicating the passions, and not implying by themselves the comprehension of the non-existence of an external reality. The second is well known: it consists, in order to counteract carnal desire, in imagining the entrails, bones, veins, nerves, body fluids, etc., usually veiled by the skin. There are much more sophisticated variants of this, some of which, in the Chinese Mahāyāna, which Patrick Carré was kind enough to point out to me, are truly frightening. As for the “destruction of desire,” I assume that this is a practice of the same order, but the term ’dod ’jigs is not familiar to me and is not to be found in the dictionaries consulted.

[16] De ltar ’dod ’jigs dang mi sdug pa sogs goms pa bzhin thog med goms pa'i bag chags kyi rkyen las shes pa nyid lus dang longs spyod gnas la sogs par snang yang byis pa so skye bos de rang gi sems kyi bdag nyid du khong du ma chud par | yul phar ka dang | sems tshur ka lta bur gzung 'dzin gnyis tha dad par rgyang chad du don la grub par zin pa ni...

[17] dNgos po'i yin lugs ma yin pa'i kun tu btags pa'am 'khrul pa ste |

[18] The elephant is curiously one of the most common examples of dream visions in Buddhist literature. Europe prefers the horse for this purpose: cf. Pascal Quignard, Le Sexe et l'effroi (ed. Folio Gallimard, p. 139): “There still remains in the French word ‘cauchemar’ [and even more clearly in the English ‘nightmare’, of course] the memory of the mare that sits on a man’s chest or tramples (calcare)him while he sleeps. Mare is a lamia. It is the nocturnal vampire which is found in the English nightmare.” There is in Strickmann's book Mantras et Mandarins a whole anthology of texts on Vināyaka, associated with Gaṇapati, the elephant-headed god of Hindu mythology, and who, in Buddhist Tantrism, is par excellence the “obstacle-maker,” whose presence manifests itself eminently in dreams of anguish (cf. Chapter VI-3, “The Nightmare and the Obstacle-Beast”). It is a pity that he did not think to make the connection with those herds of dream-elephants (and sometimes dream-horses!) that parade through the Buddhist stra and śāstra... In Klong chen rab ’byams himself, there are several occurrences of this image in this sense, for example in the Sems nyid rang grol.

[19] rMi lam gyi glang chen la rang snang du ma shes par phyi rol gyi glang po dngos su 'dzin pa lta bu'o |

[20] De ltar gzung 'dzin du snang bzhin pa gzhan dbang gi rnam shes de'i rang bzhin mthar thug pa ni rang rig rang gsal tsam las ma 'das pas... - The version of this work presented at the defense, as a PhD dissertation, included at this point a discussion of the notion (or rather the term, covering several disparate notions) of rang rig; but, since the same subject has been treated in a more substantial way by Kapstein in his article We Are All Gzhan stong pas” (Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 2000), I have excised this passage.

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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