Tibetan Chan V: Dzogchen and Chan

I’ve managed four posts on Tibetan Chan without mentioning the question of whether the Chinese meditation tradition known as Chan influenced the Tibetan meditation tradition known as Dzogchen. Or, to put it in the stronger version, whether Dzogchen is just a disguised form of Chan. Partly, I’ve left the question alone because it doesn’t seem that interesting to me. It seems evident that if you spend a while with Chan and Dzogchen texts from the time when the influence is supposed to have taken place (the 8th/9th centuries) that there is one clear difference between the two: they are in dialogue with two different kinds of scripture. That is to say, Chan is a tradition in dialogue with the sutras, while Dzogchen is in dialogue with the tantras.

Though nobody (with the notable exception of Jeffrey Broughton) has recently gone into print trying to prove that Dzogchen came from Chan, the idea hasn’t gone away. It was repeated to me recently, and insistently, by a very intelligent and very nice Indologist. And now that I’m involved in a research project on Tibetan Chan, I’ve decided to stop avoiding the issue, partly to try to show why “was Dzogchen influenced by Chan” is a bad question, partly to argue that when Chan and Dzogchen did come together, it was a case of them converging at the same point, rather than one influencing the other. That will be in an article which will probably come out next year. For now, I’d like to look at a very short Chan text, and make a very simple point.

The point is this – people who have said that there must be some kind of influence passing from Chan to Dzogchen have come to this belief because the texts look similar. However they justify the argument, it is the similarity in the language used in these two meditation traditions that caught their eye. (And this is surely true of the polemics in the Tibetan tradition itself as well as modern scholars like Guiseppe Tucci.) But, as we all know, apparent similarities can be misleading.

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Let’s look at the text. It is found in the compendium IOL Tib J 709, and is presented as the teaching of a certain ’Gal na yas. So far nobody has identified this figure, but I think I have — the name seems to be a somewhat garbled rendering of Haklenayaśas, the 23rd patriarch of Chan. (The Chinese version of his name, by the way, is Helenayeshe 鶴勒那夜奢, and that initial H would have been pronounced more like G in this period.) The teaching attributed to this Indian master is “the instantaneous approach to the Madhyamaka”:-

There are many gates to meditation in the Mahāyāna. The ultimate among them is the instantaneous approach to the Madhyamaka. The instantaneous approach has no method. One cultivates the nature of reality in this way: phenomena are mind, and mind is uncreated. In that it is uncreated, it is emptiness. Since it is like the sky, it is not a field of activity for the six sense-faculties. This emptiness is what we call vivid awareness. Yet within that vivid awareness there is no such thing as vivid awareness. Therefore without remaining in the insights gained from studying, cultivate the essential sameness of all phenomena.

The tone of this is certainly similar to many Dzogchen texts. Take for example these lines from the Dzogchen text found in another Dunhuang manuscript, IOL Tib J 647 (for more on which see this post, and the comments):

The mind itself, which is without basis or root,
Is not to be found through effort; it is like the sky.
Enlightenment which is uncreated
Is enlightenment free from cause and effect.

I think you can probably see why there might be a temptation to say, “they’re so similar, one must have come from the other!” After all, they both talk about the mind being like the sky, and about not engaging in conventional methods to realize enlightenment (and I could find another quote to illustrate that Dzogchen texts also talk about the sameness of all phenomena). But hang on a minute — all of this language is also found in Buddhist scripture, in both the sutras and the tantras. Readers of Tibetan might like to check this at the online resources of the Universities of Virginia or Vienna. So what we have here is a case of a shared basis.

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There are also, though somewhat hidden in translation, quite a few differences in the terminology between Tibetan Chan and Dzogchen texts. Looking back to the teaching attributed to Haklenayaśas, we see the key term “vivid awareness” plays a key role. Now the Tibetan term behind this is tshor, and it is translating the Chinese character jue 覺. In Chan, this term means the clear and present awareness that arises in meditation.

This meaning of tshor is specific to literature translated from Chinese, and original Tibetan Chan texts based on that literature. It’s a fairly central concept for Tibetan Chan texts, but elsewhere in Tibetan Buddhist writing, tshor means something completely different, Sanskrit vedanā, which is one of the five aggregates, usually translated as “feeling”. And tshor meaning “vivid awareness” does not, as far as I know, ever appear in Dzogchen texts.

