Ten topics of knowledge

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The ten topics of knowledge (Tib. མཁས་པར་བྱ་བའི་གནས་བཅུ་, Wyl. mkhas par bya ba'i gnas bcu) are ten fields of expertise, that, when mastered, cause one to abandon all obstacles to enlightenment. Each topic is said to address one of ten different ways of grasping to the "self," known as the ten views of the self.

These topics are presented in the Madhyantavibhaga, an Indian philosophical text of the Sanskrit tradition that is widely studied in Tibetan Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism, and also in the Khenjuk, a Tibetan commentary by Mipham Rinpoche.

The ten topics are:[1]

  1. Aggregates (skandha)
  2. Elements (dhātu)
  3. Sense sources (āyatana)
  4. Dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda)
  5. What is possible and what is impossible (sthānāsthāna)
  6. The faculties (indriya)
  7. Time (adhvan)
  8. The truths (satya)
  9. The vehicles (yāna)
  10. The conditioned and the unconditioned (saṁskṛta-asaṁskṛta)

Brief descriptions

This section contains brief descriptions of the ten topics of knowledge based on the presentation in the Madhyantavibhaga.

Aggregates (skandha)

An aggregate (Skt. skandha; T. ཕུང་པོ་) refers many things coming together; it is a gathering of parts. Aggregates can be categorized in terms of their characteristics. For example: the five skandhas, nama-rupa, etc.

Understanding the aggregates is an antidote to grasping to the self as "singular".

Elements (dhātu)

Elements (Skt. dhātu; T. ཁམས་) refers to the eighteen elements of the Abhidharma teachings. Each of the elements has its own nature, qualities, and capacity to apprehend objects. These elements are the cause of our apprehension of the world and its beings.

Understanding the elements is an antidote to grasping to the self as the "cause" for the world and its beings.

Sense sources (āyatana)

Sense sources (Skt. āyatana; T. སྐྱེ་མཆེད་) refers to the twelve sense sources of the Abhidharma teachings. All our experiences of the world arise through the sense sources.

Understanding the sources is an antidote to grasping to the self as that which "experiences" (or encounters or consumes) the world.

Dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda)

Dependent origination ( Skt. pratītyasamutpāda; T. རྟེན་འབྲེལ་) refers to the understanding that all phenomema arise in dependence upon causes and conditions. This includes outer phenomena, such as a tree, and inner phenomena, such as the five aggregates.

Understanding dependent origination is an antidote to grasping to the self as the "creator" of the universe.

What is possible and what is impossible (sthānāsthāna)

"What is possible and what is impossible" (Skt. sthānāsthāna; T. གནས་དང་གནས་མ་ཡིན་པ་) is the understanding that specific results arise only if the corresponding causes and conditions are present. For example:

  • if the corresponding/concordant causes and conditions are present, then results will arise. This is correct.
  • if causes and conditions are not aligned with results, this is incorrect.

Hence, the correct causes and conditions must be present to give rise to a result. Results are not dependent upon one's wishes. Without the correct causes and condition, results will not arise, despite one's wishes.[2]

This topic is an antidote to the belief in a self that is autonomous.

Faculties (indriya)

The faculties (Skt. indriya; T. དབང་པོ་) are the antidote to the self as the "owner" of experiences. This topic refers specifically to the twenty-two faculties of the Sanskrit Abhidharma tradition.

The Garland of Radiant Light states:

Seeing the self as the ruler, as the one in charge or the central decisive factor, is eliminated by gaining expertise regarding the faculties. The twenty-two faculties alone have control over the qualities of thorough affliction and complete purification. Aside from these, nothing else is necessary to govern [their manifestation], nor is anything observed to do so.[1]

Time (adhvan)

Time (Skt. adhvan; T. དུས་) is the antidote to believing the self to be permanent.

The Garland of Radiant Light states:

The belief that the self is permanent, something that does not change or transform from the past to the future, is eliminated by gaining expertise regarding time. The three times are posited based on the arising and cessation of entities. Because there are three different situations, they cannot possibly be one. If something is an entity, it must arise and cease. Thus, it is impossible for something to remain unchanged throughout the three times.[1]

The truths (satya)

The truths (Skt. satya; T. བདེན་པ་) are the antidote to believing in an "intrinsically existing self" as the basis for the bondage of samsara and liberation from samsara. This topic refers specifically to the Four Noble Truths.

The Garland of Radiant Light states:

The view that the self is the very foundation of, and basis for, thorough affliction and complete purification is eliminated by gaining expertise regarding the truths. The four truths relate to thorough affliction and complete purification. Of these four, two aspects are causal and two resultant. By understanding these truths, one is led to the realization that there are no other bases for thorough affliction and complete purification; there is nothing else that encounters [affliction and purification].[1]

Vehicles (yāna)

The vehicles (Skt. yāna; T. ཐེག་པ་) are the antidote to the concept that there is an existing "self" that is a being with a spiritual practice. This topic refers specifically to the three vehicles of the Mahayana tradition.

The Garland of Radiant Light states:

The belief that the self is a being that has a spiritual practice is eliminated by becoming an expert in the vehicles. It is the practice of the three vehicles' paths that makes the various [excellent] qualities appear. There is nothing aside from this that can be observed to be engaged in spiritual practice or training.[1]

The conditioned and the unconditioned (saṁskṛta-asaṁskṛta)

The conditioned and the unconditioned (Skt. saṁskṛta-asaṁskṛta; T. འདུས་བྱས་དང་འདུས་མ་བྱས་) ...

The Garland of Radiant Light states:

The idea that the self has the particular trait of being bound at one point in time and liberated at another is eliminated by gaining expertise about the conditioned and the unconditioned. Unconditioned analytical cessation, the exhaustion of defiling conditioned phenomena, is termed "transcendence of suffering." Aside from this cessation, there is no self that is impure at first and then pure later that can be observed by valid cognition. If there were such a self, it would logically follow that liberation is impossible.[1]

Similar lists

The Avatamsaka Sutra identifies six topics of knowledge; these are:

  • aggregates, elements, sense sources, dependent origination (known collectively as the four gates to the truth),
  • the correct and the incorrect and
  • the truths.

The Sutra of Inexhaustible Intelligence identifies eight topics: time is mentioned instead of the correct and the incorrect, and the vehicles and the conditioned and unconditioned are also mentioned.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2007, s.v. The Ten Topics of Knowledge.
  2. MAV notes.


Sources

  • Book icoline.svg Dharmachakra Translation Committee (2007), Middle Beyond Extremes: Maitreya's Madhyantavibhaga with Commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham, Snow Lion Publications 
  • Book icoline.svg Mipham Rinpoche (2004), Gateway to Knowledge, vol. I, translated by Kunsang, Erik Pema, Rangjung Yeshe Publications 

Further reading

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