Thursday, August 29, 2013

Indian Buddhist Pundits: From "Jewel Garland of Buddhist History"

Indian Buddhist Pundits: From “Jewel Garland of Buddhist History” – translated by Lobsang Norbu Tsonawa (Library of Tibetan Works and Archives 1985, 2005)

This is a book of the history and lore of the Mahayana masters of India. Their stories and deeds, often miraculous, are recounted. Most of these masters were monastics with many of them also trained in Tantra. A few, such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, and Shantideva count among the 84 mahasiddhas as well. Through Atisa, the Indian monasticism profoundly influenced Tibetan monasticism. Many of the textual works of these Indian masters are key texts in the Tibetan training today as they were in India more than a thousand years ago. These stories are often contextualized in the teachings of Tibetan lamas.

The introduction contains a concise classification of Buddhist teachings according to Tibetan Buddhism. In terms of the Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel, it was said that Buddha gave three styles of teaching: The first turning was the teachings on the Four Noble Truths given in Varanasi to the five ascetics. Other sutras as well as the Jataka tales are also attributed. The second turning was teachings on emptiness from the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) Sutra, given in Rajagriha at Vuture’s Peak. The third turning was teachings on Buddha Nature, given in Vaisali and other places, which became the basis of the Vajrayana (Tantra) system. Of the four philosophic schools of Buddhism: Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra, and Madhyamika, the first two are associated with the first turning, Madhyamika with the second turning, and Cittamatra (aka Yogacara) with the third. The four classes of Tantra were said to have been originally taught by Sambhogakaya Buddha Vajradhara. The teachings on Vinaya (discipline of monastics), Sutra (direct teachings of Buddha), and Abhidharma (psychology, cosmology) comprise the Tripitaka, the Three Baskets of the Buddha’s teaching.

The first pundit is the famed Nagarjuna, often associated with the early days of the Mahayana. Some say there are at least two Nagarjunas as the times and teachers’ times don’t match. Some say there was Nagarjuna the early philosopher and later Nagarjuna the alchemist and tantrika. Others say they are different incarnations of the same being or even an immortal being. In any case, Indian history is notoriously vague about dates and very big on legend and magical feats. In this text Nagarjuna (the alchemist) was taught Guyhasamaja and other tantras by Saraha, the great siddha. Manjusri was said to be his cosmic guru and guardian  (and the source of his lineage) but he was also a devotee of Tara and a mantradhara of Kurukuli. He utilized Mahakali and Mahakala as protectors. Many of the deeds of these Mahayana masters beginning with Buddha himself involve successfully debating with other Buddhists and non-Buddhists about various doctrines and winning them over – as the custom was that whoever lost the debate would be required to convert to the victor’s view. He was invited by a virtuous group of Nagas to give teachings and to bring back the Prajnaparamita teachings. Like many of the panditas he was known as a builder of temples and stupas and an establisher of the Buddhist doctrine. Many texts are attributed to Nagarjuna, including those original to the Madhyamika (Middle Way) philosophy. He gave teachings on Vinaya, emptiness, and dharamadhatu (thus all three turnings of the dharma wheel). Some of his main students were the mahasiddhas Aryadeva and Nagabodhi and the pandits Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka, and Asvagosha. Nagarjuna is a pivotal figure in the history of Buddhism and is known as the Second Buddha. Nagarjuna appears in the lineage of Mahayana, of the Mahasiddhas, and even in the lineage of Chan/Zen Buddhism.

Aryadeva had a legendary birth from a lotus flower, like the later Padmasambhava. He was known for his naturally virtuous behavior and became the main student of Nagarjuna. One of the stories is that a non-Buddhist named Asvagosha was a master in debate having been granted a boon by Isvara. He went to central India to debate at Nalanda. The Buddhist monks there were worried about him so they made a torma to Mahakala containing a letter to Nagarjuna, whose whereabouts were unknown. A crow emerged and flew off with the letter to Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna trained Aryadeva to be able to win debates from the Buddhist or the non-Buddhist perspective. He said there would be an obstacle on the way – this appeared as a malevolent spirit taking the form of a beggar asking Aryadeva for one of his eyes which he gave readily and then noticed that the beggar smashed it on a rock. After this he shouted that this was a shame and no one would be benefitted – but this attachment of regret did not allow him to regain eyesight in his one eye. It was a great debate with many details but Aryadeva won and Asvagosha knowing he was defeated fled into the sky. Aryadeva chased him to the limits of the universe curiously known as the “sword-energy zone” which dissolves that which enters it. Aryadeva captured him and out of boredom he began to study Buddhist texts and eventually Asvagosha embraced the doctrine and wrote several famous texts.

Buddhapalita was another student of Nagarjuna and studied both the Buddhist and non-Buddhist views. He wrote a famous commentary to Nagarjuna’s text Root Wisdom which clarifies the meaning of the Madhyamika view.

Bhavaviveka was another of Nagarjuna’s students. He wrote a commentary that refuted the view of Buddhapalita’s commentary on Root Wisdom. But since the usefulness of the various views of emptiness are dependent on the beings to which they are taught – both texts are part of the taught tradition.

