Chandrakirti on Karma in “A Discussion of the Five Aggregates”

Both the Madhyamaka and the Vaibhashika presentations of karma derive from The Extensive Great Commentarial Treatise on Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa bye-brag bshad-pa chen-mo, Skt. Abhidharma Mahāvibhāṣā), compiled at the Fourth Buddhist Council from the Mahayana sutras and previous Sarvastivada abhidharma texts. Nagarjuna presents only the main points, and his Indian and Tibetan commentators subsequently add a certain amount of detail derived from Vasubandhu’s works and their Indian commentaries. Tsongkhapa even quotes from Vasubandhu’s Treasure House (of Special Topics of Knowledge) (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod-kyi tshig-le’ur byas-pa, Skt. Abhidharmakośa-kārikā).

Besides Nagarjuna’s verses and their commentaries, another source of the Madhyamaka presentation of karma is Chandrakirti’s Discussion of the Five Aggregates (Phung-po lnga’i rab-tu byed-pa, Skt. Pañcaskandhaprakaraṇa). Here, Chandrakirti borrows heavily from the works of Vasubandhu and his commentators. However, Chandrakirti makes it clear that he does not accept the Vaibhashika philosophical view with which Vasubandhu couched his presentation when it conflicts with his Madhyamaka view, specifically concerning the mode of existence of karma.  Let us examine what he says.

The Aggregate of Forms of Physical Phenomena

In A Discussion of the Five Aggregates (Derge vol. 103, 239B), Chandrakirti states:

Concerning these (five aggregates), let’s speak in terms of the aggregate of forms of physical phenomena. Concerning this, the aggregate of forms of physical phenomena is something with an identity nature of eleven (types of) substances, those called, “the five (physical) cognitive sensors – those of the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the body – and the five sensory objects – sights, sounds, smells, tastes and physical sensations – and nonrevealing (forms).” These come to be of two types: those that are elements (earth, water, fire and wind) and those that are derivatives of the elements.
(Tib.) /de la gzugs kyi phung po'i dbang du byas nas brjod pa/ de ni mig dang / rna ba dang / sna dang / lce dang / lus te dbang po lnga dang / gzugs dang / sgra dang / dri dang / ro dang / reg bya ste yul lnga dang / rnam par rig byed ma yin pa zhes bya ba ste rdzas bcu gcig gi bdag nyid ni gzugs kyi phung po'o/ /de yang rnam pa gnyis su 'gyur te/ 'byung ba dang / 'byung ba las gyur pa'o/

Although Chandrakirti refers to the aggregate of forms of physical phenomena as comprised of these eleven types of substances (rdzas), as Vasubandhu does, nevertheless, unlike the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika assertions, he refutes that they have existence established from their own sides as substances (rdzas-su med-pa).

Chandrakirti, A Discussion (Derge 248B), continues: 

Therefore, because (phenomena) do not exist as (substances established by) their own essential natures, they do not exist; but because of the fact of their existence being caused by means of dependent arising, it is not that they do not exist (at all). If (things) had their existence established as substances, clinging to them as having truly established existence would arise. But they do not have existence (established) by means of their being substances, like reflections in a mirror. Conceptually clinging (to substances as having their existence established like that) just brings about uncontrollably recurring samsara. 
(Tib.) /de lta bas na rang gi ngo bor med pas ni de med la/ rten cing 'brel bar 'byung bas byas pa'i yod pa nyid kyis de med pa yang ma yin no/ rdzas su yod par gyur pa bden par yod pa nyid kyis zhen par yang 'gyur na/ rdzas su med de gzugs brnyan lta bu'o/ /zhen pa las ni 'khor ba na 'gyur ro/ 

Revealing Forms

With this in mind, Chandrakirti, A Discussion (Derge 243A), explains revealing forms:

The revealing (form) of the body is the distinctive shape, like this and this, of the body that is generated by the mind that is focused on it (on the body). As for the revealing (form) of speech, it is the phrases being spoken that are generated by the mind that is focused on it (on the speech). These two like this are revealing (forms) in that they reveal the mind that causes them to arise (that motivates them). 
(Tib.) de la dmigs pa’i sems kyis bskyed pa’i lus kyi de dang de lta bu’i dbyibs kyi khyad par ni lus kyi rnam par rig byed do. ngag gi rnam par rig byed ni de la dmigs pa’i sems kyis bskyed pa’i brjod par bya ba brjod pa’i tshig ste, de lta bu de gnyis ni kun nas slong ba’i sems rnam par rig par byed pas na rnam par rig byed do/

The revealing forms of the body and speech are generated by the mind – referring to sensory consciousness and its accompanying mental factors, especially a mental urge (sems-pa, Skt. cetanā) – when focused on the body or the speech and engaging it in a karmic action of the body or speech.

