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Dzogchen, Chinese Buddhism and the Universal Mind
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The historical origin of the Dzogchen teachings and the relationship of Dzogchen to certain other Buddhist teachings and traditions, such as Yogachara and Ch'an or Zen, has puzzled scholars not only in the West, but in Tibet itself.
The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation (1954), writes, "Our present treatise, attributed to Padmasambhava, which expounds the method of realizing the Great Liberation of Nirvana by yogic understanding of the One Mind, appertains to the Doctrine of the Great Perfection of the Dhyana School.
Both treatises alike set forth the doctrine that the only reality is mind or consciousness, and that no living thing has individualized existence, but is fundamentally in eternal and inseparable at-one-ment with the universal All-consciousness."
First, when Evans-Wentz refers to "the Great Perfection of the Dhyana School," presumably he is linking Dzogchen with the Ch'an school of China, which is much better known in the West in its Japanese version of Zen.
Let us consider the second of these two speculations first.
The Yogachara School and the Doctrine of "Mind-Only" As for the assertion that mind alone is real, this is the view that was traditionally associated with the Yogacharin or Vijnanavadin school of Mahayana philosophy in China.
The adherents of this school asserted that, even though the objects of perception, the world which is external to us, are empty and devoid of any intrinsic reality, the states of consciousness that cognize them, which perceive them as objects, are indeed real.
In the form of Prasangika Madhyamaka, which employs the critical dialectical methods perfected by Chandrakirti, this became the official philosophical position among all five Tibetan schools including the Nyingmapa and the Bonpo.
Basing themselves on the brilliant commentaries by the great master Nagarjuna to the Prajnaparamita Sutras, the Prasangika Madhyamikas point out that we cannot properly make the assertion that "Mind alone is real!" because this view, if examined critically and carried to its logical conclusion, will only lead to absurdity or self-contradiction.
In fact, according to the Prasangikas, this will be the case with any metaphysical statement regarding the ultimate nature of reality because the nature of reality (Dharmata) exceeds and goes beyond the conceptual limitations imposed by the categories and rational processes of the finite humanintellect.
However, even though we cannot make such definitive statements, whether affirmative or negative, regarding the ultimate nature of things, this in no way negates the path to liberation or the goal of Nirvana.
Academic philosophers in their class rooms may expound very profound theories and many abstruse metaphysical systems, but beyond the classroom there is still everyday life and ordinary language and these must be dealt with in concrete terms.
This is because Madhyamaka is not really a philosophical school that asserts certain well-defined positions, but a kind of philosophical analysis of the meaning of language and a kind of intellectual therapy that purges the human mind of its unwarranted assumptions about the nature of reality, which create for the individual a false and limited image of reality and block or impede progress on the spiritual path.
When the Buddha delivered his discourse on the Prajnaparamita, the Perfection of Wisdom, at the Vulture Peak near Rajagriha, many of his Shravaka disciples became terrified at the prospect of Shunyata or emptiness--- the assertion that there is no substantial reality in or behind what we perceive as phenomenal existence.
So, as an expression of his compassion and his skillful means, Shakyamuni later taught to them at various locations a lesser doctrine, which, although representing only a portion of the truth, yet was something that would help lead them toward the ultimate truth for which they were not ready at that time.
Within this category are found all the discourses known as the Hinayana Sutras. Originally in Ancient India, the Hinayana approach comprised eighteen different schools, of which the Theravadins in Southeast Asia are the lone survivor.
and so on, which teach Chittamatra (mind-only doctrine and related teachings such as the Tathagatagarbha (the embryo of Buddhahood) in all sentient beings, which were later systematically elaborated by the Yogachara school.
As a translator, he was principally interested in introducing this Indian school of Mahayana Sutric Buddhism into his native land; consequently, his writings are more Indian in spirit than Chinese and contrast markedly with the more purely Chinese reactions to Buddhism which preceded him.
His most famous work was the Ch'eng Wei Shih Lun.
Thus, even though Hsuan Tsang became the founder of the Pure Consciousness School in China, in his extensive writings he nowhere mentions Tibetans and Dzogchen and his Chinese Sutric school could not be source of Dzogchen, as Evans-Wents appears to suggest in the above quotation.
However, Manushrimitra, a learned scholar of Brahman origin, was evidently an adherent of the Yogachara school before his becoming a disciple of the mysterious Prahevajra or Garab Dorje (dga'-rab rdo-rje) from the country of Uddiyana (Eastern Afghanistan).
Moreover, in terms of content, it is quite clear that the early Dzogchen Movement of the eighth and ninth centuries did not teach the Chittamatra doctrine of the Yogacharins, even though it borrowed some of the terminology of the earlier school.
But it understood these terms in a different manner than did the Yogacharins.
The precepts of Dzogchen are found in the Dzogchen Tantras of Atiyoga and not in the Mahayana Sutras of the Third Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, although later Lama scholars in Tibet noticed the existence of certain similarities in terminology between Dzogchen and Chittamatra.
Nevertheless, in the bSam-gtan mig-sgron of Nubchen Sangye Yeshe (gNubs-chen Sangs-rgyas ye-shes, 9th century), the special viewpoints of both Dzogchen and the Sutra system of the Mahayana are set out and clearly distinguished.
