Lifting the Veil off the Fourteen Tantric Root Infractions Part 10: False versus correct exposition of the Buddha's teachings

Published:2015/06/17     08:00

(Reported by the True Heart News interviewing team in Taipei)

In this article, after critiquing Tsongkhapa’s exegesis of the first tantric root infraction, we turn to his explanation of the second infraction: “overstepping the words of sugata.” Tsongkhapa divided his discourse into two parts: “the object relative to which the downfall is incurred” and “the action that causes the downfall.” This article will discuss the first part.

Tsongkhapa says: “[Dharmakirti's] Commentary on the ‘Compendium of Valid Cognitions’ says, ‘Those with three cause-eliminating qualities are sugatas." Thus they are ‘sugatas,’ that is, buddhas, because they go well or beautifully (since they give no basis for suffering), because they are gone without return (since for them the [power of] the seed of the view of self is exhausted), and because they are totally gone (since everything to be eliminated has ended). Nagpopa in his [Lamp to View the Path] says their ‘words’ are the three vehicles.”i

The four leading sects of Tibetan “Buddhism” have attracted a great crowd of faithful and admiring followers not because the lamaistic gurus have any real attainments in terms of the Buddha Dharma. The fact is that lamaistic gurus have incorporated incorrect teachings, which appear to be correct but have nothing to do with the Buddha Dharma, into their tantras.


They have plagiarized bits and pieces of the Buddha Dharma, and although their teachings sometimes appear to be correct, the significance of these teachings has deviated from their original meanings.

Take the above excerpt quoted from Tsongkhapa's Tantric Ethics as an example. In this short passage where he supports his exegesis with the teachings of Dharmakirti and Nagpopa on the Three-Vehicle Bodhi, it is hardly possible for a Buddhist learner to spot the fallacies in his words.

“Sugata” is one of the ten epithets attributed to all buddhas. Tsongkhapa and Dharmakirti both agreed that “Those with three cause-eliminating qualities are sugatas.” While this statement is correct in itself, Tsongkhapa does not define the “three causes” according to their definitions in the Sutra but explain them entirely based on the preaching of tantric patriarchs. His definitions of the “three causes” are actually incomplete and inconclusive.

According to Ding Fubao's Great Dictionary of Buddhist Studies (佛學大辭典;Foxue da cidian), the “three causes” refer to the “producing cause,” the “habit cause,” and the “dependent cause.” The causes that enable the arising of dharmas are in the category of “producing cause.” For instance, wholesome and unwholesome karma are respectively the producing cause of desirable and undesirable retribution (Skt. vipakka). When acts of craving and greed reinforce themselves, they are called the “habit causes.” An example of “dependent cause” is the phenomena of the arising of the six vijnanas being dependent upon the presence of the six vijnana-roots and the six vijnana-objects.

The “producing cause” concerns the karmic law of cause-and-effect. Embodied in the idiom “you reap what you sow,” it pertains to two of the Four Noble Truths in the two-vehicle Liberation-Way: the Noble Truths of suffering and the origin of suffering. In other words, in the Two-Vehicle teachings of the Buddha, the “producing cause” has to do with everything in the phenomenal world, all of which exhibit some kind of casual characteristics. It is explained in terms of how desirable and undesirable karmic fruits one receives at present are generated by wholesome and unwholesome actions conducted in previous lives.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the “producing cause” is a much more profound concept. It refers to the eighth vijnana, the Tathagatagarbha, which is the matrix of all phenomena and therefore is the Ultimate Reality of the Buddha Dharma. Specifically, the “producing cause” can be described as one of the seven intrinsic natures of the eighth vijnana, the “intrinsic nature of aggregation.” Given that the Tathagatagarbha has the function to gather, store, and sustain all dharma-seeds, once the karmic activities performed over previous lifetimes have developed into dharma-seeds, they are stored in the Tathagatagarbha. In the future, these seeds will become the “producing causes” when they mature and manifest as the “differentially ripening fruits.”

A wholesome act will result in a desirable “differentially ripening retribution” in future lifetimes and vice versa. For example, learning correct dharma will bear the fruit of wisdom in this life, which can be carried onto future lives; conversely, assimilation of erroneous concepts (as in the case of Tsongkhapa) will lead one to always being inextricably trapped by non-Buddhist teachings and averse to the correct dharma.

