Superiority of Great Madhyamaka to Mind Only
by Dudjom Rinpoche

This system, according to which the relative is empty of its own essence and the ultimate empty of other entities, is variously revealed in both the intermediate and final promulgations. However, in particular, the presence of profound, radiant and non-dual pristine cognition, the nucleus of the sugata, as the ground of emptiness is extensively taught in the pitaka of the final transmitted precepts, and in those which speak of all things as merely apparitional aspects of mind. Derived from these [precepts], certain masters of the past have been obliged to admit that the mind is ultimately real and thereby originated the school of the Vijnanavada [proponents of consciousness], which is one of those known at the present day as the four philosophical systems. While not reaching the genuine intention, that mind described as the mind of which all things are merely apparitional aspects partakes of two circumstances, one under which its intention is directed to the consciousness of the ground-of-all, and the other under which its intention is directed to the absolute reality (chos-nyid yongs-grub). When the former is intended, it is said not to be the ultimate truth because it is impermanent, the bewildered subject and object being relative appearances. For example, the Sutra of the Adornment of Pristine Cognition's Appearance which Penetrates the Scope of All Buddhas says:
Saradvatiputra, that which is called mind includes the consciousness of mind and intellect, the mental body, the faculty of the intellect and the base of the intellect. This is what is called the mind. If you ask how emptiness relates with it, Saradvatiputra, the mind is empty of the mind. In it there is no actor. If there were some actor, then its actions would be experienced as such by others. The mind is not manifestly conditioned even by the mind.
Though it is taught that all things are merely apparitional aspects of mind, there is no occasion so to speak in connection with the ultimate truth, for the pristine cognition (jnana) transcending mind, intellect and all aspects of consciousness is revealed in the ultimate truth. Accordingly, it is said in the Sublime Sutra of the Descent to Lanka:
One who has become without mind, intellect, the consciousness of the intellect, conceptualising thoughts and perception, will become receptive to the uncreated doctrine. O Mahamati, since the doctrine which is apparitionless and divorced from conceptualising thoughts is revealed, this ultimate reality is without order or orderly intervals.
And also [Ch.3, vv.40-1]:
Having renounced the mind and intellect, Consciousness, perception and thoughts, The pious attendants who have obtained the conceptualising doctrine Become the sons of the Conqueror. Through the distinctions of [buddha-]field and [bodhisattvas'] receptiveness, [They gain] the virtuous pristine cognition of the Tathagata.
There are, in addition, proponents of the Mind Only philosophical system who hold that consciousness is not transcended in the ultimate truth. But this is simply a subjective perception of samsara, unable to sublimate the world. The ultimate truth is characterised as the uncorrupted expanse, and as the obscurationless pristine cognition which realises it, namely, the supramundane, individual, intrinsic awareness of the sublime beings. The distinction between these two [views] has been extensively taught in passages such as the following from that [same] sutra of the greater vehicle [Descent to Lanka, p.64]:
In this context, Mahamati, pristine cognition is of three kinds: mundane, supramundane and most supramundane. Of these, that which having been created is destroyed is consciousness; and that which is neither created nor destroyed is pristine cognition. Moreover, Mahamati, that which falls into the dichotomy of being symbolic or non-symbolic, that which falls into the dichotomy of being and non-being, and that which is created from causes of diverse character, is consciousness; whereas that which is characterised as utterly transcending the dichotomy of symbolic and non-symbolic is pristine cognition. And yet again Mahamati, that which is characterised as accumulating them is consciousness, and that which is characterised as diminishing them is pristine cognition. Now these three kinds [of pristine cognition respectively] generate the realisation of individual and general characteristics, the realisation of that which is created and destroyed and the realisation of that which is neither created nor ceases. The mundane pristine cognition is that of the extremists who manifestly cling to theses of being or non-being and of all ordinary childish persons. The supramundane pristine cognition is that of all pious attendants and self-centred buddhas who openly cling to thoughts which fall into individual and general characteristics. The most supramundane pristine cognition is the analytical insight of the buddhas and bodhisattvas into apparitionless reality. It is seen to be without creation or cessation, for they comprehend the selfless level of the Tathagata who is free from theses concerning being and non-being. Furthermore, Mahamati, that which is characterised as unattached is pristine cognition, and that which is characteristically attached to various objects is consciousness. And again, Mahamati, that which is characterised as being produced from the triple combination [of subject, object and their interaction]171 is consciousness and that characterised as the essential nature which is not so produced is pristine cognition. Then again, Mahamati, that which is characterised as not to be attained is pristine cognition, since each one's own sublime pristine cognition does not emerge as a perceptual object of realisation, [but is present] in the manner of the moon's reflection in water. On this it must be said [Ch.3, vv.38-9]: The mind accrues deeds and so forth, But pristine cognition breaks them down; By discriminative awareness, too, the apparitionless Reality and powers are well obtained. It is the mind which objectifies.
