The Living Tradition

After the passing away of Jetsun Taranatha in the mid-17th century, the Jonangpa became a target for political and territorial power-struggles in U-Tsang, Central Tibet. With surmounting factional rivalries and divided allegiances amongst Jonang and Geluk patrons and the Mongol Army's solidifying of Geluk power, Jonang political and territorial influence began to wane. As Mongol military might enthroned and endorsed the 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682), and the Geluk political administration ruled, the Jonang were forced out of Central Tibet.

In the year 1650, the 5th Dalai Lama sealed and banned the study of zhentong, prohibiting the printing of Jonang zhentong texts throughout Tibet. Then in 1658, the 5th Dalai Lama forcibly converted Jonang Takten Damcho Ling (Phuntsok Choling) Monastery into a Geluk Monastery — officially initiating the demise of the Jonangpa in U-Tsang.

Although the sphere of Geluk political and military influence reached to the borders of Central Tibet, it did not penetrate the far northeastern domain of Amdo, Tibet. Here, in the remote valleys and vast countrysides of the Dzamthang, Golok and Ngawa regions, the Jonangpa took refuge and made their home.

Beginning in the year 1425 with the establishment of Choje Monastery by Chogle Namgyal's disciple Ratnashri (1350-1435), the Jonangpa have lived in the Dzamthang and surrounding counties of Amdo. Under the imperial patronage of the Ming Court of China, the Jonangpa were able to thrive. In fact, by the mid-16th century, the Jonangpa had consolidated their monastic complexes within the Dzamthang area in Amdo to the extent that they were the local imperial regents. This is where the Jonangpa later gathered during their 17th century Geluk persecution. Surviving outside the range of Geluk influence, the Jonangpa have been building monasteries and transmitting their vital teachings on zhentong and the Kalachakra Tantra ever since.

With the late 19th century luminaries such as Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899) and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892), the Rime or eclectic movement was born in Kham, Eastern Tibet. Sparked by the writings and compilations of these figures, including Kongtrul's Five Treasures, there was the occasion for a re-kindling of interest in the Jonang tradition and zhentong literature. Inspiring many of the great masters from Kham at this time such as Dza Patrul Rinpoche and Jamgon Mipham, the Jonang Kalachakra completion phase practices and distinctive zhentong view gained attention from other traditions as well. Meanwhile this period continued to produce some of the greatest masters of contemporary Jonang thought up through the late 20th century, including Bamda Geleg (1844-1904) and Khenpo Ngawang Lodro Drakpa (1920-1975).

In the 1960's, many of the great living exemplars of the Jonang were forced out of their monasteries, and they fled into the countryside of Amdo where they wandered as nomads or took shelter in caves as yogis. Over the next two decades, the Jonangpa lived without homes in their homeland, gathering during the summer for their annual rains-retreat in order to continue to transmit their lineage. After the Cultural Revolution in 1976, the Jonangpa began returning to their monasteries where they have been rebuilding monasteries and reviving their unique spiritual tradition up to today.


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