So, to sum up, the similarities that Dzogchen texts share with Chan texts are also shared with the sutras and tantras, while the differences show that the two genres come out of quite different environments. This is not to say that no Tibetan ever held transmissions of both Chan and Dzogchen texts; in fact it is highly likely that several did. There might have been some instances of cross-pollination. I’m not trying to hermetically seal Dzogchen away from Chan, but I hope I’ve shown why arguments based on the fact that they look similar are not going to take us very far.

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See also…

Tibetan Chan I: The Emperor’s Chan
Tibetan Chan II: The teachings of Heshang Moheyan
Tibetan Chan III: More teachings of Heshang Moheyan
Tibetan Chan IV: The Great Debate

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Tibetan text

IOL Tib J 709, 42v: $/:/mkhan po ‘gal na yas bs[am] g+tan gI snying po bshad pa’// theg pa chen po’i bsam gtan gI sgo yang mang ste// de’I nang na dam pa nI don dbu ma la cig car ‘jug pa yIn te// cIg car ‘jug pa la nI thabs myed de// chos nyId kyI rang bzhIn la bsgom mo// de la chos nI sems sems nI ma skyes pa ‘o// ma skyes pa nI stong pa ste// dper naM ka dang ‘dra bas// dbang po drug gI spyod yul ma yin bas na// stong pa de nI tshor ba zhes bya ‘o// tshor nas nI tshor ba nyId kyang myed de// de bas na thos pa dang bsam pa’i shes shes [sic] rab la/ ma gnas par chos mnyam pa nyId la sgoms shig ces bshad do//: ://

*  *  *


For statements about Chan influencing Dzogchen, see:

Jeffrey Broughton. 1983. “Early Ch’an Schools in Tibet.” In Robert Gimello and Peter N. Gregory (eds.), Studies in Ch’an and Hua-yen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 1-68

Giuseppe Tucci. 1958. Minor Buddhist Texts: Part II. Rome: Is.M.E.O.

On the term tshor in Tibetan Chan texts, see:

Luis Gomez. 1983. “The Direct and the Gradual Approaches of Zen Master Mahâyâna: Fragments of the Teachings of Mo-ho-yen.” In Robert M. Gimello and Peter N. Gregory (eds.), Studies in Ch’an and Hua-yen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 69-168.

For an argument against Tucci, basically the tenth-century argument of the Lamp for the Eyes of Contemplation, see:

Kenneth Tanaka and Raymond Robertson. 1992. “A Ch’an Text from Tun-huang” Implications for Ch’an Influence on Tibetan Buddhism.” In Steven Goodman and Ronald Davidson (eds.), Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation.  New York: SUNY Press. 57–78.

48 thoughts on “Tibetan Chan V: Dzogchen and Chan

  1. It would be really interesting to hear what the actual differences between these two philosophies are, in addition to the rather academic question of their mutual influence and the conclusion that the similarities are due to a shared basis.

  2. Wow, that was a quick response! Well, I don’t think you can put just put these “academic questions” aside in order to get to the “actual differences”. Coming out with a list of actual differences would entail creating an entity called “Chan” on one side of the list, and one called “Dzogchen” on the other, flattening out any varieties within the traditions, and any development over time. What you would actually end up with is a version of Dzogchen, and a version of Chan, and the differences would depend on which sources you chose for your versions.

    Now, somebody did do this a while ago, some 1,200 years ago in fact – Nub Sangyé Yeshé in his Lamp for the Eyes of Contemplation (a really great text but not as yet translated unfortunately). I recommend you try to get hold of the article by Tanaka and Robertson listed in the references to this post. They are not so cautious as I am in talking about the differences between Chan and Dzogchen, and they draw heavily what Nub Sangyé Yeshé wrote, e.g. “Yet there is a difference, since for Ch’an the fundamental root is to be sought, while for rDzogs-chen the intrinsic awareness is spontaneous.”

    But this is not a fair representation of Chan.


  3. I have the strong feeling that the Broughton theory is not valid in any way whatsoever because it is based on a wrong assertion. To recap: 1. it is based on the presence of sayings of Chan masters in the STMG; 2. we all know that STMG deals with gradual sutric approach, instantaneous sutric approach, Mahayoga (encompassing Anuyoga) and Dzogchen Atiyoga. So why identify it as a Dzogchen text only, rather than as a Mahayoga text for instance? Nubchen patiently demonstrates the superiority of the second sutric approach over the first, of Mahayoga over the second sutric approach, and of Atiyoga over Mahayoga (thus implying : over the two sutric approaches, thus over Chan). If we follow Broughton’s idea, any Nyingma text (and STMG was not even nyingma when it was written) would be a Dzogchen text. This is nonsense. Moreover, Tanaka and Robertson have shown that one should compare both Chan and Dzogchen schools in terms of their respective base, path and fruit and not compare a base and a fruit. Moreover, central conceptions which may appear common in both schools such as bya-bral show rather divergent interpretations.

