Dolpopa on Emptiness

The following post is titled, Emptiness of Self-nature and Emptiness of Other by Cyrus Stearns, a contributing author to the Jonangpa blog. It is an excerpt from the reprint of The Buddha from Dolpo (Snow Lion Publications, 2010). Posted here with permission from the author. [1]

The key in Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen's approach is to link his view of the absolute as empty only of other relative phenomena ( gzhan stong ) to the teachings of the Kṛtayuga, as opposed to the teachings of the Tretāyuga and later eons that emphasize even absolute reality is empty of self-nature ( rang stong...

The Quintessence of Rangtong

jf_sky2_diego_2022.jpg Sky over Tibet

A long time coming, actually a year to the day since my last January 13th posting, The Quintessence of Zhentong from the collection of 108 Quintessential Instructions , I thought to revisit these instructions with a complimentary post.

Each of these instructions was meant to act as a pith directive to the practitioner about how to cultivate a particular outlook on the nature of reality through contemplative experience. These 108 Quintessential Instructions of the Jonang continue to be...

Reflecting 'The Crystal Mirror'

Maybe its the dark magnetism of impending all hallows' eve, but I'm feeling a mischievous urge to rile up all the ghouls and goblins of unapologetic dogmatism and have them stare in unison — — into The Crystal Mirror . That is, The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems by Thuken Losang Chökyi Nyima (1737-1802). Fortunately, this classical Tibetan polemical text is now available to the English reading world due to the clear translation of Geshe Lhundup Sopa and the lucid editing of Roger Jackson under the umbrella of The Library of Tibetan Classics series (Wisdom Publications, '09). [1]

Though the earliest attempt to translate...

Tsoknyi Gyatso on Zhentong

Without jumping the gun (as we continue to set the text), I thought to write a post with the hope to help contextualize a forthcoming publication in the Tibetan language on the essential zhentong works by the Jonang master from Dzamthang, Ngawang Tsoknyi Gyatso (1880-1940). [1]

Zhentong — the contemplative view that the ultimate nature of reality is empty of all extraneous superficial characteristics while profusely full of the qualities that define enlightenment — has become a hallmark of the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. From its early articulation by Tibetan forefathers of the Jonangpa in the eleventh century, up to Dolpopa Sherab...

Are there Geluk Zhentongpas?

Are there Geluk zhentongpas? This is a question that I've been asking for some time. Fortunately, a set of rare texts that were recently recovered from Tibet may shed some light on this. Made available in late 2007, there are four published books by two authors of the Geluk tradition that deserve particular attention. These manuscripts were collected from library archives in Tibet and reproduced via computer input as part of the longer Mes po'i shul bzhag series published by China’s Tibetology Publishing House (Beijing, 2007). This set of works includes the three volume Collected Works of Gungru Gyaltsen Zangpo (1383-1450), and one volume from the writings of Kunkhyen Lodrö...

Tibetan Zhentong Discourse II

Kongtrul also lists Rangjung Dorje’s and Dolpopa’s contemporary, the celebrated Nyingma master Kunkhyen Drimé Odzer or Longchen Rabjam (1308-1363). Longchenpa does use similar terminology but in a context and with an implication different from that of Dolpopa. However, Longchenpa’s view on the tathāgatagarbha does closely resemble that of Dolpopa’s, and his elaborations on the multi-stratum universal ground are remarkably similar to Dolpopa’s understanding of pristine awareness as the universal ground ( kun gzhi ye shes ). [1]

Serdok Paṇchen otherwise known as Śākya Chokden (1428-1507) is probably the most well-known non-Jonangpa author of zhentong. Fortunately, the views of this Sakya exponent of zhentong gained...

Zhentong isn't Cittamātra

For some reason, those unfamiliar with the zhentong presentation tend to associate it with the Cittamāra ("Mind Only" or "Mentalist") system, as if Madhyamaka was only divided into Svātantrika and Prasaṇgika. According to the Jonangpa, this is a case of mistaken identity.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing developments in the historical narrative on the Tibetan zhentong tradition is the Jonangpa categorical situating of the Cittamātra system in relation to the other major philosophical "schools" of Indian Buddhism.

While the Cittamātra is generally associated with the final turning set of sūtra discourses and the śastra literature attributed to Maitreya, Asaṅga and Vasubandhu, the Jonangpa challenge this assumption as...

What Is / Isn't Rangtong?

Dolpopa, like many great Tibetan scholars, was interested in making distinctions. Within his writings, we find several terse compositions that employ rich Buddhist lingo in order to succinctly and deliberately analyze critical subjects such as emptiness, existence, consciousness, and the wholeness of buddhahood.

What strikes me about these writings is that they are so unambiguous. Its as if Dolpopa knew there would be speculation, and he didn't want to leave his words too open to interpretation from others.

Having mentioned rangtong in contrast with zhentong in an earlier post, I wanted to step aside and let a work by Dolpopa speak for itself. [1]...

Expressions of the Essence

Buddhist phenomenology tells us that one of the five fundamental constituents of the egoic complex is "form" ( rūpa , gzugs ), the configuration of tangible materiality that is so integral to ordinary sensible experience. [1] Most basically, this suggests that there must be an outside world for there to be an inside world.

With this interface, the self is at play within the familiar field of duality. However, what intrigues me more than the self in the world of form is the formless, and more specifically the question: What is it about the nature of the formless that can be known?


"Wheel of Time" III

Now that we have a rough sketch of Dolpopa's concept of time according to Kālachakra cosmology, we can begin to think about what Dolpopa and later Jonangpas refer to as the "Kṛtayuga dharma" or "Kṛtayuga tradition." [1] To clarify what this is, Dolpopa writes in his Fourth Council ,

The Tretayuga and subsequent eons are flawed; their treatises have been contaminated like milk in the marketplace. They are in every way unable to act as witness. The earlier [eons] displace the later, just as more advanced philosophical systems refute the lesser.

The Kṛtayuga dharma is the untainted expression of the victorious ones,...