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...

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 this. There is then the act of transferring meaning ― lived meaning ― into the present. This is a careful process. A surgical deliberation that involves the transference of language, culture, and history ― or what I like to call, "ancestry."

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] What follows is my translation of an excerpt from a short text by Dolpopa that defines rangtong ― denoting what it is and what it isn't in mutually exclusive terms ― called, Seizing the Crucial Point ,

"Wheel of Time" III

Now that we have a rough sketch of Dolpopa's concept of time according to Kālachakra cosmology, we can begin to think about what Dolpopa and later Jonangpas refer to as the "Kṛtayuga dharma" or "Kṛtayuga tradition." [1] To clarify what this is, Dolpopa writes in his Fourth Council ,

The Tretayuga and subsequent eons are flawed; their treatises have been contaminated like milk in the marketplace. They are in every way unable to act as witness. The earlier [eons] displace the later, just as more advanced philosophical systems refute the lesser.

The Kṛtayuga dharma is the untainted expression of the victorious ones, the explanations of the sovereigns on the tenth spiritual level, and the great founders of the chariot systems. It is flawless and imbued with supreme enlightened qualities.

In this [Kṛtayuga] tradition, everything is not rangtong. By eloquently distinguishing rangtong from zhentong, that which is relative is taught to be rangtong while that which is ultimate is taught precisely to be zhentong. [2]

"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 a Fourth Council , [1]

Dzogchen & Zhentong

Reading through the miscellaneous guidance texts ( khrid yig ) of Khenpo Lodrö Drakpa , I came across a brief instruction that he gave on clarifying the distinctions between the 4 predominant Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna views: (1) zhentong, (2) rangtong, (3) mahāmudrā, and (4) dzogchen. [1]

Of particular interest to me is the question, "What are the differences between the zhentong and dzogchen views?" This is a question of recurring interest in learned Buddhist circles. Not only have several friends in New York and elsewhere asked me this question, but I remember that while living in the monastery, monks would occasionally come to see my Tibetan teacher and ask him this very same question. Rinpoche would smile and assure the monks by saying, "There are slight differences."

Since Khenpo Lodrak makes such clear distinctions between these 4 views ― and since his instructions are so short and sweet, I thought to translate the excerpt here,