Candrakirti was the latest of Nagarjuna’s students. He also excelled in the Buddhist and non-Buddhist teachings as well as the sutras and tantras. He was accused of being a lazy monk and a non-Buddhist. He was known for his magical acts and would even engage the Buddhist and Saivites to work together on common problems such as magically repelling an invasion of Turks (called Turuskas), the Buddhists supplicating the Three Jewels and the non-Buddhists supplication Siva. Candrakirti was said to be aided by Manjusri. He wrote many texts and commentaries clarifying Nagarjuna’s view as well as commentaries on tantras such as the Guhyasamaja.

Candragomi was born as a rebirth of a previous pandit who died in order to be reborn to demonstrate the process of rebirth. He was said to be able to directly perceive Avalokitesvara and sometimes Tara. He studied at Nalanda with Candrakirti. Magical stories abound in his life. He wrote many texts, commentaries, and praises to Avalokitesvara and Tara.

The story of Asanga is a famous one. He was born and taught all the sciences and the dharma, became a monk, then went off to meditate in solitude on his chosen meditational deity – Maitreya. He meditated for 12 years without a sign then after leaving his meditation found a female dog dying by the road, full of maggots. While caring for the dog, the dog transformed into Buddha Maitreya. Maitreya noted that he had always been there but only beings with good fortune (fortunate karma) and/or great compassion could perceive enlightened beings. Curiously, in this story as well as another, there appears a woman who sells wine that was able to see parts of the enlightened beings or at least perceive them in some way. Asanga desired to revive the Mahayana doctrine so Maitreya took him to Tusita heaven for many years where he directly heard teachings and experienced many types of samadhis. When he returned he established a dharma school and retreat. Here were written the famed five works of Maitreya and many other texts composed by Asanga. The lineage from Maitreya to Asanga became one of the two major Mahayana lineages, the other being the lineage from Manjusri to Nagarjuna. Even today these are the two lineages of the Bodhisattva Vow – the Vast Conduct (from Asanga) and the Profound Emptiness (from Nagarjuna). At the end of his life Asanga was said to have served as the abbot of Nalanda University.

Vasubhandu was the brother of Asanga, from a Brahmin father, as Asanga was from a Ksatriya father. Like Asanga, he was taught the sciences and dharma first by his mother.

He extensively studied the Abhidharma (metaphysics) in Kashmir. Eventually, Asanga taught him the Mahayana. After this Vasubhandu composed his most famous text, the Abhidharmakosa, a major explication of the Abhidharma that incorporates the Mahayana view. Although his Hinayana teacher from Kashmir was skeptical of Mahayana he refused to debate his teacher, apparently, as other stories confirm, a rule in debate. There are other tales of the magical exploits of Vasubhandu and the spread of Mahayana. He was said to follow his brother as abbot of Nalanda.

Sthirmati was a student of Vasubhandu. He first (as a pigeon or dove) heard his master reciting texts while sitting in a vat of sesame oil. After the dove died it was reborn as Sthirmati, a son of low-caste parents. He found Vasubhandu and learned more. Eventually he composed several commentaries.

Dignaga was another of Vasubhandu’s students. He was a master of debate and was able to champion the Mahayana view over that of the Hinayana Buddhists and the non-Buddhists. Once he debated and defeated a non-Buddhist named Sudurjaya, who directly perceived Isvara, and then Ksrnamuni-raja. After Ksrnamuni-raja was defeated in debate, he challenged him to a battle in magic – which often occurs – debate with words then battle with magic. He was aided by Manjusri and praised the cultivation of Bodhicitta over all intellectual and magical abilities. His most famous text is The Synthesis of All Reasoning, a summarizing text of logic. After this composition he was adorned with many perceptions and samadhis.

Gunaprabha was a student of Vasubhandu that excelled in the Vinaya (discipline of monks). He learned all the Vedas and teachings of Buddha. He became the guru of a king and composed important texts on the Vinaya.

Sakyaprabha was from the north and taught dharma in Kashmir. Not much about him except that he wrote a text on the Vinaya and one called Possessing Light.

Vimuktisena was another student of Vasubhandu who excelled in the Perfection of Wisdom teachings. He was also a student of Samgharaksita. He composed several key texts and commentaries on the Perfection of Wisdom, uniting them with the Madhyamika view of Nagarjuna.

Dharmakirti was born into the family of a non-Buddhist Brahmin. He learned the Vedas and the sciences. After discovering Buddhism Dharmakirti was expelled from the Brahmin community. He became a great debater and even studied the secret teachings of the non-Buddhists. He was able to convert many to the Mahayana. He was said to have such mental absorption that he could debate ten opponents simultaneously. His most famous debate was with Sankaracarya (I am not sure if this is the same Sankara famed as the reviver of Advaita Vedanta or another). Sankaracarya was defeated and drowned himself in the Ganges. He was reborn, grew up, debated Dharmakirti again and lost and drowned himself in the Ganges. A third incarnation of Sankaracarya with the ability to perceive Mahadeva arose to challenge him but again was defeated and drowned. Finally a fourth incarnation was defeated and accepted the Buddhadharma. Dharmakirti taught some Kashmiri Brahmins who propagated his lineage there. He wrote many texts and commentaries. He was said to have lived in the 7th century CE, although time periods are often very sketchy in Indian history.

