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The Four Joys in the Teaching of Nåropa and Maitripa

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The Four Joys in the Teaching of Nåropa and Maitripa

Julia Stenzel *


Buddhist tantric yogins developed systematized descriptions of the tantric path toward buddhahood, which includes personal liberation from suffering and rebirth as well as the acquisition of buddha bodies (Skt. kåya, Tib. sku) so as to be able to act for the welfare of sentient beings. The tantric path toward that goal begins with four consecrations (caturabhiΣeka, dbang bzhi) that the disciple receives from a qualified

guru. The purpose of the consecrations, or empowerments, is to stimulate an ever more subtle understanding of the reality of mind, and thus of all phenomena. The progression of such understanding is expressed in terms of sets of four, namely the four joys (ånanda, dga’ ba), the four seals (mudrå, phyag rgya), and the four moments (kΣaˆa, skad cig ma). A great number of Indian tantric masters, such as Saraha,

Ratnåkaraßånti, Maitripa, Naropa, Någårjuna, Karopa,1 and others, have explained ways in which these sets of four correspond to one another. Their attempts to build a coherent system have led to different results. They do not always agree on the order of the joys and seals, or their exegesis. The role of co-emergent joy (sahajånanda, lhan skyes dga’ ba) and of the great seal (mahåmudrå, phyag rgya chen po) receives special attention, since

McGill University, Faculty of Religious Studies, Birks Building, 3520 University Street, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2A7.

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Professor Lara Braitstein and Professor Roger Jackson for their suggestions and for patiently reviewing this article.

1 See for example Mathes 2009: 99n54. The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies 16, 2015

they came to stand for the final realization, but they are sometimes listed only at the penultimate position. The correct meaning of empowerments, seals, and joys continued to be a topic of debate among masters in Tibet; even as late as in the fifteenth or sixteenth century the Tibetan master of the Kagyü

(Bka’ brgyud) School, Shamar Chökyi Drakpa Yeshé (Zhwa dmar 04 chos kyi grags pa ye shes, 1453–1524) was prompted to write an explanatory commentary, Harmonizing the Statements on Empowerment by the Accomplished Masters Nåropa and Maitr¥pa (Mkhas grub nå ro mai tri dbang gi bzhed pa mthun par grub pa) (NM).2 In this text, the author attributes two approaches to the four joys to Nåropa

(1016–1100) and Maitr¥pa (1007–1085), respectively, the former via the four empowerments, the latter via the four seals. With numerous quotes from tantric literature, he sheds some light on the complexity of the matter, revealing the tensions that were created by the exegesis of the Indian source texts. Shamar Chökyi Drakpa not only explains how these two different models can be harmonized, but also defends them against criticism from others.3 My aims in this article are first, to elucidate the two interpretations of the four joys in their respective contexts and second, to analyze their convergences and divergences. For this

presentation, I will draw mainly on Shamar Chökyi Drakpa's commentary and complement it with other sources, when necessary. I also will attempt to draw conclusions from each model for an understanding of tantric soteriology. I wish, as well, to explore the hermeneutical tools that Shamar Chökyi Drakpa employed to refute criticisms and to harmonize incoherencies.

1. Two Interpretations of the Four Joys

1.1. Nåropa

Nåropa is introduced by Shamar Chökyi Drakpa as a commentator on yogin¥tantra or yoganiruttaratantra, who follows 2 Chos grags ye shes. Mkhas grub nå ro mai tri dbang gi bzhed pa mthun par grub pa. In gsung ’bum/Chos grags ye shes, W1KG4876, pp. 800–850. Pe cin: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009. Abbreviated in the following as NM.

3 The critics are identified mainly as Drakpa Gyaltsen (Grags pa rgyal mtshan) (1374–1432) and Sakya Paˆ∂ita (Sa skya paˆ∂ita Kun dga’ rgyal mtshan) (1182–1251) of the Sakya School.

these tantras of the highest yoga class in his exposition of the four empowerments, four joys, and four moments: The master [Nåropa] teaches the empowerments and the four joys according to the explanations of the unexcelled yoga. Among these, he composed A Brief Explanation of Empowerment 4 and a commentary on the [[[Hevajra]]] root tantra, Two Segments, this latter being the Commentary on Difficult Points of the Summary of the Essence of the Vajra Words.5

In this commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, Nåropa states the following order of the empowerments: [t]he master-, secret-, wisdom-, and the fourth [[[empowerment]]].6 The essence of the result [derives] from these. How is it possible to develop misunderstanding? (NM, 800, 8)

