Shambhala Publications: The Dharmachakra Translation Committee has now published two of the five Maitreya texts, with a third on the way soon. Can you give a brief overview of why you chose to translate these?
Thomas Doctor: There is a set of thirteen classic Indian texts that make up the core curriculum of sutra studies in many of the monastic colleges of Tibetan Buddhism. Among those thirteen classics, the five Maitreya texts provide an extremely rich account of Mahayana philosophy and practice.
It is tempting to say that the scope of the five treatises is infinitely vast, because they deal with the ground, path and fruition as discovered and experienced by the bodhisattvas. With equal emphasis on view, meditation, and action they account for the full experience of limitless emptiness inseparable from universal love and compassion. It is for this reason that these texts are at the heart of the education of all scholar-practitioners in the Tibetan tradition.
According to Tibetan tradition, the Buddha's regent, Maitreya, blessed the great Indian master, Asanga, and transported him to the divine realm of Tushita. In Tushita Maitreya taught Asanga these five treatises in person. Upon Asanga's return to this world of humans he passed the teachings on to his students.
SP: What are the main features of these two "Distinguishing " texts as compared to the others?
TD: In Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes [published as Middle Beyond Extremes], Maitreya invites us to explore the way things appear and the way things truly are. He guides his students toward a realization that goes completely beyond the dualistic grasp of ordinary consciousness, and yet at the same time avoids the pitfall of denying experience - an extreme negation that might otherwise mistakenly be derived from the teaching of emptiness. Through careful description and analysis of the fabric of the world and that which lies beyond it, Maitreya leads his students toward a pivotal conclusion: emptiness and experience are not in conflict, but entail one another.