Research Articles

"Wheel of Time" II

Continuing to think about time, I'd like to consider the architecture of cosmic time according to the Kālachakra Tantra , and how this temporal schema was further codified by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen .

First, we must look where Dolpopa tells us to look. There, in the Lokadhātupaṭala or Chapter on World Systems in the extensive Vimalaprabhā commentary on the Kālachakra we find a clear description of four cosmic eons ( yuga ): (1) Kṛtayuga, (2) Tretayuga, (3) Dvāparayuga, and the (4) Kaliyuga.

Paraphrasing the Vimalaprabhā , Dolpopa writes in the opening verses of his work titled, The Great Calculation of the Teachings that has the Significance of a Fourth Council , [1]

"Wheel of Time" I

Kalachakra.mandala.1.jpg Jonang Kalachakra Mandala

Lately, I've been thinking about time. Time in the cliché sense of that which "does not stop for anyone." Historical time. Real time. Blinks and breathes and heart-beats. The wax and wane of moons, the expansion of universes, the radiant pulses of quasars. That basic conceptual structure that flows as the space-time continuum... The ticks and nanoticks that sequentially measure the magnitude and momentum of our lives.

More specifically, I've been thinking about how the Jonangpa master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen thought about time. How his concept of time has contributed to a re-visioning of Buddhist history, and from where his concept derived. [1]

Dolpopa was concerned with framing his realizations in accord with the Kālachakra Tantra , and the lineage of his realizations within the framework of the cosmological schema described by the tantra. In fact, I'd like to suggest that Dolpopa's understanding of time according to the Kālachakra was so central to his realizations that we must seek to understand this concept of time if we are to think seriously about the larger zhentong paradigm.

Dzogchen & Zhentong

Reading through the miscellaneous guidance texts ( khrid yig ) of Khenpo Lodrö Drakpa , I came across a brief instruction that he gave on clarifying the distinctions between the 4 predominant Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna views: (1) zhentong, (2) rangtong, (3) mahāmudrā, and (4) dzogchen. [1]

Of particular interest to me is the question, "What are the differences between the zhentong and dzogchen views?" This is a question of recurring interest in learned Buddhist circles. Not only have several friends in New York and elsewhere asked me this question, but I remember that while living in the monastery, monks would occasionally come to see my Tibetan teacher and ask him this very same question. Rinpoche would smile and assure the monks by saying, "There are slight differences."

Since Khenpo Lodrak makes such clear distinctions between these 4 views ― and since his instructions are so short and sweet, I thought to translate the excerpt here,

Whose Svabhāva is It?

jf_taranatha_thangka_2.jpg Taranatha

One of the major tripping points in Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy is identifying what is intrinsically existent ― what is referred to in Sanskrit as "svabhāva" ( rang bzhin ), and what is not ( nisvabhāva , rang bzhin med ).

Svabhāva is the central target of the Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika Rangtong Madhyamaka enterprise, and is essential in understanding zhentong. [1] However, what is considered svabhāva is not the same within the major Mahāyāna philosophical systems. Since this is a source of possible confusion, I thought to make a few notes here in order to help clarify what is "svabhāva" or intrinsically existent, according to who.

To begin, we must first identify the contexts in which svabhāva is defined. According to Mahāyāna thought, there is what is established to be real or truly existent ( bden grub ), and what is not. In other words, there is the real and the unreal. What is real and what is unreal are further defined as being threefold in nature: (1) the imaginary nature ( parikalpita , kun btags ); (2) the relational nature ( paratantra , gzhan dbang ); (3) the perfected nature ( pariniṣpanna , yongs grub ).

New Translations

4 New Translations from Cyrus Stearns

Courtesy of Cyrus Stearns, author of "The Buddha from Dolpo" and a member of Jonang Foundation's Board of Directors , we have recently added four new short translations to our expanding online library. These additions include 2 texts by Dolpopa, one by the 16th century Jonang and Shangpa Kagyu master Kunga Drolchok, and one by Drolchok's own teacher Lochen Ratnabhadra.

The "Other" Emptiness

The technical Tibetan term "zhentong" ( gzhan stong , often mis-phoneticized "shentong") suggests a particular view of reality, one that can be misconstrued due to the word itself. To give a simple gloss of the term, "zhentong" is: that which is empty ( stong ) of the other ( gzhan ). The word is often translated into English as "other-emptiness," begging the question: "Is there an 'other' emptiness?" That is, an emptiness other than the one we all know and love?

To begin, the term "zhentong" was coined by the 14th century Kālachakra master and Jonangpa scholar, Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen who employed it to contextualize his understanding...

Taranatha's "Essence"

The Essence of Zhentong

Composed by the Jonang scholar Taranatha (1575-1635), the "Essence of Zhentong" ("Essence of Shentong;" other-emptiness) offers a succinct presentation of both non-Buddhist and Buddhist philosophical systems, culminating in a discussion on the significance of Madhyamaka in general and the Great Madhyamaka tradition more specifically. A clear and precise introduction to " zhentong " as a view and system, the "Essence of Zhentong" is a classic reading drawn from the repository of Jonang philosophical literature.

Story of Shambhala

Though the story of the mythic land Shambhala as related from the Kālachakra Tantra is well known, I thought to recount a portion of the legend here. What follows is an edited excerpt taken from my translation of the introduction to the Kālachakra empowerment, as it was conferred in Italy a few weeks ago. [1]

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Bestowal of the Kālachakra:

The Buddha Shakyamuni taught this [Kālachakra] system on the 15th day of the black-star month [2nd month according to Kālachakra astrology] at the great and glorious Danyakataka Stupa in South India. At that time, he was surrounded by an unfathomable retinue...

Kalachakra Practice I

In preparation for the upcoming Kālachakra retreat, I thought to revisit some of the central themes on Jonang Kālachakra practice that have inspired many of my conversations with friends and inquirers on the subject. Though much of this can be found in my outline of the practice curriculum, it may be helpful to discuss this again here. [1]

To begin, its important to distinguish what are "ngöndro" ( sngon 'gro ) or the preliminary practices in the Jonang Kalachakra practice tradition, and what are "ngözhi" ( dngos gzhi ) or the primary practices. Although this is a division that is found among the Tibetan tantric traditions...

The First Jonangpa

Throughout my readings on the Jonangpa in English, I've noticed the (all too) common attribution of either Yumo Mikyo Dorje or Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen as the "founder" of the Jonang tradition. [1] Though Yumowa was a major figure in the transmission of the Drö Kālachakra lineage as it was received by the Jonangpa, and was a prominent forefather of the tradition, its unlikely that he even heard the word "Jonangpa" in his lifetime.

jf_kunpangpa_1.jpg Kunpangpa

The term was coined during the time of Kungpang Thukjé Tsöndru (1243-1313), [2] the master who later inherited the Drö Kālachakra lineage as it was transmitted through Yumowa, and the first in the lineage to settle in the valley named " Jomonang ." He was the 1st Jonangpa.