  4. One possible difference that I have read about – I have no idea how valid it is – is that Dzogchen valorizes experience in a way that Chan does not, which was (in the article I wrote) described as nihilistic. This is a question that interests me personally very much, as I am interested in the metaphysics of the relationship between nirvana and samsara, which seems paradoxical. As you may have inferred, my interests as a practitioner are philosophical rather than strictly speaking academic, linguistic or textual.

  5. Dear JL,
    What you say about the STMG is even more true of Blong po bka’ thang, which was the source for Tucci’s original assertion of Chan’s influence on Dzogchen (I assume this was the first instance in Western scholarship). But in my reference to Jeffrey Broughton I was thinking of his recent book on Zongmi (very good, by the way), in which he dedicates a rather long footnote to showing that Dzogchen comes from Chan. This time he uses a Tibetan text of the teachings of Shenhui. I will deal with this in the article, and I must leave something for that. You will see it before long!

  6. Dear Alexander,
    Again, it really depends on what sources you pick. To describe something as nihilistic is a good polemical tactic in Buddhism. Some Chan texts describe the meditation practice of the shravakas as nihilistic. And early Chan is closely based on the Mahayana sutras — are they nihilistic?

  7. Dear Sam,
    Thanks for your answer. I’m eager to read your paper on this subject! I haven’t seen Broughton’s Zongmi’s yet but I will try to lay my hands on it. Shenhui is indeed more than an interesting figure and I’m really curious to read that footnote!

  8. Thank you for this entry which I enjoyed very much, like the rest on this blog.
    I do not speak Tibetan but from what I understand of the common usage of 覺 in Chinese, like what you say of “tshor”, it can mean either “feeling” or “vivid awareness” too, depending on the context.

  9. Dear Yin,

    Thanks for pointing that out. I see that Charles Muller’s DDB gives the primary meaning as “the mind’s original nature” which accords with its use in Chan text, but the entry goes on to list a number of quite different meanings, including that 覺 can also synonymous with vedanā 受.

    As usual, context is all!


  10. Hello ! Nice to land here ! I just discover this site. I’m also very excited by the book of J. Broughton on Zongmi, and THE note — like JL.

    Bya bral has tons of meaning, but what does wuzuo 無作 mean in, for instance, wuzuo wuyi zhi zhi 無作無依之智 (Li Tongxuan about zhi 智 in his commentary to the Ru fajie pin 入法界品) ?

    Last, why apply a Nyingma classification for Chan ? “Sutric approach” is quite ridiculous when the genius of Chan is considered. We should re-read the Platform Sutra on samādhi & prajñā, and on zuochan.

  11. Why hasn’t jue 覺 been translated rig pa ? That’s what your “vivid awareness” suggests to me… Then, I think of Mi phams “Great Madhyamaka” which would refer to the ka dag khregs chod. But isn’t thod rgal the great difference between Dzogchen and Chan ?

  12. Hi Sam!

    Great Blog!

    I’m much intrigued by that name! It doesn’t look Sanskritic/Indic to me. More Greek than anything else. And I notice (when searching the web for “Haklena”) that sometimes his origins are found external to India (although later he moved to Central India). Of course the yaśas part means ‘famed’ (or ‘famed as’), which is why some take it to be not a proper part of his name and leave it off, although I believe most of the Tibetan evidence suggests it’s inalienably bound up with it.

    Here are all the other spellings I know about right now.

    — Obermiller, Bu ston, pt. 2, p. 109 (Ha-ka-la-ka-na-ya-na-sha, but I checked the lineage in my copy of the Tibetan, where it reads Ha-ka-li-ka-na-ya-na-sha).
    — Ha-ga-ni-ka-na-ya-na-sha. Blue Annals, p. 22.
    — Hakalikaśa (Ha-ka-li-ka-sha). Thuken’s Crystal Mirror.

    I thought you or one of your readers would have something to add that would help in puzzling this out.

    As ever,

  13. PS
    Perhaps I spoke too soon. It happens. In Hindi haklana means to falter in speech, stutter, stammer. Any chance that might be the explanation? Indic after all?

