Does the Yogacara reject Nikaya/Agama meditation practices?

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Does the Yogacara reject Nikaya/Agama meditation practices?

Post by Javierfv1212 » Wed Oct 18, 2017 5:59 pm

Reading the Samdhinirmocana and came upon this section and was quite confused/saddened by this statement:
The Bodhisattva Maitreya addressed the Buddha and said: "World-honored One, you have taught about quietude and vision supported by the doctrine [of the great vehicle] and not supported by [that] doctrine. What do these terms mean?"

The Buddha answered the Bodhisattva Maitreya and said: "Good son, the quietude and vision supported by the doctrine are that quietude and vision attained through the doctrine and its meaning first received and pondered by the bodhisattvas. The quietude and vision not supported by the [bodhisattva] doctrine are the quietude and vision attained not through the images of the doctrine the bodhisattvas have received and pondered, but through the instructions and meanings of other teachings, such as meditation upon decaying and rotting [bodies] or upon the Impermanence of all things, the suffering of all conditioned states of being, the no-self of all things, or the final quiescence of cessation. Such quietude and vision I designate as not supported by doctrine. But, if they have attained a quietude and vision supported by the [bodhisattva] doctrine, those bodhisattvas I have designated as followers of the doctrine, and they have keen faculties, while, if they attain a quietude and vision not supported by doctrine, those bodhisattvas I have designated as followers of faith, and they have dull faculties."
Now I am not exactly sure how this section is to be interpreted or has been interpreted by the tradition. At face value, it seems to be rejecting meditation practices from the Nikayas and Agamas, practices which I see as totally legitimate and as Buddhavacana. Is this kind of rejection of pre-sectarian practices found in the Nikayas and Agamas common in Yogacara texts like this? I was of the impression that while Mahayana Yogacara texts placed themselves as higher than "sravaka" texts, they did not reject them outright. This is quite troubling to me, since I value these texts a lot and if this were the case, I would have to say that I do not accept this statement form the Samdhinirmocana (!).

So yea, I am bit confused here because I value both Mahayana and pre-sectarian early Buddhist texts and generally see them as (mostly) compatible, but perhaps now I am seeing that is just wrong and I have to "pick a side". Perhaps someone has some insight or different perspective I have missed?
It is quite impossible to find the Buddha anywhere other than in one's own mind.

Amid those who are self-constrained, the Stable One would not posit as categorically true or false
anything seen, heard, or sensed, clung to and considered truth by others.
Since they have already seen this dart to which people cling and adhere,
saying “I know, I see, it is just so,”
the Tathāgatas cling to nothing.
-Kalaka sutta

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Re: Does the Yogacara reject Nikaya/Agama meditation practices?

Post by Sentient Light » Wed Oct 18, 2017 7:02 pm

Yogacara is probably closer to the Early Buddhist Teachings than other Mahayana 'schemas.' The BDK translation is REALLY good for the first half of the Samdhinirmonocana, and sorta falls apart in the latter half. I prefer Powers' translation of the Tibetan for the latter half (and do not favor his first half the way I do the BDK), so here's another translation of that section (emphasis mine):
"Maitreya, śamatha and vipaśyana that relate to meaning through engagement with the signs of the doctrine in accord with how they have been apprehended and contemplated—dwell on doctrines.

"Śamatha and vipaśyana that relate to meaning by relying on instructions and teachings from others, without attending to doctrines in accord with how they have been apprehended and contemplated—[focusing] on discolored or putrefying corpses or on what is concordant with that, or on the impermanence of compounded phenomena, or on suffering, or on the selflessness of all phenomena, or on the peace of nirvana, or on what is concordant with that—are śamatha and vipaśyana that do not dwell on doctrines.

"Maitreya, I designate Bodhisattvas who follow the teaching, depending upon śamatha and vipaśyana that dwell on doctrines, as having sharp faculties. I designate those who follow with faith, depending upon [śamatha and vipaśyanā] that do not dwell on doctrines, as having dull faculties."
We need to recall in the first half of the sutra that whole discussion about "signs" or "images" (depending on translation), which was in truth a discussion about the place of theory and the place of practice... More specifically, it was a discussion about the path of meditative practice outlined by the Agamas and the theoretical framework of "signs" espoused in the Prajnaparamita Sutras. If we go back to that discussion (which I'm not going to dig for, since I only have the Powers version available to me and prefer the BDK version there), we can see it's a polemic and the resulting conclusion is that analysis of signs and the discussion of language-based teachings is provisional, making sense within phenomenal terms, but true practical insight can never be explicitly laid out.. that doens't mean one is superior to the other, but rather that they are two approaches to the same thing, depending on where you are on the path.

This section sorta inverts that by discussing it from the other direction. Here, he speaks of samatha-vipasyana in relation to the "signs" and meaning of the doctrine of Prajnaparamita -- the doctrine instructing in how to perceive and regard the world in relation to signs and semiotics / the doctrine of the perfection of wisdom -- as being a path of practice for those with strong faculties ... i.e. the Prajnaparamita, and the meditative practices and attainments described therein are only sensible to those with strong faculties of mind.

But for those of duller faculties, who do not possess the roots of virtue and wisdom where the Prajnaparamita teachings make more intuitive sense, teachings based on more provisional awarenesses -- like meditation on death or meditation on dependent arising -- lay out the path in order to prepare a practitioner for those deeper meditations... like, there is meditation on death, which is very visceral and easy to relate to, but underlying that is the meditation upon emptiness itself, on the meaning of birth and death as experienced by the mind when making contact with these "signs" (the words themselves/the ideas imbued to the words).

So effectively, it's not that the path of contemplations taught to the sravakas is incorrect, rather.. after having cultivated in this way for sufficient time, a bodhisattva would attain that insight leading to a closer study of sunyata, and the path of cultivation looks remarkably different from there on.

Put another way: You dont' teach relativity to someone who doesn't yet understand Newtonian physics.
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