Nåropa distinguishes between the three first empowerments, which produce mundane results, and the fourth, which gives access to a supra-mundane level. To understand how the fourth is a result of the three previous empowerments, he adds, one has to rely on the instructions of a teacher. (NM 802, 1). Also, with regard to

the four joys, Nåropa distinguishes between the first three, which belong to a mundane, dualistic level, and a fourth, which transcends dualism. He gives their order as joy (ånanda, dga’ ba), supreme joy (paramånanda, mchog dga’), special joy (viramånanda, khyad dga’), and coemergent joy (sahajånanda, lhan cig

skyes dga’) (NM 802, 6), thus implying that the so-called coemergent joy belongs to a supra-mundane level. The question of how exactly the four joys relate to the four empowerments is answered with a certain amount

of ambiguity. 4 Dbang dor stan pa’i ’grel pa; Skt. Sekoddesat¥kå, by Acårya Nåropada. Nåropa's commentary to The Treatise on the Initiations, the only section of The Kalachakra Root Tantra to have survived intact, is regarded as one of the most authoritative Indian texts on the nature of the Kålacakra path. See Mullin 1991: 336.

5 Paˆ chen nå ro pa’i kye rdor ’grel pa; Skt: Vajrapadasårasa∫grahapañjikå. Other title: Rdo rje’i tshig gi snying po bsdus pa’i dka’ ’grel. 6 Skt: åcårya, guhya, prajñåjñåna, caturtha. Tib: slob dpon, gsang ba, shes rab ye shes, bzhi pa.

Some quotes from tantric literature seem to link each joy to one empowerment:

Master, secret, wisdom, and Fourth are likewise in this [order].

By counting the empowerments in this way

One knows the stages of joy, etc.7

However, the detailed descriptions of how the four moments and the four joys are generated—these two latter sets being always closely correlated—focus on the sexual practice related to the wisdom-awareness empowerment alone. In the Hevajra Tantra, for example, the first stage, joy, is explained as the blissful

experience that results from the first moment, called variety (vicitra, rnam par sna tshogs), because it involves various types of physical contact, such as embracing, kissing, etc. (Snellgrove 1959: 94–95). More specifically, the first joy is produced from the contact of the yogin’s vajra with the consort's lotus.8 In the words of the Guhyasamåja Tantra, as cited by Nåropa, “having placed the li∫ga excellently into the bhaga, do not emit bodhicitta.”9 The

experiences and realizations that derive from sexual practice are expressed in terms of the subtle body, describing the human being in its psycho-physical aspects, such as cakras, or energy centers (cakra, ’khor lo), channels (nådi, rtsa), winds (pråˆa, rlung), and drops (bindu, thig le). Through sexual union and

meditation, bodhicitta, the vital essence that resides at the crown of the head, descends through the main channel in the form of drops, and four progressive experiences are produced at the four cakras. These are

called the four joys in descending order. The process then is reversed, producing again jour joys in ascent. The first level of joy relies on “desire for contact” (Snellgrove 1959: 76). The meditator produces

heat in the emanation cakra at the navel, which in turn provokes the melting of bodhicitta at the crown, in the great bliss cakra. The Hevajra Tantra describes the resultant experience as 7 NM 804, 9–10. The source of this quote is not identified by Shamar Chökyi Drakpa.

8 Snellgrove 1959: 76. Lotus and vajra are ritualized terms used to designate the female and male sexual organs. 9 NM 800, 19. “bha gar ling gar ab bzhag nas // byang chub sems ni spro mi bya.” Bodhicitta is here a multivalent term, including the meanings of semen, vital essence, and awakening mind. The Four Joys in

the Teaching of Nåropa and Maitr¥pa 197 “some bliss,”10 i.e., bliss of an inferior intensity. Supreme joy, the second stage, is the “experience of blissful knowledge” of the second moment, called maturation (vipåka, rnam smin). In terms of the subtle body, it is the descent of bodhicitta to the enjoyment cakra at

the throat. Supreme joy is an increasingly blissful experience that leads to an appeasement of discursive conceptual activity. The third level of joy is special joy, associated with the moment of consummation (vimarda, rnam nyed),11 and is attained when the vital essence has descended to the dharma cakra at the

heart level. The descent of bodhicitta to the emanation cakra at the navel produces coemergent joy, which the Hevajra Tantra defines as ineffable, possessing “neither passion nor absence of passion, nor yet a middle state.”12 The fourth moment is called absence of characteristics (vilakΣaˆa, mtshan nyid dang bral ba). For Nåropa, the fourth and highest joy is thus the

coemergent joy, an experience inseparable from the realization of emptiness. He corroborates his position with a quote from the eighth chapter of the Hevajra Tantra: “the final [stage after] the special joy is the coemergent. This alone should be clearly realized” (NM 802, 9–10). He explains the term coemergent joy as

the joy that is born in the very instant that the subtle “special attachmentinherent in the “special joy” is transcended (NM 802, 16). At that level, the term coemergent becomes equivalent with wisdom, also defined as “the empty and non-empty Heruka, which refers to emptiness and compassion inseparable—that is called the 10 Ibid. The very succinct explanations given by Shamar Chökyi Drakpa are completed by Jamgon Kongtrul's Commentary on the Hevajra Tantra 31b4– 32a4, cited in Kongtrul 2005: 423.