  14. Dear Dan,

    I too am interested in this name. But ‘famed for his stammer’ seems, well, not very respectable! The fact that Bu-ston and others begin the name with a HA not a GA suggest that they were getting it from a different, Indic, source, not via the Chinese. This also calls to mind that other troublesome figure from a Chan lineage, A rtan hwer (from PT 996), who one scholar was brave enough to read as the Persian name Ardašīr (I considered mentioning him in the comments to your recent fascinating post, but his dates are a bit early for Sufism, I fear). I suspect those are Tibetan transliterations of Chinese characters, behind which lie another language, like ‘Gal na yas.


  15. You may be right that ‘famed for faltering speech’ isn’t very respectable, but there are some rude names out there in history, or that seem so to us now. What if anything is behind the story that he was born in a Tokharian palace? (and which Tho-gar, the eastern or the western?) If he was a foreigner, a bit of a stammer is only to be expected. I still think the first part of the name sounds like the language of the Yavanas.

  16. I’m imagining that his stuttering explains what you find in the text. He doubles the words sems and shes as sems sems and shes shes. Evidently it was the initial sibilants that were particularly difficult for him. What do you have to say say to that?

  17. I can only bow down to your superior reasoning.

    I agree the name has a Greek ring, but my quick search of an Ancient Greek dictionary has been unsuccessful. What about Tocharian? Perhaps he was from Kucha, like Kumarajiva… We need to get hold of A Dictionary of Tocharian B by Douglas Adams (not the author of A Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) which apparently has an index of Tocharian proper names.

  18. Hmm. I don’t know what the Chinese characters that this author gives as Getae are (or his source). I wonder it would be better to say Gandhara?

  19. I think fanglong is perfectly right in saying: “sems sems” is no repetition, shes shes is, isn’t it ?

    I was thinking about how stuttering/stammering might be represented in the text, not whether it is otherwise meaningful or not.

    One bit of useful information is that Blue Annals tells us that this Ch’an lineage was taken from a Commentary on the Lankâvatâra. Even then he doesn’t pretend to be citing it directly, but relying on scholars who say that it appears there… In this, I think he’s directly copying from Bu-ston’s history, which gives the same otherwise unidentified commentary on the Lankåvatåra as source (Obermiller puts a note saying it doesn’t occur in the two such commentaries found in the Tanjur, and to judge from my search in the Vienna site, this is true, so I’m thinking his ultimate source would have been one in Chinese that was never translated into Tibetan… or was translated and then lost…).

  20. There appears to be an implicit presumption that the acquisition of the written or spoken word is sufficient for transmission of the knowledge to which both the Chan of Huineng and the Dzogchen of Rong-zom Chos-kyi-bzang-po (for example) refer. By virtue of the myriad schools of Buddhism, we might deem such a perspective short sighted. Within Buddhism, opinions as to the nature of truth may be manifold, but the assertion of these particular representatives of Chan and Dzogchen is that truth is singular and objective.

    If the Chan of Huineng and the Dzogchen of Rong-zom Chos-kyi-bzang-po reflect an identical epistemology then it is reasonable to assert that only the articulation of the experience is culture specific. As the literature constantly reiterates, awareness of that to which these two schools refer is not achieved intellectually. Catechisms may be inculcated but knowledge of the atemporal is not acquired.

    If I may be flippant, the author is correct in his assertion that, “when Chan and Dzogchen did come together, it was a case of them converging at the same point”. That is, as it is referred to in IOL 594, “the Central point of Space.” It is the nature of this point, this locus of self-awareness, that is the concern of both Huineng and Rong-zom-pa.

    If epistemology enables an historian to more accurately appreciate the dynamics underlying the polemical diatribes within Chan and Dzogchen (and, perhaps, betwixt them) then the entire essence of Buddhism rests upon the difference between a coalescent “Central point of Space” and a reified “Central point of Space.”

    The “Central point of Space” is “like space” because it is coalescent. As such, this metaphor for the singularity of truth is unbounded; the literature speaks of it as luminous creativity. Moreover, “all that is perceived is nothing but mind itself.”

    However, in the midst of self-reflection and the reification of the perceived, all that is perceived not only appears to possess substance or identity, but the infinite creations of mind become artificially individuated. Those who reify “the Central point of Space” inevitably embrace asceticism for they believe all that is perceived functions as a barrier separating the individual from the absolute. They pursue what they deem to be moral perfection because they believe the physical is capable of influencing the transcendent. Significantly, however, reification cannot alter the absolute nature, the coalescence, of “the Central point of Space.”

