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The Truth about Śrīgupta’s Two Truths: Longchen Rabjampa’s “Lower Svātantrikas” and the Making of a New Philosophical School

In: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History
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Allison Aitken Department of Philosophy, Columbia University New York, NY USA

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Abstract

Longchen Rabjampa (1308–64), scholar of the Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma tradition, presents a novel doxographical taxonomy of the so-called Svātantrika branch of Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy, which designates the Indian Mādhyamika Śrīgupta (c. 7th/8th century) as the exemplar of a Svātantrika sub-school according to which appearance and emptiness are metaphysically distinct. This paper compares Longchenpa’s characterization of this “distinct-appearance-and-emptiness” view with Śrīgupta’s own account of the two truths. I expose a significant disconnect between Longchenpa’s Śrīgupta and Śrīgupta himself and argue that the impetus for Longchenpa’s doxographical innovation originates not in Buddhist India, but within his own Tibetan intellectual milieu, tracing back to his twelfth-century Sangpu Monastery predecessors, Gyamarwa and Chapa.

Abstract

Longchen Rabjampa (1308–64), scholar of the Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma tradition, presents a novel doxographical taxonomy of the so-called Svātantrika branch of Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy, which designates the Indian Mādhyamika Śrīgupta (c. 7th/8th century) as the exemplar of a Svātantrika sub-school according to which appearance and emptiness are metaphysically distinct. This paper compares Longchenpa’s characterization of this “distinct-appearance-and-emptiness” view with Śrīgupta’s own account of the two truths. I expose a significant disconnect between Longchenpa’s Śrīgupta and Śrīgupta himself and argue that the impetus for Longchenpa’s doxographical innovation originates not in Buddhist India, but within his own Tibetan intellectual milieu, tracing back to his twelfth-century Sangpu Monastery predecessors, Gyamarwa and Chapa.

1 Introduction1

In Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism, debates over how to correctly characterize the relation between appearance (the way things seem to be) and reality (the way things actually are) often play out within the genre of doxography. Competing accounts of the appearance-reality distinction—framed in terms of the two truths (Skt. satyadvaya), i.e., the conventional truth (saṃvṛtisatya) and the ultimate truth (paramārthasatya)—are assigned to different philosophical systems and ordered in an ascending hierarchy. In his Commentary on the Wish-fulfilling Treasury (Yid bzhin mdzod ’grel, hereafter Commentary),2 Longchen Rabjampa Drimé Özer (klong chen rab ’byams pa dri med ’od zer, hereafter Longchenpa) (1308–1364), renowned luminary of the Nyingma (rnying ma) tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, sets out a doxographical ordering of his own Madhyamaka school in which the dispute over the relation between the two truths is reframed as internal to doxographical subdivisions within the Svātantrika Madhyamaka tradition. Speaking for his own sub-school, Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka, Longchenpa alleges that this entire debate is misguided inasmuch as it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding that hypostatizes the two truths as things that could stand in some real relation with one another, when the actual state of affairs lies beyond such conceptual fabrications (Tib. spros bral). Longchenpa, in effect, clarifies his view of the two truths by contrast with a series of subdivisions of the Svātantrika, and in so doing, he presents what appears to be a novel taxonomy of Svātantrika Madhyamaka.3

This paper presents Longchenpa’s characterization of one of these Svātantrika sub-schools, which he describes as maintaining that appearance and emptiness are numerically distinct entities because they instantiate contradictory properties. On this view, appearance and emptiness (i.e., the universal negation of ontologically independent being, Skt. svabhāvaśūnyatā) are identified respectively with the conventional and ultimate truths/realities.4 Longchenpa’s account of this view will be compared with the presentation of the two truths according to the Indian Buddhist philosopher, Śrīgupta (7th/8th cent.?), who is the only exemplar of this sub-school named by Longchenpa. With this analysis, I aim to discern Longchenpa’s grounds for identifying Śrīgupta as the representative of this sub-school, and to thereby shed light on the underlying philosophical and intellectual-historical motivations behind Longchenpa’s doxographical innovation. I will argue that there is, in fact, a substantive disagreement between Longchenpa’s Śrīgupta and Śrīgupta himself on the topic of the two truths and that Longchenpa’s invention and criticism of this sub-school is grounded not in Buddhist India, but in his own Tibetan intellectual milieu.

2 An Inquiry into the Grounds for Longchenpa’s Doxographical Assignment of Śrīgupta

In his Commentary, Longchenpa divides the Svātantrika into lower and higher sub-schools (Tib. rang rgyud ’og ma and rang rgyud gong ma), with the lower Svātantrikas further sub-divided into: (1) those, such as *Sāgaramegha,5 who maintain that the ultimate truth is the illusory nature of things (sgyu ma don dam pa),6 corresponding roughly to the Māyopamādvayavādins,7 an attested classification in late Indic doxographies;8 and (2) those who maintain that the two truths qua appearance and emptiness are distinct (snang stong tha dad pa), which seems to be a novel category.9 Curiously, the figure that Longchenpa designates as the representative of this second “misguided” philosophical position is Śrīgupta, who is identified by Tibetan sources as the teacher of Jñānagarbha (early eighth century),10 and whose account of the two truths closely aligns with Jñānagarbha’s own. Nevertheless, Jñānagarbha together with his successors, Śāntarakṣita (eighth century) and Kamalaśīla (late eighth century), fare better doxographically, being identified by Longchenpa as “higher Svātantrikas” who correctly recognize that the two truths lie beyond the extremes of being either distinct or non-distinct.11

Śrīgupta’s only extant Madhyamaka work,12 the Tattvāvatāra (TA) and its accompanying auto-commentary, the Tattvāvatāravṛtti (TAV), survive only in Tibetan translation, and the root text is no longer extant as an independent treatise, preserved only as embedded in the auto-commentary.13 The TAV is devoted almost entirely to the neither-one-nor-many argument (Skt. ekānekaviyogahetu), used to establish the Madhyamaka ultimate truth of emptiness. This text is a likely precursor to Śāntarakṣita’s Madhyamakālaṃkāra (MA) and looks to be the earliest extant fully developed formulation of the Madhyamaka neither-one-nor-many argument, which was to become renowned as one of the four or sometimes five great Madhyamaka lines of reasoning for establishing emptiness (Tib. gtan tshigs chen po bzhi/lnga).

