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« Reply #45 on: April 27, 2013, 08:13:53 PM »

We are studying Buddhism in religous studies and today we talked about the teachings of the Mahayana School, concerning Nirvana, especially the teachings about Buddha-nature and the idea that Samsara and Nirvana is essentially the same thing, just experienced in different ways. We used the Ratnagotravibhāga as a source. At some point I asked my teacher, that if Nirvana is a state of mind and requires the destruction of ones "self", then what is it that enters Nirvana? If there is no soul and no self, how can one be in Nirvana?

I know that my description is pretty simplistic, but i'm affraid to mess up my post if I try to go into too much detail. I just wanted to ask if there is some of the knowledgeable posters who could expand on the subject a little. My teachers responce was that it was a paradox, but I wanted to hear what you guys think.     

Hello, I'm a Buddhist who's been lurking here on-and-off for a few years (mostly interested in liturgy). There are a number of posters on this board who represent Buddhist views accurately and fairly (far more accurately than you would find Orthodox theology represented on Buddhist fora), & Iconodule has given a good summary of a Madhyamaka interpretation of the equivalence of samsara and nirvana. You asked specifically about the Ratnagotravibhāga, though, and that text explains it in quite different terms.

The RGV stresses that suchness (tathatā, although the text more commonly uses the synonyms dhātu "the element", dharmakāya, & tathāgatagarbha "the womb of the thus-gone") is the same for ordinary beings, bodhisattvas on the path, and buddhas. Karma and the afflictions (i.e. samsara) are "adventitious" ("Happening or carried on according to chance rather than design or inherent nature", Sanskrit āgantuka) stains on suchness. In reality, suchness is pure by nature and replete with all the uncreated qualities of a buddha. Thus, while it may seem to ordinary beings that at Awakening suchness is transformed by destroying karma & the afflictions and giving rise to the qualities of a buddha in their place, in fact nothing is destroyed and nothing created.

I'll translate a few passages from the root verses and Asanga's commentary to illustrate this point. Unfortunately scholastic Sanskrit is impossible to translate elegantly, but hopefully this will be a little more readable than Takasaki's translation (the only one freely available online). First, from Asanga's commentary on verse I.12, about the Truth of Cessation:

Quote
tatra nirodhasatyasya kathamadvayatā nirvikalpatā ca veditavyā / yathoktaṃ bhagavatā / śivo 'yaṃ śāriputra dharmakāyo 'dvayadharmāvikalpadharmā / tatra dvayamucyate karma kleśāṃśca / vikalpa ucyate karmakleśasamudayaheturayoniśomanasikāraḥ / tatprakṛtinirodhaprativedhād dvayavikalpāsamudācārayogena yo duḥkhasyātyantamanutpāda idamucyate duḥkhanirodhasatyam / na khalu kasyaciddharmasya vināśādduḥkhanirodhasatyaṃ paridīpitam / yathoktam / anutpādānirodhe mañjuśrīścittamanovijñānāni na pravartante / yatra cittamanovijñānāni na pravartante tatra na kaścitparikalpo yena parikalpenāyoniśomanasikuryāt / sa yoniśomanasikārapra yukto 'vidyāṃ na samutthāpayati / yaccāvidyāsamutthānaṃ tad dvādaśānāṃ bhavāṅgānāmasamutthānam / sājātiriti vistaraḥ / yathoktam / na khalu bhagavan dharmavināśo duḥkhanirodhaḥ / duḥkhanirodhanāmnā bhagavannanādikāliko 'kṛto 'jāto 'nutpanno 'kṣayaḥ kṣayāpagataḥ nityo dhruvaḥ śivaḥ śāśvataḥ prakṛtipariśuddhaḥ sarvakleśakośavinirmukto gaṅgāvālikāvyativṛttairavinirbhāgairacintyairbuddhadharmaiḥ samanvāgatastathāgatadharmakāyo deśitaḥ / ayameva ca bhagavaṃstathāgatadharmakāyo 'vinirmuktakleśakośastathāgatagarbhaḥ sūcyate / iti sarvavistareṇa yathāsūtrameva duḥkhanirodhasatyavyavasthānamanugantavyam /