In calling the revealing form of the body “the distinctive shape, like this and this, of the body” and the revealing form of the speech as “phrases being spoken,” Chandrakirti seems to be contradicting his agreement with Nagarjuna in explaining, in his Clarified Words: Commentary on “Root (Verses on) Madhyamaka” (dBu-ma rtsa-ba’i ‘grel-pa tshig-gsal-ba, Skt. Prasannapadā-madhyamaka-vṛtti) (Gretil. ed. 134, Derge Tengyur vol. 102, 102A):

Out of these, “speech” is an utterance of clear, distinct syllables. “Movement” is a motion of the body. 
(Skt.) tatra vyaktavarṇoccāraṇaṃ vāk, viṣpandaḥ śarīraṃceṣṭā
(Tib.) /de la ngag ni yi ge gsal por brjod pa'o/ /bskyod pa ni lus kyi g.yo ba'o/

Chandrakirit seems to be reaffirming Vasubandhu’s assertion of the revealing form of the body being a shape, but apparently rejecting his assertion of the revealing form of speech being a sound. Let us analyze. 

Since revealing forms are forms of physical phenomena, they must fit into the eleven types of substances included in the aggregate of forms of physical phenomena. Utterances of clear, distinct syllables and phrases being spoken must be included as sounds, while movements of the body and shapes of the body must be included as sights. 

A syllable (yi-ge, Skt. varṇa) is a synthesis of a consonant and a vowel; a word (ming, Skt, nāma) is a synthesis of syllables that has been assigned a meaning; and a phrase (tshig, Skt. pada) is a synthesis of words that have been assigned a meaning. Although these three syntheses are noncongruent affecting variables (ldan-min ‘du-byed, Skt. viprayuktasaṃskāra) – nonstatic phenomena that are neither forms of physical phenomena nor ways of being aware of something – nevertheless, when they are spoken, the vocalizations of them are sounds that can be heard.  Thus, “utterances of clear, distinct syllables” and “phrases being spoken,” as revealing forms of speech, are clearly sounds. 

Color and shape do not constitute separate substantial entities as Vaibhashika asserts, nor do they constitute one substantial entity as Sautrantika asserts. Neither color nor shape are substantial entities because, according to Prasangika Madhyamaka, there is no such thing as a substantial entity. Nevertheless, color and shape are inseparable and dependently arise inseparably as visible forms. Thus, when Chandrakirti states that the revealing form of the body is a distinctive shape of the body, that shape must be a colored shape. 

Further, as a visible form, the movement or motion of the body while committing an action of body can also be seen. It is a nonstatic collection synthesis (tshogs-spyi) of a series of consecutive moments of the body in different positions. The body in different positions over a series of consecutive moments can be said, conventionally, to have a shape, as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the synthesis of a series of moments of each of its parts in different positions. The revealing form of an action of the body is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of this shape. This must be understood in terms of Chandrakirti’s assertion that shapes, movements and revealing forms are devoid of substantially established existence and can only be established in terms of dependent arising. 

This explanation of shape as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of parts – in this case, temporal parts – can be extrapolated from Chandrakirti’s demonstration of the voidness of a chariot that he gives in A Supplement to (Nagarjuna’s “Root Verses on) the Middle Way” (dBu-ma-la ‘jug-pa, Skt. Madhyāmakāvatāra), (VI.151-155) (Derge Tengyur vol. 102, 211B): 