2.1 Reasons to Question Longchenpa’s Doxographical Assignment of Śrīgupta

There are a number of reasons why Longchenpa’s designation of Śrīgupta as the sole exemplar of the lower Svātantrikas who maintain appearance and emptiness as distinct is prima facie puzzling:

(i) At no point in the TAV does Śrīgupta explicitly claim that appearance and emptiness are distinct. In fact, the only time that Śrīgupta even invokes the concepts of distinct and non-distinct (Skt. bheda, abheda) is in arguing that the mind (jñāna/citta) and mental content (ākāra) are neither distinct nor non-distinct, and thus the mind cannot be a true unity.14

(ii) Given that the TAV text structure and content have extensive parallels to Śāntarakṣita’s MA/MAV (and this being Śrīgupta’s only Madhyamaka text), one may naturally wonder why Longchenpa categorizes Śrīgupta differently from Śāntarakṣita on the basis of their respective characterizations of the relation between the two truths.15 Indeed, the opening stanzas of these two texts, which present the central inference from the reason of neither-one-nor-many, are nearly identical, differing only in the subject of the inference (though both subjects are all-inclusive, simply dividing the universal domain along different lines):

IMG000001

Citation: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History 3, 2 (2020) ; 10.1163/25425552-12340024

(iii) Not only does Śāntarakṣita closely follow Śrīgupta’s strategy for establishing the ultimate truth, but he also adopts Śrīgupta’s three-fold defining criterion for conventional reality:

IMG000002

Citation: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History 3, 2 (2020) ; 10.1163/25425552-12340024

Here, Śrīgupta claims that conventionally real appearances (1) satisfy when not analyzed (*avicāraikaramaṇīya),21 (2) arise from causes (hetujāta), i.e., are interdependently originated (pratītyasamutpanna), and (3) have the capacity for causal efficacy (*arthakriyāśakti/arthakriyāsamartha). This same set of three criteria is also affirmed by Longchenpa’s so-called higher Svātantrikas, Jñānagarbha and Kamalaśīla, as well as Haribhadra, the later Bhāviveka (author of the Madhyamakaratnapradīpa and Mahāyānasaṃgraha), and Atiśa.22

(iv) Butön makes the only identified doxographical assignment of Śrīgupta that predates Longchenpa, and given points (ii) and (iii), it is unsurprising that he categorizes Śrīgupta together with Jñānagarbha, Śāntarakṣita, and Kamalaśīla as a Yogācāra-Mādhyamika.23 Butön was, in fact, a teacher of one of Longchenpa’s own teachers, Lama Dampa Sönam Gyeltsen (bla ma dam pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan, 1312–1375),24 so it is not entirely far-fetched to surmise that Longchenpa may have been aware of Butön’s classification of Śrīgupta.

(v) Finally, despite the fact that Longchenpa engages in a rather involved discussion and refutation of the distinct-appearance-and-emptiness view that he ascribes to Śrīgupta, he provides no citations from Śrīgupta to substantiate this attribution. He cites sūtras on behalf of Śrīgupta, but nowhere in his entire collected works does he cite Śrīgupta himself.

Why, then, does Longchenpa select Śrīgupta as the representative of this sub-school? In an effort to solve this puzzle, I will identify some of the principal commitments that Longchenpa ascribes to “Śrīgupta’s sub-school,” and seek out textual grounding in Śrīgupta’s TAV to verify them. For ease of discussion, I will refer to Longchenpa’s Lower Svātantrikas who maintain appearance and emptiness to be distinct as “Śrīgupta’s sub-school,” though of course, Śrīgupta would not have identified with this or any Svātantrika sub-school, since the Svātantrika category was a later, most probably Tibetan innovation.

2.2 Longchenpa’s Śrīgupta vs. Śrīgupta’s TAV on the Two Truths

Longchenpa begins his presentation of “Śrīgupta’s sub-school,” the propo- nents of the distinct-appearance-and-emptiness view, by attributing two claims to it:25

Claim 1: Ultimately, appearances are empty because they are not established.

Claim 2: Conventionally, appearances are not empty because they are causally efficacious.

Śrīgupta would indeed affirm Claim 1, that ultimately, appearances are empty because they are not established. In other words, upon ultimate analysis, appearances are not found to enjoy ontologically independent being. This is the claim that Śrīgupta’s neither-one-nor-many argument sets out to establish, and it also agrees with Śrīgupta’s criterion for conventionally real appearances as satisfying our pre-theoretical notions of existence only when their ultimate nature is not subjected to analysis. Yet, as shown above, on this point, Śrīgupta is in good company with Longchenpa’s so-called Higher Svātantrikas, Jñānagarbha, Śāntarakṣita, and Kamalaśīla, as well as Atiśa, etc. But what about Claim 2, that, conventionally, appearances are not empty because they are causally efficacious? One potentially promising piece of textual support reads as follows:

From the standpoint of the ultimate,
things are devoid of unity, non-unity, etc.
If one has not engaged in examination,
then [things] appear to have a satisfactory nature.
TAV AŚ 826

