Tibetan Translation of the Sanskrit Term Sambhara
According to A Commentary Clarifying the Meaning (’Grel-ba don-gsal), the late 8th-century CE Indian master Haribhadra’s commentary to Maitryea’s Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamaya-alamkara), the Sanskrit term sambhara means yang-dag-par sgrub-pa, pure-builder.
From the perspective of this commentary, then, the Tibetan translation as tshogs, collections or networks, is imprecise. Rather than translating punyasambhara and jnanasambhara as “a network of positive force” (bsod-rnams-kyi tshogs, collection of merit, collection of positive potential) and “a network of deep awareness” (ye-shes-kyi tshogs, collection of wisdom), they are more accurately rendered as “pure-building positive force” and “pure-building deep awareness.”
Whether or not we can also understand “networks” from the term sambhara is another issue, which we shall address below.
Two Types of Pure-Builders
There are two types of pure-builders:
- Those aspiring for liberation through the shravaka or pratyekabuddha paths amass common pure-builders.
- Those aspiring for enlightenment through the bodhisattva paths amass fully definitional pure-builders.
For the sake of clarity, let us call the former “liberation-builders” and the latter “enlightenment-builders.”
Samsara-Builders and Pure-Builders
Positive force (bsod-nams, merit, positive potential) and deep awareness (ye-shes, wisdom, insight) have both samsara-building and pure-building forms. The difference derives from:
- The motivation (kun-slong) with which we undertake and carry out the constructive action (dge-ba, virtuous action) or total absorption (mnyam-bzhag, meditative equipoise) on the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths with which the positive force or deep awareness are built up
- The dedication (bsngo-ba) afterwards.
In Buddhism, motivation means the intention (‘dun-pa) – in other words, the wish to do something that we have decided to do toward an object that we have decided to do it to, in order to obtain or not obtain it, or to be parted or not parted from it. Motivation also entails the positive or negative emotions – such as jealousy, disgust with our suffering, or compassion for others – that accompany the intention. Samsara is uncontrollably recurring rebirth, due to the influence of compulsive karmic behavior and disturbing emotions and attitudes, and characterized by suffering.
If we undertake such actions or meditation with a worldly motivation or with no particular motivation in mind, and dedicate them afterwards to fulfilling that worldly goal or do not dedicate them at all, the positive force and deep awareness associated with them act as samsara-builders. They serve merely as causes for experiencing one of the better samsaric situations, samsaric happiness, and samsaric cleverness, according to the laws of karma. It is like the default setting of a computer. They automatically contribute to improving samsara, unless we reset our minds and consciously aim and dedicate them otherwise.
If, on the other hand, we undertake and carry out constructive actions or total absorption on the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths with the motivation of renunciation (nges-’byung) – the determination to be free of samsara and to attain liberation – and dedicate them afterwards to achieving that goal, the positive force and deep awareness associated with them act as liberation-builders. They bring liberation from samsara and the attainment of the happiness and deep awareness of liberation. Along the way to liberation, the liberation-building positive force and deep awareness also ripen into precious human rebirths with the happiness and intelligence conducive for attaining liberation.
If we undertake and carry out constructive actions and meditative absorption with a bodhichitta motivation and dedicate them afterwards to reaching enlightenment to benefit all, the positive force and deep awareness associated with them function as enlightenment-builders. They bring the attainment of enlightenment and the ability to benefit others as much as is possible with the blissful awareness, deep awareness, and enlightening abilities of a Buddha. Along the way to enlightenment, the enlightenment-building positive force and deep awareness also ripen into the circumstances and facilities conducive for helping others and for reaching enlightenment.
Two Levels of the Two Types of Pure-Builders
Both liberation-builders and enlightenment-builders have two levels:
- Fascimile pure-builders – before attaining a building-up pathway mind (tshogs-lam, path of accumulation), the first of the five pathway minds (five paths) that lead to liberation or enlightenment
- Definitional pure-builders – from the first attainment of a building-up pathway mind to the last moment of having the fourth pathway mind, an accustoming pathway mind (sgom-lam, path of meditation) immediately before attaining liberation or enlightenment.