    Appreciating this difference is pivotal for the historian of Buddhism. Is life suffering because there is a barrier separating humanity from the absolute? Or is life suffering because despite the reification of “the Central point of Space,” the commitment to the absolute truth of “the One” or the deity, all we can know is emptiness?

    Students of the history of religion, Buddhist or otherwise, must appreciate the difference between the coalescent One and the reified One. To do so is to appreciate why, while in pursuit of the reified One or deity, all one encounters is emptiness or “between.” Soteriologies are created to eliminate an illusion that persists by virtue of the conscious reification, the act of faith, in “the Central point of Space.” The dualism that obtains in some forms of Buddhism (as well as the Abrahamic religions) finds its genesis in self-reflection and the reification of perceived.

    True Buddhism, the Buddhism of Huineng (regardless of who wrote the Platform Sutra) and Rong-zom-pa, is not a soteriology.

  21. How is space coalescent? I generally think if it as the gap that divides things and makes/keeps them distinct from each other. (Unless of course by space one means the sky, in which case it strongly implies expansiveness, which again isn’t coalescent. More like the opposite…)

    And one more matter, why the urgency to suspect implicit presumptions? Seems a little presumptious to me.

    Am I the only one thinking so?

  22. As far as can see, texts are often translated very freely, if not erroneously, so I think there must be a very strong oral transmission accompanying them, otherwise Buddhism would not have anymore meaning. I speak thus because I’m right now translating the Gaṇḍavyūha from Chinese (Śikṣānanda, T 279) into French, comparing it systematically with the Sanskrit (Vaidya) and the Tibetan : incredible differences, discrepancies, “n’importe quoi”…

    And, btw, how can a thogs med entity coalesce, and with what ?

  23. Hi Fanglong! I’m sure there is a true Gaṇḍavyūha that is thogs med: above and beyond all those touchable/viewable texts in various difficult languages. I strongly doubt there was much if any of an oral transmission that ever accompanied the Tibetan translation in Tibet. Has anyone ever heard of such a thing? So it looks as if what we’ve got is what we’ve got. It’s such a mind-expanding and in other ways expansive text, I would not like to think of it as a set of problems that need solving, but if anyone wants to see it in that light, all power to them! -D

  24. Hi Dan ! Ideally, I follow you. Downtoearthly, I feel like a distorted “text-opener”… Speaking of thogs med, for instance, how do you, how can you explain that the upāsikā Bhadrottamā, Sudhana’s 45th kalyāṇamitra, has attained a samādhi called adhiṣṭhāna in Sanskrit, thogs pa med pa in Tibetan, wujin 無盡 (anakṣaya) in Śikṣānanda’s Chinese, and “(concentration of) mystic empowerment” in Th. Cleary’s English ? Didn’t Surendrabodhi, etc. help Ye shes sde translate the whole Avataṃsaka ? Uhh, that’s what I call “oral transmission”, what a spiritual adviser can give you for a help when you’re straining your brain in quite a difficult translation… Nevertheless, it goes on blowing my mind in a kind of creative way… Thanks for your answer (and for the many impassionating things I’ve read on your blog). Wishing you the best !

  25. Dear Early,

    I see you’ve put up a reference to that new article about the Ladakhi Maitreya, which is nice of you. What about that new book? You know, the one that Amazon has been listing as forthcoming for a year now? What’s it called? “Travelers and Manuscripts”? Is it out now? Are you going to say something about it? Was the title inspired by that movie by Kyentse Rinpoche? What was the movie called? Travelers and Musicians? Travelers and Magicians? How much do I get paid for my book promotion services?


  26. Dear D.

    I appreciate your promotional skills but I’ll have to pay you in some kind of non-cash form (watch this space). As for the book — “Manuscripts and Travellers” — it really does exist now, so I’ll put up an announcement about that too, soon.


  27. “So what we have here is a case of a shared basis.”
    Yes, and that shared basis is not textual; it is actual; and goes by many names such as the Root (or Original) Mind, Buddha Natrue, Dharmakaya, True Suchness, etc. This is the meaning of the Ekayana (One Vehicle) of the Sutras that points directly to this shared basis in order to not get confused by the differences in methods and different names of schools.

