The Two Collections: Technical Presentation

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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, 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 aim of an action, or the goal we wish to achieve by it. It also entails the positive or negative emotions – such as jealousy, disgust with our suffering, or compassion for others – which 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 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 act 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
  • Actual 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) right 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 actual 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 get rid 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 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 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.

There are two main views within Madhyamaka:

  • The view shared by Gelug-Svatantrika, non-Gelug Svatantrika, and non-Gelug Prasangika
  • The Gelug Prasangika view.

The View Shared by Gelug Svatantrika, Non-Gelug Svatantrika, and Non-Gelug Prasangika

This 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 subsidiary awareness (sems-byung, mental factor) that accompanies a primary consciousness (rnam-shes), such as eye consciousness or mental consciousness.

Specifically, mental karma is the inciting karmic impulse (sems-pa’i las) that initiates and accompanies a mental action, such as thinking in a certain way, sustaining it and bringing it to an end. The inciting impulse may or may not incite a physical or verbal action to implement what we might think to do or say. Physical and verbal karma are the urging karmic impulses (bsam-pa’i las) that initiate, accompany, and sustain the physical or verbal action. The karma of an action, then, is not equivalent to the action itself. In the case of a constructive mental action, the inciting impulse is the positive force of the action; in the case of a constructive physical or verbal action, the urging impulse is the positive force of the action.

After the action ends, the positive force no longer exists as a way of being aware of something. It continues as a nonconcomitant affecting variable (ldan-min ‘du-byed), which means as a variable that affects our experience and which is neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something. In other words, the positive force continues as a nonstatic abstract phenomenon. It is imputed on a mental continuum, arises from causes, and produces an effect. We may think of this second phase as a positive potential, although the technical term for it in Tibetan is a positive force that has changed into having the essential nature of a tendency (seed) (sa-bon-gyi ngo-bor gyur-ba). A positive potential is not the same as a tendency, however, since tendencies are neutral phenomena (lung ma-bstan) unspecified by Buddha to be either constructive or destructive.

The term positive force, then, applies to both phases, one as a way of being aware of something and one as a nonstatic abstraction, a positive potential. In both phases, the positive force is a constructive phenomenon, as is the action with which it is associated.

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, we can impute on them a network (collection) of positive force. It is also a nonstatic abstraction.

In summary, according to this formulation, the positive force of a constructive physical, verbal, or mental action is not the constructive action itself. It includes two phases: one of either an inciting karmic impulse or an urging karmic impulse initiating, sustaining and ending the action, and the next of a positive potential after the action. Only the first phase is the karma (karmic impulse) of the action, the second is not karma.

[See: Mechanism of Karma: Common Mahayana Presentation]

The Gelug Prasangika View

This view derives from the Vaibhashika text A Treasure House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharma-kosha) by the 4th- or 5th-century CE Indian master Vasubandhu. According to this view, the karma (as an inciting karmic impulse), positive force, and positive potential involved in a mental action are the same as above. 

In the case of physical and verbal actions, however, the karmic impulse that initiates, sustains and brings them to an end – the urging karmic impulse – is also mental karma. Physical and verbal karmas are strictly forms of physical phenomenon (gzugs). They are still karmic impulses, but now physical impulses rather than mental ones. The karma of physical and verbal acts has two aspects:

  1. The revealing form (rnam-par rig-byed-kyi gzugs) of the action, which is either the shape of  the body or the sound of the voice while committing the action. It is knowable by either visual or audial cognition and is revealing in the sense that it reveals the motivation. It lasts only so long as the physical or verbal action lasts.
  2. The non-revealing form (rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-pa’i gzugs) of the action, which is like its subtle energy. It is only knowable by mental cognition and is non-revealing in that it does not reveal the motivation. It begins with the onset of the action, but continues with the mental continuum after the action has ceased, so long as the intention remains to continue to repeat the action. It ceases when the intention arises to stop repeating the action. In Western terms, the non-revealing form of a physical or verbal action is like a vibration of energy.

Since a constructive karmic impulse is synonymous with a positive force, here the positive force includes both the revealing and non-revealing forms of the action. 

When the non-revealing form of a constructive action ceases because of developing the intention not to continue repeating the action, the positive force changes into having the essential nature of a tendency. The subtle energy becomes a positive potential, a nonstatic abstraction. Here, we may impute a network of positive force, then, on the gross and subtle energies that constitute the revealing and non-revealing forms of one or many of our constructive actions plus their positive potential after those energies have ceased.

In summary, according to this view, the positive force of a constructive physical or verbal action spans three phases. During the first, when the action is occurring, it includes the revealing and non-revealing forms of the action. Next, after the action has ceased, it is just the non-revealing form. The positive force in both phases are equivalent to the karma (karmic impulse) of the action. During the third phase, after the non-revealing form has ceased, the positive force continues as a positive potential, which is not karma. The revealing and non-revealing forms and the positive potential are all constructive phenomena.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 which are imputed only samsara-building karmic force. This is because the alayavijnana is purely a phenomenon of samsara and, as such, carries 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 imputed on the alayavijnana. It is imputed on the sphere of reality (chos-kyi dbying, Skt. dharmadhatu) of the mind and 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 which only samsara-building force is imputed and carried into future lives. Enlightenment-building positive forces and the network of them, as Buddha-nature factors, are strictly phenomena that are imputed on and 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, both samsara-building and enlightenment-building positive forces continue as non-revealing forms after constructive actions are finished, so long as the intention to continue the positive actions is not lost. The network of positive forces is imputed on the non-revealing forms that accompany the mental continuum. In the case of samsara-building positive force, if the intention to continue the positive actions are either deliberately rejected or lost upon death, the network imputed on the nonrevealing form is now imputed on the mere validly knowable "me." In the case of enlightenment-building positive forces dedicated to enlightenment, unless bodhichitta is deliberately rejected, its continuity goes on into future lives, all the way to enlightenment.

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). Samsara-building positive forces would be subtle forms of energy-wind (phenomena of samsara). In Kalachakra terminology, the samsara-building positive forces would be the winds of karma (las-kyi rlung). The enlightenment-building positive forces, on the other hand, would be forms or shapings exclusively of the subtlest energy-wind that underlies 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, as nonstatic abstractions imputed on the mere validly knowable "me" that is imputed on clear light mind.