How should the non-duality and non-conceptuality of the Truth of Cessation be understood? As the Blessed One said [in the Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśa-sūtra]: "This gracious dharmakāya, oh Śāriputra, is neither dual nor conceptual.  "Dual" here means karma and afflictions. "Conceptual"  means the faulty mental engagement [ayoniśomanasikāra] which is the cause for the arising of karma and afflictions. By means of not applying oneself to the dual and conceptual, through realizing that cessation is their nature, there is the complete non-arising of suffering. This is called "The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering". In no way is it called the "Truth of the Cessation of Suffering"  because of the destruction of any phenomenon whatsoever.

As it is said: "Oh Mañjuśrī, when there is neither arising nor cessation, no mind, intellect, or consciousness occurs. Where no mind, intellect, or consciousness occurs, there is no false imagination by which faulty mental engagement could take place.  One who practices correct mental engagement does not give rise to ignorance. Non-arising of ignorance also means the non-arising of the twelve links of existence. That is called "the unborn", and so on.

As it is said [in the Śrīmālādevī-sūtra]: "Oh Blessed One, the Cessation of Suffering is certainly not the destruction of phenomena.  By the name of "the Cessation of Suffering",  oh Blessed One, we teach the dharmakāya of the Thus-gone. It is beginningless, uncreated, unborn, not arisen, not destroyed, free from destruction, permanent, stable, gracious, eternal, by nature pure, free of the covering of all afflictions, endowed with the inconceivable, inseparable qualities of a buddha far exceeding in number the grains of sand in the Ganges. This very dharmakāya, oh Blessed One,  when it is not freed from the covering of the afflictions, is called the matrix of the Thus-Gone.

Next, perhaps the 2 most famous verses from the RGV, together with Asanga's commentary:

Quote
āpaneyamataḥ kiṃcidupaneyaṃ na kiṃcana /
draṣṭavyaṃ bhūtato bhūtaṃ bhūtadarśī vimucyate // 154 //
śūnya āgantukairdhātuḥ savinirbhāgalakṣaṇaiḥ /
aśūnyo 'nuttarairdharmairavinirbhāgalakṣaṇaiḥ // 155 //

kim anena paridīpitam / yato na kiṃcid apaneyam asty ataḥ prakṛtipariśuddhāt tathāgatadhātoḥ saṃkleśanimittam āgantukamalaśūnyatāprakṛtitvād asya / nāpy atra kiṃcid upaneyam asti vyavadānanimittam avinirbhāgaśuddhadharmaprakṛtitvāt / tata ucyate / śūnyas tathāgatagarbho vinirbhāgair muktajñaiḥ sarvakleśakośaiḥ / aśūnyo gaṅgānadīvālikāvyativṛttair avinirbhāgair amuktajñair acintyair buddhadharmair iti /

Nothing to be removed from it, nothing to be added:
the seer of reality is liberated by seeing reality as it really should be seen. v. 154

The element is empty of adventitious, separable things;
it is not empty of unsurpassed, inseparable qualities. v. 155

What is taught by these verses? That there is no factor of affliction whatsoever that needs to be removed from the naturally pure element of the thus-gone (tathāgata-dhātu), because it is by nature empty of adventitious stains. Nor is there any factor of purification whatsoever that needs to be added, because it is by nature endowed with inseparable pure qualities. Therefore it is said [in the Śrīmālādevī]: "The tathāgatarabha is empty of the coverings of all afflictions, which are separable and differentiable from it. It is not empty of the inconceivable qualities of a buddha, far exceeding in number the grains of sand in the Ganges, which are inseparable and undifferentiable from it.

This is what you call a first post . . . sheesh.
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« Reply #46 on: April 28, 2013, 05:49:38 AM »

We are studying Buddhism in religous studies and today we talked about the teachings of the Mahayana School, concerning Nirvana, especially the teachings about Buddha-nature and the idea that Samsara and Nirvana is essentially the same thing, just experienced in different ways. We used the Ratnagotravibhāga as a source. At some point I asked my teacher, that if Nirvana is a state of mind and requires the destruction of ones "self", then what is it that enters Nirvana? If there is no soul and no self, how can one be in Nirvana?

