The Significance of Samaya

The Significance of Samaya

Spring Teaching 2024 • Fifty Verses on the Guru • Day 2 •
5 February 2024

Gyalwang Karmapa began with some encouraging words for the nuns. He reminded everyone that he had started the Arya Kshema as a place where all the nunneries could come together to study and discuss the Dharma. Listening to the teachings and thinking about them were the crucial foundation for Dharma practice.

Heroes first scrutinize the connection
Between the master and the student,
Because the guru and student would have
The same violation of samaya.

He then continued his discussion of the Sanskrit texts, the manuscripts’ origins, and the five points of the 50 verses, all drawn from original research.

As I mentioned the other day in the first teaching, there are two Sanskrit manuscripts of the Fifty Verses on the Guru, as well as a Chinese translation, and the Tibetan translation. These are the three main sources. Today I would like to say a bit about the Sanskrit manuscripts we have.

There are two different Sanskrit manuscripts that are excellent. The first was found by the French scholar Sylvain Lévi who discovered it amongst some writings said to be by Aśvaghoṣa. In 1929, he edited and published it. However, it is incomplete, missing from the last line of verse 33 to the end, and the author is not mentioned as there is no colophon. Later, several scholars, notably Rinchen Tsangpo, from the Central Institute of Tibetan Studies in Varanasi, edited it, translated the missing passages from Tibetan into Sanskrit, and published a complete edition of the Fifty Verses in Sanskrit.

His Holiness Karmapa continued with the second Sanskrit manuscript found by the Hungarian scholar Péter Dániel Szántós in a library in Hamburg and published in 2013. Rather than editing the original, Szantos transcribed it exactly as it was in the Roman alphabet and published it together with a facsimile of the original Sanskrit manuscript. It was incomplete, missing the fourth folio, but it had a colophon identifying the author as Vāpilladatta.

This name is similar to the Tibetan Bhabilha. There is no consensus as to who wrote it however. Some say Ashvagosa, some say Vapila, some say that Ashvagosa and Vapila are the same person, some say they are different people.

There are some differences between the two Sanskrit manuscripts so it is difficult to establish their relationship. Are they the same text or not? In fact, none of the manuscripts exactly tally with the Rinchen Sangpo translation, which seems closer on first glance to the Hungarian manuscript. In addition, some of the words in the root text used in the commentaries by Je Tsongkhapa, the 7th Karmapa and Tsarchen Losal Gyatso are not found in Lévi’s manuscript,

Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen’s Elucidation of the Fifty Verses on the Guru explains the Fifty Verses according to five general points: 1. the individual who wrote the text, 2. what tantras he based it on, 3. the reason he wrote it, 4. the time it should be taught, and 5. teaching the actual topic of the text. “Today I would like to speak about which tantras it is based on.”

The tantras listed below are what Drakpa Gyaltsen based his analysis on and are the most important sources for the Fifty Verses on the Guru The Net of Illusion of Vairochana; Vajroshnisha; the Tantra of Yamantaka, the Black Enemy; Shri Parama; Guhyasamaja of the Unexcelled Yoga; and the Vajra Dome.

What was the author’s intention? There are several different explanations.

According to Drokmi Lotsawa, the root of all siddhi is the guru. Therefore, it was written to prevent disdain or any disrespect for the guru, to know the correct protocols of respect, and how to please him.

Another, Master Anangavajra asserts this reason: that students would have all the background they needed to practice and become receptive to the dharma. To become truly authentic required assembling many different qualities and abilities, and the text was written so that students would be able to recognize which they had and which they lacked.

The great Marpa Lotsawa claimed to have a tradition passed down from Naropa, which said that the Fifty Verses was written to examine the connection between the master and student. We need to know clearly the qualities of the authentic guru and student, particularly when tantric practices are involved,. To paraphrase the Karmapa: If the master is a charlatan and a student is an inappropriate vessel, the samaya is endangered.

The Karmapa gave the example of an Indian master, Anangavajra, the lowest of the castes, an untouchable, who did not even know how to read, yet was able to practice the Vajrayana, in particular the oral tradition of mahamudra..After Master Padmavajra taught him the instructions, he went to meditate at Kotampi Mountain, and  achieved the wisdom of mahamudra. Having achieved this realization, he asked the master what activity he should engage in. The master told him, “Take a female swineherd as your consort and work as a swineherd. Eventually you will become Vajrasattva.”