The facsimile level is when renunciation and bodhichitta are labored (rtsol-bcas), which means generated through relying directly on lines of reasoning. In the case of bodhichitta, the line of reasoning may be the seven-part cause and effect method or the method of equalizing and exchanging our attitudes about self and other. Even if renunciation and bodhichitta are labored, however, they may still be sincerely felt.
For the definitional pure-builders, renunciation and bodhichitta need to be unlabored (rtsol-med). They need to arise without directly relying on a line of reasoning to generate them. According to the Panchen (Pan-chen bSod-nams grags-pa) textbook tradition followed by Drepung Losel-ling (‘Bras-spungs Blo-gsal gling Grva-tshang) and Ganden Shartse (dGa’-ldan Shar-rtse Grva-tshang) Monasteries, both unlabored and labored bodhichittas are actual bodhichittas. According to the Jetsunpa (rJe-btsun Chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan) textbook tradition followed by Sera Je (Se-ra Byas Grava-tshang) and Ganden Jangtse (dGa’-ldan Byang-rtse Grva-tshang) Monasteries, only unlabored bodhichitta is actual bodhichitta.
The achievement of unlabored renunciation or bodhichitta marks the attainment of a building-up pathway mind. Moreover, the renunciation and bodhichitta of a building-up pathway mind are unbroken in their continuity. Whether or not we remain conscious of them, we never lose our intention to gain liberation from our suffering or also to reach enlightenment and help all others rid themselves of their suffering.
[See: The Five Paths]
Further, pure-building deep awareness does not need to be the non-conceptual cognition of the four noble truths or voidness, with which we attain a seeing pathway mind (path of seeing). It can be conceptual absorption on any of the four, for example with the four close placements of mindfulness (dran-pa nyer-bzhag, Pali: satipattana). Thus, the absorption does not necessarily need to be with single-minded concentration (ting-nge-’dzin, Skt. samadhi).
The Need for Having the Two Pure-Builders Jointly
Having only one pure-builder, that of positive force or that of deep awareness, without the other is insufficient for bringing about the goal. Without the force of deep awareness, positive force from constructive actions, dedicated either to liberation or to enlightenment, cannot bring about a true stopping (‘gog-bden, true cessation) of suffering and its causes. It can only bring this about in conjunction with deep awareness, the actual opponent that pulls out the root of samsara, unawareness (ma-rig-pa, ignorance).
Similarly, even if deep awareness is dedicated to liberation or enlightenment, it is still insufficient for reaching those goals. It requires the positive force from constructive behavior to provide the inner and outer circumstances conducive for meditating, let alone for meditating with any success.
Thus, the positive force from constructive actions serves as the obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu, material cause) for the body and happiness of a liberated being or an enlightened being; while the deep awareness from total absorption on the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths serves as the simultaneously acting condition (lhan-cig byed-rkyen, accompanying condition) for that attainment. For the mind and deep awareness of a liberated being or an enlightened being, the functions of the two are reversed.
Two Interpretations of Pure-Builders
According to one interpretation of Haribhadra’s explanation, the term sambhara is used with the terms positive force and deep awareness only in the case of the two directly being pure-builders. Further, they refer to a single constructive action of positive force or to a single meditation on deep awareness, not to a network of many. When such an action or meditation is a samsara-builder, it is not called a sambhara.
We may also interpret sambhara in the context of the Buddha-nature teachings, in which case positive force and deep awareness are Buddha-nature factors. In this case, we need to speak of networks of positive force and of deep awareness (whether or not it is accurate to translate sambhara as “tshogs” in Tibetan), and not just speak of single actions or single meditation sessions.
As Buddha-nature factors, the two networks are enlightenment-builders in all three stages:
- On the basis stage, when they are unpurified and function directly as samsara-builders of the rebirth states that are more conducive for working toward enlightenment
- On the pathway stage, when they are partially unpurified and partially purifed – partially serving directly as samsara-builders or liberation-builders and partially serving directly as enlightenment-builders
- On the resultant stage, when they are fully purifed and are functioning as the Form Bodies (Skt. rupakaya) and Enlightening Mind (Skt. dharmakaya) of a Buddha.
Networks of Positive Force and of Deep Awareness
Regardless of which interpretation of sambhara we consider, we need to understand the relation between:
- Single constructive actions and meditations
- Karma (las, karmic impulse)
- Positive force
- Networks of positive force.
