The Bsam yas Debate: Challenges and Responses

Wed., Aug. 20th, 09:00-15:30

On the Discernment of Reality (bhūta-pratyavekṣā)

Adam, Martin (University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, CAN)

This paper addresses the question of Kamalaśīla’s understanding of the Sanskrit compound bhūta-pratyavekṣā, as employed in the author’s well known Bhāvanākrama texts. I attempt to demonstrate the inadequacy of a widely accepted translation of this term, namely, correct examination (or correct analysis), while arguing for an alternative translation: the discernment of reality. The former translation is potentially very misleading, lending itself to an understanding of the nature of meditation that does not conform to Kamalaśīla’s own explanations. In particular it suggests a conception of liberating knowledge whose means are limited to intellectual wisdom (cintamayī-prajñā), and not also based in meditative wisdom (bhāvanāmayī-prajñā). Given the historically important role that these texts played in the formation of Tibetan Buddhism, the implications of such a misconception are potentially far-reaching.

The argument has two parts. In the first I put forward a particular interpretation of Kamalaśīla’s understanding of the ‘discernment of reality’ (bhūta-pratyavekṣā) – a technical term he identifies with insight (vipaśyanā). I provide a rationale for its translation, examining the Sanskrit compound and its usual Tibetan equivalent, yang dag par so sor rtog pa. Translators have often understood the compound as a karma-dhāraya. I argue that such a reading fails to take Kamalaśīla's own explanations into account. These suggest that the compound should be taken as a ṣāṣṭhī-tatpuruṣa.

In the second part I examine the implications of adopting such an understanding. The overall effect is to lead us away from a simple either-or contrast between Kamalaśīla and his rival in debate Mo ho yen vis-à-vis their respective views regarding the necessity of meditation in the process leading up to the moment of liberating knowledge. While Kamalaśīla clearly believed there to be a necessity for philosophic analysis, his understanding of bhūta-pratyavekṣā was that it includes a special kind of meditative process in which mental objects are directly perceived. Philosophical analysis on its own was not considered sufficient. The argument proceeds with reference to Kamalaśīla’s reading of key passages of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. In addition I discuss bhūta-pratyavekṣā in relation to other important technical terminology employed in the course of Kamalaśīla's arguments against Mo ho yen (e.g. dharma-pravicaya, yoniśo-manasikāra, smṛti). Just as it is probably unfair to paint Kamalaśīla's Chinese rival as an outright antinomian who would have rejected all the benefits of morality and practical reason, so too it seems inaccurate to portray Kamalaśīla as having held the view that liberating knowledge can be reached through philosophical analysis alone. A close reading of the three Bhāvanākrama texts shows that Kamalaśīla held the process of meditation to involve a special kind of cognition that is not simply a case of ordinary reasoning. Nor is it a matter of “serial alternation” between ordinary reasoning and non-conceptual samādhi. It is a process that is at once both conceptual analysis and one-pointed meditation.


Echoes of Samyé on the Path through an 11th Century Defense of the Great Perfection

Di Zinno Sur, Dominic (University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA)

The reverberations of the Samyé debate resonated deep into the 11th century. In that transformative era, in which sectarian religious identity coalesced around newly established religious institutions and genres of literature, there was vehement criticism of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen), a tradition that had sprung up in Tibet between the breakup of the empire (ca. 842 CE) and the renaissance of the 11th century. This criticism was bound up with tensions connected with the Samyé debate concerning, inter alia, the path: i.e., the idea that a sattva can be qualitatively transformed into a buddha. The basic debate between concerned theorists was whether emphasis on the distinction between sattva and buddha evinces a soteriologically unbridgeable gap, or whether over-emphasis on the immanence of bodhi risks collapsing the foundational path/fruit distinction, rendering the former superfluous. Critics of the Great Perfection thus targeted over-emphasis on immanence by prominently damning it as a "teaching of Hashang." This paper seeks to further our understanding of how the themes of the debate shaped the theories, arguments, and sources used in the first Nyingma text to answer such critics, "Entering the Way of the Great Vehicle" (theg chen tshul 'jug), by the 11th century Tibetan paṇḍit, Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo. The text provides Rongzom's elaborate and idiosyncratic discussion of religio-philosophical authority, one that mixes the unique rhetoric of the Great Perfection discourse with those of abhidharma, pramāṇa, and guhyamantra. With reference to the concept of transmutation (pariṇāmanā), this paper examines how Rongzom argues that the gradualism at the heart of completing (rdzogs) the Buddhist path should not understood as being in practical opposition to the spontaneous perfection (rdzogs) lying at the heart of the spiritual freedom that is that path's culmination (rdzogs). Instead, we suggest that the apparent conflict between teleocratic (rims gyis) and endotelic (cig car) models of Buddhahood in Rongzom's text mark less an opposition between two mutually exclusive theories than two poles on a horizon of exegetical tensions endemic to the play of Buddhist path hermeneutics. Through a close reading of the text, I will present and assess the significance and cogency of Rongzom's presentation.


