Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism

Book Details

  • Publisher : Wisdom Publications
  • Published : 1983
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 240
  • Size : 216 x 136mm
  • Category :
    Meditation: General
  • Category 2 :
    Tibetan Buddhism: Gelug
  • Catalogue No : 14821
  • ISBN 13 : 9780861711192
  • ISBN 10 : 086171119X
Wisdom Price : £11.99
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A vivid and detailed exposition of the meditative practices used for developing a calm mind that is alertly powerful and capable of gaining insight into reality. This book is replete with technical detail from the highly developed scholastic and yogic tradition of Tibet.

With precision and lucidity, two of the most prominent modern Gelugpa Lamas - Lati Rinpoche and Denma Locho Rinpoche - discuss step-by-step the progressive stages of meditation, providing us with practical anecdotes to the various obstacles that may arise. Drawing on classic texts by Asanga, Maitreya, and Lama Tsong Khapa on the concentrations and the formless absorptions, these two Lamas bring alive these important topics. This new edition of Meditative States also contains a revised translation of Panchen Sonam Drakpa`s Explanation of the Concentrations and Formless Absorptions, from his well-known treatise the General Meaning of Maitreya`s Ornament for Clear Realization.

Read an extract of this title


by Leah Zahier

THE GE-LUK PRESENTATION of the meditative states known as the four concentrations (bsam gtan, dhydna) and the four formless absorptions (gzugs med kyi snyoms iug, drupyasamapatti) acts as a point of intersection for many approaches to the study of meditation. Since the topic of the concentrations and formless absorptions includes a Buddhist perspective on Indian non-Buddhist systems of meditation and raises important issues concerning the meditator's motivation and goals, as well as the content of the various types of practice, one point of intersection is a comparison of Buddhist and Indian non-Buddhist systems of meditation. Another is an examination of three major types of Buddhist meditators-Hearers, Solitary Realizers, and Bodhisattvas-since the concentrations and formless absorptions are studied in the Ge-luk monastic curriculum in conjunction with the topic of Grounds and Paths (sa lam, bhumimdrga), and the latter topic provides a chronological overview of the development of Hearers, Solitary Realizers, and Bodhisattvas from their entrance into the path to their attainment of their respective goals.

The topic of the concentrations and formless absorptions also provides a point of intersection between the topic of the Perfections (phar phyin, pãramitd), of which it is a subtopic, and the Manifest Knowledge (chos mngon pa, abhidharma) sources that supply the details of the presentation. Within the study of Manifest Knowledge, it is a point of intersection for what Ge-luk-ba writers call the upper, or Mahayana (theg chen), and lower, or Hinayãna (theg dman) Manifest Knowledges-represented respectively by Asañga's Compendium of Manifest Knowledge (abhidharmasamuccaya, mngon pa kun btus) and Vasubandhu's Treasury of Manifèst Knowledge (abhidharmakola, chos mngon pa 'i mdzocl).

More immediately, the topic of the concentrations and formless absorptions serves as a point of intersection between the Buddhist cosmology and the mental states that occur within it, and between scholarly and practical approaches to meditation. Thus, non-scholars approaching the topic for the first time can locate both their present mental state, on the one hand, and their aspirations and goals, on the other, in a comprehensive map of mental states, and they can also find, on that map, a layout of means for reaching their goals.

The Ge-luk presentation of the topic of the concentrations and formless absorptions is represented here in four forms-three of which are oral and one that is textual. The first, an extensive oral presentation of the topic drawing on various Tibetan and Indian sources, is an edited version of a series of lectures given by Lati Rinbochay at the University of Virginia in the fall of 1976 and translated by Jeffrey Hopkins. The second, a textual presentation, is a translation of a short text by Panchen Sö-nam-drak-ba (pan chen bsod nams grags pa, 1478-1554), textbook writer of Dre-bung monastery's Lo-sel-ling College-the "Concentrations and Formless Absorptions" section of his General Meaning of (Maitreya's) "Ornament for Clear Realization" (phar phyin spyi don). The third presentation is Denma Lochö Rinbochay's oral commentary on that same text. The comments of a third contemporary Geluk-ba, the late Gendhay Gedün Lodrö, who gave a seminar on calm abiding at the University of Virginia in the spring semester of 1979, have been added in the notes for the sake of clarification or to indicate points of difference.' This, too, was an oral presentation.