Perhaps Longchenpa reads Śrīgupta’s claim that things “appear to have a satisfactory nature” when not examined as implying that, conventionally, appearances are not empty. This reading would, however, be stretching the text, for the claim that things appear to have a satisfactory nature when not examined is not at all the same as the claim that conventionally things do in fact have independent being and are therefore not empty. Moreover, Claim 2 has it that things are not empty conventionally because they are causally efficacious, and Śrīgupta does not invoke causal efficacy here. The criterion of causal efficacy was used by subsequent, “Higher Svātantrikas” to differentiate between true and false conventions, or real and unreal conventional things (tathyasaṃvṛti and mithyāsaṃvṛti); Śrīgupta, however, does not claim that the conventional is divided into real and unreal (Claim 3), though Longchenpa alleges that he does.27

Longchenpa attributes to Śrīgupta the further claim that a defining characteristic of the ultimate is that it can withstand analysis (Claim 4). This, Longchenpa contrasts with a reformulation of Claim 1: a defining characteristic of the conventional is that it cannot withstand analysis (Claim 1*).28 As Longchenpa argues, Śrīgupta must accept that these two realities are numerically distinct entities on pain of violating a version of the Law of Non-contradiction, according to which contradictory properties are not predicable of a single subject. In other words, Longchenpa charges that because Śrīgupta (purportedly) accepts that the two realities instantiate contradictory properties, he is committed to the negation of their numerical identity, and must therefore accept the distinct-appearance-and-emptiness view. We might formalize this line of reasoning as follows:

P1 A defining characteristic of the ultimate is that it can withstand analysis. (= Claim 4)
P2 A defining characteristic of the conventional is that it cannot withstand analysis. (= Claim 1*)
∴ C1 The two realities instantiate contradictory properties. (from P1 and P2)
P3 Contradictory properties are not predicable of a single entity. (Law of Non-contradiction)
∴ C2 The two realities are distinct entities. (from C1 and P3)

As noted, Śrīgupta endorses Premise 2 (= Claim 1*) in TA 11 as part of his threefold definition of the conventional. Śrīgupta would also endorse Premise 3, for he commonly relies on the Law of Non-contradiction in his own arguments. But there is no evidence that he would endorse Premise 1 (= Claim 4); nowhere does he claim that the ultimate is able to withstand analysis. He is silent on the properties of emptiness, if indeed it can be said to have any at all. In fact, Śrīgupta mentions the term “ultimate” (don dam and dam pa’i don), only three times, and in each instance, it is (at least in the Tibetan translation) adverbialized (don dam par, dam pa’i don du) to function as a qualifier,29 and he mentions “emptiness” only once, though with no predications made of it.30 While Longchenpa may take issue with Śrīgupta’s use of the qualifier, once again, this practice places him in company with Longchenpa’s so-called higher Svātantrikas, and is thus no help in resolving our puzzle. Since Śrīgupta does not endorse Premise 1 (= Claim 4)—that a defining characteristic of the ultimate is its capacity to withstand analysis—he is not committed to either Conclusion 1, that the two realities instantiate contradictory properties, or Conclusion 2, that the two realities are distinct entities. In sum, Śrīgupta neither explicitly claims that appearances and emptiness are distinct (Claim 5), nor is he implicitly committed to it on the basis of Longchenpa’s argument.

As we have seen, there is a rather sizeable disconnect between “Śrīgupta’s sub-school” and Śrīgupta himself. Of the thus far identified five claims that Longchenpa attributes to Śrīgupta, textual support can only be adduced for the first, that ultimately, appearances are empty due to being unestablished. Yet on this point, Śrīgupta stands in agreement with a great many other “higher” Mādhyamikas. We might thus pause at this point to inquire into Longchenpa’s motivation. That is, did Longchenpa need to accommodate Śrīgupta or did the doxography need to accommodate this view? Given the foregoing textual analysis, together with the fact that Śrīgupta was, by no measure, a towering authority in Tibet, we may safely rule out the possibility that this sub-school was innovated in order to accommodate Śrīgupta. Rather, this seems to be a case of a view that needed a figurehead. But, the question remains, why Śrīgupta? Surely, Longchenpa did not simply draw his name out of a hat! Doxography is, to some extent, a practice in exaggerating difference and similarity, generally to some pedagogical or rhetorical end. Still, it is reasonable to expect doxographical assignments to be tethered to some textual foundation, particularly when we have only a single figure representing an entire school of thought.

In an attempt to sleuth out some clues, let us first take a closer look at Śrīgupta’s TAV vis-à-vis Śāntarakṣita’s MA/MAV. There are two philosophically significant points of disagreement between these works that may bear on their respective doxographical classifications:

(i) Despite the fact that Śāntarakṣita adopts Śrīgupta’s threefold criterion for conventional reality, there is a notable difference in their presentations of this topic. In MA 91, Śāntarakṣita identifies cause and effect as merely mental in nature and endorses a form of Yogācāra idealism on the conventional level.31 Śrīgupta does not endorse Yogācāra idealism, provisionally or otherwise. This difference may help explain why Longchenpa places these two figures in different doxographical boxes (as Shakya Chokden and others will after him),32 but it is not immediately apparent how Śrīgupta’s unqualified rejection of Yogācāra idealism might commit him to the distinct-appearance-and-emptiness view, which requires that he accept that emptiness, unlike appearances, withstands analysis.

