“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]

Here we see a stark contrast between the doctrine associated with the Kṛtayuga and that associated with the Tretayuga and later cosmic ages. This is most clearly brought into perspective with Dolpopa’s distinction between teachings on rangtong ― or those that stress the lack of an intrinsic essence, and those on zhentong that emphasize the perpetual absolute. Now, with this disparity, we find the seedling for the further systematization of the Buddha’s doctrine according to this concept of cosmic time.

The Kṛtayuga dharma is then situated at the time of the Buddha, representing the unspoiled teachings and the consummate intent of the historical Buddha.[3] Accordingly, its understood that these teachings came before the commentarial traditions of the Tretayuga. This means that from the zhentong point of view, a rangtong presentation of reality is not necessarily wrong, its just fractured and incomplete. It does not include the whole message of the Buddha.

With this juxtaposition of cosmic time against historical time, and the introduction of zhentong as a means for qualifying the Kṛtayuga dharma, we unveil the prevailing dissonance of this narrative: that between the doctrinal and the temporal. However, as it is made clear elsewhere in Jonang literature, the historical timing of the Kṛtayuga dharma is not necessarily chronological, and that gives leeway for this tension between the definitive time and the definitive doctrine to be resolved.


1. See the earlier posts, “Wheel of Time” I and “Wheel of Time” II.

2. Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan. Bka’ bsdu bzhi pa’i don bstan rtsis chen po, 6 (ya), 167. In Kun mkhyen Gsung ‘bum, ‘Dzam thang. For a translation of the full text see Stearns, Cyrus. The Buddha from Dolpo. Albany, SUNY Press, 1999.

3. Though the list of historical figures who upheld the Kṛtayuga tradition is too long to give any kind of comprehensive list, here is a short list of some of the choice Indian figures in this lineage whose names I have extracted from various pieces of zhentong literature: Maitreya, Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, Nāgārjuna, Sthiramati, Dignāga, Dharmakīrti, Candragomin, Maitrīpāda, Saraha, Nāropa, etc. We’ll have to gradually allow for the deluge of associated texts to be mentioned in future posts.

Blog Category: Research Articles