Rangtong-Shentong

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Rangtong and shentong are two distinctive views on emptiness (sunyata) and the two truths doctrine within Tibetan Buddhism.

Rangtong (Wylie: rang stong; "empty of self-nature") is a philosophical term in Tibetan Buddhism that is used to distinguish the majority Madhyamaka teaching on the nature of śūnyatā or "emptiness", namely that all phenomenon are empty of an enduring and/or unchanging essence or "self," and that this emptiness is not an absolute reality, but a mere nominal characterisation of phenomena.[1] It is related to the prasangika approach, which argues that no syllogistic forms of reasoning should used to debate the notion of inherent existence, but only arguments which show the logical implications and absurdity of positions based upon inherent existence. This position is the mainstream Gelugpa interpretation of Madhyamaka, one of the main Mahayana schools, which dominates Vajrayana Buddhism.

Shentong (Tibetan: གཞན་སྟོང་Wylie: gzhan stong, Lhasa dialect IPA: ɕɛ̃̀tṍŋ, also transliterated zhäntong or zhentong; literally "other-emptiness") is a minority position within Tibetan Madhyamaka. It applies śūnyatā in a specific way, agreeing that relative reality is empty of self-nature, but stating that absolute reality (Paramarthasatya)[2][note 1] is "non-dual Buddhajnana"[2][note 2] and "empty" (Wylie: stong) only of "other," (Wylie: gzhan) relative phenomena, but is itself not empty[3] and "truly existing."[4] This absolute reality is described by positive terms, an approach which helps "to overcome certain residual subtle concepts"[5] and "the habit [...] of negating whatever experience arises in his/her mind."[6] It destroys false concepts, as does prasangika, but it also alerts the practitioner "to the presence of a dynamic, positive Reality that is to be experienced once the conceptual mind is defeated."[6]

Shentong was systematized and articulated under that name by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361), who identified absolute reality with the Buddha-nature.[3] Shentong was suppressed by the dominant Gelug school for several hundred years, equally for political reasons as doctrinal reasons. In 1658, the Gelug authorities banned the Jonang school for political reasons, forcibly converting its monks and monasteries to the Gelug school, as well as banning shentong philosophy and books, thus making the rangtong position the overwhelmingly majority one in Tibetan Buddhism.[1]

After this suppression various shentong views were propagated mainly by Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lamas. The 19th century saw a revival of Shentong-views,[7] and continued with the Rimé movement. Nowadays Shentong is present primarily as the main philosophical theory of the Jonang school, although it is also taught by the Sakya and Kagyu schools,[8][9] where it is identified with centerless awareness.

Etymology[edit]

The term rangtong is not an autonym but rather arose from the shentong theorist Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, who coined the term "shentong" to characterise his own teachings and "rangtong" to refer to the teachings he opposed.[1]

Shentong literally means "other-emptiness", "empty" (Wylie: stong) of "other" (Wylie: gzhan), i.e., empty of all qualities other than its own inherent existent. Yet, the term shentong also refers to Yogacara teachings,[10] or Yogacara Madhyamaka,[5] which includes the teachings of Śāntarakṣita. In the Gelugpa understanding of the Svatantrika-Prasaṅgika distinction, Yogacara Madhyamaka is labeled as svatantrika, and set against a strict prasaṅgika approach which rejects any inherent existence.

Another translation of shentong is "extrinsic emptiness,"[11] a term which is also used to refer to "Great Mādhyamaka" (dbu ma chen po), a term which has also been used by Klong chen pa and Mipham to refer to Prasaṅgika Madhyamaka, and Tsongkhapa has also used this term.[11]

Rangtong[edit]

Rangtong is the majority Tibetan teaching on the nature of śūnyatā or "emptiness", namely that all phenomena are empty of a self-nature in both the relative and absolute sense, without positing anything beyond that..[1] This position is the mainstream Tibetan interpretation of Madhyamaka, especially by the followers of Prasaṅgika Mādhyamaka

Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), who also wrote in response to shentong, is the most outspoken defendant of rangtong. He saw emptiness as a consequence of dependent designation, the teaching that no thing or phenomena has an existence of its own, but always comes into existence in dependence upon conceptual designation by a conscious mind. (See Designation & "Conventionl Truth")

