Longchen Rabjam’s doctrine (9) [adapted from Profusion de la Vaste Sphère (Peeters, 2007)]

Publié le 11 Juin 2021

To get back to the beginning of this series about Klong chen pa's doctrine, click here.

“This is, in short,] the system of the ‘vast’[1] Path, [whose presentation] is elegant (mdzes pa) and correct in this [idealistic] system[2]. Therefore, the scriptures of the ‘vast’ Way must be interpreted by laying the foundations through such a conventional presentation of [reality].[3] It is in this sense that the Noble [25] Asaṅga is known as the ‘vector of the tradition of the vast conduct;’ thus it is to be understood that [the literature of the Vijñānavādins] is a necessary key point for all followers of the Mahāyāna[4] .

This being so, even if [the conceptions] of this idealist system as to the nature[5] of conventional surface [reality] are perfectly true, it remains that the aspect of attachment to the nature of clear consciousness per se, as if it were established as real, is an object of refutation.[6]

In this chapter (skabs) [devoted] to the external and internal philosophical systems, we only sketch an explanation of the theses of each of them according to [their] fundamental texts. We only state the essential of their conceptions of the two realities.[7]

What is the point of discussing mental evaluations at length?[8]

What is like the root and vital force of all the [intellectual] faculties

Is a realization that understands the deep key points of the philosophical systems

Like the swan which [has the ability to] separate milk from water.[9]

These are the verses of circumstance [summarizing what precedes].[10]

Thus, among our people,[11] we find an understanding of emptiness of greater or lesser scope, according to the greater or lesser power of their understanding. They approach more and more the mode of being of the two realities and penetrate more and more [the truth].[12] But [the three substantialist systems, Vaibhāṣika, Sautrāntika and Cittamātra], have in common that they are unable to overcome [the idea of a] basis of manifestation [of illusion, itself] established as real. Hence, we speak of “partial emptiness”.[13] Now, in the present treatise, [the Madhyamakālaṅkāra,] it is not professed [that there is] any substance established as real among all knowable things[14].

According to the Moon Lamp:[15]

‘All things are always naturally empty;

When all the Sons of the Conquerors destroy all substantiality,

The whole phenomenal world is originally empty of existence.

[As for the] partial vacuum, the infidels...", etc.[16] . »

It is [on] this teaching that the Middle Way treatises are based, such as this one’[17].”

2.2.3. Why the doctrine of Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan is a "form of Idealism (...) which borders on Madhyamaka" (Rong ston) Introduction

After this summary of the idealist theses, it is appropriate to give a more precise outline of Dol po pa’s doctrine, which is so difficult to distinguish, at first sight, from that of our Klong chenpa. Indeed, if it were permissible, in an academic work, to pass judgment on an old Tibetan controversy, we would say with Go rams pa that this theory is, in the last analysis, a refined and curious version of Vijñānavāda that does not belong to the Madhyamaka at all – precisely for the reason just stated by Mi pham, namely, its inability to “overcome [the idea of a] basis of manifestation [of illusion, itself] established as real.”

Despite a relative similarity on the surface, a similar fondness for the Ratnagotravibhāga, a similar way of blending sūtra and tantra, and perhaps a certain commonality in fundamental intuition, the two systems of Dol po pa and Klong chen rab ’byams are distinctly different, indeed, by the fact that the former obstinately posits an irreducible residue at the end of the Madhyamaka’s reasonings, while the latter does not admit, paradoxical as it may be, that Intelligence (rig pa) is established as real (bden grub) and empty only of that which is foreign to it (gzhan stong). In this respect Klong chen rab ’byams is either completely inconsistent or infinitely more penetrating than Dol po pa.