He did what he was told, lived with the woman and worked as a swineherd in a town in the northern parts of Uḍḍiyana until he achieved realization. He came to be known as Glorious Master Pigsty. He is included in the lineages of the seven transmissions of the Jonang, as well as in the lineage of four yogas of Naropa [Mahamudra, Tummo, Luminosity and Karmamudra], and the six great transmissions in the Golden Rosary of the Kamtsang Kagyu.

The Time It Should Be Taught

Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen’s Elucidation quotes two different times according to Drokmi Lotsawa:

One is on the evening before the preparation. At that time the student should go for refuge and arouse bodhichitta. The morning after the preparations, the student should be taught the 50 Verses.

A student with pure intentions
Should go for refuge to the three jewels
And following the guru,
Should be given recitation.

According to Naropa and Gungthangpa, the 50 Verses should be taught at the very beginning of making a connection between master and student.

When receiving empowerments and instructions from the master, the student should be asked, “You have already taken vows of personal liberation and of the bodhisattva, and do you agree to take more vows?” If they reply that they are willing to take more vows, then teach the Fifty Verses on the Guru and examine the mutual connection. If they have not yet taken vows but agree to take them, then give them refuge and bodhichitta and teach this. This is the mutual examination.

The guru should teach the text before actually creating the master-disciple connection.

།How the Fifty Verses on the Guru was Taught in the Karma Kagyu

In the Kamtsang, the first shedras for study of the sutras were founded during the time of the 7th Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso. The 8th, 9th, and 10th Karmapas established the growth of both sutra and tantra shedras, so that many scholars became learned in the scriptures of both.

Among the constitutions written by the 9th Karmapa for monasteries and especially tantric colleges that are still extant, it is clear that before a connection of master and disciple is made, one should study the Fifty Verses on the Guru and then receive empowerment from a qualified guru. One must know and understand how to keep samayas and vows as explained in The Ocean of Samaya and other texts. The Karmapa followed up with an example from the rulebook for the tantric college at Topgyal Tashi Trikor by the 9th Karmapa:

First study Fifty Verses on the Guru and gain certainty in the meaning. Take an empowerment properly from a qualified guru who holds the transmission of profound secret mantra, and then study samaya and vows in The Ocean of Samaya and learn them. Keep them as directed, treasuring them more than your own life.

The Ocean of Samaya

The Ocean of Samaya by the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje is a compilation of all the samayas taught in the four classes of tantra, both ancient and new translations. There is a root text in verse and an auto-commentary entitled The Stainless Essence. The 7th Karmapa wrote an annotated commentary on it. Mahapandita Shakya Chokden’s explanation of the three types of vows speaks on it at length. From the passage on the vinaya of the awareness holders:

There are two traditions of explaining the root downfalls, the one known from Manjushrikirti’s Great Commentary and a contrasting explanation, The Explanation That Eliminates Confusion. Glorious Rangjung Dorje’s treatises, The Ocean of Samaya, explains it in comparison with The Great Commentary.

His explanation of the root downfalls of the unexcelled tantra accords with The Ocean of Samaya. Regarding how much The Ocean of Samaya accords with Manjushrikirti’s Great Commentary, the 7th Karmapa wrote:

In the auto-commentary, he quotes heavily from Master Manjushrikirti’s Great Commentary, and if you do not examine it carefully, they seem to have the same thought. But when scrutinized in depth, other than a few good points, there are many differences.

The Ocean of Samaya appears to have been studied widely in the past but it is no longer well-known, so the Karmapa was considering teaching this text, as a follow-on from the 50 Verses.

The Fifth General Topic: Teaching the Actual Text

The Karmapa said he was following the outline from the commentary by Karmai Khenchen Rinchen Dargye

The text could be divided into three parts:

I. The Introduction

II. The Meaning of the Text

II. The Concluding Text.

The first section has three parts:

A. The meaning of the title

B. The Homage

C. The pledge to compose

The name in Sanskrit Gurupañcāśikā is given first. The Kadampa forefathers gave three reasons for this1. to know it and be grateful to the people from the past, 2. to quote the venerable source, and learn the language.

1.The purpose of knowing and being grateful for what they have done

The first should be understood as maintaining long ties with people who helped you in the past. Geshe Sharawa said that even if someone harmed you and that was the circumstance that brought you to the dharma, you must be grateful to them.

