“We think that the Mind-Only (Cittamatra) is just as it appears to the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) proponents. This is a rather dictatorial way of looking at it. It seems the Tibetans have not really treated the Middle Way that objectively or fairly. That is how I see it.”
“In brief, the situation that occurred is that the five Dharmas of Maitreya spread in Tibet, but Mind-Only did not. However, if we look at the international scholarly consensus, the five Dharmas are Mind-Only texts. The situation in Tibet was like that. The reason is because the Tibetans could not decide if the texts were Mind-Only or Middle Way. So this is another reason why the Mind-Only did not flourish. The main reason why it did not flourish, or why they asserted it not to be Mind-Only, was its so-called assertion that consciousness was truly existent. However, in the Ornament of the Sutras and Differentiating the Middle from Extremes and the Compendium of Mahayana they do not categorically state that consciousness truly exists.”
–17th Karmapa, Mind Only teachings (February 2022, Day 7)
For Tara (and Medicine Buddha) Day today, I offer a full transcript of the teaching given by HH 17th Karmapa on the spread of Mind-Only in Tibet. This is the first time not only a senior Tibetan Buddhist master and Head of a Lineage, but also a Karmapa has given a detailed overview and description of this topic, citing in detail the Indian, Tibetan and Chinese source texts and founders. The Karmapa also stated that he had not see any research on how the Mind–Only spread in Tibet and that is why he wanted to present his own overview and ideas about it.
The 17th Karmapa spoke for three days on the Mind-Only view in Tibet and this is the first part of that discussion (for video of Day 7 see here). I will type up and publish the following day, which involves a very interesting discussion and conclusion from the Karmapa regarding the Mind-Only view and the philosophical view of Shentong (Empty-of-Other), generally considered by Tibetan Buddhists as being different from Mind-Only.
As this is an important and detailed historical, philosophical commentary and research from one of the most influential and talented polymath twenty-first century Tibetan Buddhist masters, I thought it beneficial to transcribe it in full (based on the oral translation of David Karma Chophel and the original Tibetan). Below is my overview and summary of the teaching, with quotes and images from the teaching. For the full transcript, please contact here.
May we all come to a deeper and more accurate understanding of the views of Asanga, Vasubandhu and Maitreya through this teaching and realise that appearances are imaginary and like an illusion created by our impure, conditioned mind!
Written and transcribed by Adele Tomlin, 8th February 2022.
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
TIBETANS BIASED TOWARDS MIDDLE WAY AND DID NOT TREAT MIND-ONLY FAIRLY
The Karmapa opened the teaching with his own opinion (and conclusion) as to why there was no independent Mind-Only school in Tibet (unlike that in China) because the Mind-Only had not given fair and equal treatment by Tibetans and had generally been seen as an opponent of (and inferior to) the Middle Way, and thus they had not really studied it:
“The texts of the Mind-Only school spread in Tibet and there has been continuous study and research of them from ancient times to present. However, In Tibet, from the time that Buddhism spread to Tibet until the present, no independent Mind -only school has ever appeared. It is doubtful that there is even one Tibetan master who asserted that the Mind Only was their position. In particular, in the later transmission, Chandrakirti’s Middle Way Consequentialist school spread widely and because of the imprint it made, they have seen Mind-Only as opponents and not concordant with the Middle Way. This idea has been so strong that there have been few who have taken any interest or responsibility in finding out about the scriptures or logic in the Mind-Only. This is rather dictatorial way of looking at it. It seems like the Tibetans have not really treated the Middle Way that fairly. That is how I see it. For example, in debates in Tibetan schools we insist on pointing out others views as much as we can, and we are insistent and audacious to think it and we do that when we debate with each other. I think it is similar here. We treat the Mind-Only in a similar fashion.
Therefore, if we want to study the Mind-Only well, we need to dispose of the conceit of thinking of ourselves as Mind-Only and have more of an affinity for the Mind-Only and have an impartial position where we think perhaps the Middle Way objections apply, but perhaps they do not. If we can study that, we can understand the Mind-Only completely. That is how I see it.”
FIVE MAIN TOPICS ON MIND-ONLY IN TIBET
In this teaching, the Karmapa divided up this overview into five main topics (see slide in Tibetan):
1) The way the Mind-Only texts were translated
2) Reasons and conditions why the Mind-Only School itself did not spread widely in Tibet
3) Reasons why Vasubhandu and Asanga are Mind-Only masters
4) The explanations of the Mind-Only in Tibet
5) The way the Dharmas of Maitreya spread and were explained in Tibet
1) MIND-ONLY TRANSLATIONS AND BUTON RINPOCHE’S CATALOGUE
In terms of the first topic, the Karmapa went into detail about the ancient catalogue editions of the Kangyur and Tengyur and the later catalogue edition of Buton Rinpoche (1290-1364), and how:
“we can see that all the Mind-Only texts translated into Tibetan were probably all translated before the time of Buton Rinpoche. There is basically no Mind-Only text that is not included in Buton Rinpoche’s catalogue. “
2) REASONS WHY MIND-ONLY DID NOT SPREAD IN TIBET
In terms of the second topic, the Karmapa offered four possible reasons why Mind-Only never really spread in Tibet as an autonomous school (see slide for the Tibetan):
- Edicts of the Dharma Kings – Mind-Only was said to be forbidden from being studied
Most of the Indian scholars who went to Tibet were Middle Way and not Mind-Only
- People did not see a particular reason or purpose for studying the Mind-Only philosophy [due to the influence and spread of Middle Way philosophy by Śāntarakṣita and Candrakīrti]
- Even though the teaching and study of the Dharmas of Maitreya did flourish, this was because they were composed by Maitreya, not because they were Mind-Only philosophy
3) REASONS WHY ASANGA AND VASUBHANDU ARE CONSIDERED TO BE MIND-ONLY
The Karmapa then gave four reasons why Asanga and Vasabhandu were considered Mind-Only Proponents.
