Before instructing upon the chapter of The Absolute, we will first share portions of the introduction to the Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya (Vasubandhu’s commentary) and the Madhyāntavibhāgaṭīkā (Sthiramati’s sub-commentary). Please note that the word “Saint” in both translations (Stcherbatsky and Friedmann) will be rendered under its proper appellation as Ārya.
VASUBANDHU’S SALUTATION STANZA: Stcherbatsky’s translation
I fervently salute (Maitreya),
That son of the Accomplished Buddha
Who has revealed to us this treatise.
And (Ārya Asanga) I salute the teacher
Who has explained to us its meaning.
To analyse that meaning now
I will (myself) attempt an effort
Sthiramati’s sub-commentary then proceeds to expound upon the nature behind such a salutation:
It is a rule among educated men to salute their teacher and (to worship) their tutelary deity before beginning a work. Therefore this (our author Vasubandhu) wishing to intimate that he himself also follows this rule, begins his commentary upon the Discourse on Discrimination between Middle and Extremes by an expression of devotion to its divine author and to its first expositor and then starts on the work of analyzing its meaning…
Stcherbatsky makes reference here to saluting both the teacher, and also to one’s “tutelary deity”. Most times this is in reference to a spiritual guardian or mentor, or even some form of protector over a given particular place. The Tathāgatagarbhatārā Tantra series depicts Ārya Tārā as the tutelary deity in the following manner:
The Tathāgatagarbhatārā Tantra is developing into a vast Opus—one that peers into the very depths of the Generation of Bodhicitta Itself, while simultaneously reflecting the imperishable adamantine vajra-śūnyatic cycle. The presiding, “tutelary deity” (iṣṭha-devatā) of the tantra during its Generation Stage is Arya Tārā—one whose sacred womb (garbha) enshrines the essence of Buddhahood Itself; in this vein the yogin may take on the characteristics of a devotee who offers daily devotions to this Holy Matrix. The realization of this highest aspect of Bodhi develops as Arya Tārā, the Wisdom (prajñā (or śūnyatā) Principle—the ebb and flow from which all emanates from and eventually returns—conjoins with the dynamic means and Illuminative Principle (upaya) as represented by Vajradhara Buddha. Their mystical-union produces the Bodhichild, who reaches maturity through the Ten Stages, or Bhumis. In effect, these female/male polarities is not some kind of union outside ourselves, but rather the union of our inner-male and female nature in the process of Dhyāna.
In the given translation Stcherbatsky is conceivably referring to Ārya Maitreya, who is the primary transcendent revealer of this work. Friedmann’s translation has “spiritual preceptor” but also “to the divine nature of faith”, most likely in Maitreya’s own spirit.
In this respect the authority of the sutra-text is brought forward through the exposition of the subject-matter dealt with by the composer. For, the composer of this kārikā-scripture is Arya Maitreya. “He is separated [from the attainment of Buddhahood] only by one birth; accordingly he has attained the highest culmination on of the Bodhisattva’s supernatural faculties , power of memory, degrees of intense penetration, states of transic meditation, controlling powers, degrees of steadfastness, and degrees of liberation, and has entirely removed the obscurations on all the stages of Bodhisattva perfection “. The commentary acquires authority by means of being rightly set forth by the expounder. Now the expounder thereof is Acarya Asanga. The venerable Master Vasubandhu after having heard it from him, composed a commentary upon it. Both of them were possessed of the highest wisdom; thence in consequence of their faculty of remembering and teaching an unerring knowledge, the meaning of the sutra has here been taught by them without fail.
kārikā: memorial verse
Friedmann’s translation provides perhaps a more coherent breakdown on the nature of Ārya Maitreya’s supernal characteristics, yet Stcherbatsky nicely includes one as being “his firm realization (of the Monistic idea).” The emphasis here is also on an almost symbiotic union that Asanga (and, in turn, Vasubandhu through his commentary) shared with Maitreya. We subsequently learn that this scripture is referred to as a śāstra:
What is it, that is called a śāstra? The [spiritual] information revealed by means of an aggregate of names, words and syllables is a śāstra. Or rather, that information, which is imparted by means of such particular words as convey the supermundane wisdom, constitutes a śāstra.
Śāstra: the term is distinguished from SŪTRA, a discourse regarded as the Blessed-word of the Buddha or proclaimed with his sanction. Hence, it’s more of a spiritual treatise, incorporating spiritual as well as philosophical tutorship. We next discover its profound purport:
And this is the character of a śāstra: That teaching, which by its repeated and concentrated practice becomes clear and evident and [therefore] puts an end to all passions with their residues. It rescues us from [phenomenal] existence and from [re-birth in a realm of] misery, which is made horrible by incessant and enduring various violent pains.
Stcherbatsky’s translation offers an even more direct caveat, saving one from “a miserable rebirth (in hell) which is frightfully long, uninterrupted, manifold and intense suffering!” Strikingly reminiscent of our most recent series on Buddhist Hells. What strikes me most about this particular passage is the soteriological import of the message, that by diligently being attuned with the śāstra one is unequivocally rescued from the phenomenal hell of samsara, as well as having the internal passions quelled from further self-affliction.
(Maitreya is called the son of the Accomplished Buddha in the sense of being) produced out of the essence of perfect Buddhahood. The Buddha is called the Accomplished, because starting from the limitations imposed (on all living beings) by desire and ignorance together with their seeds he went well (up to their complete annihilation and) the accomplishment of an Absolute Mahāyānstic Nirvana (Dharmakaya).
