From Svabhāva to Dharmatā to Dhātu, continued

By David Reigle on April 4, 2012 at 5:47 am

As just seen at the end of the previous quotation, Candrakīrti wonders who would ask if such a svabhāva (“inherent nature”) exists or not. If it did not, what would be the purpose of all the strivings of bodhisattvas? Now we must wonder why Tsongkhapa, followed by his Gelugpa order, is commonly understood to deny all svabhāva (other than that something’s “inherent nature” is that it has no “inherent nature”). With Candrakīrti we are not speaking of some Indian Madhyamaka writer who is only partially accepted by Tsongkhapa; we are speaking of the very one who is fully accepted by Tsongkhapa as giving the authoritative interpretation of the writings of Nāgārjuna. The information necessary to answer this question was given in a quotation from Jeffrey Hopkins posted by Jacques in an earlier discussion of the Stanzas of Dzyan (at Theosophy.Net on October 22, 2010):

“Since in Prāsaṅgika emptiness—the absence of inherent existence (svabhāvasiddhi, rang bzhin gyis grub pa)—is the nature (svabhāva, rang bzhin) of all phenomena, it should not be thought that svabhāva is refuted in all its meanings. Svabhāva meaning svabhāvasiddhi or ‘inherent existence’ is refuted, but svabhāva as ‘final nature’ or just ‘character’ (such as heat and burning as the character of fire) is not refuted.” (Meditation on Emptiness, 1983, pp. 391-392)

Tsongkhapa agrees with what Candrakīrti says here, as may be seen in his quotation of this passage from Candrakīrti in his Lam rim chen mo. Tsongkhapa specifically says that such a svabhāva exists. But the English translation of the Lam rim chen mo, apparently following the Gelugpa exegesis in the Four Interwoven Annotations, makes it look like what he says exists is some “nature” other than svabhāva, “intrinsic nature”/“inherent nature” (The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, vol. 3, pp. 197-198, attached as Lam rim chen mo on svabhāva). The Tibetan rang bzhin (Sanskrit svabhāva) is normally translated as “intrinsic nature” in this book.* In this section, however, rang bzhin (svabhāva) is translated as “nature” in some places and as “intrinsic nature” in other places, and even as “final nature.” Thus, Nāgārjuna speaks only of a “nature” in the two verses quoted by Candrakīrti, also quoted by Tsongkhapa (p. 195). Candrakīrti is asked only if this “nature” exists, and says it does, and Tsongkhapa agrees (pp. 197-198). Then Tsongkhapa denies only an “intrinsic nature” (p. 198). A concluding quote is added, where Candrakīrti accepts only a “final nature” (p. 198). In all of these places, as may be seen in the Tibetan quoted below, the word being translated is only rang bzhin (Sanskrit svabhāva), “inherent/intrinsic nature.”

Being given Gelugpa interpretations of a Gelugpa text will not be a reason for surprise. Nor would there be much reason for doubting that these interpretations reflect what Tsongkhapa meant. The problem here is that readers are being given interpretations, and not being told that these are interpretations rather than direct translations. Tsongkhapa’s text has many quotations of Sanskrit texts. The interpretative translations occur within these quotations as well. This was never allowed when these Sanskrit texts were translated into Tibetan to form the Tibetan Buddhist canon, the Kangyur and Tengyur. When the Sanskrit original had the term svabhāva, it was translated into Tibetan as rang bzhin or its synonym ngo bo nyid. These are what were allowed. Throughout the whole Kangyur and Tengyur, we do not find interpretive translations of svabhāva such as “nature” in one place, “inherent/intrinsic nature” in another place, and “final nature” in a third place. The texts had to be translated as they were found, and let the interpretations come later.

The meaning “final nature” for svabhāva was mentioned in the paragraph that Jacques quoted from Jeffrey Hopkins’ 1983 book, Meditation on Emptiness. Although that book has a glossary, “final nature” is not in it. However, it is found in the fuller glossary of Elizabeth Napper’s 1989 book, Dependent-Arising and Emptiness, which adopted the translation terminology used by Jeffrey Hopkins. There “final nature” is listed as translating rang bzhin mthar thug. In the passage from the Lam rim chen mo under discussion (p. 198), “final nature” is given in a quotation from Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā. But Candrakīrti’s text, and Tsongkhapa’s quotation of it, has only rang bzhin, not rang bzhin mthar thug (quoted below). Its Sanskrit original has only svabhāva, with no qualifiers (Poussin Skt. ed., p. 264, line 2). The “final” (mthar thug) is an interpretation, coming from the Four Interwoven Annotations (see: The Nature of Things: Emptiness and Essence in the Geluk World, by William Magee, p. 216, where the Four Interwoven Annotations paraphrase Candrakīrti’s rang bzhin as rang bzhin mthar thug). These Annotations were written by four Gelugpa writers who lived a couple centuries after Tsongkhapa (on Ba-so being a later Ba-so, see Napper’s Dependent-Arising and Emptiness, pp. 219-220).

