Longchen Rabjam’s doctrine (8) [adapted from Profusion de la Vaste Sphère (Peeters, 2007)]

Publié le 10 Juin 2021

To get back to the beginning of this series about Klong chen pa's doctrine, click here. The paratantra, absolute or superficial? – The existence of a “remainder” or partial (nyi tshe ba) emptiness

Let us return to the presentation given by Mi pham about the conception of the two realities proper to the idealist system:

“Thus, they think, it is this very thing [which is called] “perfectly established” insofar as it is empty of double self,[1] which is the ultimate mode of being of things.[2] If one were to make further subdivisions of the way in which this consciousness manifests itself in the form of various appearances, it is with the system (tshul) of the eight groups of consciousnesses that one must begin one’s study (...las brtsam te shes dgos pas...[3] . [For one who wishes to take cognizance] of these points in detail, let him instruct himself in the works of the Noble (Ārya) Asaṅga.[4]

It so happens that, according to the texts, the heteronomous (paratantra) is presented either as absolute or as superficial. If one is not aware of the key points, one will fall into an inextricable[5] mental confusion. [24] If one draws the heteronomous to the side of the ultimate nature of its being, it is admissible to include it in the absolute; drawn [to the side of] its mode of manifestation, and estimated [in this perspective], it can be understood in the superficial – such is the meaning of the key point.[6]

Thus, even as all adventitious defilements, which are not [inherent in] the nature of the mind, are repudiated, the simple awareness of clear natural light is not abolished even in the level (bhūmi) of Awakening; it is the basis for the manifestation of the pure Fields and the [formal] Bodies. It is in this (’di pa) that in their system the double sefllessness is fully affirmed.[7]

Now, even though [the Vijñānavādin] profess, regarding the selflessness of things (chos kyi bdag med), the [fact that the heteronomous is] empty of the wholly imputed and the nonproduction [of imaginary phenomena], when the Mādhyamika examine [this doctrine], they understand that [the Idealists], insofar as they profess the reality of consciousness [as] the basis of appearance, do not [understand] completely, but only in a partial way (nyi tshe ba), the characteristic of the selflessness of things.[8]

[The Vijñānavādin] think that it is by applying oneself to the double accumulation that one obtains buddhahood, [which is of] the nature of the five principial knowledges (ye shes) [born from] the transmutation[9] [of the eight consciousnesses].[10] It is in a merely superficial way that the bodhisattva, saying to himself, “May all sentient beings pass into nirvāṇa!,” puts on the great armor [of courage and patience needed on the way].[11] He [applies himself to] the conduct of the Path of [perfecting] the two immeasurable accumulations[12] for many “immense cosmic periods”;[13] having obtained omniscient principial knowledge [as] fruit, he fulfills the wishes of beings to be converted according to their aspirations.[14]

It is no longer only in each rebirth and with each body [that he is helpful to them]; but, because of the specificity of his qualities, his mind stream (thugs kyi rgyud) becomes more and more eminent; and, in the end, of necessity he will obtain mastery of the whole of the principial knowledge and qualities.[15]


[1]  Selflessness of persons (gang zag gi bdag med, skt. pudgalanairātmya) and selflessness of things (chos kyi bdag med, skt. dharmanairātmya).

[2] De tsam bdag gnyis kyi stong pa’i ldog cha nas yongs su grub pa dngos po’i yin lugs gting slebs pa nyid du ’dod de |

[3] Shes nyid snang ba sna tshogs su ji ltar snang ba’i tshul rgyas par phye na rnam par shes pa tshogs brgyad kyi tshul las brtsam te shes dgos pas...

[4] ...’Phags pa Thogs med kyi gzhung las shes par bya’o |

[5] Bal ba dza bzhin, like bal ba dza a “plant good for making rope”. The Tshig mdzod chen mo defines bal ba dza as rtswa ’dres ma.

