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The Absolute [parinispannasvabhâva] of the Jonangpas

May 16, 2007 09:51 PM
by danielhcaldwell

David Reigle in his article on the Jonangpas writes:

Like Theosophy which teaches as its first fundamental proposition "an 
omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle on which all 
speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human 
conception,"...[the Jonangpa school] teaches a principle which is 
permanent, stable, quiescent, and eternal, which is devoid of 
anything  but itself, or "empty of other" (gzhan stong), and which 
therefore  transcends even the most subtle conceptualization....

Later in the same article, Reigle writes more about:

...[the] Jonangpa teaching of a permanent, stable, quiescent,
and eternal dhåtu or tathågata-garbha or dharma-kåya which is
"empty of other" (gzhan stong) and therefore ultimately beyond
the range and reach of thought....

Now compare the above with some choice quotes from the scholar
TOM J.F.TILLEMANS in his article on "Tibetan Philosophy" in "The 
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy":

...much of Tibetan thought was indeed strongly influenced by
an indigenous version of the Mâdhyamika which attempted to integrate 
Nâgârjuna's thought with Yogâcâra and with the principal ideas
in Indian texts such as the Ratnagotravibhâga (Differentiation of the 
Lineage of the [Three] Jewels), an early fifth-century text which 
notoriously speaks of a permanent (nitya), stable (dhruva) and
eternal (úâúvata) Buddha-nature present in sentient beings. This 
Tibetan synthesis was initially put forward by the Jo-nang-pa school,
founded by Dol bu pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan (Dolbuba Shayrap gyeltsen, 

In brief, the fundamental . . . ideas go like this for a Jo-nang-pa:
the Absolute, parinispannasvabhâva, whose existence enables us to 
avoid the nihilistic view that everything is just a complete 
illusion, is  only void of the imagined and dependent natures: it is 
void of what is  other than it, but is not void of itself. The 
imagined and dependent  natures, on the other hand, are nonexistent 
and are void of  themselves....

...the Absolute is an existent, truly established gnosis (ye
shes)....this gnosis admits of no distinction between subject
(grâhaka) and object (grâhya) and is suchness (tathatâ) and the 
bhûtako;i (`limit of the real'); it is identifiable with the
Buddha-nature spoken of in the Ratnagotravibhâga....

....Not surprisingly, the Jo-nang-pas were often criticized, 
especially by the dGe-lugs-pas, but also by Sa-skya-pas such as Go 
ram pa, as reifying the Absolute and thus transforming Buddhism into a
substantialist philosophy....

...The Jo-nang-pas thus supposedly went badly astray from Indian 
Mâdhyamika by adopting positive descriptions which hypostasized a
permanent Absolute, although, in all fairness, it has to be said that 
this criticism largely depends on which Indian texts one emphasizes 
and what literature one takes as authoritative. It can be 
intelligently argued in defence of the Jo-nang-pas that there were 
Indian Mâdhyamika texts, like the hymns attributed to Nâgârjuna, 
which did exhibit a positive, cataphatic approach not far from that 
of the Ratnagotravibhâga, and that Indian Mâdhyamika did not consist 
exclusively in the negative apophatic dialectic or the insistence upon
dependent origination (pratîtyasamutpâda) that one finds in 
Nâgârjuna's Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ.


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