Earlier in the Lam rim chen mo translation (p. 173), “final nature” again occurs in a quotation from Candrakīrti, from his own commentary on his Madhyamakāvatāra. Again, Candrakīrti’s text, and Tsongkhapa’s quotation of it, has only rang bzhin, not rang bzhin mthar thug (Poussin Tib. ed., p. 107, line 15). In both of these cases, this occurs in a prose commentary by Candrakīrti, where he could have easily added a qualifier such as “final” to svabhāva if he wanted to. He did not add one. Neither did Tsongkhapa when citing it. But the English translators, following the Tibetan annotators, did. The interpretive translation “final nature” completely obscures the fact that Candrakīrti, and Tsongkhapa citing him, has here only svabhāva, elsewhere translated in this book as “intrinsic nature.”

When the English translation of the Lam rim chen mo uses “intrinsic nature” for svabhāva in the passage under discussion (p. 198), in contradistinction to its use of just “nature” for svabhāva in this passage, it refers to “inherent existence” as mentioned in the paragraph that Jacques quoted from Jeffrey Hopkins’ book, Meditation on Emptiness. Jeffrey explains that the meaning “inherent existence” for svabhāva/rang bzhin takes it in the sense of rang bzhin gyis grub pa (p. 438), and Tsongkhapa here adds the qualifier grub pa, “established,” to rang bzhin (quoted below). This means that something’s existence is “established by svabhāva,” i.e., “established by [its] inherent/intrinsic nature.” But no dharmas, no phenomena, have a svabhāva, an inherent/intrinsic nature. Their existence cannot by established by something that they do not have. To say, then, that they are without an “inherent/intrinsic nature” (svabhāva) means that they are without an “inherent existence.” In this way, svabhāva may be used to “establish” (grub pa) something’s ultimate existence or lack thereof.

As alluded to in previous posts, this pertains to how Tsongkhapa narrowed down the meaning of svabhāva, “inherent/intrinsic nature,” to “inherent existence,” and made this the standard meaning in philosophical discourse in Tibet. If something is rang bzhin gyis grub pa, “established by [its] svabhāva,” it truly or inherently exists. This Tibetan phrase would be in Sanskrit svabhāva-siddha, “established by svabhāva,” or svabhāva-siddhi, “establishment by svabhāva.” However, such a term is not used in the Indian Buddhist Madhyamaka texts. They use only svabhāva. The addition of the qualifier “established,” grub pa (hypothetical Sanskrit *siddha or *siddhi), is a Tibetan development. This is not at all to suggest that this meaning does not occur in Indian texts, for it certainly does. It is to say that taking this meaning as “the” meaning is an interpretation, which may not be applicable to texts written prior to the time of Tsongkhapa. This would include the Book of Dzyan. Indian writers on Madhyamaka were not necessarily always thinking “inherent existence” when they used the term svabhāva. They could apply the term svabhāva to ultimates such as the dharmatā, “true nature,” or dhātu, “element, basic space,” without any need to differentiate its meaning (as “nature” or as “inherent/intrinsic nature”) or qualify this svabhāva as “final nature.”

It is when “inherent existence” is taken as “the” meaning of svabhāva that we see the denial of all svabhāva. But this makes it difficult to see or even know that what may be called something’s “final nature” is in fact just the very same word, svabhāva. Moreover, as we have seen, this greatly influences the translations of these texts. I had earlier quoted Candrakīrti’s statement, translated by William Ames, that: “Ultimate reality (don dam pa, paramārtha) for the Buddhas is svabhāva itself.” This same sentence was translated in Jeffrey Hopkins’ valuable 2008 book, Tsong-kha-pa’s Final Exposition of Wisdom, (p. 254) as: “The ultimate for Buddhas is just the nature.” Who would know that “nature” here is svabhāva?

