Jonang and the ‘Empty-of Other’ Great Madhyamaka

Excerpt from the Introduction to  ‘Tāranātha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra‘ (Adele Tomlin, LTWA, 2017). All rights and copyright reserved.

1 The‘Empty-of-Other Great Madhyamaka’

1.1 The Origin of Empty-of-Other

In the Word-for-Word Commentary, Tāranātha uses the phrase Empty-of-Other (gzhan stong) throughout, stating that the Heart Sūtra is a text that not only affirms and asserts the Empty-of-Other Great Madhyamaka (dbu ma chen po)[1] view but also that it is ultimately a text of definitive (and not provisional) meaning.[2]

This important philosophical doctrine in the Tibetan Buddhist canon can be briefly summarized as the view that all conditioned phenomena, conceptual categorizations and the appearances of dualistic subject and object are empty of inherent existence (Empty-of-Self/rang stong) but only empty of those (Empty-of-Other/gzhan stong) aspects.  The ultimate nature, which is beyond dualistic perceptions and categorizations, is not empty of the unconditioned, non-dualistic and unproduced qualities such as awareness, clarity, emptiness and radiance which allows such ‘appearances’ to be known and appear.  The qualities of Buddha-Nature (tathāgatagarbha) or primordial awareness (jñāna: ye shes) are permanently abiding during the presence and absence of ‘impure’ and ‘pure’ elaborations and appearances (the Other/gzhan).

Hookham describes the difference thus (Hookham 1991: 15):

Seeing the empty-of-self nature of phenomena has two facets, the shocking, somewhat negative experience of seeing phenomena as ‘unreal’ and the positive experience of spaciousness, limitlessness, changelessness, and unobstructedness. When asked, Thrangu Rinpoche felt the term ‘Empty-of-Self’ implied both these aspects, the negative as well as the positive.

The Jo-nang-pa are often credited with the origin of the Empty-of-Other terminology and view because, according to scholars, the exact equivalents of the terms Empty-of-Self and Empty-of-Other are not found in any known Indian source.[3]  However, in terms of content, if not the name, there were several Indian[4] and Tibetan precursors (in particular the eleventh century Kālacakra master, (and an important figure in the Jo-nang) Yu-mo-ba-mi-bskyod-rdo-rje)[5]who discussed the crucial elements of what eventually came to be called the Empty-of-Other view in Tibet.

Jo-nang Kun-dga’-grol-mchog’s citation of the statement made by the Tibetan scholar and translator bTsan-kha-bo-che (b. 1021),[6] regarding his teacher Sajjana’s view of the three Turnings, was seen assufficient to refute any criticism made by Tibetan critics who claimed that the Empty-of-Other tradition was completely unknown in India prior to Dol-po-pa:[7]

The Jo-nang-pas, for one, claim that their gzhan stong position had earlier been staked out in India, for example by the Kashmiri Paṇḍita Sajjana (11th cent.) who adhered to a distinction between the real and imputed.  In his “History of the Collection of One Hundred Instructions,” Jo-nang Kun-dga’-grol-mchog (1507–1566) reports that bTsan Kha -bo-che (b. 1021) said about Sajjana:

Sajjana, the paṇḍita from Kashmir, made the very significant statement that the victorious one turned the dharmacakra three times.  The First [dharma]cakra concerned the Four [Noble] Truths, the Middle one the lack of defining characteristics, and the Final one careful distinctions.  The First two of them did not distinguish between the real and the imputed.  During the ultimate ascertainment of the Final one, he taught by distinguishing between the Middle and the extremes (Skt. Madhyāntavibhāga) and by distinguishing between phenomena and their true nature (Skt. Dharmadharmatāvibhāga).

To sum up, the synthesis of Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha in the Maitreya works reflects a serious alternative to the Madhyamaka hermeneutics of Candrakīrti, and can thus be considered a realistic Indian precedent of gzhan stong.

This passage is also quoted by Brunnhölzl (2014: 143) along with the additional comments by bTsan-kha-bo-che:

That this appears  [in] an old notebook of bTsan-kha -bo-che himself, which bears the name Lotus Hook, shows that one should reject the later claim that the conventional term gzhan stong was completely unknown in India and [only] appeared later in Tibet with the Omniscient Dol-po-pa.

Even though Indian commentators did not necessarily use the exact terms, or give fully fledged presentations of Empty-of-Other found in later Tibetan works, three Indian texts in particular, the‘Maitreya Chapter’[8] (see more below), the Bhaṭṭīkā [9] and the Āmnāyānusāriī[10] have been identified as repeatedly and solely explaining, in accordance with most Tibetan works on Empty-of-Other,that the perfectly-established nature is empty of ‘Other’ (meaning empty of the dependent (paratantra: gzhan dbang) and the imagined (parikalpita: kun brtags)).[11]

According to the ‘Maitreya Chapter’, all phenomena, from form up through the qualities of a Buddha (buddhadharmas), are divided into three aspects (or forms) that correspond to the Three Natures:

  • Imagined form (parikalpitarūpa)
  • Dependent form (vikalpitarūpa)
  • Ultimate form (dharmatā rūpa)

Thus, imagined form and dependent form do not exist ultimately, only the dharmadhātu ultimate form exists. When the latter is directly observed through non-conceptual wisdom, imagined and dependent forms are not observed, when they are observed it is through conceptual, dualistic perception.[12]

In his Supplication to the Profound Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka Lineage (Zab mo gzhan stong dbu ma’i brgyud ’debs), Tāranātha presents the lineage of the Empty-of-Other tradition up to himself, as originating from Indian masters Maitreya, Asaṅga,Vasubandhu, Maitrīpa, Ratnākaraśānti and Sajjana, gZu dGa-’ba-’i-rdo-rje and bTsan-kha-bo-che.[13]For example, the ‘Maitreya chapter’ in the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras (authored by Vasubandhu) is frequently quoted in Jo-nang works (including those of Tāranātha) as one of the primary Indian scriptural sources of the Empty-of-Other view, and is included in ‘the ten sūtras of definitive meaning’ (nges don gyi mdo).[14]

It is generally accepted among modern scholars that, even though the doctrine of Empty-of-Other seems to have appeared in a various Indian and Tibetan texts prior, the Jo-nang master Dol-po-pa (1292–1361)[15]was the first to use the terms Empty-of-Self and Empty-of-Other in a systematic and extensive way and widely propagated the Empty-of-Other system in Tibet:[16]

He [Dol-po-pa] created, or at least made first extensive use of, several Tibetan terms, such as gzhan stong and kun gzhi ye shes, to express scriptural themes he wished to emphasise. He also drew into his vocabulary some key terms such as dbu ma chen po, Great Madhyamaka, which had been in use in Tibet for centuries, but are not found in any Indian scriptures or commentaries…Although the tradition itself considers him as the one who coined the term, it is probably more accurate to say that Dol-po-pa made use of an obscure term that had very limited use before him, and gave it a place of fundamental importance in the expression of his philosophy.

