The Garland of Radiant Light

Karma Sichoe, MA from Nepal

A Commentary on the Treatise Madhyāntavibhāga

The Garland of Radiant Light is an explanatory commentary on the treatise Madhyāntavibhāga written by Ju Mipham Rinpoche (1846-1912). His work aligns with the Yogācāra school of thought. According to the Yogācāra, the three-nature (trisvabhāva) doctrine is the lens through which the fundamental Mahāyāna doctrine of emptiness is brought into proper focus. The three-natures are:

1) The imagined nature 2) The dependent nature 3) The perfected nature.

Briefly, the world seen in terms of subject-object duality, as it has been constructed through language and conceptualization is the imagined nature. The perfected nature, on the other hand, refers to the true vision of reality: reality as it truly is, unmediated by conceptualization. Finally, Mipham holds the dependent nature as the ontological substratum of the other two natures. When the dependent nature, the interdependent mental flow, is incorrectly viewed in terms of subject-object duality, this false vision is referred to as the imagined. When one shifts from the imagined mode to the perfected mode, then one will see things as they are— as the pure dependent nature.

The entire meaning of the text, from beginning to end, is grouped into seven topics. The seven topics are:

1) Characteristics

Chapter one offers the Yogācāra interpretation of the Mahayana’s fundamental ontological concept—Emptiness. Emptiness is explained in relation to thorough affliction (impure dependent nature) and complete purification (pure dependent nature.) The way things are and the way things appear are the two main topics under the thorough affliction. Within the complete purification section, the two-fold and 16-fold division of emptiness is being discussed.

In this chapter, there are a number of important claims made for the thorough affliction under the way things are section: 1) False imagination (F.I) exist substantially 2) F.I is empty of subject and object 3) Emptiness of subject and object exist in F.I as its intrinsic nature 4) F.I exists as substratum of emptiness 5) Emptiness and imagination cannot be separated.

The commentary begins by asserting that the false imagination exists substantially, in order to justify the existence of the appearance of the cyclic existence, at the level of convention. The second to the fourth claims defines emptiness as the absence of subject-object duality in false imagination and the existence of that non-existence, unlike the Madhyamaka school of thought, where emptiness means “emptiness of inherent existence.” The final claim suggests the inseparable union of appearance and emptiness. Just like fire and its heat.

In the section of the way things appear, the ground consciousness is the ontological substratum of all other consciousness. The texts quotes “all outer and inner appearances, such as things appearing as objects, sentient beings, the self, and the six consciousness, are aspects of the all-ground consciousness’s ripening.” That is to say that there is nothing external independent of one’s own perception.

2) Obscuration

This section discusses those mental factors which obstruct the Bodhisattva’s and Arhats from attaining their goals. The obscuration are mainly divided into three sections: 1) 6 general obscuration which prevents the Bodhisattva’s and Arhats from attaining their respective goals. 2) 9 bonds that prevent self-liberation, and 3) The obscurations associated with the transcendence. The elimination of these obscurations leads to the attainment of complete purification.

3) Reality

This chapter offers an extensive analysis of reality in terms of the three natures. The three natures are explained in relation to 8 principles. The part which grabs my attention is where the three natures are explained in relation to the fundamental doctrine of Buddhism— the four noble truths, and the final principle—ten views of self and how to interpret them in terms of each of the 3 natures.

In terms of specifying the 3 natures in relation to the four noble truth, the text begins by interpreting the “four non-erroneous” aspects of the truth of suffering to each of the three natures. The same technique is then applied to the other three noble truths.

With regards to the ten views of self, Mipham describes the ten views of self that are eliminated, ten fields of expertise that eliminate them, and the way in which the 10 topics are included in the 3 natures.

4) Remedies  

This chapter discusses the obscurations that inhibit the three remedies in detail. The three main remedies are 1) factors of enlightenment 2) transcendence 3) grounds.

This chapter addresses three topics: the 37 Bodhisattva practices aligning with the five paths and their associated seven obscuring factors; obscurations associated with the transcendence;the realization of each ground.

5) Phases of the path

6) Result

7) Unsurpassable Vehicle

These three chapters elucidate the principles of the vast path of the three vehicles. In particular, the five paths and the ten grounds are talked about in detail. These chapters are also a good source for understanding the necessary requisites for one’s progression, the ten Bodhisattva stages and their corresponding perfections, and the results or the attainments of each stage.

The commentary ends with an account on the Mahāyāna as the “unsurpassed vehicle.”

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