I know that my description is pretty simplistic, but i'm affraid to mess up my post if I try to go into too much detail. I just wanted to ask if there is some of the knowledgeable posters who could expand on the subject a little. My teachers responce was that it was a paradox, but I wanted to hear what you guys think.     

Hello, I'm a Buddhist who's been lurking here on-and-off for a few years (mostly interested in liturgy). There are a number of posters on this board who represent Buddhist views accurately and fairly (far more accurately than you would find Orthodox theology represented on Buddhist fora), & Iconodule has given a good summary of a Madhyamaka interpretation of the equivalence of samsara and nirvana. You asked specifically about the Ratnagotravibhāga, though, and that text explains it in quite different terms.

The RGV stresses that suchness (tathatā, although the text more commonly uses the synonyms dhātu "the element", dharmakāya, & tathāgatagarbha "the womb of the thus-gone") is the same for ordinary beings, bodhisattvas on the path, and buddhas. Karma and the afflictions (i.e. samsara) are "adventitious" ("Happening or carried on according to chance rather than design or inherent nature", Sanskrit āgantuka) stains on suchness. In reality, suchness is pure by nature and replete with all the uncreated qualities of a buddha. Thus, while it may seem to ordinary beings that at Awakening suchness is transformed by destroying karma & the afflictions and giving rise to the qualities of a buddha in their place, in fact nothing is destroyed and nothing created.

I'll translate a few passages from the root verses and Asanga's commentary to illustrate this point. Unfortunately scholastic Sanskrit is impossible to translate elegantly, but hopefully this will be a little more readable than Takasaki's translation (the only one freely available online). First, from Asanga's commentary on verse I.12, about the Truth of Cessation:

Quote
tatra nirodhasatyasya kathamadvayatā nirvikalpatā ca veditavyā / yathoktaṃ bhagavatā / śivo 'yaṃ śāriputra dharmakāyo 'dvayadharmāvikalpadharmā / tatra dvayamucyate karma kleśāṃśca / vikalpa ucyate karmakleśasamudayaheturayoniśomanasikāraḥ / tatprakṛtinirodhaprativedhād dvayavikalpāsamudācārayogena yo duḥkhasyātyantamanutpāda idamucyate duḥkhanirodhasatyam / na khalu kasyaciddharmasya vināśādduḥkhanirodhasatyaṃ paridīpitam / yathoktam / anutpādānirodhe mañjuśrīścittamanovijñānāni na pravartante / yatra cittamanovijñānāni na pravartante tatra na kaścitparikalpo yena parikalpenāyoniśomanasikuryāt / sa yoniśomanasikārapra yukto 'vidyāṃ na samutthāpayati / yaccāvidyāsamutthānaṃ tad dvādaśānāṃ bhavāṅgānāmasamutthānam / sājātiriti vistaraḥ / yathoktam / na khalu bhagavan dharmavināśo duḥkhanirodhaḥ / duḥkhanirodhanāmnā bhagavannanādikāliko 'kṛto 'jāto 'nutpanno 'kṣayaḥ kṣayāpagataḥ nityo dhruvaḥ śivaḥ śāśvataḥ prakṛtipariśuddhaḥ sarvakleśakośavinirmukto gaṅgāvālikāvyativṛttairavinirbhāgairacintyairbuddhadharmaiḥ samanvāgatastathāgatadharmakāyo deśitaḥ / ayameva ca bhagavaṃstathāgatadharmakāyo 'vinirmuktakleśakośastathāgatagarbhaḥ sūcyate / iti sarvavistareṇa yathāsūtrameva duḥkhanirodhasatyavyavasthānamanugantavyam /

How should the non-duality and non-conceptuality of the Truth of Cessation be understood? As the Blessed One said [in the Anūnatvāpūrṇatvanirdeśa-sūtra]: "This gracious dharmakāya, oh Śāriputra, is neither dual nor conceptual.  "Dual" here means karma and afflictions. "Conceptual"  means the faulty mental engagement [ayoniśomanasikāra] which is the cause for the arising of karma and afflictions. By means of not applying oneself to the dual and conceptual, through realizing that cessation is their nature, there is the complete non-arising of suffering. This is called "The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering". In no way is it called the "Truth of the Cessation of Suffering"  because of the destruction of any phenomenon whatsoever.