Tsongkhapa's view on "ultimate reality" is condensed in the sort text In Praise of Dependent Arising[12] c.q. In Praise of Relativity[13][14] c.q. The Essence of Eloquency.[14] It states that "things" do exist conventionally, but ultimately everything is dependently arisen, and therefore void of inherent existence:[14]

Whatever depends on causes and conditions
Is empty of intrinsic reality
What excellent instruction could there be
More marvellous than this discovery?[14]

This means that conventionally things do exist, and that there is no use in denying that. But it also means that ultimately those things have no 'existence of their own', and that cognizing then as such results from cognitive operations, not from some unchangeable essence.[15] Tsongkhapa:

Since objects do not exist through their own nature, they are established as existing through the force of convention.[15]

It also means that there is no "transcendental ground," and that "ultimate reality" has no existence of its own, but is the negation of such a transecendental reality, and the impossibility of any statement on such an ultimately existing transcendental reality: it is no more than a fabrication of the mind.[14] Susan Kahn further explains:

Ultimate truth does not point to a transcendent reality, but to the transcendence of deception. It is critical to emphasize that the ultimate truth of emptiness is a negational truth. In looking for inherently existent phenomena it is revealed that it cannot be found. This absence is not findable because it is not an entity, just as a room without an elephant in it does not contain an elephantless substance. Even conventionally, elephantlessness does not exist. Ultimate truth or emptiness does not point to an essence or nature, however subtle, that everything is made of.[15]

Shentong[edit]

Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, an early Tibetan exponent of the shentong view.

Philosophy[edit]

Shentong views the two truths doctrine as distinguishing between relative and absolute reality, agreeing that relative reality is empty of self-nature, but stating that absolute reality is "empty" (Wylie: stong) only of "other" (Wylie: gzhan) relative phenomena, but is itself not empty.[3] This absolute reality is the "ground or substratum" which is "uncreated and undestructible, noncomposite and beyond the chain of dependent origination."[16] Dolpopa identified this absolute reality with the Buddha-nature.[3]

The shentong-view is related to the Ratnagotravibhāga sutra and the Yogacara-Madhyamaka synthesis of Śāntarakṣita. The truth of sunyata is acknowledged, but not considered to be the highest truth, which is the empty nature of mind. Insight into sunyata is preparatory for the recognition of the nature of mind.

Hookham explains the Shentong position, referring to her Kagyu teacher Khenpo Tsultrim's Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness.[17] Khenpo Tsultrim presents five stages of meditation, which he relates to five different schools or approaches:[18][19]

  • "Sravaka meditation on non-self" - meditation on the emptiness of the skandhas and the non-existence of a personal self;
  • "Cittamatra-approach" - meditation on the mind-stream, the ever-continuing process of perception, and the non-duality of perceived and perceiver;
  • "Svatantrika-Madhyamaka approach" - meditation on all dhammas, which are empty of self-nature, and the negation of any "substance";
  • "Prasangika-Mdhyamaka approach" - meditation on "the non-conceptual (nisprapanca) nature of both the appearance of phenomena and their self-emptiness." In this approach, all concepts are to be abandoned;
  • Shentong (Yogacara Madhyamaka) - meditation on Paramarthasatya ("Absolute Reality"),[2][note 1] Buddhajnana,[note 2] which is beyond concepts, and described by terms as "truly existing."[5] This approach helps "to overcome certain residual subtle concepts,"[5] and "the habit - fosterd on the earlier stages of the path - of negating whatever experience arises in his/her mind."[6] It destroys false concepts, as does prasangika, but it also alerts the practitioner "to the presence of a dynamic, positive Reality that is to be experienced once the conceptual mind is defeated."[6]

Origins and development[edit]

The notion of sentong grew out the Tibetan attempts to reconcile the contradiction between the Madhyama stance on the emptiness of phenomena, and the later notion of an eternal Buddha-nature.[21]

The earliest shentong views are usually asserted to have been presented in a group of treatises variously attributed jointly to Asanga and Maitreyanātha, especially in the treatise known as the Unsurpassed Continuum (Uttaratantraśāstra, also called the Ratnagotravibhāga),[22] and in a body of Mādhyamaka treatises attributed to Nāgārjuna (e.g., the Dharmadhātustava, "In praise of the Dharmadhatu").[23]