[6]  [24] gZhan dbang nyid la gnas tshul mthar thug pa'i don dbang btsan du byas na don dam dang | snang tshul dbang btsan du byas te gzhal na kun rdzob tu bsdur rung ba gnad kyi don to |

This difficult point is more clearly explained by Mi pham, presenting Klong chen rab ’byams’ thought in his Yid bzhin mdzod kyi grub mtha’ (p. 474): “The heteronomous is the phenomenal absolute; the perfectly established is the essential absolute; the fully imputed is the surface reality (de yang gzhan dbang chos can don dam dang | yongs grub chos nyid don dam | kun btags kun rdzob kyi bden par 'dod do |).” – This way of presenting things accounts for this kind of floating found in the literature of the Vijñānavāda, between a tendency, similar to that of the Sautrāntikas, which tends to reduce the illusion to an underlying real process, which would be its substantial substratum (valuing the paratantra at the expense of the pariniṣpanna), and another orientation, which tends rather to devalue the whole phenomenal (dharma) display in order to emphasize the luminous essence (Dharmatā) that it veils (we see here that there is play between the two couples, saṃvṛti / paramārtha and dharma / Dharmatā, which do not exactly overlap). – This vacillation corresponds in part to the classification of Indian idealists into two groups in the Tibetan doxographers: the former (rNam bden pa) posit “the reality of the aspectual modifications of consciousness”; the latter (rNam rdzun pa) deny it and finally conceive of the essence of consciousness as an incomposite light that remains unchanged through its illusory metamorphoses. The distinction between these two versions of Buddhist idealism is luminously exposed by Mi pham in the treatise just quoted (p. 475 ff).

[7] De lta bas na sems kyi rang bzhin ma yin pa’i dri ma glo bur ba rnams spangs kyang | rang bzhin ’od gsal gyi rnam shes tsam ni sangs rgyas kyi sa na'ang mi ldog par zhing dang skur snang ba’i gzhir ’dod do | ’di pa rang gi lugs la bdag med gnyis ka rdzogs par ’dod do |

This remark about double selfelessness comes curiously in the text. Rather, the point just made relates to the way the Vijñānavādin conceive of the Middle Way: denial of the characteristics of the imaginary or “wholly imputed;” affirmation of the substantial reality of the heteronomous or immanent mind process; affirmation of the existence of the perfectly established as the "“nonexistence of this in that,” i.e., of the imaginary in the heteronomous. This is the meaning of kārikā 2 and 3 of the first chapter of the Madhyāntavibhāgaattributed by the Tibetans to Maitreya, the Tibetan text of which reads: [2] Yang dag ma yin kun rtog yod | De la gnyis po yod ma yin | | De la yang ni de yod do | [3] | sTong pa ma yin mi stong min | De lta bas na thams cad bshad | | Yod pas med pas yod pas na | De ni dbu ma'i lam yin no |

Stcherbatsky's translation (Bibliotheca buddhica, vol. XXX, p. 16-17) is not very intelligible; Anacker’s rendering, which is very accurate, is difficult in its formulation (Seven Works of Vasubandhu, p. 211-212); the meaning of these stanzas, however, if one compares several Tibetan commentaries (Rong ston, Mi pham, gZhan dga’...) is not mysterious:

“The imagination of what exactly is not, exists;   
In it, the couple does not exist;                     .
As for emptiness, in this it exists                                                                                       
And that in this one exists.

It is not empty, it is not not empty,
Because of the    existence, the non-existence and the existence    
In this way, everything is explained;
This is the Middle Way.”

That is to say, according to the classical commentaries, that the paratantra (“the imagination of what exactly is not”) “exists;” but “in it the” subject-object “couple,” that is to say the entirely fictitious (parikalpita) “does not exist. As for emptiness, in this” paratantra “it exists” as the absence of the wholly fictitious, “and that” (the heteronomous), “in this one” (emptiness), “it exists.” Therefore, “it is not empty,” but “it is not non-empty” either, “because of the existence” of the parantra, “the non-existence” of the wholly fictitious (parikalpita) “and the existence” of the perfectly established (pariniṣpanna) as the non-existence of the fictitious in the heteronomous. And “In this way, everything is explained”.