Some Bka’ brgyud Responses to Sa skya Paṇḍita’s Critique of “Present Day Mahāmudrā” as Equivalent to Mo-ho-yen’s System

Draszczyk, Martina (Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde, Wien, AUT)

Among the many outcomes of the famous 8th century Tibetan Bsam yas debate, the most influential was certainly Sa skya Paṇḍita’s (1182-1251) broad-based critique of certain “present day” non-gradual Mahāmudrā teachings that in his view encouraged their followers “to not think or do anything at all” in a manner similar to the teachings of the Chinese master Mo ho yen as presented in debate chronicles.

While the historical background and reasons for Sa skya Paṇḍita’s pointed criticism has been well-documented by D. Jackson, the extensive and often illuminating responses by Bka’ brgyud pa scholars of the classical period were not taken into account. Only the response by Shākya mchog ldan (1428-1507) who had close ties with the Bka’ brgyud pas was taken up. While Shākya mchog ldan states that there is an alikeness between Mo-ho-yen’s theory and this Bka’ brgyud pa approach, he at the same time justifies the theory of the ‘self-sufficient white remedy’. He emphasizes that while it does not denigrate the need of merit, by means of the mahāmudrā methods the goal will be achieved without resorting to additional remedies. This paper takes a look at responses by certain renowned Bka’ brgyud pa masters from the 15th and 16th century to Sa skya Paṇḍita’s critique of Mahāmudrā teachings as formulated in his Sdom gsum rab ’byed. Karma pa Mi bskyod rdo rje (1507-1554), for example, understood the critique as aiming at Maitrīpa’s teaching of mental disengagment (yid la mi byed pa; amanasikāra) which Sgam po pa had integrated in his teaching system. Zhwa dmar chos grags ye shes (1453-1524) shows that the rejection of mental disengagement amounts to a disapproval of teachings given by Atiśa in his Madhyamakopadeśa and the Gītis by mahāsiddhas such as Saraha. Dwags po Bkra shis rnam rgyal (1511-1587) rejects Sa skya Paṇḍita’s critic by tracing the Indian Buddhist background of Sgam po pa’s way of teaching mahāmudrā and by establishing that Bka’ brgyud-mahāmudrā is not in contradistinction to the insight of distinct investigation (so sor rtog pa; pratyavekṣā) favoured so highly by Kamalaśīla.


The Sudden and Gradual Sūtric (and Tantric?) Approaches in the Rim gyis 'jug pa'i bsgom don and the Cig car 'jug pa rnam par mi rtog pa'i bsgom don

Gruber, Joel (Corona, USA)

The Indian tāntrika Vimalamitra is said to have composed two texts that support the central arguments presented in the alleged eighth-century Samyé debate. The Cig car ’jug pa rnam par mi rtog pa’i bsgom don (Cig car ’jug pa) is believed to outline the efficacy of the Chinese sudden approach, and the Rim gyis ’jug pa’i bsgom don (Rim gyis ’jug pa) sets forth the Indian gradualist path to liberation. Despite the purported Indian victory over the Chinese at Samyé, some maintain that Vimalamitra’s texts present both approaches as being equally valid. But did Vimalamitra compose these texts? Are they from the late eighth/early ninth centuries? And do they outline views sympathetic to a Chinese sūtric approach to enlightenment? 