11 The spellings in the text are given as rnams nyid (804, 8) and rnam par nyed pa (806, 23). The Sanskrit vimarda seems to overlap with the Tibetan in one meaning, “rubbing.” I follow here the translation in Kongtrul 2005 (423), without being able, however, to trace the source and reasoning of this translation, which does not correspond to any dictionary entries at my disposal.

12 HT I.x.17, in Snellgrove 1959: 82. Snellgrove mentions that the HT refers twice to a sequence of four joys where coemergent joy is in the third position, followed by joy of cessation (dga’ bral, absence-of-joy, or as translated by Mathes: joy of no-joy). According to Snellgrove, this incoherence indicates the

merging of two traditions in the HT. Dharmak¥rti confirms the existence of two traditions and identifies Maitr¥pa as a proponent of the view of coemergent as the third. See Snellgrove 1959: 35. The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies 16, 2015 198

Heruka, and that is the coemergent that has become the result” (NM 803, 23).

Even though Shamar Chökyi Drakpa’s explanation cites many ambiguous passages from tantric literature, it becomes clear that, in his view, Nåropa understands the coemergent as the result of the fourth empowerment;

it cannot be the result of the wisdom awareness empowerment. In later parts of the text, Shamar Chökyi Drakpa introduces the reader to criticism of Nåropa's view by the Sakya master Drakpa Gyaltsen (Grags pa rgyal mtshan) (1374– 1432), who explains “coemergent wisdom to be the result of

bodhicitta abiding in the center of the jewel” (NM 832, 2–3), a reference to the brief moment during sexual embrace within the third empowerment when the drop of bodhicitta has descended to the tip of the jewel (i.e., the gland of the male organ) but is not being ejected. Shamar Chökyi Drakpa criticizes this position

as that of “some uneducated people” who consider the wisdom that results from the first three empowerments to be genuine wisdom (NM 832, 10). According to Nåropa's view, the first three empowerments only produce contrived, worldly results, the supramundane results being reserved for the fourth empowerment. “If it

is accomplished before, what sense does it make to bring it out once again?” (NM 801, 18–19) he asks rhetorically, implying that if supra-mundane results had been achieved already during the first three empowerments, the fourth empowerment would be superfluous. In his presentation of Nåropa's system Shamar

Chökyi Drakpa does not clearly state what exactly constitutes the fourth empowerment. Harunaga Isaacson (1979: 23–49), in his article “Tantric Buddhism in India”, sketches the historical development of the

ritual of abhiΣeka, explaining the progressive expansion from one to four empowerments. He gives scriptural evidence for the elusiveness of the fourth, which was sometimes interpreted as a continuation of a sexual ritual, but came to mean, in mainstream tantric Buddhism, an empowerment by the instructions of the guru, hence its alternative name, word empowerment (Tib. tshig

dbang).13 Shamar Chökyi Drakpa mentions the fourth as a word empowerment in a later section of his treatise (NM 836), without, however, discussing the outer form of the fourth itself. I take this 13 Isaacson points out that the corresponding Sanskrit term is nearly absent in Indian tantric literature. He notes that he found, however, the term vacanamåtråbhiΣeka in the text SaμkΣiptåbhiΣekavidhi by Vågisvarak¥rti.

absence as an indication that the fourth was commonly accepted as a word empowerment, i.e., as the oral instructions of the guru, who would explain both the ultimate nature of reality and the deeper meaning of the experiences of the third empowerment, thus enabling wisdom to arise in the student's mind.14 As to the topic of the four seals, Harmonizing the

Statements on Empowerment’s section on Nåropa contains merely a quote from his Commentary on Difficult Points of the Summary of the Essence of the Vajra Words,15 in which Shamar Chökyi Drakpa refers to the

result of the highest empowerment as the great seal: A disciple who seeks earnestly to train in mundane siddhis needs the seven empowerments and [one who seeks to] accomplish the mahåmudråsiddhi [needs] the highest empowerment [[[dbang]] gong ma]. (NM 800, 13).