The first exposition of a shentong view is sometimes attributed to Śāntarakṣita ( 725–788), but most scholars argue that his presentation of Madhyamaka thought is more accurately labeled Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka. The eleventh-century Tibetan master Yumo Mikyo Dorje, a student of the Kashmiri scholar Somanatha, was possibly the first Tibetan master to articulate a shentong view, after his experiences during a Kālacakra retreat.[24]

Shentong was systematized and articulated under that name by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361),[25] who originally was Sakya-trained lama, and joined the Jonang school with which shentong is strongly associated. In 1321 Dolpopa visited Tsurphu Monastery for the first time, and had extensive discussions with Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339) about doctrinal issues. It appears that Rangjung Dorje almost certainly influenced the development of some of Dolpopa's theories, possibly including his shentong method.[26][note 3] Dolpopa claimed to have extra-ordinary insights,[note 4] and his meditational experience seems to have played a great role in the development of his shentong-stance.[28] Dolpopa developed a new philosophical vocabulary, based on Sanskrit and Tibetan, to express his insights, presenting provisional statements on absolute reality and Buddha-nature as statements of definitive meaning, which didn't requite further interpretation.[29]

Chödrak Gyatso, 7th Karmapa Lama (1454–1506), and the Sakya scholar Sakya Chokden (Wylie: gSer mdog Pan chen Sa kya mChog ldan, 1428–1507) were also important proponents of a shentong view.[30] In the Jonang tradition, Tāranātha [1575–1635] is second in importance only to Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen himself. He was responsible for the short-lived renaissance of the school as a whole in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and of the widespread revitalization of the shentong theory in particular.[31]

After the suppression of the Jonang school and its texts and the texts of Sakya Chokden by the Tibetan government in the seventeenth century, various shentong views were propagated mainly by Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lamas. In particular, the eighth Tai Situpa 1700–1774) and Katok Tsewang Norbu (1698–1755)—Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lamas, respectively, and close colleagues—were very instrumental in reviving shentong among their sects.

Also instrumental was Situ Panchen (1700–1774), senior court chaplain in the Kingdom of Derge, a student of Katok Tsewang Norbu. "In the end it would be Situ more than anyone who would create the environment for the widespread acceptance of the Shentong theories in the next century.[32] This revival was continued by Jamgon Kongtrul, a nineteenth-century ecumenical (rimé) scholar and forceful exponent of shentong. shentong views were also advanced recently by the eminent Kagyu Lamas Kalu Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche.

Criticisms and repression[edit]

Shentong views have often come under criticism by followers of all four of the main Tibetan Buddhist schools, but particularly by the Gelug. Shentong was suppressed by the dominant Gelug school for several hundred years, equally for political reasons as doctrinal reasons. In 1658, the Gelug authorities banned the Jonang school for political reasons, forcibly converting its monks and monasteries to the Gelug school, as well as banning shentong philosophy and books, thus making the rangtong position the overwhelmingly majority one in Tibetan Buddhism.[1]

"Exclusive Rangtongpas", as the contemporary western Kagyu scholar S.K. Hookham would call them, have claimed that shentong views are inconsistent with the basic Mahāyāna teaching of emptiness, because Shentongpas posit an absolute. They sometimes label shentong Madhyamaka "eternalistic Madhyamaka."

The great fourteenth-century Sakya master Buton Rinchen Drub (1290–1364) was very critical of shentong views. Gyaltsab Je and Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, 1st Panchen Lama, two of Gelug founder Je Tsongkhapa’s primary disciples, were also particularly critical of the shentong views of their time.

Among Kagyupas and Nyingmapas, the noted nineteenth-century Nyingma lama Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso wrote works both supportive and critical of shentong positions,[note 6] as did Mikyö Dorje, 8th Karmapa Lama.

