Great Madhyamaka

Teachings on the subtle, inner Great Madhyamaka of definitive meaning.
by Dudjom Rinpoche

Concerning the subtle, inner Great Madhyamaka of definitive meaning, it is stated in the Jewel Lamp of the Madhyamaka by the master Bhavya (skal-ldan):

The Madhyamaka of the Prasangika and the Svatantrika is the coarse, Outer Madhyamaka. It should indeed be expressed by those who profess well-informed intelligence during debates with [extremist] Outsiders, during the composition of great treatises, and while establishing texts which concern supreme reasoning. However, when the subtle, inner Madhyamaka is experientially cultivated, one should meditate on the nature of Yogacara-Madhyamaka.
In this way, two Madhyamaka are spoken of, one outer and coarse, the other inner and subtle. Concerning the latter, the regent Ajita [Maitreya] has extensively analysed the meaningful intention of the topics of vast significance which revealed all things in terms of the three essential natures. This he did by means of discourses connected with the irreversible intention of the final turning of the doctrinal wheel and with the utter purity of the three spheres [of subject, object and their interaction]. Whereas in the aforementioned tradition of Mind Only, the dependent nature is the ground of emptiness and is explained to be the absolute, empty of imaginary objects of refutation, here it is the absolute reality (chos-nyid yongs-grub) that is claimed to be empty of imaginary objects of refutation. Accordingly, the components, psychophysical bases and activity fields, which are dependently conceived, are said to be a ground which is empty of the imaginary self and its properties; and the ground which is empty of that dependent ground of emptiness is absolute reality. This ground of emptiness never comes into existence because it is empty of the phenomena of samsara, which are characterised as suddenly arisen and which are divided according to essential stains and substantial faults. However this ground is not empty of the amassed enlightened attributes of nirvana which spontaneously abide from the beginning. Accordingly, it is said in the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle (Ch.l, v.155):

The seed which is empty of suddenly arisen phenomena
Endowed with divisive characteristics
Is not empty of the unsurpassed reality
Endowed with indivisible characteristics.

And in the Commentary [on the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle, Mahayanottaratantrasastravyakhya, T 4025, p.76]:
If one asks what is revealed by this passage, the reason for there being no basis of all-conflicting emotions requiring to be clarified in this naturally pure seed of the tathagata is that it is naturally free from suddenly arisen stains. It contains nothing at all which can be established as a basis for purification, for its nature is reality, pure of divisive phenomena. So it is that the nucleus of the tathagata (tathagatagarbha) is empty of divisions which may be removed and of the entire nest of conflicting emotions, but it is not empty of the inconceivable attributes of the buddhas which outnumber all the sands of the River Ganges and are non-divisive and inalienable.
Now it is also said that the imaginary implies that attributes are without substantial existence, the dependent that creation is without substantial existence and the absolute that ultimate reality is without substantial existence. The first two of these [indicate] that the conceptual aspects of the subject-object dichotomy, which are suddenly arising fictions, are empty of their own essence, and the latter refers to emptiness as the naturally expressed, fundamental essence itself which has no substantiality. Since this [ultimate reality] is naturally pure, it abides, through its function of emptiness, as the enlightened attributes of the buddha-body of reality (dharmakaya), and through its apparitional function as the ground on which the buddha-bodies, fields, celestial mansions and so forth arise. Through its function of awareness, it is spontaneously present from the beginning, free from causes and free from results, because it is the supporting ground of the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses and the like. This natural expression of the buddhas, which is called the nucleus of the sugata (sugatagarbha), does not abide as the seed of creation, destruction, transformation, change, increase or decrease, cause or condition, and so forth, and it is ever uncovered, without being an object of metaphor, thought or expression. It is said in the Play of Manjusri (Manjusrivikriditamahayanasutra, T 96):
Sister, although suddenly arising conflicting emotions do emerge in relation to the natural inner radiance, the natural inner radiance cannot be defiled by those suddenly arisen all-conflicting emotions.
And the regent Ajita has said [in the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle, Ch.l, v.5]:
Uncompounded and spontaneously present,
Unrealised through external conditions,
Endowed with knowledge, love and power
Is the buddhahood possessing the two benefits.

