Jamgon Kongtrul

The Quintessence of Rangtong

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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]

On the Shangpa & Jonangpa

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Commentators on earlier posts have asked or made reference to relationships between the Shangpa lineage and the Jonangpa. [1] In response, I thought to sketch some of the overlapping threads among Shangpas and Jonangpas in order to draw a few historical connections.

The Shangpa lineage, as Tibetologist Matthew Kapstein has described, is like "some vine that adorns a whole forest without being able to stand by itself" so much so that it "may strike one who follows its twists and...

Kongtrul's Jonangpa Connections

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One of the most fascinating figures in Tibetan history, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé (1813-1899) is also one of the most studied Tibetan masters. In addition to several articles on his life and works, numerous volumes of his writings and compendiums have now been translated into English and other European languages, including his autobiography, A Gem of Many Colors . [1] Though his works are well known and he is often considered a reviver of Tibetan traditions including the Jonang, his connections with Jonangpa masters have not been made explicit. In order to reveal some of these connections, I recently started to sift through his record of received transmissions ( gsan yig ), and I thought to jot a few notes here. [2]

108 Quintessential Instructions

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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.

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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.