Friedmann’s translation includes a fascinating term:
Sugatātmajam, “Son of the Sugata”…And he, the Sugata, having removed all ‘the obscurations with their residues possesses a full knowledge of all the elements of existence and is the upholder of all [superhuman] power. He has a shape of inconceivable might like the wishfulfilling gem and is capable of putting into practice all the rules of altruism in behalf of all living creatures, without effort. He has the special character of non-discriminative wisdom. His essential nature is the viśuddhi tathatā, the Essence of Purity, since the non- discriminative wisdom arises therefrom. Sugatatmaja means “born from or in him, i.e. the Sugata”.
Or rather sugatāmaja means “born with the essence of a Sugata”. As has been said in another Sūtra: “He is born in the race of the Tathāgatas in consequence of his having obtained the character essential to a [Tathāgata].
Hence Ārya Maitreya is a “spiritual-son” of the Tathāgatas. He was born with their supernal-“spiritual”-essence and thus is acknowledged within their Spiritual Race; as was written from the “Doctrine of Awakening series”:
When considered from this angle, the much later “spiritual warriors” of the Tathagatas—the Bodhisattvas—are truly spiritual heirs of this mystical solar race—for in them there is no more darkness (Mara’s seed) as they are now a Luminous-race bearing Bodhi seeds that will take root only in Noble Soil—soil that has been tilled with the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Ten-fold Path leading to that “Solar Liberation” of Noble Self-realization.
Stcherbatsky’s translation marvelously fine-tunes what this “essence” entails:
The words “his essence” mean (the Absolute), the Ever-Self-Same the (Transcendent) Pure Reality. Since the direct mystic intuition (of the Absolute) is produced (empowered, inclusion mine) by this (transcendent Reality), therefore (Maitreya , i.e. his omniscience) is said to be born ” from”, or born “in” (that Absolute). In this sense he is the son of the Accomplished Buddha.
Here the words “born from the essence of the Accomplished Buddha” are an indication of the fact that the divine author of this treatise has attained to the highest pitch (of knowledge), the direct intuition of the Absolute. And since he has composed the treatise regardless of profit and honours (exclusively for the weal of mankind), he at the same time has proved that he equally possesses the highest degree of commiseration (for all living creatures) as well as the highest degree of knowledge.
Most profound–the divine author has attained to the highest Buddhagnosis of the Absolute; he does so regardless of any material profit–for his profit is expounding the Buddhadharma to all sentient beings; in so doing, he receives in return, the highest degree of Gnosis. In essence, his intuitive mind and spirit shares the same mindstream of the Tathāgatas. Both Stcherbatsky and Friedmann highlight that Maitreya is a Bodhisattva who abides in the tenth-stage (Dharmamegha, dharmacloud) of his spiritual career and thus exhibits all the transcendent qualities, like being able to be cognizant of all things in their unique aspects, “all are clear to him as though they were a myrobolan fruit on the palm of his hands and whose eyes are covered by a thin veil of silk mousseline. With the Buddha this veil is as though withdrawn from his eyes and this is all the difference.” Reminds me of a line of the poet Yeats, “Something drops from eyes long-blind, he now completes his partial mind.”
During the subsequent attainment of the tenth bhümi, bodhisattvas attain mastery over enlightened activity happening in exactly the way they wish. In this manner, the wisdoms of the meditative equipoises of the last three bhümis are the cause or matrix of those masteries. Since this is the case through the power of bodhisattvas focusing on the dharmadhàtu, the dharmadhàtu should be understood as the actual matrix in which those qualities arise. Bodhisattvas are able to ascertain this through seeing it directly, whereas ordinary beings should understand it through inference. It is true that there is some degree of simply inducing certainty about the dharmadhàtu’s being omnipresent, without decrease and increase, and so on, even on the level of engagement through aspiration. However, during the subsequent attainments of having directly encountered the pure dharmadhàtu through the wisdoms of the respective bhümis, bodhisattvas attain the effortless certainty that cuts through superimpositions through the power of their experience. (When the Clouds Part, Karl Brunnhölzl, 2014 (notes, 2423, pg 1177)
THE AIM OF THE TREATISE AND THE TOPICS DISCUSSED IN IT: Stcherbatsky’s translation:
What is the reason for this treatise being revealed? It has been revealed in order to (teach) the production of that direct highest intuition (of Absolute reality) which is (the exclusive property) of the Buddhas, our Lord (Our noble Buddhalords—inclusion mine). By teaching that all (single) Elements of Existence do not contain any absolute reality themselves, (that singly all are relative), a non-discursive direct intuition (of their absolute totality) is produced. By an intense concentration of the mind upon this (intuition) a complete annihilation of the phenomenal mirage, all of its emotional and all intellectual obscurations with all their germs (lying hidden in the subconsciousness) is attained, (and the Gnosis is produced.)—[quite simply put, the Lankvatarian turn-about in the deepest seat of consciousness.]
*Both Stcherbatsky and Friedmann focus exclusively on the first part of the Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya and the Madhyāntavibhāgaṭīkā. Stcherbatsky’s breakdown is as follows:
Chapter I – Introduction
Chapter II The Universal Constructor of Phenomenal Reality
Chapter III The Threefold Aspect of the Constructor of Phenomena
Chapter IV: The Dynamics of the Creator of the World-Illusion
Chapter V The Absolute
As already reinforced, we will now be focusing on Chapter V: The Absolute.