Ocean Of Eloquence (Tsong Kha pa’s Commentary On The Yogacara Doctrine Of Mind)

Item Code: NAD889
Author: Gareth Sparham
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Edition: 1995
ISBN: 8170304326
Pages: 260
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 420 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

This book is of particular interest because it shows the presence of the Yogãcara (Mind Only) school in Tibet. It is well known that the Madhyamaka school flourished in Tibet, but less well known that Yogacara doctrines were also studied and practiced. The former school stresses the inexpressible ultimate; the latter, the natural luminosity of mind. This is probably the best introduction to the distinctive eight consciousness systems of Yogãcara. It also makes understandable the different meanings of (he profound älaya-vijnana) (the storehouse consciousness, or basis of all) that is the pivotal eighth consciousness in their system.

For those interested in meditation, the author’s introduction explains how earlier Tibetan meditation (the method of allowing mind to look into its own pure nature) uses the eight— consciousness system.

The book is remarkable in that it addresses the problem of how a person trapped within the confines of a limited and deluded personality can transcend that state and attain liberation. By his inquiry into the process of transformation, Tsong kha pa makes profound comments which will interest those who ask whether enlightenment is a gradual process or a sudden breakthrough.

Tsong kha pa (1357-1419) wrote extensively on nearly every aspect of Buddhist religious philosophy and practice. The text edited and translated here is the Yiddang kun gzhi dka’ ba iignas rgyacher’ grel pa legs par bshad pa ‘i rgya mtsho, often referred to as the Commentary on the Difficult points.


About The Author

Gareth Sparham is unusual in that he is a respected academic and also has been a Buddhist monk for twenty years. He presently teaches at Langara College in Vancouver, B.C. He is an accomplished Sanskritist whose work on the Indian Buddhist writer Haribhadra has been published by Motilal Banarsidass. He spends part of his time in Dharmsala, India.



Our interest in the Ocean of Eloquence began in 1979 while Gareth Sparham was still a student at the Buddhist Dialectic Institute in McLeod Ganj, India. The ‘Bras phung Blo gsal gling monk and scholar Dam chos rgyal mtshan gave a traditional explanation of it, according to a time-honoured rule, as a discursus during the study of the fourth chapter of the Abhisamayälaziikära. Gareth Sparham attended and debated the topics in formal session each day after classes with fellow students and jotted down a rough translation of the text for his own records. The appearance of this book owes to Dam chos rgyal mtshan and to the others at the Buddhist Dialectic Institute a debt of gratitude. They treated the Ocean Of Eloquence as a sacred book and considered sharing its insights a religious act. Gareth Sparham remains cognizant of the generosity they showed in allowing him to participate fully.

At the University of British Columbiain 1985 work began on the text anew. Shotaro lida suggested to Sparham, his student in the doctoral program at UBC, that he resume work on the text and collaborate on a project to make it available to the scholarly community. lida, cognizant of the importance of Gadjin Nagao’s recent work on the Mahayäna-sathgraha (the book on which the Ocean of Eloquence is based), felt such a collaboration would be timely. He would like to acknowledge his debt to the pioneering scholarship of Nagao. He also acknowledges the contribution made by Nobuchiyo Odani and Tsultrim Kalsang’s publication of the Japanese translation. lida translated the parts of the text not covered by Dam chos rgyal mtshan and supplied material from Japanese sources.

Sparham would like to acknowledge the support of the Indo-Canadian Shastri Institute which made work on this book possible during 1990-91 by granting a postdoctoral fellowship for research in India.

The Tibetan fonts were designed by Pierre Robillard, whom we thank for allowing us to make use of his work.



The text edited and translated here is the Yid dang kun gzhi dka’ ba ‘i gnas rgya cher’grel pa legs par bshad pa’i rgya mtsho (literally, Ocean of Eloquence: An Extensive Commentary on the Difficult Points ofAlaya-vijnäna and Klista manas, referred to hereafter as Ocean of Eloquence) by the Tibetan Buddhist writer Tsong kha pa (1357-1419). It is a detailed investigation of the last two of an internally coherent system of eight consciousnesses (vijnãna) asserted by Yogacãra, an Indian school of thought associated with the names of Maitreya[nãtha], Asanga, and Vasubandhu. These two consciousnesses, which are a unique and distinguishing feature of the school, are the älaya-vijfJãna, an hypostasized ever-present subconscious, and the klista-manas, an hypostasized, ever-present egocentered thought. As will become clear, both Sanskrit terms cover a wide range of meanings which it is difficult to capture in single English equivalents. English hybrid translation words like ‘basis-of-all consciousness’ and ‘afflicted thinking-mind,’ though more exact, will be too cumbersome for felicitous usage in ordinary English prose so the original terms are retained throughout.

