Tirthika

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Tirthika (Skt. tīrthika; Tib. མུ་སྟེགས་པ་, mutegpa; Wyl. mu stegs pa) — a proponent of non-Buddhist views.

Etymology

The Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit tirthika, mutegpa, is composed of teg which means steps or stepping stone and mu, the verge of a body of water. It refers to a spiritual path which is other than the Buddhist one but which nonetheless is a "muteg", a step at the verge of the great crossing to enlightenment.[1]

Definition

Könchok Jikmé Wangpo defines a tirthika as:

"A person who is a proponent of tenets, does not go for refuge to the Three Jewels, and asserts that there is a [perfect] teacher other than the Three Jewels."[2]

Subdivision

Traditionally, tirthikas refers to the many philosophical traditions of ancient India other than the Buddhist one. These can be categorized in different ways, such as the 360 wrong views or the 62 views or the five tarka groups.

Yet Mipham Rinpoche states in the Khenjuk:

"Although [tirthikas] have many different beliefs, when condensing the root of all of them, there are two: proponents of eternalism and proponents of nihilism. The proponents of eternalism believe that either the Self, Time, the Almighty, […] is the creator of the entire world. They hold that this creator is permanent. […] The proponents of nihilism claim that the present world originated by itself without causes, such as past karma; that consciousness occurred suddenly from the four elements; and that since it is discontinued at the time of death, it is pointless to exert oneself on the path in order to achieve liberation. All of these […] are, however, proponents of the existence of a self."[3]

In his commentary to Shantarakshita's Ornament of the Middle Way he further explains how all of these views come down to one common denominator:

"Because all these worldly paths are posited from the point of view of the ordinary mind (which sees only partially and is concomitant with beginningless, coemergent ignorance) in the last analysis they all come down to one thing, the assertion of a truly existent entity."[4]

Refutation

The tirthikas' views embody the gross, simplistic view of eternalism, considering that phenomena are not momentary and the simplistic view of nihilism, the belief that although phenomena are caused, they themselves do not generate their own effects—there are no past nor future lives—or that actions will not give rise to karmic results. The way to refute them is to hold, on the one hand, that phenomena cease at every moment and, on the other, that if causes are present, effects will surely manifest. These two notions are in agreement with the nature of phenomena on the conventional level.[5]

Translations[6]

Several English translations of this term have regularly been used up to this point.
1. "Outsider" actually translates the Tibetan term "chirolpa" which is the main synonym for "mutegpa" but is not the same.
2. "Non-Buddhist" is not incorrect but fails to capture the meaning of the original.
3. "Heretic" is a pejorative term carrying a meaning which is quite different from "mutegpa".
4. "Extremist" has been used because of the fact that, according to Buddhist thought, all tirthika traditions have a view which belongs to one of the two extremes, however, that is also not the meaning of the original term.
5. "Forder" carries some of the sense of the Tibetan and Sanskrit term but fails to convey accurately the idea of being at the edge; it suggests that the person is actually on their way across.

Notes

  1. Tony Duff's Tibetan Dictionary called Illuminator, under mu stegs
  2. Gon-chok-jik-may-wang-bo, Precious Garland of Tenets, Annotated translation. Appearing in part two of: Geshe Lhundup Sopa, Jeffrey Hopkins, Cutting Through Appearances The Practice and Theory of Tibetan Buddhism (Ithaca NY: Snow Lion Publications 1989).
  3. Mipham Rinpoche, Gateway to Knowledge volume I , Translated by Erik Kunsang, edited by Kathy Morris (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2002) [5,16-5,18].
  4. Mipham Rinpoche - Shantarakshita, The Adornment of the Middle Way: Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with Commentary by Jamgon Mipham, Translated by Padmkara Translation Group (Boston: Shambhala, 2005), p. 97.
  5. Mipham Rinpoche - Shantarakshita, The Adornment of the Middle Way: Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with Commentary by Jamgon Mipham, Translated by Padmkara Translation Group (Boston: Shambhala, 2005), p. 336.
  6. Tony Duff's Tibetan Dictionary called Illuminator, under mu stegs