Let’s limit our discussion to how the topic is presented in the two Madhyamaka divisions, Svatantrika and Prasangika, as asserted by the Gelug tradition. Let us also omit from our discussion the presentation of presently-happening (da-lta-ba) positive force and no-longer-happening (‘das-pa) positive force, and the distinctions between the two.
The Svatantrika View
The Svatantrika view derives from the Chittamatra text An Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa, Skt: Abhidharma-samuccaya) by the 4th- or 5th-century CE Indian master Asanga. According to this view, a karmic impulse is exclusively a way of being aware of something (shes-pa): a mental factor (sems-byung, subsidiary awareness) that accompanies a primary consciousness (rnam-shes), such as eye consciousness or mental consciousness. Specifically, a karmic impulse is the mental factor of an urge.
- An urge (sems-pa) is the mental factor that affects the consciousness and its other accompanying mental factors to move toward and cognize an object and, by extension, to carry out an action of body, speech or mind directed at the object.
For any karmic action, there are the urges that initiate, sustain and bring them to an end. The karma of an action, then, is not equivalent to the action itself. A karmic action is a noncongruent affecting variable (ldan-min ‘du-byed) – a nonstatic phenomenon that is neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something. As such, it is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of a pathway of a karmic impulse.
- An imputation phenomenon (btags-pas ‘dogs-pa) is one that cannot exist independently of a basis for imputation (gdags-gzhi) and cannot be cognized separately from that basis. Literally, it is a phenomenon tied to a basis.
- A pathway of a karmic impulse (las-lam) includes (1) a basis at which an action is directed, (2) the mental factors of intention (‘dun-pa), distinguishing (‘du-shes) and a positive or negative emotion, (3) the implementation of a method for carrying out the action, and a (4) finale. The pathway does not include the karmic impulse itself.
As an imputation phenomenon, the karmic action is enacted by a person, and the various components of the pathway of a karmic impulse are cognized as parts of the five aggregates experienced by that person as parts of their mental continuum. These karmic actions, when constructive, are themselves an obvious positive force.
- “Obvious,” here, does not mean that the karmic force can be seen or heard when seeing or hearing a karmic action of body or speech. It is merely a convenient way of signifying this phase of karmic force on the basis of an action that can be seen or heard and which is thus “obvious.”
After the constructive action ends, the positive force continues still as a noncongruent affecting variable that is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the mental consciousness of the person who committed the action, but now it becomes a “positive force that has changed into having the essential nature of a karmic tendency (seed)” (sa-bon-gyi ngo-bor gyur-ba). It continues now as a nonobvious positive force.
A positive force with the essential nature of a karmic tendency is a constructive phenomenon (dge-ba), as was the karmic action that preceded it. This constructive type of karmic tendency (sa-bon) is not the same as the type of karmic tendency that is an unspecified phenomenon (lung ma-bstan) – a phenomenon unspecified by Buddha to be either constructive or destructive – which is also an aftermath of the constructive action but is not a karmic force.
- If something is a positive karmic force, it is pervasive (khyab) that it is a constructive phenomenon.,
- If something is a constructive phenomenon, it is not pervasive that it is a positive force. The mental urges that are the karmic impulses that bring on the karmic actions of body, speech and mind are constructive phenomena but are not positive karmic forces.
The term positive force, then, applies to both these obvious and nonobvious phases, both of which are noncongruent affecting variables on the basis of the continuum of, specifically, mental consciousness. In both phases, the positive force is a constructive phenomenon.
The moments of positive force from any constructive act network together, as can the continuums of positive force from many constructive actions, reinforcing each other and thus increasing in strength. Thus, as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of all of them that have not yet finished ripening, there is a network (collection) of positive force. This network is also a noncongruent affecting variable on the basis of the continuum of mental consciousness of the person who has committed these actions.
The Gelug Prasangika View
This view derives from chapter 17 of Nagarjuna’s 2nd century text, Root Verses for Madhyamaka, Called Discriminating Awareness (dBu-ma rtsa-ba shes-rab, Skt: Prajnanama Mulamadhyakarika), as elaborated by the 8th century master, Chandrakirti, in Clear Words (Tshig-gsal, Skt. Prasannapada), his commentary to Nagarjuna’s text. The full details of this view, however, are found in Vasubandhu’s 4th-or 5th century text, A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharma-kosha). There, the details are given within the context of the Vaibhashika system of tenets.