The “habit cause” refers to the continual fostering of unwholesome and impure habits, as in how the acts of greed breed more greed. Some people have an insatiable appetite for wealth, so avarice will take root in them and become their defining characteristic and weakness. Another example is the lama gurus who indulge themselves in the tantric Vajra Vehicle. The constant practice of sexual tantra will deepen their craving for sexual contacts and eventually grow into an incontrollable obsession.

In the Great Vehicle teachings of the Buddha, the existence of “habit cause” is enabled by the eighth vijnana’s function to store the dharma-seeds. For instance, consistent nourishment of unwholesome dharma-seeds generates inveterate attachment and manifests as habitual behavior so ingrained that it cannot be restrained even by moral judgment. This is why some people are unable to hold themselves back even when they are fully aware of their wrongdoings and remind themselves all the time not to make the same mistakes.

The “Dependent cause” refers to the supporting cause of a phenomenon, as in the fact that the six vijnana-roots and the six vijnana-objects are the necessary conditions for the arising of the six vijnanas. Together these eighteen dharmas comprise the eighteen sense-realms (the six vijnana-roots, the six vijnana-objects, plus the six vijnanas themselves) and are the fundamentals in the Buddha Dharma. Every healthy person possesses six vijnana-roots: the five physical organs of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body, plus the root of the conscious mind [Skt. manas]. These six vijnana-roots make contact with their corresponding objects – the visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and mental objects – collectively known as the six vijnana-objects. Upon the contacts between the vijnana-roots and their corresponding vijnana-objects, the six vijnanas – eye-, ear-, nose-, tongue-, body-, and conscious mind (mano-vijnana) – come into being. Since all sentient beings live within these eighteen “sense-realms” and mistakenly believe that their dependent causes are of a real and permanent nature, the habit causes become entrenched over time and hence bring about endless transmigration in the six paths of rebirth within the three realms of existence.

The Three-Vehicle teachings expounded by buddhas are meant to help learners understand and extinguish these “three causes”; The three bodhi paths to extinguish them are called the sravaka bodhi, the pratyekabodhi, and the Buddha bodhi. The first two bodhis, or paths, are encompassed by the Liberation-Way. They are provisionally established to help sentient beings achieve liberation from cyclical transmigration via the realization of the nirvana with remainder and the remainderless nirvana. Only the Buddha Bodhi teaches the way to attain the ultimate liberation through the realization of four kinds of nirvana .


In the course of cyclical transmigration, sentient beings are in constant contact with the six vijnana-objects once their six vijnana-roots have fully developed, thus giving rise to the six vijnanas continuously. Therefore, regardless whether the differentially ripening retributions they receive are good or bad, sentient beings will inevitably engage in new karmic acts because of these habit causes. This is an inescapable fate shared by all sentient beings in the three realms.

Practitioners of the Liberation-Way can eliminate the misconceptions about the self after personally experiencing the illusory nature of the eighteen sense-realms. They recognize that what they have long regarded as their real and eternal “self” in terms of the eighteen sense-realms are actually impermanent and conditioned in nature. When this “self” is illusory, what belong to itiv loses their realness too. Once they have fully accepted this right view without any doubts, they can then gradually cut off their attachment toward all possessions associated with the false “self.” The Two-Vehicle practitioners who have attained this wisdom of liberation are able to thoroughly relinquish the “self” and its “belongings” after death. In that case, the body of intermediate existence (Tb. bardo)v would not be generated. This is how practitioners of the Two-Vehicle Liberation-Way attain liberation by ceasing all subsequent existences.

The cultivation of the Liberation-Way starts from the elimination of the misconceptions about the self, based upon which a practitioner further eliminates self-attachment and attachment to self-belongings. Only then can he or she achieve the liberation of the Two-Vehicle Bodhi by terminating all future existences, including the body of intermediate existence, and as a result, attain the nirvana without remainder.

This kind of liberation is accomplished by extinguishing the arising of all phenomena; it does not enable one to look beyond the dharma-characteristics of arising and ceasing phenomena. It falls short of bringing one to realize the inherently liberated Dharma of non-arising in the Mahayana Buddha Bodhi. However, the elimination of the misconceptions about the self consists of entirely refuting the existence of a “self” in terms of the eighteen sense-realms, especially in terms of the perceptive conscious mind [manovijnana]; it consists of clearly realizing the arising and ceasing nature, the unreal nature of the conscious mind and confirming that it is absolutely not the permanent and indestructible real Self.