Multiple scholars have worked with the Rim gyis ’jug pa and the Cig car ’jug pa, but previous studies have not considered the genealogy of early narratives describing Vimalamitra’s time in Tibet. As a result, scholars have examined the authorial issues central to understanding these works without accounting for the gradual standardization of competing Vimalamitra biographies. In addition, the scope of past studies has been limited to sūtric works, excluding the dozens of tantric texts ascribed to Vimalamitra that were previously unattributed or attributed to another author/translator. This presentation reevaluates the Rim gyis ’jug pa and the Cig car ’jug pa and incorporates a more robust body of evidence to account for the role a distinctly Tibetanized Vimalamitra played in legitimating indigenously composed texts. 
By extending the scope of analysis, my presentation abandons assumptions based on fixed notions of authorship, which in turn allows the conspicuous absences of the Rim gyis ’jug pa and the Cig car ’jug pa from Tibetan histories, contemporaneous texts, and textual catalogues (prior to the fourteenth century) to be better explained. Moreover, this presentation can then readdress questions as to why the Rim gyis ’jug pa and the Cig car ’jug pa are primarily interpolations of other works that do not stylistically resemble the remaining sūtric works ascribed to Vimalamitra. Incorporating tantric works into the analysis also enables the methods used to construct the Rim gyis ’jug pa and the Cig car ’jug pa to be compared with the methods employed to “author” tantric texts from the Nyingma tradition. Furthermore, the passages from the Cig car ’jug pa that are found in tantric works encourage comparisons with the sudden and gradual approaches emphasized in Nyingma tantric exegesis. Each of these findings enables us to better understand whether the Rim gyis ’jug pa and the Cig car ’jug pa were ascribed to Vimalamitra for the same reasons that dozens of tantric texts bear his name. 
In short, my presentation utilizes a more extensive body of data to determine whether the Rim gyis ’jug pa and the Cig car ’jug pa should also be included among a list of numerous tantric works that were attributed to Vimalamitra in order to establish the authenticity of “Indic” views and practices that became central to the Nyingma tradition.


Uniting the Streams: Epistemological Cross-Currents in the Wake of Tibet’s Great Debate

Higgins, David (Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde, Wien, AUT)

The eighth century Tibetan Samyé debate has traditionally been represented as a veritable confrontation or “clash of civilizations” between two idealogically opposed views regarding the Buddhist goal of awakening. At issue was whether goal-realization occurs gradually through analytical meditation, as argued by the Indian participant Kamalaśīla, or all at once through contemplating the nature of mind, as proposed by his Chinese Chan counterpart He shang Mo ho yen. The account of the debate preserved in Tibetan historical sources has Kamalaśīla roundly defeating his opponent, thereby securing Indian Buddhism as the official state religion and sanctioning the banishment of Chinese Chan practitioners and their suddenist teachings from Tibet. This narrative soon assumed the status of a comprehensive founding myth (Bretfeld) within the Tibetan cultural memory, one that has since been used, in various rhetorical contexts, both to valorize a standard Indian Buddhist scholastic model of reason-guided gradualism and to ostracize as ‘non-Buddhist’ (chos min) any non-gradualist elements – especially among Mahāmudrā and Rdzogs chen traditions – that were thought to advocate a Chinese He shang style of meditation.

While it is now generally acknowledged that a debate (or series of debates) did occur and that it was organized according to Indian Buddhist principles of formal debate well-known to Tibetans since early in the 8th c., contemporary scholarship has raised probing questions about the nature and legacy of the controversy itself. It has been observed that terms for ‘gradual’ and ‘simultaneous’ were long employed in Indian and Chinese Buddhist sources, not primarily to demarcate religious schools but to distinguish, within a given system, more or less direct methods of propounding and/or internalizing a teaching in line with the differing capacities of individuals. It has also been suggested that the alleged incompatibility of approaches presupposed in standard debate narratives has served more to conceal than reveal the perennial epistemological and soteriological issues and tensions at the heart of the debate: the role of conceptual analysis in nonconceptual realization and the relative efficacy of conceptual and nonconceptual kinds of meditation (Tillemans).

