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Pema Bidza

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Anne Burchardi, University of Copenhagen


Pema Bidza


The first study is The Full Moon Dialogue (drilen tsepé dawa),4 a relatively recent text from early twentieth-century East Tibet, written by a khenpo from Zurmang named Pema Bidza (also known as Pema Namgyel)5 and commissioned by the eleventh Situ, Pema Wangchok Gyelpo (1886-1952). It is a reply to twenty-five questions submitted to the monastic college at Pelpung.6 The following is an excerpt from this text.



Translation


In brief, the crucial exchange concerning the difference between rangtong and zhentong [is as follows]:


    A general presentation of the different opinions.
    A specific description of the Jonang intention.
    A presentation of the validity of the two kinds of Madhyamaka.


A General Presentation of the Different Opinions



There are about seven main divisions concerning the meaning of the terms (rangtong and zhentong):



    The omniscient Jonang, (Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen [1292-1361]) father and sons, consider consciousness to be rangtong and pristine awareness (yeshé) to be zhentong.

    The supreme shakya, Serdok Penchen (1428-1507), considers the appearance of phenomena to be rangtong and the luminous, true nature of phenomena (dharmatā) to be zhentong.

    Sazang Mati Penchen (1294-1376) considers subject and object to be rangtong and space and pristine awareness to be zhentong.
    Karmapa Düdül Dorjé (1733/4-1797/8) considers cyclic existence (saṁsāra) to be rangtong and transcendence of suffering (nirvāṇa) to be zhentong. This is a wholesome position.

    The omniscient Mikyö (1507-54), father and sons, consider the pure kāyas and pristine awareness to be rangtong in terms of their true nature and to be zhentong in terms of the way they appear.
   

    Jamgön Situ Penchen (1700-74) considers the aspect that refutes to be rangtong and the aspect that establishes to be zhentong. This is a wholesome position.
    Furthermore, Katok Getsé Penchen (1761-1829) considers properly the context of mastery in equipoise to be rangtong and the context of differentiation in post-meditation (subsequent attainment) to be zhentong.

These seven positions have been arranged here in a summary in order to broaden the intelligence of those with lucid minds.7


If you summarize the seven, they can be condensed into three:

[1] the main jonangpa (assertion that] pristine awareness is zhentong;
[2] Shakya Chok den’s assertion that] the sphere [of reality) is zhentong; and [the assertions of] the others [3-7] that both the sphere [of reality) and pristine (awareness) (ying yé nyika) are zhentong.8


They can also be condensed into two: the first five [1-5] are mainly presentations of rangtong and zhentong as subjects to be determined,9 while the latter two [6-7] are mainly presentations of rangtong and zhentong as methods of ascertainment.10


So we can say that


[1] consciousness as rangtong and pristine awareness as zhentong;
[2] phenomena as rangtong and dharmatā as zhentong;
[3] saṁsāra as rangtong and nirvāṇa as zhentong;
[4] subject-object [as rangtong and space-pristine awareness as zhentong;11
[5] true nature as rangtong and apparent nature as zhentong;
[6] refutation as rangtong and establishment as zhentong;
[7] equipoise as rangtong and post[-meditation as zhentong) are the seven [1-7], the three [1, 2, & 3-7], or two different types [page 5] [i.e., 1-5 as subjects to be determined and 6-7 as methods of determination of rangtong and zhentong.12



A Specific Description of the Jonang Intention


Among the four general tenets, in Tibet there are several tenets of the Madhyamaka (Central System), divided into the two of rangtong and zhentong. The first was given the name rangtong, referring to the empty aspect mainly taught and emphasized in the context of the intermediate turning.13


As for the second, in the context of covering the final [turning] with the intention of mantra[-yāna) (Path of ṣecret ṣyllables), it was appropriate to comment even on the intention of most sūtras as mantra[-yāna).

The ultimate meaning of the sūtras of the final turning of the wheel was joined with the ultimate meaning of the Highest Yoga Tantras (anuttara-yoga-tantra).

The illusory impurities to be removed were taught to be rangtong.

Although the qualities of full maturation were not asserted to be present at the time of the ground, the basis of purification, the aspect to be freed, space and pristine awareness, being naturally permanent, stable, peaceful, and indestructible were ascertained to be zhentong.

