January 24, 2014

བདེན་གཉིས་རྒྱུ་འབྲས། རྒྱུ་འབྲས་རོ་གཅིག།

No wonder that those who do not know (or only superficially know) Mantric Buddhism (i.e. Mantrayāna, Mantranaya, Vajrayāna) would find everything in Mantric Buddhism “perverse.” Yes, I employ the word “perverse” here deliberately and consciously. Whether we again like Mantric philosophy is one thing and whether we understand it another. We don’t have to like it but we must try to understand it. One would indeed realize that Mantric philosophy and Mantric soteriology have been conceived of in a “reverse” order. Just to to sure, there are grades and shades of Mantrism. For the tradition, these grades are supposed to reflect doctrinal “hierarchy,” and indeed from a historical point of view, these might reflect the “relative chronology” in the development of Mantric Buddhism. The “higher” a Tantric system claims itself to be, the later it would have been evolved historically. Of course, this seems to apply only up to the point of completion of the process of inception and the system comes to, so to speak, “freeze” in time. So we would have even today followers following any given “frozen system.” Any innovation would then consist in attempting to elucidate that frozen system. Just to be clear, I do not imply any negative judgement when using the word “frozen.” As I am wont to explain, the word “conservative” may indicate something good if we assume that a conservative Buddhist system “conserves” or “preserves” Buddhist teachings that are very close to what the Buddha might have taught. Mahāyāna Buddhism, too, may be considered positively as “innovative,” or, some would consider it negatively as “degenerative.” Relatively speaking, the teachings of the Buddha can be said to have got “frozen” in “Southern Buddhism” much earlier than those in “Northern Buddhism.” In Tibetan Buddhism, again with no value judgement at all, I think it is fair to say New Mantric traditions represent a rather more “conservative” strands of Mantric Buddhism. The New Mantric traditions, though relatively  new in Tibet, follow or lean upon Mantric traditions in India that have got “frozen” earlier. Interesting in the case of Old Mantric tradition in Tibet is that no more “innovative” steps can be taken with regard to the Kriyā, Caryā, Yoga, Mahāyoga, Anuoyoga, and even some conservative strands of Atiyoga, particularly if one strictly follows the bKa’-ma–gTer-ma divide. Again here, the bKa’-ma tradition is seen as representing a doctrinal system “frozen” in time. But the gTer-ma tradition never allows the Old Mantric tradition as a whole to totally “freeze.” So there is an endless process of “innovation” or “degeneration.” At a certain point in time in Tibet, I am sure, we just had one Atiyoga or rDzogs-chen system. But in course of time, we have Sems-sde, Klong-sde, and Man-ngag-sde. And the Man-ngag-sde kept on innovating itself and resulting in Phyi-skor, Nang-skor, gSang-skor, Yang-gsang-bla-med-skor. There were nine vehicles in the Old Mantric tradition. After a while (14th century?), we start seeing a sPyi-ti vehicle (although I personally think it is not meant as a tenth vehicle but rather all-nine-in-one kind of vehicle). Within the Old Mantric tradition, the most one could do with a “frozen” tradition is to offer a new updated interpretation of it. Even gTer-stons, I think, can no longer do anything with the “frozen” tradition of the *Guhyagarbhatantra. The most they could do is start interpreting it in a new way. Where is such a trend going to lead a tradition? Is the gTer-ma tradition itself going to “freeze” sometime? I wish I knew. Some rNying-ma-pas might think it is enough with the endless gTer-ma-craze! Others might like it to continue. 

But my goodness, why am I telling all these. Back to what I really wanted to say. Mantric philosophy and soteriology seem to be a “reverse” of the non-Mantric philosophy and soteriology. Let me try to give a few examples. (a) Traditionally saṃsāra is seen as a point of departure and nirvāṇa a kind of goal. But according to Mantric (and particularly in Atiyogic) systems, nirvāṇa in a ontological sense, becomes the point of departure and saṃsāra a kind of outcome or result. (b) Similarly, a sentient being is seen as a cause and an awakened being (i.e. buddha) is the result, but according to Mantric (and particularly in Atiyogic) systems, one is initially and primordially awakened and hence a kind of cause, and somehow one becomes a sentient being through nescience. (c) Again traditionally, kun rdzob is seen as the cause and don dam as the result. But this is reverses in the Mantric philosophy. There don dam is the cause and kun rdzob the result. This is made explicit by Rong-zom-pa (RZ2: 38). (d) Traditionally, the theory of cause and effect, and of conditioning is so crucial also for the concept of soteriology and but the Mantric system proposes a soteriological model that dismantles the borderline between cause and effect, and proposes the idea of rgyu ’bras ro gcig, rgyu ’bras dbyer med, and rgyu ’bras las ’das pa and so on. If we do not get the underlying philosophy of the Mantric systems, one might indeed think it is “perverse” and completely contrarious to the teachings of the Buddha. But before condemning it, one will have to make sure that one understands it. It may indeed be a piece of worthless charcoal or a piece priceless diamond. Before one throws it away or tucks it away, it is worth knowing what it really is.