Tsongkhapa’s Fruitless Siddhis - A Critique of Tsongkhapa’s “The Exposition of the Fourteen Tantric Root Infractions” (Part 2)
(Reported by the True Heart News interviewing team in Taipei)
In the previous article, we pointed out that the Fourteen Tantric “Root” Infractions are a set of non-Buddhist injunctions that do not have any “roots” in Buddhism, nor Buddhist precepts. This article delves into Tsongkhapa’s motivation for writing the exegesis. In its preface to the translation of Tsongkhapa’s Fruit Clusters of Siddhis, it explains:
“Tsongkhapa’s writing of Fruit Clusters of Siddhis was related to his authorship of The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chenmo). During the time that he was writing The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, he felt compelled to organize the exegesis of the doctrines underlying the tantric precepts and therefore took the time to write Fruit Clusters of Siddhis. Tsongkhapa was opposed to Jonangpa leader Dolpopa’s modifications of the Kalachakra Tantra, which imbued the Tantra with the Mahayana Yogacara Buddhist philosophy of Tathagatagarbha. He believed that the Kalachakra Tantra should be revised to restore the unique philosophy of the Highest Yoga Tantra (Anuttara-Yoga-Tantra), upon which the tantric precepts were codified. For this reason, he took it as a vow and eagerly completed the writing.”
Tsongkhapa is well-known for his authorship of The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chenmo) and The Great Exposition of Tantras (sNgags rim chen mo). In the former, he summarizes the three-vehicle Bodhi in relation to the “three levels of spiritual capacity,” while in the latter he expounds tantric doctrines, presents it as the Buddhist Bodhi Way, and elevates it to the ultimate cultivation path for the four major sects of Tibetan “Buddhism.” These two treatises have been held in high esteem by all lamas, gurus, rinpoches, Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas of past and present. The Great Exposition of Tantras, in particular, is considered the key reference for the empowerments of the Highest Yoga Tantra.
In Taiwan, however, The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment is more widely known and influential. It was popularized by Master Richang of the Fengshan Temple (Hsinchu, Taiwan), who had studied Tibetan “Buddhism” in India under the Dalai Lama. In the late 20th century, Richang started to offer courses in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, attracting lots of local Tibetan Buddhists as well as regular folks. Government resources have been used to promote the transmission of the Great Treatise. Even the Ministry of Education, as well as many non-Tibetan Buddhist organizations, caught on to the trend. (1)
The so-called “three levels of spiritual capacity” was not an original theory that Tsongkhapa came up with. He drew his extensive theorization of the cultivation sequence with respect to the three levels from Ati?a’s A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhipathapradīpa), as Khenpo Suodajey noted. This fact is also documented in The Causes and Conditions of Tsongkhapa’s Manifestation. It was Ati?a specifically who brought to Tibet the Prasangika Madhyamika, an erroneous philosophy proposed by Indian “Buddhists” Candrakirti and Santideva that proclaims the theory of six vijnanas. Denying the existence of both the seventh and the eighth vijnanas in his Supplement to Treatise on the Middle Way, Candrakirti’s “Buddha dharma” is in essence a blend of nihilism and the non-Buddhist view of eternalism (which proclaims the existing state of vijnana-aggregate as permanent). Having inherited the heretical views of Ati?a, Tsongkhapa’s theorization of the “three levels of spiritual capacity” in his Great Treatise is also distorted and erroneous dharma.
As a matter of fact, the real Tibetan Buddhist Sect was the Jonang sect that Tsongkhapa so eagerly wanted to refute and overthrow. It is an unusual tradition in the history of Buddhism. Though rooted in and spread throughout Tibet for centuries, after a long period of transmission, the Jonang sect expounded the view of “other emptiness” (ta kong jian), a philosophy distinct from all other Tibetan “Buddhist” sects but identical to the Tathagatagarbha-centered doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism. Its central tenet of other emptiness recognizes the true suchness of Buddha-nature and proposes that the Ultimate Truth is an unconditioned dharma that exhibits the property of emptiness-nature; being devoid of conventional phenomena but in possession of self-nature, this Ultimate Truth is described as “other empty.” Advocating the reinterpretation of the Kalachakra Tantra with this view, the Jonang sect set itself apart from the more commonly known Tibetan traditions.
According to extant documentation, the Tibetan Jonang sect based its teachings on the Tathagatagarbha Sutra, the Srimala-devi-sutra, Angulimāliya Sutra, The Great Dharma Drum Sutra (Maha^-bheri^-ha^raka-parivarta), the Samdhinirmocana Sutra, and the Lankavatara Sutra, the exact same scriptures that Venerable Pings Xiao has been preaching, expounding, emphasizing and citing today. This shows the fact that the Tathagatagarbha Dharma expounded by the Buddha can be verified with the true Reality of the dharma-realm and therefore resonates in perfect pitch across time and space.
Tsongkhapa fiercely fought against the Jonangpas’ right view of other emptiness and the Tathagatagarbha tenet of Dolpopa_Sherab_Gyeltsen because they drew attention to the fallacies of non-Buddhist eternalism and the nihilistic “six vijnanas theory” that Tsongkhapa and all tantric “Buddhists” preached and espoused. Considering that the Highest Yoga Tantra is grounded on these heretical views, Tsongkhapa had to “take the time to write the Fruit Clusters of Siddhis” while working on the Great Treatise to defend its foundation.