This is the intention of the omniscient Jonang, father and sons, and in Tibet this was given the famous name of Zhentong Madhyamaka.14



A Presentation of the Validity of the Two Kinds of Madhyamaka


    The differences between the two types of Madhyamaka.
    How these two ultimately do not contradict each other.

a. The Differences Between the Two Types of Madhyamaka



This differentiation between Rangtong and Zhentong Madhyamaka should be known in an unmistaken way to [correspond to the difference between] the meaning and intention of sūtra[-yāna) (Path of the Buddha’s Words) and Mantra-​yāna, respectively] through a presentation of

    Difference in terms of subject matter.
    
    Difference in ascertaining.
    Difference in terms of manner of ascertainment.15

i. Difference in Terms of Subject Matter



It is appropriate to describe the difference between the two kinds of Madhyamaka in terms of subject matter as follows: “Faults are rangtong and qualities are zhentong.”16



The empty aspect emphasized in the context of the sūtras of the second turning of the wheel and the texts commenting on their intention constitute that which is to be purified, the faults and defects which are temporary and illusory.

These are considered rangtong.

That which is emphasized in the treatises of the final turning and the [[mantra]-yāna]]), tantras, and so forth constitutes the basis of purification, the qualities which are space and pristine awareness.

 These are considered zhentong.17



ii. Difference in Ascertaining


Concerning the differences between the two types of Madhyamaka [in terms of method], it is appropriate to say: “The logic that refutes is rangtong and the logic that affirms is zhentong.”18

As Nāgārjuna (second century) says: “No object whatsoever has ever come into existence either from itself, from something else, from something other than these two or without a cause.”

This manner of teaching, through the logic of refutation emphasized in the intermediate turning of the wheel and so forth is the rangtong method of teaching.

As the regent Maitreya says: “Sentient beings possess tathāgatagarbha, since perfect buddhakāya radiates, since suchness cannot be differentiated, and since they have the potential.”

It is appropriate to say that teaching through the logic of affirmation in the final turning of the wheel is the zhentong method.19




iii. Difference in Terms of Manner of Ascertainment

It is appropriate to say that the manner of teaching the sphere of reality (dharmadhātu) as a generality/universal is rangtong, and the manner of teaching it in terms of its actuality/particularity is zhentong, just as master Asaṅga (ca. 310-90) differentiated between dharmadhātu as a generality and as an actuality.20



It is also appropriate to say that the manner of ascertaining the conceptual image of dharmadhātu by way of [the teachings on] the sixteen kinds of emptiness and so forth in the intermediate turning of the wheel is rangtong, and the manner of determining dharmadhātu in terms of its actuality, sugatagarbha (heart of bliss), by way of [the teachings on] the luminosity of mind itself and so forth in the final turning of the wheel and mantra[-yāna) is zhentong.21

So, it is appropriate to understand the postulations of the two types of Madhyamaka through proper investigation of the sources of the teachings. Furthermore, as explained just above, one should gain certainty in three ways.

To summarize in verse form:

Faults and qualities, refutation and affirmation, conceptual and actual dhātu

[Are] the differences between rangtong and zhentong

In terms of what they are, how they [are ascertained], and in what manner.22

b. How These Two Ultimately Do Not Contradict Each Other



Through a difference in the tradition of expression on these points, the names of the two types of Madhyamaka came about.

Therefore, the aspect that expresses space (ying) and illusory nature (gyumé rangzhin) of the intermediate turning of the wheel was given the name Rangtong Madhyamaka.

The aspect that expresses space and pristine awareness of the final turning of the wheel as the base of mantra-yāna was given the name Zhentong Madhyamaka.23




In fact, even the rangtongpas must assert that, while dharmatā is free of all elaborations of eternalism and nihilism, yet it appears as the ground, the nature of the kāyas (bodies), and pristine awareness.

Even the zhentongpas must accept that the appearing yet empty space is free of all elaborations.

Therefore, it would be good to establish the intended meaning of the two Madhyamakas as one and the same: a great union ultimately transcending all the elaborations and terms of eternalism and nihilism.24


Analysis



It is well known that the views held by proponents of the zhentong tradition have varied considerably from the time of Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen up to the present day.