Other than this reference, mentions of the four seals are strangely absent

In sum, Shamar Chökyi Drakpa elucidates Nåropa's understanding of the relationship between the four empowerments and the four joys. Whereas the first three joys belong to the mundane, i.e., dualistic level and are a result of the third empowerment, coemergent joy, being the fourth and highest level of joy, is the result of the fourth empowerment. The result of this empowerment is also called mahåmudrå; thus, the coemergent is equated with the great seal.

The exact turning point between mundane and supramundane level is not clearly stated. Instead, the author admits, “if someone asks, [how] from the mundane the supra-mundane empowerments [are derived], [the answer is that] even though it is taught, it is not being clarified” (NM 802, 1).

1.2. Maitripa

Shamar Chökyi Drakpa opens the section on Maitr¥pa's exposition, just as the previous one on Nåropa, by stating his scriptural sources. Maitr¥pa is the author of the Definite Teaching 14 Isaacson 1979: 12. NM 834, 2: The bliss of ejecting is not the fourth empowerment according to Nåropa, Maitr¥pa and Marpa. 15 See above, note 4.

on Empowerments,16 which figures among the Twenty-five Texts on Unthinking,17 a text collection on Måhamudrå attributed to him. In the Definite Teaching on Empowerments, which, according to Shamar Chökyi Drakpa follows the Hevajra Root Tantra, as well as the Succession of the Four Seals by the tantric

Någårjuna,18 Maitr¥pa explains the joys from the perspective of the four seals. The four seals are four different approaches to bring about the four joys and the corresponding realizations of the nature of reality (Kongtrul 2005: 423n11). According to Maitr¥pa, their order is action seal (karmamudrå, las kyi phyag rgya), doctrine seal

(dharmamudrå, chos kyi phyag rgya), great seal (mahåmudrå, phyag rgya chen po), and commitment seal (samayamudrå, dam tshig gyi phyag rgya). It would be tempting to attribute each of these mudrås to one of the joys, as David Snellgrove (1959: 137) does in the explanations of his translation of the Hevajra Tantra. Snellgrove bases this attribution on Maitr¥pa's Caturmudropadeßa

(Phyag rgya bzhi’i man ngag); a close reading of that text, however, reveals a more complex relationship between the two sets of four. Maitr¥pa gives a detailed explanation about how the first two seals—the action and the doctrine seal—both contain all four joys, albeit possessing different qualities.

To be precise, at the end of his text he does mention alternative attributions, such as the four joys corresponding directly to the four seals, as Snellgrove had cited; or else, the attribution of all four joys to each of the four seals, thus totaling sixteen joys. Maitr¥pa's main exposition, however, does not

reflect either of these two relations, but discusses the four joys solely within the context of action and doctrine seal—and this is also the position that Shamar Chökyi Drakpa expounds. According to this view, the four joys are first produced by means of the action seal, that is, through sexual practice with a consort, who is also called “the outer seal.” This practice contains the previously mentioned four 16 Sekanirdesa (Dbang skur nges par bstan pa).

17 Yid la mi byed pa nyi shu rtsa lnga. See R. Jackson 2008: 163–166. 18 See above, note 9: Phyag rgya bzhi gtan la dbab pa. Translation follows Klaus Dieter Mathes. Skt: Caturmudrånvaya. An alternative translation is: Establishing a Definite Understanding of the Four Mudrås. Mathes explains that the attribution to Någårjuna was contested by several scholars. Mathes 2008: 99–100.

distinct moments that stimulate the four corresponding joys, albeit in a different order. Through division of the action seal into the moments, the distinct joys will be born. The bliss-awareness (bde ba ye shes) that knows the moments abides in evaμ. The four joys are joy, supreme joy, coemergent joy, and absence-of-joy (dga’ bral). […] The four moments are variety, maturation, absence of characteristics, and consummation.19

This quote, drawn from the Hevajra Tantra, is qualified by Maitr¥pa as referring to the forceful empowerment (dbang btsan thabs), an empowerment conferred by means of a consort; and therefore, only the “results corresponding to the cause will be obtained”(NM 807, 5). Maitr¥pa likens these results to mirror

reflections, thereby illustrating that they are inferior and not yet real accomplishments. The practice with a consort, being mixed with satisfaction and attachment, can only produce “fabricated” (bcos ma) joys; and even coemergent joy, in other contexts referring to a state beyond duality, is here merely a “coemergent of fabricated nature” (NM 807, 10). The [[four

joys]] then have to be repeated by means of the doctrine seal, which Shamar Chökyi Drakpa describes as a subtle yoga, involving the central (avadhËt¥, dbu ma), left (lalanå, rkyang ma) and right (rasanå, ro ma) channels—without, however, explaining details. As Maitr¥pa elaborates in his Caturmudropadeßa, the action seal operates within the generation stage (utpattikrama, bskyed rim) and the

completion stage (sampannakrama, rdzogs rim), whereas the doctrine seal operates only within the very subtle completion stage (yong su rdzogs pa'i rim pa).20 Even though the difference between the two completion stages is not clarified by the author, this passage seems to be

yet another indication that the action seal contains a coarser level of practice, involving dualism and conceptuality, whereas the doctrine seal consists of practices of a subtler level, which demand an understanding of emptiness and non-duality.