Santiraksita was a Sarvastivadin monk from Bengal. Basalnang, a minister to the Tibetan king Trisong Deutsen, went to China to bring back Buddhist texts. He also went to India to bring back texts and a teacher. In Nepal he found Santiraksita and invited him. After much difficulty he made it to Tibet and taught the king but there were storms, floods, and sickness thought to be conjured by spirits and demons of the area. Santiraksita suggested he invite Padmasambhava, an expert in subduing wild spirits. When he came this was the beginning of the establishment of Buddhadharma in Tibet. Santiraksita and Padmasmbhava built the famous Samye Monastery. The king had many Tibetans train as translators and other pandits such as Vimalimitra were invited from India. Thus was the first phase of the large-scale transference of the teachings to Tibet.

Simhabadra, aka. Haribhadra, was a student of Santiraksita. He specialized in Perfection of Wisdom studies and the tantric sadhana of Maitreya Buddha. He wrote a famous commentary to Maitreya’s Perfection of Wisdom teachings.

Santideva was said to be able to perceive Manjusri and receive teachings directly from him as well as from Tara. After serving a king, Santideva traveled to Nalanda where he became a monk. He became known as Bhusuku – one who only eats, sleeps, and defecates. Some other monks sought to discredit the lazy Santideva by having him recite the Pratimoksha Sutra which he could not have memorized. They made a high seat that he would not be able to get to – but he did magically. He asked if they wanted that sutra or something they had never heard before. They said the latter so he recited the Bodhisattva-carya-avatara (The Way of the Bodhisattva) which he apparently composed the night before. This is one of the most revered practical texts in the Mahayana tradition. At the 9th chapter on emptiness he ascended into the air. Later he debated a non-Buddhist master and finally subdued him through a contest of magical powers. Many other great deeds are attributed to Santideva.

Atisa Dipamkarasrijnana was born in 980, the son of a prince in Bengal. Throughout his life he was said to be guided by the enlightened goddess Tara. He learned the teachings and became proficient in the tantric teachings as well, attaining siddhis and samadhis. He learned from the siddha Avadhuti and Guru  Rahula Gupta. In a vision Heruka told him to seek ordination. His teacher Rahula taught him that siddhis and samadhis were not enough, that he should learn and practice compassion and Bodhicitta with the help of Avalokitesvara as a meditational deity. Therefore he sought the most famous teachings on compassion and Bodhicitta. He discovered that Suvarnadvipa Dharmakirti in Sumatra (Indonesia) had such teachings so he made a dangerous voyage there. He studied there with his guru for 12 years imbibing teachings on Bodhicitta and Transformation of the Mind. I believe this is where he learned the famed Tong Len teaching of exchanging oneself for others. Afterword he ended up teaching at Vikramasila Monastic University in India. Meanwhile in Tibet there was a decline in dharma flourishing due to a king known as Langdarma who did not tolerate Buddhist practice, especially those of ordained monks. After this king was gone another king – Llalama Yeshe Od sought to revive the dharma. The situation was such that those who practiced Vinaya and those who practiced Tantra were separate. Apparently there was also lots of deception among teachers of dharma, both Tibetans and Indians who traveled there. He was invited to Tibet. The details in this text are somewhat different from other versions I have heard. He was aging but made the long journey after considerable deliberation. At the request of Jangchub Od, the king – nephew of Yeshe Od, Atisa composed the famous text Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment so that the Tibetans could follow practical and easy instructions rather than profound and difficult ones. He then met his disciple, the non-monk Dromtonpa that he was told about in a vision by Tara. Atisa was said to have given many teaching in Tibet and performed magical feats. He taught sutras and tantras. He also taught that these different classes of teachings should not be taught and practiced separately, as had become the norm in Tibet, but together. Atisa was said to emphasize the Bodhicitta that he learned in Indonesia with Suvarnadvipa Dharmakirti. Dromtonpa went on to continue the then secret Kadam lineage which later became a famous lineage of mostly monks. Atisa remained in Tibet for 13 years and died in 1053 CE. According to the translator:

“In the religious tradition of the old and new Kadam School, the ethics of discipline is made the foundation of practice; the three vows (individual liberation vows, Bodhisattva vows, and tantric vows) are combined into one practice, and in dependence upon listening and contemplating the teachings, one takes the essence of the practice. These methods of spiritual training are due solely to the teachings of Jowo Atisa.”

At the end of the book there is a long list of texts attributed to these masters. Unfortunately they are only in Sanskrit and Tibetan.

This text along with those by and about Padmasambhava, those about the lore of the Mahasiddhas, and the much later sketchy histories by Taranatha, are the key texts directly connecting the Indian Mahayana tradition and the Indian Vajrayana practice lineages – which basically gradually perished after the Muslim invasions  - to the continuing traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.



No comments:

Post a Comment