We only know the so-called objective world, which we naively take to be substantial and real, through the mind, through its symbolic and culturally conditioned processes of perception and imagination.
Certainly neither Dzogchen nor any other Tibetan Buddhist school ever taught that "the One Cosmic Mind alone is real." The Madhyamake dialectic of Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti soon makes short work such metaphysical assertions and speculations. Buddhism in China
Efforts were made to relate it and to interpret in terms of Taoist concepts and a legend even sprang up that the Indian Shakyamuni Buddha had actually been the disciple of the venerable Taoist master Lao Tzu, who had disappeared mysteriously, riding off on a buffalo into the West.
When subsequently more Buddhist Sutras were translated into Chinese in the third and fourth centuries, Buddhism came to be considered a philosophy similar to that of the Taoist master Chuang Tzu and in general the Buddhist Sutras were interpreted with ideas and with terminology taken from philosophical Taoism (tao chia).
Then with the fifth century, there came a veritable flood tide of translations of Buddhist Sutras. In consequence, the method of analogy was abandoned.
This new system of accurate translations from the Sanskrit into Chinese was largely the work of the great Kumarajiva (344-413 CE). Of Indian descent, he was a native of the Central Asian trade city of Kucha.
When the Chinese armies of the T'ang dynasty overwhelmed previously independent Kucha, the forty year old Buddhist monk was carried off to the imperial capital of Ch'ang-an, as the greatest treasure among the spoils of their conquest.
Nevertheless, despite his Indian Buddhist background, Kumarajiva continued to use a few Taoist terms to express Buddhist concepts, such as yu (existence), wu (non-existence), wu wei (non-action) and so on.
However, gradually the interpretation of Indian Buddhism and Taoist spirituality led to the manifestation of the characteristically Chinese form of Buddhism, as opposed to being merely Indian Buddhism transplanted to China.
But such schools were restricted to small elite groups among the Chinese intelligenzia for a limited period only and did not reach the average Chinese intellectual serving in the government bureaucracy, let alone the Tibetans.
In Tibet itself, the study of philosophical Buddhism or the Sutra System of the Mahayana (mdo-lugs) was firmly based on translations of the original Sanskrit Shastras or philosophical treatises written by the great Indian masters such as Nagarjuna, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Chandrakirti, and so on.
It is true that some Tantras were translated into Chinese, even a few Anuttara Tantras like the Hevajra Tantra, for example, but the Tantras did not gain a wide circulation or popularity in China, although they did come to be included in the Chinese Canon of Buddhist Scriptures.
His teaching was based on the Yoga Tantras, which had also been introduced into Tibet and enjoyed some popularity in the earlier period before the eleventh century when they were largely superseded in popularity by the New Translations of the Anuttara Tantras.
But the situation of Buddhism was quite different in Japan where the various transplanted schools of Chinese Buddhism have not merged together, but have been kept separate and cultivated in their pristine and independent purity.
Due to the efforts of the Japanese Tantric master Kukei (774-835 CE), otherwise known as Kobo Daishi, the Chinese Tantric tradition was brought to Kyoto and Koyasan in Japan, where this master organized his own school of Tantric Buddhism known as Shingon.
The two principal Tantras of this school, employed in their Chinese translations, are the Mahavairochana Tantra (called a Sutra in both Chinese and Japanese versions) and the Vajrashekhara Tantra, which belong to the Charya Tantra and the Yoga Tantra classifications, respectively, that are in vogue among the Tibetans.
One way in which ideas found in the Mahayana Sutras were interpreted and developed by native Chinese Buddhists who had not studied in India was the introduction of the concept of a Universal Mind The Chinese had accepted the idea of karma (yeh).
What one does at the present moment will have consequences in future lives, and this causal process continues ad infinitum. All of the suffering experienced in life arises from a fundamental ignorance of the nature of things.
But what is Nirvana? One particularly Chinese interpretation asserted that it represents an identification of the mind of the individual sentient being with a Universal Mind, or what is called in the Sutras "the Buddha-nature."
but other schools of Mahayana Buddhism, such as the K'ung Tsung, "the School of Emptiness," which followed the tradition of the Indian Madhyamaka, did not describe Nirvana in this way, but expressed it in terms of the traditional via negativa.
However, the influence of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra and the writings of the Hsing Tsung school spread this idea of the Universal Mind, but before the advent of this interpretation, there did not exist the notion of a Universal Mind in Chinese philosophy.
It is one in the sense of transcending all dualities.
Furthermore, the Dharmakaya, which is understood in Dzogchen as the state of Shunyata and the basis of everything (kun-gzhi), is not a mind, let alone the One Mind or the Universal Mind, even though it is the context for the activities of thought.
The Hsing Tsung is a particular interpretation of certain Mahayana Sutras, an interpretation that originated in China as a consequence of the efforts of some Chinese authors to understand these oft-times recondite Indian texts.
Except for a brief flirtation with Ch'an in the early days of Buddhism in Tibet in the eighth century, the Tibetans exhibited almost no interest at all in Chinese Buddhism, except for translating a few Sutras from Chinese for which they did not possess Indian originals. (To be continued.)
[The above represents portions of two chapters from the original manuscript version of Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness by John Myrdhin Reynolds (reprinted by Snow Lion Publications, 2000) and omitted from the published version.]