(ii) A claim in the TAV that perhaps finds the most tenuous connection with Śāntarakṣita’s MA/MAV is Śrīgupta’s unusual assertion that a buddha has conceptual gnosis (Skt. *vikalpajñāna, Tib. rnam par rtog pa’i ye shes/rnam rtog ye shes). Śrīgupta claims,

Given that the possession of conceptual gnosis
is a method for benefitting sentient beings,
since it is for their sake that omniscience commences,
there is no fault [in a buddha’s possessing conceptual gnosis].33
TA 15

In fact, prior to Longchenpa, many scholars, including Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (rong zom chos kyi bzang po, c. 11th century), who is well known to have influenced Longchenpa, Sönam Tsemo (bsod nams rtse mo, 1142–82),34 Jetsün Drakpa Gyeltsen (rje btsun grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1147–1216),35 and Chomden Rikpé Reldri (bcom ldan rig[s] pa’i ral gri, 1227–1305),36 utilized the status of enlightened gnosis as a differentiating criterion in their doxographical categorizations.37 Perhaps, then, there is a connection between Longchenpa’s designation of Śrīgupta as the representative of the distinct-appearance-and-emptiness view and Śrīgupta’s atypical assertion that buddhas possess conceptual gnosis.38 After all, if a buddha—a reliable epistemic agent (Skt. pramāṇabhūta) whose cognition is invariably veridical—cognizes two different objects, appearance and emptiness, by means of two different gnoses, one conceptual and the other non-conceptual, then one might reasonably infer that these two ways of knowing track a real distinction in the world.

But is there any reason to believe that Longchenpa was even aware of Śrīgupta’s stance on enlightened gnosis or his unqualified rejection of the Yogācāra view on the status of external objects? After all, there is no known record of Longchenpa’s having received teachings on the TAV, so it is not a foregone conclusion that Longchenpa had even read Śrīgupta’s text, particularly in light of the above analysis. To investigate the textual circumstances under which Longchenpa might have been exposed to Śrīgupta’s thought, it may be helpful to survey the known citations of Śrīgupta’s work in late Indic and early Tibetan scholastic literature leading up to Longchenpa. And since Śrīgupta is a lesser cited figure in Tibetan intellectual history, tracing citations of his TAV may have the added benefit of helping to illuminate patterns of influence within intellectual networks in early Tibetan scholasticism.

3 The Reception of Śrīgupta’s Thought in Early Tibetan Scholasticism

The table below presents the thus far identified citations of Śrīgupta’s TA/TAV in Indian and Tibetan literature prior to Longchenpa:

Table 1
Table 1
Table 1

Citations of Śrīgupta’s TA/TAV Prior to Longchenpa

Citation: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History 3, 2 (2020) ; 10.1163/25425552-12340024

This survey of known Śrīgupta citations predating Longchenpa affords several noteworthy observations. First, prior to Longchenpa, TA 15 on enlightened conceptual gnosis looks to be the most commonly cited stanza from the TA/TAV. This includes what appears to be the earliest citation, from Dharmamitra (fl. c. 800)39 in his sub-commentary on Haribhadra’s Sphuṭārthā commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra,40 as well as the latest citation, from Pang Lotsawa Lodrö Tenpa (dpang lo tsā ba blo gros brtan pa) in his Abhidharmasamuccaya (AS) commentary. It thus looks likely that, aside from his neither-one-nor-many argument, Śrīgupta was best known in twelfth to fourteenth century Tibet for his stance on enlightened conceptual gnosis.

Although this list of citations is no doubt incomplete, it is nonetheless noteworthy that we can, in fact, trace the lineage of each of these pre-Longchenpa Tibetan authors known to cite Śrīgupta back to the Nālandā master, Bodhibhadra, by way of his student, Atiśa, and the Kadampa (bka’ gdams pa) lineage that was established in the wake of Atiśa’s activities in Tibet. This network is represented below:

Figure 1
Figure 1

Map of intellectual network predating Longchenpa that highlights the influence of Śrīgupta’s TA/TAV. Lines between names indicate known teacher-student relationships and bolded names indicate figures known to have cited Śrīgupta’s TA/TAV.

Citation: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History 3, 2 (2020) ; 10.1163/25425552-12340024

In the brief discussion of this intellectual network that follows, particular attention will be given to citations of those figures temporally closest to Longchenpa—[11] Uyukpa Sönam Senggé (’u yug pa bsod nams seng ge, or rigs pa’i seng ge), [12] Chomden Reldri, [13] Üpa Losel Sanggyé Yeshé (dbus pa blo gsal sangs rgyas ye shes), and [12*] Pang Lotsawa Lodrö Tenpa (dpang lo tsā ba blo gros brtan pa)—which are jointly representative of Śrīgupta’s four most commonly cited stanzas prior to Longchenpa: TA 13, TA 15, TA 20, and TAV AŚ 11.

