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 taught and transmitted within the living tradition, and the range of these instructions is testament to the diversity of Buddhist practices preserved within Tibetan literature. [1]

Śākyamuni's 3 Revolutions

3.jpg Dharma Wheel

With the sustaining of a tradition, there is the multi-generational task of repeatedly defining and describing what is understood to be most real (or unreal).

Then, every once in a while, a great commentator comes along and creatively re-describes what their tradition has deemed of utmost importance. This interplay between a doctrine and its history ― a source and the interpretation of it ― has had a tremendous impact on defining philosophical discourse in Tibet.

Within Mahāyāna literature, the teachings of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni are categorized according to three distinct sets of sūtra discourses. [1] These sets of teachings are not determined by location or by the timing of their delivery but rather by their content and their intended audience. Utilizing the early Buddhist metaphor of a “dharma wheel,” each set is described as a "turning," "cycle," or perhaps more accurately as a "revolution."

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 ).