This Introduction is in two sections. First the alaya-vijiiãna doctrine is dealt with in isolation, freed from later interpretation. From the point of view of the later exegete Tsong kha pa this doctrine is a sacred truth, a ‘revelation’ (buddha-vacana) to be explained. Then the later exegesis is dealt with. This exegesis presents itself as a nonoriginal restatement of the ‘revelation.’ It is Tsong kha pa’s Ocean of Eloquence itself. It is advantageous if the reader first becomes familiar with the älaya- vijnãna doctrine freed from later interpretation and then, armed with a prior understanding of that revelation, approaches what Tsong kha pa has to say.

The ãlaya-vijnäna doctrine arose on the Indian subcontinent about one thousand years before Tsong kha pa. It gained its place in a distinctly Yogãcara system over a period of some three hundred years stretching from 100 to 400 C.E., culminating in the Mahäyäna-samgraha, a short text by Asanga (circa 350), setting out a systematic presentation of the ãlaya- vijnãna doctrine developed over the previous centuries. It is the doctrine found in this text in particular that Tsong kha pa, in his Ocean of Eloquence, treats as having been revealed in toto by the Buddha and transmitted to suffering humanity through the Yogacara founding saints (Tib. shing rta srol byed): Maitreya[-nãtha], Asanga, and Vasubandhu.

The different streams of thought which culminated finally, in the Mahayana-samgraha, in the complex ideas which comprise the mature classical alaya- vijnäna doctrine are, in the Ocean of Eloquence, inextricably linked. It will be the first task of this Introduction to separate the complex notions of alaya vijnäna and klista-manas set forth in the Mahayana-samgraha and to a lesser extent in the Abhidharma-samuccaya into their different parts in order to grasp what Tsong kha pa conceived as the starting point of his inquiry.

The way in which I reconstruct the ‘uninterpreted alaya-vijnäna doctrine’ or, as Tsong kha pa would term it, ‘revelation’, is open to a possible misunderstanding. Recent scholarship2has dissected out, isolated, and traced the literary origins of the different important components in the meaning-complex that is associated with the term alaya-vijnãna in its classical usage in texts like the Mahayana-samgraha. These different components have been identified as belonging to earlier and later historical periods. Tsong kha pa on the other hand understood them as the single revelation of the Enlightened Being set forth in the founders’ texts. Nevertheless, I treat Tsong kha pa’s lack of self-conscious historical awareness as unimportant and take each component separately, and as having its own history, and then simply state that all of these together should be seen as different aspects of the doctrine Tsong kha pa had in mind as a single unified revelation. I do this to utilize what seems to me the best method of conveying to a modern reader as quickly and as painlessly as possible the many different aspects of the älaya-vijnäna doctrine systematized in the Mahayana samgraha which, taken together, provide the necessary point of departure for Tsong kha pa’s text.3

As will become clear, the intellectual concerns of fourteenth century Tibet differed from the immediate concerns of early Indian Yogãcara, and Tsong kha pa’s presentation of the älaya-vijnäna doctrine in his Ocean of Eloquence reflects those concerns. As Tsong kha pa’s first major work (an important consideration which will be discussed below), the Ocean of Eloquence is important both for what it reveals of the Tibetan intellectual mileu into which Tsong kha pa was born and as a document showing the earliest stages in the development of Tsong kha pa’s thought. The second section of the Introduction deals with these matters.

Before proceding, a brief word about the methodology of first explaining the älaya-vijnãna doctrine in isolation, freed from later interpretation (this is what I am loosely equating with a traditional person’s revelation) and then dealing later with its traditional exegesis. The approach, implicit in this Introduction, that first deals with the origins and history of an earlier ‘revelation’ in isolation and then with the way that ‘revelation’ is interpreted is entirely heuristic. It is based on the perception that I, and most western people I know, access information best when it is presented historically: But entering into the idea that the älaya-vijnäna doctrine was revealed by an Enlightened Being and that Tsong kha pa, as the center of a cultic belief, did make a nonoriginal presentation would not be uninstructive for some. Persons who already have a sense of history would certainly learn from such an exercise, just as much as the believer would learn from historical analysis. This is not an attack on the value and validity (even authority) of historical truth. In a slightly different context, Daniel L. Overmyer says: “My primary methodological consideration is to avoid reductionism as much as possible, that is, to meet the subject in question at every level on which it presents itself, without distortion. It is necessary to keep faith with the human beings who are the makers of history by seeking to understand their own purposes in relationship to the total context. This principle means to understand the relationship of historical situation to sectarian belief as a dialectical one, without seeking to give undue precedence to either.”4 It is something like this that I intend.

