hopkins ultimate reality in tibetan buddhism

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Ultimate Reality in Tibetan Buddhism Author(s): Jeffrey Hopkins Source: Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 8 (1988), pp. 111-129 Published by: University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1390116 Accessed: 03/09/2009 10:41Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=uhp. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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UltimateReality in TibetanBuddhismJeffreyHopkins Universityof Virginia

In Vancouver,when it was suggested that the next topic be "ultimate reality," someone questioned whether the Buddhist representativeswould accept the topic. I guessed that the question arosebecauseit was presumed that Buddhists would assertthat everythingis illusion and thus there can be no reality.My conjecture led me beyond the immediate and obvious identification of "ultimate reality" as emptiness, the "ultimate truth," into thinking about the many meanings of terms in Sanskrit and Tibetan that could be loosely included within "ultimate reality,"especially in the light of John Cobb's identification of many possible meanings of the term in Buddhist-ChristianStudies (1983, 3: 39). Thus, I propose to speak about "ultimate reality" in Buddhism from several points of view including: (1) the phenomena that actuallyexist as opposed to merely being imagined, (2) the ultimate truth that is the final nature of all phenomena, (3) the ultimate existence that phenomena lack, (4) the ultimate types of consciousnessthat realize the truth, and (5) the final goal and state achieved by a practitioner.Following Maitreya's Differentiation of the Middle and the Extremes,I shall structurethese and other meanings around the familiar Buddhist triad of the basis, the path, and the fruit. My sourcesare primarily,but not exclusively,texts and oral teachings of the Ge-luk-ba order of Tibetan Buddhism., This order was founded by the polymath and yogi Dzong-ka-ba (1357-1419), who was from the easternmost region of Tibet. It came to have great influence throughout a region stretching from KalmuckMongolian areasnear the Volga River(in Europe)where it empties into the Caspian Sea, Outer and Inner Mongolia, the Buriat Republic of Siberia, as well as most parts of Tibet and Ladakh. Dzong-ka-ba established a system of education centered in large universities, eventually in three areasof Tibet, but primarilyin Lhasa,the capital, which was like Rome for the Catholic Church. Young men came from all of the above-mentioned regions to Lhasato study, usually (until the Communist takeovers)returning to their native lands after completing their studies. With respectto my viewpoint, I am a Buddhist but not a Ge-luk-ba, becauseStudies 8 (1988). ? by Universityof HawaiiPress.All rightsreserved. Buddhist-Christian

HOPKINS JEFFREY I find such an identification too limiting. I make use of whateverseems valuable among what I encounter in the varioussectarianand national Buddhisms, and it is with this spirit that I am increasingly enjoying the encounter with Christianity.Since the Buddhism from which I speak is concernedfor the most part with very profound levels of realization, I cannot claim to have firsthand experience of these topics. It would amount to overweening pride, or hubris, were I to claim that all that I am about to say about ultimate realityis a matter of validly induced conviction. However, at the minimum, I have inklings that these presentationsare helpful in arrivingat the truth. Thus, although in some respectsI am merely assumingthe voice of a long tradition of explanation, I am fascinatedby these doctrinesand aspireto experiencetheir meaning. I shall be speaking largelyfrom standardGe-luk-ba perspectiveson sutraand tantra. It is important to make this clear becauseit means that I can speak from a highly developed, living, conceptual system without the primaryfocus being the ancient Indian sourcesfor these perspectivesand their subsequent development and controversies the variousforms of Buddhism. This is not to say that in neither I nor Ge-luk-ba scholarsare concernedwith the Indian sourcesof their views, for we are. Rather,when the focus of exposition is put on those sources and the varying interpretationsof them, one is overburdenedwith a sense of tentativeness that does not accuratelyreflect the larger, dynamicallyfunctioning world-viewof the system. Conversely,when too much emphasis is put on the model system, a sense of the rich criticalperspectiveembodied by many of these scholar-practitioners not conveyed. At this point in our study of Budis I usuallychoose to run the latter risk. dhism, Let us turn to a Buddhist interpretationof "ultimate reality" in terms of the basis, the path, and the fruit of the path.BASIS

Ultimate as Reality WhatExistsThe broadestpossible meaning of "ultimate reality" is what exists, as opposed to what seems to exist but does not. "Ultimate" here has a ratherweak sense of "when you get right down to it"; and "reality" has the sense of what is-as opposed to what merely seems to be. When you get right down to it-when you look into it-what exists?What is able to withstand analysisof whether it meets the criteriaof existence? An existent is defined as something observed by valid cognition. Briefly stated, valid cognition is directperception and inference. Direct perception can be either sense or mental directperception; and inferential cognition is conceptual, non-delusive knowledge of a hidden, or obscure, object that is gained in dependence upon a correctlogical sign. There are many synonyms of "existent." With their respective definitions, these include:

REALITYIN TIBETANBUDDHISM ULTIMATE 1) established base: something establishedby valid cognition; 2) object of knowledge: something fit to be taken as an object of an awareness; 3) phenomenon: something holding its own entity; 4) object of comprehension:something realized by valid cognition; 5) object: something known by an awareness; 6) object of comprehension by an omniscient consciousness:something realized by an omniscient consciousness. That these are synonyms entails that whatever is one of them is all the rest. Hence, an existent is an established base, an object of knowledge, a phenomenon, an object of comprehension, an object, and an object of comprehension by an omniscient consciousness.Similarly,an existent is necessarilyestablished by valid cognition, fit to be taken as an object of an awareness,holds its own entity, is realized by valid cognition, is known by an awareness,and is realized by an omniscient consciousness. In GreatVehicle Buddhism, the most famous list of existents(taken from the Perfectionof Wisdom Sutras)begins with forms and ends with omniscient consciousnesses.It is a list of one-hundred and eight phenomena broken into two categories:fifty-three in the thoroughly afflicted class, and fifty-five in the very pure class. (Anything that exists can be included in at least one of these onehundred eight categories. The meaning of the list is not that things such as chairs, which are not explicitly listed, do not exist; rather,chairs, for instance, are subdivisionsof forms.) Another list divides the existent into the permanent and the impermanent. The permanent are divided into four classes; and the impermanent are divided into three classes, which are then divided and subdivided in manifold ways.2 Ultimate Realityas Ultimate Truth The division of phenomena into 108 categoriesis important but not as vital as the division of those same phenomena into the two truths, ultimate truths and conventional truths (or truths-for-a-concealing-consciousness). Everythingthat exists is one or the other of the two truths, and anything that is either of the two truths necessarilyexists. Hence, the horns of a rabbit (barringgenetic engineering) areneither of the two truths. In the context of the two truths, "ultimate reality"is the final nature of what exists; although it exists, it is not-like the first interpretation of "ultimate reality" given above-everything that exists. Rather,it is the final mode of subsistence, the mode of being, of what exists. This is emptiness, an absence of inherent existence,3 called "ultimate truth" (paramarthasatya).A truth is something that exists the way it appearsin direct perception and thus is a true object. It is something that does not deceive. An emptiness is an ultimate truth in that it is a truth (satya), existing the way it appearsin direct perception, for

HOPKINS JEFFREY an ultimate (paramartha)consciousness.4In this context, an ultimate consciousnessrefersnot to the final consciousnessattained through practiceof the path, that is to say, a Buddha's omniscient consciousness, but to a reasoning consciousness realizing emptiness. Such ultimate conscious


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