Although this view describes that a karmic action of body, speech or mind requires a basis toward which the action is directed, an intention, a motivating emotion, and the implementation of a method for carrying out the action, it does not refer to these collectively as a pathway of a karmic impulse. Instead, it refers to the implementation of a method for carrying out the action as the pathway of a karmic impulse.
According to this view, a karmic impulse of mind is the mental factor of an urge that can move the consciousness and its accompanying mental factors to an object with the intention to commit a karmic action of body, speech or mind directed at it.
In the case of karmic actions of the mind:
- The karmic impulse for a karmic action of the mind is the mental factor of an urge.
- The pathway for the karmic impulse is the implementation of a method for carrying out the karmic action of mind, namely thinking with a disturbing emotion or a constructive emotion. Such thinking, referred to in the texts simply as the disturbing emotion or constructive emotion, is the karmic action of the mind. Some masters, however, as mentioned by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Discourse on (Tsongkhapa’s) “Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Path to Enlightenment” (Byang-chub lam-rim chen-mo’i bka’-khrid), consider the karmic action of mind to be a principal awareness (gtso-sems), which would then include not only the disturbing or constructive emotion, but also the mental consciousness and all the other mental factors congruent with it.
- In the case of constructive actions of mind, the obvious positive force is the karmic action of the mind, while the nonobvious karmic force is the phase during which the obvious karmic force has changed into having the essential nature of a constructive karmic tendency.
The karmic impulses for actions of body and speech are strictly forms of physical phenomenon (gzugs) and are the implementations of methods for carrying out a karmic action of body or mind. They are still karmic impulses, but, in this case, they are physical impulses rather than mental ones. The karmic impulse for an action of body or speech has two aspects:
- The revealing form (rnam-par rig-byed-kyi gzugs) of the action, which is either the motion or movements of the body or the utterances of the sound of the voice as the implementation of a method for carrying out the action. Vasubandhu referred to this simply as the shape of the body or the sound of the words. It is knowable by either visual or audial cognition and is revealing in the sense that it reveals the motivation. It lasts throughout the implementation of preliminary, actual and follow-up methods for carrying out a physical or verbal action. Thus, in the case of constructive actions of body, it would include, for instance the revealing forms of the motion of the body while catching a fly on the window by putting a piece of paper underneath it and a glass over it, while refraining from killing it and then while opening the window and releasing the fly outside. Or, in the case of constructive actions of speech, it would include, for instance, the utterances of the sounds of the words spoken during a debate, while refraining from saying harsh words when proven wrong and then while continuing the debate.
- The non-revealing form (rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-pa’i gzugs) of the action, which is like its subtle energy, is only knowable by mental cognition and is non-revealing in that it does not reveal the motivation. It lasts not only throughout the implementation of preliminary, actual and follow-up methods for carrying out a physical or verbal action, but continues as well with the mental continuum after the action has ceased, so long as the intention remains to continue repeating the action. It ceases when the intention arises to stop repeating the action.
In the case of constructive karmic actions of body and speech, although the mental urges that are karmic impulses of mind that bring on these karmic actions, as well as those that bring on karmic actions of the mind, are not karmic forces, the revealing and non-revealing forms of these actions are positive karmic forces.
- During the three phases of the constructive action, the revealing form is an obvious positive force. At the conclusion of the follow-up actions, if there are any, this obvious positive karmic force changes into having the essential nature of a constructive karmic tendency and thus becomes nonobvious positive karmic force.
- During the three phases of the constructive action, the constructive non-revealing form is a nonobvious positive karmic force. At the conclusion of the follow-up actions, if there are any, this nonobvious positive karmic force continues as a constructive non-revealing form so long as one does not give up the intention to repeat the constructive action. If one does give up that intention, the constructive nonrevealing form changes into having the essential nature of a constructive karmic tendency. It now continues as a constructive noncongruent affecting variable.
The positive karmic forces that are obvious or nonobvious forms of physical phenomena and those that are obvious ways of being aware of something are components of the five aggregates of the person who has committed the karmic actions. The nonobvious positive karmic forces that are noncongruent affecting variables are imputation phenomena on the basis of the conventional “me” of the person who has committed these actions.