Following [1] Bodhibhadra and [2] Atiśa in this list is [3*] *Prajñāmukti, likely a member of Atiśa’s entourage in Tibet who authored a commentary on Atiśa’s Madhyamakopadeśa.41 Hereafter, we may observe a trend of some kind of affiliation (or at least ancestral affiliation) with the great Kadampa monastery of Sangpu Neutok (gsang phu ne’u thog),42 founded by Atiśa’s student, [3] Ngok Lekpé Sherap (rngog legs pa’i shes rab). It is with Ngok Lekpé Sherap’s nephew, [4] Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherap (rngog lo tsā ba blo ldan shes rab), that Sangpu began to take center stage as the preeminent institution of Kadam scholasticism.43 Subsequent to his travels and training in Kashmir, Ngok Lotsawa gained renown as a translator-cum-commentator, initiating long-lasting commentarial lineages (rgnog lugs) on the Prajñāpāramitā, the five treatises of Maitreya, works on logic and epistemology (pramāṇa), as well as the Madhyamaka works of Jñānagarbha, Śāntarakṣita, and Kamalaśīla, the so-called “three Mādhyamikas of the East” (Tib. dbu ma shar gsum). One of Ngok Lotsawa’s grand-students was [6] Gyamarwa,44 who brought attention to Śrīgupta’s view on conceptual gnosis in both his Bodhicaryāvatāra commentary as well as in his independent Madhyamaka work, Analysis of the Essence of Madhyamaka. Gyamarwa was in turn a principal teacher of the renowned sixth abbot of Sangpu, [7] Chapa Chökyi Senggé (phya pa chos kyi seng ge, 1109–1169). Both Chapa and Gyamarwa were teachers to the founder of the Pakdru Kagyü (phag gru bka’ brgyud) tradition, [8] Pakmodrupa Dorjé Gyelpo (phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po),45 who was in turn the principal teacher of the founder of Drikung Kagyü (’bri gung bka’ brgyud), [9] Jikten Gönpo Rinchen Pel (’jig rten mgon po rin chen dpal, or ’jig rten gsum mgon), who cites TAV SŚ 3 several times in his collected writings.

Another of Chapa’s students, [8] Tsang Nakpa Tsöndrü Senggé (gtsang nag pa brtson ’grus seng ge), cites TA 13 in his commentary on Dharmakīrti’s Pramāṇaviniścaya, and following him, this same stanza is cited in epistemology and logic treatises by Tsang Nakpa’s student, [9] Tsurtön Zhonnu Senggé (mtshur ston gzhon nu seng ge), Tsurtön’s student,46 [10] Sakya Paṇḍita Kunga Gyeltsen (sa skya paṇḍita kun dga’ rgyal mtshan),47 and Sakya Paṇḍita’s student, [11] Uyukpa Sönam Senggé. It is in Uyukpa’s commentary on Sakya Paṇḍita’s Treasury of Epistemology and Logic that he cites TA 13, as well as TA 15 and TA 20. TA 13 reads:

Through the power of meditation,
some meditators become familiarized with
the insubstantiality of all things,
just like seeing an ordinary object.48

This citation concludes the meditative insight (vipaśyanā) chapter of the Bodhimārgapradīpapañjikā attributed to Atiśa. And Tsurtön, for instance, cites this stanza in the context of explaining that meditating on the nature of reality (de kho na nyid) is the cause for the omniscient gnosis that understands the ultimate nature of things (ji lta ba mkhyen pa’i ye shes skye ba’i rgyu), and it appears in Sakya Paṇḍita’s and Uyukpa’s treatment of yogic perception. In this rather uncontroversial stanza, we find little grounds for Longchenpa’s ascription of the distinct-appearance-and-emptiness view to Śrīgupta.

Uyukpa was in turn a teacher of the great Nartang (snar thang) scholar, prolific author, and canon cataloger [12] Chomden Reldri.49 From Uyukpa, Chomden Reldri received numerous transmissions of works on logic and epistemology (pramāṇa), including Sakya Paṇḍita’s Treasury of Epistemology and Logic together with Uyukpa’s own commentary on that work, in which he cites the TA.50 Chomden Reldri accordingly cites TA 15 in his AS commentary and TA 20 in his doxography, Flower to Ornament the Philosophical Systems,51 the latter cited in his presentation of the Svātantrika neither-one-nor-many argument, where he explains why the reason does not incur the fault of being identical with the property to be proved (Skt. pratijñaikadeśa):

The suitability of the conventional treatment (vyavahārayogyatā)
of the absence of independent being is established.
Due to the absence of a unitary or non-unitary independent being,
[all things] in fact lack independent being.
TA 2052

In TA 20, Śrīgupta differentiates the reason and thesis by claiming that it is only the suitability for the conventional treatment of independent being as absent that is established—not the actual absence of independent being. This is in keeping with Dharmakīrti’s account of the output of inferences from non-apprehension (anupalabdhihetu). Significant for the present inquiry, Chomden Reldri points out that Śāntarakṣita follows a similar strategy to Śrīgupta in his MAV ad k. 62, so here too, we find no basis for classifying these two thinkers differently. It is, however, noteworthy that in this same text, Chomden Reldri divides the Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika, which he identifies respectively with the Māyopamādvayavāda and Sarvadharmāpratiṣṭhānavāda, based on whether or not a buddha is held to possesses gnosis.53

Chomden Reldri was in turn a teacher of [13] Üpa Losel,54 who was also affiliated with Nartang.55 Üpa Losel, an elder contemporary of Longchenpa’s, is well-known for his major role in the compilation of the Nartang Kangyur and Tengyur.56 In his Philosophical Systems, Üpa Losel cites TAV AŚ 11, which is the second most cited stanza prior to Longchenpa, also referenced by Dharmamitra and [1] Bodhibhadra, in his explanation of the Madhyamaka object of negation (Skt. pratiṣedhya, Tib. dgag par bya ba). The stanza reads,

With the correct view,
not even the subtlest essence is cognized.
Therefore, the absence of independent being is propounded,
but not due to denying appearances.
TAV AŚ 1157

Here, Śrīgupta clarifies that it is an essence, or the substantial reality of things—and not their mere appearance—that is negated when emptiness is established by a Madhyamaka argument like his neither-one-nor-many argument. Üpa Losel takes Śrīgupta to be in agreement on this point with a range of Mādhyamikas, providing a list of similar citations: Jñānagarbha’s SDV 28, Śāntarakṣita’s MA 78, Kamalaśīla’s (D 262a5), Śāntideva’s BCA 9.26, Nāgārjuna’s VV 23.58 Once again, we come up short of finding textual evidence to support isolating Śrīgupta doxographically.

