Buddhist conference confirms Jonang as a separate schoo
DHARAMSHALA: Following years of research and deliberation, a high-level conference of Tibetan Buddhist practitioners and teachers confirmed the 11th century Jonang tradition as a major school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The endorsement came during the three-day 11th Buddhist conference held in Dharamshala last week which was attended by heads and representatives of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the ancient Tibetan religion of Bon.
The conference accorded the status of a separate sect to Jonang, noting its distinct philosophical stand-point and tradition within the ambit of Tibetan Buddhism.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, while presiding over the meeting on the second day had urged the gathering of religious leaders to consider the Jonang issue “seriously.”
According to the north India based Jonang Takten Phuntsok Choeling Monastery, the Jonangpa tradition was founded in 1027 A.D. with a distinct philosophical viewpoint on the nature of reality. The tradition was further systemized and promoted by Kunkhen Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292-1361 A.D), the founder of the Middle-Way School of Extrinsic Emptiness of both Sutra and Tantra.
Kungpang Thugje Tsondue (1243-1313 A.D.), the first throne holder of the Jonang School, founded a monastery in Jomonang in U-tsang, and the monastery became known as the Jonangpa monastery.
Although the Jonang was considered to have been extinct since its17th century demise in Central Tibet, recent findings had traced the existence of its lineage and practice holders in eastern Tibet.
Jonang’s Shimla based monastery confirms the existence of over 60 Jonangpa monasteries supporting more that 10,000 monks in Tibet’s eastern region of Ngaba, Zamthang, and Golok.
The Jonangpa teachings include primarily the Kalacakra transmission and the "empty of other" or shen-tong (gzhan stong) doctrine.
The Jonang (Tibetan: ཇོ་ནང་, Wylie: Jo-nang, ZYPY: Qonang; Chinese: 觉囊) is one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its origins in Tibet can be traced to early 12th century master Yumo Mikyo Dorje, but became much wider known with the help of Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen, a monk originally trained in the Sakya school. The Jonang school was widely thought to have become extinct in the late 17th century at the hands of the Fifth Dalai Lama who forcibly annexed the Jonang monasteries to his Gelug school, declaring them heretical. Recently, however, it was discovered that some remote Jonang monasteries escaped this fate and have continued practicing uninterrupted to this day. According to Gruschke, an estimated 5,000 monks and nuns of the Jonang tradition practice today in areas at the edge of historic Gelug influence.
In 1294, the monk Kunpang Tukje Tsondru established the Puntsok Choling monastery at Jomonang, about 160 km northwest of the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Ü-Tsang (Shigatse), and the spiritual tradition that was established here became known as Jonang.
The Jonang tradition combines two specific teachings, what has come to be known as the zhentong (or shentong) philosophy of emptiness, and the Dro-lineage of the Kalachakra tantra. The origin of this combination in Tibet is traced to the master Yumo Mikyo Dorje - an 11th/12th century pupil of the Kashmiri master Somanatha.
After several centuries of independence, however, in the late 17th century the Jonang order came under attack by the Fifth Dalai Lama who converted their monasteries to the Gelug order.
The Jonang school has generated a number of renowned Buddhist scholars, like Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen (1292–1361), but the most famous was Jetsun Taranatha (1575–1634). Taranatha placed great emphasis on the Kalachakra system of tantra. After the Jonang monasteries were forcibly converted to the Gelug lineage, their Kalachakra teachings were absorbed into the Gelug school. Taranatha's influence on Gelugpa thinking continues even to this day in the teaching of the present 14th Dalai Lama, who actively promotes initiation into Kalachakra.
Doctrinal/Philosophical reasons for suppression of the Jonangpa
While the Gelugpa embraced the Jonang teaching on the Kalachakra, they ultimately opposed the Jonangpa (followers of the Jonang) over a difference in philosophical view. Yumo Mikyo Dorje, Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen and subsequent lamas maintained a teaching known as zhentong, which holds that only the clear-light, non-dual nature of the mind is "real", and everything else is empty of inherent existence. The Gelug school held the distinct but related rangtong view that all phenomena are empty (of inherent existence) and no thing or process (including Mind and its qualities) may be asserted as independent or inherently real (neither may phenomena be asserted as "unreal" - in short, all assertions are seen to be groundless). For more information on the subject of emptiness in Buddhism, see Śūnyatā.