Scholarly studies[edit]

According to Burchardi, limited attention given in academic studies to the various interpretations of gzhan stong.[33]

The contemporary western Kagyu scholar Karl Brunnhölzl argues that there is no such thing as "shentong Madhyamaka," but rather that orthodox Yogācāra philosophy (when understood properly) is entirely compatible with Madhyamaka, and therefore shentong is not a novel position. He argues that Yogācāra has often been mischaracterized and unfairly marginalized in Tibetan Buddhist curricula.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b According to Hookham, non-dual experience is Ultimate Reality.[20]
  2. ^ a b According to Hookham, "The Chinese Tathagarba schools describe Buddhajnana as the totality of all that is, which pervades every part of all that is in its totality."[20] According to Hookham, for Shentong Buddhajnana is "the non-dual nature of Mind completely unobscured and endowed with its countless Buddha Qualities (Buddhagunas).[20]
  3. ^ See also Karl Brunnhölzl (2008), In Praise of Dharmadhatu, a translation of Rangjung Dorje's commentary on the Dharmadhātustava, "I Parise of the Dharmadhatu," a treatise which is (incorrectly) attributed to Nagarjuna.
  4. ^ Dolpopa: "I discovered many profound essential points which have not been discovered, have not been realized, and have not been mastered by egotistical scholars, most great meditators endowed with experience and realization, and most of those who are arrogant as great upholders of secret mantra. Because a fine realization burst forth from within, and because I have an exceptional certainty untainted by doubts, not only most great meditators endowed with experience and realization, and those who are arrogant as great upholders of secret mantra, but even the Buddha definitely could not turn me back from this."[27]
  5. ^ (Tib. rigs, Skt. gotta), synonymous with Buddha-nature
  6. ^ I.e., in his Lion's Roar of Extrinsic Emptiness (q.v. external link cited below) and in his Long Excursus on the Core of Thus-Arrivedness i.e., tathãgatagarbha (bde-gshegs snying-po stong-thun chen-mo seng-ge'i nga-ro). In the Long Excursus Mipham Rinpoche follows closely the gist of an historically much earlier discussion of the subject of "lineage", [note 5] that of Longchenpa's Treasure of Philosophical Systems (grub mtha' mdzod). There Mipham identifies two general extremes of interpretation, the nihilistic identification of Buddha-nature with emptiness to the exclusion of form, and the identification of Buddha-nature as a substantially real entity that is "empty-of-other" (gzhan-gyis stong-pa). Thus it appears that Mipham Rinpoche wished to distance himself from both the Gelug/Sakya mainstream (e.g., rangtong or self-emptiness) interpretation as well as the shentong mainstream. However, what Mipham refers to in the Long Excursus as shentong is only vaguely defined as such, and to that extent, bears more resemblance to the stock misinterpretations of shentong as given by its ideological opponents, than with any actual position held by classical Shentongpas themselves. In the final analysis, both Longchenpa's and Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso's interpretations of Buddha-nature in the aforementioned texts are substantially identical with most (though not all) of the most important philosophical distinctions invoked by Dolpopa and others in propounding the superiority and definitude of shentong approaches. Where Longchenpa and Mipham differ most obviously from self-identified Shentongpa commentators is in not applying the shentong label to their positions, such as Great Madhyamaka of Other-Emptiness" (gzhan-stong dbu-ma chen-po).