But can any siddhis be attained through his works? In Sanskrit, siddhis means accomplishment. Its full definitions are quite extensive and complicated, but generally, it refers to two kinds of accomplishment: mundane and trans-mundane. The former concerns the gaining of worldly benefits and interests, while the latter has to do with trans-mundane attainment such as liberation from the three realms. Yet, in his acclaimed Great Treatise, Tsongkhapa not only mixes up the cultivation sequence of the Buddha Bodhi, even the contents of the “three levels of spiritual capacity” are but his own heretical contrivance rather than the Buddha Dharma.
Take for example his definitions of the “three levels of spiritual capacity”:
“…because persons of special small capacity do not work very much on behalf of this lifetime, but they diligently strive for excellent high states of human and divine rebirth in future lifetimes by engaging in cultivation of their causes. … because persons of medium capacity develop disenchantment with all cyclic existence, and then make their goal their own liberation from cyclic existence. They then enter the path of the three trainings, the method for attaining liberation. …because persons of great capacity, under the influence of great compassion, make Buddhahood their goal in order to extinguish all the sufferings of all living beings. They then train in the six perfections, the two stages, and the like.”
Subsequently, adherents of Tibetan “Buddhism” and learners of the Great Treatise commonly believe that giving up present life to work for future retributions of the human and deva realms is the lowest path; abandoning transmigration and desiring its renunciation is the middle path; and seeking the unexcelled Buddhahood and arousing the supreme Bodhi mind constitutes the highest path.
Any Buddhist disciple with correct Buddhist knowledge well knows that “the excellent high states of human and divine rebirth in future lifetimes” is a mundane attainment that belongs to the desire realm and is irrelevant to the fruition of Bodhi. As for the middle tier people who are to “develop disenchantment with all cyclic existence,” Tsongkhapa advised them to take delight in the elimination of vexations and karma, develop firm faith, gain insight to the precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, as well as cultivate especially diligently the precepts of individual liberation. Yet, to this group of people, Tsongkhapa neither taught them to observe all mundane phenomena according to the Four Noble Truths, nor to practice the Noble Eightfold Path, the two-vehicle teachings stressed by Buddha Sakyamuni. Moreover, he mutilated Buddha’s teachings of the twelve links of dependent arising and claimed that “…reflection of the progression and cessation of the twelve factors of the two happy realms is the teachings for persons of medium capacity.” His instructions cannot help practitioners eliminate the misconceptions about the self, let alone attaining the five fruitions of the two-vehicle Bodhi. (2) The path that Tsongkhapa laid down for practitioners of medium capacity is highly flawed and defective to say the least.
His teachings for the “great capacity” are even more absurd. In addition to the empty exhortation to generate great bodhicitta, Tsongkhappa says that if one wishes to attain Buddhahood, one must “…train in the six perfections, the two stages…” After the six paramitas, the last of which are meditative concentration and prajna, he has posited two more stages of “meditative serenity” and “insight” through which those of great capacity are supposed to fulfill this superior way.
The six perfections of Mahayana Buddhism - namely, giving, precept observance, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and prajna - mutually subsume one another and cannot be partially cultivated as separate unit(s). Tsongkhapa’s six perfections, however, specifically stress the visualization of various deities, energy channels, breathing, and bright drop,(3) a non-Buddhist Hindu yogic practice that attend to the worldly five aggregates.
In addition, Tsongkhapa’s pedagogy does not delineate the illusory, impermanent nature of the five aggregates but seeks after the lustful pleasure pertaining to them. His heretical teachings are meant to prepare practitioners for achieving “union of meditative serenity and insight” during the heterosexual Couple-Practice of the Highest Yoga Tantra. This is precisely why all the Great Treatise courses in Taiwan deliberately leave out the contents regarding meditative serenity and insight in their curriculum.
The fruition of Buddha Bodhi cannot possibly be achieved through the most vulgar craving of the mundane world. The “bodhi” or “fruition” one attains in Tibetan “Buddhism” is an imaginary product of its own invention.
It’s fruitless to fish in the air or milk a bull. Tsongkhapa’s Great Treatise does not lead to enlightenment as its title advertises. Rather, it is a gilded path inlaid with an inverted cultivation sequence and jumbled, adulterated concepts. “False causal ground incurs twisted fruition,” so warns the sutra. Tsongkhapa composed the Fruit Clusters of Siddhis for all the wrong causes, and his “siddhis” are as real as a unicorn.
Note 1: Kuo, Cheng-Yi, The Trilogy of the Great Exposition of Tantra, The True Enlightenment Education Foundation, Taiwan, April 2011, Preface pp.2.
Note 2: Kuo, Cheng-Yi. The Trilogy of the Great Exposition of Tantra, The True Enlightenment Education Foundation, Taiwan, April 2011, pp. 81-82.
Note 3: Tsongkhapa. The Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, The Voice of Bliss & Wisdom, Taiwan, March 2005, pp.207.
This article is an English version of the Chinese edition published on
April 20, 2014.