If one were otherwise to apprehend all things as being exclusively empty of their own essence, in the manner of the proponents of intrinsic emptiness (rang-stong-pa), then it is said that according to the same extreme [argument] the buddha-body of reality would also be empty of itself. The buddha-bodies, pristine cognitions (jnana), fields and so forth would be non-existent, the accumulation of the provisions and purification of obscurations, which depend upon these, would also be nonexistent, and indeed the teachings through which the causal and resultant vehicles reveal all the means of purifying stains, whatever their basis or path, would be diminished. The ground of purification being non-existent, there would be no need to effect purification. Being empty of pristine cognition, there would be no work on behalf of others and no [enlightened] understanding. There being nothing existent, even with respect to the relative appearances of the impure dependent nature, there would also be no enlightened attributes to transform these impurities into the pure dependent nature. There would be no self to become the ground of bondage and liberation, and there would be no doctrine to be realised by each one individually. Many such faults would persist and by nature give rise to the source of unbearable views. This can be known from quotations such as the following from the Sutra of the Dialogue with Kasyapa from the Sublime Pagoda of Precious Jewels (Aryaratnakutakasyapaparivartasutra, T 87):
O Kasyapa, whoever, referring to emptiness, relies upon emptiness deviates from this discourse of mine; theirs is said to be a great deviation. O Kasyapa, it is better to abide in a view [which clings to] individual existence to the extent of Mount Sumeru, than with manifest egotism to adopt a view to emptiness. If you ask why, O Kasyapa, I have explained that although that which arises from all views is emptiness, Kasyapa, that which exclusively regards emptiness is untenable.
If one were, on the other hand, to object that this would not be emptiness, it is not the case, as the Sublime Sutra of the Descent to Lanka says:
If you ask what is the emptiness which is the ultimate reality of all things, the great pristine cognition of the sublime beings, it is as follows. The attainment of the pristine cognition of the sublime beings, which is one's own intrinsic awareness, is empty of the propensities of all views and faults. This is called the emptiness which is the ultimate reality of all things, the great pristine cognition of sublime beings.
This ultimate reality that is empty of extraneous entities (gzhan-stong), is similarly found in sutras belonging to the intermediate promulgation of the doctrinal wheel. It is said in the Transcendental Perfection of Discriminative Awareness in Twenty-five Thousand Lines:
In this context, if you ask what is the emptiness of other substances, it applies whether the tathagatas have appeared or not. As the abiding nature of reality, as reality itself, the expanse of reality (dhammadhatu), the faultlessness of reality, the nature of just what is, the unmistakable nature of just what is, the unalterable nature of just what is, and as the genuine goal, it abides as just what is. Therefore, this reality, which is empty of extraneous entities, is called the emptiness of other substances. Subhuti, this is the greater vehicle of the bodhisattvas, great spiritual warriors.
And it is extensively mentioned in the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle, as cited above in the passage (Ch.l, v.155) which begins:
The seed which is empty of suddenly arisen phenomena
Endowed with divisive characteristics...

The nature of this expanse in the minds of sentient beings is like a treasure of precious gems within the earth, uncovered by stains in respect of its own essence, and yet it simultaneously assumes the suddenly arisen forms of samsara, in the manner, for example, of water and ice. It says in the Sutra of the King of Contemplation:
Pure, clear and inwardly radiant,
Undisturbed and uncompounded
Is the nucleus of the sugata.
It is the reality that abides from the beginning.

And in the master Nagarjuna's Eulogy to the Expanse of Reality (v.23):
The water that lies within the earth
Remains immaculately pure.
The pristine cognition within conflicting emotions, too,
Remains similarly immaculate.