Pema Bidza identifies seven different positions held by seven different masters spanning a period of more than six centuries.

He defines a number of different categories for his comparison.

In the first context, rangtong and zhentong are shown to refer to phenomena belonging to two different levels of reality.

In the second context, rangtong and zhentong are presented as different strategies of ascertaining a given subject, and in the third context he shows rangtong and zhentong as different methods of gaining realization.



The first five masters cited – Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen, Shakya Chokden, Sazang Mati Penchen, Karmapa Düdül Dorjé, and Karmapa Mikyö Dorjé – are presented as viewing rangtong and zhentong as differing in terms of subjects to be determined.

The first four of these masters hold that various relative phenomena are rangtong while ultimate phenomena are zhentong.25

However, although the fifth master cited, the Eighth karmapa, is portrayed as going against this pattern, he is nevertheless included in the list perhaps on account of those of his writings that advocate zhentong.26

The sixth master cited, Situ Penchen (1700-74), is presented as regarding rangtong and zhentong as different methods of ascertaining a given subject, while the seventh master, Katok Getsé Penchen,27 is portrayed as holding rangtong and zhentong as different ways of gaining realization.



The seven positions are also summarized into three positions with Dölpopa representing the first position that emphasizes the aspect of pristine awareness (yeshé) as zhentong, Shakya Chokden representing the second position that emphasizes the aspect of the sphere of reality (ying) as zhentong, and the others representing a third group of positions that asserts a combination of space and awareness (ying yé nyika) as being zhentong.



Pema Bidza concludes on a conciliatory note, showing how rangtong and zhentong do not contradict each other.

They can thus be considered to belong to different levels of discourse, and therefore lack the basic criteria for meaningful comparison.

Ruegg has aptly observed: “It may be possible to think in terms of complementarity (or incommensurability) between two theories belonging to distinct universes of religious-philosophical discourse rather than in terms of contradiction between theories competing on the same level.”28

As we have seen, zhentong is used to refer to a number of different but related fields of inquiry. Let us explore this issue a bit further.29

Certain Tibetan Buddhist masters use the term zhentong to refer to a philosophical tenet system (drupta, siddhānta); others use it to refer to a philosophical point of view theory (tawa).

At other times it is used to refer to a combination of theory and practice (tagom) or to a practice tradition (gomluk).

Finally, many – such as Pema Bidza – argue that rangtong and zhentong represent Sūtrayāna and Mantrayāna, respectively.



Broido has pointed out that Dölpopa never intended his zhentong to fulfill the requirements of a philosophical tenet system.30

Instead, Dölpopa “calls his darśanadbu ma chen po,’ and intends it to be connected with experience and to [page 10] be contrasted with Uma as a siddhānta.”31

However, later holders of the zhentong lineage seem to have given zhentong the status of a philosophical tenet system.32 It was on this level of discourse that polemical comparisons between rangtong and zhentong began to proliferate.

Both Dölpopa and later zhentong proponents assert that zhentong incorporates and bases itself on rangtong as a philosophical tenet system. They then go on to say that zhentong supersedes this level of discourse.


Nevertheless, it seems that some later zhentong proponents argue for the supremacy of zhentong even on the philosophical tenet system level.

Although this may be nothing but a strategy for defending the tradition against criticism from its opponents, it can become, as Broido points out, “a source of serious confusion,”33 at least for those attempting to study the tradition.



[4] Place and date of printing are unknown. This text was kindly given to me by the former director of The National Library of Bhutan, Lopon Pemala. It is studied at the Nyima Lung Monastic College in Bhutan.
[5] See http://www.tbrc.org P5784.


[6] The introduction informs us that a paper roll containing twenty-five questions concerning the difference between Madhyamaka Rangtong and zhentong in terms of the base, path, and fruit of the essential Mahāyāna sūtra and mantra perspectives was brought to the great Kagyü seat of Pelpung in Dokham called Tupten Dargyé Chökhorling, the seat of Jamgön Situ Rinpoché.

The paper roll stated that these questions were for the scholars based at Jamgön Zhenpen Nangwa’s school, and that the questions came from someone from Gyelrong called Karma Ngedön.

