Buddhist Philosophy based on the Rice-Seedling Sutra

(Salistamba Sutra)

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Topga Rinpoche

Twelve Links of Dependent Arising

Buddha statue

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[page 68 of pdf]

Still back to India. There is another way to subdivide the philosophy at that time. Namely one, which was called the tradition of vast conduct, which was mainly introduced by the master Asanga. On the other hand the tradition of the profound, deep view, which was the Madhyamaka presentation as presented by Nagarjuna. These where the two major traditions. It was only in later times in Tibet that the term Shentong-Madhyamaka came into existence .A master called Jonangpa Taranata who was one of the main proclaimers of the Shentong-Madhyamaka viewpoint, which at that period became quite widespread. This, however, does not mean that the Shentong-Madhyamaka did not exist in Tibet earlier.

As Shentong as such did not exist in India, later on when it was presented in Tibet, there where many debates and discussions as to whether or not the Shentong-Madhyamaka approach can be accepted.

Since Jonang Taranata the Shentong-Madhyamaka was quite widespread in Tibet. From among the Kagybpas it was in particular the eighth Situ Ch^ji Jungnay, who in fact was the lama of the thirteenth Karmapa, who proclaimed Shentong a lot. Similarly Jamgon Kongtrul Lod^ Thaye was one of the famous proclaimers of the Shentong-Madhyamaka tradition.

In the Nyingma-tradition there were also many masters who were following the Shentong approach, not however, in the Sakya- and the Gelugpa-tradition

So far as to the development of Shentong-Madhyamaka in Tibet and now we come to the presentation of the viewpoint.

One of the main criticism is the following: The viewpoint as presented by the Mind-Only, the Cittamatra school of thought, and the Shentong school of thought would be one and the same. This is one of the major criticisms. This e.g. is claimed by the Gelugpas. They therefore do not accept Shentong as genuine Madhyamaka in that it would not be something different from the Cittamatra viewpoint. They would say that the Cittamatra and the Shentong viewpoint would be identical. In the Sakya tradition there were different scholars. One was Sendok Penchen, who was a contemporary of the seventh Karmapa. He, in fact, proclaimed and accepted the Shentong viewpoint. So there are different viewpoints in the Sakya tradition.

When looking at the Shentong-Madhyamaka viewpoint, they give the following explanation: Their main theory is that phenomena are empty from something else. According to them the buddhanature, that is to say ultimate reality, is empty form something else. It is not empty by itself, but from something else. The basic notion therefore is that ultimate reality is the buddhanature, which is obscured by defilement but empty of these. The criticism is, that the Shentongpas fail to understand ultimate reality as being empty by its very nature. For this reason Shentong is sometimes considered as the same as Cittamatra. Their theories sound quite similar. According to the Cittamatra system there is no outer world at all. All phenomenon are merely an expression of mind itself, projections of mind. Therefore they are not different from mind. And mind itself, consciousness itself, has the quality of being dynamic and knowing. The Cittamatrins ascribe certain qualities to mind, namely the quality of being clear and knowing. Similarly the Shentong-Madhyamakas ascribe to the buddhanature qualities such as being dynamic and knowing, being great bliss and permanent. Therefore the Shentong-Madhyamakas are sometimes criticised for failing to arrive at a genuine understanding of emptiness, the ultimate nature.

Another criticism is the following: In India the Shentong-Madhyamaka system did not exist as such. Those who criticise the Shentongpas say, since it did not exist in India, it cannot possibly be an authentic teaching by the Buddha himself, because otherwise it would have definitely needed to exist already in India.

What does Shentong really refer to? What is the source of Shentong? Basically Shentong-Madhyamaka is nothing different from Prasangika-Madhyamaka. They are so to speak both Prasangika-Madhyamaka. However, pure Prasangikas so to speak, emphasise emptiness as the main approach in explaining the ultimate nature of phenomena. Their philosophy and their path based on it emphasises the approach saying phenomena are non-existent, are empty by nature. Whereas the Shentong path puts the emphasis on another aspect. They emphasise the fact that emptiness of phenomena does involve clarity as well. It is the clarity which they emphasise in their presentation in that they refer to what manifests due to realisation of emptiness. Namely the various buddha-wisdoms, the buddha-kayas and the buddha-activity, which spontaneously and uninterruptedly benefits sentient beings. The emphasis therefore is different. In the Shentong path the focus is on the aspect of clarity based in emptiness. Whereas the pure Prasangika-Madhyamikas focus upon the absence of existence of phenomena, on emptiness itself.

One should understand that the Shentong-Madhyamaka approach is not a new invention by some scholars, as a new approach of philosophy. One should rather see that what is called Shentong-Madhyamaka does refer back to the sutras of the Buddhas. That it merely emphasises different sutra and emphasises certain explanations that the Buddha gave in his sutras regarding the aspect of clarity and not focusing the aspect of emptiness. As you know, the Buddha taught three wheels of the dharma. From among the three wheels of teaching the Buddha gave, the Prasangika-Madhyamakas base their explanations on the second one. Because in these kinds of sutras the Buddha emphasised ultimate reality by explaining the emptiness of all phenomena. Whereas in the third cycle of his teachings he presented ultimate reality from another angle. The angle in this third set of teachings was the clarity aspect. And it is therefore these sutras which the Shentong-Madhyamakas basically refer to. So Shentong was not newly invented in Tibet, but it is an authentic teaching the Buddha himself gave through his sutras.

