Rongtön Chenpo’s Illuminating Words and Meaning, a commentary on the Ornament of Clear Realisation

translators: Boyce Teoh with Khenpo Jamyang Tenzin

The text we are translating is Rongtön Sheja Kunrig’s explanation of the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras based on Maitreya’s Ornament of Clear Realization and its Indian commentary by Haribhadra, entitled Illuminating Words and Meaning. It is known for the comprehensive manner in which it treats the seventy topics of the Ornament.

Rongtön is renowned for his expertise in the Treatises of Maitreya (byams chos sde lnga), and in particular for his mastery of the Ornament of Clear Realization. (For more details on Rongtön, please refer to the Middle and Extremes page.)

Maitreya’s Ornament of Clear Realization (Abhisamayālaṃkāra) is said to reveal the hidden meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras (Prajñāpāramitā), explaining in detail the inner journey to perfect enlightenment. The term prajñāpāramitā refers to the direct encounter with ultimate reality, the main highway to liberation and omniscience. To be immersed in it is therefore considered to be the supreme practice and realization.

Categorizing the Prajñāpāramitā into eight chapters, Maitreya’s treatise describes the experiences of bodhisattvas as they achieve various realizations on the path to full enlightenment. By explaining many types of practice employed by bodhisattvas to progress through different levels of realization, from the path of accumulation up to the path of no further training, this comprehensive text covers the vastness and depth of the entire Mahayana vehicle.

Overview of the chapters

The first to third chapters describe the realizations of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Chapters four to seven deal with the four yogic practices to achieve these realizations, and chapter eight discusses the fruition of these practices.

The first chapter is entitled ‘The realization of all aspects’, which refers to the buddhas’ realization of all aspects, signs, and characteristics of all phenomena as non-arising. The Enlightened Ones’ omniscience is thus explained to entail an understanding of all aspects of the true nature of phenomena as well as of the entire variety of appearances.

The second chapter, ‘The realization of the paths’, describes the realizations of bodhisattvas as they travel through the five Mahayana paths, and in particular the ten bhumis. They realize that all three paths of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas are non-arising and without any essence.

The third chapter, ‘The realization of all bases’, presentsthe realizations of śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha arhats, and their final insight into the reality that all aggregates, elements and bases of perception (skandhas, dhātus, and āyatanas) are devoid of the self of the individual. The bodhisattvas’ practices are intended to transcend this realization through a refined understanding of ultimate reality.

Chapter four discusses the 173 aspects of all the realizations of the three paths in terms of their perfect practice, realizations, and mastery.

Chapter five presents the highest forms of the cultivation of insight, the realisation ofall entities, all paths, and all aspects as being without self-nature.

Chapter six is a brief overview of the sequential nature of the entire path, emphasizing the progressive stabilization of momentary and culminating insights of the three realizations.

Chapter seven discusses a bodhisattva’s simultaneous realization of all aspects of the three realizations in the vajra-like samādhi during the last moment of the tenth bodhisattva ground (bhūmi).

Chapter eight discusses the final fruition of buddhahood as the three (or four) bodies of enlightenment (kāya) and their activities.