Upon thorough investigation of the words and the meaning, it was found that the wording was probably that of a “realized one” (tokden), but from the point of view of the meaning, the questions were generally considered to be indicative of the fact that the author had a certain level of analytical realization

 (de la skabs ’dir rgyal rong ba ka rma nges don yin zer ba zhig gis/ mdo khams bka’ brgyud kyi gdan sa chen po shar dpal spungs thub bstan dar rgyas chos ’khor gling du ’khod pa’i byams mgon si tu rin po che’i chos sde/ ’jam mgon gzhan phan snang ba’i slob grwa pa gzhi byes kyi mkhas pa rnams la dri ba yin zer ba dbu ma rang stong dang gzhan stong gnyis kyi khyad par dri bya’i snying por gyur pa’i theg chen mdo sngag phyogs kyi gzhi lam ’bras bu’i skor ci rigs pa nas brtsams te dri ba nyer lnga tsam zhig mdzad ’dug pa’i shog dril lag tu son te tshig don la legs par brtags pas/ tshig gi dag sdeb ni rtogs ldan phal cher gyi lugs su ’dug la/ don gyi cha rnams spyir rnam dpyod kyi drod tshad nyul ba’i dri ba re yin/; Padma bi dza [Zur mang mkhan po padma rnam rgyal), Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba [N.p., n.d.], 2.4-3.4).



The questions are very pointed and include the consequences of both affirmative and non-affirmative answers. For example:

    Are concepts dharmakāya or are they delusion?

If they are the true nature, then this ordinary mind contradicts the uncreated dharmakāya, the special quality of mahāmudrā. If they are delusion, then it follows that saṁsāra is dharmakāya

(rnam rtog chos sku gnas lugs ’khrullugs gang / gnas lugs yin na tha mal shes pa ’di/ ma bcos chos sku phyag chen khyad chos ’gal/ ’khrul lugs yin na ’khor ba chos skur thal/; Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 14.1-14.2).



Another question reads:

    At the time of the ground, is the potential primordially pure or not? If it is, then what is the basis of the temporary delusions? Similarly, the manner of delusion must be said to be a manner of purity. If it is not primordially pure, then what are the natural qualities and the temporary impurities?”

(gzhi dus rigs pa ye dag yin nam min/ yin na glo bur ’khrul gzhi gang la bya/ ji ltar ’khrul tshul dang ni dag tshul smros/ ye dag min na yon tan rang bzhin dang / dri ma glo bur ba de ci la ser/; Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 47.4-47.5).



The colophon states:



    My master Jamgön Tai Situ Rinpoché held this paper roll of questions in his hand, and with the command “give some satisfying answers to this,” he hit it on my head as a drum stick, like a text worthy of respect. So nurtured by his kindness and the kindness of Jamgön Zhenpen Nangwa and others, [I,] Pema Bidza from Zurmang, placed in the ranks of Pelpung Tupten Dargyé Chökhorling, wrote this, which is what came to mind, when staying at the home of Toru Tsang, minister of the king of Degé, on my way to Dzokchen to have books printed

(rang re’i rigs kyi khyab bdag byams mgon tā’i si tu rin po ches ’di’i dri ba’i shog dril lag tu gnang nas rnga la dbyug gus bskul ba’i dpe ltar lags pas/ ’di la lan yid tshim pa zhig thob cig ces bka’ stsal spyi bor phebs par brten nas/ rje de nyid dang ’jam mgon gzhan phan snang ba sogs kyi bka’ drin gyis rjes su ’tsho zhing / shar dpal spungs thub bstan dar rgyas chos ’khor gling gi gral mthar ’khod zur mang ba padma bi dzas mdo khams rdzogs chen phyogs dpe cha spar du ’gro ba'i lam zhor/ sa skyong sde dge’i mdun mdzod lto ru tshang sar ’dug skabs blo thog nas shar byung du bris ba dag par bshus nas bskur ba dge legs ’phel/; Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 75.2-75.5).


The text consists of the answers to these questions.