  28. “’Yet there is a difference, since for Ch’an the fundamental root is to be sought, while for rDzogs-chen the intrinsic awareness is spontaneous.’
    “But this is not a fair representation of Chan.”

    Wow, it is very refreshing to read a blog that does not shy away from nuance. The “difference” described above is what I call a distinction without a difference. The Chan perspective of course includes the recognition that “intrinsic awareness is spontaneous” but htat view is not at all inconsistent with the view that “the fundamental root is to be sought.” These are simply two discriptions of the same practice. There is not a single Chan/Zen story of awakening that deviates from this spontaneous blossoming (eruption?) of root awareness or inherent nature, yet there are only very few and rare occurances of such awareness arising wthout mental reorientation through practice. It is possible, but not the “rule.”

    Spontaneity of course means the rule is that there is no rule. But though I am unfamiliar with Dzogchen, I doubt there would be anything called Dzogchen if there were no practice to lay the foundation for this spontaneious budding of intrinsic awareness. Laying this foundation, or to use another metaphor, cultivating the ground, is just what is meant by the words “to be sought.” In this context, the phrase “to be sought” is just a way of aluding to the rising of the bodhicitta that redirects the mental formations, from reaching for externalities to turning the light around to discover our intrinsic awareness.

  29. Alexander Duncan said: “One possible difference that I have read about – I have no idea how valid it is – is that Dzogchen valorizes experience in a way that Chan does not, which was (in the article I wrote) described as nihilistic.”

    I’m amazed that this view that Chan does not “valorize experience” and that Chan is somehow “nililistic” can still have currency after the last 50 years of Chan studies in the West.

    If Chan did not valorize experience we would not have awakening stories where the person was awakened by viewing peach blossoms or hearing a pepple strike a bamboo, much in the manner that Buddha was awakened on seeing the morning star.

    Also we would not have such Chan poems as this one by Wumen:

    Spring has a hundred flowers; autumn has the moon;
    Summer has cool winds; winter has the snow.
    If there is no leisure or business to hang up the heart-mind and the head,
    Then the human world is the season of good times.

  30. Sam said: “But in my reference to Jeffrey Broughton I was thinking of his recent book on Zongmi (very good, by the way), in which he dedicates a rather long footnote to showing that Dzogchen comes from Chan. This time he uses a Tibetan text of the teachings of Shenhui. I will deal with this in the article, and I must leave something for that. You will see it before long!”

    How soon will the article come out? It sounds very intriguing and is something to look forward to along with Red Pine’s coming translation of the Lankavatara Sutra.

    I liked Broughton’s book on Zongmi, but more for the presentation of the material than for his interpretation of it. I have strong disagreements with how Broughton contextualizes Zongmi, including losing the focus that one can’t understand Zongmi’s perspective without understanding his position of the Ekayana (One Vehicle) as being the most profound teaching of Buddhism and the One Vehicle that brings together Chan, Huayan, and Lotus schools within the same Buddha Vehicle as the teaching of manifesting Buddha Nature..

  31. Dan said: “Perhaps I spoke too soon. It happens. In Hindi haklana means to falter in speech, stutter, stammer. Any chance that might be the explanation? Indic after all?”

    The root “hak” means a sound and builds in to meanings including to make aof his sound, or to call or calling to. The birth story of Haklena in the Japanese Zen Master Keizan’s “Transmission of Light” (as translated by Thomas Cleary) tells that his parents were childless and prayed at a Buddhist shrine for a child. “That night his mother dreamed that a spiritual boy from atop the polar mountain, bearing a gold ring, announced his arrival, and on awakening she found she was pregnant.”

    Given this is the birth legend, I would take his name with the root “hak” to be based on his calling to his mother in the dream and to mean not “one who stammers” but “the one who called out” to his mother before birth. But I’m pretty much speculating here.

    Still, Sam, you deserve congratulations for making the connection between Gal Ya Nas and Haklena which I think is correct based on the content of the teaching.