This paper will demonstrate how various Tibetan scholars (from 9th century onward) challenged the view that the gradualist/subitist distinction should be framed as an either/or choice between mutually exclusive approaches. It will briefly assess some attempts by influential Rnying ma, Bka’ brgyud and Sa skya scholars to reconcile the two competing paradigms by arguing that the Buddhist path is best viewed as neither exclusively gradual nor sudden but as incorporating elements of both. Central to their commensurability thesis was the idea that the gradualist/suddenist dyad reflects a tension between more and less conceptually-mediated cognitive styles that turns out to be constitutive of the path of awakening itself. Within their different interpretive stratagems, the whole tangle of soteriological tensions or antinomies that had increasingly become the focus of debate and controversy in India, China and Tibet – viz., gradualism/subitism, causal/acausal attainment, rational inference/direct acquaintance, conceptual/nonconceptual realization, nature/nurture – end up being reframed as binary expressions of a basic structural polarity between reflective and pre-reflective awareness. 


The Embodiments of View: Simultaneous and Gradual Approaches in the Contemplative Typology of “The Great Perfection”

Laish, Eran (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Kiryat Tivon, ISR)

The tension between gradual and simultaneous approaches to the realization of the unconditioned is well attested in Buddhist history. For example, this tension was the focus of the 8th century Samye debate, in which proponents of both approaches participated. Although most traditional accounts of the debate asserted that the simultaneous approach was finally condemned as “non-Buddhist” (chos min), some of its motifs, like the undermining of intellectual analysis and developmental progression, persisted in certain Tibetan traditions, such as the non-dual traditions of “The Great Perfection” (rDzogs pa chen po) and “The Great Seal” (Phyag rgya chen po; Mahāmudrā). Due to their emphasis on the natural liberation of mind-itself, these traditions challenged the usual notions of progression and development while advocating the recognition of one's own nature in an immediate manner.

Although the non-dual traditions asserted the original purity of mind-itself, they also accommodated certain gradualist motifs that admitted the varying interests and abilities of practitioners. A clear example of such an integrative vision is found in the writings of kLong chen rab 'byams pa, the famous 14th century Tibetan teacher. kLong chen pa incorporated simultaneous and gradual motifs by utilizing a long-established classification scheme concerning the different capacities of practitioners to uphold authentic view and praxis. According to this scheme, some practitioners were already suited for actualizing simultaneous instructions while others were still required to apply a gradual approach that included purification and deliberate efforts. Moreover, the distinct capacities were identified with varying degrees of self-receptiveness to the basic nature of awareness as revealed in the sphere of direct experience. Consequently, instead of presenting the simultaneous and gradual approaches as excluding one another, kLong chen pa treated those within a single contemplative scheme that culminated in the immediate realization of mind-as-such. Finally, the intimate relation between the contemplative approaches and the degrees of self-receptiveness revealed a novel philosophical vision, which arose from lived experience and not from logical argumentation.


’Gos Lo tsa ba gZhon nu dpal’s (1392-1481) Conceptual and Direct Approaches to Ultimate Reality

Mathes, Klaus-Dieter (Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde, Wien)

The ultimate reality that Mahāyāna Buddhists characterize as emptiness, the perfect nature, the nature of mind, or buddha nature, (to name their major concepts), was never considered to be self-evident to ordinary sentient beings. It must be determined either logically, usually as something “free from mental fabrications” (niṣprapañca), or experienced directly in advanced yoga practices, which mainly rely on non-conceptual types of insight. This latter approach enables, in addition to niṣprapañca or emptiness, positive descriptions of reality, which are found in the sūtras and commentaries related to the third dharmacakra (i.e., Yogācāra texts, the Ratna­gotra­vibhāga and so forth). This raises the question whether the second dharmacakra points to the same ultimate reality as the third one, and/or whether both of them have definitive meaning. Such an approach was propagated, for example, by the Tibetan ’Bri gung master ’Jig rten gsum mgon (1143-1217). Following the latter, ’Gos Lo tsā ba gZhon nu dpal points out that the second and third dharma­cakrasdo not contradict each other. It is only that the teachings of the second dharmacakra do not clearly formulate what ultimate truth really is. The superiority of the third dharmacakra results from its ability to lead to a direct realization of one’s nature of mind. In other words, when following the path of analysis, all one can do is to deny all reifications and thereby establish the emptiness of all phenomena (second dharmacakra), but in direct realization, the true nature of these pheno­mena can be experienced as being luminous (third dharmacakra).