The three lamas-Lati Rinbochay, Denma Lochö Rinbochay, and Genshay Gedün Lodrö-were trained at different monastic colleges. Lati Rinbochay is from Shar-dzay College of Gan-den monastic university and Denma Lochö Rinbochay is from Lo-~el-ling College of Dre-bung monastic university, both of which use Pan-chen Sö-nam-drak-ba's text. Ge-Thay Gedün Lodrö was from Go-mang College of Dre-bung, which uses the Great Exposition of the Concentrations and Formless Absorptions of Jam-yangshay-ba (jam dbyangs bzhadpa, 1648-1721) as its textbook. Thus, the three scholars represent diverse traditions of interpretation within the Ge-luk system. Yet, although they differ, often strongly, in their understandings of several points, all agree on the basic presentation, which is grounded in two works by Dzong-ka-ba (tsong khapa blo bzanggragspa, 1357-1419), the founder of the Ge-luk-ba order: Dzong-ka-ba's early work on the Perfections, the Golden Rosary of Good Explanation (legs bshad gser gyi phreng ba) and a student's notes on lectures he gave late in his life, Notes on the Concentrations and Formless Absorptions (bsam gzugs zin bris).

Dzong-ka-ba's presentations, and those of his followers, synthesize material from various Indian sources and reconcile differences among them. Although the concentrations and formless absorptions are studied as a subtopic in the topic of the Perfections, the details of the presentation, as was mentioned earlier, are filled in from Manifest Knowledge sources, especially Asanga's Compendium of Manifest Knowledge and Vasubandhu's Treasury of Manifest Knowledge.

To supplement the brief presentation of the concentrations and formless absorptions in Asañga's Compendium of Manifiest Knowledge, Pan-chen Sänam-drak-ba, like Dzong-ka-ba, quotes extensively from Asañga's Grounds of Hearers (rdvakabhümi, nyan sa) and, for certain points, also from Asañga's Compendium of Ascertainments (viniJcayasai~ngraha~ü, gtan Ia dbab pa bsdu ba). He also quotes from Maitreya's Ornament for the Mahdyãna Sütras (mahdydnasuträlainkãra, mdo sde'i rgyan) and from the Sutra Unraveling the Thought (sarndhinirmocanasi7tra, mdo sde dgongs ~rel). Other sources for the Ge-luk presentation, not quoted here, are Maitreya's Differentiation of the Middle and the Extremes (madhydntavibhai~ga, dbu mtha' rnam 'byet~i); Bhavaviveka's Heart of the Middle (madhyamakah.rdaya, dbu ma snyingpo) with the autocommentary on it, the Blaze of Reasoning (tarkajvãld, rtog ge 'bar ba); and Kamala~ila's three texts called Stages ofMeditation (bhdvandkrama, sgom rim).

Like the topic of the Perfections as a whole, the subtopic of the concentrations and formless absorptions is taught in Ge-luk monastic universities from the point of view of the Yogacara-Svatantrika-Madhyamika school of tenets, considered to be the system of Maitreya's Ornament for Clear Realization (abhisamaydlan.nkdra, mngon rtogs rgyan) and, according to Kensur Lekden, the general Mahayana position for presentations of the path. Thus, for the most part, Paii-chen Sä-nam-drak-ba presents general Mahãyãna positions, as do Lati Rinbochay and Denma Lochö Rinbochay in their oral presentations. The latter two also refer at times to the positions of the Prasangika-Madhyamika school of tenets when it is at variance with the general Mahayana position; Prasangika positions are presented more extensively by Gedün Lodrö, and by Jam-yang-shay-ba in the Go-mang College textbook literature he represents.