[7] mdor bsdus gnad kyi dris lan dbu ma rang stong dang gzhan stong gi khyad par la/ ’dod tshul gyi dbye ba spyir bstan pa/ jo nang pa’i dgongs pa bye brag tu brjod pa/ dbu ma gnyis kyi ’thad tshul bstan pa dang gsum las/ dang po la ming don ci rigs kyi dbye sgo gtso bor bdun tsam du ’dug ste/ kun mkhyen jo nang yab sras ni/ rnam shes rang stong / ye shes gzhan stong du ’dod pa dang / shāka [read shākya] mchog pa gser mdog paṇ chen ni/ chos can snang ba rang stong / chos nyidod gsal gzhan stong du ’dod pa dang / sa bzang ma ti paṇ chen ni/ yul dang yul can rang stong // dbyings dang ye shes gzhan stong du ’dod pa dang / karma pa bdud ’dul rdo rje ni/ ’khor ba rang stong // myang ’das gzhan stong tsam dudod na legs phyogs dang / kun mkhyen mi skyod yab sras ni/ dag pa’i sku dang ye shes kyang gnas tshul rang stong / snang tshul gzhan stong du ’dod pa dang / ’jam mgon si tu paṇ chen ni/ dgag phyogs rang stong / sgrub phyogs gzhan stong du ’dod na legs phyogs dang / kaḥ thog dge rtse paṇ chen ni/ mnyam gzhag la zlo’i skabs rang stong / rjes thob shan ’byed skabs gzhan stong du ’dod pa legs zhes pa ste/ ’dod tshul bdun po ’di dag ni blo gsal rnams kyi blo gros zor yangs pa’i ched du bsdus te bkod pa yin no/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 60.3-61.4).

[8] bdun pa de’ang bsdu na/ jo nang pa gtso bor ye shes gzhan stong / shāka [read shākya] mchog pa dbyings gzhan stong / gzhan rnams dbyings ye gnyis ka’i gzhan stong ste gsum du ’du’o/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 61.4-61.5).


[9] tenla wapja: that which is to be resolved or ascertained.


[10] de’ang snga ma lnga gtan la dbab bya’i sgo nas dang / phyi ma gnyis ’bebs byed kyi sgo nas gtso bor rang stong dang gzhan stong du bzhag pas gnyis su ’du’o/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 61.5-61.6).

[11] Pema Bidza has switched the order of view 3 and 4 here.

[12] smras pa rnam shes ye shes chos can chos nyid dang / ’khor ’das gzung ’dzin dbyings ye gnas snang tshul/ dgag sgrub mnyam rjes sgo nas rang stong dang / gzhan stong dbu ma’i khyad par bdun gsum gnyis/ shes par skabs kyi tshigs su bcad pa’o/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 61.6-62.1).

[13] gnyis pa jo nang pa’i dgongs pa bye brag tu brjod pa ni/ spyir grub mtha’ bzhi las/ bod kyi phyogs su dbu ma’i grub mtha’ ’dod tsul [read tshul] ’ga’ zhig la rang stong dang gzhan stong gnyis su dbye rigs pa’i dang po ni/ bka’ ’khor lo bar pa gtso bor gyur pa’i stong phyogs gtso bor ston skabs dbu ma rang stong du ming chag pa dang / (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 62.1-62.3).

[14] gnyis pa ni gong ma sngags kyi dgongs pas gung ’gebs skabs/ mdo phal cher gyi dgongs pa yang sngags ltar ’grel rung bas/ ’khor lo tha ma’i mdo don mthar thug dang / bla med sngags kyi rgyud don mthar thug gnyis lto sbyar te sbyang bya ’khrul pa’i dri ma rang stong du bstan nas/ rnam par smin pa’i yon tan gzhi dus su mi ’dod par gsungs kyang bral ba’i phyogs kyi sbyang gzhi dbyings dang / ye shes rtag brtan zhi ba g.yung drung gi rang bzhin gzhan stong yin ces gtan la phab pas/ bod du kun mkhyen jo nang yab sras kyi dgongs pa dbu ma gzhan stong zhes yongs su grags pa’i ming chags pa yin no/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 62.3-62.6).

