The Inquiry of Lokadhara
Chapter Nine: The Phenomena of the World and Transcendence
Degé Kangyur, vol. 60 (mdo sde, ma), folios 7.b–78.b
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
In The Inquiry of Lokadhara, the bodhisattva Lokadhara asks the Buddha to explain the proper way for bodhisattvas to discern the characteristics of phenomena and employ that knowledge to attain awakening. In reply, the Buddha teaches at length how to understand the lack of inherent existence of phenomena. As part of the teaching, the Buddha explains in detail the nonexistence of the aggregates, the elements, the sense sources, dependently originated phenomena, the four applications of mindfulness, the five powers, the eightfold path of the noble ones, and mundane and transcendent phenomena, as well as conditioned and unconditioned phenomena.
The sūtra was translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the guidance of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. The translation from the Tibetan was produced by Timothy Hinkle. Andreas Doctor checked the translation against the Tibetan, edited the text, and wrote the introduction. James Gentry subsequently compared the translation against Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation and made further edits.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
“Lokadhara, how are bodhisattva great beings skilled regarding the phenomena of the world and transcendence? What means do they obtain with regard to the phenomena of the world and transcendence? Lokadhara, bodhisattva great beings understand the phenomena of the world and transcendence to be true reality.
“What are the phenomena of the world? Bodhisattvas think, ‘Thoughts and concepts about phenomena arise from mistaken perception, they are generated by causes and conditions, and they depend on falsity. Since they arise from the marks of duality, they are empty and nonexistent. They fool childish ordinary beings, like the bright colors reflecting from a pearl or the spinning of a firebrand. The world is given as a synonym for things that decay and degenerate. This is the world. These worldly phenomena are all unreal; they arise from false conditions and lack the characteristics of arising or being created. They are labeled as aggregates, elements, sense sources, forms, sounds, odors, tastes, tactile objects, or mental objects, and described as name-and-form. [F.67.b] Through their attachment and clinging, childish ordinary beings generate further attachment and clinging in a variety of forms, just as tangled silk fringes72 or entwined roots and creepers are linked, one to another. Worldly phenomena are described based upon such mistaken perception.
“What are transcendent phenomena? Transcendence is a primordial and genuine disengagement from worldly phenomena. Why is this? The wise do not observe either worldly phenomena or transcendent phenomena, for they do not observe a locus of worldly and transcendent phenomena. For them, there is nothing that can be imputed as the world or transcendence, for transcendence is mentioned only because of the world, and the true characteristic of the world itself is transcendence. Why is this? The world cannot be observed to have any true characteristics. The characteristic of both the world and transcendence has always been emptiness, because worldly phenomena lack any true characteristics. The world has always had the characteristic of total pacification. By understanding that worldly and transcendent phenomena in this manner cannot be observed, bodhisattvas are not attached to worldly phenomena or transcendence. They have no quarrel with the world, because they do not depend upon or become attached to worldly or transcendent phenomena. Why is this? The wise understand and realize the world to have the characteristic of falsity. By seeing the world as false, they do not conceptualize the world or transcendence. Why is this? Lokadhara, the world means the five aggregates for appropriation. [F.68.a] All worldly phenomena are included in this category. Yet, if investigated by the wise, the aggregates do not exist. They do not observe the aggregates as aggregates, or the nature of the aggregates. The aggregates cannot be observed as a locus of coming, as a locus of staying, or as a locus of going. Because the five aggregates, as well as the twelve sense sources and the eighteen elements, cannot be observed or analyzed, and because they are without name, nature, characteristic, or action, they are transcendence.
“Lokadhara, when bodhisattva great beings contemplate the phenomena of the world and transcendence, transcendent phenomena are not joined together with worldly phenomena, and transcendent phenomena are also never separate from worldly phenomena. This is how such people see transcendent phenomena as being inseparable from the world, and how they see worldly phenomena as inseparable from transcendent phenomena. Such people do not observe two different forms of conduct, worldly and transcendent. Why is this? Lokadhara, the true characteristic of the world is transcendence. The characteristic of the world cannot be observed in the world, and worldly phenomena cannot be observed in worldly phenomena. Because they are totally nonexistent in this way, realizing and understanding this is transcendence. Lokadhara, given that the world is not different from transcendence, the Blessed Buddha does not appear in the world, and the Thus-Gone One does not teach that worldly phenomena cannot be observed—all worldly phenomena can be accurately seen and understood, because they are unborn. [F.68.b] Lokadhara, not observing or engaging the world is transcendence. Therefore, understand this point: accurately understanding the world and realizing that it cannot be observed is transcendence. Therefore, the Blessed Buddha appeared in the world and declared, ‘Transcendence means to accurately see and understand how all worldly and transcendent phenomena are indivisible and nondual.’ Lokadhara, in this manner the world is incredibly profound and difficult to fathom. Dwelling on worldly phenomena, observing worldly phenomena, hoping for transcendent phenomena, perceiving relative terminology to characterize the ultimate, and dwelling on dualistic phenomena will not lead one to actualize or understand this Dharma. Why is this? Such people fail to understand the world and transcendence, perceiving them as two different things. Lokadhara, if one perceives two different things, one will not know and understand the world and transcendence. Lokadhara, this is how bodhisattva great beings are highly skilled regarding the phenomena of the world and transcendence, and these are the means they obtain with regard to worldly and transcendent phenomena.”
This was the ninth chapter: “The Phenomena of the World and Transcendence.”
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