New Translation: Jetsun Tāranātha’s ‘The Ornament of Madhyamaka Empty-of-Other’

A new translation of one of Jetsun Tāranātha’s key texts, on the view of ‘Empty of Other’ (gzhan stong), Ornament of the Great Middle Way Empty-of Other (gzhan stong dbu ma’i rgyan) has recently been announced by Jonang lama, Khentrul Rinpoche, who is based in Australia. It has not been translated/published into English until now. The text is available for free download here. In this short post, I share some information about the text itself, the editions available and an excerpt of what it says about the ‘three turnings of the wheel’.

Also, Rinpoche has announced he will be giving live online teachings on this text starting this weekend.
The text and editions
This new publication is certainly a valuable contribution to the knowledge and study of Tāranātha’s (and the Jonangpa) view of ‘Empty-of-Other’ and to be congratulated.  Tāranātha wrote the text when he was thirty years old at the Jonang hermitage. It addresses the polemical rhetoric of some ‘Empty-of-Self’ advocates (Rangtongpa) regarding the view of shentongpas. Along with Tāranātha’s work on The Essence of Empty-of-Other (gzhan stong snying po) and his ‘Commentary on the Heart Sutra’, it is one of the few texts now available in the English language that expounds and explains the view of ‘Empty–of-Other’ (from the Jonang perspective) and how and why it is different from what is asserted by ’empty-of-self’. Considering that the great Karma Kagyu Lama, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, was a great admirer and student of the Jonangpa, particularly Tāranātha, it is also an important text to read to get a better understanding of Kongtrul’s view of ’empty-of-other’.
This text was first translated and published into German for a Master’s thesis, by Rolf Scheuermann, which can be downloaded here.  In this new publication, although some critical notes have been given at the end, the English language translator, Ives Waldo (Rime Lodro) does not state in his introduction which Tibetan editions of the text he used for his translation. From a quick online search, I can see there are a few online editions available, in the Jonang Tagten Phuntshog Ling, Dzamthang (block print) and Peking editions of Collected Works of Tāranātha (see bibliography).
As Tāranātha does in his other texts where he talks about the ‘Empty of Other’ view, he states right at the outset that the ‘three turnings of the wheel’ have a ‘single intention’ and that although it may appear that these teachings contradict each other, with a correct understanding of all three, they are completely harmonious. He gives names and quotes from Sutras to support what he says:

Nāgārjuna, as well as Asaṅga and his brother,
Establish that the three turnings have a single intention:
The first turning of the wheel teaches the relative.
It is taught in accordance with the way things appear.
There is no teaching that what appears has true existence,
Within the subject of analyzing for how things are;
therefore, the words of these relative teachings are not false.

The middle refutes all dharmas of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa,
All of the relative; but whether sugatagarbha,
Exists or not is never taught or examined at all.
Therefore, these two turnings do not contradict the last.
In any case, the first chiefly teaches the relative.
In the middle, there is only half the definitive meaning;
The lack of true existence of the relative,
But not the true existence of the absolute.

The last turning perfectly teaches the definitive absolute.
The examples of medicine for the sick and learning letters;
Have this intention, and others are contradictory.

If it the first turning were to teach, “All dharmas are stable [permanent],”
That would contradict the Sūtra of Katyayana.

If the middle negated the absolute, dharmadhātu and so forth,
That would contradict the Sutra Requested by Maitreya.

The sūtras and treatises then would have mutual contradictions.

—Excerpt from Ornament of Great Madhayamaka Other-Emptiness, (Dzogden Publications, 2020, tr. Ives Waldo).

Thanks again to Ives Waldo and Khentrul Rinpoche for making this translation available to all and for the effort taken to put it into English. May the view of Empty of Other flourish and may all realise the dharmadhatu, Buddha Nature within and without!

Bibliography/Further Reading

Tibetan source texts

Ornament of Empty-of-Other (gzhan stong dbu ma’i rgyan) in various editions of Collected Works of Tāranātha.

In gsung ‘bum/_tA ra nA tha/ (rtag brtan phun tshogs gling gi par ma/). TBRC W22277. 4: 811 – 838. leh: c. namgyal & tsewang taru, 1982-1987.

In gsung ‘bum/_tA ra na tha (bris ma). TBRC W1PD77570. 5: 195 – 222. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang , 2008.

In gsung ‘bum/_tA ra nA tha/ ‘dzam thang par ma/. TBRC W22276. 18: 111 – 131. dzam thang dgon: [s.n.], 199-.

 In gsung ‘bum/_tA ra nA tha/ dpe bsdur ma/. TBRC W1PD45495. 36: 134 – 155. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2008.

English Language Texts

Essence of Other-Emptiness by Tāranātha. Translated by Jeffrey Hopkins. Snow Lion Publications (2007).

Tāranātha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra. Translated by Adele Tomlin. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (2017).

 “Introduction: The History of the Rang stong/Gzhan stong Distiction from Its Beginning through the Ris-med Movement”. Journal of Buddhist Philosophy 2 (2016), 4-8 by Klaus-Dieter Mathes.

 “Tāranātha´s ‘Twenty-one Differences with regard to the Profound Meaning’: Comparing the Views of the Two gŹan stoṅ Masters Dol po pa and Śākya mchog ldan“, by Klaus-Dieter Mathes.

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