  32. Again, thanks for the interesting comments. I am basically in agreement with the content of most of them, but I admit I have a problem with the statement “that shared basis is not textual; it is actual”. I’m not sure how we are supposed to take this. Let me see: (a) You are basing this on religious authority, e.g. the authority of certain Buddhist teachers; in this case, as I’m sure you know, there are different views about whether different traditions are in fact talking about the same thing (it is essential to the Tibetan critique of Chan that they are not); of course there is the ekayāna strand of Buddhist thought, as you say, but what is the basis of this that we can all agree about if not the texts. (b) Your reference to an actual basis is grounded in personal experience; this would not convince many, unless one had some authority for citing one’s own experience, such as the authority of lineage and your teacher, which would be religious authority, which brings us back to (a). And (c) you are inferring the existence of an actual basis from the fact that different traditions talk about the same thing under different names. This is the “perennial philosophy” approach, and I admit to being impressed in my youth by Aldous Huxley’s book/anthology of that name, but now I am not sure that selectively citing texts to show that they are talking about the same thing is any use to anyone. The opposite case can always be made by citing different passages. So I don’t see how a convincing case can be made for seeking a shared basis for Chan and Dzogchen in an *actual* rather than *textual* source which will be generally acceptable. This is not of course to deny the existence and power of the ekayāna approach.


  33. Dr. Van Schaik: I ran across your site today and find it extraordinarily interesting. I will spend some time reading your work, which bears serious attention.

    I am writing because I have, perhaps, a view on these issues of the relationship between Dzogchen and Chan that might be unusual. I spent seven years (1969 – 1976) as a monastic disciple of Master Hsuan Hua, being one of his early western disciples. Master Hua was one of the great transmitters of traditional Chinese Buddhist theory and practice of the past 100 years. I had the opportunity to study and practice with him on a daily basis for five years, then did several years of retreat on Lantau Island in Hong Kong, where I also studied under his disciple, Ven. Heng Ding. I was also fortunate to hear Master Hua’s daily lecture series on most of the great Mahayana sutras and participate in numerous Chan sessions with him. I worked as one of his daily translators, so I had an excellent, daily opportunity, to interact with him on the meaning and application of the Chan and sutra teachings. I have continued my studies that I began with him, with an emphasis on the Avatamsaka Sutra.

    I have since then studied and practiced as a somewhat distant member of the Dzogchen Community, which is guided by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. I have attended many of his teachings and retreats, but have never spoken with him and so have no direct experience of interacting with him.

    My point, really (and with my apologies if I offend), is that Dzogchen and Chan simply arose out of the same ultimate reality, mediated by very different cultural matrices in time and space and the needs of the living being at those time space places. All buddhadharmas seek the same goal — they may define them differently, use different terminology, and may emphasize different practices and understandings — but those are more differences in style than in substance. The appropriate medicine for each illness. If you take a snapshot of any Buddhist teaching at a moment in time and space they all appear different; in the longer run they are different rivers to the same ocean. I am sure you understand that, so my apologies for saying what you undoubtedly already know.

    I suppose my point is that seeking common origins in texts may be fun but, ultimately, it is a futile exercise. The origins of the teachings lie in the transmission of aware compassionate ultimate reality into the minds of beings in the world of illusions and confusions, seeking to help them wake up. Whatever will work and whatever can get through the static is called Buddhadharma. Horizontal relationships amongst various buddhadharmas are because they are all related and come from a common source; they only meaningful relationship is the vertical one.

    I am not sure why I even wrote this, but, having done so, i suppose that I will post it and take the consequences.

    At any rate, thank you for excellent work — keep it up.

    Fred Klarer

  34. As an apparent late reader of this interesting bloga-article I have very strong skepsis towards the idea that two streams of buddhist engagements coexisting in the same areas in the same formative period should not have influenced each-other and developed in a proces of interchange.

  35. Dear Erik,

    Indeed, you should be sceptical towards such an idea, and it’s not an idea I’m suggesting here! In an article written with Jacob Dalton some years ago, we documented a case of influence. What I’m arguing against in this post is the idea that Chan was the primary influence upon Dzogchen, and the problems inherent in “proving” this by selecting texts from both traditions, putting them alongside each other and pointing out their similarities.


  36. Perhaps I’m missing the meaning of the link to IOL Tib J 709, but doesn’t the link say the document is titled “A treatise on Dhyāna and its defects (doṣa)”? How does that relate to the title of “the instantaneous approach to the Madhyamaka”? Are you saying the first is the title and the second is a view of the subject taken from the body of the text? I don’t know Tibetan so please, what is the Tibetan that is being translated as “Madhyamaka”? Everything about the quote rings true to me except the word “Madhyamaka” which sounds too sectarian for the 23rd Ancestor to have used.