19 NM 806, 18–20. This passage is similar to HT II.3,5: “Knowing the moments, blissful wisdom which is based in the syllable evaμ [arises]” (translation Mathes 2008: 99.) 20 Maitr¥pa, Phyag rgya bzhi’i man ngag, 601, 2. The term yong su rdzogs pa’i rim pa is not common. It could also be translated as “utterly completed stage.” I cannot determine its meaning and Sanskrit origin at this point.

The resultant realization of the doctrine seal is said to be the understanding of the nature of coemergent joy, which becomes the cause for the ensuing great seal (NM 808, 4–5). This great seal, mahåmudrå, has no direct relationship to the four joys or the four moments, according to Maitr¥pa. “Since mahåmudrå is complete buddhahood in one moment, there are no divisions into four moments and four joys.”21 The great seal is the “dimension of compassion without reference point, possessing the nature of great bliss” (NM 808, 10).

I bow to the mind that is not examined by conceptualizing

the mind that absolutely does not abide, that is without remembering (dran pa) and without mental engagement (yid byed),

that is without reference point. (NM 808, 11–12).22 Maitr¥pa explains the remaining seal, the pledge seal, as “the aspects of enjoyment body (sambhogakåya) and emanation body (nirmaˆakåya); the essence of purity 23 for the benefit of sentient beings, the vajra-holding Heruka.” 24 The pledge seal manifests as the

emanation of Vajradhara (rdo rje chang), the embodiment of buddhahood. Shamar Chökyi Drakpa does not, however, mention that in the Caturmudropadeßa Maitr¥pa evokes briefly the possibility of defining the pledge seal again in terms of four joys, this time as the compassionate expression of the divinities’ circle (maˆ∂ala, dkyil ’khor) for the benefit of beings. Here, he does not explain them, but simply lists the four 21 Maitr¥pa, Phyag rgya bzhi’i man ngag, 605, 1.

22 This verse is cited in The Progression of the Four Seals (Phyag rgya bzhi’i gtan la dbab pa)

78b, in Maitr¥pa, De bzhin gshegs pa lnga’i phyag rgya rnam par bshad pa, 121b; and in Maitr¥pa, Yid la mi mi byed pa ston pa, 139a. Here is a translation from “Les sceaux des cinq tathagata.”

( tathagatas): “En ne concevant rien à travers l'imagination (avikalpitasa∫kalpa) / Ce mental, qui ne se fonde sur rien (apratiΣ�hita), / Sans remémoration ni engagement mental (asm�tyamanasikåra), / Insaissable (nirålamba), à lui je rends hommage.” This verse is also cited by Pema Karpo in the Phyag rgya chen po man ngag gi bshad sbyor rgyal ba�i gan mdzod. (= Phyag chen gan mdzod). vol. 21, no. I, 38.5. 23 dang ba. This term can also be translated as “joy.” 24 NM 808, 15 and 817, 7.

expressions that would require the elucidation of a master. These are “the delight of the goddess's center, the melting of the drop’s form in sun and moon, the exhortation of the goddess's voice, and the result: becoming the vajra holder.”25 What could be the reason for Shamar Chökyi Drakpa's omission of the four joys of the pledge seal? Perhaps he considers this teaching too profound to be understood by ordinary scholars, since he concludes his section on Maitr¥pa's position on the pledge seal with a quote from the Definite Teaching on Empowerments that emphasizes the necessity of receiving instructions from a genuine meditation master:

For as long as you have not touched

the dust of the feet of the chief mountain hermit,

you will not understand the four seals

and the four moments. (NM 808, 18–19)26

1.3. Analysis of Convergences and Divergences between the Two Systems

A comparison between the standpoints of Nåropa and Maitr¥pa through the perspective of Shamar Chökyi Drakpa reveals, first of all, the difficulty in comparing these two systems. In the Nåropa section, a discussion of the four seals is absent,27 whereas in that on Maitr¥pa, it takes center stage. The four empowerments, important to Nåropa, do not receive much

attention in the Maitr¥pa section. The area of convergence is thus the set of four joys. Among these, coemergent joy takes a special role, since it indicates, or is even equated with, the realization of mahåmudrå, the great seal. Thus, in Nåropa's system, the coemergent—which is often not even used as an adjective with 25 Maitr¥pa, Phyag rgya bzhi’i man ngag, 605, 4–6.

