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Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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  1. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism represents the original Buddhist teachings as they were translated, principally from Sanskrit but also from Burushaski and other languages into Tibetan, until the period of the Indian scholar Smrtijnanaklrti (late tenth or early eleventh century) and prior to that of Locen Rincen Zangpo (958-1055).

It is also known as the Ancient Translation School (xMga-’gywr) in contrast to the other lineages of Indian origin such as the Kagyupa, the Sakyapa, and the Kadampa, which subsequently arrived in Tibet and became known as the new traditions {gsar-ma) or the later translation schools {phyi-’gyur).

  1. The original promulgator of the doctrines brought together within the Nyingma tradition is held to be Samantabhadra, who is the primordial buddha-body of reality chos-sku, Skt. dharmakaya).

However, there are also a considerable number of teachings which derive from Vajradhara and the Buddhas of the Five Families, who are the buddha-body of perfect rapture {longs-spyod rdzogs-pa’i sku, Skt. sambhogakaya), and from the emanational bodies {sprul-pa’i sku, Skt. nirmanakaya), such as Sakyamuni in the world of men, Mumndra in the god realms and so on.

  1. All Buddhist teachings may be presented in accordance with the threefold approach of theoretical view {lta-ba), meditational experience {bsgom-pa), or conduct {spyod-pa).
  1. In the Fundamentals of the Nyingma School, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche precisely delineates the entire range of the Buddhist spiritual and philosophical systems from the standpoint of the view.

It is traditionally held that once the view has been comprehended, it is then to be experientially cultivated through meditation, and practically applied in all everyday situations which arise during the aftermath of meditation.

  1. The Buddhist spiritual and philosophical systems form what is essentially a dynamic gradation of experience from the most mundane level of cyclical existence {samsara') to that of the Great Perfection {rdzogs-pa chen-po).

As the text explains (p.80): 12 Fundamentals When the transmitted precepts are classified according to their power, they form a vehicle, because it appears that therein higher and higher paths are traversed, in the manner of a “vehicle”.

  1. And again:

Riding on that, which is the best of vehicles,

Manifestly attaining to delightful bliss,

All sentient beings pass into nirvana.

The Fundamentals expands upon these systems, which are known in the Nyingma tradition as the nine sequences of the vehicle (theg-pa’i rim-pa dgu), in extraordinarily intricate detail. To facilitate the reader’s understanding, a summary now follows.

The Fundamentals consists of four parts. The first expounds the doctrines of cyclical existence or samsara and the supramundane doctrines of nirvana.

The second explains the nature of the teachers who are endowed with the three buddha-bodies of reality, perfect rapture, and emanation.

  1. The third is an analysis of the causal vehicles of dialectics.

And, finally, there is a detailed account of the resultant vehicles of indestructible reality (Vtz/'rayJwa) which are held to be supreme by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Within these four parts the distinctions of entrance (’jug-sgo), empowerment (dbang-bskur), view (lta-ba), moral discipline (tshul-khrims), meditation (bsgom-pa), conduct (spyod-pa), and result (’bras-bu) are clarified as they apply to each stage of the Buddhist experience.

  1. ==Doctrines of Samsara and Nirvana==

At the outset, the Author differentiates between mundane doctrines which do not transcend the suffering of cyclical existence and the supramundane doctrines which do so by relying on the continuum of enlightenment.

  1. ==Doctrines of Samsara]]

The basis of the mundane doctrines is held to be ignorance which, in three interrelated aspects, generates a sense of bewilderment.

This, in turn, gives rise to consciousness of the ground-of-all (kun-gzhi mam-shes, Skt. alayavijhana), the six conflicting emotions of ignorance, delusion, hatred, pride, desire, and envy, and also all sensory perception, the eighteen psychophysical bases, the five components and the twelve activity fields.1

All these are said to be compounded internally by the mind, their apparent aspect and support being the five gross elements compounded by external objects.

In this way, the three world realms of desire (kamadhatu), form (rupadhatu) and the formless (arupyadhatu) are nothing but apparitional modes of the bewildered intellect of living beings.

They do not appear in the pure vision of the buddhas, and the sufferings sustained within them are prolonged by karma or worldforming deeds.

  1. The Mundane Vehicle and the Brahma Vehicle

The mundane vehicle which is followed by gods and human beings (lha-mi ’jig-rten-gyi theg-pa) is the basis on which the nine specifically Buddhist sequences of the vehicle develop.

By regulating world-forming deeds, renouncing the ten non-virtues and observing good deeds with piety and humility, one is said to progress to the status of a god of the desire realm within cyclical existence.

  1. As the text says (pp.60-1):

It either forms the foundation of, or is preliminary to, all vehicles, because the vehicle which is not retained by the correct view and which does not observe the deeds and path of the ten virtues as its actual foundation is nowhere to be found.

As an extension of this mundane vehicle, the vehicle of Brahma (fshangs- pa’i theg-pa) generates the experience of all the twenty-one higher realms within cyclical existence.

These include seventeen realms of form, which are experienced through the four meditative concentrations of form, and four formless realms at the summit of cyclical existence, which are to be experienced through the four formless absorptions.

These meditative techniques employ both tranquillity (zhi-gnas, Skt. samatha) and higher insight (lhag-mthong, Skt. vipasyana), and are accompanied by the practice of the four immeasurables (loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity).

The chart on the following pages indicates the stages and overall structure of the three realms of cyclical existence with their subdivisions and their corresponding meditative states.

Since the vehicles of gods and human beings and the vehicle of Brahma possess qualities which are basic to any Buddhist experience, they are regarded as a means of entering into the true vehicle of Buddhist experience.

  1. Those of No Understanding and Those of Wrong Understanding

The sentient beings who are considered to be ensnared within cyclical existence and subject to continuous rounds of suffering are traditionally divided into those who have no understanding (ma-rtogs-pa) and those who have wrong understanding (log-par rtogs-pa).

The former include the apathetic who lack understanding of deeds and causality, and so fail to respond to any philosophical system, observing neither renunciation nor commitment; and the materialists (Lokayata) who refer only to the present life and set their trust in the mysterious calculations of worldly wisdom.

Those of wrong understanding are traditionally said to comprise four schools of eternalistic extremism and one of nihilistic extremism. The former are the Samkhya, the Aisvara, the Vaisnava, and Jainism.

The Samkhya hold all that is knowable to consist of twenty-five existent categories, which are said to be dissolved when sublimation of the self (purusa) occurs.

The Aisvara, who include the adherents of Nyaya logic and Vaisesika analysis of substances, hold that an eternally existent lord or Isvara controls the destiny of all beings regardless of deeds.

The Vaisnava uphold the authenticity of the Veda, along with the eternal status of Visnu, Brahma and other deities. And Jainism holds all the knowable to be divided into nine categories, among which animate substances (jiva) are eternally existent.

The nihilistic extremists are the Barhaspatya hedonists of ancient India who negate causality, past and future lives, the existence of invisible beings and the possibility of progress beyond suffering into nirvana.

All these are said to lack a means of achieving liberation from the suffering of cyclical existence - those of no understanding because they are roused by no philosophical view and those of wrong understanding because they either cling to the concept of an eternal self or become totally negative.

Even so, the Author maintains, there are certain circumstances when a buddha may teach in the manner of the eternalists for a specific purpose or in that of the nihilists when scepticism may be transmuted into Madhyamaka dialectic.