The Dharmadhâtu in Buddhist Scriptures

By Jacques Mahnich on April 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm

 

The Dharmadhâtu in Buddhist Scriptures

Going to the sources for esoteric subjects is always a challenge, as explained many times by David.

The Dharmadathu,  is of such importance for our quest, that all tracks sould be explored, together with the risk of misunderstanding. If we operate as researchers do, we will try to identify as many different sources, together with their environment , when they were taught, written, translated, commented, in order to extract, when possible, a commun understanding.

Nagarjuna wrote a treatise on it – the Dharmadhâtustava – in his collection of praises. It seems a not-very-well-known text with a few commentaries. The most extant is the one written by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. These were translated and published recently (2007) by Karl Brunnhölz – In Praise of Dharmadhâtu by Nagarjuna, Commentary by the IIIrd Karmapa – ISBN 1-55939-286-X.

Before that, D. Seyfort Ruegg wrote an article on it, and it can be a good introduction to the subject. Here are the main ideas which can be of interest for our purpose.

First, an overview of Nagarjuna history may help putting the texts in perspective.

According to Bu ston and Târanâtha, Nagarjuna was born 400 years after the Buddha nirvana in the Vidarbha province (Berâr).During the first part of his life, he worked for the goodness of the people. This was called the First Promulgation of the Law (chos kyi sgra chen po). He mainly worked at cleaning the then-current degenerated practices in the monasteries.

Then, he moved to the Naga world where he got the Prajnâpâramitâsûtras, brought them back, and spend the second part of his life writing scolastic works (rigs tshogs) to explain the meaning of the sutras. It is called the Second Promulgation of the Law, dedicated to the teaching of sunyata.

Then he traveled again, to spend years in Uttarakuru. From there, he brought back scriptures like the Mahâbherîsûtra and the Mahâmeghasûtra. To explain these sutras, he then wrote a group of hymns (bstod tshogs). It is called the Third Promulgation of the Law.

The Dharmadhâtustava is considered as one of the most important hymn According to ‘Jam dbyans bzad pa, the author of the Grub mtha’ chen mo, this last Promulgation main theme is the existence of the spiritual Element (khams=dhâtu) of the buddha in all animated beings. ‘Jam dbyans bzad pa considers the Dharmadhâtustava doctrine in conformity with the teachings of the Dhâranisvararâjasûtra and the Ratnagotravibhâga.

At first, the philosophical vocabulary found inside the Dharmadhâtustava is far different from the one used inside the Mûlamadhyamakakârika, as already identified by E. Frauwallner in his « Philosophie des Buddhismus » ; together with some other words like pâramitâ, bodhicitta, etc. But some other texts (Niraupamyastava – 6.21, Acintyastava – fol 90a7, and the Paramârthastava -8 are using the dharmadhâtu and the dharmata words.

Candrakirti quote seven stanzas which are related to the dharmadhâtu in his Madhyamakâvatâra self-commentary :

ZIG PA MED CIN SKYE MED LA/ /CHOS DBYINS DAN MNAM PAR GYUR KYAN//SREG PA’I BSKAL PA BRJOD MDZAD PA/ /’DI NI ‘JIG RTEN MTHUN ‘JUG YIN// DUS GSUM DAG TU SEMS CAN GYI / /RAN BZIN DMIGS PA MA YIN LA// SEMS CAN KHAMS KYAN STON MDZAD PA/ /’DI NI ‘JIG RTEN MTHUN ‘JUG YIN//

in which one can find : « Exempt from destruction and birth, the world is equivalent to the dharmadhâtu… »

Two similar stances can be found inside the Prasannapadâ of Candrakirti (26.2 in La Vallée Poussin translation), and also inside the Niraupamyastava.

The Dharmadhâtustava in Sanskrit is no more available, and there are no indian commentaries known.. A chinese version was written around 980 AD, and a tibetan translation was made by Krishna Pandita and Nag tsho lo tsâ ba Tshul khrims rgyal ba (born in 1011).

This first post was to help substantiating the fact that the dharmadhâtu is an integral part of the Nagarjuna teachings.

Category: Dhatu | 1 comment

  • David Reigle says:

    Thank you very much, Jacques, for giving us a summary of the main ideas from D. Seyfort Ruegg’s important 1971 article written in French, “Le Dharmadhātustava de Nāgārjuna.” This article was for more than three decades our only Western language source on this hymn by Nāgārjuna, and it still remains a valuable source. Glad to have this English summary of its main ideas.

    From this, it seems that Seyfort Ruegg quoted verses from Candrakīrti’s commentaries in support of the ideas found in the Dharmadhātu-stava. This was apparently to support its authenticity as a work by Nāgārjuna, which some modern scholars have doubted, although it was not doubted in India or Tibet. Chr. Lindtner in his 1982 book, Nagarjuniana, did not think that the Dharmadhātu-stava is a genuine work by Nāgārjuna (p. 17). This is because of what he regards as the inconsistency of philosophical ideas between it and Nāgārjuna’s works such as the famous Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā. Of course, this is based on an assumption, that we in the modern West are in a position to understand Nāgārjuna better than did his Indian and Tibetan successors such as Bhavya, Candrakīrti, and Tsongkhapa. Apparently Seyfort Ruegg was not willing to make this assumption.

    As far as I know, Seyfort Ruegg in this article was the first person to point out that six verses from the Dharmadhātu-stava were quoted in the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, and thus are preserved in the original Sanskrit. In fact, the whole Dharmadhātu-stava is apparently among the Sanskrit manuscripts preserved in Tibet that scholars are only recently getting access to, but it will be some time before it is edited and becomes available. In the meantime, in a separate post I will quote the six original verses that we now have.


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