As Kapstein keenly observes, Dol-po-pa’s life: the quintessential Tibetan ‘local boy makes good’ story: a youth of humble origins, belonging to a religious family, goes forth to study widely and eventually becomes the disciple of some of the leading masters of his time.  Attaching himself to one lineage in particular, he becomes established as a prominent teacher in his own right, and his career begins to unfold as the actualization of the tradition to which he is heir, a cosmic event understood in its relation to a history spanning many lives, and embodying an entire cosmology.  Where Dol-po-pa is perhaps a distinctive figure, if not an entirely unique one, is the self-conscious determination with which he elaborated this enterprise, so as to generate an altogether distinctive material and doctrinal expression of it.[17]

Some Tibetan sources speak of Dol-po-pa’s contemporary, the Third Karmapa, Rang-’byung-rdo-rje, as a possible influence, or even as the first adherent of the Empty-of-Other. According to Tāranātha, there was a meeting that took place between Dol-po-pa and Rang-’byung-rdo-rje when Dol-po-pa was twenty-nine or thirty years old in 1322. He describes it thus:[18]

Then, Dol-po-pa travelled to Lhasa, Tsurphu, and so forth. He had many discussions about Dharma with the Dharma Lord Rang-’byung. Although Rang-’byung could not match the scriptural reasoning of this Lord [Dol-po-pa], he had a fine clairvoyance, and prophesied, “You will soon have a view, practice, and Dharma language [chos skad] much better than this which you have now.”

However, as Stearns notes, there is no record of this meeting in any of the extant early biographies of either teacher apart from a reference to it in a text by Si-tu Paṇ-chen Chos-kyi-’byung-gnas (1700-1774) who specifies that this meeting took place and that at the time of the meeting Dol-po-pa still held the Empty-of-Self (rang stong) view.[19]

Otherwise, it is generally agreed that Dol-po-pa first started openly teaching and proclaiming the Empty-of-Other view and related topics during the construction of the Great Stūpa at Jo-nang (which was consecrated in October 1333).[20]In addition, the New Jo-nang Translation (jo nang gsar ’gyur) of the Kālacakra Tantra and the Vimalaprabhā in 1334, was also an important part of Dol-po-pa’s establishment of the Empty-of-Other view and its related interpretations of doctrine and practice.[21]

According to Tāranātha, when Dol-po-pa’s initial works on the Empty-of-Other view were first circulated, they were incomprehensible to most scholars because of the unusual Dharma language he was using but that all who were ‘fortunate and courageous were delighted by it’.[22]

So, from the time of Dol-po-pa onwards, what had also been known in Tibet by names such as:

  • the Meditative Tradition of the Dharma works of Maitreya (byams chos sgom lugs pa)
  • False Aspectarian Madhyamaka (dbu ma rnam brdzun)
  • Profound Luminous Madhyamaka (zab gsal dbu ma)

became known as:

  • the Empty-of-Other system (gzhan stong lugs), or
  • Empty-of-OtherMadhyamaka (dbu ma gzhan stong), or
  • Empty-of-Other Great Madhyamaka (gzhan stong dbu ma chen po).

The lineage of the Meditative Tradition of the Dharma works of Maitreya, which is associated with the work and view of Tibetan scholars and translators, gZu dGa-’ba-’i-rdo-rje and bTsan-kha-bo-che, is contrasted with the transmission lineage of rNgog-lo-tsā-ba which is called the ‘Exegetical (or Analytical) Tradition of the Dharma works of Maitreya’ (byams chos bshad lugs) or ‘the Tradition of Studying and Reflecting on the Dharma works of Maitreya’ (byams chos thos bsam gyi lugs).[23]

Dol-po-pa’s pure understanding and influence in terms of the doctrine of Empty-of-Other is also confirmed by Tāranātha in theEssence of Empty-of-Other:

The general tenets of Empty-of-Other are explained at length by many good students of the lineage of Dignāga, Sthiramati, and so forth, and the uncommon tenets, being difficult to fit in others’ minds, were spread in the manner of transmission from ear-to-ear. Later in dependence upon its happening that many in India confused this Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka with the tenets of Mind-Only, most Tibetans mistook them to be the same. In Tibet, many translators and scholars translated texts, but those who purely held the tenets are those following the meditative system of the Meditative Tradition of the Dharma Works of Maitreya-the translators dGa’-ba’i-rdo-rje, bTsan-kha-bo-che, and so forth. In particular, the one who pervasively spread the profound Empty-of-Other on the earth with the roar of the lion is the great omniscient Dol-po-pa.[24]

However, from the time of Dol-po-pa until Tāranātha’s revival of the Jo-nang Empty-of-Other view, the few available writings that survived the Jo-nang tradition are those of Jo-nang Kun-dga’-grol-mchog,[25]and none of his works even mention the Empty-of-Other view.[26]

1.2  Tāranātha on Empty-of-Other

1.2.1 Tāranātha’s Life

Tāranātha (1575–1634) is viewed as second in importance to Dol-po-pa in the Jo-nang tradition and as responsible for the ‘widespread revitalization’ of the Empty-of-Other theory in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Tibet. He is also one of the foremost scholars, translators, historians, and statesmen of seventeenth-century Tibet. According to Kapstein, Tāranātha:

…should be regarded as one of the greatest contributors in any time, place, or methodological tradition to the study of tantrism and yoga.[27]

Born in Karag in 1575, to a family descended from the famous eleventh-century Buddhist translator Rwa-lo-tsā-ba-rdo-rje-grags(1016–1128), at the age of four, Tāranātha was recognized as the re-embodiment of Kun-dga’-grol-mchog. Stearns states that like Kun-dga’-grol-mchog:

Tāranātha also practiced and taught a wide variety of tantric teachings from different lineages, and was also nonsectarian (ris med) in his approach to realization. He was also one of the last great Tibetan translators of Sanskrit tantric texts. Tāranātha was respectful of all forms of authentic Buddhism, including the tradition of Bu-ston, and that of the dGe-lugs, which were antagonistic toward the Jo-nang school. He also emphasized the practice of the Sa-skya teachings of the Path and Result as the esoteric instructions of the Shang-pa bKa’-rgyud, as had Kun-dga’-grol-mchog, but he focused on the explication of the Kālacakra and the practice of the Six-branch Yoga as the most profound of all the teachings given by the Buddha.

Though Tāranātha’s Tibetan name was Kun-dga’-snying-po (meaning ‘Essence of Total Joy’), at a young age, he had a vision wherein an Indian adept bestowed on him the name Tāranātha (sGrol-ba’i-mngon-po), which means ‘Liberating Protector’. He adopted this as his personal name for the rest of his life.[28]  According to the Treasury of Lives:[29]

When Tāranātha was fourteen years old, the Indian adept Buddhaguptanātha arrived in Tibet.  This master became one of Tāranātha’s most important teachers, passing to him countless transmissions of tantric initiations and esoteric instructions.  Tāranātha stated that his understanding of the secret mantra teachings was due to the kindness of Buddhaguptanātha alone.

Several other Indian yogins and scholars, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, came to Tibet during Tāranātha’s lifetime, such as Bālabhadra, Nirvāṇaśrī, Purnananda, Purnavajra, and Kṛṣṇabhadra.  They gave him instructions, taught scholarly topics, and joined him in translating Sanskrit manuscripts into Tibetan.  Several of Tāranātha’s translations are now included in the Tibetan canonical collections of the Kangyur and Tengyur.