Based on a comparison of various Mahāyāna models of reality, the present paper tries to contextualize gZhon nu dpal’s hermeneutics and look into the possibility of whether or not the differences between the second and third dharmacakra can be reasonably explained as a result of various approaches to the same ultimate reality. In other words, one might ask: Could the authors of the analytical Madhyamaka texts have had the same reality in mind as the Yogācāras and followers of the tathāgatagarbha doctrine, but preferred not to speak of it positively while propagating an inferential path? That such an assumption is not entirely out of question is suggested in the colophon of Bhavya’s (490-570) Prajñāpradīpa, which states that people who are used to imagining truly existent things apprehend reality mainly by inferential cognitions, but this is not the way the Buddha apprehends reality.


A Socio-religious Study on the Debates of bSam yas, Focusing on Dun-wu-da-cheng-zheng-li-jue and the Background of the Early Chan School in China

Yi, Kyoowan (Seoul National University, Seoul, KOR)

The Tibetan bSam yas debate may be regarded as the outcome of three related factors: 1) internal power dynamics between rival aristocratic clans in Tibet, 2) religious conflicts between the sudden enlightenment school rooted in the teachings of Musang (無相), later Wu-zhu (無住) and Mahāyan (摩訶衍), and the gradualist school represented by Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla, and 3) the assimilation and institutionalization of Buddhism in Tibet. Three influential parties of the debate, including King Khri srong lde tsen, the Śāntarakṣita school, and the Mahāyan school, respectively allied with Tibetan political groups to establish their blueprints for the future of Buddhism in Tibet.

According to Bu-ston Chos 'byung and Dun-wu-da-cheng-zheng-li-jue (頓悟大乘正理決) of Wang Xi, following the rapid spread of Mahāyan's Chan teachings among the Tibetan royals and the public, Khri srong lde tsen and the followers of Śāntarakṣita attempted to block the expansion of Chan practice leading to serious conflicts. In the debate itself, Kamalaśīla and Mahāyan drew attention to the potential misunderstandings caused by their cultural and scholastic differences and language barriers. Mahāyan distinguishes the superior truth of the enlightened from the secular truth of sentient beings, and acknowledges that practitioners of dull capacity require such practical means of meditation and six pāramitās. Therefore, the criticisms in the Bhāvanākrama that the Mahāyan school rejected any practice at all and only clung to "no thought arising" (念不起) cannot be justified. In brief, the problems criticized in Bhāvanākrama of Kamalaśīla is rather close to the scholastic standpoints of the Pao t'ang school (保唐宗) of Wu-zhu while the arguments advanced in the Dun-wu-da-cheng-zheng-li-jue echo the teachings of Musang of the Ching-chung-si Temple (淨衆寺) in Chengtu (成都). It is also worth taking note of the conciliatory approaches of the Śāntarakṣita school to the Tibetan Buddhist communities. It paid careful attention to the practical needs and spiritual growth of the Tibetan society so that the propagation of its teachings harmonized the divergent systems of Buddhist thought, including Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna. Śāntarakṣita, who is said to have recommended the invitation of the tantric master Padmasambhava to safeguard the transmission of Buddhism in Tibet, was himself reluctant to teach Tantric Buddhism to the early Tibetan Buddhist community for fear of it being misunderstood and leading to fruitless or deviant practices. I shall argue that Mahāyan's followers, by contrast, failed to recognize the potential dangers of the Tibetan immediate enlightenment school, which became very similar to the teachings of the Pao t'ang school, significantly diverging from the Chan practice that Wuzhu himself claimed to have learned from Musang. Li-tai-fa-pao-chi (曆代法寶記) betrays how Wuzhu altered the Three Verse teaching of Musang to create his theory of No-thinking (無念) and absolute No-action (無作). If taken literally such ideas would inevitably lead to anti-intellectualism and even ideoclasm.

These factors help to account for why the Tibet’s fledgling Buddhist community would have favoured the Śāntarakṣita school over its rival in the debates at bSam yas monastery. After all, the debate was not just about determining Buddhist scholastic superiority but also about responding most pragmatically to the socio-historical demands of Tibetan society.


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