- They were renowned as that in India
- They were renowned as that in China
- Their Mind-Only texts were placed in separate Mind-Only sections in the Textual Catalogues
- International scholars and researchers assert and agree that they are both Mind-Only proponents
See slide above for the Karmapa’s Tibetan explanation.
4) EXPLANATIONS OF MIND-ONLY IN TIBET – ‘TRUE AND FALSE IMAGE’ AND ‘FOLLOWERS OF SCRIPTURE AND LOGIC’
The fourth topic, involved an extensive discussion of the explanations of Mind-Only based on the True and False Image divisions, as explained in the Chinese and Tibetan schools. Then, a discussion in terms of Followers of Scripture and Logic. The Karmapa concluded that:
“We say in Tibet that all Mind-Only masters assert that the mind truly exists and so this actually overly broad. We say if you are Mind-Only you have to assert that all the cognitions are truly existent. This is not necessarily so. For example, if you have all the external apprehensions of appearances of entities are imaginary. So even within the false image, there are two different positions. There is the position that says that the appearances of external objects are imaginary and that they are not necessarily so, as it says in the Thirty Verses….There is a very clear explanation in the Chinese tradition that is complete and this is something we (the Tibetans) bring into a single whole, so it is beneficial to understand this. “
5) THE WAY THE DHARMAS OF MAITREYA SPREAD IN TIBET
Finally, the fifth topic considered the five Dharmas of Maitreya. The Karmapa first explained that:
“If you talk about the texts well known in Tibet. Mainly, these are the commentaries on the five Dharmas of Maitreya. So if we want to understand the Mind-Only view then we need to understand Maitreya’s view. The way we explain Maitreya’s thought in Tibet, there are many differing traditions and disagreements.”
“Basically, those who assert the five Dharmas of Maitreya are Middle Way are Kunkhyen Jonang Dolpopa and Sherab Shakya Chogden and so on. Those who assert that all five Dharmas of Maitreya are Mind-Only include Redawa Zhonu Lodro (red mda’ ba gzhon nu blo gro, 1348/1349 – 1412). However, those who assert the five Dharmas are Mind-Only in Tibet are very few.”
The Karmapa explains that even Je Tsongkhapa (who was the student of the Mind-Only Redawa) asserts that the three of the Dharmas, including the Sublime Continuum, are Middle Way Consequentialist. Thus, the Karmapa asserts that the reason Mind-Only did not spread was because it was misrepresented:
“In brief, the situation that occurred is that the five Dharmas of Maitreya spread but Mind-Only did not. If we look at the international consensus, the five Dharmas are Mind-Only texts, so the Dharmas of Maitreya spread but the Mind-Only did not. The situation in Tibet was like that. The reason is because they could not decide if they were Mind-Only or Middle Way. So this is another reason why the Mind-Only did not flourish. The main reason why it did not flourish, or why they asserted it not to be Mind-Only, was its assertion that consciousness was truly existent. However, in the Ornament of the Sutras and Differentiating the Middle from Extremes and the Compendium of Mahayana it does not categorically state that consciousness truly exists.”
This was followed by a philosophical discussion of how, or if, the Mind-Only describes the nature of the ‘imaginary’ and the ‘dependent’ as truly existent or not.
Five Dharmas or a single text? The 3rd Karmapa and Shakya Chogden’s view
The Karmapa then moved onto a discussion of the five Dharmas by the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje who asserted that other then the Ornament of Realisation, the other Dharmas do not have any opening homage, and other than the Sublime Continuum, there is no dedication. Thus may be one huge corpus text (see Tibetan slide below).
However, Panchen Shakya Chogden disagrees and states that the homages and dedications are for those works alone.
Gedunpa scholars assert that if the five Dharmas are all one corpus/body of work then the faulty consequence follows that texts like Vasubandhu’s Thirty Verses and so on, and teachings from the Ornament of Realisation and Sublime Continuum are redundant and would not need to have been taught.
The Translators of the Five Dharmas in the Ancient and Later Periods
The Karmapa ended on a final note about when the Dharmas of Maitreya were translated and who were the main Tibetan translators of the five Dharmas of Maitreya.
The first main translators of Sublime Continuum in Tibet were Je Atisha and Nagtso Lotsawa (Nag tsho lo tsA ba). After that, the most widely spread translation of the Sublime Continuum in Tibet was that of Ngog Lotsawa den Sherab (rNgog lo tsA ba shes rab). Otherwise, Tsab Lotsawa (Tshab lo tsA ba) and Lung Lotsawa Dragpa Gyaltsen (kLung lo tsA ba grags pa rgyal mtshan) also translated the Sublime Continuum.
The Karmapa then finished the Day 7 teaching by explaining that the next day he would complete the teaching on the Mind-Only in Tibet and also discuss the connection between the Mind-Only view and that of Shentong (Empty-of-Other) and/or the Buddha-Nature view.
Video of Teaching – Day 7 with English Translation