In 1588 Jedrung Kunga Pelzang, who had followed his uncle Kunga Drolchok as holder of the monastic seat of Jonang Monastery, enthroned Tāranātha at Jonang, although a formal ceremony of investiture did not occur until 1595.  Tāranātha took upon himself the responsibility of causing Dolpopa’s insights toonce again reach a wide audience.  He was determined to revive what he saw as a priceless transmission lineage in danger of being lost.

Tāranātha’s life was not only inspiring and highly influential on a spiritual and intellectual level, but (towards the end of his life)also one filled with political turmoil and power struggle:[30]

In 1604, after a decade of efforts to revive the original Jo-nang teachings, all of Tāranātha’s work was threatened by serious political conflict between the regions of Jang (Byang) and Tsang. Jo-nang Monastery itself was in immediate danger of being attacked by hostile armies.

In terms of Tāranātha’s reaction to these violent events, Templeman (2008: Chapter 2) notes that:

In Tāranātha’s autobiography written in 1633, just a few years before his death, we find some expressions of relatively mild concern and regret at the number of deaths which occurred in the ongoing fighting, but not much else. Rather than opposing the indiscriminate slaughter openly and vociferously, potentially a strategic disaster were he to have attempted this, Tāranātha’s writings instead display a tendency to extemporize poetically about topics such as the moral duties of good rulers who found themselves in such situations. He rarely criticizes any individual directly, or indeed any of their policies but occasionally writes pointedly about the correct way to fulfill ones spiritual and temporal duties. Tāranātha couches his thoughts within overarchingly vague Buddhist sentiments and these restrained and mild comments, veiled to the extent of being almost lost within Buddhist allegories, had the effect of removing the events themselves from the world of real suffering…What does in fact become clear from this ‘soft opposition’ is that Tāranātha preferred to see good, or at least the potential for good, on the side of both the Tsang pa and their enemies. Ultimately, it becomes clear that his presence was utterly ineffective in reducing either the prosecution or the ferocity of the war.

After his death in 1634, Tāranātha was considered by the dGe-lugs to have been reborn as the Mongolian reincarnate known as rJe-btsun-dam-pa.Although many scholars consider this to have been a political ploy by the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Mongolian Gushri Khan.[31]According to legend, Tāranātha’s mortal remains are said to be enshrined at rDzing-phyi about 65 miles east of Lhasa.

At the end of his autobiography, the Liberation Account of the Wanderer: Tāranātha (rGyal khams pa tā ra nā thas bDag nyid kyi rnam thar) written in 1633, Tāranātha paints a wry and rather tragic portrait of himself and unnamed ‘others’’ contradictory and diverse views of him:[32]

As for this very person, the wanderering vagabond Tāranātha, in the minds of some I am held to be both insane and impure, or so it appears. It seems that others say to themselves, ‘Isn’t he a learned one!’

And yet when other people speak they say, ‘He is a stubborn-headed logician!’  Yet others say, ‘He is confused and has become slack!’

Some people say that when they look at the situation, it is true that I am indeed one who does not incline towards the tenets of one group or another. Yet others say that when they look at the situation, [it seems] I am one who is partial to the tenets of one particular group and adhere to those views alone.

When some look at me, they see a person whose idle babble splits the Dharma. Others when they regard me, see [only] one who spends his time dwelling in a state of purity and virtue.

Some people say that I am just an ordinary sort of person filled with both attachment and aversion, while other people say that I am a fully realized and powerful person.

Some people say of me that I am one who possesses a wrong view of the world, and others say that I am one who perceives things as they really are, that is, with the utmost clarity.

When some speak of me they say of me that I am just a worldly person with a bad outlook, and yet others say of me that I am one whose one-pointed focus is always upon the Dharma.

Some say of me that I am one who has seen the demonic forces in the flesh, and yet others say of me that I have perceived the Buddha himself in the flesh!

As for some, they say that I make bad predictions and yet others say of me that my view of the future is both good and complimentary.

Absolutely all of them fail to agree in what they utter and as for these many unreliable viewpoints which are quite extraordinary and foul-smelling, you yourselves will have to decide whether or not they apply to a sleeper like myself.

In 1642, eight years after Tāranātha’s death, an alliance of Mongol armies led by Gushri Khan defeated the U-Tsang rulers and enthroned the Fifth Dalai Lama, Nga-dbang-blo-bzang-rgya-mtsho (1617–1682). According to most historical accounts, in the year 1650, the Fifth Dalai Lama sealed and banned the study of Jo-nang Empty-of-Other texts, prohibiting the printing of such texts throughout Tibet. Then in 1658, the Jo-nang rTag-brtan-dam-chos-gling Monastery (built by Tāranātha near the original site of Jo-nang) was forcibly converted into a dGe-lugs Monastery — officially initiating the demise of the Jo-nang-pa in U-Tsang. The carving of the blocks came to an end, the printing of impressions from the blocks stopped, and the recognition of the re-embodiment of the Jo-nang rJe-tsun prohibited. All of the Jo-nang monasteries and hermitages in central Tibet were seized and the remaining Jo-nang masters in the area began an exodus to previously established monasteries in the remote regions of Tibet.[33]

The answer as to whether these actions were predominantly motivated by philosophical or political differences is not clear.  According to Newland (1992: 30–31):

Tibet’s intersectarian conflicts were almost always driven by motives more political than “purely philosophical”, indeed, the Jo-nang-pas were allies of the king of Tsang (gtsang), the main political and military adversary of dGe-lugs in the first half of the seventeenth century. On the other hand, for more than two hundred years before they destroyed the Jo-nang-ba order the dGe-lugs-bas had been denouncing Shay-rap-gyel-tsen’s [Dol-po-pa’s] philosophy as something utterly beyond the pale of Mahāyāna Buddhism…While the immediate occasion for the persecution of Jo-nang was its defeat in a power struggle, proscription suggested itself as a penalty in the context of a long history of substantial and deeply felt philosophical differences. This hostility is reflected in the banning of Shay-rap-gyel-tsen’s major books from the premises of dGe-lugs monasteries more than 150 years prior to his order’s extinction.[34]

In terms of the refutation of the Empty-of-Other view by dGe-lugs masters such as Tsong-kha-pa[35], Sparham (2009: 23–24) notes that:

Regardless of the exact content of the Jo-nang-pa doctrines, and a more detailedanalysis of them need not concern us, it is certain that Ma-ti Paṇ-chen, Jo-nang-pa Phyogs-las-rNam-rGyal, and Nya dBon-kun dGa’-dPal, all famous students of Dol-po-ba Shes-rab-rGyal-mtshan were themselvesteachers of Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419), the saint who later dGe-lugs-pas identify as theoriginator of their sect, and around whose works was built up the distinctively dGe lugs-pa version of Buddhist orthodoxy.  Thishistorical fact is most striking in view ofsome later dGe-lugs-pa writers’ explanation of the necessity of suppressing Jo-nang doctrinesin terms of upholding the correct teaching of Tsong-kha-pa, a teaching, they insist, that isthe sole door to liberation.

