Zhentong Madhyamaka

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...

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...

Tibetan Zhentong Discourse I

The wide variety of intricacies and nuances within the body of Tibetan thought that is termed “zhentong” is simply fantastic. The use of the word is so varied in fact that we could argue that there is no single zhentong view, but rather a kaleidoscopic view of multiple rotating hues that we give the label "zhentong."

Its also important to keep in mind that what one may call "zhentong" may not in fact be considered bona fide by others. Of course this raises much larger questions about legitimacy, authority, and strategies for lineage-building. [1]

To begin, its worthwhile mentioning a few of the...

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...

Tradition of the Perfect Eon

The "now" is important for any tradition. For it is in the process of bringing the past into the present wherein a tradition is brought to life. However, the past, and in particular the excavation of knowledge from the past, is arguably just as important for the life of a tradition.

As we discussed in the "Wheel of Time" series, this excavation process is a true concern for Dolpopa and later Jonangpa thinkers. [1] For them, this is the hermeneutical act of retrieving the pure teaching from the pure time: the dharma of the Kṛtayuga or Perfect Eon.

However, there is more to...

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 Emptiness

When we think about emptiness, there is usually an intimation of absence. That is, a lack of presence is implied. However, in zhentong contemplative thinking, the recognition of the ultimate real implies an acknowledgment of presence, a constant luminous presence.

Perhaps one of the most interesting twists in this paradox of absence and presence is what I referred to in an earlier post as, "expressions of emptiness." [1] The technical term that I'm translating here is śūnyatā-biṃba in Sanskrit or stong pa nyid kyi gzugs brnyan in Tibetan (commonly abbreviated as, stong gzugs and translated, "empty form"). Since this is such a key term...

"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...