26 The chief mountain hermit is a reference to Maitr¥pa’s guru, Savaripa. 27 The absence of a discussion of the four seals by Nåropa seems to be choice made by Shamar Chökyi Drakpa. According to Lhalungpa (1993) Naropa discusses them in his commentary on the Hevajra-tantra: “They are the female consort, the inner consort of manifest awareness, the great seal, and the spiritual commitment. Each of them is necessary: first as a condition for perceiving the lucid awareness [of one's stream-being], second as contemplation, third as inner realization, and fourth as consolidating it without impairment.”

joy,” and sometimes used as an adjective with “wisdom” (ye shes) or as a stand-alone noun—figures at the fourth and final position among the four joys.28 It stands for the ultimate fruit of the tantric path. In Maitr¥pa's system, however, coemergent joy appears only at the penultimate position, as does the great seal, to which it is related. Shamar Chökyi Drakpa harmonizes this divergence by giving a broad view of the goal of the tantric Buddhist path. For both masters the highest realization is a dimension of “non-dually

interfused bliss and emptiness” (bde stong zung ’jug) (NM 849, 4), or “the body of great bliss” (bde ba chen po’i sku) (NM 849, 9). This body produces then the pledge seal, which Nåropa sees as an aspect of meditative absorption (ting nge ’dzin gyi yan lag), and Maitr¥pa as the two form bodies that result from the great seal (phyag rgya chen po’i ’bras bu sku gnyis). (NM 849, 12 ff). In the next section, I will discuss possible interpretations of these two different systems, especially in regard to an understanding of their underlying soteriology.

2. Discussion of Tantric Soteriology

The following reflections on the soteriological meaning of these two models, even though based on Shamar Chökyi Drakpa’s text, are not a translation of his words. They are my own attempts to make sense of his presentations, and therefore must be taken with caution. I am aware of Harunaga Isaacson’s warning about the impossibility of making general remarks about tantric Buddhism: “It is evident that Indian tantric Buddhists even at any one

particular point in history did not agree with each other on all matters, and that in the course of time many changes and developments took place in tantric Buddhist ideas and practice.”29 The present case of Nåropa and Maitr¥pa's approach to the joys and seals exemplifies this statement very well.

My first observation pertains to the different descriptions of the spiritual goal of the tantric path. It is probably safe to say that 28 On the meaning of sahaja, i.e., the coemergent, see Kvaerne 1975; and Davidson 2001.

29 Isaacson (1979: 10ff.) discusses the difficulty of ascertaining the meaning of the fourth empowerment/ consecration due to lack of sufficient source material.

in any soteriological system, the last stage must be reserved for what is considered the ultimate result of the spiritual path. For Nåropa, this goal is attained with the actualization of the coemergent [[[joy]]], or the great seal; for Maitr¥pa, the tantric practitioner has to go further and actualize the two form-bodies of the pledge seal.

Borrowing from the teachings contained in the Adamantine Songs of Saraha, the pledge seal has two levels of meaning, the first one being the altruistic mind of bodhicitta, the second, a pledge to uphold the vajra pride of one's meditation deity, which refers to a complete immersion

in the reality of the deity's maˆ∂ala, “instead of one's own egocentered identity” (Braitstein 2014: 81). I do not mean to claim that for Nåropa, the

altruistic mind of bodhicitta was unimportant. Maitr¥pa's and Saraha's inclusion of bodhicitta as the final stage in a fourfold model seems, however, to demonstrate these masters' opinion that without altruistic activity, the spiritual path cannot be considered complete.

Secondly, I would like to add a reflection on the role of empowerment that we can deduce from the two models. As mentioned previously, the presentation of Maitr¥pa's position is silent on the four empowerments. That is not surprising, since Maitr¥pa is renowned for his teaching on

amanasikåra (yid la mi byed pa), which stands for a direct, non-analytical approach to the empty and luminous nature of reality. According to this approach, tantric empowerments can be dispensed with on the spiritual path

to the great seal, but the guru's guidance on the spiritual path is crucial for success. It is interesting, however, that Nåropa also had reservations in regard to the empowerments. Large parts of the debates in Shamarpa's text that, due to restrictions in space and scope, I could not discuss in this article, deal with the question of what exactly can be the expected result of empowerments. For Nåropa it is evident that empowerments were not liberating in themselves, but only reflections, or shadows, of the genuine

realization of meditation practice. Even though Nåropa discusses empowerments that involve the practice with a female consort, these kinds of rituals are referred to as forceful empowerments; the ensuing realizations cannot be understood as final. An exception is the fourth

empowerment: Nåropa attributes to the guru the power to evoke a realization that utterly transcends the conventional realm. This could be an indication that Nåropa considered the guru, more than any tantric ritual, to be the decisive factor in bringing

about the student's spiritual maturation. Here, then, we could see a strong resemblance between Nåropa's and Maitr¥pa's view of the crucial role of a guru.