Tsong kha pa, particularly in his Legs bShad sNying po, like the Shākya-pa writer Bu-ston-rin-chen-grub and others before, did devote much space to a detailed refutation of the Jo-nang position, but there is no trace in any of his works of the opinion that the Jo-nang pa view is any more or less than a legitimately mistaken understanding of Buddhist truth.  Since Tibetan writers like their Indian mentors before them could be extremely cutting in their presentation of the view of other opponents, even the strong words of Tsong-kha-pa’s foremost disciples rGyal-tshab-dar-ma-rin-chen and mKhas-grub dPal bZang-po should not be taken as any more than a forceful intellectual rejection of Jo-nang-pa views.  The later suppression of the Jo-nang-pa school in general, and of Tāranātha’s works in particular, by the emergent dGe-lugs-pas under their leader the fifth Dalai Lama cannot be traced to anyinjunction in the works of Tsong-kha-pa or his immediate disciples. One suspects the consolidation of power over central Tibet and the need to retain the undivided loyalty of powerful Mongolian backers better explains why it occurred.

1.2.2 Tāranātha’s Works

In the twentieth century, outside of Tibet, Tāranātha became well-known for his historical works, particularly his major work on the History of Buddhism in India (rGya gar chos ’byung), written in 1608.  The reason for this is because they were the first to be translated into European languages, such as Schiefner’s translation of his History of Buddhism in India (1869) and Grünwedel’s work on his Seven Transmissions (bKa’ babs bdun ldan) (1914).  However, despite Tāranātha’s vast corpus in other subject areas, there are still only a few English translations available.[36]

Tāranātha was determined to revive Dol-po-pa’s tradition and transmission of Empty-of-Other and wrote several important texts dealing specifically with the topic (the majority of which are not yet translated), including:

  • The Essence of Empty-of-Other (gZhan stong snying po)[37]
  • The Ornament of Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka (gZhan stong dbu ma’i rgyan)[38]
  • The Scriptural Companion to the Ornament of Empty-of-OtherMadhyamaka (gZhan stong dbu ma’i rgyan gyi lung sbyor)
  • Twenty One Differences with Regard to the Profound Meaning (Zab don nyer gcig pa)[39]
  • Supplication to the Profound Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka Lineage (Zab mo gzhan stong dbu ma’i brgyud ’debs)[40]
  • Word-for-Word Commentary on the Heart of the Perfection of Transcendent InsightSūtra (Sher snying gi tshig ’grel)
  • The Excellent Presentation of the Previously Non-Existent Explanation on the Heart of the Perfection of Transcendent InsightSūtra(Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i snying po’i mdo rnam par bshad pa sngon med legs bshad)


The latter two texts, in the list above, are Empty-of-Otherinterpretations of the Heart Sūtra, with the first being the shorter commentary of the two and the subject of this study.

In all these texts, the three natures (trisvabhāva: rang bzhin gsum/mtshan nyid gsum) and the three corresponding types of phenomena are central to understanding and distinguishing the Empty-of-Otherview from that of Mind-Only (sems tsam) and Empty-of-Self theories.In this respect, Tāranātha closely follows the work and thought of Dol-po-pa and early Tibetan and Indian Empty-of-Other followers. As Tāranātha concludes inThe Essence of Empty-of-Other:[41]

These divisions of the three natures, and the two realities of apparent ordinary consciousness and ultimate primordial awareness, are posited in relation to all phenomena in saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. Since forms, sounds, smells, tastes and so forth are [viewed] from the perspective ofapparent ordinary consciousness, they are not truly established. Since the ultimate forms, sounds and so forth are [viewed] from the perspective ofprimordial awareness, they are truly established. While there are various perspectives of the apparent, all ultimate phenomena are devoid of defect or contradiction.

In the Word-for-Word Commentary,Tāranātha repeats this view in relation to the wording of the Heart Sūtra:

Whatever is the dharmatā form is the primordial awareness of emptiness.Whatever is the primordial awareness of emptiness,appears as the dharmatā form.

Even if you understand merely that these two have a common locus, in order to refute any doubt that thinks it possible for there to be empty primordial awareness that is not the ultimate form(don dam gyi gzugs), and that it is possible for there to be ultimate form that is not empty primordial awareness [there are the lines]: “Emptiness is no other than form.”

Here ‘empty’ [does] not [mean] completely empty, but primordial awareness empty of dualism.  The ultimate form aggregate (don dam pa’i gzug phungs) is not the form aggregate.  The ultimate aspect of the form aggregate withinthe [endowedwith] all supreme aspects dharmadhātu is the dharmatā form aggregate or the ultimate form aggregate.

The other aggregates follow the same reasoning as before. In the same way, sensations, perceptions, conditioned factors and consciousnesses are all empty. Emptiness [applies] from sensations [up to and including] consciousnesses. Sensations up to consciousnesses are nothing other than emptiness. Emptiness is also nothing other than sensations up to consciousnesses. So it is said.

So why are there such differences between those who assert the view of Empty-of-Self and those of Empty-of-Other?  Tāranātha states in hisTwenty One Differences thatthese ‘minor’ differences arise during the ascertainment of the provisional, but not definitive, view:[42]

Do not think that there are contradictions in the intention among those who see the profound (reality).  They speak differently to different disciples due to perceiving different trainees and needs.  Here, the Lord of Dharma, the great omniscient’brTon-pa-bzhi-ldan [Dol-po-pa], and thegreat paṇḍita, the victorious Śā-skya mChog-ldan, agree on the essential point of the view and meditation of Empty-of-OtherMadhyamaka. However, when ascertaining their view provisionally there are many minor differences between their philosophical tenet systems.

[1] For more on this term, see English Translation below, n. 145.

[2] For more on this distinction between definitive and provisional, see English translation below n.64 and n. 238.

[3]For a more detailed consideration of the meaning and origin of the Tibetan terms Empty-of-Other and Empty-of-Self, see Brunnhölzl 2011, Hookham 1991: 11–18 and Appendix 2: 299–302; Buchardi 2007; Gruschke 2000, Kapstein 2000; Mathes 1998, 2000 and 2002; and Stearns 1999.  For the meaning of these terms within the Tibetan lineages, see Wangchuk 2004: 171–2, n. 3 and 4, in which Wangchuk suggests refraining from using the terms unless a given tradition prefers to use one of them to describe its preferred conception of emptiness.

[4] The Indian precursors of Empty-of-Other are discussed at considerable length in Brunnhölzl 2011: 19–162 and Brunnhölzl 2014: 140–150.  See also Hookham 1991: 143–157.

[5]Tāranātha identifies the eleventh century Kālacakra master, (and an important figure in the Jo-nang) Yu-mo-ba-mi-bskyod-rdo-rje as having initiated the mantric tradition of Empty-of-Other.  However, as Stearns and Brunnhölzl point out, none of the key terms associated with Dol-po-pa’s theory of Empty-of-Other appear in Yu-mo-ba’s extant writings.  This is why, according to Brunnhölzl, Tāranātha identifies Yu-mo-ba as “the founder of the philosophical system of mantric gzhan stong.” (2011: 171).  However, Stearns cites a later dGe-lugs master who asserts that:

Yu-mo-ba was the originator of the Empty-of-Other teachings, which he so names, and that they were passed down orally until the time of Dol-po-pa as a hidden doctrine (lkog pa’i chos) without any written texts.  Although it is known that Dol-po-pa actively taught Yu-mo-ba’s Four Clear Lamps (gSal sgron skor bzhi), he neither mentions Yu-mo-ba in his own writings, nor quotes from his texts. (Stearns 1999: 44).

