Gos Lo tsā ba gZhon nu dpal's Commentary on the Dharmatā Chapter of the Dharmadharmatāvibhāgakārikās

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Gos Lo tsā ba gZhon nu dpal's (1392-1481) commentary on the second chapter of the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā (RGVV) is introduced by a detailed explanation of the dharmatā chapter in the Dharmadharmatāvibhāgakārikās (DhDhVK). This is, according to gZhon nu dpal, because the detailed presentation of āśrayaparivŗtti in the DhDhV is a commentary on the bodhi chapter of the RGV. In both texts, āśrayaparivŗtti refers to a positively described ultimate which is revealed by removing adventitious stains. Whereas in the RGV this is the Buddha-element (or tathāgatagarbha) with its inseparable qualities, it is the dharmatā, suchness or natural luminosity (prakŗtiprabhāsvaratā) in the Dharmadharmatāvibhāgavŗtti (DhDhVV). This luminosity is compared to primordially pure space, gold and water which must have their adventitious stains removed before they can be discovered. From this gZhon nu dpal concludes that the DhDhVV belongs to the Madhyamaka tradition. Consequently, the typical Yogācāra negation of external objects is taken as referring to the latters' non-existence in terms of svabhāva. What makes gZhon nu dpal's DhDhV-commentary so interesting is his mahāmudrā interpretation of a central topic in the DhDhV, i.e., the abandonment of all "mentally created characteristic signs" (nimittas). The latter practice plays a crucial role in the cultivation of non-conceptual wisdom, which is taken as the cause or the foundation of āśrayaparivŗtti in the DhDhV. Based on Sahajavajra's (11th century) Tattvadaśakaţīkā gZhon nu dpal explains that the nimittas are abandoned by directly realizing their natural luminosity which amounts to a direct or non-conceptual experience of their true nature. To be sure, while the usual Mahāyāna approach involves an initial analysis of the nimittas, namely, an analytic meditation which eventually turns into non-conceptual abiding in the same way as a fire kindled from rubbing pieces of wood bums the pieces of wood themselves (gZhon nu dpal explains this on the basis of Kamalaśīla's commentary on the Nirvikalpapraveśadhāraņī), mahāmudrā pith-instructions enable a meditation of direct perceptions right from the beginning. In view of the fact that such direct perceptions of emptiness (or dharmatā in this context here) usually start from the first Bodhisattva-level onwards, gZhon nu dpal also tries to show that the four yogas of maliāmudrā are in accordance with the four prayogas of the DhDhV. It should be noted that such a mahāmudrā interpretation must have already existed in India, as can be seen from Jñānakīrti's (10th/11th-century) Tattvāvatāra, in which a not-specifically-Tantric form of mahāmudrā practice is related with the traditional fourfold Mahāyāna meditation by equating "Mahāyāna" in Lańkāvatārasūtra X.257d with mahāmudrā. The pādas X.257cd "A yogin who is established in a state without appearances sees Mahāyāna" thus mean that one finally sees or realizes mahāmudrā. To sum up, the DhDhV plays an important role for gZhon nu dpal in that it provides a canonical basis for his mahāmudrā tradition, and by showing that the dharmatā portion of the DhDhV is a commentary on the second chapter of the RGV, gZhon nu dpal skillfully links his mahāmudrā interpretation to the standard Indian work on Buddha-nature, and thus to a concept which considerably facilitated the bridging of the Sūtras with the Tantras.

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