The story of Milarepa who first wished to kill his relatives for stealing his birth-right, is a case in point. In the end, his fear of going to the hells brought him to meet his guru and to practice until he reached enlightenment.

Among all benefits, the greatest is the dharma. In the past, there was no dharma in Tibet, so it was said it was as if Tibet was in pitch darkness. People did not know virtue from misdeeds or how to make ethical choices of karmic cause and effect. The ornament of dharma spread in Tibet due to the kindness of the three dharma kings and people could enjoy happiness equal to the gods. Where did the dharma come from? It came from India, so we must be grateful to India.

It was this sense of indebtedness to India which ed the Tibetans to treat Indians with great respect. During the time of the Kadampa forefathers, when monasteries accorded with the dharma and there were fine gurus and spiritual friends, they would give Indians a welcome different to anyone else.

To emphasize this point, His Holiness added that even beggars who came from India to Tibet were called by the name Master or Acharya—pronounced ‘atsarya’ by the Tibetans—and seated at the heads of rows. It was said to be a sign that the teachings had not diminished.

Later, because people lacked this understanding, and because many of the Indians who came to Tibet were beggars, the word deteriorated into meaning a beggar or a clown, and they became a feature in cham dances.

The Karmapa shared his childhood memories of watching cham and seeing these strange-looking pantomime figures who brought comic relief to the dancing,

“When I was young, in my homeland, before I was seven,,,we'd go to see the ‘atsaras’ with their long noses. They were a little frightening and funny. Everyone would say, ‘The atsara is coming,’ and the crowd would surge forward to watch.”

2. The purpose of the venerable source

When we say “In Sanskrit,” we know that this dharma originated in or was translated from India. The origin of dharma is India, and it was translated directly from Sanskrit, so we can understand the venerability of the source and its reliability. When the terminology for translating from Sanskrit had been revised, the editors added “In Sanskrit” to the beginning and a colophon listing the editor and master at the end. In general, not only was the source of the dharma venerable, but also the gurus from whom one takes views, the masters who taught the sciences, and one’s companions Even the house where you live should have a good, reliable source. It must be appropriate for the way you lead your life. You can’t just live anywhere at all.

The Karmapa cited the example of ‘fake rice’ in Tibet. It looked like rice but it was actually made from plastic. It didn’t come from a reliable source!

3.The purpose of learning the language
The purpose is to make imprints of the Sanskrit language. The Sanskrit title Gurupañcāśikā can be broken down into ‘guru’ meaning ‘lama’ and ‘pañcāśikā’ meaning ‘fifty’. In this way you learn to associate Sanskrit words with their meaning.  As it says in the Prajnaparamita, “Transcendent prajna is taught with these very words, these very letters, these very phrases.” As the Mahayana dharma was taught in Sanskrit, it is important.

However, you might wonder doesn’t it say in the Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct:

May I teach Dharma in every single language—
The language of the gods, the tongue of nagas,
The tongues of yakshas, kumbandhas and humans,
And all the languages that beings speak.

This is true but it refers to teaching dharma to ordinary people in general. If you really want to research deeply into Buddhism, you need to know four languages: Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese and Tibetan, which covers most of the Buddhist dharma that is extant. The mother language is Sanskrit. The southern traditions primarily use Pali, and the northern traditions, Chinese, or Korean.

The Kadampa masters emphasized making imprints of Sanskrit as part of the learning process. However, they were referring to the written text which was difficult for Tibetans to learn, not the vernacular. “Even Indians had to study and learn Sanskrit”, the Karmapa emphasized.

The Title
As a final addendum the Karmapa noted there were many different ways in which texts were given a name. It could be according to topic, or in terms of time and place, sometimes by the name of the person who requested the teachings, sometimes by the name of the author, as a metaphor, describing its function, or, as in this case, by denoting length either in number of points or number of verses or number of pages.

The Chinese title is the clearest and means “Fifty Ways to Serve the Guru”. Similarly other masters, like Je Tsongkhapa agreed, “It teaches the way to serve the guru in fifty verses”.

The Karmapa explained, even though the Tibetan only says ‘guru’ in the title, it is
really a teaching in fifty verses on the way to follow and serve the guru, so its Tibetan
title also describes both length and topic.