Political reasons for suppression of the Jonangpa
Modern historians have identified two other reasons which more likely led the Gelugpa to suppress the Jonangpa. First, the Jonangpa had political ties that were very vexing to the Gelugpa. The Jonangpa, along with the Kagyupa, were historical allies with the powerful house of Tsang, which was vying with the Dalai Lama and the Gelug school for control of central Tibet. This was bad enough, but soon after the death of Taranatha an even more ominous event occurred. Taranatha's reincarnation was discovered to be a young boy named Zanabazar the son of Prince Tüsheet Khan, ruler of Central Khalkha. Tüsheet Khan and his son were of Borjigin lineage (imperial clan of Genghis Khan and his successors), meaning they had the birth authority to become Khan. When the young boy was declared the spiritual leader of all of Mongolia, suddenly the Gelugpa were faced with the possibility of war with the former military superpower of Asia. While the Mongol Empire was long past its zenith, this was nonetheless a frightening prospect and the Dalai Lama sought the first possible moment of Mongol distraction to take control of the Jonangpa monasteries.
The 14th Dalai Lama confirmed this view in Glenn Mullin's The Fourteen Dalai Lamas (Clear Light Publishers, p. 207):
"These monasteries were closed for political reasons, not religious ones, and their closing had nothing to do with sectarianism. They had supported the Tsangpa king in the uprising, thus committing treason. The Great Fifth believed that they should be closed in order to insure the future stability of the (Tibetan) nation, and to dissuade other monasteries from engaging in warfare."
"The fact is that the Great Fifth passed laws outlawing sectarian skirmishes, and passed laws ensuring the freedom of religion. This freedom was extended to not only the Buddhist schools, but also to the non-Buddhist ones. For example, he kept a Bonpo lama in his entourage to speak for the interests of the Bon movement. And on a personal level, he himself practiced so many non-Gelukpa lineages that the Gelukpas criticized him for straying from his roots."
However, in The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, scholar Cyrus Stearns details that the writings of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361) and even those of Sakya proponents of zhentong were sealed and banned from publication and study, and that the Jonang monks and nuns forcibly were converted to the Gelug lineage.
The Jonangpa were until recently thought to be an extinct heretical sect. Thus, Tibetologists were astonished when fieldwork turned up several active Jonangpa monasteries, including the main monastery called Tsangwa located in Tibet, Dzamthang County, Sichuan, China. Almost 40 monasteries, comprising about 5,000 monks, have subsequently been found, including some in the Amdo and Gyarong districts of Qinghai and the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Interestingly, one of the primary supporters of the Jonang lineage in exile has been the 14th Dalai Lama of the Gelugpa. The Dalai Lama donated buildings in Himachal Pradesh state in Shimla, India for use as a Jonang monastery (now known as the Main Takten Phuntsok Choeling Monastery) and has visited during one of his recent teaching tours. The Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu lineage has visited there as well.
The Jonang tradition has recently officially registered with the Tibetan Government in exile to be recognized as the fifth living Buddhist tradition of Tibet Buddhism. The 14th Dalai Lama assigned Khalkha Jetsun Dampa Rinpoche or the 'Bogd Gegeen' of Mongolia (who is considered to be an incarnation of Taranatha) as the leader of the Jonang tradition.
Much of the literature of the Jonang has also survived, including the Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha-Matrix by Döl-bo-ba Śay-rap-gyen-tsen, consisting of arguments (all supported by quotations taken from the generally-accepted orthodox canonical Vaipūlya Sūtra-s) against "self-emptiness" and in favor of "other-emptiness", which has been published in English translation under the title Mountain Doctrine.