[8] Kun btags kyis stong pa dang skye ba ngo bo nyid med pa sogs chos bdag med kyi don du 'dod kyang dBu ma pas dpyad na snang gzhi shes pa nyid bden par khas-blangs pas chos bdag med kyi mtshan nyid yongs su ma rdzogs pas nyi tshe bar shes so |

[9] gNas gyur, eq. skt. āśrayaparāvṛtti, “revolution of the support” in most ancient translators (cf. e.g. Lamotte, La Somme du Grand Véhicule d'Asaṅga, pp. 276 ff. ), “fundamental deflection” in Oltramare, La théosophie bouddhique (pp. 317 and 333). The latter curiously defines this term in the following way (p. 317, n. 2): “The āśrayaparāvṛtti is the work through which the world ceases to appear and deep reality is revealed.” But it is actually the same thing that is called first “the world” and then “the deep reality”... A happier definition of this “transmutation” in Mi pham’s spirit would be rather: the operation by which is revealed the coincidence of being and appearance (gnas snang mthun pa), or the conjunction of the essential aspect (chos nyid, gnas lugs, or gnas tshul) and the phenomenal aspect (chos can, snang tshul).

It is the Mahāyānastrālaṅkāra (IX, 12; XI, 17-18 and 44-45; XIX, 53-54, etc...) that most precisely details the modalities of the transmutation of the eight consciousnesses (rnam shes tshogs brgyad) into the five principial knowledges (ye shes lnga), a capital point of the Mahāyāna, which is also central, with a few changes of inflection, in the tantras in general and even in the rDzogs chen. Thus, for example, the theory of the transmutation of the material elements into diaprous lights at the moment of the rainbow body (’ja’ lus), so typical of the doctrine of the sNying thig, appears to me as an extension (original, it is true) of these old doctrines of the Mahāyāna. The rnying ma commentators, keen on hierarchical constructions, would certainly incline to distinguish the āśrayaparāvṛtti of the Vijñānavāda from that of the tantras, making the former a real transformation of the vijñāna, the fruit of the laborious cultivation of the bodhisattva Path – while they would see in the latter the mere recognition of an eternally pre-existing reality. But these somewhat sharp antinomies should not be taken too naively. Indeed, the practice instruction texts (khrid yig) of the rDzogs chen, while positing that everything is perfect from the start, nevertheless admit a certain de facto progressiveness of the reintegration of the phenomenal aspect (chos can) into the essential aspect (chos nyid); and, on the other hand, one would find many idealistic treatises (notably, many passages in the Five Dharmas attributed by the Tibetans to Maitreya) to assert that, despite the progressiveness of the path, the Dharmatā or Dharmadhātu is always perfect, without evolution, and that neither the Buddhas’ Enlightenement  nor the delusions of the migrants do not add to or detract from it.

[10] Lam tshogs gnyis la 'bad pas 'bras bu gnas gyur pa'i ye shes lnga'i bdag nyid sangs rgyas su 'grub par 'dod do |

[11] De la kun rdzob tsam du byang chub sems dpas sems can thams cad mya ngan las bzla bar bya'o snyam pa'i go cha chen po bgos shing |

[12]  Merit (bsod nams) and principal knowledge (ye shes).

[13] Asaṃkhyeya.

[14] Lam tshogs gnyis tshad med pa la bskal pa grangs med du mar yang nas yang du spyad nas | 'bras bu rnam mkhyen gyi ye shes thob ste gdul bya'i re ba yid bzhin du skong ba dang |

[15] sKye ba re re dang lus re re tsam gyis ma yin la | thugs kyi rgyud yon tan gyi khyad par gyis gong nas gong du 'phags shing | mthar ye shes dang yon tan mtha' dag la mnga' dbang 'byor dgos pa'i… – I confess that this passage leaves me a little perplexed. The author probably has in mind the distinction between the activity of bodhisattvas and that of Buddhas.

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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