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Stearns, Cyrus (2010). The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (Rev. and enl. ed.). Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 9781559393430. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Hookham 1991, p. 21.
  3. ^ a b c d Stearns 1999, p. 3.
  4. ^ Hookham 1991, p. 12.
  5. ^ a b c d Hookham 1991, p. 22.
  6. ^ a b c d Hookham 1991, p. 23.
  7. ^ Stearns 2002, p. 76.
  8. ^ Pema Tönyö Nyinje, 12th Tai Situpa. Ground, Path and Fruition. Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Charitable Trust. p. 2005. ISBN 978-1877294358. 
  9. ^ Hookham 1991, p. 13.
  10. ^ Brunholzl 2009, p. 446.
  11. ^ a b Pettit 1999, p. 113.
  12. ^ Alexander Berzin, In Praise of Dependent Arising
  13. ^ Robert Thurman, Praise of Buddha Shakyamuni for his teaching of Relativity. The Short Essence of Eloquence
  14. ^ a b c d e Patrick Jennings, Tsongkhapa: In Praise of Relativity; The Essence of Eloquence
  15. ^ a b c Susan Kahn, The Two Truths of Buddhism and The Emptiness of Emptiness
  16. ^ Stearns 1999, p. 82.
  17. ^ Hookham 1991, p. 19.
  18. ^ Hookham 1991, p. 19-26.
  19. ^ Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso 1994.
  20. ^ a b c Hookham 1991, p. 37.
  21. ^ Stearns 1999, p. 1.
  22. ^ Hokham 1991.
  23. ^ Brunnhölzl 2008.
  24. ^ Stearns 1999.
  25. ^ Stearns 1999, p. 2.
  26. ^ Stearns 1999, p. 17, 47-48, 51-52, 61.
  27. ^ Stearns 1999, p. 54.
  28. ^ Stears 1999, p. 46-47.
  29. ^ Stears 1999, p. 48-49.
  30. ^ Stearns 1999, p. 60-63.
  31. ^ Stearns 1999 p.68
  32. ^ Stearns, Cyrus (2003). The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.,. p. 76. ISBN 81-208-1833-4. 
  33. ^ Burchardi, Anne (2007). A Look at the Diversity of the Gzhan stong Tradition. JIATS, no. 3 (December 2007), THDL #T3128, 24 pp. 2007 by Anne Burchardi, IATS, and THDL. Source: [1] (accessed: Sunday August 17, 2008) p.1

Sources[edit]

  • Brunnhölzl, Karl (2004), The Center of the Sunlit Sky: Madhyamaka in the Kagyu Tradition, Shambhala, ISBN 1-55939-218-5 
  • Brunnhölzl, Karl (2008), In Praise of Dharmadhatu, Shambhala 
  • Brunnholzl, Karl (2009), Luminous Heart: The Third Karmapa on Consciousness, Wisdom, and Buddha Nature, Snow Lion Publications 
  • Burchardi, Anne (2007). A Look at the Diversity of the Gzhan stong Tradition. JIATS, no. 3 (December 2007), THDL #T3128, 24 pp. © 2007 by Anne Burchardi, IATS, and THDL. Source: [2][dead link] (accessed: Sunday August 17, 2008)
  • Cabezón, José Ignacio (2005), "Tsong Kha Pa", in Jones, Lindsay, MacMillan Encyclopedia of Religion, MacMillan 
  • Cabezón, José Ignacio; Dargyay, Geshe (2007). Freedom from Extremes: Gorampa's "Distinguishing the Views" and the Polemics of Emptiness. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 9780861715237. 
  • Ven. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, Rimpoche. Progressive Stages Of Meditation On Emptiness, ISBN 0-9511477-0-6
  • Hookham, S.K. (1991), The Buddha within : Tathagatagarbha doctrine according to the Shentong interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791403587 
  • Jeffrey Hopkins (translator); Kevin Vose (editor) : Mountain Doctrine:Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix. Snow Lion, Ithaca (2006). - a translation of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen's Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho.
  • Roger Jackson.(2007) The Great Debate on Emptiness: Review of The Essence of Other-Emptiness by Taranatha and Mountain Doctrine:Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen in Buddhadharma, Summer 2007 p. 75-76
  • Pettit, John Whitney (1999), Mipham's Beacon of Certainty: Illuminating the View of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, Boston: Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-157-2 
  • Stearns, Cyrus (1999), The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-4191-1 
  • Stearns, Cyrus (2003), The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., ISBN 81-208-1833-4 
  • Taranatha (auth.), Jeffrey Hopkins, (trans.) The Essence of Other-Emptiness. Wisdom Books (2007). ISBN 1-55939-273-8
  • Tāranātha, Jetsun (2008). The Essence of Zhentong. Translation based upon the ‘Dzam thang edition of the 'Gzhan stong snying po'. Jonang Foundation’s Digital Library: Ngedon Thartuk Translation Initiative. Source: [3] (accessed: Sunday August 17, 2008)

Further reading[edit]

  • Stearns, Cyrus (1999), The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-4191-1 
  • Hookham, S.K. (1991). The Buddha within : Tathagatagarbha doctrine according to the Shentong interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0791403587. 
  • Karl Brunnhölzl (2008), In Praise of Dharmadhatu, Shambhala
  • Jeffrey Hopkins (2017), Mountain Doctrine: Tibet's Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix, Shambhala

External links[edit]

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