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...

The 21 Tārās of Sūrya-Gupta

The following post is titled, "A Description of the Various Aspects of Tārā as Contained in Jonang Tāranātha’s Ocean of Yidam Deities , the 100 Deities of Narthang and the Vajrāvalī of Abhayākara-Gupta." This is the 2nd in a 2 part series. By Thomas Roth, a contributing author to the Jonangpa blog.

There are at least four traditions of describing the 21 Tārās. [1] Those of Sūrya-Gupta (7th/8th cent.), Atīśa Dipaṃkara (982-1054), Longchen Rabjampa (1308-1363), and Terchen Chokgyur Lingpa (1829-1870). The latter three traditions are very similar in so far as the individual Tārās are described as varying only slightly in body color...

Tāranātha’s Descriptions of Tārā

The following post is titled, "A Description of the Various Aspects of Tārā as Contained in Jonang Tāranātha’s Ocean of Yidam Deities , the 100 Deities of Narthang and the Vajrāvalī of Abhayākara-Gupta." This is the 1st in a 2 part series. By Thomas Roth, a contributing author to the Jonangpa blog.

8green_tara2_600x845a.jpg 8 Armed Tara

Jonang Tāranātha’s famous compilation of yidam deities, known as the Ocean of Yidam Deities , contains the descriptions and short sādhanas for altogether 417 deities. Among them are no less than 42 aspects of Tārā. Tāranātha’s Ocean of Yidam Deities has often been published in omnibus with two other, smaller collections. Namely the 100 Deities of Narthang and the Vajrāvalī , compiled by the famous 12th century Indian scholar and tantric master Abhayākara-Gupta. [1]

The 100 Deities of Narthang contains another two aspects of Tārā, whereas there is only a single one to be found in the Vajrāvalī. That however, is the most important form of Vajra Tārā, whose practice was very widespread, particularly in the Indian regions of Bhaṅgala and Oḍiviśa, which corresponds to most of present-day Bangladesh and the eastern Indian state of Orissa.

108 Quintessential Instructions

IMG_0011_3.JPG Kunga Drolchok Master Image

As I've recently been reading through the collection of 108 Quintessential Instructions that was arranged by the Jonang master Kunga Drolchok (1507-1566), I've been thinking through the seemingly simple question, "What is the purpose of scholarship?" [1]

Though people tend to think of the conventional notion of scholarship as being based on a model of a relatively narrow-minded insistence on reiterating a specific doctrine or set of principles for the sake of furthering erudition, there are alternative models. In the case of Drolchok, as well as numerous other representatives in the Tibetan scholastic tradition, the role of scholarship was primarily that of preservation. More specifically, scholarship was seen as a mode of operating in a way that would further conserve those ideas and practices that in one way or another were considered to be efficacious in promoting the spiritual optimization of individuals. It is on this model that the 108 Quintessential Instructions were compiled.

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 the attention of Tāranātha, and were compared with the views of Dolpopa in Tāranātha’s text on the Twenty One Profound Points [ Differentiating the views of Śākya Chokden and Dolpopa ],

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 major Tibetan figures associated with this body of thought. In doing so, I'd like to turn to a passage by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé (1813-1899) where he identifies exponents of the larger zhentong tradition. Here, he gives tribute to a variety of Indian and Tibetan masters who he associates with the zhentong vein of discourse,

Tārāyogīni Tantra & Practice

This post is titled, The Transmission of the Tantra and Practices of Tārāyogīni ( Sgrol ma rnal 'byor ma ): A Little-Known Jonang Specialty . By Thomas Roth, a contributing author to the Jonangpa blog.

jf_tarayogini_01.jpg Tarayogini Tarayogini

The Jonang tradition was and is well-known for holding and continuing to propagate several unique transmissions, such as various strands of Kālachakra transmissions and various traditions of its six-limbed vajrayoga; the Mahāsṃavāra Kālachakra, the view of emptiness based upon the insights and explications of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292-1361) known as zhentong ( gzhan stong ) and others. Among these unique transmissions is one that is almost completely unknown outside of the Jonang tradition, and apparently not very widely practiced within it either, despite the fact that it seemingly was of rather great importance to the great Tāranātha (1575-1635) and that the great 19th century Rimé master Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899) regarded it highly, and he wrote about it and practiced it himself.

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.

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 ).