Jonang Masters: Background Information

Throughout their more than 700-year old tradition, the Jonangpa have sustained an uninterrupted succession of transmission from master to disciple. In fact, it is this successive lineal transmission ( brgyud rim) of living Tibetan Buddhist knowledge and practice that defines the distinctive Jonang tradition. More specifically, within the Jonang there are two slightly variant lines of Buddhist ancestry that have been passed on from one generation to the next up to the present: 1) the zhentong (“shentong,” gzhan stong) lineage; 2) the Kalachakra (dus ‘khor) lineage.



  1. Zhentong: Within the zhentong lineage as it is sustained within the Jonang today, there are again two parallel transmission lines, that of (a) sutra zhentong (mdo’i gzhan stong ) and that of (b) tantric zhentong (sngags gi gzhan stong). The sutra sources for the zhentong lineage originate primarily from Shakyamuni Buddha’s discourses on Buddha-nature, the treatises of Maitreyanatha and Asanga, and from certain works by Nagarjuna and his lineage heirs. Together, these works constitute the tradition known by the Jonangpa as the “Great Madhyamaka.” Sources for tantric zhentong include the wider body of esoteric Buddhist literature known as the “tantras,” and more specifically the Trilogy of Commentaries on tantras including the Kalachakra Tantra. Though sutra and tantric zhentong are derived from varied literary sources and are occasionally emphasized in different contexts, these two lines of thought were synchronized by the master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292-1361).
  2. Kalachakra Tantra: Tracing its lineage from the oral histories that recount Shakyamuni Buddha’s performance of the Kalachakra Tantra or Wheel of Time Continuum at the Drepung Stupa in South India a year after his enlightenment, the Kalachakra system has become integral to the Jonang tantric practice tradition. With the meeting of the Kashmiri Pandita Somanatha and the Tibetan translator Dro Lotsawa Sherab Drakpa in the 11 th century, the Kalachakra Tantra and its extensive commentary the Vimalaprabha (“Stainless Light”) were translated into the Tibetan language and the Dro tradition ( ‘bro lugs) of the Kalachakra was initiated. Culminating a few generations later with the Tibetan yogi Kunpang Thukje Tsondru’s (1243-1313) synthesis of the various major and minor lines of the Kalachakra’s six-fold vajrayoga, the Jonang Kalachakra practice tradition was born.


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