For more on the life story of Yu-mo-ba-mi-bskyod-rdo-rje, see Hookham 1991: 135–136, Stearns 1999: 43–45 and the Treasury of Lives biography at:

For more on earlier Empty-of-Other proponents and texts in Tibet, see Brunnhölzl 2011: 163–194, Brunnhölzl 2014: 140–150 and Stearns 1999:42–45. In Stearns 1999: 199, n. 5, there is also reference to Tāranātha’s claim that the Tibetan translator dGa’-ba’i-rdo-rje, who translated for bTsan-kha-bo-che, was the first Tibetan in the lineage of Empty-of-Other Great Madhyamaka (for more on this issue see id.: 42–44).For more on the lineage and transmission of tantric Empty-of-Other, see Sheehy 2009b and Brunnhölzl 2014: 137.  For the differences between Jo-nang and rNying-ma (more specifically Mi-pham Rinpoche) views of Empty-of-Other, see Duckworth 2008: 55–91.

[6] For more on the life and work of the Tibetan translator, bTsan-kha-bo-che, and his connection to the Maitreya and Uttaratantra lineages, see n. 26 below.

[7]From Mathes 2012: 189–198 and see alsoStearns 1999: 42–45.

[8]The text has been identified as the seventy-second chapter of the Twenty-Five Thousand Verses Perfection of Transcendent InsightSūtraand the eighty-third chapter of theEighteen Thousand VersesPerfection of Transcendent InsightSūtra.  It is not found in other versions of the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras.  According toBrunnhölzl, there is one Sanskrit and three Tibetan recensions of it (2011: 19).  For more on the ‘Maitreya chapter’, see Conze 1975: 644–652, Conze and Iida 1968, Brunnhölzl 2011: 19–26, Harris 1991: 102–31, Obermiller 1932: 50, n. 335 and Stearns 1999: 92–97 and 218, n. 29.

[9]The Bhaṭṭī is the only extant text of Indian origin which directly comments on the ‘Maitreya Chapter’ in the twenty-five thousand line versions of the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras. The work is best known in Tibet by the title The Conquest of Objections in Regard to the Three Mother Scriptures(in Tibetan, the Yum gsum gnod ’joms).  It is a commentary on the eighteen thousand, twenty-five thousand and one-hundred thousandverse Prajñāpāramitā sūtras.  Dol-po-pa gave it primary importance in his interpretation of prajñāpāramitā.

For more on the authorship and origin of the Bhaṭṭī, see Brunnhölzl 2011: 9–14, Obermiller 1932 and Stearns 1999: 92–93.  Brunnhölzl concludes that the majority of Tibetan commentators in all schools, except for the dGe-lugs-pa lineage, accept Vasubandhu’s authorship of this text.  Tsong-kha-pa gives ‘five indications why the text is probably by Daṃṣṭrāsena and not Vasubandhu, but none of them are entirely conclusive.’ (id., 11–13):

In particular, Dol-po-pa supports Vasubandhu’s authorship of the text (often saying he is a “master of Great Madhyamaka” who presents this system very clearly) and specifically points to this text as one of the major sources for his own explanations of gzhan stong.  These explanations frequently incorporate literal extensive passages from it, often followed by the remark, “Thus, the Madhyamaka teaches.” (id., 13).

According to Stearns (1999: 93):

It seems quite possible that Tsong-kha-pa’s unique attribution of the Bṛhaṭṭīkā to Daṃṣṭrāsena, instead of to Vasubandhu…was part of his broader refutation of Dol-po-pa’s teachings which had been so influential in the preceding generation.

[10] A commentary on the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra, called Bhagavatyāmnāyānusāriṇīnāmavyākhyā, by Śrīrāja Jagaddalanivāsin (twelfth century). For more on the origin and author of this text, see Brunnhölzl 2011: 14–15.

[11]In contrast, other Indian Yogācāra texts (and Empty-of-Selfproponents) describe how the perfectly-established is the dependent’s being empty of the imagined (see below,Brunnhölzl 2011: 16):

The Bhaṭṭī, the Āmnāyānusāriī, and (to a lesser extent) the Śatasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitābhaṭṭī take the threefold division of all phenomena in the so-called ‘Maitreya Chapter’ in certain Prajñāpāramitā sūtras as the departure point of their primary exegetical format. Thus, these texts are the only known Indian commentaries on the major Prajñāpāramitā sūtras that consistently use the hermeneutical pattern of the three natures – the imagined (parikalpita), dependent (paratantra) and perfectly-established (parinipanna) natures – to explain all the various topics of these sūtras. Similar to most Yogācāra works, said texts emphasise that the imagined and the dependent natures exist only as savtisatya and are equally nonexistent ultimately. Also, these works use the term “fundamental change” (āśrayaparivtti), while making it clear that the perfect nature – suchness or mind’s natural luminosity- is completely unchanging during its phases of seemingly being obscured by adventitious stains and being completely free from them. All three texts also refer to the notions of tathāgatagarbha, naturally luminous mind, and adventitious stains.

For a succinct summary of the ‘typical gzhan stong’ position in these earlier Indian and Tibetan texts, see Brunnhölzl 2011: 195–196.

[12]For example, in the ‘Maitreya Chapter’, the Buddha describes in detail the three kinds of form as follows (Brunnhölzl 2011: 20–21):

Maitreya, a bodhisattva Mahāsattva who engages in prajñāpāramitā and employs skill in the division of phenomena should follow the designation of form being divided through three aspects…[These consist of ] ‘This is imagined form’, ‘This is conceived [dependent] form’, and ‘This is dharmatā form’….The Bhagavān said:

Maitreya, imagined form is the imagination [of something] as a nature of form, which is based on the name, notion, common agreement, designation, and convention “form” with regard to an entity that has the characteristic of being conditioned…Conceived [dependent] form is to be grounded in [the fact that] the true nature of this entity that has the characteristic of being conditioned is mere conception (an expression conditioned by conception), to which this name, notion, common agreement, imputation, and convention “form” [refers]…dharmatā form is the true nature of phenomena, which is established no matter whether tathāgatas arise or do not arise, the constant nature of phenomena, the dharmadhātu, the conceived [dependent] form’s permanent, eternal, constant and everlasting lack of nature in terms of imagined form, [that is,] phenomenal identitylessness, suchness, and the true end.

[13] The Empty-of-Other lineage up to Tarānātha, is listed by him as follows: Śākyamuni, Maitreya, Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, Maitrīpa, Ānandakīrti, Ratnākaraśānti, Sajjana, gZu dGa-’ba-’i-rdo-rje, bTsan-kha-bo-che, Dar-ma-brtson-’grus, Ye-shes-’bying-gnas, Byang-chub-skyabs, Byang-chub-gzhon-nu, sMon-lam-tshul-khrims, bCom-ldan-rig-pa’i-ral-gri, sKyi-ston-’jam-pa’i-dbang grags-pa-rgyal-mtshan, Dol-po-pa, Nya-dbon-kun-dga’-dpal, Śā skya-mchog-ldan, Don-yod-grub-pa, Kun-dga’-grol-mchog, Kun-dga’-rgyal-mtshan, Grags-ldan-grub-pa. (fromBrunnhölzl 2011: 172). An alternative Empty-of-Other lineage from the Buddha is said to run through Vajrapāṇi, Rāhulabhadra, Nāgārjuna, Śavaripa and Maitrīpa.  After the latter it continues as above (see Brunnhölzl 2014: 86).  In his Essence of Empty-of-Other, Tāranātha confirms that:

The Great Madhyamaka is the Madhyamaka School of Cognition (rnam rig gi dbu ma), renowned in Tibet as Empty-of-Other. Is clearly explained in the texts of the excellent Maitreya, by the Noble Asaṅga, and by the supreme scholar Vasubandhu and is also explained with great clarity in the Noble Nāgārjuna’s Praise of the Dharmadhātu (rnam rig gi dbu ma ste | rje btsun byams pa’i gzhung dang | ’phags pa thogs med dang | mkhas mchog dbyig gnyen gyis gsal par mdzad cing | ’phags pa klu sgrub kyis chos dbyings bstod par yang ches gsal bas | ’phags mchog gnyis car gyi bzhed pa gzhan stong yin no || (169)).