3. Reflection on Hermeneutics

In the last section of my article I would like to add briefly a few observations on some of the hermeneutical tools that Shamar Chökyi Drakpa uses. With these observations, I hope to elucidate to a certain degree how the author develops his particular exegesis of coemergent joy in order to harmonize Nåropa's and Maitr¥pa's viewpoint with that of the rest of tantric literature. As previously mentioned, the author is less concerned to discuss the agreement

between Nåropa and Maitr¥pa. Instead, a large part of his text, but particularly the third chapter, called “Demonstration That There is No contradiction in Meaning” (NM 842, 13), is dedicated to showing evidence that Nåropa's and Maitr¥pa's positions are in harmony with authoritative tantric literature. This point seems to be more urgent and important to prove than the

harmony between the two masters. I identify two steps that Shamar Chökyi Drakpa employs in his hermeneutical argument. First, he deconstructs to a certain degree the authority of scripture by demonstrating the relativism of its language. Second, he establishes the ontological authority of his own position by using the model of the two truths.

As the first step of his argument, Shamar Chökyi Drakpa points out that in Indian tantric literature, there was no fixed nomenclature regarding the four joys and the four seals. With several quotations from the Hevajra Tantra and related commentaries, he demonstrates that at

times, supreme joy or absence-of-joy are used interchangeably with coemergent joy, and that the latter can stand for a description of the great seal. He quotes, for instance, the Hevajra Tantra verse to the effect that

“supreme joy is without meditation and without meditator” (NM 843, 16), and explains that these instructions are given at the moment of the fourth empowerment and refer to coemergent joy, instead of supreme joy, which is generally listed as the second of the four joys. He states,

furthermore, that “the coemergent is called absence-of-joy in the expositions of Indian and Tibetan commentaries far and wide” (NM 843, 18), indicating that these two terms also can be synonyms. Citing from chapter six of the

Commentary on Difficult Points of the Hevajra Commentary, he also gives evidence that the great seal and coemergent [[[joy]] or wisdom] were used occasionally as synonyms, in that both refer to “the attainment of bliss from the vajra not ejecting in the lotus” (NM 843, 12). With these examples, Shamar Chökyi Drakpa argues that terminology alone is not sufficient to determine the intention and philosophical standpoint of a master, but that the actual meaning of the words employed has to be examined.

Secondly, the author employs a hermeneutical tool not unknown in Buddhist philosophy—that of explaining reality in terms of the two truths: conventional and ultimate truth. This concept, first fully expressed by Någårjuna in chapter 24 of his Root Verses of the Middle Way (MËlamadhyamakakårikå), acknowledges the fact

that individualsperceptions of the world vary according to their karmic propensities. Conventional truth refers to the reality that is perceived via the sense organs and conceptually distorted by the deluded mind. Ultimate truth generally refers to ßËnyatå, emptiness, the absence of own-being (svabhåva) and of duality. It can only be apprehended by a mind devoid of obscurations.

Shamar Chökyi Drakpa applies this concept of two truths to the term coemergent joy, which is, as we have seen, a crucial and bridging term in the systems of Nåropa and Maitr¥pa. He argues that coemergent joy exists in two aspects, namely on the level of conventional truth and the level of ultimate truth. As conventional truth, coemergent joy is the blissful experience of sexual union to which an initiand is introduced with the third empowerment. On

the level of ultimate truth, he refers to it as the coemergent, i.e. as a state of realization or wisdom, rather than coemergent joy, and he defines it with a long list of negations, reminiscent of the Heart SËtra: “not an entity, not a non-entity, unborn, unceasing, not secret, not wisdom, not arisen from wisdom, not saμsåra, not nirvåˆa” (NM 845, 17 ff), and so on. According

to Shamarpa, Nåropa intended to talk about the conventional coemergent when he explained: “accomplish bliss within the jewel,” but referred to the ultimate aspect when he wrote in praise of the embodiment of the supra-mundane coemergent in the form of a goddess:

Starting at the forehead, ending at the vajra jewel, totally filled with the joys, the one that is born once filling has been fulfilled—

to that goddess I pay homage. (NM 844, 4–7) Even though this quote does not give any direct indication, the author ascertains that the goddess stands for the ultimate coemergent, a state that is (a) freed from all cognitive and [[emotional

obscuration]], (b) for the moment called “free from characteristics,” and (c) the great seal itself (NM 844, 8–9). With this hermeneutic tool, the author broadens the meaning of “coemergent” to such a degree that it can encompass both Nåropa’s and Maitr¥pa’s interpretations of the final goal of the tantric path, as well as all the various meanings expressed in tantric literature.