And similarly it is said in the Sublime Sutra of Clouds of Precious Jewels (Aryaratnameghasutra, T 231):
This doctrine genuinely transcends all written and spoken words. It genuinely transcends the entire range of expressions. It genuinely transcends all verbalisation. It is free from all conceptual elaboration and free from all that is accepted or rejected. It is free from all opening and closing, and free from all sophistry. It is not to be analysed and is not within the range of sophistry. It genuinely transcends the range of sophistry. It is non-symbolic, free from symbolism and genuinely transcends the range of symbolism. It genuinely transcends the range of the childish. It genuinely transcends the range of all demons, and genuinely transcends the range of all conflicting emotions. It genuinely transcends the range of consciousness. It does, however, lie within the range of the indeterminate, dynamic, quiescent and sublime pristine cognition. The individual, intrinsic awareness of these attributes is a topic which is taintless, uncovered, pure, bountiful, supreme, sacred, perfect, permanent, firm, enduring and imperishable. Whether the tathagatas have appeared or not, this expanse of reality is exclusively present.
The inconceivability of the ultimate, sublime pristine cognition, extensively revealed by such quotations, does not lie within the path [followed] by the proponents of the Mind Only system. It is admitted that this naturally radiant, intrinsic awareness, the perception free from the subject-object dichotomy, is itself the true basis of buddhahood, and it is held that the subject is dependently real. It is therefore difficult for anyone holding consciousness to exist substantially in ultimate reality to understand literally the selflessness of phenomena. In the same vein the Sutra of the Descent to Lanka (Ch.10, vv.359 and 358) also says:
Being mind only, it is apparitionless. Being apparitionless, it is uncreated. These middle paths Have been explained by myself, and others too. Realising that there is only mind, External substances are clarified. By reversing the pattern of conceptualising thought, That path becomes the middle one.
So it is that this intention of the final transmitted precepts, abiding in the Great Madhyamaka of definitive meaning, is clearly revealed in the commentaries of great bodhisattvas and in the compositions of the two promulgators who were masters of the greater vehicle [Nagarjuna and Asanga] along with their followers. Although certain masters may well have developed other systems and tenets elsewhere out of necessity, it is difficult to estimate whether they are ordinary or sublime beings. There may well be occasion to speak in the manner [of these masters] owing to various basic intentions once one has reached the level of the sublime ones, but childish persons like ourselves should understand the importance of not accumulating evil deeds which renounce the doctrine, having clung to a single extreme [view]. If this system [of Great Madhyamaka] were also to be described as Mind Only because the three essential natures are taught therein, then the three essential natures are extensively revealed, too, in the intermediate transmitted precepts such as the Intermediate Mother:
Maitreya, regard any imaginary form as not substantially existent. One might regard any conceptualised form as substantially existent because thoughts exist substantially, but do not confer independent status upon it. Then you should regard the very form of reality as being disclosed by ultimate reality, for it is neither substantially existent nor not substantially existent.
And again in the Epitome of the Transcendental Perfection of Discriminative Awareness in Eight Thousand Lines (Astasahasrikapindartha, T 3809, vv.27-9):
The transcendental perfection of discriminative awareness (prajnaparamita) Genuinely depends on three teachings: The imaginary, dependent and absolute alone. By negative expressions and the like All that is imaginary is refuted. By apparition and other such similes The dependent is correctly revealed. Through the fourfold purification The absolute is well known. Other than the transcendental perfection Of discriminative awareness, The buddhas have no teaching.