Kano asserts that the name of rNgog-blo-ldan-shes-rab was inserted by van der Kujip (in 1983: 41) but that this was a mistake: ‘obviously caused by the illegible state of the material he used.’(Kano 2016: 51, n. 26).  For reasons why Tāranātha lists bCom-ldan-ral-gri as one of the forerunners of Dol-po-pa, see Kano 2016: 311–316. See also Brunnhölzl2014: 131–140, for more on the sūtra and mantric Empty-of-Other lineages in Tibet.

For information on’Jam-mgon Kong-sprul’s cited lineages connected to the Great Madhyamaka and Empty-of-Other, see Brunnhölzl 2014: 852 and Hookham 1991: 150–154.  For a comparison list of the transmission lineages of Empty-of-Other and those of Buddha-Nature, see Mathes 2015: 304–306.  For more on how Empty-of-Other relates to later developments of Buddhism in India, see Hookham 1991: 156–157.

[14] For the remaining other nine definitive sūtras, according to Dol-po-pa and other Jo-nang authors, see Brunnhölzl 2011: 20, n. 39.

[15] In the early fourteenth century, Dol-po-pa Shes-rab-rgyal-tsan became the main figure of the Jo-nang. After studying each of the existing Buddhist traditions in Tibet including the Sa-skya, bKa’ brgyud, and rNying-ma, Dol-po-pa settled in Jo-mo-nang and served as the abbot of Jo-nang Monastery.  In his most famous work, Mountain Dharma: An Ocean of Definitive Meaning (Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho in Hopkins 2006), Dol-po-pa clarifies the Empty-of-Other view. These are referred to as the teachings of the ‘Heart’s Meaning’ (snying po’i don). While Dol-po-pa was alive, his formulations remained secretive instructions (lkog chos) that were circulated within intimate circles of his closest disciples.  During the eighty years that followed Dol-po-pa’s death, his instructions became widely dispersed and popularized as Empty-of-Other.

For more on Dol-po-pa’s life and work see Kapstein 2000: 106–120, Stearns 1999, Hopkins 2007 and the Treasury of Lives biography by Cyrus Stearns at

[16] Quote from Stearns 1999: 49.  For more on Dol-po-pa and the Empty-of-Other doctrine in Tibet, see Hopkins 2006, Hookham 1991: 135–143, Kapstein 2000: 106–120, Mathes 2008: 75–84, Stearns 1999: 45–107. For a detailed comparison of Dol-po-pa’s and Tsong-kha-pa’s views, see Hopkins 2008: 263–363.

[17] Quote from Kapstein 2000: 107.

[18] This is from Tāranātha’s Dpal dus kyi ’khor lo’i chos bskor gyi byung khungs nyer mkho, translation inStearns 1999: 48.

[19] For more on the Tibetan transmission of Empty-of-Other in Tibet and the role of Rang-’byung-rdo-rje in those transmissions, see Hookham 1991: 172–178 and Stearns 1999: 47–48.  According to Stearns, the earliest available account of a meeting between these two teachers is by the sixteenth century master Mang-thos-klu-sgrub-rgya-mtsho, that refers to the prophesy made by the Third Karmapa that Dol-po-pa would later become an adherent of the Empty-of-Other view.  Stearns argues that no evidence has been found in the Third Karmapa’s writings, or any other early Tibetan source, that would support this assertion and that neither the biographies of Dol-po-pa or Rang-’byung-rdo-rje give any information to support a claim that the Karmapa visited Jo-nang(see Stearns 1999: 201, n. 21).

Hookham does also note that it is ‘curious’ that in Kong-sprul’s commentary on the Ratnagotravibhāga, in which he adopts an ‘Empty-of-Other’ position, he gives as its principal source the work of Rang-’byung-rdo-rje.  Yet:

…for the greatest proportion of the commentary, Kong-sprul follows almost word-for-word a commentary reputedly by Dol-po-pa entitled rGyud bla ma’i legs bshad nyi ma’i ’od zer, yet does not acknowledge this as the main source of his interpretation (id.: 173).

For more on this issue, see also Mathes 2004: 286–292:

To sum up, whether one wants to call Rang-’byung-rdo-rje’s “free from other” (gzhan las grol ba) “empty of other” (gzhan stong) or not, there is an alternative way of defining how the pure mind or Buddha-nature is free from or empty of other (i.e., adventitious stains), and some Kagyupas decided to call this gzhan stong, too. It should be noted that with an ultimate that still possesses moments, a distinction founded on gzhan grol (or gzhan stong) can be better brought into line with mahāmudrā teachings, and this is exactly what Rang-’byung-rdo-rje did…Whereas for the Jonangpas the basis of negation is a perfect nature whichis restricted to its unchangeable aspect and thus transcendent and doctrinally mainly based on the tathāgatagarbha theory, Shākya-mchog-ldan, Rang-’byung-rdo-rje and some other Kagyupas adhere to a distinction based on Yogācāra,that is, mainly the Mahāyānasaṁgraha and the Madhyāntavibhāga.

For more on the significant distinctions between the Empty-of-Other views of Dol-po-pa and Rang-’byung-rdo-rje, as well as between Dol-po-pa and the Eighth Karmapa, as well as differences on their understanding of Buddha-Nature, see Brunnhölzl 2009, 114–117 and Brunnhölzl 2010, 196–99.

[20] The exact time when Dol-po-pa started teaching it is not categorically clear, with different accounts of that time. According to Stearns, Tāranātha states that is was after laying the foundation for the stūpa, that Dol-po-pa first spoke of the Empty-of-Other view to an audience of about ten people, and that this was in the context of giving a detailed explication of the ten Sūtras on the Buddha-Nature (see Stearns 1999: 21).

[21] For more on the New Jo-nang Translation and Dol-po-pa, see Stearns 1999: 24–27.

[22] See Stearns 1999: 23:

It was not until much later that the adherents of the Sakya, Gelug, Gadam, Zhalu, Bodong, and some followers of the Nyingma tradition experiences heart seizure (snying gas)  and scrambled brains (klad pa ‘gems pa).

For more on the unusual Dharma language that Dol-po-pa used, see Stearns 1999: 48–50.