Here, a network of positive force is a constructive noncongruent affecting variable that is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of all these various types of obvious and nonobvious positive karmic force – those that are forms of physical phenomena, those that are ways of being awareness of something and those that are noncongruent affecting variables – so long as the constructive karmic tendencies of them have not yet finished ripening. It is also an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the conventional “me” of the person who has committed these actions.
Networks of Pure-Building Positive Force
The above two analyses pertain to samsara-building positive force in the context of karma. Karma, after all, together with disturbing emotions and attitudes, keep us cycling up and down in samsara, from one lifetime to the next.
Pure-building positive force is not a phenomenon of karma, since it leads to liberation and enlightenment, not to samsara. Thus, during the pathway stage when the enlightenment-building network of positive force is partially unpurified and partially purified, the positive force and potential of constructive actions have two aspects:
- From the point of view of any disturbing emotions or grasping for true existence that accompany the constructive action, the positive force is a samsara-builder through the karmic process.
- From the point of view of the bodhichitta motivation and dedication, the positive force is an enlightenment-builder and not involved with the karmic process.
The Basis for Imputation of Networks of Positive Force That Carry Them into Future Lives
Because of the above distinction, the Mahayana tenet systems, such as Chittamatra and Yogachara Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, that assert alayavijnana (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, all-encompassing foundational awareness, storehouse consciousness) explain it as the foundational awareness on the basis of which only samsara-building karmic force is an imputation phenomenon. This is because the alayavijnana is purely a phenomenon of samsara and, as such, it carries the nonobvious components of the networks of samsara-building positive and negative karmic force into future samsaric lives. Depending on the interpretation, the continuity of the alayavijnana ends either with liberation or only with enlightenment.
Enlightenment-building positive force is not an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the alayavijnana. It is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the sphere of reality (chos-kyi dbying, Skt. dharmadhatu) of the mind, which is equivalent to the voidness of the mind. The nonobvious components of the network of enlightenment-building positive force are carried into future lives and on to enlightenment by its continuity.
Parallel to this distinction, the Nyingma dzogchen system explains the alaya for habits (bag-chags-kyi kun-gzhi, all-encompassing foundation for habits) as the foundation on the basis of which only samsara-building karmic force is an imputation phenomenon and, on the basis of which the nonobvious components of that karmic force that have not finished ripening are carried into future lives. Enlightenment-building positive forces and the network of them, as Buddha-nature factors, are strictly phenomena that are imputation phenomena on the basis of and are qualities of primordial deepest alaya (ye-don kun-gzhi, primordial deepest all-encompassing foundation), a synonym for rigpa (rig-pa, pure awareness).
In the Gelug Prasangika system, the nonobvious components of the samsara-building and enlightenment-building positive networks that are non-revealing forms carry on into future lives as part of the aggregate of forms; though during death existence, they temporarily take on the essential nature of a positive karmic potential as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the conventional “me.” The nonobvious components of these networks that are positive karmic tendencies that have not yet finished ripening carry on into future lives as imputation phenomena on the basis of the conventional “me.” In the case of enlightenment-building positive forces, unless bodhichitta is deliberately rejected, its continuity goes on into future lives, all the way to enlightenment, either as a manifest principal awareness or, when unmanifest, as an imputation phenomena on the basis of the conventional “me.”
Although I have not seen a specific text with this analysis; nevertheless, in general anuttarayoga tantra, it would be reasonable to posit non-revealing forms as forms of energy-wind (rlung). The samsara-building positive force that is comprised of constructive nonrevealing forms would be subtle forms of energy-wind (phenomena of samsara). In Kalachakra terminology, this type of samsara-building positive force would be the winds of karma (las-kyi rlung). The enlightenment-building form of this type of positive force, on the other hand, would be forms of the subtlest energy-wind that supports clear light mind.
This explanation would be consistent with the theories that explain separate bases for imputation for samara-building and enlightenment-building positive force. The main difference is that only the subtlest energy-wind continues through the clear light of death into future lives. During the clear light of death, the winds of karma temporarily dissolve and only their habits (bag-chags, instincts) are present, On that occasion, the winds of karma take on the essential nature of noncongruent affecting variables that are imputation phenomena on the basis of the conventional “me” that is, in turn, an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the clear light mind and its subtlest energy-wind.