We follow here the account that Go rams pa dam pa seng ge,[18] perhaps the greatest of the fifteenth-century sa skya pa philosophers, gives of Dol po pa’s doctrines of in his 1468 treatise,[19] The Distinction of Views (lTa ba’i shan ’byed).[20]

This author, if he is often very incisive and even violent in the controversy, has this quality, to give precise and honest presentations of the doctrines he intends to refute. As for Tsong kha pa, I have always found in his works the passages to which Go rams pa alludes, and I have never noticed, in their introductory presentation, the slightest suspicious distortion, the slightest addition or the smallest retrenchment that could be suspected of bad faith. I have not yet had the opportunity to carry out the same methodical work with regard to Dol po pa, but it must be said that what Go rams pa says about his thought condenses very faithfully, very precisely and very synthetically what can be read in the great treatise of this author, the Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho, or what Cyrus Stearns says about it in The Buddha from Dolpo.


[1]  It is conventional in the Tibetan tradition to distinguish the “vast” Path, or “Way of the vast guidance,” from the “profound” Way, or “of the deep view,” in the context of the Mahāyāna. Originally, the problem is that of combining the doctrines of the Abhisamayālaṅkāra, attributed to Maitreya by the Tibetans on the one hand, with the philosophy of the Madhyamaka on the other, especially in its Prāsaṅgika form. I confess that I do not know the historical origin of this problematic both philosophical and exegetical; but there is no doubt that it has its roots quite high up in the Indian Mahāyāna, since the Tibetans distinguish, among the Indian commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṅkāra, those that incline in the idealist direction, on the one hand, and those that are compatible with the Madhyamaka, on the other, especially Haribhadra’s commentary, which is the most highly esteemed in Tibet. Haribhadra’s commentary work shows, in any case, that the Indian authors were already concerned to correct the eristic dryness of the Prāsaṅgika doctrines by a developed theory of the stages of the Path, borrowed from a literature a priori clearly connected with the Vijñānavāda, amending it in the direction of their intentions.

In a late author, particularly benevolent towards Idealism, such as ’Ju Mi pham, it is no longer the Abhisamayālaṅkāra alone, which is associated with the vast Way, but, finally, the whole doctrine of the Vijñānavādins, which, by means of the removal of its residual substantialism, becomes the adequate explanation of surface reality (kun rdzob kyi bden pa), enveloping to a certain extent the theory of the path to Awakening. Ultimately, his thinking on this issue, which he openly expounds at several points in his work, consists in positing that the phenomenal aspect (chos can, dharma or dharmin) is adequately presented by the Cittamātra, while the essential aspect (chos nyid, Dharmatā) must be understood from the Madhyamaka. Now, according to him, as we shall see later, only the view that overcomes the opposition of phenomenon and essence is ultimate. The secret of this view is, according to Mi pham, to be found in the Madhyamaka, although the final truth of it is pronounced in the rDzogs chen alone. But it allows us to determine in return the right place of Idealism, as a bypassed, but nevertheless preserved, moment in the ultimate doctrine. It is there one of the capital moments of the construction of the device which places the rDzogs chen in its position of high point, geometrical of the perspectives, which alone gives an account of the economy of the system.

This doctrine of Mi pham is clearly stated in a passage in the commentary to the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga (ed. cit., p. 612):

“[The treatise] agrees as to its conception of the phenomenal surface with the Cittamātra, and its conception of the essential absolute agrees with the Madhyamaka; thus, its ultimate intention falls under (gnas) the Madhyamaka. If one understands [this treatise] and presents it as expounding the key points of the Mahāyāna view in a synthesis (zung ’jug) of the Madhyamaka and the Cittamātra... (kun rdzob chos can gyi ’dod tshul sems tsam dang mthun la | don dam chos nyid ’dod tshul dbu ma dang mthun pas mthar thug gi dgongs pa dbu mar gnas shing dbu sems zung ’jug gi tshul gyis theg pa chen po’i lta ba’i gnad ston pa’i tshul du go zhing bshad na...)"

What is given here as an exegetical hypothesis about the Dharmadharmatāvibhāga in fact actually corresponds to the author's general doctrine.