Strictly speaking, the cultivation of the Mahayana Buddha Bodhi truly commences only after one has personally realized the Ultimate Reality of the dharma-realm, known to common folks as “awakening.” An “awakened” bodhisattva not only possesses the liberation wisdom attained in the two-vehicle Liberation-Way, but also rests on the wisdom (prajna)viof the non-arising. Based upon the wisdom of the general appearance of the non-arising Dharma, an awakened bodhisattva further cultivates the wisdom with respect to the “specific appearance” of the non-arising Dharma, which takes diligent practice of one eon to master thoroughly. Thereupon, a bodhisattva finally enters the Ground (Skt. bhumis) in the Buddhahood-Way and becomes an on-the-Ground bodhisattva. The first to seventh Ground takes a second eon to finish, while the eighth Ground to the stage of Wondrous Enlightenment requires another (the third) eon.

According to the Sutra, the Wondrous-Enlightenment stage bodhisattva awaiting the manifestation of Buddhahood in our world is Bodhisattva Maitreya. He now resides in the Tushita Heaven (the fourth of the six heavens of the desire-realm) and teaches the “seed-prajna of Vijnana-Only Doctrine” to other bodhisattvas. He will take birth in our world to manifest his attainment of the ultimate Buddhahood when he sees that the causes and conditions of teaching and saving sentient beings in this world have matured.

In other words, from the time that Buddha Shakyamuni manifested His entering into nirvana until Bodhisattva Maitreya manifests his attaining of ultimate Buddhahood, no other response-body buddhas will appear in our Saha World. This well-documented fact in the Sutra indirectly invalidates the proclamation of Tibetan “Buddhism” that the Tantric Vajra Vehicle [Vajrayana] can enable practitioners to attain Buddhahood in a single lifetime. Their patriarch Tsongkhapa should have known the absurdity of this claim, had he any understanding of the Dharma and the Sutra. As stated in the Sutra, we are still millions of human years away from the arrival of Bodhisattva Maitreya, the next Buddha to appear in this world.

Furthermore, the definition of “sugata” refers to those who "have gone without return” by Tsongkhapa and Dharmakirti is imprecise and overly simplistic. In terms of Buddhism, “Gone without return” can only describe arhats and pratyekabuddha. These saints of the Two-Vehicle Bodhi do not take rebirth after death since they have liberated themselves from the sufferings of births-and-deaths within the three realms. And once they have entered the remainderless nirvana they will forever be gone from samsara, unless they have listened to Buddha’s teachings of Mahayana Buddhahood and yearned for the Buddha Bodhi. In that case, the seed of delight in Mahayana planted in their eighth vijnana, the Tathagatagarbha, would eventually result in the generation of the manas (root of the conscious mind) after uncountable eons and bring them out of remainderless nirvana.ii

Unlike arhats and pratyekabuddhas, no buddhas would be “gone without return.” Their taking births in samsara, their teachings of the Three-Vehicle Bodhi, and their eventual entering into nirvana are all deliberate “manifestations.” Yet, seeing that buddhas also do eat and drink and go through aging and dying, many people, including some tantric lama gurus, conclude that buddhas are no different from ordinary human beings and that the unfathomable nirvana of no-abiding (apratisthita-nirvāṇa; the nirvana that abides in neither samsara nor nirvana) realized by all buddhas is merely a myth.

When Buddha Shakyamuni, the World-Honored One, manifested his entering into nirvana, He did not vanish for good; this manifestation only showed that He had the power to extricate himself from the three realms anytime he wishes. After manifesting his entering into nirvana in our Saha World, Buddha Shakyamuni showed himself in other worlds to liberate people who are ready for his teachings, and because of the immeasurable compassion and great vows of all buddhas, this process will go on without end.

Therefore, Tsongkhapa and Dharmakirti’s definition that the “sugata” is one who has “gone without return” is fallacious, because it suggests that the Buddha’s manifestation of entering into nirvana is no different from the Two-Vehicle saints’ thorough extinguishment of their body and mind and that the Buddha will never reappear in the three realms. Apparently, Tsongkhapa and Dharmakirti were ignorant about the key difference between the liberation in the Two-Vehicle and the ultimate liberation in the Great Vehicle.