[15] gsum pa dbu ma gnyis kyi ’thad tshul bstan pa la/ dbu ma gnyis kyi khyad par mdzad tshul dang / de gnyis mthar thug ’gal med tshul gnyis las/ dang po ni/ de ltar dbu ma rang stong dang gzhan stong gi khyad par dbab bya/ ’bebs byed/ ’bebs tshul gsum gyi sgo nas mdo sngags kyi dgongs don phyin ci ma log pa ltar shes dgos pa las (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 62.6-63.2).

[16] dang po gang zhig gtan la dbab bya skyon rang stong yon tan gzhan stong gi sgo nas dbu ma gnyis kyi khyad par bstan ces brjod kyang rung ste/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 63.2-63.3).
[17] gtso cher ’khor lo bar pa’i mdo dang dgongs ’grel sogs las stong cha bstan pa’i skabs sbyangs bya glo bur ’khrul pa’i nyes skyon rang stong dang / gtso cher ’khor lo tha ma’i gzhung dang sngags rgyud sogs las sbyangs gzhi dbyings dang ye shes kyi yon tan gzhan stong du bstan par ’dod pa ltar ro/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 63.5-64.1).

[18] gnyis pa gang gis gtan la ’bebs byed dgag phyogs kyi rigs pas rang stong dang / sgrub phyogs kyi rigs pas gzhan stong gi sgo nas dbu ma gnyis kyi khyad par yang rung ste/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 64.1-64.2).

[19] mgon po klus/ bdag las ma yin gzhan las min/ gnyis las ma yin rgyu med min/ dngos po gang dag gang na yang / skye ba nam yang yod ma yin/ ces sogs gsung pa ltar gtso bor ’khor lo bar pa la sogs pa’i dgag phyogs kyi rigs pas rang stong du bstan tshul dang / rgyal tshab byams pas/ rdzogs sangs sku ni ’pho phyir dang / de bzhin nyid dbyer med phyir dang / rigs yod phyir na lus can kun/ rtag tu sangs rgyas snying po can/ zhes sogs gsungs pa ltar ’khor lo tha ma’i sgrub phyogs kyi rigs pas gzhan stong du bstan na yang rung ba ltar ro/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 64.2-64.5).


[20] gsum pa ji ltar gtan la ’bebs tshul chos dbyings spyi mtshan bstan pa’i tshul gyis rang stong dang / rang mtshan bstan pa’i tshul gyis gzhan stong du bstan kyang rung ste/ slob dpon thogs med kyis chos dbyings la spyi mtshan dang rang mtshan gnyis su phyes pa ltar ro/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 64.5-64.6).

[21] ’khor lo bar pas stong nyid bcu drug sogs kyi sgo nas chos dbyings spyi mtshan gtan la ’bebs pa’i tshul gyis rang stong dang / ’khor lo tha ma sngags dang bcas pa las sems nyidod gsal sogs kyi sgo nas chos dbyings rang mtshan bde gshegs snying po gtan la ’bebs pa’i tshul gyis gzhan stong du bstan na yang rung ba’i phyir/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 64.6-65.2).

[22] gsungs pa’i khungs rnams la legs par brtags pas/ dbu ma gnyis kyi ’jog mtshams go yang rung zhing / de’ang bshad ma thag pa ltar tshul gsum gyi sgo nas nges par bya’o/ ’dir smras pa’i sdom/ skyon dang yon tan dgag dang sgrub/ phyi dang rang gi mtshan nyid dbyings/ gang zhig gang gis tshul ji ltar/ rang gzhan stong pa’i kyad par gsum/ zhes par skabs kyi tshigs su bcad pa’o/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 66.2-66.4).

[23] gnyis pa dbu ma gnyis po mthar thug ’gal ba med tshul ni/ de ltar khyad par gsum po tsam zhig rtsal du ’don lugs kyis dbu ma gnyis kyi mtshan du chags pa des na ’khor lo bar pa’i dbyings dang sgyu ma’i rang bzhin rtsal du bton pa’i cha nas dbu ma rang stong du ming chags pa dang / ’khor lo tha ma sngags dang bcas pa’i gzhi dbyings dang ye shes kyi rang bzhin rtsal du bton pa’i cha nas dbu ma gzhan stong gi ming du chags pa tsam gyi khad par las/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 66.5-67.1).