A chariot is not something that can be asserted as other than its parts, nor as something not other (than them). It does not possess them, nor is it in its parts. The parts are not in it; it is not the mere collection (of them), nor is it their shape.
If the mere collection were to be taken as the chariot, then existence as being a chariot would be something abiding in (each) separate part. Because there can be no possessor of parts without there being parts, (not only the mere collection of the parts, but) also the mere shape (of the collection of the parts) is not reasonable as being the chariot.
For you (asserters of substantially established existence), just as the shape (of each part) existed previously in each of the parts (when they were unassembled) and, like that, (the shape of each part) also (exists in each part) when (all the parts) are included in the (assembled) chariot. But (similarly), just as (the chariot did not exist) when they (the parts) were separated, like that as well the chariot does not exist (when the parts are assembled).
If now, at this time of being a chariot, the wheels and so forth have different shapes (from when they were separated), these would be cognized, but these (different shapes) also do not exist. Therefore, the mere shape does not exist as the chariot.
Because your collection (of parts as a substantially existing entity) does not exist at all, the shape is not (the shape) of the collection of parts. How could something be seen here as a shape by depending on something that does not exist at all (as its basis for imputation)?
(Tib.) /shing rta rang yan lag las gzhan 'dod min/ /gzhan min ma yin de ldan yang min zhing / /yan lag la min yan lag dag der min/ /'dus pa tsam min dbyibs min ji bzhin no/ /gal te tshogs tsam shing rtar 'gyur na ni/ /sil bur gnas la shing rta nyid yod 'gyur/ /gang phyir yan lag can med yan lag dag/ /med pas dbyibs tsam shing rtar rigs pa'ang min/ / khyod dbyibs yan lag re re sngar yod gyur/ /ji bzhin shing rtar gtogs la'ang de bzhin no/ /bye bar gyur pa de dag la ji ltar/ /de ltar yang ni shing rta yod ma yin/ /da lta gal te shing rta nyid dus 'dir/ /'phang lo sogs la dbyibs tha dad yod na/ /'di gzung 'gyur na de yang yod min te/ /de phyir dbyibs tsam shing rtar yod ma yin/ /gang phyir khyod kyi tshogs pa cang med pas/ /dbyibs de yan lag tshogs kyi ma yin na/ /gang zhig ci yang ma yin de brten nas/ /'dir ni dbyibs su lta zhig ji ltar 'gyur/

Thus, when seen in the context of Chandrakirti’s presentation of the Prasangika view, there is no contradiction in his assertion in one text that the revealing form of the body is the movement of the body as the implementation of a method for committing an action of the body and, in another, the shape of the body while committing the action.

Nonrevealing Forms

As for nonrevealing forms, Chandrakirti, relying heavily on Vasubandhu’s presentation, continues his explanation in A Discussion (Derge 242B-243A):  