[23] According to Kong-sprul-blo- gros-mtha’yas, in his Treasury of Knowledge, the source of the gZhan stong system in Tibet is the Uttaratantra, as well as Maitrīpa’s pith instructions on prajñāpāramitā that accord with mantra (such as the Tattvadaśaka). For more on the Maitreya and Buddha-Nature lineages and traditions, see Brunnhölzl 2014: 123–131 and Mathes 2008.  For more on rNgog-lo-tsā-ba and his lineage and view, see Mathes 2008: 25–32 and Kano 2016.

[24] spyir gzhan stong gi dbu ma ni sku mched gnyis kyi bstan bcos mtha’ dag na gsal zhing dbyig gnyen gyi nyi khri’i ’grel pa gnod ’joms dang |chos nyid rnam ’byed kyi ’grel pa na shin tu gsal zhing rgyas pa’o | | gzhan stong gi grub mtha’ spyi de ni | phyogs glang dang blo gros bstan pa la sogs pa’i slob ma slob rgyud mang la bzang ba rnams kyis rgya cher bshad cing | thun mong ma yin pa de ni gzhan gyi blor shong ba dka’ nas slob ma mchog rnams la snyan nas snyan du brgyud tshul gyis dar bar mdzad do | | phyis gzhan stong gi dbu ma ’di dang |sems tsam gyi grub mtha’ ’dra ’dres su byas pa rgya gar du mang du byung ba la brten bod pa phal cher gyis gcig par ’khrul lo | bod du ni lo paṇ du mas gzhung rnams bsgyur kyang | grub mtha’ gtsang mar ’dzin pa lo tsāba dga’ ba’i rdo rje dang | btsan kha bo che sogs byams chos sgom lugs pa rnams yin zhing | khyad par du gzhan stong zab mo seng ge’i sgras sa steng khyab par mdzad pa po ni | kun mkhyen chen po rdol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan yin no ||(171).

[25] Kun-dga’-grol-mchog was born in 1507 in gLo-smon-thang, the capital of the Mustang (gLo) region of present-day Nepal. His main teacher as a youth was his uncle, the Sa-skya master Drung-pa-chos-rje Kun-dga’-mchog-grub, who was a disciple of the great Sa-skya master bDag-chen-blo-gros-rgyal-mtshan (1444–1495). Kun-dga’-grol-mchog was a master of the Jo-nang tradition’s six-branch yoga of Kālacakra (dus ’khor sbyor drug), which he received from Lo-chen-ratna-bha-dra (1489-1563), who seems to have been the most important of his many teachers.For about the last twenty years of his life Kun-dga’-grol-mchog was the twenty-fourth holder of the monastic seat of Jo-nang Monastery, retaining this position until his death in 1566. (From Treasury of Lives online biography).

According to Stearns (1999: 64–65):

Jo-nang Kun-dga’-grol-mchog was certainly the best known leader of the Jo-nang tradition in the sixteenth century and left the most lasting legacy. In reading Kun-dga’-grol-mchog’s extensive autobiographies, the One Hundred Instructions of Jonang (Jo nang khrid brgya) and his other miscellaneous writings, three things are immediately apparent. He was very much a product of the Sa-skya tradition, which he upheld through practice and teaching, he was an excellent model of a completely unbiased upholder of nonsectarian (ris med) sentiments, and there is little evidence that he felt any special allegiance to the Jo-nang tradition, which he led, over that of others he also taught and practiced.

For more on Kun-dga’-grol-mchog’s legacy and life, see Stearns 1999: 64–68 and the online biography at Treasury of Lives:

[26]See Stearns 1999: 60–61:

Therefore there is a period of more than two hundred years in which almost all available information about the Jo-nang tradition is found in polemic passages from members of other traditions, nearly universally hostile, with the notable exception of the Sa-skya master Serdok Panchen Shākya-mchog-ldan (1428–1507). As far as can be known from the presently available sources, Shākya-mchog-ldan was the most influential advocate of gzhan stong in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. This impression is strengthened by Tāranātha, who composed a fascinating text comparing the views of Dol-po-pa and Shākya-mchog-ldan on twenty-one profound points of Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna doctrine.

[27]Quote from Kapstein 2001: 304.  David Templeman also holds Tāranātha in high esteem (Templeman 1989: x):

When one considers that his [Tāranātha’s] History of Buddhism in India was written at the extraordinarily young age of thirty-four years, one can do little but marvel at the colossal amount he had digested in those few years…Apart from the vast number of his writings on liturgy and specific doctrinal points, Tāranātha excelled in studies related to India, particularly siddha biographies, works relating to the lineages of the Indian masters and accounts of the diffusion of certain doctrines.

[28] See English translation, n. 107, for more on his preference for calling himself Tāranātha.  For more on Tāranātha’s ‘Indian-ness’and possible ‘Orientalism’, see Templeman 2008: Chapter 5.

[29]For more on Tāranātha’s life story and historical background in which he worked, see Templeman 1981a and 1981b, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2015, Baker 2005, Hopkins 2007 and Stearns 1999: 68–70. There is also an online biography at:āranātha/2712.  According to Templeman (2008):

…there are two versions of Tāranātha’s gestation and birth contained within his Collected Works.  One version is found in his Autobiography [Liberation Account of the Wanderer, Tāranātha] and the other version is entitled Tāranātha’s Biography to 4 Years Old.  The latter work was written by an otherwise unknown disciple and is an account purporting to represent Tāranātha’s life up to his fourth year.

He notes in the Liberation Account of the Wanderer, Tāranātha that from the time of his birth:

I did not close my eyes either day or night, even at bedtime….. Mes-po Rinpoche said, ‘It is well known that, those who go to sleep andwho do not close their eyes will grasp the state of Clear Light.’

[30]From Treasury of Lives biography.  For an intimate account of comments that Tāranātha made before his death to his principal consort (or some say, sister), and fellow gzhan stong lineage holder, rJe-btsun-ma Phrin-las-dbang-mo (1585–1688), regarding omens he had about the forthcoming demise of the Jo-nang and his monastery, see Sheehy 2010. For allegations that Tāranātha may even have been the father of the Fifth Dalai Lama, see Templeman 2015.

[31]For more on the reincarnation of Tāranātha as the rJe-btsun-dam-pa, see Stearns 1999: 71–73:

Although the Jo-nang school itself certainly did not accept this enforced recognition of its great master as a new dGe-lugs teacher who demanded the conversion of Jo-nang monastery into a dGe-lugs establishment, they had no choice in a country now ruled by dGe-lugs political administration and Mongolian military might.

[32]Taken from Templeman 2008: Chapter 6.  Templeman states that ‘this small encapsulated section at the end of the Liberation Account of the Wanderer,was written when he was fifty-three years old, that is six years before his death and approximately five years before the final editing of the larger autobiographical work and appears to have been inserted into the larger work’.