Candrakīrti is quoted in the passage under discussion from the Lam rim chen mo, asking if such a svabhāva exists. He answers that it is the dharmatā, “dharma-ness” or “true nature,” citing the catechism-like phrase saying that it exists whether the Tathāgatas arise or not. The next question asks what this dharmatā is. The answer given, as translated by William Ames, is: “The svabhāva of these [dharmas], such as the eye.” The answer given, as translated by William Magee (The Nature of Things, p. 185), is: “It is the final mode of abiding of these phenomena, eyes, and so forth.” Here, svabhāva disappears without a trace, behind “final mode of abiding.” There is not even a “nature” to give a clue that svabhāva is the word used here by Candrakīrti. From other sources, we learn that “mode of abiding,” also “mode of subsistence,” translates the Tibetan term gnas lugs. It has no Sanskrit equivalent; it is a technical term found only in Tibetan treatises on Buddhism. Here in this sentence it is a gloss of rang bzhin/svabhāva, coming from the Four Interwoven Annotations.

Magee helpfully translates separately these Annotations on this section of the Lam rim chen mo. Two of its relevant headings here are (pp. 204, 206): “In our system the nature possessing the three attributes is the mode of subsistence, emptiness”; and “Though the nature refuted formerly and the nature which is the mode of subsistence of things have the same name, the meaning is different.” These tell us that the two meanings given to svabhāva (here translated as “nature”), an “inherent existence” and a “final nature” or “mode of subsistence,” are used “in our system,” i.e., in the Gelugpa system. These interpretations of what Nāgārjuna and Candrakīrti meant by svabhāva may not be accepted in other systems. Even if they do correctly represent what Nāgārjuna and Candrakīrti meant but did not say about svabhāva, readers have the right to know that they are being given interpretations rather than direct translations.

However excellent the English translation of the Lam rim chen mo by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee is, for questions like this it is still necessary to consult other translations when possible, if not the Tibetan text itself. The passage under discussion should be compared with Alex Wayman’s more literal translation, however faulty it may be in other respects, found in Calming the Mind and Discerning the Real, pp. 255-256 (also included in the attached “Lam rim chen mo on svabhāva”). Wayman here either retains the term svabhāva (rang bzhin) in his translation, or translates it as “self-existence,” which he gives in his glossary. This makes much clearer what is actually being said in Tsongkhapa’s Tibetan text. Interpretations from the Four Interwoven Annotations (Wayman’s Mchan or Ja, see p. 71) are given only in notes (e.g., note 139 referring to p. 233, corresponding to p. 173 of the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee translation, where occurs the second example of “final nature” that I discussed above). For grub pa, “established,” Wayman uses the translation “accomplished.” So for “established by svabhāva,” Wayman gives “accomplished by self-existence.”

Here follows the Tibetan passage corresponding to the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee’s English translation, vol. 3, p. 197, last six lines, to p. 198, first thirty-one lines (attached above). I have added some English words in blue to help with following the text. As occurring in this translation, I have inserted the words “nature,” “intrinsic nature,” and “final nature” in red after the Tibetan term it translates, also putting these in red. The Tibetan word that these three translate is the same: “rang bzhin,” Sanskrit svabhāva. I have also put in green the qualifier grub pa (“established”), added by Tsongkhapa in one of the paragraphs, since this was not translated separately.

As said above, and now can be seen, the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee here departs from its usual translation of rang bzhin as “intrinsic nature,” and translates it several times as only “nature.” These occur in quotations from Nāgārjuna (p. 195, Tibetan not given here) and Candrakīrti, where we know that the original Sanskrit word is svabhāva, and where in earlier quotations from these writers it was translated as “intrinsic nature” (see footnote below). Then it switches back to “intrinsic nature” when Tsongkhapa added the qualifier grub pa to rang bzhin. Then again, it uses “final nature,” in a quotation from Candrakīrti where we know that he only had svabhāva, and Tsongkhapa’s text citing him has only rang bzhin. This interpretive translation came from the later Four Woven Annotations. Lastly, in following this passage, we must also know that when svabhāva is defined as dharmatā (Tib. chos nyid), dharmatā is here translated as “reality.”

 

[Question:] ‘O NA SLOB DPON GYIS SNGAR BSHAD PA LTAR MA BCOS PA DANG GZHAN LA LTOS PA MED PA RANG BZHIN “nature” GYI MTSAN NYID DU GSUNGS PA DE BRTAG PA MTHA’ BZUNG GI SGO NAS GSUNGS SAM RANG BZHIN “nature” DE ‘DRA BA ZHIG YOD PA YIN ZHE NA,

[Reply:] ‘DI NI CHOS RNAMS KYI CHOS NYID CES GSUNGS PA DE LA RANG BZHIN “nature” ZHES BZHAG PA YIN TE BCOS MA MIN PA DANG GZHAN LA RAG LAS PA MIN PA’O, ,DE NI YOD DE, ‘JUG ‘GREL LAS,