Suppose you ask, “What is a nonrevealing (form)?” It is to be known as that form of physical phenomenon, among the cognitive stimulators that are all phenomena (chos-kyi skye-mched-kyi gzugs, Skt. dharmāyatanarūpa), that is invisible, not impeding (of the presence or motion of material phenomena) and that can only be cognized by mental consciousness. In other words, it is that which has the essential nature of a continuum of something constructive or destructive summarized as being either a restraint, an avowed nonrestraint or an intermediate (avowed restraint). 
Concerning these: 
[1] Some are states that are subsequently entered into by the mind. They are like this: they are those in the essential nature of the restraints from mental constancy (bsam-gtan-gyi sdom-pa, Skt. dhyānasaṃvara) (a temporary blockage of destructive actions and disturbing emotions gained with the attainment of a level of mental constancy) and the restraints from an untainted state (zag-med-kyi sdom-pa, Skt. anāsravasaṃvara) (a lasting blockage of destructive actions and disturbing emotions gained with the attainment of an arya pathway of mind.)
[2] Some are produced from taking them on (yang-dag-par len-pa, Skt. samādāna). These are like this: they are those in the essential nature of pratimoksha vowed restraints, which, even when the mind has strayed, has not strayed or is in a state of no mind, enter into a continuum, like that of a river, and, day and night, up until one subsequently enters into an arya state (when they become untainted restraints, (last for) either a lifetime or for a day.
[3] Some are in the essential nature of avowed nonrestraints. They are like this: They are those that subsequently enter (into a continuum) in situations both when the mind strays or does not stray. 
[4] As for those that are in the essential nature of being neither a vowed restraint nor a vowed nonrestraint, some are produced by someone making use of an object given to a special field (for building up positive karmic potential), for instance objects that will bring positive karmic potential produced from the type of substance they are. Some are from setting up offerings to the Buddha and constructing a mandala and so on for a Buddha-figure (yidam). Some are from enacting actions such as making prostrations to a stupa with respect. As for those that are destructive, they should be applied to making an altar (for making blood sacrifices) to the goddess Durga and undertaking some action with a very strong disturbing emotion. 
For these (types of nonrevealing forms), one attains the restraints from mental constancy from attaining a level of mind having a tainted state of mental constancy (as a non-arya). One attains the restraints from an untainted state from attaining an untainted state of mental constancy (as an arya). One relinquishes (the former) by rising up (from the state of mental constancy in which they are attained and one relinquished the latter by dying with the attainment of parinirvana). 
Pratimoksha vowed restraints are obtained from the revealing forms of requesting them from someone else and so on. They are relinquished by relinquishing what one has taken on, dying, or becoming a hermaphrodite, or (in the case of one-day vows), a day passing. The vows of a full monk, full nun, novice monk, novice nun, probationary nun, layman and laywoman can be relinquished after more than a day has been spent. Full monk and full nun vows are also (relinquished) by (committing) a downfall of (one of the four) full defeats (pham-pa’i ltung-ba) (taking the life of another human being, stealing something of value belonging to someone, lying about one’s spiritual attainments, and experiencing the pleasure of sexual intercourse). Also, one-day vows are relinquished after a day has been spent. 
Avowed nonrestraints are like those of a fisherman. They obtain avowed nonrestraints by the cause (of the caste in which they are born) and taking up the weapons (of fishing gear) and so on. Those in castes other than that receive them by taking them on. As for relinquishing them, they are relinquished by dying, becoming a hermaphrodite or by obtaining vowed restraints. Those that are neither vowed restraints nor avowed nonrestraints are broken by strong disturbing emotions (in the case of constructive ones) or a pure mind (in the case of destructive ones) or by what one has set up falling apart.   
(Tib.) rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-pa gang zhe-na, gzugs-gang chos-kyi skye-mched-du gyur-pa bstan-du med-cing thogs-pa med-pa yid-kyi rnam-par shes-pa tsam-gyis shes-par bya-ba ste, sdom-pa dang, sdom-pa ma-yin-pa dang, bar-ma bsdus-pa dge-ba dang mi-dge-ba’i rgyun-gyi ngo-bo gang-yin-pa de-ni rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-pa’o/ /de la kha cig ni sems kyi rjes su 'jug pa ste/ 'di lta ste/ bsam gtan gyi sdom pa dang / zag pa med pa'i sdom pa'i ngo po'o/ /kha cig ni yang dag par blangs pa las byung ba ste/ sems g.yengs pa dang sems ma g.yengs pa dang / sems med pa'i gnas skabs gsum char na'ang chu po'i rgyun bzhin du 'jug pa dang / nyin dang mtshan du ji srid 'phags par rjes su 'jug pa ji srid 'tsho'i bar ram/ nyin zhag gcig pa ni 'di lta ste/ so sor thar pa'i sdom pa'i ngo bo'o/ /kha cig g.yengs ba dang ma g.yengs pa'i gnas skabs ni rjes su 'jug pa ni 'di lta ste/ sdom pa ma yin pa'i ngo bo'o/ /sdom pa yang ma yin sdom pa ma yin pa yang ma yin pa'i ngo bo ni kha cig 'ga' zhig la zhing khyad par can gyis sbyin pa'i dngos po longs spyad pa las byung ba ste rdzas las byung ba'i bsod nams bya ba'i dngos po lta bu'o/ /kha cig ni sangs rgyas la mchod pa dang / dkyil 'khor la sogs pa yi dam du blangs nas byed pa'o/ /kha cig ni gus pa dang bcas pas mchod rten la phyag 'tshal ba la sogs pa'i bya ba byed pa'o/ /mi dge ba ni lha mo du rga la sogs pa'i rten byed cing longs spyod pa dang / nyon mongs pa'i shugs drag pos bya ba rtsom pa la sogs par sbyar ro/ /de la zag pa dang bcas pa'i bsam gtan gyi sems thob pa las ni bsam gtan gyi sdom pa 'thob bo/ /zag pa med pa'i bsam gtan gyi sems thob pa las ni zag pa med pa'i sdom pa 'thob pa/ /de dag btang bas ni de dag gtong ngo / /so sor thar pa'i sdom pa ni gzhan la gsol ba 'debs pa'i rnam par rig byed la sogs pa las 'thob ste/ yang dag par blangs pa btang ba dang / shi ba dang / mtshan gnyis byung ba dang / nyin zhag 'das pas gtong bar 'gyur ro/ /de la dge slong dang / dge slong ma dang / dge tshul dang / dge tshul ma dang / dge slob ma dang / dge ba snyen dang / dge bsnyen ma'i sdom pa rnams ni nyin zhag zad pa las gzhan pas gtong ba'o/ /dge slong dang dge slong ma'i sdom pa dag ni pas pham pa'i ltung bas kyang ngo / /bsnyen gnas kyi sdom pa ni nyin mtshan zad pas kyang ngo / /sdom pa ma yin pa ni nya pa la sogs pa'i ste/ de rnams kyis rgyu dang mtshon cha la sogs pa'i sbyor bas sdom pa ma yin pa 'thob la/ de las gzhan pa'i rigs kyis ni de dag gi las yang dag par blangs pas 'thob po/ /gtong ba ni shi ba dang / mtshan gnyis byung ba dang / sdom pa thob pa las gtong ngo / /sdom pa yang ma yin sdom pa ma yin pa yang ma yin pa'i ngo bo ni nyon mongs pa drag po dang / rab tu dang ba'i thugs dang / yang dag bar blangs pa chad pas 'chad do/ 