Similarly, in the master Nagamitra's Introduction to the Three Bodies (Kayatrayavataramukha, T 3890), the three essential natures are also summarised as the causal basis for the attainment of the three buddha-bodies, and in the Commentary [on the Introduction to the Three Bodies, Kayatrayavrtti, T 3891] composed by the proponent of the Great Madhyamaka, Jnanacandra, the same point is explained. Despite all the definitive structures of the three essential natures which have been set forth in all such texts of Great Madhyamaka, those who propound that they belong not to the Madhyamaka tradition but just to that of Mind Only have not even seen these relevant texts. As the Sutra of the Descent to Lanka (Ch.10, vv.256-7) says:
One who relies on Mind Only, Does not discern external objects. Relying on the apparitionless, Mind Only should be transcended. Relying on the genuine object of reference, The apparitionless should be transcended. A yogin who abides in the apparitionless Does not perceive the greater vehicle.
Accordingly, after Mind Only has been provisionally taught and then genuinely transcended, the apparitionless Madhyamaka is taught; and when that too has been transcended, the apparitional Madhyamaka is revealed. If that is not reached, it is said that the profound meaning of the greater vehicle is not perceived. It is, in general, erroneous to describe everything expressed by the word mind as the Mind Only doctrine; for there are occasions when the abiding nature free from all extremes, [known] inclusively as the nature of just what is, the genuine goal, the natural nirvana, the expanse of reality, the mind of inner radiance, and the intellect of Samantabhadra, is indicated by the word mind. The Long Mother says:
Subhuti, that mind is not the mind. The nature of that mind is inner radiance.
One should not therefore mistake that which is spoken of as mind-as-such, the inner radiance transcending the mind of samsara and its mental events, for the Mind Only system which does not transcend consciousness. The latter is characterised in the Sutra of the Descent to Lanka (Ch.3, v.32 and Ch.10, v.486) as follows:
Connected with propensities of conceptualising thought, The diversity which arises from the mind And appears externally to mankind, Is the mundane Mind Only [view].
There is indeed a distinction between the mundane and the supramundane Mind Only which is identical in meaning to the distinction between consciousness and pristine cognition, as previously explained. Similarly, those terms revealed in the most profound [sutras] of the greater vehicle which are synonyms of mind should be likewise known. It would indeed be a grave error to equate the tenets of mundane Mind Only with the great Sage's buddha-body of reality (dharmakaya) and the mass of its inseparable enlightened attributes, exceeding all the sands of the River Ganges, which are inclusively known as the uncorrupted expanse, the inconceivable expanse, ultimate virtue, unchanging and firm reality, truth in the ultimate abiding nature of reality, the primordially liberated buddha-body, freedom from all conceptual elaborations of the four extremes, and renunciation of the two concepts of selfhood. These are spontaneously present, utterly transcending the phenomena of consciousness. In general, those whose intelligence is authoritative, without falling into prejudice, do not differentiate between the two modes of emptiness [rang-stong and gzhan-stong] when abiding in the Madhyamaka [view], which is the summit of the four philosophical systems dependent on different traditions of promulgation which have been precisely enumerated. This is clearly understood through the respective treatises of the two great masters, Nagarjuna and Asanga, whom the Conqueror had prophetically declared would comment on the intention of the definitive meaning; and in conformity with them, it has been similarly explained by the all-knowing dialectician Ratnakarasanti, the venerable Bhavya, the Guru of Suvarnadvipa, the lord Atisa and others. Even the master Haribhadra gives confirmation of it because, when explaining the intention of the Ornament of Emergent Realisation [in his Minor Commentary, T 3791], he resolves that this non-dual pristine cognition alone is the genuinely existing essence. He then asserts this resolution to be made through the sequence of [discriminative awareness] produced by reflection, or through the yoga produced by the meditation of a yogin on the third level. And he additionally confirms this by explaining the recognition of just what is to be pristine cognition, and by explaining, in his commentary on the essential buddha-body (svabhavikakaya), that the remaining three buddha-bodies, through which it abides, are reality. In this way, the emptiness directly revealed through the intermediate promulgation is claimed to have the definitive meaning of outright explicit negation in order that it might cut through the egotism of the co-emergent intellect in corporeal beings; as well as through the view of self, which is newly postulated by the philosophical systems of the eternalistic extremists; and through the