The intellectual concerns which provide the general context for the arising of the Yogacara älaya-vijnäna doctrine

What are the wider intellectual concerns which emerge in preclassical Indian literature and which provide the broader context, in the history of Indian religious thought, for the emergence of the particular Buddhist school that first asserted an hypostasized subconscious during the early centuries of the common era? Most important is the general notion of karma,5 a word which, as is well known, means ‘action’ but which comes to refer to the entire net of complex causes and effects wherein a particular action (or set of actions) is held to result in a particular sequence of results. Whatever the full story of its origins in India, a story which would entail a detailed discussion of the notion of sacrificial efficiency as well as the rich Indian tradition of grammatical speculation—both of which would carry the discussion far afield—the notion of karma became particularly important as an explanation of, and justification for, social status, particularly the notion of social status enshrined in the Vedic notion of four varnas (social classes). There are two dimensions to this: first the very natural human wonder about where one came from, and second the question of why one has the position in society that one does. In the Indian context perhaps more than in other societies6 the question of why one has the position in society that one does appears to have had a particular importance. The question of where one came from became almost inextricably mixed up with the question of one’s status or social class. Karma became a far more important notion than the concept of any single creator to explain one’s origins, even in distinctively theistic texts.7 So for Brahmanical writers, Buddhist preachers of the dasa-kusa1a-patha (‘way of ten virtues’), and Jam sages seeking to avoid any action whatsoever in an attempt to rid themselves of karmic residues, some notion of karma was central to explaining how one came to be here and one’s position in life.

Besides explaining, rationalising if you will, the different social classes and different good or bad fortune in life, karma had an equally important role to play as an element woven into developing Indian soteriologies. Either in pre-Upanisadic times as proper sacrificial action which ensured rebirth in the heavens of the fathers, or later, in ever more detailed and systematized religious philosophies as proper adherence to a code of virtuous conduct or to a course of yogic praxis which would remove the results of earlier wrongdoing, action, in the sense of the force left by previous action, was a pivot of the system. It was an idea challenged only by the very fringe of Indian society (the Carvãkas and Lokãyatas) and was perhaps the most influential of all culturally received ideas defining the functioning of the Yogacãra ãlaya-vijnãna

. Yet if there were to be one notion that, even more than karma, characterized early Indian religious thought and deeply influenced the way later thinkers conceived of the älaya-vijnäna ‘subconscious,’ it would undoubtedly have to be that of a unifying ultimate. There is no need to dwell long on its content, well known in its general characteristics from the Upanisadic brahman and atman doctrine. It is useful, however, to recall the importance of cit (‘consciousness’) in the definition of this unifying ultimate and note three aspects: a) that it is in some sense ontologically more fundamental than other things, b) that it is the origin of them, and c) that an understanding of it is liberating. Amongst the Buddhist schools, the influence of this notion is most apparent in Yogäcara. It appears to have entered into Yogacãra thinkers in what might be termed the transformational (parinãmika) current of Indian thought. According to this transformationalist view the whole of waking reality is like waves on an ocean, not other than the one underlying reality. Diversity is only apparent, not lasting and true. We will come back to this current of thought later, in the context of a possible common heritage influencing both classical Samkhya and Yogacara.

If karma and the unifying ultimate are the culturally received notions most dominant in the formulation of the alaya-vijnãna, localization of the obscuring principle (one hesitates to use a word like evil in the Indian context) around the ego informs the idea of klista-manas. Ego, both as the first cause of action and as the obscurer of the ultimate, is the creator of all that is imperfect. In Yogacãra most of the functions of ego attach to the alaya- vijnãna itself and it overshadows, as a guiding principle, the definition of the klista-manas which becomes relegated to a necessary but minor role. Because of this, because less is known about the development of the klista-manas in India and because the klista-manas is largely irrelevant to developments of the Tibetan kun gzhi (alaya) doctrine, I will have much less to say about it in this Introduction than about the älaya-vijnana




  Abbreviations VII
  Preface IX
  Technical Note XI
  Introduction 1
  The general context for the arising of the älaya-vijnäna doctrine 3
  Origins of the Yogãcara ãlaya-vijnãna doctrine 5
  Sãmkhya and Yogãcara 9
  The ãlaya-vijnãna within the eight-consciousness model 11
  Tsong kha pa’s exegesis 12
  Life of Tsong kha pa 12
  Problems of interpretation in Tsong kha pa’s earlier and later works 14
  Early teachers and date of the text 16
  Kun gzhi in Tsong kha pa’s later works 19
  Kun gzhi in Tibet before Tsong kha pa 22
  Kun gzhi at the time of Tsong kha pa 24
  Concluding Remarks 26
  Translation 43
1 Introduction: Origins of the Mind Only Doctrine 45
2 Alaya-vijnana as Basis 51
  Residual impressions as objective support 52
  Nature of the ãlaya-vijnana 58
  Five mental factors 58
  Etymology of ãlaya-vijnana 59
3 Alaya-vijnana as Seed 65
  Mechanics of seed formation 66
  Divisions of vãsanã 68
  Relation of the seeds and basis 74
  Characteristics of vãsanã 79
4 Seeds of Deliverance 87
  Derivation of the word alaya 95
  Cessation of ãlaya-vijnãna 95
5 Definition of Klista-mana 107
6 Proofs of Alaya-vijnãna 123
  Eight proofs 124
  Discursus 134
7 Proofs of Klista-manas 143
8 Two Refutations and Final Remarks 153
  Refuting a set of nine consciousnesses 156
  Refuting a set of one consciousness 156
  Concluding Remarks 159
  Tibetan 163
  Bibliography 243
  Index 253

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