As it is said: "Oh Mañjuśrī, when there is neither arising nor cessation, no mind, intellect, or consciousness occurs. Where no mind, intellect, or consciousness occurs, there is no false imagination by which faulty mental engagement could take place.  One who practices correct mental engagement does not give rise to ignorance. Non-arising of ignorance also means the non-arising of the twelve links of existence. That is called "the unborn", and so on.

As it is said [in the Śrīmālādevī-sūtra]: "Oh Blessed One, the Cessation of Suffering is certainly not the destruction of phenomena.  By the name of "the Cessation of Suffering",  oh Blessed One, we teach the dharmakāya of the Thus-gone. It is beginningless, uncreated, unborn, not arisen, not destroyed, free from destruction, permanent, stable, gracious, eternal, by nature pure, free of the covering of all afflictions, endowed with the inconceivable, inseparable qualities of a buddha far exceeding in number the grains of sand in the Ganges. This very dharmakāya, oh Blessed One,  when it is not freed from the covering of the afflictions, is called the matrix of the Thus-Gone.

Next, perhaps the 2 most famous verses from the RGV, together with Asanga's commentary:

Quote
āpaneyamataḥ kiṃcidupaneyaṃ na kiṃcana /
draṣṭavyaṃ bhūtato bhūtaṃ bhūtadarśī vimucyate // 154 //
śūnya āgantukairdhātuḥ savinirbhāgalakṣaṇaiḥ /
aśūnyo 'nuttarairdharmairavinirbhāgalakṣaṇaiḥ // 155 //

kim anena paridīpitam / yato na kiṃcid apaneyam asty ataḥ prakṛtipariśuddhāt tathāgatadhātoḥ saṃkleśanimittam āgantukamalaśūnyatāprakṛtitvād asya / nāpy atra kiṃcid upaneyam asti vyavadānanimittam avinirbhāgaśuddhadharmaprakṛtitvāt / tata ucyate / śūnyas tathāgatagarbho vinirbhāgair muktajñaiḥ sarvakleśakośaiḥ / aśūnyo gaṅgānadīvālikāvyativṛttair avinirbhāgair amuktajñair acintyair buddhadharmair iti /

Nothing to be removed from it, nothing to be added:
the seer of reality is liberated by seeing reality as it really should be seen. v. 154

The element is empty of adventitious, separable things;
it is not empty of unsurpassed, inseparable qualities. v. 155

What is taught by these verses? That there is no factor of affliction whatsoever that needs to be removed from the naturally pure element of the thus-gone (tathāgata-dhātu), because it is by nature empty of adventitious stains. Nor is there any factor of purification whatsoever that needs to be added, because it is by nature endowed with inseparable pure qualities. Therefore it is said [in the Śrīmālādevī]: "The tathāgatarabha is empty of the coverings of all afflictions, which are separable and differentiable from it. It is not empty of the inconceivable qualities of a buddha, far exceeding in number the grains of sand in the Ganges, which are inseparable and undifferentiable from it.

Thank you for that. Very informative  Smiley
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« Reply #47 on: April 28, 2013, 07:47:08 AM »

We are studying Buddhism in religous studies and today we talked about the teachings of the Mahayana School, concerning Nirvana, especially the teachings about Buddha-nature and the idea that Samsara and Nirvana is essentially the same thing, just experienced in different ways. We used the Ratnagotravibhāga as a source. At some point I asked my teacher, that if Nirvana is a state of mind and requires the destruction of ones "self", then what is it that enters Nirvana? If there is no soul and no self, how can one be in Nirvana?

I know that my description is pretty simplistic, but i'm affraid to mess up my post if I try to go into too much detail. I just wanted to ask if there is some of the knowledgeable posters who could expand on the subject a little. My teachers responce was that it was a paradox, but I wanted to hear what you guys think.     