In India, since the Shentong-Madhyamaka School as such did not exist, obviously you do not find any discussion between Shentongpas and other Madhyamikas. This did not exist in India. What we have from India are discussions between Madhyamikas and the Cittamatrins. The Madhyamikas that means both major traditions that is to say the Prasangika-Madhyamikas and Svatantrika-Madhyamikas. So they criticise the Mind-Only school of thought in that they maintain the Cittamatra-viewpoint to not embrace ultimate reality. They say according to them the Cittamatra viewpoint fails to present ultimate reality, because they insist on consciousness itself to be really existent, to be real. Whereas the Madhyamikas claim themselves to be the ones who were able to present genuine ultimate reality, because they reject any kind of solid or real existence.

With respect to the Cittamatra viewpoint one has to distinguish two schools. One of these traditions maintains that mind and mental projections are both real, are both inherently existent. Mind is looked at from two angles. One angle is mind as the perceiver of phenomena. The other angle is the perceived phenomena, which are perceived by mind. So this Cittamatra-tradition maintains that both or these two aspects, perceiver and perceived, are real. Whereas in the other school of the Cittamatra a distinction is made between mind as the perceiver and the perceived object, which are mind as well. The difference to the previous one is that, the second Cittamatra school maintains only the perceiver to be real, not the perceived appearances. Looking at these two viewpoints within the Cittamatra school, the eighth Karmapa Miky^ Dorje mentioned that the second one is in fact Shentong-Madhyamaka. The second one are those Cittamatrins who speak about the perceiver as being real and the perceived object as being unreal.

The eight Karmapa Miky^ Dorje, when he claims this subschool of the Cittamatrins, that speaks about the perceiver to be real and the perceived objects to be unreal, to be in fact Shentong-Madhyamaka, implies that the Shentong-Madhyamaka viewpoint, as it was presented in Tibet by masters such as Jonang Taranata or Sakya Chokden, failed to present Shentong-Madhyamaka genuinely. That they, in fact, with respect to their presentations of Shentong, merely presented this viewpoint of that particular subschool of the Cittamatrins, but nothing else. This statement of the eighth Karmapa implies a criticism regarding the Shentong presentation given by e.g. Jonang Taranata.

So that was the general presentation of what, more or less, is called the Cittamatra viewpoint and what is referred to as the Shentong-Madhyamaka. In order to have a thorough understanding, one would need to study everything in detail, which obviously is not possible at the moment. However, to once again point to the major difference between what is called Shentong-Madhyamaka and Cittamatra. As we have seen the Cittamatra school is subdivided into these two major views. One subschool which speaks about mind and perceived objects to be real and the other one, which refers to mind as the perceiver to be real but to everything what is perceived by mind as being delusion and hence unreal. This is supposed to be the most profound subschool within the Cittamatra viewpoint.

However, even though is the most profound one within the Cittamatrins, it is not logical. As mentioned before, their basic thesis is that mind itself must be real, must be inherently existent. At the same time this subschool maintains that manifestations of mind, everything what is perceived by mind is unreal. How can you ever speak about the projections of mind as being unreal, when mind itself, which perceives them is real. Whatever subschool you look at you will be able to criticise it because they involve logical errors.

When looking at the Shentong-Madhyamaka viewpoint, they speak about ultimate reality, which is the ultimate nature of mind and refer to it as that which lacks an inherent existence, which is therefore not real. It involves the aspect of clarity in that the buddha-wisdoms are the essential nature of mind. The Shentongpas explain that ordinary sentient beings fail to realise the true nature of their mind in that incidental defilements hinder beings to recognise themselves so to speak, to be aware of the true nature of their mind. This makes up the deluded state of ordinary sentient beings. Through practice one is able to remove the incidental defilements, such that the defilements will disappear. They are of the nature of the mind, but superficial, incidental only. What happens therefore is that mind itself as it is realised, comes to manifest. The enlightened state is therefore not considered as a result brought about newly through practice, but as that which sponanteously manifests as it always was, when the obscurations are removed.

According to the Cittamatrins' view the perceiver, mind itself, is real. The consequence is, that the nature of mind would therefore always be deluded. Why? Because according to their view it is real. In short, according to the Shentong-Madhyamikas, the nature of mind, mind itself is free from any delusion, but in the state of ordinary sentient beings, the incidental defilements cause delusion so to speak, so they are deluded due to incidental defilements. Whereas looking at the Cittamatra viewpoint is would be the other way around, in that the nature would be deluded in that it is real and the manifestations of mind would be free from delusion.

The question is fact refers to a vast subject. It is impossible to go into more details today.

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