[33]For more on the censorship and banning of books in Tibet, particularly those of Jo-nang, during the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, see Smith 2004 and Wangchuk 2015.  Smith states it was not just the Jo-nang who were affected by such draconian measures though:

Most examples of Tibetan banned literature involved controversies in philosophical teachings beginning in the 11th century. Philosophical positions such as the gZhan stong became regarded as heretical and many of the greatest masters of the dGe-lugs tradition were branded as proponents and their works set aside and not permitted to be read or copied. Great teachers such as Jamyang Choje, the founder of the famed Gelug monastery of Drepung and Lotro Rinchen Senge, the founder of Sera Je, were banned. The early Gelugspa school slowly calcified and core syllabi replaced honest debate and disputation.It was, however, only in the 17th and 18th century that there was a wholesale ban placed on the most famous writings of traditions, such as Jonang, Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma by the princes of the ruling Gelug tradition. A survey of the existing blocks in Central Tibet was undertaken by the Tagdra regent in 1956. This notes the existence of printing blocks, many of which were sealed, by order of the Government of the Ganden Podrang. The list of the banned books included the works of such philosophical masters as Dolpopa, Tāranātha, the Five Patriarchs of the Sakya, and Karma Mikyo Dorje. Prohibitionsagainst the striking of impressions of the Tagten Puntsoling Monastery of the Jonang was only lifted in the mid-19th century through the efforts of the the scholar Losal Tenkyong.

Templeman told me that when the Fifth Dalai Lama’s private library was discovered in the early twenty-first century many of Tāranātha’s texts were found within it.

For more on the civil war and strife at that time, see also Templeman 2008: Chapter 2 and Appendix IV and Stearns 1999: 70–74.  For more on the Jo-nang-pa after Tāranātha in seventeenth-century Tibet, see Stearns 1999: 74–77 and Sheehy 2010.  Sheehy challenges popular narratives that the Jo-nang was unable to continue in Tibet after those events.  Also, in contrast, the 14th Dalai Lama recently composed an Aspiration Prayer for the Jonang Lineage, an aspiration that the Jo-nang gZhan stong philosophy and Kālacakra Six Vajra Yoga lineage flourish.

[34]See also Templeman1981:7:

This intolerance probably stemmed from two main causes, one metaphysical, the other political…..the wrath of political reaction is more obvious and hence a more likely cause of closure. The Fifth Dalai Lama opposed the Jo-nang support for the ruler of the Tsang district, Kar-ma-bstan-skyon-dgan-po, who resisted the dGe-lugs-pa conversions in his district and among his allies the Chogthu Mongols of Kokonor in Tibet’s North East.

David Maher takes a more definite (and less diplomatic) view of these events though (Maher 2010):

It is one thing to deploy Buddhist imagery and narratives to justify the defense of the interests of Buddhists being persecuted by some malevolent non-Buddhist oppressor; it is quite another to legitimize sectarian conflicts between Buddhists. The [5th] Dalai Lama has a heightened sensitivity to this question, and he downplays the intra-religious basis of the most substantial warfare that took place leading up to the culmination of events in 1642. The battle against Chog thu and the Beri chief were minor sideshows compared to the decisive battles that took place in dbU and gTsang between partisans of the Buddhist dGe lugs and bKa’ brgyud schools. When the Dalai Lama reaches this part of the story, he merely mentions that Gushri deployed billions of troops and subjugated the land, but he makes no mention of who was defeated. He further obfuscates matters when he concludes by remarking that the kings and ministers of Tibet had to learn to bow humbly to Gushri Khan in 1642. The Dalai Lama attempts to convey a tone of neutrality among Buddhists. This tone is in stark contrast to the manner in which thisseries of events was perceived by others at the time and in the decades and centuries that followed. In the eyes of non–dGe lugs pas, Gushri Khan’s conquests and the ascendancy of the (Fifth) Dalai Lama as the paramount political force in the country were both permeated with sectarian agendas. Monasteries were seized and converted, land estates were reassigned to support dGe lugs institutions, the Karmapa was driven into exile, and the entire symbolic universe was reconfigured to feature the institution of the Dalai Lama at its core. The Fifth Dalai Lama wrote ‘Song of the Queen of Spring’ in an attempt to influence the way people perceived these conquests soon after they took place.

[35] See also Hopkins 2008.

[36]For the available English translations of Tāranātha’s work, see Chattopadhyaya & Chimpa 2010,

Templeman 1981a,1983 and 1989, Baker 2005 and Hopkins 2007.

[37] Two published English translations are available: Hopkins 2007 and Sheehy 2008.

[38]Tāranātha apparently composed the Ornament of Empty-of-Other Madhyamaka as a result of having a vision of Dol-po-pa (fromStearns 1999: 69):

In 1604, Tāranātha became despondent, and, seeing all his efforts about to be wiped out and the tradition itself perhaps destroyed, wished only to go into retreat far away from all the troubles created by deluded and impassioned individuals.At this point, Dol-po-pa himself appeared to Tāranātha in a vision, encouraged him to continue as before, and assured him his efforts would not be fruitless. The next night, Tāranātha prayed to Dol-po-pa, and experienced another vision, of a bodhisattva who spoke a quattrain of verse.  As a result of these events, Tāranātha said he gained realization of Dol-po-pa’s true intentions as expressed in his gzhan stong teachings, and all his uncertainties and doubts were completely removed. He felt that a great key had been placed in his hands to open the doors of all the Buddha’s teachings.

For the only published translation and critical edition (in German) of this text, see Scheuermann 2010.

[39] For English translations, see Hopkins 2007 and Mathes 2000. For a brief analysis of this text, see Burchardi 2007.

[40]For an English translation by Michael Sheehy, see the Jonang Foundation website:

[41]’khor ’das kyi chos thams cad la mtshan nyid gsum gyi dbye ba’am | kun rdzob rnam shes dang ’brel ba dang | don dam ye shes kyi phyogs gnyis gnyis bzhag nas | gzugs sgra dri ro sogs kun rdzob rnam shes kyi phyogs yin pa’i phyir bden med dang | chos nyid kyi gzugs sgra sogs ye shes kyi phyogs yin pas bden grub dang | kun rdzob kyi phyogs tha dad dang | don dam gyi chos rnams ’gal ’dus skyon med do || (182)).

[42]zab mo gzigs pa rnams la ni | bzhed dgongs ’gal ba mi srid snyam | on kyang gdul bya tha dad dang | dgos pa’i dbang gzigs tha dad bsnyad | ’dir chos rje kun mkhyen chen po brton pa bzhi ldan dang | paṇḍi ta chen po rgyal ba shākya mchog ldan gnyis | gzhan stong dbu ma’i lta sgom gyi gnad gcig kyang | gnas skabs lta ba de gtan la ’bebs pa’i skabs | grub mtha’ mi ’dra ba than thun mang dag yod pa rnams ’dir ngos bzungs bar bya ste || (196).

In relation to this text, Burchardi 2007 states that:

The fact that Tāranātha introduces the discussion using the term gzhan stong bu med bta sgom (theory and practice of the Empty of Other Central [Madhayamaka] System) indicates that his text seeks to encompass the discourse of two fields of inquiry: philosophical point of view theory (lta wa) and meditation (sgom).

See also a recent translation of a twentieth-century text by Khenpo Pad-ma-rnam-rgyal, The Full Moon Dialogue, which asserts that gzhan stong and rang stong views do not necessarily contradict each other, see Burchardi 2007:

Among the four general tenets, in Tibet there are several tenets of the Madhyamaka (Central System), divided into the two of rang stong and gzhan stong. The first was given the name rang stong, referring to the empty aspect mainly taught and emphasized in the context of the Middle Turning.

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 berang stong. 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 begzhan stong. This is the intention of the omniscient Jo-nang, father and sons, and in Tibet this was given the famous name of gZhan stong Madhyamaka.

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