4. Conclusion

The focus of this article has been the role of the four joys in the teachings of the Indian tantric masters Nåropa and Maitr¥pa, as presented by the Kagyü master Shamar Chökyi Drakpa in his treatise, Harmonizing the Statements on Empowerment by the Accomplished Masters Nåropa and Maitr¥pa. Both Indian masters employ the tantric terminology of the sets of four—four

empowerments, four seals, four joys and four moments—albeit with different emphases. In Shamar Chökyi Drakpa’s presentation, the four joys stand out as a bridging concept between the two masters’ systems. I focused on them here because of their capacity to connect the two

models; I do not mean to say that they stand out as an independent concept. In fact, the four joys cannot be discussed without addressing the tantric path as a whole. In Shamar Chökyi Drakpa’s treatise, Nåropa is said to approach the four joys as results of empowerments,

Maitripa as experiences of the four seals. The two mastersexpositions thus converge on the topic of the four joys, in that these are stages of subtle blissful experience that are produced by the sexual practice related, chiefly, to the wisdom-awareness empowerment

and to the action- and doctrine seals. The two masters further agree on identifying mahåmudrå, the great seal, and the related coemergent joy (in its [[Wikipedia:Absolute

(philosophy)|ultimate]] aspect) as the highest realization on the tantric path, designating it as an understanding of emptiness that is beyond duality and conceptuality. It also transcends the joys of sexual union that still contain elements of worldliness and duality.

Maitr¥pa’s exposition differs from Nåropa’s in that it adds a fourth seal, the pledge seal, after the great seal. This difference is

not as important for the discussion of the four joys as for an understanding of tantric soteriology as a whole. Shamar Chökyi Drakpa explains the pledge seal as the two form-bodies that manifest out of the realization of mahåmudrå. This addition indicates, in my

own interpretation, the great importance that Maitr¥pa attributes to altruistic activity as part of the tantric Buddhist path. Shamar Chökyi Drakpa’s text is a complex treatise

that addresses a much wider range of subtle points of the tantric path than I was able to discuss. For the purpose of this article, apart from the topic of the four joys and related concepts, I was most interested in the author's use of hermeneutics to explain the fundamental harmony in systems that outwardly do not agree. In regard to the exegesis of coemergent joy, I identified two

hermeneutic tools: first, a relativism of language, and secondly, the hermeneutic device of the two truths. By means of these two, the author manages to weaken somewhat the authority of scripture, thereby allowing him to choose and determine the importance of certain passages on coemergent joy as ultimate truth, at the same time relocating other explanations to the conventional level. Thus, seemingly contradictory passages can be attributed to two different levels of truth.

Appendix : Schematic Diagram of Nåropa’s System

of cakra
cakra khor lo
(The corresponding
energy center, in
descending order)
great bliss cakra
mahåsukha cakra
du bde chen gyi
’khor lo
enjoyment cakra
sambhoga cakra
longs spyod kyi
’khor lo
dharma cakra
chos kyi ’khor lo
emanation cakra
sprul pa'i ’khor lo
skad cig ma
rnam par sna tshogs
rnam smin
rnam nyed
absence of
mtshan nyid
dang bral ba
dga’ ba
dga’ ba
supreme joy
mchog dga
special joy
khyad dga
coemergent joy
lhan cig skyes
Secret Wisdom

30 It is, of course, reversed for ascending order.

Schematic Diagram of Maitr¥pa’s System

Moments kΣa˜a skad cig ma

[1] variety vicitra [[rnam par sna

[2] maturation vipåka rnam smin

[3] absence of characteristics
vilakΣa˜a mtshan nyid dang bral ba

[4] consummation vimarda rnam nyed

four moments as above

Joys ånanda dga’ ba

fabricated four joys, corresponding to the cause, “mirror reflections”:

[1] joy ånanda dgaba

[2] supreme joy paramånanda mchog dga

[3] coemergent joy sahajånanda lhan cig skyes dga’

[4] absence-of-joy viramånanda dga’ bral

genuine four joys, cause for the
ensuing great seal: four joys
as above
no direct relationship to the four joys or the four moments
four joys as the compassionate
expression of the divinities
Seals mudrå phyag rgya
action seal
las kyi phyag rgya
doctrine seal
chos kyi phyag rgya
great seal
phyag rgya chen po
commitment seal
dam tshig gyi phyag rgya


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