[2] rGya che ba’i lam lugs ’di la ’os shing mdzes pa yin pas...

[3] Tha snyad kyi ’jog tshul ’di lta bus gzhi bting nas rgya che ba’i lam gyi gzhung bsrang dgos pa yin pas |

[4] ’Phags pa [25] Thogs med kyis rgya chen spyod pa'i srol phyes so zhes grags pa bzhin theg chen pa kun la dgos pa'i gnad gcig yin par shes par bya'o |

[5] De kho na nyid does not have here its technical meaning, according to which it designates the ultimate nature of things.

[6] Des na sems tsam pa'i tshul 'di kun rdzob tha snyad kyi de kho na nyid shin tu bden pa yin mod | 'on kyang 'di'i rnam shes rang gsal gyi rang bzhin la bden grub tu zhen pa'i cha de dgag bya yin no |

Such is the residue of substantialism that Madhyamaka is intended to remove. In Mi pham's case, after all, it serves only this purpose: not to teach us new truths about phenomena, but to strike them out, to put them entirely in brackets, to subject them to a radical which, like its phenomenological counterpart, leaves them as they are, unaltered, in the state, however, that G. Bugault, in his book on the notion of Prajñā, quite rightly calls "the sublimated empirical".

There is indeed difference between a reduction of any thesis, without any implicit counterpart (Nāgārjuna), and a reduction of theses, which has the object of letting the immediate, raw consciousness, implicitly held to be real, though ineffable, emerge nakedly (the position of the Cittamātrin, according to the Tibetan doxographers). The rDzogs chen, as expounded by Klong chen pa, falls neither on one side nor the other.

[7] Phyi nang gi Grub mtha'i skabs 'dir so so'i 'dod pa'i rnam gzhag cung zad gzhung du 'chad par 'gyur la | 'dir bden gnyis kyi 'dod tshul snying po tsam brjod pa yin no |

[8] Blo 'chal mang du smra bas ci bgyis ste |

[9] dBang po kun gyi rtsa ba srog bzhin du | Grub mtha'i zab gnad rjen cer zin pa'i blo | | chu las 'o ma 'byed pa'i ngang mo bzhin |

[10] Zhes bya ba skabs kyi tshigs bcad do |

[11] That is, in Buddhist authors, as opposed to Brahmanical thinkers, etc.

[12] De ltar rang gi sde pa de dag la blo'i rtsal che chung gis stong par rtogs tshul la khyab che chung yod pas bden gnyis kyi yin lugs dang je-nyer song bas gong nas gong du khyad zhugs kyang |

[13] De thams cad mthsungs par snang gzhi bden grub gcig las ’da’ ma nus pas nyi tshe ba stong pa zhes bya la |

[14] gZhung ’dir ni shes-bya'i chos kyi khong ’di na rang bzhin bden grub kyi dngos po cung zad cig kyang khas mi len pa yin te |

[15] Candrapradīpa sūtra, which, according to Wayman (Calming the Mind and Discerning the Real, p. 441 n. 12) is none other than the Samādhirāja sūtra.

[16] Zla sgron las | chos thams cad rtag tu rang bzhin stong | | rGyal sras rnams kyis dngos po rnams bshig na | | srid pa thams cad yod ye stong pa ste | | nyi tshe'i stong pa mu stegs can rnams kyi | | zhes pa la sogs pas.

[17] ...bsTan pa de lta bu'i dbu ma'i gzhung 'dzugs la |

[18] I have given a small glimpse of this author’s life in Le Chant d’illusion, pp. 230-232.

[19]  A “earth-mouse” year (sa byi) that a note in the Sarnath edition places in the fortieth year of this author.

[20] [This was all written before the publication of Pr. Cabezon’s English translation and of my own one – and is mostly an English rendering of the way the text is translated in my 2002 PhD dissertation and the book (2007) based on it.]

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

Pour être informé des derniers articles, inscrivez vous :
Commenter cet article