The liberation attained by all buddhas is the ultimate liberation of the nirvana of no-abiding, whereas the liberation attained by arhats and pratyekabuddhas is described as “the annihilation of body and extinguishment of wisdom.” Buddhas’s ultimate liberation comes with physical form.vii In contrast, arhats and pratekabuddhas do not attain the so-called “form of liberation” because they have permanently eliminated their body of five aggregates, leaving only the non-perceiving eighth vijnana, the Tathagatagarbha, to dwell in remainderless nirvana all by itself.

All buddhas have eliminated their round of rebirth in the three realms as well as what is called the “subtle transformational births-and-deaths.” Bodhisattvas on or above the First Ground have put an end to samsaric births-and-deaths but only partially the subtle transformational death. Out of the inconceivable compassion behind the Ten Great Vows they took upon entering the First Ground, buddhas and bodhisattvas continue to manifest themselves in all human realms in the worlds of ten directions to liberate sentient beings. It is for this reason that they are said to have attained the “form of liberation.”

Tsongkhapa writes that “knowingly breaking” the words of buddhas constitutes the second tantric root downfall. Ironically, his propagation of the false views of unenlightened tantric patriarchs in the Fruit Clusters of Siddhiswas an outright disregard of Buddha Shakyamuni’s correct teachings. He deliberately denied the existence of the eighth vijnana, the Tathagatagarbha. On top of that, he also misrepresented conditioned phenomena derived from physical contacts taught in the sexual tantras as the supreme way to attain Buddhahood and the state of the Buddha Ground. Tsongkhapa had obviously “overstepped” Buddha’s words and violated this tantric precept according to his own definition. Although he had been misled since he was young, and therefore was never able to understand and realize the eighth vijnana, the Tathagatagarbha, he still had to pay the price for his reckless preaching of false concepts and fall into the three evil paths.

While Tantric patriarchs like Tsongkhapa, Dharmakirti and Nagpopa appear to be learned in the Three-Vehicle teachings of buddhas, our analysis shows that they only knew the literal meaning of Buddhist terminologies but were completely ignorant of the true meaning of the Buddha Dharma. At a superficial level, they seem to adhere to the Buddha’s teachings of the Three-Vehicle Bodhis; in reality, they had misrepresented the Tantric Vajra Vehicle as dharma cultivation. Furthermore, they widely spread phony “dharma” and even composed it into tantras that were transmitted to future generations. Persistently steering sentient beings away from the correct teachings of buddhas, they were the “terminators” rather than the promoters of the Buddha Dharma

iTsongkhapa. Tantric Ethics: An Explanation of the Precepts for Buddhist Vajrayana Practice. Trans. Gareth Sparham. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2005. 1st Edition. pp. 88.

iiFour kinds of nirvana: (1) the nirvana with remainder and (2) the remainderless nirvana realized in the Liberation-Way, (3) the inherent, pure nirvana with intrinsic natures realized by a Mahayana bodhisattva at the Seventh-Stay, as well as (4) the nirvana of no-abiding realized at the Buddha Ground, which abides neither in samsara nor nirvana.

iiiEliminating the misconceptions about the self: this is to realize the illusory nature of the physical body as well as the functions of seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing, the existence of which depends upon the six vijnana-roots. When one has no doubt about this truth, one is said to have rid oneself of the misconceptions about the self and attained the First Fruit of the Liberation-Way.

viSimply speaking, self-belongings refers to the physical body, assets, family members, and reputation that one possesses.

vThe body of interim existence (Tb, bardo): the body that emerges sometime after death for the purpose of taking rebirth; it is called spirit in some non-Buddhist religions. This body of interim existence can live for seven days of a cycle and eventually must take rebirth after seven cycles (49 days).

viTo “rest on the non-arising” means to accept that the eighth vijnana, the Tathagatagarbha, exists inherently and was never created. In this term, to “rest on” means to accept.

vii A saint who is able to permanently depart from the three realms but deliberately vow to take rebirth for the liberation of sentient beings is said to possess the “form of liberation.” The "liberated form" that lamas claim they can achieve through the method of attaining Buddhahood within a single lifetime is in no way liberated from cyclic existence within the desire realm; it is mistaken to be a liberated form body, while in fact it remains bound by desire-realm greed. The “form of liberation” that Tibetan lamas claim to achieve through attaining Buddhahood in a single lifetime cannot liberate anyone from even the round of rebirths in the desire-realm. Tantric practitioners are fettered by the cravings of desire-realm but they have mistaken that for having acquired the liberated form.

Editor's Note:

This article is an English version of the Chinese edition published on

July 15, 2014.