[beginning of quotation from Candrakīrti’s Explanation of the “Middle Way” Commentary:] KHYAD PAR DU MDZAD PA RNAM PA DE LTA BU’I RANG @416B BZHIN “nature” SLOB DPON GYIS ZHAL GYIS BZHES PA ZHIG YOD DAM ZHE NA, GANG GI DBANG DU MDZAD NAS BCOM LDAN ‘DAS KYIS DE BZHIN GSHEGS PA RNAMS BYUNG YANG RUNG MA BYUNG YANG RUNG CHOS RNAMS KYI CHOS NYID ‘DI NI GNAS PA NYID DO ZHES RGYAS PAR GSUNGS PA CHOS NYID CES BYA BA NI YOD DO, ,CHOS NYID CES BYA BA ‘DI YANG CI ZHIG ,MIG LA SOGS PA ‘DI DAG GI RANG BZHIN “nature” NO, ,DE DAG GI RANG BZHIN “nature” YANG GANG ZHIG CE NA, DE DAG GI BCOS MA MA YIN PA NYID DANG GZHAN LA LTOS PA MED PA GANG YIN PA STE MA RIG PA’I RAB RIB DANG BRAL BA’I SHES PAS RTOGS PAR BYA BA’I RANG GI NGO BO’O, ,JI DE YOD DAM MED DO ZHES DE SKAD SU SMRA, GAL TE MED NA NI CI’I DON DU BYANG CHUB SEMS DPA’ RNAMS PHA ROL TU PHYIN PA’I LAM SGOM PAR ‘GYUR TE, GANG GI PHYIR CHOS NYID RTOGS PAR BYA BA’I PHYIR BYANG CHUB SEMS DPA’ RNAMS DE LTAR DKA’ BA BRGYA PHRAG RTZOM PA YIN NO ZHES MDO’I SHES BYED DANG BCAS PAS BSGRUBS SO,,

[Question:] ‘O NA SNGAR CHOS THAMS CAD LA RANG BZHIN GRUB PA “intrinsic nature” MA BKAG GAM SNYAM NA,

[Reply:] NANG GI BLOS BTAGS PA MIN PA’I CHOS RNAMS LA RANG GI NGO BOS GRUB PA’I RANG BZHIN “intrinsic nature” NI RDUL TZAM YANG MED DO ZHES KHO BO CAG GIS LAN DU MAR MA SMRAS SAM, DES NA DE ‘DRA BA’I RANG BZHIN “nature” DU NI CHOS GZHAN RNAMS LTA CI SMOS, CHOS NYID DON DAM PA’I BDEN PA DE YANG GRUB PA [rang bzhin is only implied in this sentence] “intrinsic nature” CUNG ZAD KYANG MED DE, TSIG GSAL LAS,

[beginning of quotation from Candrakīrti’s Clear Words:] DUS GSUM DU’ANG ME LA MI ‘KHRUL BA GNYUG MA’I NGO BO MA BCOS PA GANG ZHIG SNGAR MA BYUNG BA LAS PHYIS ‘BYUNG BA MA YIN PA GANG ZHIG ,CHU’I TSA BA’AM TSU ROL DANG PHA ROL LAM RING PO DANG THUNG NGU LTAR RGYU DANG RKYEN @417A *, ,LA LTOS PA DANG BCAS PAR MA GYUR PA GANG YIN PA DE RANG BZHIN “final nature” YIN PAR BRJOD DO, ,CI ME’I RANG GI NGO BO “nature” [svarūpa] DE LTA BUR GYUR PA DE YOD DAM ZHE NA DE NI RANG GI NGO BOS YOD PA’ANG MA YIN LA MED PA’ANG MA YIN NO, ,DE LTA YIN MOD KYI ‘ON KYANG NYAN PA PO RNAMS KYI SKRAG PA SPANG BAR BYA BA’I PHYIR SGRO BTAGS NAS KUN RDZOB TU DE YOD DO ZHES BRJOD PAR BYA’O,, [end of quotation]

ZHES RANG BZHIN “nature” DE YANG RANG GI NGO BOS GRUB PA BKAG NAS THA SNYAD DU YOD PAR GSUNGS SO,

 

*For example, rang bzhin is translated as “intrinsic nature” in these places: pp. 131, 137, 147, 191, quoting Nāgārjuna’s Vigraha-vyāvartanī, verses 1, 22, 26cd, 26, respectively, and pp. 143, 149, quoting Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā 17.30, 24.11, respectively, and p. 157, quoting Catuḥśataka-ṭīkā 13.21 or 321. These Sanskrit texts are extant, and svabhāva can be seen in them.

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