subjective, conceptual elaborations of those of our own [Buddhist] philosophical systems which propound substantial existence. Since [this intermediate promulgation] teaches that one meditates on emptiness when meditating on nothing at all, and realises just what is when nothing at all is perceived, that [reality] and its significance are indeed perceived. The view of this [promulgation] is therefore in the range of understanding or proper realisation of selflessness. It is difficult to destroy attachment to superficial characteristics (mtshan-'dzin). However, in order for the discriminative awareness born of study and thought to refute it, the Prasangika and Svatantrika reasoning which cuts through conceptual elaboration is sharp. But when the experiences of meditation are established, it is this tradition of the Great Madhyamaka, as taught in the third promulgation, which is supremely profound and vast. This naturally present pristine cognition, the ultimate truth of the naturally pure expanse, is the original abiding nature of all things, and it is the pristine cognition to be experienced by individual intrinsic awareness. As it is said in Rahula's Praise of the Mother [yum-la bstod-pa, T 1127, attributed to Nagarjuna]:
Homage to the Mother of the conquerors of the three times, Who is the ineffable, unthinkable, inexpressible Transcendental perfection of discriminative awareness, Essential nature uncreated and unceasing as the sky, Within range of the individual intrinsic awareness That is pristine cognition.
And [in the Sutra of Extensive Play, Ch.25, v.l]:
I have found a nectar-like doctrine Profound, calm, unelaborate, radiant and uncompounded.
By such quotations, the inconceivable pristine cognition has been illustrated, and through the vision of its nature the ultimate truth is perceived. It is wrong to refer to the mere emptiness, which is nothing at all, as the ultimate truth. Thus, absolute reality is the pristine cognition of the non-dual nature of just what is. It is indicated by the words buddha-body of reality (dharmakaya) or essential buddha-body (svabhavikakaya) which genuinely transcends the phenomena of consciousness. Yet, also comprised within this doctrine, which is misrepresented as the philosophical system known as the Mind Only, are: the definitive order of the three continua as taught in the way of secret mantra; the definitive order of the ground, path and result of purification and so forth which are adhered to by followers of the greater vehicle in both its causal and resultant aspects, and which include [the terminology] of deities, mantras, embodiments of indestructible reality, supreme bliss, emptiness endowed with all supreme aspects, the imperishable seminal point which is the fundamental support of body, speech and mind; and also the uncommon definitive order of the ground, path and result. One should know that the intention of the final promulgation, even though not within the path upheld by the proponents of intrinsic emptiness (rang-stong-pa), is without contradiction by examining, one by one, the commentaries of the great lords of the tenth level and the teachings belonging to the tantrapitaka of the way of secret mantra. Therefore, while the intention of the final transmitted precepts is not the same as that of the mundane Mind Only system in any of its forms, the purposes of the lower phases of the vehicle are gradually gathered within the higher, so that [Mind Only and the like] are not contradictory apart from their vindication of an extreme position. Indeed, one must truly comprehend that the great distinction of the higher over the lower phases is a feature of the precious teaching of the sublime Sugata. Otherwise, after one had been given teaching on suffering, selflessness, impurity and impermanence according to the first promulgation and everything had been established as emptiness according to the intermediate transmitted precepts, if one were then to grasp literally the meaningful intention revealed according to the final transmitted precepts concerning bliss, purity, permanence and true self, without knowing how to accept them with an attitude confident in the four kinds of reliance, one would engage in conceptualising thoughts which would confuse those who require training and wrongly scrutinise the teaching. With an intention directed toward this, the Commentary on the Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle (p.74) says accordingly:
To sum up, there are four kinds of individuals who do not possess the eye which perceives the nucleus of the tathagata. If you ask who these four are, they are as follows: ordinary persons, pious attendants, self-centred buddhas and bodhisattvas who have newly entered the vehicle. As it has been said, "O Transcendent Lord, this nucleus of the tathagata is not within the range of those who fall into views concerning worldly existence, who openly delight in deception and whose minds waver towards emptiness."
This same point can also be proven thoroughly from all the transmitted precepts and treatises, but here one will suffice.

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