A grand-disciple of Chapa, [9*] Nyelzhik Jampel Dorjé (gnyal zhig ’jam dpal/dpa’i rdo rje),59 serves as another link in this intellectual network. Nyelzhik was abbot of Lingtö (gling stod) from 1199–1207 and had nine principal students, or “sons” (gnyal zhig gi bu dgu) who founded a number of satellite institutes (bshad grwa), assisting in the diffusion of the teachings associated with Sangpu.60 One of Nyelzhik’s nine principal disciples was [11] Uyukpa Sönam Senggé, who later converted to Sakya (sa skya) becoming a disciple of Sakya Paṇḍita.61 In a second branch of this network, the lineage of [12*] Pang Lotsawa can also be traced back to [9] Nyelzhik by way of [10*] Bodong Rinchen Tsemo (bo dong rin chen rtse mo, 12th–13th century), who was another of Nyelzhik’s nine principal disciples.62 Rinchen Tsemo was the progenitor of the Bodong (bo dong) tradition and a principal teacher to Pang Lotsāwa’s teacher, [11*] Takdé Senggé Gyeltsen (stag sde seng ge rgyal mtshan, 1212–1294). Pang Lotsawa studied and taught at Sangpu and went on to become the abbot of Bodong É (bo dong e) Monastery.63 Like his elder contemporary, Chomden Reldri, Pang Lotsawa cites TA 15 in his own AS commentary. Despite the fact that Chomden Reldri is not in Pang Lotsawa’s AS transmission lineage as attested in the colophon of his own commentary, it is not unlikely that Pang Lotsawa was exposed to Chomden Reldri’s teachings on this text and that he managed to come into possession of a manuscript copy of Chomden Reldri’s commentary.64 This looks all but certain given the conspicuous parallels between these two AS commentaries. Both texts cite TA 15 with precisely the same variants from the received Tengyur editions of the TAV, and these texts are strikingly similar in the section where this citation occurs, adducing a string of identical citations and even overlapping substantially in the wording of the commentary linking these citations.65

Most significantly for the present inquiry is, of course, the fact that Pang Lotsawa was one of Longchenpa’s principal teachers during his seven years at Sangpu beginning in 1326 at the age of 19.66 Longchenpa’s place in this network is represented below:

Figure 2
Figure 2

Map of intellectual network leading up to Longchenpa that highlights the influence of Śrīgupta’s TA/TAV. Solid lines between names indicate known teacher-student relationships, dotted line indicates evidence of textual influence, and bolded names indicate figures known to have cited Śrīgupta’s TA/TAV.

Citation: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History 3, 2 (2020) ; 10.1163/25425552-12340024

Pang Lotsawa is said to have taught [13*] Longchenpa a great many texts, including the seven treatises on logic and epistemology (pramāṇa) of Dharmakīrti.67 Pang Lotsawa was also a teacher of another of Longchenpa’s teachers, Lama Dampa Sönam Gyeltsen.68 It is, thus, not unreasonable to suppose that Pang Lotsawa may have exposed Longchenpa to Śrīgupta’s view on conceptual gnosis either directly or by way of Sönam Gyeltsen. To discern whether or not this may have informed Longchenpa’s doxographical classification of Śrīgupta, let us return to Longchenpa’s work.

4 Longchenpa on Doxography and Gnoseology

As it turns out, Longchenpa presents another doxographical schema in his Dispelling the Darkness of the Mind (Yid kyi mun sel),69 wherein he differentiates philosophical systems based on their characterization of enlightenment.70 Here again, the Lower Svātantrika has two subdivisions, but in this context, Longchenpa characterizes them as endorsing either the Sākāra or Nirākāra view when it comes to the resultant state of enlightenment. He does not spell out the correspondences between this pair of Lower Svātantrika sub-schools and those presented in the Commentary, nor does he name names. But his presentation of the Sākāra account, according to which enlightened gnosis has mental images/representations (ākāra), corresponds closely with Śrīgupta’s,71 while that of the Nirākāra view, according to which all representations cease upon enlightenment, is incompatible with Śrīgupta’s account of enlightened conceptual gnosis.

Yet, this correspondence is problematized by the fact that Longchenpa associates the Sākāra view with the position that the external objects that appear to ordinary beings are merely mental in nature,72 a view that Śrīgupta does not endorse. To make matters worse, Longchenpa presents the Sākāra view first among the two Lower Svātantrika schools, while he presents Śrīgupta’s view second in his Commentary. Given that the sequence of views in Tibetan doxographies standardly signifies an ascending hierarchy, Longchenpa must have intended to align the Sākāra view with *Sāgaramegha’s Lower Svātantrika sub-school and the Nirākāra view with Śrīgupta’s Lower Svātantrikas. This is further confirmed by analysis of Longchenpa’s presentation of *Sāgaramegha’s sub-school in the Commentary, where he describes an account of enlightenment that sounds much like the Sākāra view he presents in Dispelling the Darkness of the Mind.73

Confoundingly, we may now add yet another claim to our list of positions that Longchenpa attributes to Śrīgupta, but that finds no textual basis: enlightened gnosis lacks representations (Claim 6). Below is a summary of the claims that Longchenpa attributes to Śrīgupta, with only the first finding any corroborating textual support in Śrīgupta’s TA/TAV:

IMG000006

Citation: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History 3, 2 (2020) ; 10.1163/25425552-12340024