Much of this book consists of edited transcriptions of oral teachings. Lati Rinbochay gave original lectures drawing on many texts of different schools, whereas Denma Lochö Rinbochay was teaching and commenting on a specific text. In the introduction to Path to the Middle, an edited and annotated translation of Kensur Yeshey Tupden's oral teachings on Madhyamika, Anne C. Klein observes that:

Oral textual commentary is typically just as rigorous syntactically and conceptually as the text on which it is based. In giving it, the teacher draws on material from other texts which supplement, or are supplemented by, his own analyses developed over a lifetime. What chiefly distinguishes it from the explanations contained in texts are its responsiveness to questions asked, its reflection on a wider range of topics than any one text is likely to include, and the insertion of unique examples, often from the lives of teacher or student, to illustrate the teacher's points. In addition the Lama adds to the reading an aura of kindliness, humor, excitement, or severity, depending on his demeanor.4

Here, both Lati Rinbochay and Denma Lochö Rinbochay add background information assumed to be generally known in the traditional setting, such as Lati Rinbochay's detailed presentation of the afflictive emotions (nyon mongs, klela) and Denma Lochö Rinbochay's presentation of the four seals (phyag rgya, mudrã). They also have different personal styles of presentation Lati Rinbochay's exposition is tightly organized according to a systematic outline of the topics included, except when he chooses to depart from the outline for the sake of heightened dramatic effect. Although the general organization of Denma Locho Rinbochay's presentation necessarily follows that of the text on which he is commenting, his personal style tends to be less formal and more associative than that of Lati Rinbochay.

According to Klein, both presentations in this book belong to the genre of oral commentary known as "textual commentary" (gzhung khria), in which the text "serves as a basis for lectures by a teacher or, in more intimate circumstances, for a series of discussions between student and teacher." It is immediately obvious that Denma Locho Rinbochay's contribution to this book belongs to that genre, since it is a commentary on Paii-chen So-namdrak-ba's text; according to Klein, that text is a "meaning commentary" (donkrefl, which "does not comment on every word but expands on a text's central issues." She also identifies Lati Rinbochay's presentation as a "textual commentary," even though it draws on many texts.

Lati Rinbochay's presentation, perhaps because it is not based on a specific text and was addressed to a general classroom audience, demonstrates the capacity of oral teaching to reach students of different levels. After a short general introduction to the Buddhist path, its teacher, and the range of Buddha's teachings, he states briefly that the presentation of the three realms and nine levels-the Buddhist cosmology-serves as a necessary background for an understanding of the concentrations and formless absorptions. That said, he works dramatically from the outside in and gives a moving description of cyclic existence ('khor ba, saijisara) starting at the bottom, so to speak, with graphic descriptions of the hells-the mental states farthest from meditative states. The nervous giggles of some of the undergraduates (those who did not temporarily absent themselves after the first lecture on the hells) testified to the vividness of the presentation. Continuing upward through the nine levels, he arrives finally at the rebirth states of the Form and Formless Realms that are the cosmological manifestation of the meditative states of the concentrations and formless absorptions, and from there he moves in toward the topic itself-the meditative states and their cultivation.

Similarly, in his presentation of those preparations for the concentrations and formless absorptions in which the meditator considers the grossness of the level to be surpassed and the peacefulness of the next-higher level, Lati Rinbochay collapses the strict categories of reasoning-the six investigations (rtogpa, vitarka) -for the sake of vividness in his description of the grossness of the Desire Realm, whereas Denma Locho Rinbochay, commenting on a specific text to students of Tibetan, explains in detail the six investigations and how meditators use them to view the Desire Realm as gross.

Lati Rinbochay's oral presentation also allows him to weave into an exposition of a technical, scholarly topic related teachings suitable for beginning Buddhist practitioners. One such teaching is the extensive discussion of meditation on impermanence included in the presentation of the preparations having the aspect of the truths. Here, the vividness of the less formal presentation serves the deeper purpose of analytical meditation, which has not only an intellectual but also an emotional component.

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