[24] don la dbu ma rang stong pas kyang chos nyid rtag chad kyi spros pa thams cad dang bral bzhin du snang ba’i gzhi sku dang ye shes kyi rang bzhindod dgos pa dang / gzhan stong pas kyang snang bzhin du stong pa’i dbyings spros pa thams cad dang bral ba ji bzhin du khas len dgos pa’i phyir na/ dbu ma gnyis po mthar thug spros mtshan rtag chad thams cad las ’das pa’i zung ’jug chen por dgongs don gcig tu grub na legs te/ (Padma bi dza, Dri lan tshes pa’i zla ba, 67.1-67.3).



[25] This conforms to Dölpopa’s general definition of relative phenomena being rangtong (chöchen rangtong) and their ultimate nature or dharmatā being zhentong (chönyi zhentong).


[26] Mikyö Dorjé commented upon the Abhisamayālaṃkāra in accordance with the zhentong philosophy in his Sherapkyi Paröltu Chinpé Lungchö Tadakgi Dütsi Nyingpor Gyurpa Gangla Denpé Zhi Jetsün Choktu Gyepar Ngelsö Yongdü Tölgyi Jönpa Gyepa (Sikkim: Karma Shri Nalanda Institute, n.d.). See Karl Brunnhölzl, A Commentary on the Perfection of Knowledge:

The Noble One Resting at Ease (Sackville: Nitartha Institute, 2001) for a partial translation of this text. Mikyö Dorjé also endorsed zhentong in his Uma Zhentong Mawé Söl Lekpar Chewé Drönmé, published in Dbu ma gzhan stong skor bstan bcos phyogs bsdus deb dang po (Sikkim: Karma Shri Nalanda Institute, 1990), 12-48.

However, his commentary on Madhyamakāvatāra, the Umala Jukpé Namshé Penden Düsum Khyenpé Zhellung Dakgyü Druppé Shingta (Seattle: Nitartha International Publications, 1996) is in accordance with the rangtong theory, while at the same time taking issue with the emptiness propounded by the Gelukpa school.

For studies of this last text see Paul Williams, “A Note on Some Aspects of Mi Bskyod Rdo Rje’s Critique of Dge Lugs Pa Madhyamaka,” Journal of Indian Philosophy11, no. 2 (1983): 125-146, and David Seyfort Ruegg, “A Kar ma bka’ brgyud Work on the Lineages and Traditions of the Indo-Tibetan dBu ma (Madhyamaka),” Orientalia Iosephi Tucci Memoriae Dicata, vol. 3 (Roma: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente,1988), 1249-80. See also Karl Brunnhölzl, The Center of the Sunlit Sky: Madhyamaka in the Kagyü Tradition (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2004), 445-526, where Mikyö Dorjé’s views on zhentong are elaborated in the fourth chapter, entitled “Is There Such a Thing as Shentong-Madhyamaka?”

[27] His association of rangtong with equipoise and zhentong with post-meditation differs from the views of, for example, Shakya Chokden and from that of many zhentong proponents’ positions, but this is a subject for future study.

[28] Ruegg, Buddha Nature, 7-8, 11; and also David Seyfort Ruegg, Three Studies in the History of Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka Philosophy, Studies in Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka Thought, part 1 (Vienna: Arbeitskreis für tibetische und buddhistische Studien, Universität Wien, 2000), 81.

[29] It is important to remember that although zhentong, in the course of centuries of discussion across the categories mentioned above, has become a somewhat “loaded” term, there are no grounds for the ascription of a substantive ontology to the term itself.

[30] Michael Broido, “The Jo-nang-Pas on Madhyamaka: A Sketch,” The Tibet Journal45, no. 1 (1989): 86-90.
[31] Broido, “The Jo-nang-Pas,” 87. He further says: “In S’s Dölpopa Sherap Gyeltsen’s usage a siddhānta (drupta) is a fixed philosophical position based on axioms and set rules of argument; a darśana (tawa) is a point of view in a broad sense, including what derives directly from experience.”

[32] This is defined by the Tibetan tradition in general as “Limit of Establishment,” i.e., the final conclusion reached by a system based on logic and scripture, referring to tenet systems.
[33] Broido, “The Jo-nang-Pas,” 89.

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