Karmic Impulses of the Mind

Chandrakirti, A Discussion (245B), explains karmic impulses of the mind as being the mental factor of an urge (sems-pa, Skt. cetanā), as Vasubandhuu does:

A mental urge is something that affects the mind; (it is) an impulse of the mind. Just as kings are led, by ministers, to engage in things to be done, likewise the mind, as well, is shown, by mental urges, those and those as things (to engage with), including things to be done. As for “those,” they abide (as karmic forces) in the essential nature of karmic tendencies that will produce affecting variables; in other words, its generating karmic impulses from its various coursings is because of its being in the essential nature of a karmic impulse.
Further, (mental urges, as karmic impulses) have three aspects: constructive, destructive, and unspecified. In addition, when divided, there comes to be a sixfold network of mental urges: from those that are congruent with eye consciousness up to those that are congruent with mind consciousness.   
(Tib.) sems pa ni sems mngon par 'du byed pa yid kyi las te/ ji ltar rgyal po rnams blon pos bya ba de dang / de la 'jug par byed pa de bzhin du sems kyang sems pas bya ba dang bcas pa'i ngo bor de dang der ston par byed do/ /de ni 'du byed rnams 'byung ba la sa bon gyi ngo bor gnas te/ 'gro ba sna tshogs las las skyes la de ni las kyi ngo bo nyid kyi phyir ro/ /yang de ni rnam pa gsum ste/ dge ba dang / mi dge ba dang / lung du ma bstan pa'o/ /yang dbye na sems pa'i tshogs drug tu 'gyur te/ mig gi rnam par shes pa dang mtshungs par ldan pa nas yid kyi rnam par shes pa dang mtshungs par ldan pa'i bar du'o/ 

Mental urges show the mental consciousness the body or speech that is to be engaged with and also the things to be done – namely, actions to be committed – by the body or speech. After the action of the mind reaches its finale by deciding to commit the specific action of the body or of the speech, this action abides as a tendency (sa-bon, Skt. bīja) for committing the action. When the circumstances are complete, the tendency will produce an affecting variable (‘du-byed, Skt. saṃskāra) – namely, a karmic impulse of the body or of the speech (a revealing form) as a method implemented for causing the karmic action of the body or speech to occur. Thus, Chandrakirit is following Buddhapalita, who wrote in Buddhapalita Commentary on “Root (Verses on) Madhyamaka” (dBu-ma rtsa-ba’i ‘grel-pa buddha-pā-li-ta, Skt. Buddhapalita Mūlamadhyama-vṛtti) (Derge Tengyur vol. 96, 231B) as cited and explained in a previous part of this series.  

An inciting karmic impulse is (a karmic force) that has taken on (the essential nature of) a karmic tendency, and an incited karmic impulse is one that it initiates at a later time.
(Tib.) / sems pa sa bon du gyur pa dang / bsam pa dus phyi ma la rtsom par byed pa gang yin pa'o/