I understand Mahayana teachings on this topic as very similar to Apophatic theology, found in writings like 'The Cloud of Unknowing'.
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« Reply #48 on: May 02, 2013, 08:10:25 PM »

It seems people enjoyed the quotes from primary sources, so it might also be interesting to contrast the presentation in the Ratnagotravibhāga with that of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, the root text of the Madhyamaka school. The MMK has 2 whole chapters (16 & 25) entirely dedicated to your exact question, so there's a lot of material to choose from. I picked the first 3 verses of chapter 25 "An Investigation of Nirvana", together with Candrakīrti's explanations from the only surviving Sanskrit commentary, the Prasannapadā. Unfortunately this is a bit longer than the quotes from the RGV, because the MMK tends to build its arguments over multiple verses, & I couldn't really cut it down to just a short passage.

Like almost all the chapters of the MMK, it begins with a hypothetical opponent objecting in verse 25.1 that if things were empty, some crucial element of Buddhist faith becomes untenable. Nāgārjuna then turns the table in verse 25.2, saying that the fault the opponent attributes to him actually applies to the opponent himself. In verse 25.3 he gives his own position.

The hypothetical opponent is a traditional follower of Abhidharma, who gives an explanation of nirvana similar to Jetavan earlier in this thread. Note that the 2 quotes he supplies in support of his position are both from Pali suttas, although in this case they're quoted from Hybrid Sanskrit sources.

The argument hinges on the idea that if things had "real natures" (svabhāva, often translated very literally, but not very meaningfully, as "own-being"), they could never change. This idea is developed earlier in the text, so here Candrakīrti simply assumes the argument is understood. The commentary also assumes a huge amount of technical vocabulary related to the aggregates, the conceptualizing process, karma & the afflictions, etc., but it's not really necessary to get the gist of things, & I haven't tried to translate all of these with separate English words.

I won't quote the Sanskrit this time as it's too long. It can be found here (Pp_227--Pp_230). Bold indicates the root text, the rest is Candrakīrti's commentary. Slash marks indicate lines of Sanskrit verse.

If all this is empty, nothing begins or ends. /
What then is eliminated, or what ceases, for you to assert nirvana? //25.1//


[The Opponent:] In this religion, the Blessed One taught two kinds of nirvana for those who dwell in celibacy, who follow the Thus Gone's instructions, and who are yoked to the practice of the Dharma in accordance with the Dharma: 1) nirvana with remaining accretions [sopadhiśeṣa], and 2) without remaining accretions [nirupadhiśeṣa]. Concerning this terminology, the word "accretions" refers to the five addictive aggregates which are the basis for the designation of a Self, because the love of Self accretes to them. The accretions themselves remain; therefore it is called nirvana with remaining accretions. The aggregates alone remain, completely devoid of the thieves known as the afflictions, such as the view of the real body [satkāyadṛṣṭi], similar to a village surviving after a band of robbers has been completely cast out.  This is nirvana with remaining accretions. The nirvana where even the five aggregates don't exist is called "nirvana without remaining accretions", in reference to the accretions being gone, similar to the destruction of both the band of robbers and the village itself. Concerning this, it is said [in the Dabba-sutta Ud 8.9]-

The body is broken, cognition ended, all sensation burned out /
Karmic formations stilled, consciousness has come to an end //

and [in the Mahāparinibbāna-sutta DN ii; this the Buddha's attendant Anuruddha's famous verse at the death of the Buddha]-

With unbent body, he remained resolute in the face of painful sensation /
The liberation of his mind is like the extinguishing of a flame //

Thus, nirvana without remaining accretions is understood to follow from the cessation of the aggregates. How then can the two kinds of nirvana be accepted? When the cessation of afflictions and aggregates is real. If, however, all this is empty, and nothing whatsoever arises or ceases, then there are no afflictions or aggregates whose cessation would be nirvana. Therefore things must have real natures.