5 Conclusion: Shifting the Question

Though we did not find the “smoking gun” linking “Śrīgupta’s sub-school” with Śrīgupta himself, this absence of textual grounding may nonetheless offer insight into Longchenpa’s own view on the two truths and his motivation in constructing this doxographical schema. Doxographical ascriptions that “don’t quite fit”—or that do not withstand analysis—can often flag some point that the doxographer deems philosophically important enough to stretch the intellectual-historical facts. After all, doxographies are (arguably) principally rhetorical/pedagogical tools used to clarify the author’s own view by distinguishing it from other positions, utilizing a kind of “neti neti,” “not this, not that …” framework to facilitate the reader’s arrival at a more precise understanding of the author’s account of the correct view. By devising new doxographical subdivisions, the author is able to make finer grained distinctions. Śrīgupta’s incompatibility with his doxographical box suggests that he may merely be a nominal figurehead, a placeholder standing in for someone closer to home. Longchenpa can, in this way, dismiss a rival view without explicitly naming names of his Tibetan contemporaries or predecessors. “Canonizing” competing positions in a doxography as belonging to a lower Indian philosophical system is rhetorically powerful and not uncommon in the history of Tibetan doxographies. The slight would be all the more cutting given that the view is represented by a little-known figure and relegated in the hierarchy beneath all of the figures standardly listed as Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika Madhyamaka authorities.

We can see how this hypothesis bears some preliminary fruit based on Longchenpa’s presentation of the Lower Svātantrika in his Treasury of Philosophical Systems (Grub mtha’ mdzod),74 where he sets out four possible views on the relation between the two truths/realities:75

  • 1 The two realities are identical, and even their conceptual exclusions are non-distinct, i.e., the two realities are both numerically and conceptually identical.

  • 2 The two realities are distinct entities, i.e., the two realities are both numerically and conceptually distinct.

  • 3 The two realities are the same entity but have distinct conceptual exclusions, i.e., the two realities are numerically identical, but conceptually distinct.

  • 4 The two realities are distinct merely by virtue of their unity being rejected, i.e., insofar as the two realities are neither numerically identical nor conceptually identical, they are distinct.

After dismissing the first two of these four views, (1) unqualified identity and (2) unqualified distinction, Longchenpa explains that the third view—(3) that the two realities are the same entity but have distinct conceptual exclusions (ngo bo gcig la ldog pa tha dad pa)—belongs to those lower Svātantrikas who accept the illusory nature of things as the ultimate truth (sgyu ma don dam pa’i bden par khas len pa), i.e., *Sāgaramegha’s sub-school in the Commentary.76 Longchenpa’s description of the fourth view—that the two realities are distinct merely by virtue of their unity being rejected—aligns with his account of Śrīgupta’s sub-school in the Commentary, according to which conventional appearances and ultimate emptiness are not numerically identical because they instantiate contradictory properties. Longchenpa’s presentation of these two Lower Svātantrika sub-schools is summarized in the table below:

IMG000007

Citation: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History 3, 2 (2020) ; 10.1163/25425552-12340024

In rejecting each of these four possible relations between the two realities presented in his Treasury of Philosophical Systems, Longchenpa runs the dyadic version of the neither-one-nor-many argument—the neither-distinct-nor-identical (Skt. bedhābedha) argument—against the Svātantrikas, taking the two realities as the subject. This analysis has a long tradition in India and Tibet, going back at least to the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra. Indeed, in concluding his section on the Lower Svātantrikas in his Commentary, Longchenpa makes this strategy explicit:

According to the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra, “The [conventional] conditioned elements and the ultimate are characterized by being neither identical nor distinct. To understand [the two realities] as either identical or distinct is to adopt an improper view.”77 Thus, the Lower Svātantrikas [like *Sāgaramegha], who posit the two realities as a single entity because they accept the illusory [nature] as the ultimate, and the [Lower Svātantrikas like Śrīgupta], who posit [the two realities] as distinct entities because they accept appearance and emptiness as distinct, do not properly understand the intent of the Sage. Why is that? Because they fall into the extremes of existence and non-existence.78

The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra rejects only Longchenpa’s view 1 and view 2 above—the unqualified identity and distinction of the two realities. In fact, views 3 and 4 do not appear to have been defended in India at all, but instead seem to have developed within the early Tibetan scholastic context as more nuanced accounts of the relation between the two truths. These Tibetan views that insist on providing some positive characterization of the relation between the two truths as either identical or distinct in some respect are, then, the actual target of Longchenpa’s critique-in-the-guise-of-doxography, and he charges them with falling into one or other of the two extremes views of realism or nihilism. According to Longchenpa, even the so-called “Higher Svātantrikas” understand that the two truths are neither identical or distinct.79 Yet, Longchenpa argues, the Higher Svātantrika too stray into the extremes of realism and nihilism because they affirm the reality of things conventionally, while denying their reality ultimately.80 It is, then, only the Prāsaṅgika, the “pinnacle of Mahāyāna Buddhist views,”81 that correctly negates the entirety of conceptual fabrications superimposed on the two truths and their relation. All of these so-called Svātantrika views err because they engage in some sort of ontological theorizing on the basis of the two truths, but, as Nāgārjuna states, the Mādhyamika has no thesis.82 According to Longchenpa, the conventional is simply the confused domain of the ordinary, conceptual intellect while the ultimate is free from the extremes of conceptual fabrications, being the domain of reflexively aware gnosis.83

