Title and Translators Homage
Image courtesy of Jurek Schreiner
Oral Commentary by Khenchen Namdrol Tsering (contd)
The Text Itself
The text we are explaining here is the Introduction to the Middle Way, and to do so we will use its auto-commentary. There are four main parts to the explanation:
1. The Meaning of the Title
2. The Translators’ Homage
3. The Main Part of the Text
4. The Conclusion
1. The Meaning of the Title
The Sanskrit title of the auto-commentary is Madhyamakavatarabhashya-nama. In Tibetan, it is དབུ་མ་ལ་འཇུག་པའི་བཤད་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ།, or A Commentary to the Introduction to the Middle Way.
Madhyamaka (Middle Way) here refers to the treatises of the Middle Way. This is indicated in the text of the auto-commentary itself when it says:
In order to supplement the treatises of the Madhyamaka, I wish to compose an introduction to the Middle Way,
Generally speaking, Madhyamaka refers to the freedom from all extremes. As the Samādhirāja Sūtra says:
Existence and non-existence are extremes,
Purity and impurity are extremes as well,
Thus, having relinquished both extremes,
The wise do not dwell even in the middle.
The meaning expressed by the term Madhyamaka is, we could say, the sphere of reality (dharmadhātu), beyond all extremes. This can then be further divided into the Ground Madhyamaka, the unity of the two truths; the Path Madhyamaka, the unity of skilful means and wisdom; and the Fruition Madhyamaka, the unity of the two kayas.
The Ground Madhyamaka, the unity of the two truths, is beyond all extremes because it is beyond the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. The Path Madhyamaka, the unity of skilful means and wisdom, is beyond the extremes of exaggeration and denial. The Fruition Madhyamaka, the unity of the two kayas, is beyond the extremes of saṃsāric existence and the peace of nirvana.
In terms of the literature expressing Madhyamaka, there are Madhyamaka texts that are the actual words of the Buddha and Madhyamaka treatises. The first of these, the Madhyamika teachings of the Buddha, are found in the Prajñāpāramitā sutras of the ‘intermediate turning’ on the absence of characteristics. The Root Verses of the Middle Way is primarily a commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā sutras, as is the Ornament of Realization (Abhisamayalankara) of Maitreya. The Introduction to the Middle Way, however, is usually said to be a commentary on the Sūtra of the Ten Bhumis (Daśabhūmikasūtra), and not the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras. Only its explanation of the twenty types of emptiness could be said to be a commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā, whilst its explanation of the three dharmas of ordinary beings and the ten trainings of the noble ones are given according to the Sutra of the Ten Bhumis.
Regarding the treatises of the Madhyamaka, mention has already been made of Nāgārjuna’s Root Verses of the Middle Way and the rest of his Collection of Reasoning.
So, the text we are presently concerned with—_Introduction to the Middle Way_—belongs to the category of ‘expressing literature’ of the Madhyamaka, and, in particular, to the category of Madhyamaka treatises. The main body-like treatise is the Root Verses of the Middle Way, and this Introduction to the Middle Way is a commentary on its meaning. So, the ‘Middle Way’ of the title mainly refers to the actual text of the Root Verses.
‘Introduction’ or ‘Entrance’ here signifies that this is a clarification of the Root Verses, particularly of its more difficult points. For example, the Introduction to the Way of a Bodhisattva (Bodhicaryāvatāra), clarifies the activity of a bodhisattva—the six pāramitās, the four means of attracting disciples, the four immeasurables and so on. In the same way, the Introduction to the Middle Way clarifies the points from the Root Verses of the Middle Way that are in need of clarification.
So, what is the method of introduction? The various commentaries explain this slightly differently. Gorampa says there is ‘introduction’ to both the vast and profound. As for the profound means of introduction, the Root Verses of the Middle Way employs numerous types of reasoning in order to establish emptiness, much more extensively than the Introduction to the Middle Way. When explaining these various types of reasoning, the great scholars of the Svātantrika School use the principles of autonomous syllogism, whereas those of the Prāsaṅgika School, to which Candrakīrti belongs, use the principles of absurd consequence. Thus, in the Introduction to the Middle Way, the profound means of introduction is the explanation of the logical arguments from the Root Verses according to the principles of consequence.
As for the vast means of introduction, ‘vast’ here refers to the presentation of the paths and bhūmis, which are only referred to indirectly in the Root Verses itself. In Ārya Nāgārjuna’s Precious Garland, there is brief mention of the three dharmas of ordinary beings and ten trainings of the noble ones, where it says:
Its root is bodhichitta,
That is stable like Sumeru, king of mountains,
Compassion that extends throughout space,
And wisdom that is non-dual.
Just as in the śrāvaka vehicle,
Eight śrāvaka stages are explained,
In the Mahāyāna there are
The ten bhūmis of the bodhisattvas.
This is all that is said in the Precious Garland; it is not treated extensively. And in the Root Verses the paths and stages are only mentioned indirectly.
In the Introduction to the Middle Way the three dharmas of ordinary beings and ten trainings of the noble ones are discussed in great detail, based on the Sūtra of the Ten Bhūmis. This is the vast means of introduction.
The root text of the Introduction to the Middle Way says:
Those skilled in the ways of the profound and vast,
Will gradually attain the ground of Perfect Joy.
Gorampa describes the means of introduction in terms of scripture and instructions, for as the root text says:
This way of explanation I, the bhikṣu Candrakīrti,
Have drawn from the Madhyamaka treatise,
And here set down correctly according to scripture,
And in accordance with instructions.
I think there is something slightly odd about this explanation. The Madhyamaka treatise, or the scripture that is referred to here is the Root Verses, and, as we have already seen, this is precisely what is to be introduced. So to say that it is also the method of introduction creates some problems. It would be fine to say that the instructions, passing from Nāgārjuna to Āryadeva and so on down through the lineage of masters, constitute a means or method that is used in the Introduction to the Middle Way, but to say that the scripture to be introduced is also the method of introduction is perhaps a little confusing.
2. The Translators’ Homage
The text says:
Homage to the youthful Ārya Mañjuśrī!
This accords with the general guidelines laid down for the translators’ homage.
The text continues:
In order to supplement the treatises of the Madhyamaka, I wish to compose an introduction to the Middle Way,…
This has already been explained above.
སོ་སོ་སྐྱེ་བོའི་ཆོས་གསུམ། Bodhicitta, compassion and wisdom. ↩
འཕགས་པ་བསླབ་པའི་ཆོས་བཅུ་པོ། The trainings of the ten bhūmis. ↩
Chapter 2, verse 75:
གཉིས་ལ་མི་བརྟེན་ཡེ་ཤེས་ལགས། ། ↩
Chapter 5, verse 40:
བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའི་ས་བཅུའོ། ། ↩
Chapter 6, verse 7bc:
རིམ་གྱིས་རབ་ཏུ་དགའ་བའི་ས་ནི་འཐོབ་འགྱུར་བས། ། ↩
Chapter 11, verse 52:
ཇི་ལྟ་བ་བཞིན་བརྗོད་པ་ཡིན། ། ↩