  37. I guess what I’m asking is, wouldn’t it be better to translate the sentence “The ultimate among them is the instantaneous approach to the Madhyamaka.” as “The ultimate among them is the instantaneous approach to the interior.”? It seems to me that the use of the term “madhyamaka” is not in reference to a school of Buddhist analysis but to the plain Sanskrit meaning of “madhyamaka” as “the middlemost” or “the interior of anything.” As I see it, Haklenayaśas here is discussing the many dhyana (chan/zen/meditation) gates of the Mahayana and pointing out that the supreme dhyana/chan/zen/meditation gate is the instantaneous route to the center/middle/interor, i.e., of mind, not to the circuitious routes of stages or stations (bhumis). It seems to me that this madhyamaka (no capital on the m) has nothing directly to do with the school that ultimately took on the name of Madhyamaka (with the capital M).

  38. Hi Gregory,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this text. To reply to your first question, the text is the eighth one in IOL Tib J 709 — if you have a look at the Dalton & van Schaik catalogue entry. The text on faults in meditation is the second text in the manuscript.

    So, what about *dbu ma*? Well, I am still inclined to read it as “madhayamaka” because that is what it clearly means in other Tibetan Zen texts — see for example Pelliot tibetain 121, in which the first text, “A Brief Teaching on Attaining the Instantaneous Approach” is very explicitly using madhyamaka terminology. Plus the fact that the Haklenayasas text references emptiness twice, and employs the method of negation, seems to justify its description as “the instantaneous approach to Madhyamaka”.

    I don’t think the reference to Madhyamaka need be taken as sectarian either as, as far as I know, Madhyamaka was never a school as such. And then there is the question of whether we trust the attribution of this text to Haklenayasas. Perhaps, or perhaps not, but I wouldn’t change the reading of the text based on this attribution…

  39. Wonderful stuff, and great blog. earlytibet, you give three alternatives in response to “the shared basis not being textual, but actual”. There is a fourth, d) that the “shared basis” is in similar experience due to physiological and psychological similarity between human beings. IOW, due to the way we are put together, there are only so many “moves” possible to the human mind.

    However, to properly delve into this would require an interdisciplinary approach – some confluence between cognitive science, philosophy, textual study, perhaps even sociology, anthropology, etc. And also, perhaps, a modicum of personal experience on the part of investigators. Unfortunately, without that kind of multidisciplinary approach, really, I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere in the study of any religion.

    It is coming, though. For example there are more and more experimental indications about what’s going on in the brains of meditators. There are philosophical/cognitive science approaches to the nature of the “self-model” that are bearing interesting fruit (cf. Thomas Metzinger). What needs to happen next is for people on that side of the investigation to meet up with people on your side of the investigation and get dialogue going.

    Of course none of this is necessary if study of the texts for its own sake is one’s goal, but I think it will be necessary if the goal is to fully understand religion and/or mysticism in general, and things like Dzogchen and Chan in particular.

  40. Actually, the only way to “properly delve” into Dzogchen and Chan (I don’t know about other traditions) is to practise them. In fact, Kamalashila, the much revered 8th century Indian pandit, says exactly the same thing in his Bhavanakramas and he is from neither the Dzogchen nor the Chan traditions but rather from the scholastic tradition so he isn’t particularly “mystical.”

    I’m sure you are familiar with the Buddha’s parable about the man who gets hit with a poison arrow and who, rather than pulling it out, worries about what type of wood it’s made of, what bird the feathers are from and in which town the fletcher lives. And I’m also sure that you’ve heard the admonition not to mistake a finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself, which appears in the Lankavatara Sutra.

    By stating there are only so many “moves” to the human mind because of a shared physiological basis you have revealed your assumption that the mind must always be associated with a material substratum; that is, you are implicitly asserting a materialist ontology that, ultimately, Buddhism (at least in some forms), denies. By seeking to “understand” these traditions from a materialist viewpoint you are seeking to reduce them to a value sphere (a la Weber) that, while certainly intersecting with, is nevertheless not fully coextensive with the value sphere of religious experience. That is, there are aspects of religion that may not be explicable within the materialist value sphere. What then? Are they invalid? For example, how can the “move” of rebirth be accommodated within the materialist belief system? How would one find the neural correlates for a rebirth experience? If it cannot be validated experimentally, does that mean that it isn’t true? Or maybe in insistence on the validating power of materialism is the problem?

  41. Anders, my post was from the academic-ish point of view that this blog is mostly set in. Given that context, and the context of the blog in general, your homily looks a bit presumptious. The points you are making are worth discussing, but asking them in this context is like asking the philosophical question “what is flavour?” in a discussion about the history of cooking.

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