In response to this it is said: If we were to accept real natures, then

If all this is not empty, nothing begins or ends. /
What then is eliminated, or what ceases, for you to assert nirvana? //25.2//


As a real nature is permanent, how could afflictions and aggregates established with real natures ever be extinguished? How then could there be a nirvana based on their extinction? Therefore nirvana is impossible for those who proclaim real natures. Nor do those who proclaim emptiness assert that nirvana is defined as the extinction of the aggregates or afflictions. Therefore this fault does not apply to those who proclaim emptiness.

[Opponent:] If those who proclaim emptiness do not assert that nirvana is defined as the extinction of the afflictions or the aggregates, how do they define it? [Response] It is said:

Without elimination, without attainment, not cut off, not eternal, /
that is said to be unceasing and unarisen nirvana. //25.3//


It is not eliminated like desire and the other afflictions, nor obtained like the fruit of spiritual practice, nor cut off like the aggregates, nor permanent like the non-empty; this is called naturally unceasing and unarisen "nirvana", defined as the pacification of all conceptual elaboration. In such a state of non-elaboration, how could there be the conception of afflictions, whose elimination would be nirvana? How could there be conception of aggregates, whose cessation would be nirvana? For to the extent that conceptions proliferate, there can be no realization of nirvana, as the realization of nirvana is the very dissolution of all conceptual proliferations.

"Very well then," [says the opponent], "although there are no afflictions or aggregates in nirvana, they do exist prior to nirvana. Therefore it is after their dissolution that nirvana will exist." [Response] This grasping is to be abandoned, as something which existed with real nature before nirvana could not later be made non-existent. Therefore one who desires nirvana should abandond this notion. As [Nāgārjuna] will later say [in verse 25.20]:

There is not the slightest difference whatsoever /
between the sides of nirvana and samsara //

Thus it should be understood that in nirvana there is nothing whatsoever eliminated, and nothing whatsoever ceases.  Therefore nirvana has the nature of the complete dissolution of all conceptualization. As was said by the Blessed One [in the Samādhirāja-sūtra]:

In extinction dharmas are not dharmas; what does not exist in this state does not exist at all. /
For those who imagine, "This exists, this does not exist," and who act accordingly, suffering will not be stilled. //

This verse means: In extinction, i.e. nirvana without remainder, there is no existence, because of the complete dissolution of the aggregates, or dharmas characterized by affliction, karma, and birth, old age, sickness, and death. This all sides agree on. But the dharmas which do not exist in nirvana never existed at all, just like the fear of a snake imposed on a rope observed in the dark, after a lamp is lit. The dharmas characterized by affliction, karma, and birth, old age, sickness, and death never really existed in the state of samsara either, just as the rope in the state of darkness was never truly a snake, because neither one's hands in darkness nor one's eyes in light experience the rope as a real snake. If [the opponent] were to object, "Why then is there samsara?" it is said [in response], "Although they are unreal, things appear as real to child-like ordinary beings seized by grasping to "Me and Mine" as real, similar to unreal hairs, etc. appearing in the vision of people with cataracts."

... [there follows a section on the different Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophical schools implied by the phrase "those who imagine 'This exists, this does not exist' "]

Thus [in the Ratnaguṇasaṃcaya-gāthā]

As someone can be struck down by the mere suspicion
that he has ingested poison, even though no poison entered his stomach /
Just so a fool thinks "I am this, this is mine"
and by this unreal notion is born and dies forever. //

Thus it should be understood that in nirvana nothing whatsoever is eliminated, and nothing whatsoever ceases. Therefore nirvana simply has the nature of the ending of all conceptions. As it is said in the Ārya-ratnāvalī-

Nirvana is not even non-existence, how then can it be existence? /
Nirvana is the end of the conceit of existence and non-existence. //
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« Reply #49 on: May 06, 2013, 09:38:34 PM »

Re: Fr. Stephen Damick's presentation, he is trying hard but he greatly oversimplifies.

1.  I wasn't trying hard to do anything but offer a pretty simple introductory presentation on the matter.  When one is covering whole world religions in only a page or two, one doesn't really have the luxury of much else.  I also am not expert enough in this particular subject matter for much more than that.

2.  "Stephen" is my middle name!  Smiley
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