Such quotations maintain that the status of the nucleus [of the tathagata] according to the definitive meaning is inconceivable. This nucleus of the tathagata, with respect to its own essence, is the same throughout samsara and nirvana, without good or evil. As it is said [in the Ornament of the Sutras of the Greater Vehicle, Ch.9, v.37]:
The nature of just what is, in all things, is undifferentiated.
When purified, it is the nature of the tathagata.
Therefore all living beings possess that nucleus.

Such extensive quotations have an intention directed towards the absolute nature, which is unchanging reality. Therefore the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle (Ch.l, v.51) says:
Subsequently just as it was before
Is the unchanging reality.

When beings are circumstantially classified in relation to the stains which suddenly arise, they fall into three categories. As it is explained in the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle (Ch.l, v.47):
According to their respective order of being impure,
Purifying that which is impure and being utterly pure,
They are called sentient beings, bodhisattvas and tathagatas.

And in the Commentary [on the Supreme Continum of the Greater Vehicle, p.40]:
Therefore, those in the circumstance of being impure are called sentient beings, those in the circumstance of purifying that which is impure are called bodhisattvas and those in the circumstance of being utterly pure are called tathagatas.
Similarly, everything appears according to distinctions such as the three vehicles, to differentiations based upon hierarchical classifications such as the ten levels and the five paths, and likewise to ethical hierarchies such as good and evil sentient beings, pious attendants and self-centred buddhas, and sublime bodhisattvas and buddhas. However, the natural inner radiance, which is the expanse of reality and the ultimate truth, pervades everything without [distinctions between] good and evil or decrease and increase, just as, for example, vases appear to be distinguished according to their quality, there being clay vases, wooden vases, vases of precious gems and so on, while the space within these vases is identical in that it is without qualities. Accordingly, the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle (Ch.l, vv.49-50) says:
Just as space is omnipresent,
Having a thoughtless nature,
So the natural expression of mind,
The immaculate expanse, is all-pervasive.
Its general characteristic pervades the limits
Of negative and positive attributes,
In the manner of the space
Within inferior, mediocre and superior material forms.

If one then asks what exactly the three circumstances just mentioned are, beings are separated between samsara and nirvana according to the distinction of whether they are liberated or not liberated from the stains that obscure the nucleus. As the same text says:
One covered by the net of conflicting emotions
Is truly called a sentient being.
On becoming free from conflicting emotions
One is called a buddha.

Regarding this threefold circumstance, ordinary persons who are obscured by the great darkness of obscuration have nothing but a portion of enlightened attributes. By contrast, the arhats among the pious attendants and self-centred buddhas are more sublime than them in enlightened attributes since they have gradually reduced the stains covering the nucleus by the greater or lesser potency of the antidotes which have power to remove them. Then, the bodhisattvas appear to be even more sublime, having attained the levels, and surpassed those who have not renounced all aspects of ignorance. Beyond that, the buddhas free from all obscurations appear yet more sublime. Therefore, this ultimate truth which is the expanse [of reality] is not qualitatively perceived according to its abiding nature by the three lower kinds of sublime being, namely, the pious attendants, self-centred buddhas and bodhisattvas. It is not manifestly perceived by one who abides on the paths of provision and connection except as a mere volition of the scrutinising intellect. Again, although it is partially perceived on the paths of insight and meditation, the expanse cannot be perfectly perceived through these paths, apart from a mere proportion of its enlightened attributes, just as a small child does not perceive the all-encompassing sun apart from the mere glimpse of its rays through an aperture. As has previously been cited [from the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle, Ch.2, v.68]:
Because it is not an object of speech,
Is subsumed by ultimate reality,
Is not within reason's domain,
Is beyond exemplification,
Is unsurpassed and is subsumed neither by existence nor quiescence,
The objective range of the Conqueror is inconceivable
Even to sublime beings.