But who precisely is Longchenpa targeting in rejecting views 3 and 4, if no Indian scholars fit the bill? Who is he demoting to the status of “Lower Svātantrikas,” the lowest of Madhyamaka views in his doxographical hierarchy? Preceding Longchenpa, we find this same analysis of four views on the relation between the two truths taken up by Gyamarwa and Chapa in different but both influential ways.84 Longchenpa’s characterization and critiques of these views bear many significant parallels to these earlier sources. First, Gyamarwa presents this same scheme of four views in his Analysis and, as Longchenpa will, Gyamarwa also dismisses the first two and aligns the third with the Māyopamādvayavādins.85 Yet Gyamarwa assigns the fourth view, that the two realities are distinct simply by virtue of their unity being rejected (gcig pa bkag pa tsam gyi dbye ba), to the Apratiṣṭhānavādins, the view that he himself endorses.86 In this he is followed (in one way or another) by many prominent scholars, including most notably Longchenpa’s controversial contemporary, Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen (dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan, 1292–1361),87 as well as subsequent Sakyapas like Gorampa,88 placing them in agreement with “Śrīgupta’s Lower Svātantrikas.” And the “same entity, but distinct conceptual exclusions” view was famously endorsed by Chapa,89 and was soon to be embraced by Tsongkhapa Lobsang Drakpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357–1419) and the emerging Gelukpas (dge lugs pa),90 placing them in agreement with “*Sāgaramegha’s Lower Svātantrikas.” In fact, where we came up short in finding textual support from Śrīgupta for the claims Longchenpa ascribes to him, we find explicit agreement on an overwhelming number of these points in the works of Gyamarwa and Chapa, and the many scholars whom they influenced. Although a survey of these parallels is beyond the scope of the present paper, from this preliminary inquiry, it is safe to conclude that the relatively obscure Indic figureheads of Longchenpa’s Lower Svātantrika sub-schools are obscuring competing figures or schools of thought in Longchenpa’s Tibetan intellectual milieu following in the tradition of his own Sangpu forefathers, Gyamarwa and Chapa.

Bibliographic References

Abbreviations

AAA

Abhisamayālṃkārāloka (Haribhadra). Abhisamayālṃkārāloka Prajñāpāramitāvyākhyā (Commentary on Aṣṭasāhasrikā-Prajñāpāramitā) by Haribhadra Together with the Text Commented On, edited by Unrai Wogihara. Tokyo: The Toyo Bunko, 1932–1935.

AS

Abhidharmasamuccaya (Asaṅga). Abhidharma Samuccaya of Asaṅga, edited by Pralhad Pradhan. Santiniketan: Visva-Bharati, 1950.

transitional stanza (antaraśloka).

B

Tengyur Pedurma (bsTan ’gyur dPe bsdur ma). Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa’i dpe skrun khang, 1994–2008.

BCA

Bodhicaryāvatāra (Śāntideva). Prajñākaramati’s Commentary to the Bodhicaryāvatāra of Çāntideva, edited by Louis de la Vallée Poussin. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1905–1914.

BCAP

Bodhicaryāvatārapañjikā (Prajñākaramati), see BCA.

C

Tengyur Coné (bsTan ’gyur Co ne).

D

Tengyur Dergé (bsTan ’gyur sDe dge). sDe dge Tibetan Tripiṭaka—bsTan ’gyur Preserved at the Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo, edited by Z. Yamaguchi, et al. Tokyo: Tokyo University Press, 1977–1988.

G

Tengyur Serdrima (bsTan ’gyur gSer bris ma).

MA

Madhyamakālaṃkāra (Śāntarakṣita), see Ichigō, “Śāntarakṣita’s Madhyama- kālaṃkāra.”

MAP

Madhyamakālaṃkārapañjikā (Kamalaśīla). Madhyamakālaṃkāra of Śāntarakṣita with His Own Commentary or Vṛtti and with the Subcommentary or Pañjikā of Kamalaśīla, edited by Masamichi Ichigō. Kyoto: Buneido, 1985.

MAS

Madhyamakārthasaṃgraha (the later Bhāviveka) D 3857, dbu ma, dza 329b4–330a3.

MAV

Madhyamakālaṃkāravṛtti (Śāntarakṣita), see MAP.

Madhyamakāloka (Kamalaśīla) D 3887, dbu ma, sa 133b4–244a7.

MRP

Madhyamakaratnapradīpa (the later Bhāviveka) D 3854, dbu ma, tsha 259b3–289a7.

N

Tengyur Nartang (bsTan ’gyur sNar thang).

P

Tengyur Peking (bsTan ’gyur Pe cin). The Tibetan Tripiṭaka. Peking Edition—Kept in the Library of the Otani University, Kyoto—Reprinted Under the Supervision of the Otani University, Kyoto, 168 vols, edited by D. T. Suzuki. Tokyo/Kyoto: Tibetan Tripitaka Research Institute, 1955–61.

SDA

Satyadvayāvatāra (Atiśa), see Lindtner, “Atiśa’s Introduction to the Two Truths, and its Sources.”

SDV

Satyadvayavibhaṅga (Jñānagarbha), see Eckel, Jñānagarbha’s Commentary.

SNS

Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra. Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra: L’Explication des Mysteres, edited and translated by Etienne Lamotte. Louvain, Paris: Bureaux du Recueil, 1935.

SS

summary stanza (saṃgrahaśloka).

TA

Tattvāvatāra (Śrīgupta) see TAV.

TAV

Tattvāvatāravṛtti (Śrīgupta) B 3121, vol. 63, 101–112; C 3892 dbu ma, ha 39b1– 43a5; D 3892 dbu ma, ha 39b4–43b5; G 3295 dbu ma, ha 56a–62a; N 4064, dbu ma, ha 41a5–45b2; P 5292 dbu ma, ha 44b2–49a5.

VV

Vigrahavyāvartinī (Nāgārjuna). The Dialectical Method of Nāgārjuna: Vigrahavyāvartanī, edited by Kamaleswar Bhattacharya, E.H. Johnston, and Arnold Kunst. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1998.

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