VS: Doctrinal Foundations


One will discover in studying the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra that by and large at its core rests the Tathāgatagarbha:

The notion of tathāgatagarbha can be reduced to a simple premise: that deluded, ordinary beings possess in their very makeup the capacity to achieve the apparently rarefied state of enlightenment. This possibility remains forever potent because Tathāgatagarbha thought denies the reality of ignorance itself, positing instead that the mind is intrinsically luminous but dulled by adventitious defilements. Since defilements remain forever extrinsic to the mind’s true, enlightened nature, the individual has actually never been deluded at all; that presumption of ignorance is nothing more than a mistaken belief produced by unsystematic attention (ayoniśomanaskāra).
Enlightenment therefore involves nothing more than relinquishing one’s misperception that one is ignorant and accepting the reality of one’s true, enlightened state. When the deluded sentient being finally realizes enlightenment, one finds that one’s ordinary state of mind is nothing more than the original enlightenment that has always been present. (Buswell, Cultivating Original Enlightenment: Wŏnhyo’s Exposition of The Vajrasamādhi Sutra, pg. 4-5)

Wŏnhyo goes even further in his exposition of the sutra and states that tathāgatagarbha is not some latent force sleeping inside sentient agencies but rather a very actively dynamic soteriological tool that ignites a liberative spark and empowers these agencies to awaken and realize their own enlightened core of being.  Its “active potency” conceals the Core Principle: the Dharmakaya or the True Body of Reality. At the same time, like the Lanka, the VS does not rule out the influence of ignorance all together, but like the Awakening of Faith stipulates, “The mind, though pure in its self-nature from the beginning (= true-thusness aspect, or tathāgatagarbha), is accompanied by ignorance (= production-and extinction aspect, or ālayavijñāna).” (Buswell, ibid, pg. 7) After the realization that thoughts in and of themselves are unproduced, the Mind becomes calm and serene—ITS Original Motionless Stateless-State of no-position.

Of course, as we know from our studies in the Lanka, the ālayavijñāna is the defiled twin of the tathāgatagarbha. In the same spirit as Paramārtha, therefore, the Yogācāran soiled receptacle is balanced with the Tathāgatagarbha theorem. The VS conjoins them both by fine-tuning the notion of the Amalavijñāna which is unsoiled and Absolute-Immaculate Consciousness, in keeping with Paramārtha’s ninth-mode of consciousness. As Wŏnhyo expounds, “returning now to the fountainhead of the mind, one experiences their original substance, and, consequently, all the characteristics of those shadows vanish.”

The amalavijñāna [as original enlightenment]—{verified in chapter 4 of the VS} is therefore constantly acting on sentient beings, exerting a beneficial influence that ultimately will prompt those beings to rediscover their inherent enlightenment. This treatment of amalavijñāna as the catalyst for enlightenment corresponds to the active interpretation of the tathāgatagarbha followed elsewhere in the Vajrasamādhi. [Buswell, The Formation of Ch’an Ideology in China and Korea…, pg.100]

It needs to be reinforced at this junction that, for Wŏnhyo, the Amalavijñāna as well as the entire Tathāgatagarbha enterprise, were not just some abstract psychological notions, but rather direct and concrete soteriological tools. Wŏnhyo’s interpretation even goes so far as relating them to pragmatic meditation techniques, thus drawing out that aforementioned “single-taste” from our previous blog:

This is the practice of no-thought (munyŏm/wunian), which is described as the “benefit” or “inspiration” (i/li)—that is, the practical application or functioning—of original enlightenment cum amalavijñāna…thus culminating in the “contemplation practice that has but a single taste” (Buswell, Cultivating Original Enlightenment: Wŏnhyo’s Exposition of The Vajrasamādhi Sutra, pg.13)

“How can one prompt those sentient beings not to give rise to a single thought?”
The Buddha replied: “One should prompt those sentient beings to sit with their minds and spirits calm, abiding in the adamantine stage. Once thoughts are tranquilized so that nothing is generated, the mind will be constant, calm, and serene. This is what is meant by the absence of even a single thought.”
Muju Bodhisattva said: “This is inconceivable! When one is enlightened to the fact that thoughts are unproduced, one’s mind becomes calm and serene. That is the inspiration of original enlightenment.” (VS)

From a Lankavatarian perspective, these principles unfold rather nicely in the VS. In a certain sense, it completes the Lanka’s overtures concerning the ninth consciousness, thus providing a solid bedrock foundation on the very consciousness of the Tathagatas themselves. It’s a sublime synthesis of ontological components that are fused with Wŏnhyo’s exegetical points on actual praxis that bring these components alive and pulsating with noumenal vibrancy.

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