It is on the buddha level that the natural expression [of reality] is directly and perfectly perceived. As explained in the Commentary on the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle (p.77):
Just as the sun in the sky appears
Through an aperture in the clouds,
In this situation you are not fully perceived
Even by sublime beings endowed with pure eyes of
Intelligence; for their intelligence is partial.
However, Transcendent Lord, you who are the pure body of reality,
Pervading the spacious expanse of limitless knowledge
Are totally perceived by those whose intelligence is limitless.

Would it then be, one might object, that sentient beings become buddhas who have accumulated the two provisions and renounced the two obscurations by means of this naturally radiant expanse, which is effortlessly present in the nature of sentient beings? That is not so, because there are two kinds of renunciation, one that is naturally pure and the other that becomes free from the suddenly arisen stains. The former is the reality which, in respect of its own essence, abides without changing in the fundamental nature of great primordial purity. It is said in the Sutra of the Adornment of Pristine Cognition's Appearance which Penetrates the Scope of All Buddhas (Sarvabuddhavisayavatara-jnanalokalamkarasutra, T 100):
Manjusri, since the mind is naturally radiant, it is naturally undefiled by all-conflicting emotions, and is only [provisionally] defiled by all the subsidiary conflicting emotions which suddenly arise. That which is naturally radiant is the very absence of all-conflicting emotions. For one who is without all-conflicting emotions, there is no antidote through which all-conflicting emotions should be renounced.
And in the Transcendental Perfection of Discriminative Awareness in Twenty-five Thousand Lines:
"Kausika, what do you think of this? Are sentient beings created or do they expire?" He replied, "Venerable Subhuti, that is not the case. If you ask why, it is because sentient beings are pure from the beginning."
And also in the same text:
Since form is naturally radiant, it is pure without all-conflicting emotions. Since feeling, perception, habitual tendencies and consciousness are naturally radiant, they are pure without all-conflicting emotions. Since all manifestations up to omniscience are naturally radiant, they are pure and without all-conflicting emotions.
According to such extensive quotations, natural renunciation is that which transcends the phenomena of consciousness and is a genuine liberation from all obscurations. It is complete from the beginning in ultimate truth because absolute reality is naturally pure. The second kind of renunciation is the removal of the suddenly arising obscurations by an appropriate antidote. Although, as previously explained, the unactualised enlightened attributes which exist in the ground unrefined by the path are present in the situation of sentient beings, no defect is thereby introduced to this philosophical system because it is not claimed that sentient beings are buddhas free from all obscurations. In the same way, there are also two kinds of realisation, namely, the naturally present pristine cognition realised through the intrinsic awareness of primordial reality, and the dependently produced pristine cognition realised through the power of meditating on the path. The former is characterised as supramundane, being the naturally present pristine cognition or discernment through individual intrinsic awareness which realises the ultimate reality. Thus [the Litany of the Names of Manjusri, v.l55ab] says:
It is awareness of itself, awareness of others,
And awareness of all.
It is the all-knowing sacred total awareness.

The two fundamental kinds of renunciation and realisation are complete in their own essence, which is the abiding nature of ultimate reality. As the venerable Maitreya [in the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle, Ch.l, v.154]170 says:
Therein there is nothing to be clarified
And nothing to be minutely established.
Genuinely regarding that genuine reality,
Genuinely perceiving it, one will be free.

The second kind of realisation is that pattern of realisation which is expanded by the power of meditating on the path. It is called the absolute which is incontrovertible because enlightened attributes of obscurationless power are actualised once the two provisions of pristine cognition through meditative equipoise and merit during the aftermath have been accumulated. As the Ornament of the Sutras of the Greater Vehicle (Ch.9, v.22abd) says:
Though there is no distinction
Between the former and the latter,
It is the nature of just what is,
Untainted by all obscurations,
That is held to be the buddha.

From: Yogacara.net

. H O M E . P A G E .